Have you ever walked through an old cemetary and read the gravestones? It can make for a very interesting outing. A lot of information can be learned about the people buried there just from the inscriptions on their gravestones -their dates of birth and death, their age, their name, even their family history (who they married, who their children were).
Sometimes you’ll even find an inscription describing the person – a short verse or words the person or his family and friends wished him to be remembered by. These inscriptions are called epitaphs. Some epitaphs have become famous and well known -remembered several generations later. Books have even been written about the epitaphs found on certain gravestones.
But a person doesn’t have to be dead to be remembered by an epitaph of words. Often nicknames or phrases become associated with one particular person, and whenever those nicknames or phrases are heard, that individual immediately comes to mind. Another way a person may be remembered is by the words he uses in his speech. Without realizing it, we can offend a person by the words we say and use. Words of anger, harshness, slang, and ridicule, may be the ones that end up associated with us in some person’s memory, never to be forgotten How important it is for us to remember to speak only words of love, kindness and praise to other people.
Have you ever thought about what words you are likely to be remembered by? Many people, without thinking, have said that they wished they knew what the future held for them just so they would be able to select more appropriate words to express to someone. In reality, its doubtful these people realize what they are really asking for.
The future is most often best not known. Some people In life have that wish granted, even when they didn’t ask for it. Cancer patients, heart attack victims, AIDS patients, and many other persons inflicted with incurable diseases, unrepairable failing bodies, or physical disfigurements all know their futures – and they wish they didn’t. These people often become embittered because they do know their future and can’t do anything about it.
On the other hand, some other people in these same situations endure their afflictions and live outgoing, happy, otherwise positive lives. What is the difference? It isn’t the knowledge of the future that causes people to be one way or the other, but rather what the person’s life is centered on, the person’s inner strengths, the moral fiber he or she is made of, and the knowledge of their purpose in life, that together play a important part in determining the person’s outlook and attitude on their life.
JESUS IS AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE IN THIS REGARD. Final acts. Final hours. Final words. They reflect a life well lived. So do the last words of our Master. When on the edge of death, Jesus got his house in order.
He definitely knew what his future would be. The reality of the cross was always before him. Like a death-row inmate, his future was fixed and certain. There was never any doubt in Jesus’ mind about his own destiny. Yet his last words, spoken almost 2,000 years ago during his anguish and agony on the cross, still serve as epitaphs to guide mankind in their memory of him today.
Jesus’ Last Words on the Cross:
- Words of Forgiveness
(Luke 23:34) “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Were the words of chance muttered by a desperate martyr? No. They were words of intent, painted by the Divine Deliverer on the canvas of sacrifice.
Final words, final acts. Each one is a window through which the cross can be better understood. Each one opens a treasury of promises.
The dialogue that Friday morning was bitter. From the onlookers, “Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God!” From the religious leaders, “He saved others but he can’t save himself.” From the soldiers, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Bitter words. Acidic with sarcasm. Hateful. Irreverent. Wasn’t it enough that he was being crucified? Wasn’t it enough that he was being shamed as a criminal? Were the nails insufficient? Was the crown of thorns too soft? Had the flogging been too short? For some, apparently so.
Peter, a writer not normally given to using many descriptive verbs, says that the passers-by “hurled” insults at the crucified Christ. They didn’t just yell or speak or scream. They “hurled” verbal stones. They had every intention of hurting and bruising. “We’ve broken the body, now let’s break the spirit.” So they strung their bows with self-righteousness and launched stinging arrows or pure poison.
Of all the scenes around the cross, this one angers me the most. What kind of people, I ask myself, would mock a dying man? Who would be so base as to pour the salt of scorn upon open wounds? How low and perverted to sneer at one who is laced with pain. Who would make fun of a person who is seated in an electric chair? Or who would point and laugh at a criminal who has a hangman’s noose around his neck?
The words thrown that day were meant to wound. And there is nothing more painful than words meant to hurt. That’s why James called the tongue a fire. Its burns are every bit as destructive and disastrous as those of a blowtorch.
If you have suffered or are suffering because of someone else’s words, you’ll be glad to know that there is a balm for this laceration. Meditate on those words from 1 Peter 2:23: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Man had done his worst: Jesus, the Messiah, had come to earth and the world did not receive Him.
With all He had undergone, from the Jews1 the religious leaders, and the leaders of government.. what would we expect to find? Is Jesus crying for pity? Is He casting down vile words to His crucifiers?
Luke 23:34 “Jesus said, “Father , forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
Jesus was doing what every one of us should be doing when things go wrong around us: He was praying! This also gives us the encouragement to keep on praying for any loved ones we have who might otherwise “be beyond prayer.”
Luke’s gospel has given us many, many pictures of Jesus praying.
– His hands could no longer minister to the sick–they were nailed to the cross
– HIs feet could no longer run errands of mercy
– He could no longer instruct His disciples, for they had forsaken Him and fled
WE SEE THE FULLFILLMENT OF THE PROPHETIC WORD
As we say last week from Isaiah 53:7, it was foretold that the Savior would make intercession for His transgressors. This also takes place for us today: Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
WE SEE THE DIVINE ESTINATE OF SIN AND ITS CONSEQUENT GUILT
Sin is always sin in the sight of God whether we are conscious of it or not. Sins of ignorance need atonement just as much as conscious sins. Ignorance is not innocence! There were five sins involved in the crucifixion of Christ:
– The sin of ignorance
Acts 3:17 “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”
1 Corinthians 2:8 “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
– The sin of hated
John 15:25 “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
They hated Christ because of His condemnation of their evil; He condemned their traditions and their hypocrisy.
– The sin of the love of money
Judas betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver.
– The sin of envy
Matthew 27:18 “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.”
– The sin of lying
False witnesses had been used in the trial of Jesus.. money was offered to the soldiers to lie about the resurrection (Matthew 28:12-13: “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, (13) telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”
WE SEE BLINDNESS OF THE HUMANITY
The people certainly understood the fact of this crucifixion–they remembered crying out “crucify him.”
But they likely didn’t realize the enormity of their crime. They didn’t realize Jesus was the King of Glory.
Luke 7:29-30: “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. (30) But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)”
WE SEE JESUS PRACTICING WHAT HE PREACHED
Jesus had said, early in His ministry, that they should “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” Now He does it! I’m convinced that this was noticed by that thief more than anything else.
WE SEE MAN’S GREAT AND PRIMARY NEED
The first important lesson which all need to learn is this: we are sinners and therefore, unfit for the presence of a Holy God. No matter what we do good in life, it will not be enough to settle the sin question.
IF WE HAD…
The patience of Job.. .the wisdom of Solomon… the meekess of Noses… the strength of …….the faith of Abraham . the compassion of Joseph…the tears of Jeremiah.. the devotion of David… the voice of Elijah.. .the courage of Daniel…the greatness of John the Baptist… the zeal of Peter…the endurance of Paul.. WE WOULD STILL NEED: “The salvation that is in Christ Jesus”
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– (9) not by works, so that no one can boast.”
WE SEE THE TRIUMPH OF REDEMPTION
There are a number of things Jesus could have done.. but He didn’t. And this is the triumph we seek in our lives!
Close with reading Romans 8:28-32
Jesus’ first “last words” on the cross showed his continuing awareness of the reason he was enduring the crucifixion. He was still acutely aware that his one and only mission in being on earth was to provide mankind with a way of escape from their burdens of sin
Even as he hung painfully on the cross, his back ripped open and bleeding from the scourging he had earlier received, his hands pierced with the nails of the cross, his ears and mind receiving scorn and ridicule from the people standing at his feet, Jesus never once let his mission be forgotten. As a last loving proof of his concern for mankind, he implored his heavenly father to forgive the very ones who were responsible for his agonizing torment, explaining to his father that they were unaware of what they were doing.
Yes, the dialogue that Friday morning was bitter. The verbal stones were meant to sting. How Jesus, with a body wracked with pain, eyes blinded by his own blood, and lungs yearning for air, could speak on behalf of some heartless thug is beyond our comprehension. Never, never have I seen such love. If ever a person deserved a shot at revenge, Jesus did. But he didn’t take it. Instead he died for them.
Have you ever wondered how Jesus kept from retaliating? Have you ever asked how he kept his control. Here’s the answer:…”for they do not know what they are doing.” It’s as if Jesus considered this bloodthirsty, death-hungry crowd not as murderers, but as victims. It’s as if he saw in their faces not hatred but confusion. It’s as if he regarded them not as a militant mob but, as he put it, as “sheep without a shepherd.”