Some years ago, the story that follows made the rounds of family and friends. Recently, the story came to my attention again, and I felt called to share. The story is a bit long, and neither its veracity nor the identity of the author is known. Still, it is well worth reading.
According to this tale, a small college in the west required all first-year students to take a Christianity survey course. Since the course was not tied to a major field of study, the professor responsible for teaching had a tough job convincing the students to take it seriously. The professor loved teaching the course but felt he was not getting through to most of the students. He did his best to communicate the gospel’s essence, but the students seemed to think the course was sheer drudgery.
One year, a special student turned up in the class. The student’s name was Steve, and he was a good student. In fact, he planned to study for the ministry at seminary after his undergraduate work. Steve was also the starting center on the football team, and physically he looked the part. Some might say he was an imposing figure. To top it off, he was the best student in the professor’s class.
One day, the professor asked Steve to stay after class. When the others were gone, the professor asked Steve how many push-ups he could do. Steve replied, “I do about two hundred every night.” The professor thought that was good, and let Steve know it. Yet, the professor asked Steve if he thought three hundred push-ups was a possibility.
Steve thought for a moment before replying. “I don’t know. I’ve never done three hundred at one time.” The professor did not take that as an answer. Instead, he asked, “Do you think you could?” Steve replied, “Well, I can try.” To which the professor responded, “Could you do three hundred in sets of ten? I have a class project in mind, and I need you to do about three hundred push-ups in sets of ten for this to work.”
When Steve hesitated, the professor insisted, “Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it.” Steve finally agreed he thought he could do 300. The professor was happy and told Steve he needed to be ready the next Friday. Then he told Steve what he had in mind.
Friday came, and Steve got to class early, sitting in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a large box of donuts. These were not normal donuts. They were BIG, extra fancy, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone seemed excited! It was Friday and the end of the semester. Now, they were starting the weekend early with a class party.
The professor went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have a donut?” Cynthia said, “Yes.” Turning to Steve, the professor said, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?” Steve replied, “Sure,” jumping down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve sat back at his desk, and the professor placed a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
Moving to the next person, the professor asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” The professor looked at Steve, asking, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups! Joe got a donut, and so it went down the first aisle. Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.
Walking down the second aisle, The professor came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team and in good condition as well. He was very popular and never lacked female companionship. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own push-ups?” The professor responded, “No, Steve has to do them.” Scott replied, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
Shrugging, the professor turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience, Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!” The professor said, “Look! This is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” He put a donut on Scott’s desk.
By this time, Steve was slowing down a little. He stayed on the floor between sets. It took too much effort to get up and down. You could even see a little perspiration on his forehead.
The students were beginning to get a little angry. When the professor asked Jenny if she wanted a donut, she sternly replied, “No!” Of course, Steve was asked to do ten more push-ups so Jenny could have a donut that she didn’t want? Steve did ten and Jenny got a donut.
By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No,” and there were uneaten donuts on the many desks. Also, Steve had to put forth a lot of extra effort to get the push-ups done for each donut. A small pool of sweat formed on the floor beneath his face. His arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the effort.
The professor asked Robert, the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push-up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in a set. The professor explained he couldn’t bear to watch Steve work so hard for donuts people did not want. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could watch Steve closely.
When he started down the fourth row the professor realized students from other classes had wandered into the room. They were sitting on the floor watching. Realizing this, the professor did a quick count and saw there were now 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it. Yet, he did not stop. He continued asking students if they wanted a donut, and the strain on Steve was really beginning to show.
Before the next student was approached, Steve asked, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?” Thinking for a moment, the professor replied, “Well, they’re your push-ups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way you want.” Then, he continued to the next students.
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the door and was about to come in. All the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Yet, Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.”
The professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in, you will have to do ten push-ups for him?” Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.” “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?” Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.”
“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Finishing the fourth row, the professor started on the visitors sitting on the floor. Steve’s arms were shaking each time he pushed himself up from the floor. The force of gravity was taking its toll. Sweat was dripping from his face, and there was no sound except his heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two students in the room were two young women. They were cheerleaders and very popular. The professor looked at Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a donut?” Very sadly, Linda said, “No, thank you.” Quietly, the professor asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda.
Turning to the other cheerleader, the professor asked, “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Why can’t I help him?” The professor, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone.”
“I have given him this task. He is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me shoddy work.
Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up, he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push-ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”
“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him, and he fell to the floor.
The professor turned to the room and said, “And so it was that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, cried out to the Father, ‘Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’ With the understanding He had done everything required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”
Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat. He was physically exhausted but wearing a thin smile. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding, “Not all sermons are preached in words.”
Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not His only begotten Son but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price was paid.” “Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying like a donut on a desk?”
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