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Commissioning the called of God
June 05, 2006
By Jeff Robinson
Southern Seminary's 197th graduating class listens to R. Albert Mohler Jr. urge them to follow the example of Peter in their future ministry. The ceremony took place outside for the first time in seminary history, as 1,800 people watched 232 students graduate. Photo by John Gill
Like the apostle Peter, Christian ministers have been profoundly transformed by God's grace and are called to display great courage in proclaiming the Gospel, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told graduates May 19 during the first graduation service to be held outdoors in the history of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The large class numbering 232 graduates prompted seminary officials to move the commencement from its traditional venue, Alumni Memorial Chapel, to the Seminary Lawn, where seating could be provided for all the graduates' guests. After rain soaked Louisville for several days prior to the service, skies cleared and the ceremony proceeded in near-perfect spring weather.
Reading from Psalm 19, Mohler told the audience of an estimated 1,800 persons that the outdoor graduation provided attendees a glimpse of the glory of God.
"Perhaps never in the history of this institution in a commencement have we been more aware that the heavens declare the glory of God," Mohler said. "This is a proud and holy day, a day of expectation, a day of accomplishment, and it is indeed a day of completion, of celebration, and also a day of commissioning."
Preaching from John 18 and Acts 3-4, Mohler told the seminary's 197th graduating class that Peter provides ministers with a clear example of a man who was radically changed by God's grace.
God transformed Peter from a reluctant disciple to a leader among the apostles who was willing to lay down his life for the Gospel, Mohler said. All ministers have undergone this same transformation, he said.
"[In Scripture] we see Peter at his most faithful and most courageous and most convictional," Mohler said. "We also see Peter at his weakest when he is not courageous, when conviction flees him, and he becomes a model for what the Christian minister must seek never to be and never to do," he said.
"We look at Peter and we wonder, 'How in the world can one man represent such contradictions?' It appears unprecedented until of course we look in the mirror and we realize that those same contradictions are found within ourselves."
Though Jesus promised to build his church upon Peter's confession that Jesus is the Son of God, Peter often shrunk back from witnessing for Christ, finally denying the Lord three times on the eve of the crucifixion, Mohler said.
However, as Mohler pointed out, Peter became a new man after the cross, a man of profound courage who refused to stop preaching the Gospel even under the threat of persecution. Ultimately, as Christ had prophesied, Peter was martyred for preaching the Gospel.
Like Peter, ministers are mere men — "earthen vessels" — who are by nature sinful, cowardly and weak, but are also men who have been transformed by God's grace into bold truth-tellers, Mohler said.
"What can explain Peter, having been transformed from a mere fisherman into a follower of Christ, from cowardice to courage, from timidity to truth teller?" Mohler asked. "What happens between John 18 and Acts? We know what happens: the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord.
"Peter had met the resurrected Christ … in that encounter at the end of the Gospel of John, Peter becomes an example to all who would serve the church of the Lord Jesus Christ as Jesus repeatedly asks, 'Do you love me? Feed my lambs.' Graduates, do you love Christ? It is the love of Christ that has brought you here. It is the love of Christ that has sent you here and kept you here and sends you out from here. Feed His lambs."
The message to ministers from the example of Peter must not be reduced to a pithy list of leadership lessons, Mohler said. Rather, the message is one of transformation and one of calling, courage, service and suffering for Christ's sake, he said.
Mohler encouraged graduates to reflect on Peter's example in their final hours as seminary students. Ultimately, Mohler reminded graduates that proclaiming the Gospel might cost them their lives. He also reminded them that their ministry — whether it ends in death at old age or in martyrdom — is to serve one supreme purpose: the glory of God.
"We know not what God will do through these graduates," Mohler said. "We do not know where the Lord will send them in years to come nor do they. It is known only to God. Some may grow old and some may not. There may today be martyrs in our midst for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are we at peace with that?
"Are we ready to celebrate the fact that God is doing in His church now what God promised through the apostles He would do in His church and that in every generation we are called to take up this mantle of faithfulness as handed down through the apostles to the church?"
Boyce College, Southern's undergraduate school, graduated 83 students in a separate ceremony on May 12 at Alumni Memorial Chapel. Mohler and Boyce College Dean James H. Scroggins IV issued brief challenges to the class of 2006.
Scroggins challenged students to heed Paul's words in 2 Timothy 2 to suffer hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
"Students, your task is not to please anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ," he said. "You have been called and equipped by Him, and you have a great mission and a great task. Your calling is important. You are the soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed."
During the Boyce ceremony, 17 students received certificates from Southern's Seminary Wives Institute and eight graduated from the school's Women's Ministry Institute.