From the opening invocation to the closing benediction, the show was stolen from the stage at Liberty University’s annual Baccalaureate service as all were urged to turn to their focus to Jesus.
The evening began with a grand processional of Liberty’s faculty and graduates and their families, who were then confronted with a simple charge from keynote speaker Eric Metaxas: “Follow Jesus.”
“Knowing that you are His and living that way is the only way that you can ever really enjoy life,” the acclaimed author and Christian intellectual told the crowd.
He said life has purpose, and God is ordering every step.
“Whatever you do when you leave this place, God has invited you into a grand adventure to be a soldier in His war against the forces of darkness. Whatever you are going to be doing, that is ultimately what you were meant to be doing,” Metaxas said. “You are meant to be a part of His church, His bride, His army of sons and daughters marching under His banner in the grand and eternal war against evil, using the holy weapons of love.”
The entire service emboldened graduates to live out the Great Commission as they pursue excellence in their careers. Prayers during the service — including an invocation from Dean of the School of Religion and Distinguished Professor Dr. Ed Hindson and a benediction from Administrative Dean for Undergraduate Programs Dr. Ben Gutierrez — focused on asking the Lord to strengthen graduates in this endeavor. Inspirational music from Liberty’s Wind Ensemble, Chamber Singers, and premier singing group the Sounds of Liberty lifted praises to God for His blessings.
President Jerry Falwell explained the rich history of the baccalaureate, a collegiate tradition predating the foundation of America, and how Liberty has remained true to the values and faith it represents within academia even while the greater academic community — in spite of the biblical mottos etched in stone on their facades — have strayed from it.
He said one of the first things that he and his wife, Becki, noticed when he became president in 2007 was how Liberty students “radiated the love of Christ to everyone they encountered.”
Even as Liberty has exploded in size — both in enrollment and facilities — in recent years, its mission has remained unchanged.
“In recent years Liberty has encountered growth on an unprecedented scale. God has blessed Liberty in ways that nobody ever dreamed possible,” Falwell said, noting the university has continued to add academic programs and is in the midst of a $500 million campus rebuilding. “Some were concerned that these blessings would cause complacency and would result in our students losing some of their fervor for serving Christ and for serving others. I am proud to report tonight that if anything, Liberty students are even more committed to the Christian ideals that have defined them for decades.”
Falwell introduced Metaxas as one of America’s foremost advocates for religious liberty. He highlighted Metaxas’ eclectic career, which has included endeavors such as writing humor pieces, children’s books, and scripts for VeggieTales, as well as best-selling, award-winning books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” The Yale University alumnus is also a prolific speaker and commentator for radio and television. In 2011, Metaxas was awarded the Canterbury Medal by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He has testified before Congress about the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad, delivered the keynote address at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and has spoken on religious freedom at CPAC 2013. Metaxas was recently named a senior fellow and lecturer at large for The King’s College in New York City.
Falwell, along with Provost Ronald S. Godwin and Vice Provost Ronald E. Hawkins, conferred upon Metaxas an honorary Doctor of Letters degree because of “the indispensible role he has played in translating Christian values to a new generation through the written and spoken word.”
Metaxas’ speech was simultaneously nostalgic and relevant. He explained to the graduating class that life is short, and that although humanity was created by God to exist outside of time, we are to redeem the time we have on earth to do God’s work.
“You really cannot serve Jesus unless you are bold,” he said. “You cannot, you must not, ever let the voices of intolerance and hate make you believe the crazy lie that you are the voice of intolerance and hate. Just speak the truth in love and trust God with the details.”
He added that if we are offering Jesus and what he stands for, then there is nothing to apologize for, because Jesus is what the soul truly longs for.
The stakes are much higher than simply being liked or having nonprofit status removed from your church, he said.
“There is a great, grand, eternal, infinitely meaningful war between good and evil,” he explained. “God invites us to participate. And rest assured, He has a part in it for every single one of you. Will you accept it? Will you trust him? Or do you have another part in mind? You want to be the star of another show?”
Quoting a popular song lyric from Pink Floyd, Metaxas said people tend to replace their holy calling with a more selfish one: “Did you trade a walk-on part in the war for the lead role in a cage?” He encouraged the crowd to retweet the quote, which he posted on Twitter prior to the service.
As he closed, Metaxas had the crowd repeat with him in unison the name above all names, the hope of the universe, the summation of everything: “Jesus.”
Following his message, which received a standing ovation, Metaxas said he loves visiting Liberty’s campus, is impressed with the beautiful architecture, and considers it an honor and joy to speak at Baccalaureate. He said he is glad to see Liberty’s success because so many institutions are moving away from the values Liberty holds dear.
“Standing for what you stand for, and being so successful at it — the fact that you are thriving — on the one hand makes me happy and on the other hand it is a sign to all the detractors of those values that maybe they are missing something.”