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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Famous Last Words

Mary Kay writes:

The week of Pentecost, I was asked to preach the sermon at the Methodist University Chapel Service. My first reaction was, “I can’t do that – I’m not a preacher!” But a good missionary must be prepared to pray, preach, or die at the drop of a hat…. And I received three preaching invitations within two days, so it seemed clear that this is something God wants me to take on. Then I looked at the lectionary text for that week – talk about a “gimme”. I think any missionary anywhere could preach on the quintessential missionary Bible verse – Acts 1:8. Ironically, the text for one of the other preaching assignments was Matthew 28:19. So maybe this preaching stuff isn’t so hard after all! Here are some of my thoughts on Acts 1:8.

Imagine with me for a minute that you are one of the Disciples. Think back on the emotional roller coaster that you have been on over the last month and a half:

  • 43 days ago, you watched your Teacher and Master brutally tortured and put to death on a cross. You then hid away in The Upper Room for fear that the authorities might come after you next!
  • 40 days ago, you awoke to shouts from some of the women in your group that the tomb was empty. You may have even been in the group that ran to verify what the women were saying.
  • Later that day, Cleopas comes running back to the Upper Room to tell you that he met Jesus on his way home to Emmaus.
  • Since then, Jesus has visited your group several times – both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. When He sent you back to Galilee, you must have wondered whether that was the end, and you were being released back to your old life again. Were you one of the ones who returned to fishing?
  • Your emotions have swung between the depths of despair and total elation. Jesus has been teaching again, but you have barely been able to take the lessons in, in the wonder that He has risen from the dead!
  • And now He has disappeared again – taken up into the sky. You start to compare notes with the other disciples around you. What were those last words He said to us?

Last words are very important. I think about when I first started leaving our two boys at home by themselves. My last words were things like, “Don’t open the door to strangers.” Important commands that I wanted to make sure they obeyed – for their own safety and well-being. Or they were words like “I love you”, that I want them to carry with them always.

Or think about it like this – the forty days the Disciples had just been through were like Revisions Week. They had sat at the Teacher’s feet for three years, taking in His teachings, watching Him perform miracles, seeing how He interacted with a hurting world. Now, it was almost time to write the examination. So for a final few days, the Disciples are given the chance to once more sit at Jesus’ feet and prepare for the upcoming exams. When you sit with a Lecturer during Revisions Week, if they tell you to pay attention to a particular concept, you can be certain it will show up on the exam!

So what did Jesus think the Disciples needed to know for the exam? What were Jesus’ last instructions to the Disciples and by extension to us? While they differ slightly in the details, each of the four Gospel writers record the same final instructions – “Go and tell everyone about me.”

The big question for me is how do I live this out on a daily basis – whether here in Ghana, or at home in Atlanta, or traveling to some other destination?

“But 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. Acts 1:8.