It was a humid, almost balmy Friday morning in Louisville on May 14, 2010. Little did I realize the mass of sweat that was gathering on my shirt under my thick, black, rented robe as I sat in the front row of Southern Seminary’s lawn, listening to President Albert Mohler’s charge to the 2010 graduates. It was entitled “Starting Something You Cannot Finish: The Eschatology of Christian Mission.”
Though the title was startling, I knew exactly where Dr. Mohler was going with this message, because I have heard him wax eloquent on the subject before. I remember well a conference in 2004 where I first heard his comparison of Christian ministry with the task of mowing a lawn. Those who mow can finish their job, take a step back, and rest in the satisfaction of a completed work. Those who proclaim the gospel for the sake of Christ’s church never enjoy such an experience in this life. Instead, as Dr. Mohler explained so well last Friday, they preach, labor, pray, and suffer, the vast majority of them doing so without the slightest notice of the world. And then they are placed in a box, buried under six feet of earth, and the world goes on. We who labor in Christian ministry will die “with more undone than done.”
But this is not a sad appeal for pity. It is a sobering, humbling, Christ-exalting vision of reality. For the truth is that the perfection of Christ’s church is no human task at all. Therefore, it would be presumptuous, even idolatrous, to expect that we could finish a job that only Christ can finish. And it is a job that he certainly will finish, for he has already rendered full payment for every one of his people. If the church is purchased with the blood of God’s own Son, how will God fail to claim what rightly belongs to him in the end? And if God did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Rom. 8:32)?
So we go on preaching, laboring, praying, and suffering, until the day they place us in a box. Will the world be all that different when I’m six feet under? I doubt it. But I hope that those whose paths I have crossed in this short time will have experienced something of the love of Christ that radiates from the cross to and through me as an ambassador of Christ. The job will remain unfinished. And that is perfectly fine.
For it was on another (perhaps balmy) Friday when Jesus of Nazareth hung from a slab of wood just outside the city of Jerusalem. With his disciples scattered and his enemies taunting, he issued a declaration that forever ensured that wooden boxes and six feet of earth would not and could hold his people indefinitely:
It is finished.