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For every person, there will come a last meal, a last breath and, of course, a last statement. And in many ways, what we say in the end is a real insight into what we were in life, what we stood for and what we lived for. Generally, we die as we have lived.
I read about a man who had been very successful in the restaurant business, establishing many restaurants around the United States. When his life was almost over, as he was on his deathbed with his family gathered nearby, he gave his last whisper: “Slice the ham thin!”
On Nov. 30, 1900, the last words of the famous writer, Oscar Wilde, were, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
Sometimes, people know they are giving their last words. Before he was to be hanged for spying on the British, the last words of American patriot Nathan Hale were: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
At other times, people don’t know when they will be giving their last words, such as John F. Kennedy, who said, “That’s obvious!” This statement was made in response to Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas Gov. John Connelly. She had remarked to the president as they traveled by motorcade through Dallas, cheered by adoring throngs, “Mr. President, you certainly can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you.” Seconds later, his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullets.
Just prior to Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up Kettle Hill in the Spanish-American War, one of the famous Rough Riders was standing up, smoking a cigarette and joking with his troops while under withering fire from the ridge. One of his sergeants shouted to him above the noise, “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you!” William “Buckey” O’Neil shouted back, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me!” As those words left his mouth, he was hit and killed by a bullet.
Then there were the last words of American tenor Richard Versalle, who was performing one night at the Metropolitan Opera. Versalle had climbed a ladder for his scene, and after singing the words, “Too bad you can only live so long,” immediately suffered a heart attack and died.
And death is no respecter of persons, even for royalty. On her deathbed, Elizabeth I, Queen of England, said, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” And Princess Diana, following that horrific car accident in a Paris tunnel, was heard to say, “My God, what happened?”
History tells the story of the renowned atheist, Voltaire, one of the most aggressive antagonists of Christianity. He wrote many things to undermine the church, and once said of Jesus Christ, “Curse the wretch. In 20 years, Christianity will be no more. My single hand will destroy the edifice it took 12 apostles to rear.”
Needless to say, Voltaire was less than successful. And on his deathbed, a nurse who attended him was reported to have said, “For all the wealth in Europe, I would not see another atheist die.”
The physician, waiting up with Voltaire at his death, said that he cried out with utter desperation, “I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life. Then I shall go to hell and you will go with me, oh, Christ, oh, Jesus Christ!”
What a difference faith makes. The last words of Stephen, who was being stoned to death, were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. … Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:59-60).
The great evangelist D. L. Moody, on his deathbed, said, “I see Earth receding and heaven is opening. God is calling me.”
And what of Jesus Christ, crucified on a Roman cross and near death? Toward the end of that terrible day – from about noon until three o’clock in the afternoon – an ominous darkness fell across the land.
The darkness was suddenly pierced by the voice of Jesus: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” No fiction writer would have his or her hero say words like these. They surprise us, disarm us, and cause us to wonder what He meant. We are looking at something that, in many ways, is impossible for us as humans to fathom.
When Jesus cried out these words, they were not the delusions of a man in pain. His faith was not failing Him. After all, He cried out, “My God, My God. …” As Christ hung there, He was bearing the sins of the world. He was dying as a substitute for others, suffering the punishment for those sins on their behalf.
In some mysterious way we can never fully comprehend, during those awful hours on the cross the Father was pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin. And the recipient of that wrath was God’s own beloved Son! God was punishing Jesus as though He had personally committed every evil deed of every evil person who has ever lived.
So the Holy Father had to turn His face and pour His wrath upon His own Son. Understand that for Jesus, this was the greatest sacrifice He could have possibly made. His greatest pain occurred at this moment.
The fact is Jesus was forsaken of God so that I don’t have to be. Jesus was forsaken of God for a time so that I might enjoy His presence forever. Jesus was forsaken of God so that I might be forgiven. Jesus entered the darkness so that I might walk in the light.
You can tell a great deal about someone by what they say in their last moments on earth. Jesus’ last words, just before He yielded His spirit in death, were all about suffering for sins He never committed. That was to make sure that our last words could be, “Father, I’m coming home.”