This is an edited version of a commencement address I gave at a local homeschool graduation (yes, that’s a thing). Several graduates and parents said it was encouraging. If you are graduating, or the proud parent of a graduate, I hope it’s encouraging to you too.
I’m sure you’ve all heard versions of the graduation speech that’s all pep and hype and “you are the moment!” and “you’re the captain-of-your ship and masters of your own destiny” — and I think those are great. Because really, you guys have done something truly remarkable.
You have graduated high school! You’re the class of 2019!
But when I really stop and think about graduation days, what comes to mind is not all that. Instead, I think about the last meal and the last words of Jesus. He only had 12 in his graduating class… so you know they were probably homeschooled too. Jesus doesn’t send them out with “atta boy” and “go get ‘em tiger” and “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” (Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott).
No. He tells them things like: The world will hate you; you will suffer; and the Enemy is after you. When Jesus tell his disciples what he’s praying for them, he says, “I don’t ask that you take them out of this world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
For Jesus, the most important marker of success wasn’t a lack of pain, but trusting God in the middle of it. Jesus had a higher goal for his graduates then their “best life now,” rather the goal of a life that lasts eternally.
As I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ last words and your graduating class, my mind keeps coming back to the book of Daniel. Israel had been conquered by pagan, immoral, oppressive Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar is infamous not just in our Bibles but all study of the Ancient Near East. He was commander in chief of the largest army ever known and the arrogant leader of an unfree world. Babylon was powerful and Nebuchadnezzar was unstoppable.
When Nebuchadnezzar would conquer a nation, he would displace the majority of the population and ship them away from their home country to Babylon.
Imagine being Daniel. You’re probably a teenager. Maybe a little younger than you are right now. You’re in a new place, a new culture, and a massive city. You’ve been separated from your parents. And the most powerful man in the world assigns you professors to teach you the “language and literature” of Babylon (Dan 1:17). Doesn’t this sound a little bit like some of your coming college experiences?
A lot of times we see college as a time to reinvent ourselves and become who we couldn’t be back home. Babylon weaponized that feeling. Giving new names to all the exiles, scrubbing them of any ties to their past. And the overwhelmingly forceful point was to make Daniel forget where he came from, and absorb the culture of Babylon.
I don’t want to be dramatic; America is not Babylon. Our university system isn’t like the reeducation programs of dictatorial regimes. But I do know that America, like Babylon, likes to think of itself as the Kingdom of God – God’s gift to the world, a shining beacon of progress and power. And I know that the universities, VoTecs, and the jobs you are about to take will all speak the same language. They all publish the same literature. They will all preach the same gospel.
The gospel of the world is this: “life is easier without God. Eat, drink, and enjoy it while you can.” The enemy’s strategy for America isn’t going to be an epidemic of demon-possession, or the election of some official that’s going to legislate the torturing of Christians. The enemy’s strategy today is the same as the King of Babylon’s.
King Nebuchadnezzar promised all his students that if they passed their tests they could drink good wine, eat good food, get good jobs, live in comfortable homes, with a little bit of power, and the privilege of not suffering (Dan 1:5). In Jesus’ day he called it the deceitfulness of riches, and today we call it the American Dream.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t pray for you to escape pain, poverty, or persecution. Those things have never been the greatest threat to your faith. The greatest threat is an evil one that knows you are easily pleased with good food, good jobs, and good wine. That’s why you, graduates of 2019, you need the book of Daniel and you need the prayers of Jesus. Both Daniel and Jesus promise a life better than comfort under the rule of some beneficent president. Instead, both promise a Savior who is with you always, even in the darkest ages.
Commencement means the beginning of something. It’s the beginning of your lives. It’s the beginning of being adults. And when Jesus graduates his disciples he wants them to know that they are beginning a life of darkness. But he also promises in choosing suffering for Jesus’ sake, in deciding to go toe-to-toe with the enemy, and in taking the path of resistance, you get far more than good food, good wine, and nice cars – you get eternal life.
And more than that, you get power.
When Daniel took the path of lion’s dens, you know what he’s promised – a throne. Not in Babylon (although he gets that) but in heaven with God. Daniel is promised a standard of living far better than living the high life of a king, but to rule side-by-side with the King of Kings. And in John 17:23 Jesus says to his graduating class he’s not praying that God would be side-by-side with them, but in them. That He, in all his resurrection power, would be in you, the same way God — in all his divine omnipotence — was in human Jesus.
And just like Jesus was sent into our world, you are being sent into the world. I’m sure a lot of you are still trying to figure out what that looks like; I know it can be terrifying.
But here’s some good news. Jesus’ doesn’t seem to be as concerned about the “what am I going to do with my life” part as your parents tend to be.
Jesus is more concerned about what your life is for. If Jesus and his power is in you, it’s for far more than career success. Jesus give two reason why he will bein you:
- So that the world knows God sent Jesus.
- So that you would know God loves you
Let’s start with the last one.
It’s funny, of all the things that Jesus prays for his graduates, do you know what he never prays? That God would love them. Instead, he prays that we would know that God loves us.
Do you know why? Because God’s love for you has never been on the table. It began before you or the world was born. Jesus doesn’t need to pray for God to love you because his love for you isn’t like our love towards each other. It’s not based on test scores, or how obedient we are, or how pretty we can make ourselves. He loves you because he wants to, and he’s never not wanted to. His love isn’t tied to anything. It’s free.
Graduates, you need to know this because God’s love is nothing like Registrar offices, SAT scores, or resumes. The world will love you only when and if you are qualified, but God showed his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, while we were unqualified, Jesus died for us.
The rest of your life you’ll be testing your limits and eventually you’ll hit them… you’ll fail. It might even be permanently inked onto your transcript and brought up in job interviews. But while the rest of the world is constantly weighing, testing, and trying to figure out if you’re good enough to be in their inner circle, God does none of these things.
My prayer is that this commencement launches a graduating class that is so secure in God’s love for them that you will choose the hard things; that you will choose a life of persecution, and going toe-to-toe with the enemy so that the world might know Jesus, and so that all of you would know the fullness of God’s love for you.
That was the story of Daniel. Exiled in a far away nation, he chose the hard thing of faithfulness, even when it looked like it would kill him. And what does God do in response? He pulls him out of both fires and lion’s dens. And he makes Babylon decree in every nation and language that only Yahweh’s kingdom lasts forever.
That was Jesus’ story too. When he exiled himself to our far away planet he chose the hard thing of faithfulness to God even when it killed him. And what does God do in response? He raises him from the dead. And he sends us into every nation, language and tongue to pronounce that Jesus is Lord.
Graduate, if you choose faithfulness over comfort that will be your life too. Therefore, choose life.