WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated the accomplishments of 161 students at its fall commencement Dec. 15.
A total of 110 students received graduate degrees from the seminary and 51 received degrees from Southeastern College at Wake Forest, the undergraduate school of the institution. Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin preached from Psalm 23, beginning his message by listing names and metaphors for God, such as lion, eagle, lamb, hiding place, rock, bridegroom, husband, father and judge.
“Yet, one of the most tender images that you find in the Bible when it comes to helping us understand God’s care and concern for us — the fact that God has committed Himself to His children to guide them and to protect them — is the image of a shepherd or better, in my judgment, a shepherd king,” Akin said.
He pointed to three instances in the Bible where God is referred to as shepherd. John 10:11 uses the term “Good Shepherd,” Hebrews 13:20 says “Great Shepherd” and I Peter 5:4 reads “Chief Shepherd.” Akin pointed out that each of these references has its origin in Psalm 23. He called Psalms 22-24 a “magnificent trio giving us different portraits and different perspectives on our great Shepherd King, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Psalm 22 focuses on the “suffering King,” Psalm 23 on the “shepherd King” and Psalm 24 on the “sovereign King,” Akin said. Although Psalm 23 often is portrayed as a passage only for funerals, it should not be, he said.
“Psalm 23 is really not about death; Psalm 23 is really about life,” Akin said. “It is not about dying, it is about living under the watch care day in and day out for the totality of your life under a shepherd king.”
“If He is going to give us eternal life in the future, what will He do for you and me today, tomorrow in life right now?” Akin asked. “In this life, you and I may not always have what we want, but God has promised to you and to me that we will always have everything that we need.”
Akin focused on the provisions of nourishment and rest that God gives to His people.
“He restores us. When we are weak, He gives us strength. He leads you; He doesn’t drive you. He doesn’t coerce you; He doesn’t manipulate you. God’s leading is always right. God’s leading is always correct. He leads us to live the right way,” Akin said, before giving a word of counsel to the graduates.
“Doing the right thing in the right way is a sure mark of spiritual maturity. It is not enough … to do the right thing; it is imperative to do it in the right way,” he said.
The “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4 can refer to more than just death, Akin said, adding it also can describe those “deep, dark valley death-like experiences.”
“There are times in ministry when you are walking through absolute, utter, deep darkness. Life doesn’t make sense,” Akin said. “Who puts you sometimes in the valley of the shadow of death? The Good Shepherd. He is the one that led you to the green pastures and the still waters, but He is also the one who leads you into the valley of the shadow of death. Why would God put you and me in those kind of situations? Because He’s taking you on to a better place.”
Akin continued, “Did you realize that the path of righteousness includes the valley of the shadow of death? You are going to have experiences like that, and the fact is every one of us one day will be standing at death’s door. Who do you want with you when you’re there? Who do you want beside you when you’re there? The Good Shepherd who will not leave you or forsake you.”
Akin closed by examining Psalm 23:6, which reads, in part, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.” The use of “shall follow” literally means God will “pursue” or “chase after with great intensity,” Akin said.
“You can’t outrun God. You may think you’re quick. You may think you’re swift; but I’ve got news for you, you can’t outrun Him, and you cannot outlast Him. His goodness and His mercy will again and again and again track you down.”