The following is an abridged transcription of Dr. Jonathan Master’s address to the University graduates at the Fall 2019 Commencement Ceremony.
Thinking back on my time as a student, I realize that many of the things that influenced me most were casual, offhanded, and unplanned. I could list dozens of asides that professors made that have stuck with me. I know that if I brought up those little remarks, those who said them would not remember them, because they were not the main point of what they were teaching. The comments were unstudied and unplanned.
This is how it works in our lives. Some of the things that are most memorable—the things that really shape who we are and what we become—are the seemingly small, offhanded comments that were made to us. It’s a humbling thought as a teacher: some—not all, but some—of our most
influential words and gestures are ones we forget immediately afterwards. This is why we are all called to live lives of integrity and wholeness. Our influential offhanded remarks are the overflow of deeply held but unconscious convictions. They often reflect the things we assume, the things that form the basis of everything else we say and do. Over time, the little things give you away. The asides give a glimpse of the scaffolding of the mind. Asides can often show us the scaffolding of God’s Word as well. They reveal the deep structures and assumptions of the Bible and the figures whose lives are recorded in it. And it is to one particular aside that I wish to draw your attention to on this day.
On this important day in your lives, I ask you to consider a comment made in passing—not in one of the many classes you have had here at Cairn—but in the context of one of the conversations Jesus had with the religious leaders of His day. The debate is recorded for us in John 10. In Jesus’ teaching, there is a small aside tucked away. It is five short words in English, six in Greek; but its importance, I would submit, can hardly be overstated. It is a window into one of the most basic assumptions of Jesus’ entire ministry: “The Scripture cannot be broken.”
Again and again, Jesus makes it clear where He stands on the Scriptures. Even if you are not a believing Christian, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Jesus Christ held the Bible in the highest possible esteem. It was Jesus Christ, after all, who said in His most famous sermon:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt. 5: 17–19)
The remainder of His ministry was no different. Jesus taught that Scripture was accurate to its smallest details. Historically accurate with respect to Adam and Eve (Matt 19:3–4); the flood (Luke 17:26–27); and the account of Jonah (Matt 12:40). In one of His most sophisticated arguments, Jesus hinges His interpretation on the tense of a Hebrew verb in the Old Testament. Jesus believed that the Bible was sustaining and life-giving, as important as food and water: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”
Even on the cross, during His moment of greatest suffering, it is the words of Scripture that were on His lips; and His actions, even under duress, all served to fulfill those same Scriptures. Even in His death, Jesus declares Scripture cannot be broken.
Jesus’ own attitude should not surprise us when we stop to consider the Scriptures more broadly. The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is an extended meditation on the reliability, sufficiency, and intrinsic worth of God’s Holy Word. It is high poetic art, but it is also very personal, and it is meant to convey not only the glory of the Scriptures but also the value of them for the life of the believer.
As you hear some of this Psalm, think about this: Does your evaluation of the Scripture match these sentiments? Does this Psalm serve as benchmark for you? The psalmist says, “How blessed are those who observe God’s testimonies;” and “Oh that my ways would be established to keep your statutes, then I shall not be ashamed.” Is this what success and honor looks like for you?
What about value? What is it that you value in life? What do you long for?
The psalmist writes this: “I have rejoiced in the way of God’s testimonies as much as in all riches” and “My soul is crushed with longing after God’s ordinances at all times.”
What about delight? What is it that brings you joy and happiness? The psalmist says: “I shall delight in yourstatutes; I shall not forget your word.” And “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” Do you believe this? Could this be said of you?
Jesus Christ held the Scriptures in the highest possible esteem, and over and over we see that the godly, blessed, delight-filled life is the one that is lived with the highest regard for the Word of God.
Throughout history, men and women have offered us examples of this kind of life—of delighting in God’s Word, of hanging on every line of Scripture, of pouring themselves out for the Word of God in whatever circumstance. The people who do this find that Scripture not only sustains them in life, but even as they approach death. Scripture is not only unbreakable, it is inexhaustible in this life.
Maybe you have met people who can testify to this. I surely have. These are men and women who reach the end of fruitful lives of service and say something like what I heard an old pastor say recently about his Bible: “I feel like I’m just barely scratching the surface.” Unlike other hobbies or interests, which actually become duller and less satisfying at the end of life, study of the Word of God brings life. You can reach the day of your death with even greater confirmation of this truth: The Scripture cannot be broken.
“Jesus believed that the Bible was sustaining and life-giving, as important as food and water: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Today, I know of men in Sudan who have scraps of the Bible and consider it their most precious possession. I have been in the sitting rooms of women and men who lived behind the Iron Curtain and tuned into illegal radio broadcasts for a half-hour every week as the Bible was read, copying what they heard by hand so that they might possess the Scripture for themselves.
Those of you graduating today have been blessed by an education that is centered on the Word of God—the unbreakable, inexhaustible, life-giving Bible. The curriculum here was designed to give you an understanding of the Scriptures, and the reason for this is simple: Scripture applies to all of
life. Every decision you make should be filtered through the grid of Scripture, every thought taken captive. Even as you take your final breath, the authority of Scripture still holds sway.
I need to offer a warning at this point, though I think it is one you know already. The world of our day, like the world of Jesus’ day, and the world of yesterday and tomorrow, has no sympathy for the fullness of God’s Word. While the Scripture will not be broken, our culture today wants to stand in judgment over it and over anyone who seeks to follow it. By obediently tethering your mind to the Word of God, you are setting yourself up for persecution and derision. This is no surprise. The apostle Paul writes: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). But then Paul goes on to say in the next verses, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned . . . . you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you wisdom that leads to salvation in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God . . .”
We know we cannot underestimate the guile of the Enemy of God’s Word. As Martin Luther’s great hymn reminds us: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” But you have the opportunity to live with clarity and real hope. As you leave this university, you can declare in your lives that, in spite of the enemies and in spite of the Enemy, you rest in the authority of that “Word above all earthly powers,” which “no thanks to them abideth.”
When you declare this, you are also announcing something profound about your life as a whole. You are saying: “The body they may kill, [but] God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.” For the Scripture cannot be broken.
Dr. Jonathan Master is the dean of the School of Divinity. He can be reached at email@example.com.