The last words which people utter before their death are, perhaps, the most memorable. Such words become indelibly stamped on our hearts. Last words often go the very core of the soul.
Just before my father died of cancer in August of 1998, he became comatose. Having been comatose for 12 hours my sister came from her home in greater Indianapolis to my father’s house in suburban Detroit. When she came to his bed she hugged my father and said, “Daddy, I love you.” Amazingly he came out of his coma and responded, “I love you, too. For the next 90 seconds he expressed his last gift to my sister, her husband, and her four children repeating to each one “I love you.” After that he returned to a comatose state until he died twelve hours later.
I believe my father’s last words to my sister instantly and permanently impacted her life. Indeed, they still lie deep in her soul. They will remain there as a testimony of Dad’s greatest gift to her–his love.
It’s interesting how those three simple words caused virtually everything else my father did in his seventy-three years of life to take on an almost surprising irrelevancy. Every time my sister would think of her father, perhaps the greatest memory of this “daddy’s girl’s” father would be his last words, “I love you.”
On the cross Jesus spoke the familiar “seven words of the Cross.” Recalling these familiar words of Christ from the cross are almost as automatic to us as my sister’s recollection of her father’s last words, “I love you.”
But none of Jesus’ words on the cross are His last words. Though His words uttered before His death impress us and impact our hearts with the amazing profundity of His loving sacrifice for us, none of them are His last words. The reason they are not His last words is because of His resurrection. Though important words–words related to our redemption of grace through the sacrifice of His innocent blood for us–there remains for Jesus others words to say…including His last words.
What were His last words? Jesus’ last words were those uttered at His ascension:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.” Acts 1:8-9 NIV
“You shall be my witnesses….” If my father’s final words impacted, changed and transformed my sisters life with effects that will continue until she died, Jesus’ final words should do this all the more. After all His final words are the most important words “You shall be my witnesses.”
Organizational Consultant and Guru Tom Peters has encouraged organizations of various kinds to re-organize for greater effectiveness. In his tape series, The Tom Peter’s Seminar, he recommends that even the largest of all organizations should break up into small, independently incorporated identities under the umbrella of a larger parent organization.
How large should these organizations be? “No more that fifty each” Peter’s suggests. “Big is not necessarily better, ” he says. Indeed, it’s the smaller groups of fifty or less which are best able to foster and encourage entrepreneurship, creativity, and responsiveness to the customer. Moreover, in groups of fifty or less it is much easier to instill, reflect and act on core values. To be successful, he concludes, these small organizations must be willing to act on their core values and sacrifice, as much as necessary, in order to revolutionize their organization.
What does this mean for the church?
It means that no church is too small. When there are fifty…or less…in a group, that group is perfectly sized to minister on its core value. What is the core value of Christian churches? That’s a no-brainer. It’s Jesus’ last words, “You shall be my witnesses…even to the ends of the earth.”
Christians, of course, have “one-up” on Tom Peters. Whereas the corporate world must depend on structure and values, Christians have a third essential component. That, too, is given in Jesus’ last words:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
Jesus’ last words are not “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” No, His resurrection in power is proof-positive of that! For Christians throughout the world Easter means that we don’t mourn at a grave with more or less sentimental memories of the last dying words of One who taught, healed ministered and died.
Instead Christ’s resurrection means that we have a living Lord who, by dying on the cross, has washed our sins in the blood of the Lamb. We have a Lord who loved us so as to be given by His Father that “whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.”
It’s because of this joyous message, “He is not here! He is Risen!” that our lives and ministries must be continually and passionately directed to–and uniquely driven by–Jesus’ last words: “You shall be my witnesses.”
Does your church lack enthusiasm, life and vigor? Have you and/or your church lost sight of the vision Christ has given for His church? Remember Jesus’ last words. “You shall be My witnesses to the end of the earth.”
As the disciples ran quickly to tell others that Jesus has risen from the dead, may you receive the promised power from Holy Spirit that you and those groups of “fifty or less” in your ministry will be transformed to the innermost core of their souls by Jesus’ last words: “You shall be my witnesses…to the end of the world.”
Tell the world, “He is Risen! He is risen, indeed!” and thus demonstrate that your life and ministry is transformed and directed by Jesus’ last words, “You shall be My witnesses.”
Thomas F. Fischer