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Famous Last Words

Alas and alack.

A pair of terms with similar meaning. Very onomatopoeic — and just hearing it conveys a sense of deep sighs and regrets. Why must it end like this? How did it turn out this way? Was there not such a promising start? It could all have been so different.

But it was not. Maybe some things were not meant to be. Confused? We’re referring to the end of all things. Of the church, the final report card may state: “Same song, second verse”. Or, in local parlance, “Same old, same old.” Nothing new - other than the new wineskin!

It appears that people about to breathe their last say some of the smartest or weirdest things. Possibly, clarity comes to the fore when there’s nothing else to contend with. Here are some samplings of what people uttered just before they departed.

Some said the sweetest things before they left. PT Barnum exclaimed to his wife, “Nancy, I want you to know my last thoughts are of you.”

Some people said things which were extremely appropriate to the occasion. James W. Rodgers, a convicted murderer, was put in front of a firing squad in Utah, USA and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

Some people were extremely humble. Leonardo da Vinci was overly modest, saying, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” Goodness, even after the Mona Lisa?

One of the most unexpected comments came from Johnny Ace, an R&B singer, who died in 1954 while playing with a pistol during a break in his concert set. His last words were, “I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.”

What a way to go!

Some of us will recall when this expression - called “the seven last words of the church” - was popular in the literature and from the pulpits of days gone by. What were the words? “We’ve never done it that way before.” Rigor mortis even before death.

And yet the Master of the Church during His time on earth saw things differently; hence He did things differently. To cite just one incident among many:

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:1-3, ESV)

The disciples were curious. The Pharisees believed the man was born in sin (v 34). Blindness was his identity. But Jesus showed them a different perspective. A new identity: that the works of God might be displayed in him. For all eternity, he would be the original “once I was blind, but now I see” go-to person. This is true identity. Yet despite that marvelous miracle of sight, the Pharisees remained blind. Seven last words for the Pharisees, too?

To the disciples, there was an additional lesson tagged on – the lateness of the hour. Time is precious. This was more than an “advisory”.

Today is almost over. Night is coming. That was 2,000 years ago. If it was that late then, how much later is it today? Surely, dusk is upon us. The Lord Jesus remains the Light of the World. And He illuminates the tasks assigned to us before night falls and all work ceases.

But if we think there’s all the time in the world, we tend then to behave like those in the days of Noah and Lot (Matthew 24:37-39, Luke 17:28-30) – eating, drinking, marrying; transacting commercial ventures, planting, asset building. Just as if the world will go on forever.

The works of God are still continuing - through you and I. It’s not over yet. The call is to stay open, step out of the familiar and comfortable, and let the Holy Spirit illuminate. He has more fresh ideas than we can imagine.

How to avoid the contagion of “the seven last words”? By remaining faithful to our calling, yet being prepared to do things differently. Implementing change management. Employing creativity and innovation. Tapping on technology. The Covid-19 pandemic caught many churches flat-footed. Thank God for others who were willing to explore novel ways to serve as God’s community on earth, while fully complying with the restrictions and regulations.

The works of God are still continuing - through you and I. It’s not over yet. The call is to stay open, step out of the familiar and comfortable, and let the Holy Spirit illuminate. He has more fresh ideas than we can imagine.

Then it will be like the song we used to sing: “Geared to the times, anchored to the rock.” Relevant yet resolute.

Dr Andrew Goh is the editor of Impact magazine.


VOL. 44 NO.4 of IMPACT Magazine


... A projected COVID-19 experience


... Know its worth


... Why Christians should care for the environment


... Give generously


... Holidays with a purpose




... Or returning to basics?


... A biblical response to the dangers of Process Theology


... A tribute to Ravi Zacharias

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