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Famous Last Words – Paul

Famous Last WordsTime was running out; he sensed his execution looming. While Paul hoped to see Timothy one last time, he also knew this letter might be his last chance to share his thoughts and words of encouragement with his spiritual son.

Paul wrote Second Timothy from a Roman prison shortly before his death. No time remained for trivial chit chat. Paul needed to tell Timothy the important things, the things that had eternal significance.

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus… Preach the word of God… Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear…  Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. 2 Timothy 4:1-3,5, NLT

Rejecting God’s Truth

Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? Many of us reject the truth of God – either in whole or in part – because it conflicts with our sinful desires. Instead, we listen to the voices that condone our behavior. That way we mistakenly think we don’t need to change.

Years earlier, Paul had heard the truth of Christ on the road to Damascus and had fully submitted his life to God. And Paul never looked back.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8, NLT

Faithful to the End

For Paul, physical life meant an opportunity to serve Christ and he had been faithful. But with his earthly service almost complete, Paul would soon meet his Savior. Emperor Nero would order his execution, the guillotine blade would drop, and Paul would receive his reward.

Paul longed for Timothy to run his race with the same faithfulness. To earn the prize and stand before Christ without shame of defeat.

Are you faithful in your Christian race? Are you fighting the good fight?

What kind of things tend to trip you up on the path?

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Last Words of the First Martyr

Famous Last WordsBorn behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria, Margaret Nikol has experienced persecution first-hand. Many times the police left her unconscious father at their door after a severe beating. She witnessed the confiscation of Bibles by the communists. Her mother, then her father, and finally her brother were martyred for their faith in Christ.

Through God’s working, Margaret became a concert violinist in East Germany. But because of her commitment to Christ, the communists threatened prison for her and an orphanage for her young son. Determined to stay faithful to Christ, it became clear they had to escape. During a concert season in Austria, God provided the opportunity. Miraculously, Margaret evaded a dozen KGB agents and found asylum with the Austrian government.

Margaret Nikol has made her home in the United States since 1981 and I had the great privilege of meeting her a few weeks ago at a women’s event. Her joy in Christ shines through her powerful testimony. Her comments about martyrs struck me. She said that martyrs are not “super Christians.” They are simply normal, faithful Christians that God empowers with His grace when persecution comes.

Persecution in America?

Christians die for their faith every day around the world. They make a decision to stand for Christ in the face of death. Persecution is not that extreme in the America, but it’s here. In fact, Margaret said she sees it building.

Let’s look at the last words of the very first martyr and see what we can learn to prepare our hearts.

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coatsat the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  Acts 7:54-59, NIV

How can we stand firm?

Two things jump out at me as I read this passage:

  1. Stephen kept his focus on Christ – In the middle of the persecution he looked at Jesus. He felt God’s pleasure and approval of his faithful obedience. I pray that when persecution comes in any form we will all keep our eyes on Jesus.
  2. Stephen committed his life to Christ’s will – Like Jesus committed Himself fully to the Father, Stephen surrendered everything he had and was to Jesus. Nothing else mattered but belonging wholly to Him.

Stephen was the first to die for faith in Christ, but many have followed. Since Christ died for us more than 2,000 years ago, untold numbers of faithful ones have identified with Him in His suffering. Around the globe, millions of Christians have been rejected, beaten, and killed for the name of their Savior.

As persecution escalates in our own country I pray that you and I will stand firm in our faith. May we keep our eyes on Christ and commit ourselves fully to Him.

What forms of Christian persecution do you see in the United States today? Have you experienced it personally?

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Famous Last Words – Jesus’ Great Commission

Famous Last WordsWhen my son completes his final exams this week he will finish his first year of college. My husband and I are pleased with how he has done academically these last nine months, but we are especially proud of how successfully he has navigated his first year of independence.

We took him to campus the end of August and helped him get settled in his dorm. The morning we left him, I wanted to say so many things. I felt the need to impart last words of instruction and wisdom. Things like, “study hard,” “choose friends wisely,” “be careful with your money,” and “get enough rest.” As usual Mark just responded, “I know.” Well, it seems like maybe he really did!

Jesus’ Last Words

Last week we explored Jesus’ last words on the cross, His dying words. Today, we will consider His other last words, the ones right before His ascension. Jesus had spent forty days after His resurrection teaching and instructing His disciples. But these are the words He chose to share in His last moments with them.

 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20, NLT

The Great Commission

We refer to these parting words as the “Great Commission.” Our Savior commissioned us, His disciples, with the task of making disciples of “all nations.” The wonderful truth that our Lord has “all authority” should give us the desire and the confidence to go and share Jesus’ great salvation. And as we go, we know that Jesus will be with us.

I completely agree with the Great Commission. I know I should go. I know I should make disciples. I know I should teach them everything about Jesus and His commands. I know Jesus’ parting words, but I don’t always heed them. Often a large gap exists between my “I know” and “I go.”

Jesus’ parting words are for all disciples, including you and me. How are you doing? Do you just “know” or do you “go?”

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Famous Last Words of Jesus on the Cross

Famous Last WordsDarkness shrouded the city at noon. Even the sun mourned the imminent death of the Son. Although physically crucified by the hands of Roman soldiers, Jesus went to the cross willingly, in obedience to the Father. The Jewish leaders, their mock trial, and Governor Pilate were all just tools in God’s hands.

No one could take Jesus’ life without God’s approval. Jesus had the authority to not only lay down His life, but to take it up again (John 10:18). No one took Jesus’ life. He gave His life as act of obedience to His Father. Jesus’ last words on the cross accentuate this truth.

Jesus death, Jesus dying on Cross, Jesus' crucifixion

Jesus on the cross

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46, NIV

Submitting to God

Jesus completely submitted His life and death into the Father’s hands. Jesus’ obedience provided the way of salvation for you and me. Jesus’ death provided forgiveness for our sins and opened a way for us to enter into God’s presence. Jesus’ last words on the cross have significance for every person who has ever lived. Because He was “obedient to death” (Philippians 2:8) we can have life.

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. John 3:16, NIV

Trusting God in every situation

Jesus fully trusted the Father. He walked in complete obedience – all the way to the cross. He trusted God with the process and the pain. He trusted God with the reason and the result. He committed Himself to the One worthy of trust.

Is there a situation in your life right now you need to commit to God?

What is it hardest to trust God with?

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Famous Last Words – Judas

Names earn reputations. In deciding on a name for a baby, our feelings about a person affect our feelings about that particular name. We will reject or consider a name based on whether or not we liked that person.

For instance, would you ever name a child “Judas?” His name is synonymous with betrayal. We even refer to a traitor as a “Judas.” Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, agreed to give Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for 30 pieces of silver, the same price set by Jewish law for a slave accidentally gored to death by an ox.

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. Matthew 27:1-5, NIV

Remorse or Repentance

When morning came and the results of his actions came to light, Judas was “seized with remorse.” The Greek word in Matthew 27:3 translated as “remorse’ in the NIV, is not the same Greek word Jesus uses in Matthew 4:17 when He began to preach: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Jesus called for a change of heart that would result in a change of behavior. Judas simply felt regret. He did not go to God for forgiveness, he went to the Jewish leaders to make restitution. But unable to relieve his guilt, he ended his life instead.

Guilt or Forgiveness

Judas knew he had sinned. He knew he had betrayed an innocent man. Without God’s forgiveness, the guilt consumed him. If he had gone to God he could have found relief.

Is there a burden of sin you need to take to God today? You don’t have to live with guilt and remorse. Repent and turn to the One who offers forgiveness.

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Famous Last Words – Criminal on the Cross

My husband really enjoys this Cajun restaurant not far from our home. The first time I went with him I didn’t like what I ordered, but I thought it must have been just that dish. Since Wayne likes the place, I decided I should give it another try. In fact, I tried it a third time for good measure. Three strikes and that restaurant is out for me.

How could two people – who usually agree on most things – form such a different opinion from the same basic experience? I don’t understand it, but I really don’t understand how the two criminals that were crucified on either side of Jesus witnessed the same Savior and made such drastically different decisions.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43, NIV

The two criminals both saw Jesus’ response to the crowd, the soldiers, and the Jewish leaders. They both had heard of His miracles and teaching. Yet in their dying moments, one rejected Him and one recognized Him as King. With his last words, the repentant sinner accepted Jesus as his Savior. Then he opened his eyes in paradise.

Don’t wait until your last breath to give you life to Jesus. Do you know Him as Lord and Savior?

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Famous Last Words – Anna

Have you ever noticed that many older Christians “retire” from serving God? Once they aren’t working or their kids are grown or they can’t get around like they used to, they step back from active involvement in ministry. They continue to attend church, but they pretty much become a Christian spectator. (Lord, I’m praying already that this won’t be me.)

Anna, the Jewish prophetess, is a great example for all of us as we get older. (I know, some of us are older than others.) We meet Anna in the temple not long after the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary took Jesus there to observe all the ceremonies required by Jewish law.

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38, NIV

Although some scholars think Anna could have been more than 100 years old, she had not retired. She constantly served God and His people at the temple. Although we don’t have a specific quote from Anna, the Bible does tell us that after she met Jesus, she “spoke about the child to all…”

Anna faithfully witnessed about Jesus Christ to all who would listen. The implication is she continued witnessing until her death. I can imagine that the last words on her lips may have been, “Jesus is the redemption of Israel!”

Will you testify about your Savior with your dying words? Who do you need to tell?

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Famous Last Words – Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego

Following God is no guarantee that all our problems will turn out like we want them to. Sometimes circumstances remain difficult. Occasionally situations continue to be painful. And sometimes we even die without understanding all of God’s purposes in this life. But we can still trust in God’s character and faithfulness no matter how things appear to us.

Trust in dire circumstances

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated this kind of trust in God with what could have been their dying words. In the sixth century B.C., these three young Israelite men had been captured in Jerusalem and carried off with many others to serve in the royal palace in Babylon.

After years of humble service, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to make a life and death decision: Either bow down and worship the idol set up by the king or be thrown into the fiery furnace. After their first refusal, King Nebuchadnezzar – whom they had served loyally – gave them one more chance.

“If you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:15b-18, NIV

Faith, no matter the outcome

The steadfast faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrate trust in God and obedience to Him no matter the appearance of their circumstances. Whether things are good, hard, or absolutely desperate, we can lean on God and trust in His love for us. We can resolutely stand firm in our faith in God even when we don’t know what the outcome of our circumstances will be.

God choose to physically rescue Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three young men were thrown into the furnace but were miraculously not burned. In fact, they did not even smell like smoke when they were brought out. However, God does not always choose to deliver His people in this life. Sometimes He chooses instead to sustain us until He brings us into His presence.

Right now I face some circumstances that look bleak. God has spoken to me today in the “dying” words of these faith heroes. I consciously choose to continue to worship my God even if things do not turn out the way I hope.

Do you face a situation today that seems bleak, dire, and hopeless?

Will you choose to cling to God no matter how He chooses for it to turn out?

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Famous Last Words – Joshua

Have you ever felt like you were the only one? The only one who believed God would do what He said He would do… The only one who didn’t throw her faith out the window… The only one who didn’t turn away from God…

I’ve often wondered how Joshua and Caleb felt when they returned with the other ten spies after scouting the good land of Canaan – the land God had promised to give them. They really were the “only ones.” Joshua and Caleb were the only ones that believed God would and could do what He said even though the circumstances seemed insurmountable. Maybe they trusted God even more because it seemed impossible that this rag tag little group could defeat the mighty armies that lived in the Promised Land.

The people rejected God but Joshua did not.

After forty years of wandering, God used him to lead the people into Canaan and take possession of the land. Years later, after God gave them “rest from all their enemies,” Joshua knew death was near. So he summoned Israel to give them some final words of exhortation.

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed…” (Joshua 23:14, NIV)

14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD…” (Joshua 24:14-15, NIV)

29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. (Joshua 24:29-30, NIV)

Joshua’s faith never wavered.

Not in battle. And not when he truly was the only one who trusted God. With his last words, he encouraged Israel to remain faithful to the God who had proven Himself faithful time after time.

What life situations cause you to doubt God’s faithfulness?

Is there a “Joshua” in your life, someone whose faith never wavers? Tell us about her!

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Famous Last Words – Moses

I’ve made lots of mistakes – as a wife, as a friend, as a daughter, and definitely as a parent. I’ve learned valuable lessons through most of them. When I can, I share that “learned by experience” wisdom with my children in the hope that they will not have to learn the same lesson the hard way.

Moses, the great deliverer and leader of Israel, made mistakes. One particular mistake cost him the blessing of entering the Promised Land. He longed for Israel to learn from his mistakes. Let’s listen in on Moses’ last words of wisdom to God’s people:

45 When Moses had finished reciting all these words to the people of Israel, 46 he added: “Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. 47 These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” 48 That same day the LORD said to Moses, 49 “Go to Moab, to the mountains east of the river, and climb Mount Nebo, which is across from Jericho. Look out across the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the people of Israel as their own special possession. 50 Then you will die there on the mountain. You will join your ancestors, just as Aaron, your brother, died on Mount Hor and joined his ancestors. 51 For both of you betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there. 52 So you will see the land from a distance, but you may not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” Deut 32:45-52, NLT

Moses learned a lot through his many years of serving God. But in his last words to the Israelites there were a few things he wanted to emphasize:

  • God blesses obedience.
  • Disobedience can bring dire consequences.
  • Make sure you teach these things to your children!

Moses’ failure to honor the holiness of God at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1-13) did indeed bring dire consequences (Deut 32:51), but Moses humbly learned from his sin. He continued to faithfully serve God the rest of his life and finished well. In his last earthly moments, Moses climbed Mount Nebo and God showed him the beauty of the land the Israelites would inhabit. Then he entered into his reward.

5 So Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, just as the LORD had said. 6 The LORD buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. Deut 34:5-7, NLT

Have you made mistakes in your walk with God?

What lessons have you learned that you don’t want your children to learn the hard way?

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