Famous Last Words
When someone is going to leave for a very long time…especially when that "long time" is death itself…we have a habit of putting great weight on their last words.
- With some, perhaps it is an attempt at reconciliation before there is no more chance to right the wrong.
- With others, perhaps it is an opportunity to impart some comfort before the guaranteed pain of separation.
- Or maybe it's just one more occasion to let those you are leaving behind know just how much you love them.
- Sometimes…however…it is the opportune time to share your last wishes…what you want those beholden to you to do after you go away…a dying man's request of sorts…
From Acts we know that Jesus spent 40 days appearing to his disciples "and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). We are going to look at His final words as recorded by Matthew. They may not be part of what He said just prior to his ascension, but they definitely seem like they might…and, regardless, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include them as the very end of his Gospel—which implies significance. Let's take a look at Matthew 28:16-20 together:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio. All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Whether they were spoken in His last minutes or just within the final 40 days, Jesus "last request" for us…or…rather…His last command to us…His servants…was to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
And since the foundation of the church we have taken that command to heart…and we continue to send missionaries to all corners of the earth…although sometimes we have to be satisfied with being limited to the airwaves.
But there has been no confusion within the Body of Christ as to our obligation…and no hesitation to fulfill it.
It would be very easy to hang our laurels on that fact and ignore that Jesus' command wasn't really just for His disciples, or evangelists, or missionaries…
From day one the church has also recognized the individual nature of Jesus' Great Commission. Everyone sitting (or standing) here is directed to make disciples of all the nations…and that doesn't mean by just praying or sending money.
But what does that mean?
Should we all be standing on street corners shouting out that the end is nigh?
Steering every conversation we have with a new acquaintance to the gospel?
Knocking on neighborhood doors, hoping not to be confused with Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons or insurance salesmen?
At 30,000 Feet
I actually think about this quite a bit when I am traveling. I generally get an aisle seat…partially because of the length of my legs…and partially because I don't like being trapped if I suddenly hear the call of nature. 🙂
That usually means that between me and the window is one or two people who can be witnessed to.
If I don't, have I refused God's command? Have I increased the chance that my temporary companions will spend eternity in hell? Unforgivably blown an opportunity to bring a pagan to Jesus?
I'll be up front and say that I won't have an answer to that for you in this sermon. However, I would like to relate an incident that occurred while I was flying from San Francisco to Charlotte this past Wednesday as I was on my way home.
Sitting next to me was a really nice ophthalmologist. He probably was heading toward 20 years older than me, and was a non-practicing Jew. In this case he was in the middle seat and I was against the window.
We had been speaking pretty long before things turned to spiritual matters…and we were in the middle of a pretty interesting conversation when the guy in the middle seat in front of us turned around and asked us to stop talking.
Seriously…he felt comfortable asking us to shut up. He said for 5 minutes…that he felt like he was in the middle of a debate…
But he really didn't just want it to be 5 minutes…and we weren't debating…
And we stopped talking.
Were we wrong?
Should we have allowed one unreasonable passenger to stifle our communication?
Should I have been willing to stop testifying about the truth?
Are there examples in the Bible that can help me figure out the answers?
Of course there are! 🙂
Let's look first Acts 4:13-20:
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
That's not the only time Jesus' disciples were told to be quiet…a similar instance…and response…can be found one chapter later in Acts 5:27-29:
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.
When that offended passenger turned around and asked us to discontinue our conversation, should I have responded?:
"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for [i] cannot but speak of what [I] have seen and heard."
No, "[I] must obey God rather than men."
Not the First Time
And this wasn't the first time this has happened to me. A couple years back I was chatting with a fellow Christian about our blessings, doctrines, and so on…and the guy in front of us asked us to stop.
And we did.
Were we wrong?
Should we have?
In fairness to both men…an airplane is a very confined space…and to hear each other you have to talk pretty loudly…
But…as I whispered to my fellow shushed traveler this past Wednesday…my guess is the young man wouldn't have made the request if we were discussing sports…
Even if we were debating about sports.
Because in modern society there is one subject that is verboten, whether you are on the ground or at 30,000 feet.
Now, I wish I could tell you exactly how you should behave in a similar situation…or…for that matter…precisely how you should approach witnessing to acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family. I imagine I'm not the only one who wonders if Christians who teach that we should take every opportunity we can to preach the Gospel are right.
Should nary a fellow setting-row mate make it through a flight without hearing about Jesus?
Should I feel guilty that most do make it through a flight without me sharing the gospel?
But the Bible doesn't explain exactly how we should act in each an every evangelistic opportunity. Instead, the best I believe we can do is to learn from its examples, apply its teachings, pray, and let the Holy Spirit lead. However, as I continue to wrestle with how I should act in the sardine cans of the air, I can share 4 principles that Scripture does make clear.
You can probably figure out the first one from what we already read in Acts…
If God tells you to witness…witness!
No matter what the risk…no matter what authority tells you to do otherwise…
"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
"We must obey God rather than men."
The second principle can be found in 1 Peter 3:13-17:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
The second principle is:
Always be prepared.
Although you can learn a lot more than just that from Peter in that reference…including, perhaps, confirmation that it was okay that I stopped (the "gentleness and respect" part of the verses).
For our third principle we are going to go to Romans 10:12-17:
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Witnessing principle #3 is:
Faith comes from hearing.
A popular quote to get us Christians to behave like we should is "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words."
That popular quote is not in the Bible…and it can be an excuse to pretend acting like a Christian is "enough."
Paul says it isn't.
Sure, act like a Christian.
But use words.
On to our fourth and final principle comes directly from the mouth of Jesus and can be found in Mark 8:34-38:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Our fourth principle of witnessing is:
If you are ashamed of Jesus, He will be ashamed of you.
You have the ultimate cure for what ails people. You have the key to the ultimate reward. You have ultimate wisdom at your fingertips.
Don't be ashamed!
Don't be afraid
There you have it…four principles of witnessing:
- If God tells you to witness…witness!
- Always be prepared.
- Faith comes by hearing.
- If you are ashamed of Jesus, He will be ashamed of you.
I don't know about you…even with these great principles sharing the Gospel can be kind of scary. Let's close with some more of Jesus' words and see if we can develop a bit more confidence…
16 "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10:16-20).
When God does tell you to witness…and you are prepared…and you know faith comes by hearing…and you are not ashamed of Jesus…
You will not be alone.
The Spirit of your Father will be speaking through you…
Even at 30,000 feet.