Sunday, June 2, 2019

Famous Last Words

Human beings have always been fascinated by last words. Some “famous” last words provide a snapshot of a life well-lived. “I found Rome brick; I leave it marble.” These were the last words of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Some “famous” last words indicate feelings of regret. Benedict Arnold, the infamous American soldier who betrayed his countrymen to the British, asked to be buried in his continental uniform. His last words were: “Let me die in the old uniform in which I fought my battles for freedom, May God forgive me for putting on another.”

Others indicate fulfillment and no regrets whatsoever. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in his final moments… “I've always loved my wife, my children, and my grandchildren, and I've always loved my country. I want to go. God, take me.”

Maybe the most appropriate last words ever spoken were spoken by Joan of Arc, the 15th century French girl who led armies during the Hundred Years War. Just before she was burned at the stake at only 19 years of age…She said, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

Now, speaking of Jesus, he had some pretty incredible famous last words Himself…If you look closely at the Gospels, you will notice that Jesus made several comments in those last moments. “God, God why have You forsaken me?” “It is finished.” The most incredible last words of Jesus, however, were recorded only by Luke (Read 23:26-38 NRSV).

If you watched the national news a few years ago, you may have seen this story. A Michigan father was accused of killing his 4-month-old son. He allegedly told police he occasionally “plays rough” with the child. Richard Gillis III was accused of growing tired of the child's crying and slamming his head against a table. The baby was hospitalized, and four days later, he was removed from life support at the University of Michigan hospital.

A little bit closer to home…A woman, Joanie DeeAnn Parker, received a phone call from a couple recently. They told her to meet them at a house east of Idalou, TX (not far from Lubbock)…and to bring $4000 with her. In doing so, they suggested, she would be helping her son. She drove to the abandoned house, but she never left there. Both she and her son were killed. A young, deranged married couple was arrested, tried, and sentenced for their murders.

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a sick and depraved world. The Bible has a name for this kind of world: a “fallen world.” This is a world where people do unimaginable things. Sometimes for money. Sometimes to cover up their mistakes. Always out of selfishness. It is so easy to stand in the midst of this fallen world and point our fingers…To put on the judge’s robe…To demand that justice be done…To demand that the wrong be punished…To demand that the innocent be vindicated…

That desire in all of us for justice makes these last words of Jesus so difficult to understand…“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Now, there are some pretty amazing last words! In these last moments, Jesus could have said and done many things. I remember a song that we don’t sing too often anymore. But as a kid, I remember that song:

He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world
And set Him free
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone
For you and me

Jesus would have been right to call down punishment on His accusers! He would have been right to punish them for the murder they were committing in broad daylight! But instead of calling ten thousand angels, Jesus uttered these last few words. They are words full of forgiveness. They are words full of grace.

I say “grace” not because it is a synonym for forgiveness…But because with these words, Jesus asked the Father to give His accusers something they did not deserve. They did not deserve to be forgiven. They had done nothing to earn forgiveness. But Jesus gave them this precious gift anyway…that is grace. And the grace He extended to His accusers that day was given not only to them. Murray Andrew Pura writes about these words of Jesus:

Though warfare will come to Jerusalem and the Temple fall a second time, this prayer lifts any curse thought to apply to those who crucified the Messiah. The cross is all about forgiveness: sin is judged, but people are freed. It is the second exodus, the great exodus of the human race, the ultimate liberation of any who believe in Christ. The prayer is a necessary redemption for persons far beyond the foot of the cross. Many times, in each generation, Jesus is mocked, detested, and cursed, and even His disciples ignore His words, disobey His commands, and remain indifferent to His fate as they take the cup and break the bread. There are days and nights in a lifetime when nails jingle in our pockets and a mallet swings from our belt. This prayer is not only about Jews or Romans. It is about us.”

That day on the cross, Jesus not only forgave the soldiers who nailed Him there. He also forgave us. He forgave us for all of the selfish things we have done and will do. He forgave humans for the egregious crimes we read about in the news. He also forgave us for the mistakes we make every day with…Our children, our spouses, and our brothers and sisters in this room. We are ALL equally in need of forgiveness. We are ALL equally in need of grace. Praise God that grace has been extended to ALL of us! That is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.

In some ways, this morning I have the opportunity to speak to you my “last words.” Nearly every week for the past eight years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to open up this book and speak the Word of God to you. And looking back on this season that we’ve shared together, I feel like we’ve grown closer to God together. I will always remember the visioning process we went through together that helped set the vision of this church. We are a family that graciously seeks to help a fallen world stand up again!

Many of you were in the room when we set the vision and direction for this church. I think of the ways in which Philippians 2 shaped me and this church. Paul reminded us that before we humbled ourselves, so did Christ! There have been moments in our time together when we’ve all had to humble ourselves…To set aside our own desires…To consider others better than ourselves…There are so many studies that we engaged in together that I will never forget.

In recent weeks, I’ve thought a lot about this moment. I’ve prayed about it. “What is the message I should leave with my family here?” What “last words” need to be said?
I believe God guided me to these words at the end of Luke’s Gospel. If our world needs to hear anything today it is a message of grace. But maybe not the message of grace we needed to hear 20 years ago. There was a time in the not so distant past when the church did not emphasize the grace of God nearly enough. Repeated calls for “justice” and “getting it right” left little time for messages centering on God’s grace. I think, by and large, the church has rediscovered the grace of God in the last couple of generations. The message of grace we need to hear most today is not the message of God’s grace to us, but the message of our grace to each other.

Brothers and sisters, we serve a gracious God! But the Good News of Jesus Christ does not end there. There is even more Good News for this world. We are made in the image of this God! We’ve been given the opportunity to shower this world with even more grace! We’ve been given the opportunity to love this world even when this world does not deserve it.

So, as I leave here this morning, let me encourage you to bring God’s grace wherever you go. Husbands and wives, extend grace to each other. We live in a world where divorce rates are skyrocketing. We live in a world where it is called entertainment to belittle the covenant of marriage. But, let me tell you something—you are not of this world! When your spouse disappoints you, and they will, give them your love anyway. Show this world that God’s grace living in you is stronger than this world’s fallenness.

Parents, extend grace to your children. You already know this, but let me just say it out loud…Your children will make some unbelievably stupid decisions! Yes, they will make you proud often. But they also will embarrass you. They might even bring shame upon your family. The world might tell you to give up on them. But, let me tell you something—you are not of this world! When your children disappoint you, and they will, give them your love anyway. Show this world that God’s grace living in you is stronger than this world’s fallenness.

Children, extend grace to your parents. Whatever they may have you believe, let me just say…they are not perfect! What’s more: they KNOW they are not perfect. When most parents stop to consider the responsibility that has been laid at their feet by God with you…they are scared to death! Being a parent is not easy. They do not need you to be their critic; they need you to be their strongest advocate. Now, television and movies and peers and social media may tell you your parents are out of touch and clueless. But, let me tell you something—you are not of this world! When your parents disappoint you, and they will, give them your love anyway. Show this world that God’s grace living in you is stronger than this world’s fallenness.

Church, extend grace to your leaders. We live in the age of CNN & Fox News. An age when it is acceptable and even expected that we will knock our leaders down as soon as they rise to the top. Brothers and sisters, not in Christ’s church! Not in Christ’s church! Your shepherds and your ministers do not need you to tell them how many ways they mess the church up! That may be how the rest of this world treats their leaders…But, let me tell you something—you are not of this world! When your elders and ministers disappoint you, and they will, give them your love anyway. Show this world that God’s grace living in you is stronger than this world’s fallenness.

Church, extend grace to this community. Tyler, TX is one of the few communities in Texas that is getting younger. Younger generations will challenge you to think outside the box! New apartments are being built in the shadow of this building. Most of the people living there are suspicious of God & God’s people. They will not be attracted to the way we do church. In this community are…skeptics and atheists; liberals and conservatives; Republicans and Democrats and members of the Tea Party! This community is so diverse and so messy…It would be easier to close yourselves up in this building, sing “There’s a Stirring” until you all get goosebumps, then go home and completely ignore the non-Christian community around you. But, let me tell you something—you are not of this world! When this community disappoints you, and it will, give it your love anyway. Show this world that God’s grace living in you is stronger than this world’s fallenness.

My prayer is that God’s grace will come to this community not only through the pages of this book…My prayer is that God’s grace would spill forth from Glenwood. Infecting this community. Changing this community and its people more and more into the perfection God envisioned from the very beginning.

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