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Famous Last Words

June 5th 2011

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he promised his disciples that he would return in glory and that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. And he told them they should be his witnesses to the world. In this message, we look at how Jesus' "famous last words" apply to us today in our walk of faith, but also recognize the blessed promise that His "last words" really aren't his last words at all . . . because He's coming back! Read or listen to find out more...

Ascention Sunday - "Famous Last Words" - Acts 1:1-11 - June 5, 2011

I love movies . . . though I haven’t seen one in 3 years (thanks Ruth and Rose), at least not one that didn’t have a princess in it. But like I said, I love movies so I’d like to share with you some of my favorite “famous last words” of movie characters just before they died. There’s Tom Hank’s character in Saving Private Ryan saying to Private Ryan after many had died on the mission to save him, “Earn it.” There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars to Darth Vader, shortly before intentionally letting down his guard, “You cannot win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” On a more humorous note, any fans of The Princess Bride? Vizzini’s famous last words having unknowingly drunk poison in a “battle of wits” boasting of what he thinks is victory, “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well known is this; never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha –“ There’s William Wallace in Braveheart and his inspiring, “Freeeeedom!” (Pastor Filipek would be so proud). And as ranked #1 by, Yoda in Return of the Jedi, “Luke . . . there is another . . . Sky . . . wal . . . ker.” Yeah, it gave this six-year-old chills. Star Wars fans; it’s ok to nod your head at the awesomeness of that scene! These lines were meant for entertainment purposes, but some of them, or other favorites, may have inspirational meaning for some of us beyond the context of the movie itself. But what about real life? I would guess that many of us have a memory of a loved one or close friend and the final thing they said to us before dying. Or perhaps not in death, but a long goodbye because someone was moving away or leaving for a long time, and they felt compelled to share important words. Or you felt compelled to share important words with them. It is a unique opportunity to share with and receive last words from someone before they go away for a long time. It can be a blessing but bittersweet; it can be heartfelt yet sad. We have that one thought or feeling that must be shared. Or it is that one all important piece of advice or word of encouragement. Either way, they are words meant to have a lasting effect. Last words can be powerful and comforting; and for some – life changing. On this Ascension Sunday we will look at Christ’s “famous last words” as recorded in our text. His words were prompted by a question by his apostles about when the Kingdom would be restored. His answer is really three distinct, but cohesive phrases. It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. These were Jesus’ “famous last words” that he chose to leave with his apostles before ascending into heaven. Important, lasting words for them and, consequently, for us as well. So we’re going to look at each phrase separately to see how it applies to us today. So the first phrase of his answer: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Jesus established that the “when” is not important. The Father has promised that the Kingdom will be restored and his promises come true. By faith, we can trust that. Scripture shows us this over and over, most notably of course in the person Jesus Christ, our Savior, the promised Messiah.
But our human curiosity is running rampant. So conversations, literature, movies, and preaching about the end times have become very popular lately. People want to try and figure out when it will happen or they look for the signs. I mean, there was the recent prediction that the world was ending three weeks ago or something? Still here! And now it’s been moved to maybe October – I don’t know – I don’t really pay attention. Because we don’t have to pay attention; these are false prophets because their prophecies don’t come true and they should be ignored. That is straight from the Old Testament.
As Christians in faith, we don’t have worry about that at all. We have something better – the comforting promise from Christ himself that he will come again. The truth is that only the Father knows; he has fixed [it] by his own authority. And because he tells us in his Word we know it to be true, that Christ will come again. So having that certainty, that comfort, we don’t focus on when, we just know that it will happen . . . and we focus elsewhere. The second phrase of Jesus’ “famous last words”: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .” a blessed promise and a reference to Pentecost, which we will celebrate next week. As we heard in the gospel text today, Jesus had been teaching the apostles about God’s Word; he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And it all came together on Pentecost when they received the power of the Holy Spirit. They understood the kingdom of God, they understood the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit gave them the power and gifts to grow the Church on the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit gives us Spiritual gifts to help build the Church as well. The question is: are we using them? Remember, we also received the Holy Spirit in a very powerful way when we were baptized. God made us his and he called us by name. He called us to his Kingdom as his children; he forgave us our sins; he killed the old Adam and gave us new life in Christ. And he called us not only to salvation through Jesus Christ, but also to do good works that he may be glorified in us. Simply put, we are saved, not by our works, but there is work to do. And as important as it is for us to work and help in God’s church here at Beautiful Savior, our focus needs to be greater than just ourselves. Our focus needs to be greater than just ourselves . . . as demonstrated by the final phrase of Jesus’ “famous last words” . . . our main focus as Christians . . . “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In fact, in all the synoptic gospels (that is: Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus’ last words have a mission theme. Scripture is abundantly clear that while we wait for Christ to return, we should not wait idly, but that we are to use the gifts given by the Spirit and be his witnesses to the world.
We heard in the text about angels present after Jesus ascended to heaven. And they asked the apostles “why do you stand looking into heaven?” They assured the apostles that Jesus would return in the same way he went so they need not continue staring into the sky in awe. They need not concern themselves with “when” or “how” he would return, but instead heed the mission to be witnesses of Christ to the world. The message is the same for us. People need to be told about forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. But let’s be honest. This is probably the hardest part of our calling as God’s people. Our mission-vision here at Beautiful Savior is “connecting people to Jesus as we gather, grow, and go.” We’re pretty good at gathering and growing, but the go part is probably the hardest for most of us. I’ll freely admit it’s the toughest for me. But easy or tough is irrelevant. The story of God’s grace through his Son, Jesus, is the best news the world has ever known and it is meant to be shared. We are called to witness . . . period.
And sure, we are a witness by our actions as the Holy Spirit helps us follow God’s commands. But witnessing by our actions is not enough. We must tell the good news to those who don’t know. And yes, by our fear and apathy, we have passed up opportunities to witness; but by God’s grace we are forgiven. So let us look forward then to the future opportunities that the Spirit will present to us. Let us trust him to give us the words, and pray for the courage to speak up. Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. So what do we tell them? Simple: Jesus’ last words. First, as recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus’ final words before dying on the cross, “It is finished.” The gospel message is in those three words. What is finished? Jesus atoned for our sins by his innocent sufferings and death. Our ransom paid in full. But he wasn’t finished. No, Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. Therefore, for all who believe, we are assured of “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Because secondly, Jesus’ promise as told by the angels after his ascension, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” He’s coming back. He’s coming back!! And those who believe will join him in everlasting life in the new heaven. So we tell them the gospel. We tell them the same good news that saves us. Some will reject it, yes. But we keep planting the seed. Because to paraphrase Luther, only God knows when and if a person will convert; we don’t; so we just have to keep proclaiming his Word.
A summary of Jesus’ “famous last words” then . . . for his apostles . . . for us: “I’m coming back! The Spirit is with you to guide, strengthen, and help you; so go tell everyone about me!” But the greatest news of all? Jesus’ “famous last words” are not his last words. In fact there’s no such thing. Our life in Christ never ends. Yes, we will die an earthly death, but we will be resurrected and made new on the last day when Jesus returns in glory. And from then on our last words will be eternal praises to our God. We will be with God in unimaginable bliss without end. Through Christ, for those who believe, “famous last words” don’t exist. Perhaps best described in the “famous last words” of the Lord’s Prayer as we say it, “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever . . . and ever. Amen.”

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