Imagining the End at the Beginning
Sep 10, 2009 by Mark Young | 1 Comments
Each year at Denver Seminary we kick off the academic year with a wonderful tradition known as convocation. At convocation the Seminary community gathers to worship, to pray, and to reaffirm its commitment to the doctrinal basis of our school. It’s a great event that, in many ways, sets the tone for the upcoming school year. This year, my first convocation, I challenged the students and faculty to begin the school year with a vision for change that would guide them throughout the months of teaching and learning that lie ahead. I thought you might enjoy what I shared with them during convocation so we’re posting it on my blog. Enjoy!
In 1952, young Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the
“I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”
That’s the power of seeing the end of a journey before you reach it.
Today is a day of multiple beginnings. It is the start of a new school year. For some of you this is the beginning of your first year at Denver Seminary, and it is, obviously, also mine as well.
A beginning implies an end. So it is in the very Word of God. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” These seven words in Hebrew are “the foundation of all that is to follow in the Bible.” (John Sailhammer. 1990. Genesis. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Volume 2. p. 19) The Hebrew word translated “beginning” typically marks the starting point of a specific duration of time. It is used most frequently in relation to its antonym, “end.” The beginning of Genesis 1 is the beginning of human history, a history that will unfold because God has created, a history that will proceed under his sovereign rule, and a history that will end just as he has already ordained it. A beginning implies an end. Indeed, it demands it.
The beginning of this school year engages us in the privilege of imagining an end. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not already pining away for May 15, 2010, when we will once again don our colors and strut our glorious stuff down the aisle of a crowded auditorium at commencement. No, the privilege of an educator and a student is to move beyond the academic calendar and imagine an end that is far more significant than the completion of an academic year or an academic program. Teaching is an act of sanctified imagination, the joy of envisioning growth, change, and even transformation.
That’s my challenge to all of us today, both students and teachers. Take time now, at the beginning of the school year, to create images of growth and change and transformation that will motivate you and guide you in the months ahead. Take time now to envision a future that is different than the present. Without a vision of an end that’s different than the present education loses any sense of rationale.
A Vision of Change in Your Own Life
At the most fundamental level, learning means change. If you have no desire to change, then you have no reason to study, no impetus to learn. The challenge that you face today is the temptation to be consumed by the immediate and set your sights on just doing assignments and passing classes in order to take the next class and the next class and the next. That period of your education is over. It’s time for you to think beyond the immediate, to imagine more than just passing classes; I want you to long to be different, to grow, to change. What must change in your life? When you look forward what differences do you see in your faith, in your understanding, in your love for Christ, in your ability to minister?
Some of you have come to seminary simply to get answers to questions that have bedeviled you. Like so many, some of you are wondering if, in fact, the constant drone of skepticism toward the exclusive truth claims of Christianity makes belief in the One True God nothing other than cultural arrogance. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no comes to the Father except by me,” did he lay down a condition for all or just for those who happen to win the ovarian lottery and be born in a culture where such is already believed? Don’t be afraid to ask that kind of question; even more, don’t be afraid of the answers. Perhaps your vision for change mirrors the scene of Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Go ahead, have the courage to see yourself carefully and compassionately interacting with the skeptic because you’ve been there and come back to deeply felt and carefully reasoned faith.
Some of you have come to seminary wondering if the church is even relevant anymore, deeply skeptical of its leaders and their ability to serve without disappointing those who know them well. Don’t be afraid to believe that the church can always be more than it is in any given setting. Don’t be afraid to envision yourself wholly given to the people of God, serving them with the passionate conviction that without the church, the world has no testimony of their only source of hope—the risen Christ. Go ahead, have the courage to see yourself leading a church that matters in the world, preaching the Word and teaching the truth and caring for the needs of God’s people and living out with them the hope of the gospel.
Some of you have come broken and battered by those who have taken from you what they desired without regard for the destruction left in their wake. You’ve come to seminary to find healing, to believe again that there is life abundant, just as Jesus promised in John 10:10. This is life “at its scarcely imagined best,” (Carson, Gospel of John) a life of security and joy no matter the circumstances, a life free from debilitating self-condemnation bathed in the shed blood of the Lamb. Can you imagine living that way? Go ahead, have the courage to do what the paralyzed man who had been let down through the roof in front of Jesus had—the courage to believe, get up, pick up what’s entrapped you, and walk away rejoicing over what God has done for you. Envision yourself changed and whole.
A vision of personal growth and change will help you weather the challenges and pressure that awaits you through the coming academic year.
A Vision of Change in the Lives of Others
But I want to challenge you today, this day of beginning, to imagine an even grander end than the marvelous transformation that you see happening in your own life. I want you to look beyond yourself into the lives of those whom God will give you the privilege to serve.
When you look forward don’t just imagine yourself compassionately and confidently sharing answers to tough questions asked by those who do not yet believe. I want you to envision the skeptic listening to you because you’ve earned their respect and, therefore, the right to be heard. Look forward with me; see him asking questions, not with a hard-edged sneer but with a desire to know. Can you envision them telling you that, although they still have questions and doubts, they’ve chosen to believe because of your steady, compassionate, and credible presence in their life? Can you see that skeptic coming up out of the waters of baptism praising the One she had once refused to believe?
Look beyond yourself into the lives of God’s people whom you will have the privilege of serving. Don’t just see yourself preaching and teaching and caring for them. Look forward with me; see their gratitude as the life-changing power of God’s Word through the work of the Spirit brings clarity in a time of confusion, comfort in a time of grief, and conviction in a time of rebellion. Can you see the young professional finding a sense of purpose that transcends the accumulation of stuff in the grand purpose of God? Can you see the elderly couple realizing that you care for them, that their lives matter to you and to God?
Don’t just imagine yourself coming to grips with your own stuff and finding your own sense of peace and satisfaction. True wholeness, true satisfaction, true maturity is found as we turn ourselves inside out for the sake of others. Look forward with me; see hope flicker, ever so briefly, for the first time in the eyes of one who has come to you in a last ditch effort to find some reason to keep on living. Can you see that husband and wife speaking tough truth to one another, not to wound, but to heal, because you’ve given them hope that their marriage can be saved? Look forward with me. See the joy of freedom from guilt and condemnation in the lives of those who have come to you “weary and heavy-laden.”
Can you see them? Can you see changed lives because God graciously used you in ways that you dared to believe He would? Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your studies are just for your sake. Denver Seminary exists to change lives—yours and the lives of those whom you will touch with the truth of God’s Word in the power of the Spirit.
The Grandest Vision of Change
But I want to challenge you today, this day of beginning, to imagine an even grander end than the transformation you will experience in your own life and the wonder of God using you to change the lives of others. On this day of beginning, I want you to envision the end of all things, the end of the story implied by the majestic words of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
The story begun in Genesis 1—the story of human history, the story of creation, rebellion, redemption, and mission—is not yet complete. Our sovereign God has already seen the end of all things. He is directing all of human history toward that end. In the merciful patience of God (2 Peter 3:9), we are not yet there. But, thankfully, in the pages of Scripture, he has given us the privilege of glimpsing the end that he has ordained. We find those glimpses in the apocalypse, the book of Revelation.
In John’s great vision of the throne room of heaven (Revelation 4-5) he sees the Father seated on the throne holding a scroll in his right hand. The scene is dominated by this question, “Who is worthy to break the seal and open the scroll?” The scroll contains the unfolding of human history, the end of God’s dealings with rebellious humanity. But no one can be found and the apostle weeps because no one is worthy to take the scroll and open it. Then standing in the center of the throne room we see the Son, the Lamb who was slain. He, alone, is deemed worthy to take the scroll with the seven seals that will unleash God’s final judgment on earth.
And when He takes the scroll from the Father, all the heavenly creatures sing a new song to the Lamb:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Yes, the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll because He was slain and because with His blood He has purchased men and women from every tribe and every language and every people and every nation.
Yes, He has purchased Muslims in Iran, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Myanmar, animists in the Congo, atheists in China and secularists in France. And because He has redeemed men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation, He is worthy. Oh, yes, He is worthy.
Today we may see few, if any, among these who worship the Lamb. Yet He was slain for them (1 John 2:2) and His mission, His joy, His satisfaction includes their worship of Him around the throne in heaven.
John’s grander vision of the end includes the worship of people purchased by God from every nation, tribe, people and language. In Rev. 7 he describes a great multitude, so many that they cannot be counted, of those who have been martyred because of their belief in the Son.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Yes, the mission of God is certain. The grander vision of heaven is real. Around the throne will be worshipers from every tribe, every language, every people, and every nation. And they will cry out in a cacophony of praise.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
But there’s more. The consummation of the end of all human history in the new heaven and the earth is the very presence of God among His people.
“‘Now the dwelling of God is with his people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
John’s vision of the last scene of human history goes on. In it he sees no sun or moon in the new heaven and the new earth for the glory of the Lord shines forth in light. And then he writes,
“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”
Is that the end that you’re imagining today? The glorious presence of our God in full splendor in our midst; the cacophony of praise lifted by grateful men and women from every tribe and every language.
We don’t live it yet, do we? We can’t clearly see that shoreline. The mist of sin and the fog of Satan’s deception shroud it from us. But we know it’s there, and we know it’s real. We’ve been given a glimpse of it. Keep moving toward it. Allow it to motivate and comfort and guide you during these days. Let this grand vision of the mission of God frame your life and drive you forward with a sense of purpose that will not abate. Don’t lose sight of this glorious end that our magnificent God has foreseen and ordained.
A major state university advertises their school with the following slogan, “What starts here changes the world.” A friend on their board told me recently that they will soon embark on a capital campaign to raise billions of dollars. The slogan for that campaign is, “We change people. They change the world.” As those who have tasted the life-transforming power of the gospel and who have been entrusted with it for the sake of all humanity in the grand purpose of God, can we at Denver Seminary not say and believe the same with even more conviction than a secular institution of higher education. My question for you today is simple. Do you believe that what starts today in your life at Denver Seminary will be used of God to change your world?
Believe it, my friends, and you will enrich your experience at Denver Seminary exponentially. Change your heart. Change your life. Change your world.