Hello everybody and welcome in to episode #312 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading John 19 today and our focus is on What Were the last words of Jesus? What is the Most Important Word in the Bible? We are a daily 10ish minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Yaounde, Cameroon, South Holland, Netherlands, parts unknown, South Africa and Bangladesh, Hamburg, Germany, Dublin, Ireland, Ad Dawhah, Qatar, Odisha, India, British Columbia, Canada, Monterey, California, Knoxville, Tennessee, Wichita, Kansas, Montgomery, Alabama, Greenville, South Carolina, Naples, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Boise Idaho. Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast! Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
Eyewitness testimony is interesting, because several different witnesses can all watch the same event, and come away sharing different perspectives, even though they may all telling the truth. What we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the Gospels – is four different accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and there are notable differences in these accounts – the exact kind of differences you would expect from several different people describing the same thing. Former homicide detective J. Warner Wallace says this about eyewitness testimony and the Bible:
If it was God’s desire to provide us with an accurate and reliable account of the life of Jesus, an account we could trust and recognize as consistent with other forms of eyewitness testimony, God surely accomplished it with the four gospel accounts. Yes, the accounts are messy. They are filled with idiosyncrasies and personal perspectives along with common retellings of familiar stories. There are places where critics can argue that there appear to be contradictions, and there are places where each account focuses on something important to the author, while ignoring details of importance to other writers. But would we expect anything less from true, reliable eyewitness accounts? I certainly would not, based on what I’ve seen over the years…The early believers could have destroyed all but one of the accounts, changed the conflicting details, or simply harmonized the Gospels. But these diverse accounts were preserved (as they are) because they are true; they display all the earmarks we would expect in true eyewitness testimony. If the early church had eliminated the four eyewitness perspectives and limited us to one tidy version, we would inevitably have missed some significant detail.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (pp. 82-83). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
I bring this issue up, because the four gospel writers all record the death of Jesus, but there are three different possibilities as to the last words that He says before He dies:
Matthew 27:46 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?”that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and offered him a drink. 49 But the rest said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 But Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.
Mark 15:35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “See, he’s calling for Elijah.” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” 37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last.
Both Matthew and Mark (who’s source was the disciple Peter) seem to agree that the last spoken words of Jesus were, “Elí, Elí, lemásabachtháni?” but they also agree that Jesus let out a loud cry right before dying, but they don’t record what He said. Was it unintelligible?
Interestingly, Luke gives us wording for that loud cry: “46 And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” Saying this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23
And finally, John gives this account of the last words of Jesus:
28 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.”29 A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit. John 19:28-30
So this account seems somewhat different from the others, but – when you read them all together, they are all quite remarkably similar, but not so similar that it appears that they set down together, compared notes, and came up with a harmonized story. Certainly some parts seem harmonized – like Matthew and Mark’s description of “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?”, but the other parts seem quite original, without signs of an effort to conspire to produce an exact story that matches in every detail…which, as detective Wallace has told us, is exactly what we should expect in reliable eyewitness testimony. But, that doesn’t solve the problem – what were the exact last Words of Jesus? I can say that I don’t know for sure, obviously, but it does appear that we can piece these four eyewitness testimonies together into one cohesive narrative, because none of the accounts contradict each other in any way. As such, I think the following might be a good reconstruction of the final moments of Jesus:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?”that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there and Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” When Jesus had received the sour wine, he called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit. It is finished.” Saying this, he breathed his last. Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
My guess – and it is only that – is that the last Word of Jesus was the Greek word Tetelestai, translated as, “It is finished.” I believe a case can be made that this is the single most important word in the Bible – it is a massively important Word with eternal life altering meaning. What is the significance of this one, single, and incredibly important word? Allow me to tag in pastor Tim Keller to help us better understand:
The last thing Jesus says as he breathes his last is, “It is finished.”
If you’ve ever heard a sermon on this or have studied this or heard teaching on this, the teacher will always tell you, and they’re absolutely right, that Jesus is saying one word here. It’s the word tetelestai, and it’s a word that means totally paid. It’s a word you would write across a bill. If you had a bill and it said you owed and you had totally paid it, totally redeemed it, as it were, you would say, “Tetelestai.” It’s paid. It’s accomplished.
Do you know what Jesus is saying? One of the great paradoxes, one of the wonderful paradoxes of history, is here is Jesus Christ. By the world’s standards, in fact by all standards, he is absolutely helpless. He is totally defenseless. He can’t even scratch his nose. He is utterly powerless. He is utterly dependent. He is utterly impotent. He is utterly out of control, and as he dies in this incredible, helpless state, do you know what his last words are?
His words are, “I did it. I’ve done it. I’ve triumphed. I’ve accomplished it.” What has he accomplished? First Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ died for sins … the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Here’s what he’s saying. “I have traversed every inch. There’s an infinite chasm between you and God, an infinite distance, and I have traversed every inch. I have paid it all. I have accomplished it all. There is nothing more for you to do.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
Bible Memory passage for the month of November: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
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