Last weekend at church, I was delighted to see the choir and orchestra join the Saturday night service. Generally they participate in Sunday worship where the style of music is a bit more traditional, but in honor of Reformation weekend, the normally contemporary Saturday services included some old hymns. There’s just something about singing them that makes one feel nostalgically grounded somehow. When I was growing up, contemporary Christian music was just getting started, so in most churches traditional hymns were the mainstay of worship. During the service on Saturday, we happened to sing one of my favorites, Holy, Holy, Holy.
Written by Reginald Heber in 1826, the hymn describes the awesome majesty of God, and the unceasing praise that occurs in heaven. With ardent enthusiasm, the writer beautifully portrays the glorious nature of our triune God.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
These powerful lyrics also illustrate some of the sights and sounds the Lord Jesus showed to John the Apostle, of which John records in the fourth book of the Revelation.
The song tells of a time when the saints will “cast down their golden crowns” or in other words, surrender their own rewards to Jesus in an act of ultimate worship. This event takes place in heaven after the Judgment Seat, or Bema Seat of Christ. The Bema Seat is a ceremony of sorts, where the life of each Christian is assessed, judged and rewarded accordingly.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV
This is not a punitive judgment, and believers are not on trial for their sins. Their sins were forgiven when they put their faith in Christ Jesus. The Bema Seat is more like an evaluation of our stewardship. Once we are saved, the Holy Spirit works through us to do good works. We are called to live righteously, care for others, be good stewards of the resources God gives to us, and to proclaim the Gospel. Some of us will also be called to suffer or even die for the sake of Jesus.
The Lord tells us to store up our treasures in heaven, and to devote energy to those things which are eternal, not temporal. If our motivation in life is to make money, get ahead of our neighbor, and buy more things, then we are sowing in this life, not in the next. Even good works we do, will not survive the judgment if our reason for doing them is selfish or self-centered.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV
But good works done for the right reasons will remain for eternity. There are several passages that promise rewards or “crowns” for believers who are faithful or who overcome in a particular area.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8, NIV
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12, NIV
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Revelation 3:10-12, NIV
For each of these victories, a reward or crown is promised. What we do in this life counts toward how we will be rewarded in the next. At the Bema Seat, all actions and motives will be reviewed, and believers will receive commendation for each that had eternal significance.
Did we live for God or for ourselves? Did we use the resources God gave us to further his kingdom or to make our lives more comfortable? Where was our focus? What did we value? Did we invest our time in the temporal or in the eternal? Were we generous with the gifts God gave to us, or did we horde them? Were we open and transparent about our faith, or did we keep it a secret so as to not offend anyone? When we came to the aid of others, did we do so grudgingly or with a generous heart? Were the motives behind our actions usually good ones or not so good? Did we often give without expecting anything in return? Was being a good representative of Christ to others, a priority in our lives?
Some people will receive a lot of crowns, while others who lived for themselves and squandered the opportunities God gave to them will just be happy to be there.
One of the most interesting commentaries I’ve heard on this topic was from Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. He has a unique and sometimes quirky way of teaching the Bible, but boy-howdy, you never forget what you learn! Pastor Jack was describing Christians who might piously state, “Well, I don’t need any rewards, so long as I’m with Jesus.” On the surface that might sound sort of humble, or maybe just stupid. I mean, if Jesus is handing out rewards, wouldn’t it be an honor to receive one? But even more than that, Pastor Jack countered with the following point. “At that time in heaven, when we cast our crowns at the feet of Jesus, I don’t want to have just one or two crowns to throw– I want to have a whole wheelbarrow full!”
Wow. What a light-bulb moment. My reason for continued faithfulness is not to rack up rewards for myself, but to ensure that I am not standing there empty-handed when everyone else is casting their crowns down before the Lord. How sad would it be to thank Jesus for covering my entrance fee to his eternal party, but have no gift to give him?
Thanks Pastor Jack for reminding me where my treasure is, and what my motivation is for storing it there! Now, where is that wheelbarrow?….
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Revelation 22:12, NIV
On the journey toward Home,