Bookends of Life
By Joy Lucius
Jesus was a businessman. If you don’t believe me, look at the first and last words He uttered in His earthly, mortal body.
The second chapter of the Gospel of Luke recounts the story of how 12-year-old Jesus and His parents had just finished a weeklong Passover celebration in Jerusalem. They were set to make the eighty-mile trek back to their hometown of Nazareth along with an entire caravan of fellow Nazarenes.
It was most likely a three-day journey, so who knows why His parents did not check to see if Jesus was actually among the caravan of travelers as they presumed. Perhaps it was simply because Jesus had always been respectful and obedient, so Mary and Joseph never expected a problem. Or maybe their communication wires got crossed, and they thought He was traveling with family or friends.
Whatever the case, at the end of the first day’s return trip, Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was not with the caravan. So, of course, they returned to Jerusalem and searched for their missing son. And we all know from our Sunday school lessons exactly where they found Him on the third day – in the temple, conversing with the teachers and amazing them with His wisdom and perception.
Mary was not so amazed. She was, in fact, quite perturbed at this point. And like any normal mother, she questioned Jesus as to why in the world He had put her and Joseph through such distress.
And with His first recorded earthly words, Jesus answered her and said, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
Jesus was clearly and concisely reminding Mary of both His identity and His purpose: He was the Son of God, and He had come to Earth simply to carry out His Father’s business.
So, yes, Jesus was a businessman, and His business was the redemption of mankind.
Now, fast forward to the last day of Jesus’s life on Earth. Take a look at all four gospel accounts of the crucifixion. Each of the four accounts adds needed details to the story of that horrible, glorious day. John describes how at the very end, right before He bowed His head and gave up His spirit, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”
Since Luke penned Jesus’s first words, it is only fitting that Luke completed John’s account of Golgotha with the final earthly words of our Savior, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And with those simple words, Jesus finished His Father’s business and drew His last mortal breath.
As I pondered the first and last recorded words that Jesus spoke to us in the Bible, I began to think of just how profound they are. Think about it! He came to this sinful fallen world for one single purpose – to die in our stead. And He did just that! With absolute, sinless perfection, He saved us from eternal condemnation.
With His first words, Jesus stated His business, and with His final words, He let us know that His business was eternally completed.
But as I researched and studied His last words, I came across a few other people with some interesting last words. And though I could not ascertain if every single internet report was certain and true, they all gave me food for thought. In comparison to the final declaration of Jesus, some of these last words were funny; some were ironic; some were profound; and some were quite sad.
For example, I read that Jack Daniels, the famous Tennessee distiller, died of blood poisoning after a freak accidental toe injury. And even though he was probably asking for water, Jack Daniels’ final words were reported to be, “One last drink, please.”
I cannot decide if that is ironic, or sad, or both. But I do think it is quite sad that actor W. C. Fields lived a life filled with the pursuit of fleshly pleasures but was said to be thumbing through the Bible on his deathbed. When asked what he was doing, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
Equally as sad, on her deathbed, Joan Crawford was reported to have cursed a housekeeper who was concerned for the famous actress. Crawford then said, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
And perhaps saddest of all, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, spoke her last words with oblivious disregard to her legacy of dismemberment and death, “A party! Let’s have a party!”
On the other hand, other well-known Christians spoke quite differently on their deathbeds. Famous men in the faith such as Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Dwight Moody all died with words of peace and glorious expectation.
Even believers who died unexpectedly were often in the midst of Christ-centered conversations when they died. President Abraham Lincoln was discussing his desire for a trip to Israel with his wife when he was shot. He never finished his last word: Jerusalem.
And right before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called down from the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel and requested a man to sing King’s favorite hymn. “I want to hear ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ tonight,” he said.
Likewise, others died speaking or singing the words of hymns. Harriet Tubman, for one, died singing, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Daniel Webster, the famous American statesman, died declaring, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” as he finished the final words of William Cowper’s hymn, “There is a Fountain.” And even last year, Shawn Jones, a 32-year-old Alabama pastor and gospel singer, collapsed and died on a Florida stage while he and his band were singing, “Worthy is He.”
Each of those Christians died with a song of praise on their lips. How appropriate! For as Christians, we believe that our last words and last moments here merely segue our first words and moments there in heaven. We have complete faith that this is merely the beginning.
And that was exactly the business Jesus came to conduct – His Father’s business – the business of eternity.
And I thank Him for taking care of business for me. It truly is finished.