This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by: Rev. Gregg V. Martin, of Covenant CRC, Barrie, Ontario
Purpose: to comfort God’s people with the divine promise that in Christ we have the promise and assurance of life eternal in the glory of His everlasting kingdom.
Congregation of Jesus Christ, Lord of life:
London, England, that great capital city, is one of the major tourist attractions in the entire world. At any time of year, planeloads full of people are flying over the Atlantic, heading for Heathrow Airport or Gatwick, with excited passengers ready and eager to see the sights of the historic capital of England on the River Thames.
High on everyone’s list of things to see, the number one attraction to judge by the long lines of visitors patiently waiting, is the Jewel House at the Tower of London. People want to see the crown jewels, the greatest collection of precious stones in the world.
When you enter the display room of the Jewel House, the light is dim. There in the middle of the room, behind bullet-proof glass and well guarded, are the jewels: the orb and scepter, objects of glittering gold and gleaming silver; and at the center of it all are the crowns: St. Edward’s Crown, and the Imperial State Crown. They are lighted skillfully, and the diamonds and rubies sparkle in the light. The pearls glow. It is a spectacular sight, well worth the wait in line.
Many a tourist, seeing those crowns, has thought: wouldn’t it be wonderful to own one, to wear it! How grand that would be! Reality is different. Earthly crowns rarely bring joy and happiness. Queen Victoria, who did wear St. Edward’s Crown at her coronation, kept a diary in which she wrote of her experiences. On the day she was crowned, she wrote that wearing the crown for hours on end was no fun at all. The crown, made of weighty gold after all, was heavy, and it gave her a terrible headache. That was Queen Victoria’s experience with a real, earthly crown.
Such is the story of all earthly crowns—they may look outwardly attractive, but actually they are no fun at all, and those who set their hearts on earthly crowns, earthly rewards and treasures, find at last only disappointment. Nevertheless, a crown remains a powerful symbol, which is clear and understandable to all.
A crown is a symbol of glory and power. Monarchs of the world throughout history have spent untold riches to create crowns that would amaze their people with the majesty of the monarchy. A crown is a symbol of highest success, of honor, of the kingdom itself.
Because this is so, the Bible uses the crown as a symbol of the great spiritual gifts, the incomparable reward that the Lord gives to His people. In fact the Bible, in the New Testament, speaks about seven crowns that we believers shall receive. This immediately should catch our attention, because in Scripture 7 is the perfect number, and that in itself is a sign that the reward we shall receive from the hand of God is perfect. We shall share in the perfections of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all this is represented by the seven crowns that the Lord bestows upon His elect people.
These crowns are: a crown of life, a crown of rejoicing, a crown of righteousness, a crown of 12 stars, a crown that lasts forever, a crown of brotherhood, and a crown of glory. Use a Bible concordance and search out these crowns for yourself. It makes a fascinating study for anyone’s personal devotions.
In one sermon it would be impossible to deal with all seven. Today, then, we shall focus our attention on the crown of life. This is the only one that the New Testament refers to twice. In Revelation 2:10 and in James 1:12 we read of this special crown. Both of these texts hold out to us the promise that the Lord will give to those who believe in Jesus a crown of life.
THE CROWN OF LIFE IS A GIFT
We read together in Revelation 2:10 that Jesus said to the faithful Christians of the Asian city of Smyrna: “I will give you the crown of life.”
A crown is not something that a person can just seize for himself. It is given. A greater power bestows it. It was the Roman Senate, which bestowed the crown of the Kingdom of Judea upon Herod. The Apostle John’s first readers knew that. It was Leo III, the bishop of Rome, who crowned Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day in the year (AD) 800. Some of our older members here today may well remember watching on TV as the archbishop of Canterbury crowned Queen Elizabeth in London’s Westminster Abby on her coronation day.
The Lord Jesus won the right to give us the crown of life, because His is the greatest power of all. To our Savior belongs the power of the resurrection. Christ Jesus defeated death and Satan. His victory is complete. Now in glory He rules the church from the Father’s right side on heaven’s throne. To Him belong all power and authority in heaven and on earth.
It is Jesus, the Son of God, who has the power of life and the keys that unlock us from the bondage of death and hell. As our heavenly King, the one with all authority, the Lord Jesus has the right to give gifts and rewards to His people, as He sees fit. And how wonderful! He does see fit to give us a crown of life, a symbol of the glory we shall share with our living Lord Jesus in heaven. It is a sign of the power that Jesus alone has to raise us up to newness of life. The crown of life—it is a gift beyond price!
As our text from the Word of God tells us, however, not everyone will receive this crown. It is only given to certain ones. Sinners, those who have offended the Almighty, can hardly expect to receive from His hand the reward of a crown! None of us, by our own efforts, have earned the right to receive such a gift. Indeed, we have earned the opposite, as the Canons of Dort remind us in the very first article: “God would have done no injustice by leaving (us) all to perish and delivering (us) over to condemnation.”
The only thing we have earned for ourselves is God’s just judgment. It is like a criminal in court. As the story goes, he had been found guilty of murdering his own mother in an attempt to get some insurance money. He was justly found guilty by the jury. Before the judge passed sentence, he asked the convicted man if he had anything to say. “Yes, judge,” he replied. “I ask for a lenient sentence. I deserve a break. I deserve the mercy of this court.”
“Mercy?” said the judge, “what makes you think this court owes you mercy?”
“Remember, judge,” said the guilty man, “you are sentencing a poor, motherless boy.”
Yes, indeed, quite an excuse; yet that is the thinking of so many today. They truly think that God owes them mercy, happiness, peace, and life. If they ever do think about eternity, their conclusion is that God owes them. Life is their right. They have a million excuses for why their misdeeds, their faults and failures should be excused.
Do you really believe, however, that the Lord will accept an excuse from you, me, or anyone else at His court of perfect justice? No. The fact is plain: all have sinned. All are guilty. No one can rightly claim that they have earned the crown of life. By nature and by our own misdeeds we fall short of the mark set for us by our Creator. That is not happy news, and a lot of people don’t like to hear it, but it is true. In perfect justice the Lord, our Judge, does not owe us a break. We deserve condemnation. That is the reality of the human situation, yours and mine.
The Bible is realistic. When it describes human powers and abilities the message is: “Warning! Warning! Power failure!” The effects of sin, original and actual, have robbed us of the strength we need to reach God under our own power.
Even if we are religious people, our need is no less. Our faith is not as strong as it should be. There are times when we really struggle and doubt. Our confidence of soul seems to evaporate. Our consciences accuse us. We realize that we have not obeyed the Lord as we should. We set goals to please God, to live a holy life, to get more involved in matters of the spirit; and then we fall short.
That is where we all begin, and it is what we all experience. And that is why again and again, God, speaking to us through His Word, calls us to recognize our need, to turn to Him humbly seeking His pardon, to trust in Him with childlike faith. Those who know their need long for God’s forgiveness; their hearts’ desire is to be reconciled to God by His grace.
In this way, the way of truth, our Christian faith is unique. All other religions tell their followers: you have to do it; you have to earn your way into God’s favor. Then, maybe, you will receive the gift of life eternal.
We Christians, however, know that it all depends upon God’s rich mercy. It is the good pleasure of God, His abounding mercy that saves us. It is God’s mercy that brings blessing into your life and mine. That is the joy of the Christian’s experience—God’s
mercy brings life. Our soul, set free by the work of the Spirit, feels the life of Christ pulse through it. That is the joy and wonder of new life in Christ.
We need what only God can give. God’s grace must touch our hearts and renew our nature within. God’s grace gives life, eternal life that death cannot conquer.
Death Valley, California is an amazing place. It is true desert country: dry, rocky inhospitable. The temperature can be unbearably hot in the day and bitterly cold at night. Few animals or plants can survive there.
Yet it is in this area, Death Valley, that the Joshua trees grow. The harsh conditions cause them to grow at times misshapen and spindly. They are not much to look at in themselves, and yet a Joshua tree lives for hundreds of years. Some scientists think that a certain Joshua tree there in Death Valley is the oldest living thing on earth. It survives because God created it to send deep roots through the sand and rock. Its trunk and branches can survive a lot of damage, but still the Joshua tree lives. With its deep roots, it survives.
What a picture of a Christian, one who has been given the grace of God! Circumstances, tragedies, attacks of Satan may batter us badly; but God has given us deep roots in His grace. We draw upon His power, His forgiveness, His care, and so our life is secure now and for eternity. Life is God’s gift, and the crown of life is His gift, a gift of grace.
WHO WILL RECEIVE THIS CROWN?
In Revelation 2:10 and James 1:12, the Bible describes exactly who it is that will receive this most marvelous gift of the living Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
THOSE UNAFRAID OF SUFFERING FOR JESUS RECEIVE THE CROWN
Scripture plainly and clearly tells us that those who receive this precious gift are those who are not afraid to suffer for Christ. Revelation 2:10 specifically mentions suffering imprisonment and persecution for the sake of Jesus.
The Apostle John wrote: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
There are many people in this world who want something for nothing. That is the goal of their earthly life: something for nothing. Such people play the lotteries. They get taken in by get-rich-quick schemes. We have a word for such people. It is not such a nice word, but it is very descriptive: they are suckers. Greed mixed with laziness makes them foolish.
In God’s spiritual economy, you don’t get something for nothing. Much in the Christian life is, for us, a free gift, but there is also a price to be paid. Jesus paid the price of our salvation by His sufferings on the cross. Now as we follow Him, carrying our cross, we must be willing to suffer for Christ. Such suffering and persecution is the cost of real discipleship.
Those who dare to live for Christ suffer imprisonment in many countries. We do well to remember our persecuted brother and sisters in China and many Muslim countries, our fellow Christians, who daily face such bitter, deadly persecution. Even here at home, in a land of freedom, there is persecution in the form of mockery, contempt, being sidelined politically, and the economic burden on Christians, who, for example, desire a Christian education for their children. All true believers face some sort of persecution.
Those who will not follow the Lord, who will not take up their cross, who are afraid and desert the cause of Christ, those who backslide and are ashamed of Jesus, such are not worthy to receive a reward like the crown of life.
THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH RECEIVE THE CROWN
Our text tells us that the crown will go to those who are faithful unto death. Christianity is not a part-time religion. True faith cannot be turned on and off life a faucet. A saving relationship with God is not temporary. A disciple of Jesus is called to life-long service. Membership in the church is a long-term, lasting commitment.
In our spiritual life we must follow Jesus. That we do by searching the Scriptures and learning there the will of God. That, however, is just the start. Next we must walk the pathway of the Christian life. With the burden of our sins removed by the grace of God at work in our hearts, we find in Christ the power and energy to follow Jesus in faithful Christian living. In our daily tasks, on the job, at home, in our leisure time, wherever we may be, we are called to walk the pathway set out for us by Jesus. This we must do. It is our Christian calling: a life of sanctified sacrifice.
What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ, who gave His life for you? Are you willing to risk public ridicule by living a devout, holy life, while all around you worldly people live self-centered, sinful, selfish lives? Dare you risk even dissension in the family by putting your relationship with your wife or husband, your son or daughter, or your friend in second place in order to give Jesus first place?
If we are unwilling to make the sacrifice, if we are unwilling to lose earthly advantages for the sake of Christ, if we love our own wills, our ideas, our besetting sins more than we love the Lord and our Christian integrity, then no matter what we may say, it is obvious that we have not chosen to live in faithful discipleship.
There is no mistaking the powerful call in our text. The Christian is called to sacrificial living. The Savior, whose own sacrifice at the cross paid the price of our sins and frees us from condemnation, calls us to make our choice. The Christian makes the choice willingly to follow Jesus, even though it will mean persecution.
The Lord Jesus in our text gives us this command: Be faithful unto death. Throughout the course of our whole earthly life, right on up to and through the gates of death, we must be faithful. The faithful receive the crown of life.
THOSE WHO PERSEVERE UNDER TRIALS RECEIVE THE CROWN
The Apostle James likewise comments on this in his epistle. He writes: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Here the Apostle reminds the church that the crown is given to the believer who perseveres under trials. Life’s difficult and stressful experiences, hurts, and disappointments cause one of two reactions in people. Either they turn away from the Lord in anger and bitterness, or they turn to the Lord for His grace and comfort. When trials come (not “if” but “when”), our Christian calling is: persevere! Hang in there! Seek the Lord now more than ever. The Lord holds out this promise: if we persevere we will receive the crown of life that God has in store for us.
The evil one is ready and eager to do his hurtful work. He uses all he can to discourage us: physical distress, emotional anguish, tension, greed, immorality. Today we disciples of Jesus feel the full force of Satan’s work, as he tosses us up and down, back and forth, over and over again. None of us is spared. If you have faith, you can be sure that it will be tested.
That we will be tested is certain. It is the testimony of every Christian. What we need is to find the strength necessary to stand the test. Where will we find that strength? We find it in God Himself. God’s saving intention toward you and me is that our faith not fail. No matter how severe a trial we may undergo, the Holy Spirit remains at work. He has given us the gift of faith. Now, by Jesus’ direct supplication, the Holy Spirit sees to it that our faith does not fail. What a comfort!
The inner calling of the Spirit, the precious work of Jesus for our pardon, this is our source of strength, our hope. As we struggle with temptations, when we feel the sharp thorns of disappointment pierce us, we turn to the Lord in faith. He sustains us. When our voices break, and we cannot even pray, the Savior prays for us, and the Spirit intercedes for us. We are kept in His grace, because God, who is rich in mercy, does not abandon us. It is in His divine power that we can stand the test and persevere under trials. As we live out our lives as Christians, we see the words of our text fulfilled. God’s wonderful promise is made real.
THOSE WHO STAND THE TEST RECEIVE THE CROWN
The one who has stood the test receives the crown. A test proves the worth of the person or product tested. In times long ago, before a man was crowned king of a tribe or nation, he had to pass a series of tests designed to prove his strength and courage. By passing the test, he proved that he was the right man for the job. In this life, often enough, our faith is tested. We must stand the test, and show that our faith is genuine, to inherit the reward.
What a challenge this is! St. Augustine, the famous Christian theologian, had a long, hard struggle before his conversion. His mother, Monica, was a Christian woman of great faith, and from his youngest years, as the child of a dedicated believer, Augustine knew the facts about salvation. He knew what he should believe and how he should live, but he refused to do it. He was caught in the sin of fornication, openly living with a woman who was not his wife. Although he felt guilty because of his sin, he did not change. He later wrote that at times he even would pray: “God, make me chaste, but not yet!” He wanted to enjoy the sins of the world, and yet he feared the Day of Judgment, because he knew that he was not right with God. He was failing the test, until at last the Spirit of God broke though his hardness of heart, and Augustine was converted. It was a struggle, but how necessary it was to break the strangle-hold of sin and to live a truly Christian life, a life of holiness. That is an essential part of standing the test.
The crown also is the symbol of victory. The Lord Jesus is victorious over Satan, and we believers, followers of Jesus, share that victory. Our calling is to stand the test, that is, to live the victorious Christian life here below, to hold fast to the Savior in true faith, to follow Him in obedient discipleship. What a blessing to share in the victory of the Son of God! It is a blessing here and now, and it shall be a blessing beyond compare in glory, as the Lord places upon our heads the symbol of victory, the crown of life.
THOSE WHO LOVE GOD RECEIVE THE CROWN
In addition, the Lord looks for yet one more quality in the hearts and lives of those to whom He gives the crown. As it says in James 1:12, it is given “to those who love Him.” Earthly crowns and jewels can be won by force of arms and though violence. But the heavenly crown of life is given to those who love the Lord. How great is your love for the Lord?
The Bible tells us that there are many things that bring death: hatred, unbelief, works-righteousness, hypocrisy, the wages of sin; but love for God brings life! We who love God have this assurance: as faithful disciples we will share in the blessedness that Jesus promises to all who follow him. We find eternal life in Jesus, and it is a life of sharing forever, sharing fully, in the strength, joy, and beauty of God. And our text promises us that as a sign of this, God Himself places a crown of life on the believer’s brow. It is a marvelous symbol of glory, of spiritual power, and of riches in heaven, where treasures last. Only by the love of Jesus and love for Jesus will this crown be ours!
The Christian Church has been present in the vast and populous land of India for many centuries. Christians there face a great obstacle in their witnessing, for the majority of people are Hindu, and the Hindu religion teaches that there are many ways to the divine, many gods to worship. They tend to view Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ as just another spiritual path that one might take.
Once a Christian in a small village in India was witnessing to his Hindu neighbor, and again he got the response: “Oh, there are many gods and many ways to nirvana. There are many paths to the divine.”
The Christian replied with a question: “When you die, have you made arrangements for your ashes?”
“Of course,” the neighbor said. “That is very important. My son will take my ashes to the sacred river Ganges and cast them into the water of that river.”
“Why make your son travel so far?” asked the Christian. “Why not throw the ashes on the stream that flows through our village. After all, as you know, all the rivers and streams flow to the sea.”
“No, no!” replied the Hindu neighbor. “Only the Ganges will do.”
“And for me,” said the Christian, “only Jesus will do. I love Him and trust only Him for my salvation. Now do you understand what I mean when I say Jesus is the only way to God?”
And for the first time, the neighbor began to understand.
Do we understand? God calls us to love Him fully, truly, completely, and with the full trust of faith. Only that special love will do. It is that love which brings life.
Now, you must ask yourself: Am I one who will receive the crown of life? Listen to the call of God. Display the qualities of which our text speaks: do not be afraid to suffer for Christ, be faithful unto death, persevere under trials, stand the test, love the Lord. And the Spirit of God will witness to your heart that the crown of life is yours, a gift to you from Jesus, the Lord of life.
When the French general Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor in 1804, he wanted to be recognized as a legitimate monarch, and to do that he brought the pope to Paris to have a coronation ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He ordered a beautiful crown made, and a splendid ceremony was arranged. There at the coronation in the cathedral, however, he took the crown out of the pope’s hands and placed it on his own head. He crowned himself. Other kings refused to recognize him, and at last in defeat his whole empire came crashing down. The golden crown that he had placed on his own head did not last.
Earthly crowns are temporary. From the jeweled crown of Napoleon to the rhinestone crown of a beauty queen that she may wear for only one year, they don’t last. Even so, many desire them because of the glory they represent.
But every child of God, every faithful disciple of Jesus, will receive a lasting crown, seven crowns, and one of them, a priceless treasure, will be a crown of life placed on our head by the hand of God. After all, that which is precious and important must be lasting.
When a man and woman decide to marry, and they make a lasting commitment to spend their earthly life together, a ring is often given as a token of this lasting bond. Most often wedding rings are made of gold, and there is a reason for that. A ring made out of cardboard would never last a week. A ring made out of cast iron would rust away over the years. But gold is a precious metal; it does not rust or tarnish, and a ring made out of gold lasts. And that is what is desired, a token of love that lasts.
The wonderful choice of God, which makes us His, is precious. It binds our hearts to Him in thankfulness forever. And in His love divine God gives a token of that love: not a ring, but a crown, precious and lasting! The crown of life!
Jesus is the righteous Judge, for the Father has appointed that at the general resurrection at the Last Day, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. As judge, the Lord Jesus will not be easy-going. Nor will He be harsh. Rather He will be perfectly righteous. He will judge without prejudice, with perfect equity according to God’s Law.
And since He Himself paid the penalty for the sins of His people at Calvary, the Lord Jesus, our Judge, is able to give His disciples mercy. He can and does forgive us, because He has earned the right to forgive. The loving Savior will give to His people, those who have been His faithful disciples, the crown of life, the symbol of that life eternal, which we shall share with our living Lord.
In the glorious kingdom of heaven, we will reign with Christ. We will wear that crown of life, and it will never leave our brow, because it is an everlasting gift from the Lord.
In the midst of the trials and tests of this earthly life, when confronted by fears, when tested by persecution and at last when you face the grim reality of death, remember this: those who love the Lord and serve Him will share the resurrected life of Christ forever. That is the Gospel promise.
And the life we share in the Kingdom of God will be endless, a joy beyond description, a satisfaction deep and full. Truly, it will never fade nor fail, because it is given by the promise of God: an eternal crown of life. May it be yours!
Suggested Order of Worship
Welcome & Announcements
Pre-Service Hymn: PH #497 How Vast the Benefits Divine
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s Call to Worship: “The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him." (Habakkuk 2:20)
Silent Prayer concluded by PH #624 Hear Our Prayer, O Lord
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6,7).
Opening Song of Praise: PH #108 (1,2,3,4) My Heart Is Firmly Fixed
CONFESSION, FORGIVENESS & SERVICE
God’s Law (Exodus 20)
Prayer of Confession
God’s Assurance of Pardon: Heb.7:21-25
Song of Response: PH #63 O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly
GOD’S HOLY WORD
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture: Revelation 2:8-11 & James 1:1-12
Text: Rev. 2:10 & James 1:12
Sermon: “The Crown of Life”
Song of Response: PH #559 Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus
DEPART TO SERVE
Doxology: PH #195 Our God Reigns