Important Last Words

The last words spoken by a person dying are often very precious to the loved ones. Last words, such as the ones in our text, can bring comfort and peace from knowing the loved one died trusting Jesus as their Savior.

Paul, who was passing the torch on to Timothy, wrote these words, and they lingered long in the hearts of the people who belonged to the congregations Paul started. They were a sign that he had been faithful to his calling and now was being called by God to his heavenly reward.

No one knew better than Paul himself that all the works he had done for the Lord Jesus would never save him, and no one proclaimed that message better and clearer than Paul. He knew that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Paul lived in such an intimate, personal relationship with the Savior, it was only natural that he would want to live exactly the way God wanted him to live. However, this was impossible for him to do, since he was a sinful person. From time to time he would say, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do Ð this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:19-20). St. Paul was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. That faith gave him the assurance to do God’s will in his life.

Paul’s words give us a tremendous example of how our last words affect other people. We know it is very important to have a will so our family knows what to do with our belongings as we pass. How much more important are the last words of a person regarding the spiritual relationship between him and his maker. For example, as a fairly young person is lingering and dying, he says to his parents, “This is the end of my stay. I hope I am going to heaven.”

His mother, who is zealous in her faith and clear in her theology, says, “Son, you can know where you are going. Jesus died for your sins. By grace through faith, you can know you are saved. Can’t you say to us, I KNOW I am going to heaven?”

But he would not. He simply said, “I can’t quite believe that salvation is by faith alone.” His parents were left with questions in their hearts as they grieved his death.

Another person who had been very faithful in the church said as he lay on his deathbed, “I hope I have lived a good enough life to merit a place in heaven.” This man was one of the pioneers in the church, and his statement stunned me. His words were much like those of the son in my first example, only this man was a bit more specific when he said he hoped he had done enough good works. He had done many good words for the Lord Jesus, and many people (myself included) considered him a marvelous person. His family found little comfort in his remarks. It is extremely important for us to know, beyond all doubt, that Christ has died for us.

One evening, a young man came home from the university and sat down with his parents to talk about his relationship with the Lord. He said, “Dad and mom, I respect your convictions, and I wish I could share them, but I don’t believe in a life after death. Everything we have is right here, and when we breathe our last, that is the end of it.” His parents had tried their hardest to provide him with a faith in Jesus Christ, but he did not accept it. The influences of this world caused him to turn away from his faith, and his parents went to his funeral with tears in their eyes for their son who had denied the Savior. How very, very sad.

I recall a woman dying of cancer, who was leaving behind her two young children. As she laid there in her bed of pain, she said to them, “I don’t like to leave you, but I know God will comfort you and strengthen you. One day we will be together again in our heavenly home, and that will be forever.” She died shortly after uttering those words, and we had the funeral. As I walked from the grave to the car with her parents, they said, “Oh, we hate to lose her. We will not be as good of parents to those children as she would be. But we are so thankful to know she died knowing Jesus Christ as her Savior, and she knew she was going to be with him.”

That is much like the person who said to his mother, “I am thankful to God for all you have done for me spiritually. You led me to Christ and showed me the importance of the church. You taught me to choose a Christian spouse who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and the importance of bringing our children up with the truth through Scripture reading and church attendance.”

Now these examples are some actual words I have heard over the years while serving the congregation. I repeat what I said at the beginning of the sermon, The last words spoken are very important and precious to their loved ones.

Here are more words I would like to center our thoughts on. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15).

How many of us have trouble coming to the final decision to turn our entire life over to Jesus? Perhaps you have attended church your whole life, but Jesus is still not quite yours yet. Go and talk with your pastor and some of your good friends. Tell them you are anxious to be a part of the faith. If you are very concerned about this very thing, listen to these precious words written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

None of us know when our last day is coming. If you are in that state, I urge you, I plead with you, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life and create a faith that will make you one of his.

One Sunday morning, a lady came up to me and said, “I have been reading my Bible looking for strength from God, and I found this little verse: ÔFor God will not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline’ (II Tim. 1:7).” Then she told me of a conversation she had with a group of her friends. It was clear they were not certain about how to get to heaven and how much God loves them. So she opened her life completely to them and said, “This is what I believe. You may not like me anymore, but I cannot be timid.”

One lady said to her, “I like you, but I don’t like what you are saying, because I don’t think any of us can know for sure if we are going to be with God in heaven.” But then the lady said to her in love, but with power, “There you are wrong, for God in Word has made it so clear! This is one of God’s precious promises in his Word, and it is extremely necessary for us to believe it as we carry on in this life.” Then she got up and went home not knowing what her friend will think of her the next time they see each other.

Her words became very important in the life of her unbelieving friend, who later said to her, “Now I know what you mean. Thank you for being so up front with me.”

Sometimes when we have something physically wrong, we don’t know what to do. We’ve been to the doctors, we’ve been prescribed all kinds of pills, and even have an operation, but the pain is still there. It isn’t something that will necessarily take our life, but it is making us miserable. St. Paul once had a thorn in the flesh, and he pleaded with the Lord three times for it to be taken away. But God responded, “My grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).

Those were the favorite words of my sainted father-in-law. He had a very necessary job in the church, which dealt with pastors and congregations in very unpleasant situations. This was somewhat difficult on him, and his stomach was eaten up with ulcers. As he prayed for health, he always came back to this: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

When we put a tombstone on his grave, it read, “My Grace Is Sufficient for you.”

The last words spoken by us can be very precious to other people. The words spoken by other people can be and should be very precious to us.

Jesus’ Autobiography

Throughout the past 2,000 years, thousands of papers and a multitude of books have been written about the life of Jesus Christ. However, the most authentic account of his life is his autobiography found in the Bible. In today’s text, Jesus talks about his life Ð who he is and what his mission is all about.

In today’s text, Jesus tells us that he and the Father are one. He wants us to know that he is more than a man, more than an instructor, more than a teacher. “I and the Father are one. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.” Turning to those miracles, we find that only God can do the things he was doing.

Remember the miracle in John 11 when Jesus raised his good friend, Lazarus, from the dead. When Lazarus was sick, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come. However, Jesus waited until three or four days later. When she heard Jesus was coming, Martha ran out to the road to meet him. Feeling a bit disgusted with Jesus for not coming sooner, she told Jesus that Lazarus had died. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day, but I really want him right now.”

Then Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Then Mary joined them, and they went out to the tomb together where Lazarus was buried. Jesus ordered the stone covering the cave to be removed even though it had been four days since he was placed in that tomb, and the body had begun to give off odor. Then Jesus looked up to heaven, gave thanks to the Father, and said in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

This would be quite difficult for a person to believe, even one who was standing by that tomb and witnessed Lazarus (who had been declared dead) walking out, restored to life and returned to his sisters. How much more difficult for a person who was not present to believe!

Jesus performed many more miracles while he was on this earth. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is just one example Jesus gives us in his autobiography to prove he was the Son of God.

In today’s text, Jesus makes a reference to his people being sheep. Only those who are really his sheep can truly understand what Jesus means when he calls himself one with the Father. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Scriptures make it clear that Jesus’ sheep are those who hear his voice and follow him. That is, the one who hears the gospel, and believes it in his heart. One becomes a sheep by receiving Jesus Christ into their heart and into their life.

One of the great blessings of being a child of God is to know Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, even when the going is rough. Another is to know we have a heavenly home. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Big statement now) No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:2-6). Unless we have received Jesus Christ, this doesn’t make much sense.

Sitting at an athletic event, I can look at the crowd of many thousand people and know that, according to Jesus’ own autobiography, no one knows him unless they have received him. The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ human birth was in Bethlehem. His mother was Mary, who was a virgin. A person who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will never believe Jesus was conceived without a man’s help. But when we have met him in his autobiography, we understand that God can do whatever he chooses.

So He gave Mary the gracious privilege to become the mother of God, and his earthly father Joseph cared for him. When Jesus reached the age of 30, he began his ministry. He began revealing to the world his true nature as the promised Messiah. Those of us who know him in a personal way can understand this, but those living in Nazareth who did not understand him as Savior and Lord were really ready to kill him.

Jesus’ miracles were a way in which he revealed himself, offering us an opportunity for a personal relationship with him.

One day when Jesus and his disciples were on the Mount of Olives, he told them, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). What does this really mean?

Jesus was telling the disciples to take the message of salvation to the far corners of the earth. When their time came to leave this earth, then others will be his spokespeople.

The disciples didn’t quite understand this until after the ascension at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them the task of establishing the church. Peter preached a tremendous sermon that day, and three thousand people became believers in Christ Jesus. They then went into the hinder lands sharing the good news.

Later, we have the great apostle Paul who preached the gospel and established many churches. He remained in contact with those congregations and wrote to them about their ills reminding them that God was with them. Jesus’ autobiography sent Paul to cities like Corinth to reprimand them, comfort them, and inspire them, for Jesus would not have them taken out of his hand. His desire was for them to turn to him when they believed they were of no value; then he would establish them in the faith again. That is our Savior.

I began by saying many books have been written on Jesus in these last 2,000 years. One great book was given to me by my father and mother when I was in the seminary. It was written by Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. One continually goes back to books like that, for the writers were students of the Word of God in the real sense of the word. They have been able to dig into all the facts and figures surrounding Jesus’ life, such as what was happening when Jesus was twelve years of age and his parents found him in the Jerusalem temple talking with the theologians of the day.

Good books are being written every day from those who love him. They sit in their studies and write in order that you and I may know him better. Read Jesus’ autobiography from the gospel accounts and the epistles, but go to some of these other books, as well, and make them a part of your library. Thereby, we see Jesus working through his people, and we are reminded that we are not alone.

We are not ignorant of what Jesus has done for us and who he really is. Turn to that Son of God, learn from his autobiography that he is all that we know him to be as one of his sheep.

If you are not one of his sheep, he is anxious to use his autobiography to tell you that, if you are humble and bow before the throne of grace, he will be your Lord.

Unfinished Business

From time to time, issues can come up in a business deal or in a personal relationship, and we have unfinished business until it has been talked out. Such was the case with Peter. He had denied knowing our Lord following Jesus’ arrest. Consequently, Peter was an unhappy, guilt-ridden man.

In today’s text, Peter and some of the other disciples were near the Sea of Tiberias when they decided to go fishing. They fished all night long but didn’t catch a single fish, even though they were fishermen by trade. In the morning, Jesus stood on the shore and called out to them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat. Even though they did not recognize Jesus, the disciples did as they were told, and were unable to haul in the net because of the number of fish.

Then John recognized Jesus, and Peter jumped into the water and rushed up to Him. The disciples ate breakfast with the Lord, then Jesus initiated a conversation with Simon Peter. “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

Why do you think he used the words, “more than these”? During the last supper in the upper room, Jesus told the disciples that they would all betray him. But Peter argued, indicating his love for Jesus was deeper than all the rest. He didn’t know how weak his faith really was.

Notice Peter’s answer to Jesus question, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter said, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus gave the absolution, the declaration of the forgiveness of his sins, when he said, “Feed my lambs.” This meant Peter should feed those who had just been converted in order for them to become great people of God.

Jesus again asked, “Peter, do you love me?”, and Peter replied, “You know that I love you.” But the third time he is asked the question, Peter answered, “Lord, you know everything! You know that I love you.” Jesus replied with words to indicate what Peter’s love for the Savior will mean: Peter, if you really love me, minister to those who want to live in a relationship with me. But remember this, your devotion to me will mean more than just telling the world that I am the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The cost of loving me and being my disciple will cost you your life.

Peter did indeed suffer much for the Lord Jesus. He was martyred in Rome around the year 68 A.D. when he learned what it truly meant to follow Jesus and his unfinished business with Jesus was finished.

Those of us who call ourselves Christians also need to listen to Jesus’ words. We often talk about a personal relationship with God. Well, here it is for us: Our Lord Jesus Christ is asking us, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep.” He wants us to take the Gospel to the far parts of the earth, just as he asked the eleven disciples to do.

We have to ask ourselves, do we really love him? Did I take time to talk to Jesus today? Did I take my Bible out and read it? Maybe you read that familiar passage in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is a dogmatic truth from Jesus. Or perhaps you read, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12.

So now, Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?” His question to us is as clear as it was to Peter by the Sea of Tiberias. If you love me, you have the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins. So why, when you are with a group of friends and the subject of life after death comes up, you say that you don’t know what life on the other side is about, or if we have not done enough good works to make it?

If we truly are Christ’s disciples, we will experience many difficult moments and people will call us crazy. Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these or are you concerned only about yourself? You have a lot of really nice friends who have no relationship with me. What about them? Listen to the words I give you, which you find in the Scriptures and in your churches, and in your small groups.”

Remember Zacchaeus, a small man who climbed up into the sycamore tree because he wanted to see the Lord as he came into town that day. The Lord Jesus came over to him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down. I’m going to your house today.”

So when Zacchaeus and Jesus arrived at his home, they began to chat. And their conversation may have gone like this: “Zacchaeus, do you love me?”

Zacchaeus replied, “Well, Lord, I admire you. I know you are a great man for you have done some great things.”

Then Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, I am more than that.” (There you see unfinished business.) Zacchaeus did not trust Jesus as his only Savior, for he had earned a lot of money and could do a lot of things. Why would he need to do any more?

I think they talked throughout much of the night, and in the morning, when they met for breakfast, Jesus asked, “Zacchaeus, what do you think about our conversation last night?”

“O Lord, I have much to say. I love you.” Then the Lord tells him to share what he’s learned with his friends. So Zacchaeus goes out and announces to them that if he has stolen from anyone, he will restore it four fold, and he is going to give to the poor.

When the unfinished business is taken care of, Jesus can begin to use us. When we have love in our hearts for Jesus, we won’t just say we love the Lord, it will show in our actions. We will talk to some of the Zacchaeuses who are around and need somebody to tell them that Jesus loves them too and died on the cross for them.

Jesus is the risen, loving Lord who will come again. He loves you and wants to take you home to heaven. But he also wants to walk with you while you are here. And he wants you to take care of other people too. So he is telling us to feed his people. He created them all, and he loves them. Be near them.

Believe It

One important rule of studying scripture is this: When the author steps into the narrative (makes an editorial comment), pay close attention because it is important. This is the case in today’s text from John’s Gospel account.

Jesus had risen from the dead and was making his resurrection appearances in this chapter, John 20. At the end of the chapter, John steps into his own Gospel. He tells his readers that even more evidence of Jesus’ resurrection exists.

John wrote this material so we may believe, first of all, that Jesus is the Messiah of whom Israel had been waiting. Old Testament prophesies spoke of an anointed king to come from the line of David who would save his people and restore them. John is telling the Jewish people in his audience that Jesus is that King, the Son of God in the flesh, despite what skeptics of the faith would have them believe.

¥ “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth” (1:1, 14).

¥ “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

¥ “No one has ever seen God (the Father), but God (the Son) the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (1:18).

John told how Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who would die on the cross to take away our sins and bridge the gap between God and sinful people like you and me. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Then John says that God would raise Jesus from the grave to purchase a place for you and for me. By believing in this, then, we may have life in his name. This “life” is a life to the full, an abundant life.

I read an article about Al Kaline, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers baseball team and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was at a dinner being held in his honor with 2,500 people in attendance. After he was introduced with a long litany of his achievements in baseball, Al came to the podium to a standing ovation. During his remarks, Al Kaline said, “There must be something more to life than chasing a lot of fly balls, getting a lot of base hits, and making more money than you can spend.”

Jesus would say to the likes of Al Kaline, Amen! There is more to life, and I’ve come to give it to you! I’ve come to give you meaning and purpose, wisdom and a joy-filled adventure as you follow me.

This abundant life we receive from Jesus includes a wonderful inheritance called eternal life.

¥ “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).

Jesus described life with him as our Shepherd.

¥ “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand” (10:27, 28). We belong to Jesus for eternity.

John’s words Ð “. . . you may have life in his name” Ð are the Bible’s way of saying, in his person. When you are in Jesus Christ, you have an abundant life, which God intended for you and has always wanted for you.

A key word in these passages is, believe. John wants us to believe in Jesus. To believe in Jesus is not merely an intellectual acceptance of a doctrine, it means to enter into a trusting, intimate, personal relationship with the Savior. It involves the whole person Ð mind, body, and emotions Ð everything involved in having a personal relationship with someone. To believe is to actually act, to do something,

The story is told of a man who planned to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls while pushing a wheelbarrel in front of him. As the crowd gathered on the day for the risky endeavor, the wind blew strongly and whipped the rope back and forth. The crowd began discouraging him: “Don’t try it! You’ll never make it!”

But one man jumped from the crowd, and said to the tight rope walker, “Go ahead; Make the walk. You can do it. I believe in you.”

To this encouragement, the tightrope walker replied with an invitation. “If you believe in me so strongly, you get in the wheelbarrel and come with me.”

This is what it means to believe in Jesus. We get into the wheelbarrel and entrust our whole being to his care and his guidance. This is not a detached, intellectual confidence, but a personal involvement with him as we follow him and trust him.

John does not use the noun faith or belief in his Gospel, but instead he always uses the verb believe, implying it is an active matter, something one does. Get in the wheelbarrel. I wrote so you may get in the wheelbarrel with Jesus. John wrote his Gospel so we might develop a personal allegiance to Jesus and develop a willingness to stand up for him, no matter what the circumstances.

John also wrote his Gospel so we might give credence to Jesus’ teachings and put them to work in our lives, so we can wholeheartedly believe Jesus really does know what makes life work best.

I am reminded of the story about a young man whose car had broken down on the side of the road. He was trying to get it started again, when, finally, he threw down his tools in disgust and said, “That dumb Ford. I’ve had it! I’ll never buy another one.”

A car soon came driving by, stopped, and a well-dressed gentleman walked up to him and asked what was the trouble. The kid replied, “This stupid old piece of junk stopped, and I can’t seem to get it started again.”

The man asked to look at it, then he took off his coat and began to tinker with the engine. A few moments later, he asked the young man to get in and try it again. Sure enough, as soon as the kid turned the key over, the car began to run nicely. The young man was so excited and surprised, he asked, “How did you do that?”

The man who fixed it said, “Son, my name is Henry Ford, and I invented that Ôstupid piece of junk’ you referred to as this car. I ought to know what makes it work.”

This is exactly what it is to live with Jesus. We discover that he invented us and he knows what makes life work! When we take the time to do what he says, we discover that he really does have the answers we need to live an abundant life. Then our lives give credence to his words.

Are you standing on the outside looking in at Jesus? Do you need to meet him? Do you need evidence before you consider him part of your life? John’s words in his Gospel are written to people like you and me.

Have you taken the step of faith to follow Jesus? Heaven knows our faith needs to be strengthened and renewed over and over again. Life has a way of bringing creeping doubts into our minds, just as it did in John’s congregation when they faced hard times. We face hardships of our own Ð worries and fears regarding health, finances, and relationships. John wrote this so we could be nurtured by these stories, come to believe them again and again, and receive the life that comes in Christ.

I thank God for this power-filled Gospel we have in our hands. John has written it for us, and we need to constantly put ourselves into it. We need to pray over it, read it reflectively, study it, ask questions of it, and review who Jesus is, what he did in this Gospel account, and what he promises to do in our lives.

When we do those things, we will be filled with peace, and our souls will be satisfied. We will be enabled to say, again and again, on this path with Jesus, “Lord, I believe in you.”