LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) - Ministers of the gospel are instruments of God's plan to renew the world, delivering humanity from its curse, said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville at the school's 220th commencement exercises on Dec. 8.
During the ceremony in the seminary's historic Alumni Memorial Chapel, 156 master's and doctoral students received their degrees as members of a 211-person graduating class.
"Graduates, you are wearing the gowns of academic and ministry preparation. You will soon hold diplomas as evidence of your seriousness of preparation and devotion to the ministry," Mohler said. "You are surrounded by a host of friends and family and faculty. Their own hopes and dreams of ministry go with you and in you. This faculty has taught you with conviction and affection, and now you go to bear the gospel of Christ and to preach the Word."
Mohler tied his address to the December graduates directly to the Christmas season. Many musicologists and worship leaders affirm that "Joy To the World," published by Isaac Watts in 1719, is the most-sung Christmas carol every December, he suggested. But the hymn, which is a bold and ecstatic declaration of God's rule and reign over creation, is not fundamentally about Christmas, said Mohler in his commencement address, titled Far as the Curse is Found. It instead points to Christ's second Advent, when he will make everything new. While it applies to the arrival of Christ incarnate, Mohler said, it reminds Christians that the full promises of God's dominion are not yet fulfilled.
The third verse of the hymn - which reads that Christ's return makes his "blessings flow, far as the curse is found" - provides a clear summary of the church's mission, which is also the mission of all ministers of the gospel, according to Mohler. The Lord commissions his people to take the message of renewal and restoration to every corner of the world where sin reigns.
"We are gathered here because Jesus saves," Mohler said. "We are gathered here because, on the cross, he bore the full penalty of our sin. We are gathered here because Christ, our substitute, died for us the death that was rightly ours. We are here because we celebrate this gospel. We are here because we are ready to send these graduates out to teach, to preach, and to tell this gospel."
Using Genesis 3 and Galatians 3 as his texts, Mohler showed how the curse of sin is traced out through the storyline of the Bible. Since Adam was installed at creation as the representative of all humanity, his sin condemned the entire created order to suffer under the curse of God's righteous judgment of sin, Mohler said.
"Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects," he said. "[It extends] to every atom and molecule of creation - from coast to coast, horizon to horizon, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet."
The curse not only affects the world around humanity, but it also renders every human soul to a state of condemnation. Every human is born under this curse and, according to Galatians 3:10-14, can do nothing to escape it. But God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on behalf of humanity, taking the penalty of their sin and removing the power of the law to condemn, Mohler said. Now, the mission falls to those who have experienced redemption from the curse of the law to take a message of forgiveness to the ends of a still-fallen world.
"The world is full of sinners who live every day under the curse, and the penalty of the curse is sin. You go to preach the gospel and to declare salvation to all who believe in Christ and repent of their sin," Mohler said to the graduates. "You go to feed Christ's flock and to shepherd the church for whom Christ died."
Those who still live under this curse need to hear God's message of victory over sin and deliverance from its destructive effects, Mohler said. Graduates of Southern Seminary are sent out to preach the gospel and proclaim that salvation is available for those who repent and believe.
"How far does the gospel reach? To what lengths must the gospel be taken? It is answered in the third verse of this hymn: 'Far as the curse is found,'" Mohler said. "Go and preach. Go and tell. Teach the good news that Christ has redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us. Take the message of the gospel of Christ far as the curse is found."
During the ceremony, the seminary awarded a degree posthumously to Ronney Plemons, an Ohio pastor who completed the requirements of his doctor of ministry degree in Biblical Spirituality before he died on August 22. He most recently pastored at First Baptist Church in Fairborn, Ohio, and previously served at Southside Baptist Church in Lakeland, Florida, and Cornerstone Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Susan Plemons, a professor of music and worship at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and Ronney's wife, was present to receive the diploma on behalf of her husband.
"He had fulfilled all of the responsibilities for the doctor of ministry degree," said Mohler, who attended the same church as a child that Plemons later pastored in Lakeland, Florida. "More than that, by God's grace, he had fulfilled all of the commission that had been given to him as a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Mohler also presented the Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award to Tyson W. Ziegler, a master of divinity graduate from Independence, Kentucky. The award was established in 1980 to recognize the outstanding graduate of each graduating class.