“Here’s your medal!” Nathanael was surprised to be offered a medal for jogging 100m, and declined to accept. Tom, on the other hand, accepted the medal he had earned with pleasure – and exhaustion. He had just completed a 13km half marathon. The day before, he had ‘prepared’ for the day by helping Nat and others with vigorous gardening at Nat’s house. After some 12km or so, he suffered a complete loss of energy, and plodded along. Jenny, Euan & Zach had been supporting him along the way, armed with “Go Daddy Go!” boards that they had been working on secretly, but now he could feel the energy slipping away. Emily, his niece, walked with him, and gave him her sugary ‘Fruit Shoot’, and started jogging with him. Encouraged, and no doubt helped by the sugar, Tom picked up pace. The goal was in sight; his brother jogged alongside him to give him support and encouragement, and they ran the last 100m together. “Here’s your medal”, the official at the finishing line said to Tom, and turned to Nat “…and here’s yours.” Until Nat replied, “I don’t think so, not for running 100m with him.”
No one reasonably expects to get a half marathon medal for running 100m. Tom began his training some considerable time ago, pounding pavements on his own, monitoring time, improving his stamina. In the same way, the Olympians have been preparing for many years in the hope of attaining medal winning performance. Even the standard to enter the Olympics is high, let alone to win a medal. None of those entering would expect to set the bar for winners at an easy height – the standard is fixed and the standard is exacting. The only way to win the medal is to reach the standard, and the standard is set by others.
As we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year, we are again reminded of dedicated and sustained service, over an even longer period than any Olympian’s herculean efforts; the Queen has served the country with dedication and with grace over these 60 years – and we celebrate this with our Jubilee ‘Street’ party on 4th June, to which you are very welcome – but note that the Queen does not believe she has finished her service just because she has met yet another landmark; her service will be complete when she leaves office through death. For the Queen, lifelong service means ‘life’; there is no lower standard by which she can discharge the obligation she has accepted on our behalf.
It’s the same when we take tests and examinations; however loving and encouraging it is when someone tells us ‘never mind – you did your best’ we know it is no substitute for passing the examination. However warm and friendly the encouragement, we know we have failed the test: the standard set by another, the standard beyond our current ability, and we know that warm words do not change the truth that we are not good enough as a piano player, car driver, footballer, academic, or for whatever we were being tested. We failed the standard; we did not get the medal, achieve the certificate, gain the title. Nor would we in truth want to have the test made easy, like a 13km medal for 100m. We expect Grade 8 piano players to be able to play, driving licence holders to be safe drivers, pilots to be competent, doctors to know what they are doing. We do not want easy meaningless tests.
Yet when it comes to our Heavenly Father, we adopt a wholly different approach! God tells us His absolute moral standards, and we respond ‘so long as you do your best’. If God sets His criteria for reaching heaven, we’re in no place to lower His standards, and truth be known, if we were able to lower His exacting standards, heaven would not be heaven. Imagine having to spend eternity exactly as you are, with all those thoughts you hide from others ever present, with those irritations and poor habits never erased, with your grumpiness and jealousy, your self-comparison with others, either to your benefit or cost, never effaced. Can you really live for ever as you are, and call it heaven?
God sets His standards as absolutes, and not to reach them is to fail them. The bad news is that we have all failed them, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (The Bible, Romans 3.23). The good news is that Jesus passed the test, and by faith passes the benefits to us, so we are counted as righteous, passing the test, gaining the medal: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3.22)
Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus the unmerited righteousness needed to be fit for heaven, and in that righteousness, delight to serve God in love and joy and peace.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,