Famous Last Words

Last words…  some people always have to have the last word in a conversation.  Some never seem to get to the last word… they just keep talking!  Then again, when someone is on his or her deathbed, it’s not that hard to get the last word.

I read in a blog a writer say that he’ll be happy so long as his last words are not “Hey guys, watch this!” or “Get them off me! Get them off me!”

“Famous last words” can be inspiring…  the things that people say right before they go to their eternal reward – or non-reward, as the case may be. 

For example, as he breathed his last on July 4, 1926, President John Adams exclaimed, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Except that he didn’t – Jefferson had died about five hours earlier, also on the Fourth of July. OK, so no one said famous last words have to be accurate.  Another example of this was General John Sedgwick, a Union officer during the Civil War.  During the battle of the Wilderness he insisted on peeking above the works to see the situation. As his men warned him to come down, he rejected their advice with the last words, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-.”

Some last words reveal a lot about the personality of the person. For example, Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen – told by his doctor that the angels were waiting for him – said, “Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well – let ’em wait.” Or there are the really honest examples, like scientist Luther Burbank who said, “I don’t feel good.”

Then there are last words that reflect the person’s deep faith. For example, it is recorded that the last words of Scotland’s Robert the Bruce were, “Now, God be with you, my dear children. I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Being a preacher, I’m particularly fascinated in the last words of fellow preachers. John Calvin’s last words were, “I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from thy hand.” John Knox said, “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.” And the great John Wesley proclaimed on his deathbed, “The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!”

New England preacher Cotton Mather’s last words were, “Is this dying? Is this all? Is this what I feared when I prayed against a hard death? Oh, I can bear this! I can bear this!” And Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher entered eternity with the words, “Now comes the mystery!”

Then there is the bold, heroic statement at the end of one’s life… like that of Joan of Arc: “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!” Or that of Saint Lawrence, one of the leaders of the Roman church when it was facing persecution. As he was suspended over a bed of coals to be slowly burned to death, he uttered these words: “Turn me. I am roasted on one side.” (Some say his courage was so remarkable that hundreds of Roman citizens converted to Christianity.)

As I enter into this last week of my ministry at Emmanuel, I have been thinking a lot about last words…  what things would I want to be remembered?  What do I find particularly important to be heard?  And, I find myself drawn to some better examples of Last Words… those contained in Scripture. 

The book of 2 Peter, his second letter, is a last statement of sorts.  Although there is some controversy surrounding authorship, it is the traditional view (and has plenty of evidence to support) that this is Peter’s last letter written shortly before his death.  In fact, the letter even states that this is the case. 

Therefore, I will always remind you about these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught.   And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live.   

For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone.  (2 Peter 12-15)

There is something about one’s impending death that changes the tone of a conversation…  gone is the normal bravado, the typical eloquence.  Instead, there remains a kind of sombre urgency, and a bluntness… because there is no time for confusion.

So what is it that Peter is so desperate to communicate to his hearers? 

To begin with, Peter urges his audience to continue working on their faith…  

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.” (2Peter 1:10)

He reminds us that we need to put into practice what we have heard and learned… that the life of Faith is actually hard work that makes demands of us.  Recall the words of James which declares, “Faith without works is dead.” (see James 2:14-26)  This is an unpopular message when all we hear is “God is Love” and “We are saved by Faith alone.”  Yes!  These statements are true!  But, they are not complete.  And this is why Peter writes…  Put your faith into practice…  work it out…

Peter, a short piece before, has already told us how to do this… just what it looks like:

“Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” (2Pet 1:5-7)  

Like the apostle Paul (see Romans 5) the Christian life is one of addition and transformation.  We begin, and one thong leads to another.  We build upon our Faith moral excellence…. And then knowledge…  One thing leads to another.  This happens partly as a natural progression… one gives rise to the other; but it takes work and intentionality.  Too many stop short at Faith and then call it a day.  But the problem is this:  fail to work it out, and you will be led astray!

This is the second big idea that Peter is anxious to communicate about:  False prophets!

Peter spends a lot of time in this short letter expounding on these characters who twist and misuse Scripture.  Perhaps this is why he ends the first chapter with the warning:

You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.  Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2Pet 1:19-21)

Pay close attention!

Chapter 2 launches into the warning that False Prophets were not a recent phenomenom, nor will they be absent from our day.  And, we are told, many will be deceived!  And judgement waits for such teachers…

But wait!  Remember!  Peter has already told us and shown us how to stand!  Do these things and you will never fall away. Work out your Faith; Pay close attention to Scripture!

Finally, as we turn to chapter three, Peter again summarizes his point:

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires.  They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (2Pet 3:3-4)

Remember!  Jesus is coming again!

Peter, who was living only 30 years after the death of Jesus, has encountered people who mocked the Second Coming.  How much more so now!  Today, many people choose to treat the Second Coming as some fairy tale, or a mythical trope, or some ideal.  To such persons, Peter pointedly reminds them that God is not on our timetable. 

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.  But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.” (2Pet 3:8-10)

God’s delay has a purpose…  it is Grace.  God does not want ANYONE to be destroyed.

BUT…  and yes, there is a “but” in the text…  the Day of the Lord (Judgement) will come unexpectedly like a thief at night.  So, be prepared!

The last piece of Peter’s letter reminds us that since the world in which we live is to be destroyed, we should not fix our hopes on it.  It should not capture our hearts.  Now, some have used this passage to justify ecological destruction.  Such is twisting of Scripture.  But, it remains that this world is not our final Home.  And we will always be living as strangers and aliens in it.  We should, instead, fix our eyes on those things that are eternal… the promised things of God.

Some would suggest that this text allows for us to become moral combatants… to see the world as an enemy.  To that, Peter replies:

And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. (2Pet 3:14)

Our lives should be like Christ Jesus…  (Please see and read Philippians 2)

Grace-filled… And Righteous. 

Loving… And Holy.

Forgiving… And unyielding to sin.

Peter ends his letter with a brief summary… one which is highly applicable to us today.  And it is a message that I would want to echo to you:

“So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing.  Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Pet 3:17-18a)

There are so many differing opinions these days about what constitutes truth.  There are so many false impressions about what makes a true Christian.  So be on guard!  Check your source:  Scripture!  Study and learn what it has to say.  Apply it.  Grow in Faith, and in Grace!  And daily seek to know (experience) Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

“All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.”  (2Pet 3:18b)

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