II Kings 2:1-12, Acts 1:1-12
May 8, 2016
I chose the title of this sermon several weeks ago, and it’s been “brewing” in my head since then. So, finally this week, I Googled “Famous Last Words,” and I found out what some famous people uttered right before they departed this life.
I have to admit, these were not as funny as I hoped they’d be. Some were, and some were profound, and some were simple and even mundane.
For example, the last words of Winston Churchill were, “I’m bored with it all.”
Just before he died, Ludwig van Beethoven said, “Friends applaud, the comedy is finished.”
The last words of Humphrey Bogart were, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
Along that same line, the last words of the famous Poet, Dylan Thomas, were a little more humorous. He said, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that’s the record…”
I love the last words of actor Edmund Gwenn, who said, “Yes, dying is tough, but not as tough as doing comedy.”
Or how about these last words of Russian Revolutionary Karl Marx. He said, “Go on, get out – last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
Opposite of that were these last words of Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa. He said, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
But my favorite of the list is the quote of the famous writer, Oscar Wilde. Just before he died he said, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do!”
Well, oddly, I found in one of the lists the last words of a very famous man, Jesus Christ. And those words were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” But that’s not entirely true, is it? I suppose it’s hard to say what a person’s last words actually were, when that person came back to life again! Maybe in his case, we have to think in terms of his “First Last Words!”
Today we read Jesus’ actual last words, here in Acts chapter one. Here we have Jesus with his disciples for the last time. And just before he was taken up into heaven, he said this. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
This is the story of the Ascension. This is the story of Jesus being “taken up into the sky – into heaven,” like Elijah in II Kings. And like Elisha, Jesus’ disciples were to be the ones to witness this event. Elisha wasn’t sure how that would happen, but when it did, the way it happened confirmed the answer to his request. Remember he asked to inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit! And he was told that if he saw Elijah ascending to heaven, he would get what he asked for.
Well, here the disciples really weren’t sure what to expect, either. Remember, this was pre-Pentecost, and they really didn’t understand yet what all of this meant. In fact, what were they thinking at this time? Look what they said. “Lord,” they said, “will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” All along they believed at least one of the jobs of the Messiah was to be a political ruler. He was to be the new King. He would restore the “glory days” of Israel! That’s what everyone was hoping for. And here, in the post-Resurrection, Pre-Pentecost time, almost at the very moment of the Ascension, (which, again, we know was about to happen!) they asked Jesus once again, that burning question! “Is it now!?”
Well, I want you to see today that Jesus did answer them… in a sense. Yes, he told them the time of his “earthly kingship” was not to be known. And if you remember, he had told them that before. “Not even I know that!” he said. He echoed that again this time. “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” He was saying that about his “earthly” kingdom – a kingdom we still look forward to. But then, in his actual “last words,” he told them about his spiritual kingdom! He told them about that all along, too! And that kingdom had to do with them! “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” “But you shall receive power!”
That’s what Jesus’ kingdom was to be about – at that time, as well as in our time! It was not to be a physical kingdom. It was to be that spiritual kingdom. And it was to be a kingdom that was lived through his people! At first it would be these people – confused and non-understanding though they were. You see, it was not he who would receive power – like they wanted, it was they who would receive power! Do you see that? Those are the words he used. They would receive power!
And that’s great. But we have to realize how hard it was for them to hear. All along, they wanted to tell Jesus how things should be. And all along he tried to tell them how he knew things would be! They wanted his kingdom to come – as they foresaw it. He was trying to tell them what his kingdom was like as he foresaw it!
I wonder, when this happened, if they would have thought of Elijah. They knew their scriptures. And if they had remembered the story we read earlier, they might have realized that Jesus was doing the same thing here. He was confirming them as the ones who would continue his ministry, just like Elisha would continue the ministry of Elijah – with a “double portion” of his spirit!
Now, I wonder if we can identify with this story. Are we ever like these disciples? We’ve talked about seeking and following God’s will. And as I’ve said, that’s not an easy subject! We know – we’re taught – that God’s will is best for us. We “understand” that his will is far above our own? But are we not still uncomfortable letting go of our will, and seeking God’s? “Learning” that and “living” that are two different things aren’t they?
When we think about doing God’s will, part of our discomfort is that it’s hard to know what God’s will is. Sometimes we think things would be much easier, if only we could meet Jesus face to face, and he could tell us how things are, and what direction we should go in our lives! But is that really true? Here is the story of the people closest to him in his earthly life, and still they “blew it” when it came to understanding and accepting what he was saying about things.
Maybe that’s how we relate to this story. Again and again in our lives, we too “blow it,” we hesitate, we fight against God, or we tell God how much we want what we see as best, even when we know it’s probably not what he would want!
In the end, the great thing in this story is that Jesus’ “Famous Last Words” actually did come true! And we’re going to talk about that next week, when we celebrate Pentecost – the event Jesus was talking about here.
In the end, they did receive power! And I’d like us to think about that this week. I’d like us to think about those last words of Jesus. “And you shall receive power…” We know what was about to happen, and we know that it was far above what those disciples might have even imagined. And maybe that will help us think a little more about that power in our lives, and about living our lives in God’s will. We might even think of the words of Paul in chapter three of his letter to Ephesians. Here he was trying to tell them the same thing.
He wrote this. “ Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Eternal God, help us to know your will for us. And even more, help us to know that your will is far above what we can ever imagine. And through that same Spirit that filled the disciples, help us to have the strength we need to let go of our will and seek yours. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.