|"If It Weren't For theGrade" John 12:1-8August 30, 2001|
Good morning! Do you know the difference between you and the last captive audience I spoke to? You live in dorms and apartments and they live in a south Texas prison. But I'm glad to be here -- I mean that -- why don't we make the best of your sentence?
I have a pretty good understanding of what it feels like to be told you have to go listen to a preacher speak. From the mid to late 70s I sat in required chapels 3 days a week at my alma mater, Howard Payne University in Brownwood Texas. Believe it or not, I can still remember a few specific statements and moments from my chapel attendance 25 years ago. I trust the Lord will give you a few of those moments this year.
Bob Kuechenburg, former player for the Miami Dolphins, once was asked by Newsweek magazine the following: "What motivated you to go to college?"
His response was classic, "My father and grandfather were human cannonballs in carnivals and fairs all across the country. My Dad said, ‘Go to college or become an cannonball like the rest of the family.’ Then one day my uncle had an accident, he flew out of the cannon, missed the net, and hit the Ferris wheel. It was then that I found the desire to get to college." He had become motivated.
Remember the story about the man who, walking home after dark one night, decided to take a shortcut through the local cemetery? As fate would have it he fell into a freshly dug grave and try as he might he just couldn’t get out. He decided to wait until morning to try again so he sat down in a dark corner of the hole. It was just a few minutes later that another man came wandering through the graveyard and did exactly the same thing, he fell right into the hole. He also tried to escape but could not. Exhausted, he sat down. It was then the man who was already trapped decided to speak, since the new arrival did not know he was there. He said, "You can’t get out of here...I have already tried!" The new arrival jumped right out of the hole and ran. The difference? He was now motivated to get out!
Imagine this conversation between God and a college professor:
The professor one day decided to gloat to God about how much his students loved him. As he gloated the Lord reminded him of the grade.
Prof: What grade?
GOD: You know, the one you give at the end of the semester...
Prof: Oh, that one. I don’t see what that has to do with our conversation
GOD: Do you think they would treat you as good as they do if you weren’t the who was going to give them a grade?
Prof: I never thought about that, I thought they treated me good because I am nice and good looking.
GOD: Are you kidding?
Prof: Well, I am nice sometimes..."
GOD: Trust me, that's not enough!
Prof: God, do you ever wonder if I am obedient to you because of the grade YOU give?
GOD: No, I never wonder, but you ought to think about it...if I didn’t give a grade would you still be faithful?
If it weren’t for the grade, would we still be obedient to Him?
In the book of John, chapter twelve, verses 1-8, we catch a glimpse of some things that Jesus does in the lives of our people. The setting of the passage is a social event, Lazarus has been raised from the dead, the opposition is swirling around Jesus. In many people’s eyes He is an outlaw. His appearance at this event at Bethany is either CRAZY, or COURAGEOUS, or CALCULATED.
I think it was calculated, and Jesus as always is in control of the situation. Let us look at what He gives...
First, Jesus gives meaning to normal people doing normal things. <In spite of the best efforts of some of your friends who have gone out of their way to convince you that to take God seriously means you have to become a very strange person, you don't have to do that! Jesus never said the goal in life is to become "ODD FOR GOD">
In verses 1-2 we read, "Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table."
The guests at this party were not the rich and famous, but everyday people attending a festive social gathering. They came to see Jesus who had done a miracle in the life of their friend. Sometimes it is easy to forget that Jesus impacted the real lives of real people caught up in the business of living life everyday. The impact that He has is that He gives meaning and purpose to life itself. Each of these guests had the chance to discover that. You and I have the same opportunity.
One time Saint Francis was asked as he tended his garden, “What would you do if you knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow?” He thought for just a moment and said, “I think I would keep on tending my garden.” For you, what would the answer be. Are you already close enough and right enough with God that you could simply continue going to class and talking to friends, or would you have to drop everything and radically change your life because you're not ready for that moment?
It is an important question. If it were not for the grade, isn’t it enough that He gives us purpose and meaning?
Second, Jesus gives hope to bad people doing bad things. In verses 4-6, we see "But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It is worth a year’s wages!’ He did not say this because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief; as a keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put in it."
Judas was upset because Mary had just poured perfume all over Jesus’ feet. Judas reflects an artificial, superficial concern. He wasn’t really concerned about the poor, he was in the midst of plotting to overthrow Jesus. Jesus was aware of what Judas was up to, yet he didn’t send Judas away. He allowed him to stay close. As long as Judas was close to Jesus there was hope.
The same is true for us.
As long as we keep stay close to Him we find hope. Hope stems from the fact that we have been forgiven and received His grace.
Ron Lee in Gold in the Making tells the story of the woman who went to her priest and said that Jesus had appeared and talked to her in visions. The priest being skeptical asked her the next time she saw Jesus to ask Him about the terrible sin he had committed while he was a seminary student. The woman agreed to do that. The next visit the priest asked her if she had mentioned the sin to Jesus in her last vision. The woman responded that she had, and the priest was intrigued. "What did Jesus tell you when you asked Him about the sin I had committed ?" The woman smiled and quietly whispered, "He said He didn’t remember."
Forgiven...don’t miss it. It gives us hope as we struggle through this journey of life. If it were not for the grade, isn’t it enough that he gives us hope?
Third, He gives peace to serious people doing serious things. In verse 3 we see, "Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, and expensive [cost a year's wages] perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."
The hero of the story is a woman named Mary. At other times in other Bible studies we have written about and talked about Mary. Yet this is a great moment in Scripture. Men are sitting around discussing men things, maybe …
And then into the room walks Mary carrying her perfume. She sits down and pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet. I bet the conversation screeched to a halt! In an act of great humility, she poured the perfume and let her hair down and dried His feet with it. She was saying and displaying the fact that she was "broken and spilled out." She was saying "I love you with nothing held back."
Mary had discovered, like we can discover, that Jesus gives peace, especially when we get serious about Him. She loved Jesus with reckless abandon.
If it were not for the grade, isn’t it enough that He grants to us peace? Think about it, He gives to us meaning, purpose, hope, and peace!
Of course, we also must remember this about Mary. She was probably Jesus’ best listener. She heard what He had said, and I think she understood. You don’t find her at the cross, she understood that there would be a resurrection. That is why she anointed Him when she did, check out verse 7. (John 12:7 NIV) ""Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial."
Let’s go back and rejoin the conversation we were reading earlier between the Prof and God.
GOD: I asked you a question, if I didn’t give the grade would you still be here?
Prof: I’m not sure, I know I'll have to check in with you at the end, and sometimes that scares me. I haven’t always been an "A" student. As a matter fact sometimes I don’t think that I am doing all that hot after all these years of knowing you.
GOD: It is OK, relax. I’ve already given you your grade, so you don’t have to be a good student to earn it, your grade is already an "A"
GOD: It is amazing. Someone else has taken your exam, on the cross. He was your stand in, He is my son, Jesus. This is how it works. I read your papers and assignments but I grade His work, that means that you get an "A" no matter how poorly you do.
Prof: That means I don’t have to please you to get a good grade?
GOD: That what it means. . .
Prof: But I want to please you
GOD: I know!
You and I can relax, we are already graded by God, because the work had been done by Jesus. But even if we didn’t get a grade. . .it should be enough that He gives us the purpose, hope, and peace -- because those things can change the way we live life.
Some of you have avoided God because you thought religion was all about rules. Guess what? You're right. Religion is about rules, but Jesus is all about a relationship. He didn't come to deliver a copy of a book titled "200 Requirements for Pleasing God." Jesus came to teach us that the Father loves us and that the Father misses us and that the Father is waiting for us to come home.
He won't take away all of your fun. He'll fill your life with more passion and joy and fun than you have ever experienced before.
Augustine - "Love God and do what you please."
Augustine learned something important: When you love God, he will fill your life with new desires that make you feel like the richest, most complete person on campus.
Whichever you are - the normal, the bad, the fun-loving, or the serious one, Jesus wants to change your life
I invite you to walk into this life with God and find out what it's like to do something without worrying about the grade! Discover what it's like to do the right thing because you want to, not because you have to!