One of the great privileges which are mine as President of Asbury Theological Seminary is to give a final charge to our graduating seniors. This is my 2011 charge to the graduates of the Seminary.
2 Cor. 4:8-10 (NIV)
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
When the Jesuits sent out their missionaries to the Far East in the 17th century the journey was so perilous that they gathered the entire group on the deck prior to leaving port and gave them a charge which included the ominous fact that 30% of them would die at sea before they even reached the mission field and that 20% more would die in the first year on the field due to disease. So it charged them to look around and recognize that half of their number would be dead in a year. They were then given a final opportunity to get off the ship.
I would like you to look around and know that if you really want to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and not just your own ambitions on the coat-tails of the church, then you must all die. This is my charge to the 2011 graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary: Go forth carrying around in your body the death of Jesus. What does this mean? It means that you have died to yourself. It means that you have forsaken all worldly ambitions that you might be reborn to serve Jesus Christ in the world. Paul profoundly understood that the death of Jesus is not merely an isolated event in human history, but is an event which draws the whole human race into it. We cannot participate in his resurrection unless we have passed through the cross.
Every voice will cry out for you to measure your success by worldly standards. What is the size of your church? How much money do you get paid? How nice is your parsonage? What kind of pension plan do you have? Are you popular? Regard such questions as distracting arrows from the pit of hell. If the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it is that God sometimes does his greatest work under a cloak of failure.
To carry around the death of Jesus means that your focus is not so much on being successful, as being faithful. For some of you this may lead to charges with great responsibility over thousands of members. For others, faithfulness means feeding a small flock and defending a relatively remote outpost of the kingdom.
But never forget that whatever act we faithfully do in God’s name the whole incarnation is present in seed form. When Jesus touched the leper, it wasn’t a stepping stone to the cross. The whole cross was always in seed form in everything Jesus did. There are no stepping stones to the kingdom. There is no denominational ladder to climb. There is no career path stretching out in front of you. What we have before us is the call which beckons us to the cross. It is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th martyr who was hung for his faithfulness standing against the evils of the 3rd Reich, who wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The Apostle Paul writes 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. (1Co 4:9 NIV) As graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary I send you forth to inhabit the kind of robust, muscular, Apostolic Christianity which is necessary to face the challenges of our day. Go forth from this place with a vibrant confidence in the Word of God, the supremacy of Christ, and the ongoing power of the gospel!
Don’t confuse busyness with godliness. Don’t confuse programmatic activity with authentic relationships. Don’t confuse knowledge with holiness (knowledge puffeth up, love edifies); Don’t confuse title and position with faithfulness and calling. Instead, make it your daily ambition to die to self and be daily reborn in Christ. You are being called to defend some outpost of the New Creation in Adam’s world – don’t get distracted –keep your post, defend the gospel, proclaim Christ. Amen.