Famous Last Words.
Great ironies often describe our lives. A healthy-eating resolution is forgotten at the sight of a tasty but fattening treat; promises of a newly elected politician are either neglected or exploited to satisfy a personal agenda; a marriage vow dissolves under the pressures of daily living. Our pledges are often merely ‘famous last words.’
Famous last words of legendary people, though, are something different. They tell us what that person was thinking at the culmination of a distinguished and famous life. Groucho Marx is said to have quipped on his deathbed, “This is no way to live!”
Winston Churchill merely growled, “I’m bored with it all.”
And of course Julius Caesar’s final words at his assassination pled, “Et tu, Brute?”
As the gospel writer, Matthew, concludes the last chapter of his biography of Christ’s life, he quotes Jesus—after Christ’s resurrection, but just prior to His ascension—in what is often referred to as ‘The Great Commission.’
He recounts Jesus as saying, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (The Message).
Jesus has packed an abundance of depth into His famous last words.
He starts by assuring His followers that He has the backing of the Father in His plan and process for making true followers. He has the authority, jurisdiction and prerogative to speak into the lives of all those who are willing to have their lives turned upside-down by Him. With this mandate, He commands the eleven disciples to disciple others just as they themselves were discipled under the tutelage of Christ’s commands.
Did you notice the twofold plan of how this will be achieved in the lives of Christ-followers? Jesus says He wants to see His followers marked by a Trinity-inspired baptism and an obedience-based practice of godly living. Both are external exercises representing internal effects occurring in a life given over to God.
The baptism Jesus describes is to be a mark—a sign, symbol, and imprint—revealing a follower’s choice to be a different person than she or he was before choosing to follow Christ. It is a public act that boldly declares her new identity to be inextricably tied to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. No other identity will supersede this one. It is a one-time gesture signifying a new beginning.
The practice of godly living is the ongoing application of the Christ-follower’s new outlook on life. It is the daily work of living with integrity so that the outward signs of a follower’s Christianity mirror the inward realities. It is conformity to the very clear expectations and commands Jesus spoke first to His twelve disciples but by which He expects all true followers to abide. And of course it culminates in obeying Christ’s command to share this two-fold offer to others.
Learn one, do one, teach one. These were Christ’s famous last words. They are about how we must live our lives if we want to truly love God, love our neighbours, and thus love ourselves in the only way that really works for human lives. So the ending of Matthew’s biography of the life of Christ really brings us back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. It calls us to reapply ourselves to studying Christ’s life, and especially His commands. This is the essence, the heart and soul of the way in which Christ comes to live within us, not figuratively but literally; the Word becomes flesh in you and me. That, according to Matthew, is the whole reason the Son of God came to earth. The miraculous birth, the perfect life, the healing touch, the sacrificial death, and the victorious resurrection are all about inviting us to be back in right relationship with God. “And surely I am with you always,” comes the promise, “to the very end of the age.” Those are amazing last words.
(Photo Credits: By Zahrairani74 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36580049; By Unknown – Mikó Árpád – Sinkó Katalin (szerk): Történelem-Kép, Szemelvények múlt és művészet kapcsolatáról Magyarországon, A Magyar Nemzeti Galéria kiadványai 2000/3, cat. no.: V-11 (Magyar Digitális Múzeumi Könyvtár), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19342018; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Ohienko_Bible.djvu; By Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA – Cherokee Heritage Museum, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40556270)