There are some folks who always have to have the last word in a conversation. Then again, when someone is on his or her deathbed, it’s not that hard to get the last word.

A friend of mine wrote in his blog that he’ll be happy just so long as his last words are not “Hey guys, watch this!” or “Get them off me! Get them off me!”

I’ve always been fascinated by those “famous last words” that people say right before they go to their eternal reward – or their eternal non-reward, as the case may be.

For example, as he breathed his last on July 4, 1926, President John Adams exclaimed, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Except that he didn’t – Jefferson had died about five hours earlier, also on the Fourth of July. OK, so no one said famous last words have to be accurate. Yet another example of that was General John Sedgwick, a Union officer during the Civil War, who during the battle of the Wilderness insisted on peeking above the works to see the situation. As his men warned him to come down, he rejected their advice with the last words, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-.”

Some last words reveal a lot about the personality of the person. For example, Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen – told by his doctor that the angels were waiting for him – said, “Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well – let ’em wait.” Or there are the really honest examples, like scientist Luther Burbank who said, “I don’t feel good.”

Then there are last words that reflect the person’s deep faith. For example, it is recorded that the last words of Scotland’s Robert the Bruce were, “Now, God be with you, my dear children. I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Being a preacher, I’m particularly interested in the last words of fellow members of the homiletical fraternity. John Calvin’s last words were, “I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from thy hand.” John Knox said, “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.” And the great John Wesley proclaimed on his deathbed, “The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!”

New England preacher Cotton Mather’s last words were, “Is this dying? Is this all? Is this what I feared when I prayed against a hard death? Oh, I can bear this! I can bear this!” And Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher entered eternity with the words, “Now comes the mystery!”

Then again, there is nothing like a bold, heroic statement at the end of one’s life, like that of Joan of Arc: “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!” Or that of Saint Lawrence, one of the leaders of the Roman church when it was facing persecution. As he was suspended over a bed of coals to be slowly burned to death, he uttered these words: “Turn me. I am roasted on one side.” (Some say his courage was so remarkable that hundreds of Roman citizens converted to Christianity.)

Personally, I’m hoping my last words will be something along the lines of, “Get everyone to safety; I’ll hold them off!”

Then again, perhaps the most profound last words were those uttered by Karl Marx. As he was about to die, his housekeeper asked if he had any last words, to which he replied, “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”

___________________________

Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine. You can write to him at michael@preaching.com, or visit his website at www.michaelduduit.com.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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2 Samuel 23:1-7

Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, who died in 1923, said, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”

If you had the chance to reflect on what your last words would be, what would you say?

It’s not known if these were the last words David uttered, but they
were the last recorded and inspired words that he said. It was a
farewell statement.

We can learn much from his statement. When you say your last words –

I. Tell of who you are (v. 1)

David
was not ashamed of his background. The eighth son of Jesse, David
grew up chasing sheep outside Bethlehem. Shepherds were a dime a
dozen. Yet from his humble beginnings, David was exalted, or raised
to a higher position, by God. God, in his infinite wisdom, had reached
down and plucked David out of all the boys and shepherds of Israel
to choose him as the king of Israel.

David
wasn’t just any king. God anointed him. He was set apart for God’s use,
to represent God, to speak on his behalf, to be his ambassador. His
was a high calling.

Do you ever think of
who you are? Don’t be ashamed of your background and your humble
beginnings. It doesn’t matter so much where you started; it matters
where you end.

II. Speak of what you did (vv. 1-5)

David
will best be remembered as “Israel’s singer of songs.” David was
the quintessential singer-songwriter. In today’s world, he would be a
pop star with national fame. His musing and praises and prayers to
God have forever been recorded for prosperity in the book we know as
the Psalms. But, to summarize his life as a poet and musician would be
to miss the totality of his life.

He was
God’s spokesman. If his prayers are any indication, thoughts of God and
words about God were always on his lips. One would not have been in
his presence long without them hearing David speak of his love for
his Heavenly Father. David often used different names for God – names
such as “Shield,” “Defender,” “Savior,” “Shepherd,” to name a few.
One of his favorite names for God was “Rock.” (See Psalm 28:1 and
62:8).

He ruled with righteousness before
men. Righteousness, or right standing with God and fellow man, was a
constant theme in David’s life. It should be in our lives as well.
David was a great ruler. Some people love the power, but abuse
people. David loved people and understood that his power was to help
people.

Coupled with dealing with people
correctly was relating to God properly, ruling in the fear of God.
The Hebrew word normally translated fear means reverent fear, terror,
or dread. Other words in Hebrew are translated respect, reverence, or
honor. David knew that in one breath God could extinguish his life;
therefore, he was filled with dread of a holy God.

David’s rule in righteousness before God had positive results. First,
he brought clarity to confusing situations and problems, like the
dawn of a sunrise after the darkness of night. Second, he revived
that which was dead, bringing back it back to life, much like rain to
parched grass. An effective leader will always bring clarity to
confusion and new life where vestiges of life exist.

III. Inform others that you are ready for death (vv. 5-7)

David
understood that death can be postponed, but it cannot be avoided. He
made sure that his house was in order. In other words, he lived every
day knowing that this day may be his last. He was right with God and
with his fellow man. God had made an “everlasting covenant” with him.
God would keep His promise. God would hold true to the promise He had
made. That assurance gave David great security and comfort in facing
death. It will do the same for us.

In
contrast, those people who have not put their spiritual house in order
will be cast aside and burned up when they die. Not a pretty sight.

What
would your last words be? Would they be meaningful? Would they be
insightful? It’s fascinating how at the point of death what really
matters rushes to the forefront of our speech; maybe those words
should be on our lips everyday.

___________________
Sermon
brief provided by: Rick Ezell, a pastor and author in
Naperville, IL

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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