FAMOUS LAST WORDS
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Famous Last Words
“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“Swing Low, sweet chariot” – Harriet Tubman
“I’m bored with it all.” – Winston Churchill
“I must go in, for the fog is rising.” – Emily Dickinson
“One last drink please.” – Jack Daniel
“The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again.” – Jimi Hendrix
“Applaud my friends, for the comedy is finished.” - Beethoven
When someone dies, we try to remember their last words. Maybe we question our words to them too. Did I tell her how much she meant to me? Did I tell him that God loves him? Last words give us a piece of that person to hold onto when we can no longer hear their voice. We remember advice they gave or a story they would tell over and over again. We recognize the inherent value of one’s words when they are facing death. Even inmates being executed are given a chance to speak their last words. Maybe we understand that people speak truth when the stakes are high. This is something we see in Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus as we are given his final words during his time on earth. We will see that his last words acted as a kind of summary of his ministry.
There are three conversations we’re going to look at:
First, Jesus speaks to the weeping women of Jerusalem.
Second, Jesus prays to his Father and asks for forgiveness for his murderers.
And finally, Jesus speaks a criminal being crucified with him.
Do not weep for Me
In verse 28 we have Jesus first significant conversation since he was arrested. Herod has questioned him and Jesus refuses to speak. Pilate has questioned him and Jesus offers a five word response. Jesus has two opportunities to defend himself and he chooses not to speak. His sentence is given, and Jesus begins his journey to the place of the Skull. We are told that a man named Simon takes the cross of Jesus and carries it behind him. It’s at this point that we hear Jesus speak for the first time in a while. He’s walking past the crowds and there is a group women, mourning and lamenting, and for some reason, Jesus turns to them.
Throughout the gospels we see that Jesus has a special place for women in his ministry. We see him including them where they were previously excluded. We see him breaking down the gender barrier that existed for so long in his culture. And here, on the way to his death, he takes a moment to speak to these women who have come to mourn him. Compassionately referring to them as “Daughters”, he tells them not to weep for him, but for themselves and for their children. Then, in true Jesus of Nazareth form, he says something outrageous. “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.” This is counter to everything these women would have learned. In that time, children were your heritage and barrenness was thought of a curse. His comments seem insensitive at best, so why does Jesus say this?
In the first part of his statement, he tells them not to weep for him. He’s not doing the silver-lining thing, but he knows something they don’t – that there’s nothing sad about the cross. The cross is our greatest cause for joy. Where they see an innocent man going to his death, Jesus knows that the cross is about God bringing life to everyone. His death will be the death that atones for the sins of the world and brings a new era of God’s kingdom. Where the weeping women see death, Jesus sees life.
He’s not against grieving. We know Jesus wept for Lazarus when he died, even though he would resurrect him a few moments later. But as Jesus is facing his own death, a death that has been ordained by God, he knows that it is something good. That’s why we call today Good Friday, because today, more than any other day in the Christian calendar is when God’s goodness was shown. His goodness in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. So that’s the first part of his statement - Do not weep for me. Why does he tell them to weep for themselves and for their children? Many commentaries talk about how this was a foretelling of the destruction that would come upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. Thousands were slaughtered and the city was ransacked. Those who survived were taken to Rome to be slaves and the temple, the centre of Jewish religion and life, was destroyed. This is one reason that the women of Jerusalem should weep, but, as is often the case, there is another layer to what Jesus is talking about here; a spiritual layer.
Jesus is quoting the prophet Hosea from the Old Testament and applying it to his current context. He’s preaching. He’s saying that tears should be reserved for people who see the cross and yet fail to acknowlegde its’ importance. The real tragedy is when people see the cross and still reject God’s truth about. The real tragedy is when people feel sad about Jesus’ death, but miss the point of why he died. The real tragedy is when people fail to recognize their need for a Saviour. It’s very difficult when people we love harden their hearts toward God. We can probably all think of people who we’ve wept over because despite hearing truth, they reject it. Or maybe as we look inward we see the ways in which we ourselves have rejected God’s truth, and that causes us to weep. Sometimes all we can do is pray for mercy. We pray for mercy for ourselves and we pray for mercy for our loved ones and we keep showing them the love of Christ and we hope that they will see that the cross is God’s love for them. Jesus didn’t hesitate to call people out on their unbelief. We read in Matthew 10:28 that on another occasion he asked, “Do you know whom you should fear? Don’t fear humans. What can they do to you ultimately? You should fear him who can destroy you: God.” If this seems harsh or cruel, then Jesus’ next words show us the depth of his kindness towards us.
Father, forgive them
He prays “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgive them. He asks for forgiveness for those who are killing him because they know not what they do. Even as he is dying, Jesus continues his work of reconciliation. He stands in the gap between God and man. Between holiness and sin. His prayer is not for vengeance, it’s not even for himself. But for others.
God doesn’t scare us into submission. We read in Romans that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. His mercy. Again, that’s why today is Good Friday. This is the day that the culmination of God’s love toward us was displayed on the cross. Jesus asks forgiveness for his killers with his words and he asks forgiveness for the human race with his blood and it is by that blood that we are saved. God’s kindness leads us to turn away from sin and to return to him.
Today you will be with me
We talk about Jesus death on this day but there are three deaths that took place in this passage. On either side of Jesus is a cross and there are two
criminals being killed with him that day. We see three different types of death. The first is that of Jesus dying for our sin. This is something that only he could do. He was perfect and sinless and he is the only way to life with God.
In the criminals, we see two more types of death. One dies in sin that day and one dies to sin. The first criminal to speak is mocking Jesus. Taunting him to save himself and them. Ironically, Jesus is doing just that, saving them, but this man is blind to the spiritual significance of what is taking place. He dies not having acknowledge Jesus as Lord. He dies without repenting. He dies in his sin.
The other death we see on the cross is that of the second criminal. He understands his own guilt and sees that Jesus is the only one who can save him. He dies to his sin that day. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. We see that word “Remember” show up a lot throughout the Bible. We read that God remembered Noah when he was in the ark. God remembered Rachel and Hannah and he opened their wombs and gave them children. God hears the groaning of the Israelites and remembers his covenant to them. God remembers Samson and restores his strength to him. When God remembers someone, he gives them the innermost longing of their heart. This criminal asking Jesus to remember him is saying, I long to be with you and to be free from sin. This is the longing we all have, though sometimes we can’t recognize it. We were made to be in a relationship with our Creator and until we let God meet that longing, we will not know peace. And Jesus replies Today, you will be with me in Paradise.
We heard this word “Today” a few weeks ago when we looked at the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus looks up into the tree at the little man and says “Today I am coming to your house” and when Zacchaeus has brought him into his home, Jesus tells him that “Today salvation has come to your house”. “Today” refers to the time of God’s visitation. It’s the time when God appears, knocking at the door. It’s what the Greek word Kairos refers to – a critical or opportune time for action. For the criminal on the cross, God visited him in his final hours and he didn’t hesitate to respond.
Jesus’ last words took us through the purpose of the cross, his great kindness in offering forgiveness, and a chance to repent. In his final moments, he commits his spirit into his Father’s hands and dies. His last words, the last conversations that he had on earth, encapsulate his whole ministry and his whole purpose as was reiterated throughout the book of Luke. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Jesus is seeking you this morning. The time of God’s visitation is now. The invitation for us is the same as it was for Zacchaeus and for the criminal on the cross. Repent, and let me in. We can never know which words we say will be our last. But we can make sure that the next words we speak will be words of life and truth. Words that give voice to our deepest longing: Jesus, remember me.