There we stood on a hot June day. Standing on bleachers and squinting out into the many flashing cameras. A bit of sweat and a lot of excitement to close this chapter. High school graduation. I didn’t have on the gold sash. The one over half the class wore. I smiled for the pictures and laughed a little about it, but deep inside, I was hurt. Something was missing…my gold sash. In hindsight I can see something else was missing…grace. And one bad act seemed to define me, outweighing all of the good.
I had a heart for learning, and was blessed to graduate in the top of my class. I led the girl’s service club, started a children’s cancer support club, helped start the field hockey team and served as the captain. I was honored to be nominated for many scholarships, and the applications took hours.
And then, it all came undone. By someone I like to call Captain Morgan. It was winter formal night. My friends and I went to a pre-party and about half of the class proceeded to have some drinks before the dance. My date, who was a good friend, brought Captain Morgan’s to the party. Now, let me be clear. I was not a victim wooed away and made drunk by anyone. I took that bottle in my own hands and drank it with the same kind of energy I poured into school. I willingly and intentionally broke the rules. We were seniors and the night was going to be a fun one.
Unfortunately, I had no idea that consuming liquor worked differently than beer. Something you only have to learn once. Come on Eileen started playing at the dance, and I got very dizzy. The next thing I knew, I woke up on the kitchen floor beside my dad, there to make sure I was okay. My head was spinning in pain. I had gotten sick on the dance floor and was escorted out by the teachers. My sweet parents were called to come get me. What a nightmare for them and for me. And for my teachers and friends. It was a low point. I felt terrible, dark inside and remorseful in a way that was heavy.
I wrote letters of apology to the teachers, and the guilt and sorrow I felt was amplified by their response. Because it was a public display of drunkenness, the punishment was public. The consequences were an example for others, and I understand and respect that. They suspended me for a week, and suspended my privilege to leave campus for the rest of the year…and then they took it further. They withdrew my nominations for the scholarships that were in process. Everything I had worked for…undone.
At the next dance…prom, my friends rallied people to vote for me for Prom Queen, which they did. They wanted to see some dignity restored. It was incredibly sweet. A taste of grace. The one who left the dance becomes queen at the next. But you see, the approval of others, while I so often seek it, doesn’t actually restore us on the inside. We are still empty. And on graduation day, that dignity seemed far off.
Those who graduated with honors wore the sash. I had earned some of the highest honors. They took my sash. I had lost it. Those who drank from the same bottle of Captain Morgan’s stood beside me with the sash. I just stood there smiling half heartedly in my blue gown…feeling naked with no sash. Who cares about the sash anyway, I thought? It’s all stupid. Honors are all stupid. You see, the one bad thing undid all the good. Erased it. Gone. I went away to college deflated…and drove out of high school ready to have a drink. The truth was, I was guilty.
But the greater truth was, I was forgiven. My record of wrong was indeed…cancelled. The way it works in God’s judicial system is different. The God who created all of us and stands over all rulers and authorities and powers…when He looked at me on that graduation day, He didn’t see someone without honor…He saw a hurting girl in need of His grace. And because of His amazing love for me – for me?, He couldn’t leave me like that because He couldn’t stand the thought of us being separated because of my sin. So, He made Himself small, suffered to take my punishment and restored to me all honor. In His judicial system, when we turn to Him in brokenness, the bad things don’t outdo the good. In fact, because of Jesus and our faith in him, they don’t even count any more. He’s the only thing that counts. He takes the punishment for us…He stands in our place…and in exchange for our sin, we not only get a gold sash, He gives us His robes of righteousness, and crowns our heads with jewels.
“For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
You see, the bad doesn’t outdo the good; rather, this one sacrifice of Christ outdoes all the bad. It’s gone forever. He remembers no more. Though your sins are like scarlet, He makes them white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. He doesn’t let us lose our honor; He restores it! He gives us His perfect son’s resume and puts our name on it. Undeserved, unmerited grace.
And…about scholarships. He says we are worthy of the best scholarship of all times. Not because of anything we’ve done. HE has earned for you the right to enter heaven, reserved a place for you, and your debt has been paid in full.
It is not our accomplishments in life that count most. Perhaps it is those moments of brokenness that matter in the Kingdom. Moments when we cry out for grace. Moments of weakness when His power is made perfect. It’s the circumstances we wish we could change that end up pointing us to the only One who can change us. Perhaps the most important moments in your life are ones He uses to draw you to Him, and later to point others to Him…the great and glorious King who knows every hair on your head and wants you to know His love for you. Maybe these moments matter most because there’s nothing we can ever do to make us righteous; it is only through faith in Him. Our good is not measured in our accomplishments, but in His on our behalf. He is our righteousness. The bad cannot undo it. The good cannot add to it.
Because, you see…there is another graduation coming. One that Jesus oversees. He is the King of Kings and, in the end, every knee will bow to him.
“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” Philippians 2:10
And because of His great love for us, He bore our sins so that we could be free, washed clean and made new. Without blemish, spot or wrinkle. Blameless. He does not point a finger at us; He puts His finger under our chins and gently lifts our heads up.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25
“What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record.” Psalm 32:1
It would take many more moments before I truly understood my brokenness and my need for Christ. Before I was sorry, not just about the wrongs on my record, but the heart behind them. I have done far worse things than drink that Captain Morgan’s rum. And He has graciously stood in my place for all of it. The record has been cleared, the heart behind it made new. Brought into marvelous light. His grace is enough and I humbly receive it. And because of His love for me…when I graduate from this place, I will be given what I could never earn…right standing with a holy and perfect God… “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” Revelation 3:4. I’ll be wearing His robes of righteousness and a crown on my head. The honor is all HIS.