Last Words on a Final Friday
- Friday, March 29, 2002
When a famous person approached death, those nearby would listen closely to hear what was on that individual's mind and heart as he reached the portal between this life and the next-the idea being that what you said with those final breaths opened a window to your true character, revealing beyond doubt what you truly believed.
Take John Adams, for example. The second President of the United States' death was particularly memorable because it came on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and on the same day his lifelong rival-turned friend, Thomas Jefferson, also died. These intense political rivals had, over the course of many years, become dear friends, primarily through their well-documented correspondence.
In an 1813 letter to Jefferson, Adams wrote, "You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other." Thirteen years later, and not knowing that his friend had already passed away, Adams said with his final breath, "Jefferson... still survives." Nearly 200 years later, Americans still settle their political disputes with words and not guns.
Munitions magnate Alfred Krupp's last words are memorable as well. Unwilling to accept that his end had come, he said, "Physician, I will give you one million dollars if you can prolong my life ten years." Hobbs the atheist said, "I am taking a fearful leap into the dark."
There's Voltaire: "I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to Hell!" And Sir Walter Scott: "I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty."
Compare that with George Washington's final utterance: "Doctor, I am dying, but I... am... not... afraid." It is reported that he then folded his hands over his chest and ended his days on earth by saying, "It is well." Two days after collapsing on the floor of the House of Representatives of a stroke, John Quincy Adams said, "This is the last of earth! I am content." And Patrick Henry told his doctor as he lay dying: "I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die."
Why does one soul cling to life with desperate last words, while another can openly embrace his final breaths?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the most famous last words ever, spoken nearly two thousand years ago by a Carpenter turned itinerant Preacher. Some of my most meaningful memories of the Easter season are of sitting in church on Good Friday and listening to the last words of Jesus. These words speak volumes about Christ's life and my life today.
They reveal Christ's humanity: "Behold your mother" ... "I am thirsty." They reveal Christ's great love for mankind: "Father, forgive them" ... "Today you shall be with me in Paradise." But these last words were not about a martyr's death; they were about the ultimate sacrifice of the One who had come to set us free from the tyranny of sin and death. The pain, the anguish, the despair of humankind, the wrath of God's judgment for our sins all fell on His shoulders that day. And so, at the ninth hour, He cried out: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" ["My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"]
Then, with the sky darkened, Christ's life was nearly gone. But more last words were yet to come. With the weight of mankind's separation from God upon Him, Christ turned again to His Father: "Into Your hands I commit My spirit." Finally, after hours of agony came the greatest last words ever spoken: "It is finished!"
Those three last words make all the difference in the world-especially when you are facing your own last words. Christ's work on the Cross is a complete work-His sacrifice fully atoned for the sins of mankind and opened access to eternity with God for all who believe. It is finished! The work is done! As a result, in both life and death, those who know Christ can rest.
On her deathbed, Queen Elizabeth still hadn't found that rest. "All my possessions for a moment of time." All her possessions couldn't buy her another second.
Compare that to the great American evangelist, D.L. Moody: "Earth is receding, and Heaven is opening. It is my coronation day." That is what Easter is all about. Thanks to Christ's finished work, things of this earth are truly receding, and the gates of heaven are opening wide for us to walk in-hopefully, with last words fitting such a grand entrance.
Dr. Frank Wright is executive director of the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C.
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