"Famous Last Words"
For the next few minutes, I want us to imagine, in our mind's eye, standing at the foot of a Roman cross witnessing someone's crucifixion. Now I know that may not be the most pleasant thing to think about but as we do I want us to think about the death of Jesus Christ as He died upon the cross so many years ago. And as we are standing near the foot of the cross and witnessing that death I want us to envision what that might be like. I want us to think about some things that are being said. I want us to think about the emotions that we might feel if we were there ourselves. I want us to think about all the other things going on, all the people, and those people who are being crucified, even the soldiers putting Jesus to death, and I want us to place ourselves right there as we listen, and as we watch, and as we observe the death of Jesus Christ. You know, often times before someone passes away from this life they have something special they want to say, something special they want to share with their friends or with their loved ones, some words of wisdom, or counsel, or advice for them to carry on after they are gone. I think about the movie, it was so popular a few years ago, entitled “The Green Mile,” as the man is falsely accused of killing 2 young girls he is put to death by an electric chair. And as he goes to take his seat in that room he states the words, “Boss, I feel the hate in this room.” Now we remember those words, don't we? Now, what I want us to do as we’re standing there near the cross where Jesus is crucified, He also said some words. He said 7 words, or 7 statements. They were perhaps His famous last words. Words that He shared with us so that we might remember, perhaps even words that will help us change our lives or deal with the people that He puts into our lives. The Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in the New Testament, all record the story of Jesus' death upon the cross. We know that it took place almost 2000 years ago just outside the city limits of Jerusalem, on that hill of Golgotha, the cross of Calvary. And while Jesus was there on the cross, He made at least 7 statements that are recorded in the New Testament. And as He did He spoke from His heart. He spoke out of pain. He spoke out of anticipation of being home with God. And even though they are very short and simple phrases, there is so much more to them. They were meant to make an impact upon the way we live our lives and they also give us some guidance in our relationships. And so for a few minutes I want us to, as we are standing there at the foot of the cross and as we are feeling the emotion and witnessing all these events, I want to hear from Jesus today, His famous last words, these 7 statements and what they mean to us. The 1st thing Jesus said is found in Luke chapter 23 verse 34. He says very simply, “Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." Throughout His ministry, Jesus forgave people. He forgave people of the sin in their life. So many times people would bring their problems to Jesus, or they would bring their friends or family members who had problems to Him, and ask for healing and ask for help. And Jesus was more than willing to do that. He was more than willing to heal and make better a person's life. But in the midst of it all, He always saw the bigger problem and He would forgive the sin of those people, also. We see that on a number of occasions. A couple that come to my mind, 1st of all, is Mark chapter 2, the healing of the man who was paralyzed. 4 friends of this man brought him, lying upon a mat, to Jesus, who was in a room. But there was no room in that house, in that room, for them to get in and so they climbed up the side of the house onto the roof where they cut a hole in the top of the roof and they lowered this man down into Jesus' presence. And the text tells us that when Jesus saw the faith of those friends He forgave the man. Well, that caused a great deal of confusion and uproar among the people there in the house and they said, “You don't have the authority to do that.” And He said, “What is easier to say, to forgive someone of their sin, or to say take up your mat and walk?” which He did also. And this man took up his mat and he went away a forgiven man. I think also about the story that's told in Acts chapter 7 about a man named Stephen, a follower of Jesus Christ. He also was in the city of Jerusalem telling the wonderful story of Jesus when the people became very upset and disgruntled with him and so they cast him out of the city of Jerusalem and they began to stone him with huge rocks. They were going to stone him to death. And as he was lying on the ground he looked up into heaven and he saw Jesus standing there at the right hand of God; only 2 times in all of Scripture where it is identified as Jesus standing at God's right hand instead of sitting. It was as if Jesus is applauding him and saying to Stephen, “I'm proud of you, thank you for testifying of Me, and I'm ready to welcome you into My presence.” And just before Stephen died he said the words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; basically the same words that Jesus said when He was dying upon the cross; “Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing.” Now, people hurt us all the time, don't they? People say things about me, about you. They criticize us. They say words that hurt us. They do things that might damage us or cause injury to us, to our family members or loved ones. And we don't like that. How do we respond? Do we retaliate? Do we seek to get even? Do we do something to make up for what they have done to us? Or, do we take the attitude, like Jesus did, like Stephen did, and live a life of forgiveness? And say, “I forgive you. Lord, don't hold this sin against them,” and “they don't really know what they are doing.” You know the 1st statement Jesus made here, in Luke 23 verse 34, remind us to live a life of forgiveness, to forgive those people who cause us pain and discomfort. The 2nd statement Jesus made while dying upon the cross is found in Luke 23 verse 43. You might remember from the story, there were 2 criminals who were also crucified with Jesus, one on either side, and in the midst of that crucifixion process He had a conversation with them both. But there was one man who acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. He put his faith in Him and so Jesus turned to that criminal and He said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” And by that, Jesus offered this man salvation. And again, His ministry revolved around offering salvation, didn't it? How many times did Jesus offer salvation to people He came in contact with? You know, people followed Jesus wherever He went. They hung on every word He said. One time there were so many people around Him there was an individual who climbed up into a tree to see Jesus because he was short in stature and could not see above the crowds. As Jesus walked by He called him by name, He said, “Zacchaeus, come down because I am going to eat a meal in your home today.” And that's exactly what happened. And as they were sharing that meal together, Jesus told him these words. He said, “Salvation has come to this house.” Yes, Jesus brought salvation to Zacchaeus and to his household. Why, because they believed in Jesus. They put their faith and their trust in Him. I think about another story in Luke chapter 7, about the sinful woman; a woman who was so overcome by sin she knew that Jesus was her only hope. And so she came to Him, and so in love with Jesus, so appreciated what He could do she began to wash His feet with her tears. She then dried them with the hair of her head and then anointed them with a sweet smelling perfume. And Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Yes, time and time again Jesus offered salvation to people. And the need for salvation still exists today; people are still looking for some solutions and for some salvation for their physical and their spiritual problems. And in many cases they are looking to us, people like you and me, to provide it for them. So how can we offer that salvation? What are the words we can say? How is it that we can follow the example of Jesus and offer a message that blesses them, that turns their life around and brings salvation to them? The 2nd statement Jesus offers from the cross of Calvary, as He gives His life for us, encourages us to be willing to offer a message of salvation to people who stand in need of it. The 3rd statement Jesus made while dying upon the cross is found in John chapter 19 verses 26 and 27. There were many people standing around the cross where Jesus was crucified. There were many people coming out of the city of Jerusalem, and going in. It was a high-traffic area. But some of the people standing nearby included His closest followers and some women who supported Him throughout His ministry, and also His mother, Mary. Well, Jesus knew full well that He would no longer be able to take care of His mom, the one who raised Him: the one who perhaps loved Him more than anybody else here upon the Earth. And He knew the she needed some care and He saw that disciple, whom He loved. We don't know for sure who he was, perhaps John. And He said to him, “Behold your mother.” And He said to His mother, “Behold your son.” In other words, I'm leaving but now this disciple whom I love is going to take care of you, mom, depend upon him; and make sure that you take care of her needs. That was a very beautiful statement that Jesus made, but those words show His compassion, His love, His compassion for other people. And again, it characterized His ministry. In Matthew chapter 9, verses 35 and 36, Jesus looked upon the crowds of people who were harassed and helpless, they were like sheep without a shepherd. And the text tells us that He had compassion upon them. He felt sorry for those people. His heart broke because of the pain and the disorientation that overcame their life. But He looked upon people who needed help and He offered His help to them. So many times people traveled with Jesus and at the end of the day they were tired and they had nothing to eat. And I remember specifically those 2 times when Jesus fed the multitudes of 5000, and also the multitudes of 4000, with just a few loaves of bread and some small fish. He had them sit on those grassy plains and He gave the food to the disciples. And they had their fill. There were plenty of leftovers taken up after they were done. But Jesus, in compassion, saw the needs of these people and He ministered to them. And the question that raises for our consideration, when Jesus said these words on the cross and when He showed His compassion to His mom, it makes us think about showing compassion to the people God put into our life. Do we simply look at people with pity and with sorrow or do we become involved in their lives and do something about that situation, just like Jesus did? The brother of Jesus, James, tells us, in chapter 1, religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is to look after the orphans and the widows in their distress. Are we doing that? Do we have compassion in our hearts to take care of those people who are overlooked, and neglected, and abused by this world? And then John writes, in 1st John 3, 17 and 18, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.” The 3rd statement that Jesus made from the cross of Calvary tells us of the importance of showing compassion to the people in this world. The 4th statement Jesus made from the cross, as He was dying for us, is found in Matthew 27 verse 45. These words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And when we read those words for the 1st time, they may not sound like it but really, this is a message of hope. Well, how could that be? Well, these words are the very 1st words of Psalm number 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And as Jesus states these words perhaps He went on to continue and quote the entire Psalm, we don't know. But it is as if Jesus knew that entire Psalm because the rest of the Psalm identifies God as our refuge. He is the one who loves and takes care of us and we cast our cares, our burdens, upon God and He is there to take care of our needs, even though we might feel forsaken and overlooked by Him. But the point is, Jesus knew the words of God and was able to quote it. According to Matthew 5, verse 17, Jesus came to fulfill the Word and the only way He could do that was to be in it and to know what it said. And that's a great example for us to follow as well, to be in God's Word and to know that it gives hope for our lives. And even in times of despair we can go to God's Word and find hope. That's what Jesus was doing. In the despair, in the pain and the agony of losing His life upon the cross He still found hope in the Word of God. And that's the 4th statement that Jesus made, it is a message of hope. Statement number 5 contains only 2 words, found in John 19 verse 28, “I thirst.” That's all He said, “I thirst.” And perhaps more than any other time throughout His earthly ministry Jesus shows to us, by this statement, His humanity. And no doubt, He was thirsty. We don't know how long it had been since He had a drink of anything. Previously He was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying when He was arrested and brought in to trial, falsely accused. Then He was beaten and abused. Then He was asked to carry His cross part way to Calvary. And then He was nailed to that cross and hanging there at midday. No doubt, Jesus was thirsty. He needed something to drink. He was not unlike any of us when it came to His human needs. He related people because He was fully human while at the same time being fully divine. But just like Jesus dying on the cross, many people today live a life of torment and they are looking for some relief. They don't know where else to turn. They don't know what else to do. But Jesus calls us from the cross, here in John 19 verse 28, to be in tune with humanity. He wants us to bless those seeking relief for their lives. He wants us to offer to them that living water that comes from Jesus Christ. He wants us to offer them that spiritual food that will lead them into a relationship with Him and also with the Father. And that is Jesus' 5th statement from the cross, to offer relief to those who are tormented by this world, to offer that spiritual water, that spiritual food, that living water that will lead to eternal life. Statement number 6 is also very short. It's found in John 19 verse 30, 3 words. Jesus says, “It is finished.” At every point throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, and now even in His death, He was always submissive to His Father's will. He always did what His Father wanted Him to do. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before, in Matthew 26 verse 39, Jesus prayed these words, “If it is possible, Father, may this cup pass from Me. Yet not what I will but what You will.” Jesus knew what was about to happen and He did not want to go through it. It would be painful. It would be humiliating. It would be very difficult. But He prayed, God that's okay. My will is not what is important but Your will is the priority. Yes, His Father's will was always more important than His own and He was always submissive to it. And that is why now, at the end of His life, He could say these simple words, “It is finished.” I have done what I was supposed to do. I have remained faithful to God. I have remained faithful to My Father. I have obeyed His will and His will was always done in my life. Now what does that say about us? Are we willing to do the Father's will or is our will more important? I think about the story in the 1st few chapters of Genesis, about Adam and Eve. God put them in the garden to enjoy all of His beautiful creation, except for that one tree there in the middle. He said, “Don’t eat of its fruit,” yet as they were tempted they made the decision to eat of that fruit anyway and as a result they were saying, “God, it is not Your will that is going to be done but it is our will because we believe we know what is best for us and You don't.” That was exactly opposite of what Jesus said, wasn't it, on the cross? “Not My will but Your will be done, Father.” That reminds us of how we live our life. Do we live by our own standards, and our own desires, and our own wishes or are we so in tune with God that it is His will and purposes that are done in our life? And that is statement number 6. Jesus tells us to live a life of commitment to the Father's will. But then there is one final statement Jesus makes, it's found in Luke 23 verse 46. Jesus says, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” As Jesus makes this statement, His work on the Earth is now done. Jesus was faithful to the very end. Through all of the trials, and the rejection, through all of the pain, the discomfort, the problems, the joys, the successes, Jesus stayed focused on what was before Him. And now at the end of His life, as He was dying upon the cross, He had no regrets. There was no reason for Him to bow His head in shame but rather to say I have done what You asked Me to do. And now He was ready to give His life back to His Father. He was now ready to commit His spirit back to the One who gave it. And in a very real way, that is a message of victory. Oh, He would face defeat seemingly there on the cross but 3 days later He would rise from the dead, victorious over death. And Jesus reminds us to do the same thing. To live a faithful life, even unto death, and He will give us the crown of life, Revelation 2 and verse 10. And if we are living a faithful life then we too can share in that victory that awaits us. And so the question that we might ask is, when our time on this earth comes to an end can we too say that we have lived as a faithful disciple, and can we say that we have lived as a committed follower of Jesus Christ? And that's the real question, isn't it? Can we say what Jesus said? Father I'm ready to commit My spirit back to You; into Your hands I give My spirit and I know that I will be rewarded because of the faithfulness with which I've lived. In Jesus' final statement from the cross, He inspires us to live so that we too can receive our Father’s final and eternal reward. In these 7 statements, Jesus offers something to consider as we think about 2 important things. Number 1, we think about how we are to live as a committed, faithful disciple of Jesus Christ here upon this Earth. But then secondly, we are to consider how we are to relate to the people He puts into our life. Do we live with forgiveness, and compassion, and kindness? Do we live in a way that we are faithful to the Lord's commands and that we have been faithful even to the very end? Not long ago my father-in-law passed away, and just before he did he shared with me some very important words. Words he wanted me to remember, words that I try to live by; and no doubt I will remember them for a long time. And perhaps he shared some words with other family members as well, some things he wanted us to do and some things he wanted us to remember; some things that hopefully will make a difference in who we are in this world and how we relate to other people. I'll never forget those words and I appreciate him sharing them with me. But as important as his last words were, the most important last and famous words of anyone who ever lived came from Jesus Christ, His 7 statements on the cross where He teaches us by His own example through His own ministry how we are to live in this world. My encouragement, my prayer for you today is that you will think very carefully about the words of Jesus and allow them to make an impact and a difference in the way you live.