Famous Last Words: It Is Finished

It Is Finished

There are times when I am very aware of what I lack in faith, faithfulness and devotion. There are times when I struggle to imagine that’s God’s grace is big enough to make up for all that I lack. In those times I find my peace in those three final words from the cross, “It is finished.”

There was a lot more I wanted to do with this sermon. I had some specific issues I wanted to address. In reality I  probably had a hobby horse or two I wanted to ride.

A few month ago I was listening to a radio program where a woman was explaining the doctrine of Purgatory. She explained that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, sin had left something like a “ring around the collar” on our souls. Therefore, Purgatory is necessary to remove the final stain of sin.

I was angry. I really was.

I wanted to yell at the radio, “IT.IS.FINISHED!!!” Either Jesus died for all our sin or he died for NONE of it!

I tend to get a little excitable about this stuff.

In the end, though, I realized I wasn’t addressing a crowd of people who had concerns about Purgatory. Not many of them, at least.

I also realized I wasn’t addressing my usual crowd. Our attending was the typical Easter crowd; family, friends and a few extras who show up to do the Easter thing. I also realized many there weren’t accustomed to my usual delivery, so I changed things up a bit. The sermon was much more story driven than usual. In my average sermon I’m lucky if I have one illustration. This one built on two major stories, one personal and one from Jon Acuff.

All-in-all, we had a great Easter service and a very nice build up to Easter with this series. For me, though, the series (a retread of an earlier series) was supposed to provide me with some much-needed time to prepare for the next few months. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. It’s been a busy and stressful season and there’s been no time for planning ahead.

Thankfully I am blessed with wonderful and caring leaders who insisted I take some time out of the pulpit after Easter. So, I’m spending two weeks plotting out the next six months. I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next!


Famous Last Words: I Thirst

When I began this series I considered titling it “7 Last Words.” However, winters in Illinois are unpredictable and I knew there was a chance we’d have at least one week where we were snowed out. Sure enough, the first weekend in March was bad enough that our attendance was less than half of our usual crowd. I preached a short devotional message that week rather than continuing with the series. That left me one week shy of being able to do all seven.

Then I began to notice the connection between Maundy Thursday and this saying on the cross, “I thirst.” While I would never get dogmatic about it, from the Biblical record it appears that Jesus didn’t have anything to drink from the Last Supper until he requested a drink on the cross. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the deep thirst he felt on the cross made for an interesting connection to our remembrance of the upper room on Maundy Thursday.

I’ve always loved the way our community approaches Holy Week. I think you can tell that from the first minute or two of my message. I love the opportunity we have to meet with the other churches in town and share the services. Maundy Thursday has always meant a lot to me. While Easter Sunrise has its pageantry and excitement, I love the mood of Maundy Thursday.

The service went well. We did our best to leave in silence. That’s difficult for our community. We certainly do enjoy our time together.


Famous Last Words: My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me?

What would it take? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself this week. From time to time our kids disappoint us. We are at times upset about their choices. But as disappointed as we can be we would never abandon our children . . . would we?

And yet God the Father did exactly that. Jesus cried out those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because for the first time in all eternity he was truly alone.

The day after I preached this sermon a friend of mine messaged me as he was listening to it and contemplating adapting it for his own Easter sermon. It wasn’t until we began chatting about the message that I remembered the huge influence John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ had on me and this message when I originally wrote it in 2009. Stott’s book was one of those transformational tomes that I read years ago and have never seemed to put down.

Rather, it’s never put me down.

In chapter three, Stott dissects the different views of Jesus’ “cry of dereliction.” Quoting John Calvin, Stott concludes:

As Calvin put it, ‘If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual . . . Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.’ In consequence, ‘he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man’. So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’

I was amazed again at the timeliness of this message. Even though it was written six years ago it spoke directly to many needs currently in our congregation. I credit that to the wonderful way God works through his word and, unfortunately, the universality of the feeling of abandonment.


Famous Last Words: Woman, Behold Your Son

Jesus said, “There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” That’s a promise that no one should ever feel they’re alone. God has connected us through the cross as one big family. When we care for each other we’re proving the truth of what Jesus said.

There’s probably no place that call was ever displayed with more beauty and pain than on the cross in Jesus’ words to the Apostle John and his mother, Mary. Through the cross, Jesus redefined their relationship, just as he redefines ours.

As with the other sermons in this series, I had originally preached this one in 2009. It was amazing to see how little I needed to add and change with this one. I added the illustration about the news that Jesus had a brother (that’s some news) and the story about my text from Andy. Other than that, I updated my scripture references and tweaked the conclusion a bit.

The amazing part was just how timely the sermon was. There have been some issues about caring for one another and recognizing our need for each other lately. The sermon addressed them perfectly. I’ve been told there have been several “are you ok?” messages sent out over the past day or so.

The text message illustration provided something simple and concrete for them to do with the message. It was almost like giving them permission to care for each other.

I’m looking ahead to next week’s message: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” With it the shift will go from practical relationships with one another to their relationship with the Heavenly Father. It will be an interesting transition.


Famous Last Words: Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise

The story of the thief on the cross has always intrigued me. I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve had more than one conversation about salvation with someone and been asked, “What about the thief on the cross?”

Why don’t we take the attention off the thief and put it where it belongs–on Jesus? It’s only when we focus on Christ that we can see ourselves in this story.

I was really surprised at the reaction I got to this sermon–it was all positive. Honestly, I felt like my delivery stuttered and floundered in several spots, but I’ve had a lot of great feedback on this one.

The truth is, this is one of my oldest sermons. It was originally my senior sermon way back when I was in college in 1989. It’s the sermon I preached when I tried out for my first full-time church and it’s one I’ve gone back to over and over again. The last time I delivered it was in 2009.

My re-writes have mostly been illustrative. I changed the intro this time to draw attention to the idea of being saved “by the skin of your teeth.” The audience was really with me on that part. I think they could feel the train barreling down at me.

About 15 years ago I added the Spurgeon story. I really enjoy that part.

The “What Does it Mean to be Crucified?” is actually much older. I picked that up from an old issue of Leadership Journal somewhere around 1986. I used it in an even earlier sermon I preached during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.

One of these days I intend to write an article on how to “re-tread” a sermon. Until then I’ll remember the words of my Greek professor, Dr. Marion Henderson, “If it’s not worth preaching twice it probably wasn’t worth preaching once.”