Summary: Truths gleaned from Jesus’ words to thief on the cross.
INTRO> Something happened a few years ago that had never happened before. For the first time ever, a game show became the #1-rated television show. Regis Philbin served as the original host of “Do You Want To Be A Millionaire?,” where a single contestant sits in chair while lights and music surround him/her as he/she attempts to answer a series of questions. The first questions are ridiculously easy, but the questions get tougher as the contestant progresses toward the ultimate goal of winning $1 million. I’ve noticed, though, that a contestant to ruminate out loud, talk through his/her logic in why he/she will answer a question a particular way, can even turn to using “lifelines,” polling the audience, asking for a 50-50 reduction of possible answers, and even phone a friend. However, no progress will be made until the contestant answers a second question each stage of the way. There is a question that shows up on the screen, but then he/she is asked a second question by Regis or Meredith (depending on whether you’re watching an old show or new show). The other question? The host will ask the contestant, “Is that your FINAL answer?”
<>You see, FINAL WORDS are important...not just in game shows, but in real life:
-->In the courtroom no testimony is given more weight or considered more trustworthy than a dying person’s confession, or last words.
-->When the NTSB is investigating the cause of an airline crash, they desperately seek through all the rubble of the crash, seeking for the infamous “black box,” hoping to listen to recordings of the FINAL WORDS in the cockpit, hoping to learn from those conversations what the cause of the crash was.
---------(By the way, I’ve always wondered...it seems the “black box” always survives the crash. Why don’t they just make the whole plain out of the stuff they made the black box out of?!)
-->If you die before the rapture, there will come a day when a lawyer or the executor of your estate will gather your family and loved ones together to listen to a reading of your LAST will and testament, your FINAL wishes, declaring how you want your vast resources (perhaps including the million dollars you won on the game show!) distributed.
<>Because, you see, a person’s FINAL WORDS reveal a lot about what’s important to him/her:
---ILL>P. T. Barnum, famous father of the modern circus, and notorious money-grubber, he who once declared proudly “there’s a sucker born every minute,” while on his death bed revealed his life-long pursuit of money when his last words ever spoken were: “How were today’s receipts at the show?”
---ILL>Flamboyant writer, Oscar Wilde, relentlessly pursuing frivolous things while displaying a keen wit, while lying on his death bed, uttered these, his very last words: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
<>But of all the final words ever spoken, without any question the most important were the final words of Jesus, spoken as He was hanging on the cross.
I invite you to open a Bible to Luke, chapter 23.
-->While you’re turning, we’re probably all familiar with the famous cantata written by Stephen DuBois, The Seven Last Words Of Christ, which focused on the seven statements of Jesus while He was hanging and dying on the cross.
-------->Those seven statements demonstrate Jesus’ compassion: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing;” “Mother, behold your son, son, behold your mother.”
-------->And they demonstrate His sacrifice, His pain and suffering on our behalf: “I thirst,” “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, “It is finished,” “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.”
<>But I want us to focus our attention today on what is believed to have been the second statement in that sequence of seven.
<>Imagine the scene: there are three crosses standing on the hill called “The Skull.”
-----On each of the two outer crosses hung a criminal...someone who was more than merely a thief, someone who had been sentenced to a death sentence by the Roman Empire.
-----So, either they were guilty of treason (which is, by the way, the legal reason Rome used for crucifying Christ...hanging a sign reading, “King of the Jews” above His cross, declaring that Jesus had treasonously declared Himself to be a king when the only king Rome allowed to be recognized was Caesar or whom Caesar had dutifully assigned that role)...OR they were guilty of murder.
-----We don’t know if they were also guilty of treason, but apparently in the process of carrying out a theft they also killed someone.
<>In other words, the two men on the outside crosses were not nice guys, and not just guys who had “made a boo-boo.” These were hardened criminals, who had deliberately broken the law, and had been found guilty of such heinous crimes that only a death sentence, and the hideous death by crucifixion was seemed appropriate justice.