And so, you graduate. The Seminary Lawn is filled with hundreds of graduates, faculty, family, and friends. Everyone is playing his or her part. Parents are proud, spouses are glad, friends are happy, and a good number of infants are hungry. The faculty is feeling old and the graduates are feeling wise. And you are wise, for you have completed demanding courses of study that are rightly respected and widely envied. You are wiser for the knowledge that what you have learned thus far is only a prelude to a life of consecrated learning for the cause of Christ and the aim of faithfulness in Christian ministry. This great congregation gathered on this sacred soil is here to celebrate with you, and to thank God for you. Furthermore, we are here to set you loose and to pray for you as you go out into the fields of ministry, for, as our Lord has promised, the fields are white unto harvest.
In our imagination, we can see you in any number of contexts where you will surely go. We see so many of you in the pulpit, teaching and preaching the Word of God. We see many of you on the mission fields of the world, taking the Gospel where it has never been heard. We see you making disciples. Some will lead in worship and song, others in leadership and service. We can see you in so many places.
One of the most ridiculous books given to some high school graduates is Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It is filled with the kind of logic that fuels the self-esteem movement and the culture of self-expression. It’s message is encapsulated in passages like this: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
Well, that sounds like what a lot of us would like to hear and it rather perfectly fits the spirit of the age, but it will not work for us. First of all, we do not believe that the Christian minister controls his own destiny. Beyond that, our hope is that some of you will end up where Dr. Seuss would not encourage you to go — into trouble, into court, and even into jail.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the apostles Peter and John in custody. The previous day they had preached Christ and a lame beggar had been healed. You know the account. Peter and John had been walking up to the Temple to pray when they saw a lame beggar who asked for alms. Peter said to him, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Peter took him by the hand and the beggar’s ankles and feet became strong and he began to walk, then to leap, and then to praise God. The people who saw this were filled with amazement and wonder.
Peter then preached to the crowd in Solomon’s Portico. “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.” [Acts 3:12-13]
Peter then declared that salvation has come, that the time of ignorance is over, that the times of refreshing have now come. Many who had heard the word believed, including some five thousand men. This greatly annoyed the temple authorities and the Sadducees, who were offended by everything that had happened, from the healing of the lame man to the preaching of the Gospel and the response of faith. Peter and John were placed under arrest. The next day, they were brought before the council for a trial of sorts, much like what today we would call a preliminary hearing. You know what happened:
“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified,whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”
These two apostles, fresh from the exhilaration of the day of Pentecost, found themselves arrested for, of all things, healing a lame man and daring to preach Christ. The High Priest and his family, the rulers and elders and scribes, were ready to sit in judgment on two men who had just been used of God to demonstrate healing and to declare salvation. With Peter and John before them, they asked the crucial question: “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
That is precisely the right question. It sounds so strange to us, but it is exactly the right question. By what right, by whose name, in whose authority had they dared to do these things?
This is the question every true minister of Christ should long to be asked. Note carefully that it only makes sense to ask this question after something happens that demands it. Sadly, there have been many who have entered the ministry and retired into history, never having been asked this question. This question is asked of the bold, the courageous, the convictional. This is the question asked in the wake of any great demonstration of the Gospel’s power and of God’s determined power to save. It is the question asked in the wake of true revival. It is the obvious question to ask when a lame man begins to walk and leap, when the blind begin to see and the mute begin to speak.
But it is also the obvious question to ask every time the great good news of the Gospel is declared. Indeed, it is the obvious question to ask every time the Word of God is rightly and bravely preached. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
We must note that Peter had answered the question before it was asked. After all, he had said to the lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” To those who followed them to Solomon’s Portico, Peter had preached Christ and then said: “And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” [Acts 3:16]
Following the example of the Apostles, all that we do for Christ is done in his name. In his earthly ministry, Christ was asked: “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” But Christ, the Son of God incarnate, acted in his own name by the authority of the Father. We minister in Christ’s name.
By what power or by what name did you do this? Answering them, Peter declared: “‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified,whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. No other name. No other authority. No other power. When we are asked the question we long to be asked, our answer must be Jesus. We have no other name. We know no other gospel. There is no other name by which sinners can be saved.
It is true that you will go many places. This great assembly is humbled by the knowledge that you will go where so many of us have never gone. You will go to churches of all shapes and sizes and contexts. You will go into the streets with mercy and into the cities with compassion. You will go into homes with care and into places marked by both light and darkness. You will go to preach the Word, to declare the good news of salvation, to make disciples. You will teach and preach and care and pray. You will lead and learn and point people to Jesus.
Our fervent prayer is that, as you go, you go with the longing to be asked the question that was so famously asked of Peter and John: “By whose power or by what name did you do this?” We long to hear you answer, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”
That question may land some of you in jail. It will be asked of others in jungles. But, wherever you are asked and regardless of who does the asking, the answer is always the same: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
This is a commencement address and charge to graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered May 17, 2013 by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President. The commencement ceremony may be viewed live at 10:00 a.m. EDT at www.sbts.edu/live.
Art: “St. Peter Preaching in the Presence of St. Mark” by Fra Angelico (1395-1455).
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