Greg Laurie - The Seven Last Words
Let's grab our Bibles now. I'm gonna do a special message in light of the death of our Lord and his resurrection and this being Palm Sunday. The title of my message is The Seven Last Words. I'm gonna have you turn to two passages, John chapter 19 and Luke chapter 23. So turn to both those if you can. Again, the Gospel of John, chapter 19. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, and we'll end up looking at both of those together today. Hurry. Hint, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. They're all there together. John 19, Luke 23, let's pray.
Now Father, as we revisit this story, the greatest of all stories, the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we ask you to speak to us. Help us to see what Jesus went through on the cross with new eyes today. Help us have a greater appreciation for it. We commit this time of Bible study to you now. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
You know, for every person, there's going to be a last meal, a last breath, and a last statement. They may know it's their last statement, and then again, maybe they won't, but really, what we say in the end will give real insight into who we were, what we were, and what really mattered to us. There's a film out right now called The Greatest Showman which is about the life of P.T. Barnum, and the last words of P.T. Barnum on his deathbed were, quote, "What were today's receipts," end quote. So that shows you what was most important to P.T. Barnum. On March 14th, 1883, Karl Marx died, Karl Marx, one of the founders of communism. His housekeeper came to him and said, "Tell me your last words and I'll write them down". Marx replied, "Get out. Last words are for fools who haven't said enough," end quote.
Well, he said plenty. None of it was good, by the way. Last words, everyone's gonna give their final words, and we're gonna focus in this message on the last words of Jesus while he was still on this earth, statements he made from the cross, seven in total, every one of them significant. Even the order of them is significant. But today is Palm Sunday and this is the day when we remember that our Lord rode into Jerusalem on the back of the donkey and they laid the palm branches down before him and they cried out, "Hosanna". It was a festive day, it was a happy day, a joyful day, because in the minds of the people, they thought that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom then and there. It was their hope that Jesus would drive out the occupying force, the Romans, and that they would rule and reign and Israel would be free again. Hosanna, which means, save now, and what does Jesus do? The Bible says, Jesus wept.
Why did Jesus wept during such a happy day? Because Jesus, being God, could see the future, and he knew what was gonna come on these people. He knew that 40 years from this moment, Titus and the Roman legions would come and effectively destroy the city of Jerusalem, killing thousands and thousands of people, and he also knew that these people were going to turn against him. In fact, in Luke 19, verse 41, it says of Jesus on Palm Sunday, as he drew near, he saw the city and he wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially this your day the things that make for your peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes". After this, Jesus goes to the upper room with his disciples, and there he has what we know as the Last Supper. He breaks the bread; they drink of the cup. After this, Christ goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and is in anguish over the impending crucifixion. There he is arrested and he is taken away.
I love it when I have to do that. It's just the joy of my life. Nothing like clearing your throat in front of thousands of people. So he's arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he is taken away in chains, and then he is sent to Caiaphas, and ultimately to Annas, and there he is tried on false charges, and now the real horrific part of the crucifixion begins. He is sent to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate sees a lot of men who've been accused of crimes. He can see immediately that this Jesus of Nazareth is no threat to Rome and he is not guilty of the charges, and he knows it, but he's walking on eggshells with the religious authorities because of a number of events that we don't have time to go into right now, but a number of things had happened that put him in a very tense situation.
Jesus was, in a way, sort of a political hot potato. Pilate did not want to execute him, but he knew if he released him, he was gonna have a lot of trouble, so he came up with a compromise. He thought, I will scourge him, and after Jesus is scourged, then this bloodthirsty crowd will be satisfied. By the way, scourging has been described as the halfway death because of how awful it was. The Romans would use many devices of torture, and one of these was the cat-of-nine-tails. It had a short handle, multiple strands of leather, and then embedded in these leather strands were bits of bone and metal and glass, so every time this whip would come down on the back of a person, it would shred into them, first taking off the skin, then cutting into the skeletal tissue, even exposing vital organs. Many prisoners did not survive the scourging. Jesus is whipped 39 times. Then the Roman soldiers strip Jesus and press a crown of thorns on his head, and they beat him and give him a mock scepter.
And Pilate brings out Christ, beaten, bloodied, and bruised, and says, "Ecce homo," which means, behold the man. Are you satisfied, people? Is this enough for you? Well, it wasn't enough for them at all. Let's read now John chapter 19, starting in verse 14. Now it was the preparation day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour, that'd be 12 o'clock, by the way, he said to the Jews, "Behold your king". And they cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him". Pilate said, "Shall I crucify your king"? The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar". Then he delivered him to be crucified, and they took Jesus and led him away, and he, bearing his cross, went out to a place called the Place of the Skull, which is in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side and Jesus in the center.
Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross, and the writing was Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and the chief priests and Jews said to Pilate, "Don't write king of the Jews, but rather write, He said, 'I'm the king of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written". We'll stop there.
Now it's interesting that the gospels tell us very little about the crucifixion itself. Why, because the people in areas occupied by Rome knew a lot about crucifixion. We have a cross here on the platform that is pretty true to scale, and you can see what Romans would see, what Jewish people would see. Crosses were common, and men hanging on crosses was not an unusual thing. It wasn't unusual to see a man dragging his cross. You knew he would die on it. Back in those days, the cross was not a symbol of Christianity as it is today. The cross was a symbol of torture and humiliation and pain. It would be like the gallows or a guillotine, not something you would want to think of fondly. We sing of the cross, we talk about the cross, and rightly so, but it had a different symbolism in that day. Everybody knew what it was like for a man to be crucified. Many of them had seen it. They had watched the process. It was designed to humiliate and cause the most pain imaginable, so Jesus is taken and he's crucified.
Now Jesus of Nazareth was a strong man. By trade, he was a carpenter. He'd chop down trees, he'd frame houses, build tables. He would work with stone. He knew how to put his back to a task. It's amazing he was able to carry this heavy cross, probably over 300 pounds, through the streets of Jerusalem after he had been whipped and vital organs were possibly even exposed, and now he is taken of that cross and he's nailed to it. Understand, to die on a cross was not death by crucifixion. It's more death by suffocation. A person could hang on the cross and live for two, three days, sometimes even more. They would have a severe fever that would produce a burning thirst. There would be the increasing inflammation of the wounds on the back and the hands and the feet, and the congestion of the blood in the head and the lungs and the heart. Basically, it was a swelling of virtually every vein of the body combined together, making crucifixion the cruelest of deaths. And at the foot of the cross, there was a base that we have here, and really, the way you died on the cross was an inability to breathe.
So you would push yourself up off of this base to get air in your lungs, so you can imagine how painful that was for Jesus because his back had already been shredded open. So here he hangs now on the cross, in excruciating pain. Sadly, no longer would these hands of our Lord be extended to those who needed a touch or a warm embrace because nails were driven through them. No longer would these feet of Jesus take him to people in need because now they, too, had nails in them. And as he hangs there on the cross of Calvary, as I said, he gives seven statements. Here's the first one. Look at Luke 23 verse 34. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do". And they divided his garments and cast lots, and the people stood looking on, but even the rulers with them sneered, saying, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen of God". The soldiers also mocked him, coming and offering him sour wine, saying, "If you're the king of the Jews, save yourself". And an inscription was written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, this is the king of the Jews.
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed him, saying, "If you're the Christ, save yourself and us". But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you're under the same condemnation? We indeed justly, we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong". And then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise". We'll stop there.
Seven statements from the cross given in this order. Statement number one, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". Statement number two in response to the thief's request, Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in Paradise". Looking down at the base of the cross, there is Mary, the mother of our Lord, and Jesus says, "Woman, behold your son". And then he says, probably looking to John the apostle, "Son, behold your mother". This is probably the moment when all the sin of the world was poured upon Jesus. We don't know exactly when it was, but I think this was the moment, reason being, his next statement was Eli Eli lama sabachthani, which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Statement number five, "I thirst". Statement number six, "It is finished". Statement number seven to his Father, "Into your hands I commit my spirit".
First words of Christ from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". These words don't surprise us. Jesus told us to love our enemies. He told us to forgive those that hurt us and used us. So what he said on a sunny day on the Mount of Beatitudes, he demonstrated on this dark day when he died on the cross. But it's amazing here that he's saying, "Father, forgive them". You would've thought that he would've prayed first for maybe his family, or maybe for his friends, but his first prayer is for his actual enemies. "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do". And we see from this example that no one is beyond the reach of prayer. These were hard people, hardened Roman soldiers, hardened religious leaders, indifferent folks that didn't care about what they had done. Jesus is saying they don't even realize how radical this is. "Father, forgive them".
This is so dark of a sin, they don't even comprehend it, because surely they knew he was innocent. Pilate knew he was innocent. I think the religious leaders clearly knew they were taking him up on false charges, but yet they did it. But Jesus is saying, this is such an enormous crime, such an enormous sin, they don't even have a clue as to how bad it is. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". Can you think of someone right now that is very hard to the Gospel? Maybe it's someone you know very well. Maybe it's a family member, a mother, a father, grandparents, maybe a son or a daughter, maybe even a husband or a wife or someone that you work with or live near, and the last time you talked to them about Jesus, and I hope you talk to your friends and family about Jesus. The last time you did it, they were just very abrupt. They terminated the conversation. They might have even insulted you, and you thought, I am never bringing that subject up with them again. No way, you keep praying for them.
In fact, get your Christian friends to pray for them by name and go reengage them again, because no one is beyond the reach of God, no one. No one's heart is so hard it can't be reached by Jesus Christ. I think of my own mother who I ministered to, shared the Gospel with so many times, and she'd always terminate the conversation. "I don't want to talk about it". But I never gave up on my mom. I never stopped praying for my mother, and she finally made that recommitment to the Lord one month before she died. Don't give up on your family. Don't give up on your friends. Don't give up on people that don't know the Lord. In fact, here's my challenge for you. This week, extend an invitation for them to join you at church this Easter, join you at church. That's right, right? Join you, yes, is that grammatically correct, yes. Come with you to church, there it is, just sounded weird to me. You ever say something and it sounds weird? And maybe it isn't weird or maybe it is. I'm not sure. Anyway, so invite them to come.
Yeah, but they've already said no. Yeah, but that was then, this is now, pray. Jesus prayed, in fact, Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy of Messiah, Isaiah 53. It said, he poured his life onto death. He was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many and he made intercession for the transgressors. That's what he was doing. See, on each side of the cross was another cross, and on each one of these crosses, a man was crucified. We call them the thieves on the cross, but in reality, they were probably guilty of a far greater sin. The Romans did not generally crucify thieves. If you were crucified by Rome, you were guilty of a serious offense, a capital offense. These were probably insurrectionists, meaning men dedicated to the violent overthrow of Rome. From Rome's perspective, we might even call them terrorists today.
So hardened criminals on each side of Jesus, yet Jesus prays for them. He prays for the people that crucified him. You say, well, did it do any good? As a matter of fact, it did, because on the day of Pentecost, a short time after this, Peter got up in front of a crowd, and in that crowd were people that actually played a role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter probably recognized them. There's the guy that pounded the spikes through his hand. That's the guy who whipped him. There's one of those religious authorities that sent him to the cross. I know this one over here, too, and Peter actually said to those people as he preached, in Acts 2:36, "Therefore, let the house of Israel know that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, Lord and Christ". He probably pointed at you, you're the one. I remember you, too. I also remember you. Don't feel bad if I'm pointing at you. But I have to point at someone, right? You're the one. They'd be, oh, I am the one. And the Bible says they were cut to the heart.
Have you ever been cut to the heart? I don't mean literally, hopefully. But you know, where something just stabs you? Someone says something to you, you're like, you're right, yes. They were cut to the heart, saying, "What should we do"? Peter says, "Repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord". And many of them believed, 3,000 of them believed, so the prayer of Jesus was answered on the day of Pentecost. Don't give up praying for people you know. So here are these criminals. They were there for their crimes. Jesus was there for the crimes and sins of others. They were held to their crosses by nails. He effectively was held to his cross by love. With just one word, he could've been delivered from this dilemma, one word to heaven, the angels would've come and rescued him. And something amazing happens. One of those men believes right there on the spot, and he says, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom".
Now we say, wait a second, that doesn't make sense, because one gospel says both thieves on each side of the cross joined in saying, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen of God". And then one of the thieves says, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". What's going on? Jesus made a statement. He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". When that hardened thief heard Jesus make that statement, his heart melted and he believed right on the spot. You know how long conversion takes? It doesn't take years, it doesn't take months. It doesn't take days, it doesn't even take hours. It can happen just like that. Just like that, that man believed. "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise".
Whew, talk about getting in under the wire, what? Talk about being in the right place at the right time, next to God in human form, very nice. And he took full advantage of it, and then rebuked the other thief for even continuing on with that dialogue. Then there was Pilate, who effectively wrote a gospel tract. He wrote in three languages on the top of the cross this statement, Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews. The religious leaders said, change that, edit it. Have it say he said, "I was the king of the Jews". Pilate said, "What I have written, I've written". Better translation is, what I've written will always be written. Pilate knew exactly what he was doing. It was Pilate's gospel tract on the cross. Anyone who wanted to read it could.
An amazing series of events as this one thief now believes right there. Standing at the foot of the cross is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is misunderstood by a lot of people. For some, they would say, we should pray to the Son through Mary. They believe she was sinless at birth. They even believe that Mary had her own ascension. None of this is taught in the Bible. They also believe that Mary had no other children, only Jesus. That is contradicted by scripture that tells us that Jesus had siblings or what we might call half brothers and sisters, the children of Mary and Joseph. Jesus, of course, was the son of the Father in heaven carried in the womb of the virgin. So maybe people want to pray through Mary or exalt Mary. That's a mistake, but we don't want to miss the significance of Mary. She was a very special young lady, probably a very young teenager, as a matter of fact. And God handpicked her from heaven to have the privilege of carrying the Messiah in her womb.
Girls, can you imagine that? To have God in human form in your womb. And so when Jesus was born, like any mother, she loved her boy, but you just need to know, Jesus was the best son ever. The best son. He never did anything wrong, never talked back to Mom or Dad, never made trouble, did his chores, was cheerful, loved to read scripture, loved to go and worship, just the perfect son in every way. She probably bragged on him to the other kids. Kids, why can't you be more like your brother Jesus? Look at how hard he works. Look how obedient he is. Look at what a wonderful son he is. You need to be more like Jesus. Mom, he's like, perfect. Well, Joseph made a little bracelet for you all to wear in his shop. It says, WWJD. I want you to wear this, ask yourself, what would Jesus do?
You say, Greg, where is this in the Bible? It's not in the Bible. I'm just messing around. But he was perfect; she loved him. And to see him crucified, for any parent to lose a child is beyond comprehension. There's no words for it. If you lose a wife, you're a widower. If you lose a husband, you're a widow. If you lose your parents, you're an orphan. If you lose a child, they don't even have a word, maybe 'cause it's so bad. So she lost her son, but not only did her son die, but he was murdered in cold blood before her very eyes. Isaiah tells us the body of Jesus hanging on the cross was so traumatized, you could not even tell he was a man. I don't know if you've ever seen anyone that's experienced trauma from an accident where there's swelling and other things happen, and that's what Jesus looked like. But she knew who he was, and she loved him with all of her heart, and she bravely stood at the foot of that cross while all the courageous men were gone, with the exception of John.
Mary stood there; Mary Magdalene was there, too. And she stood there, and she was brave, and she loved that boy, and he looks down from the cross and says, "Woman, behold your son". And then, probably gesturing toward John, he says, "Son, behold your mother". In effect, Jesus was saying, John, take care of Mary now. Jesus being the firstborn cared for her, and it appears maybe from this story that Joseph was gone at this point. He may have died, so Jesus may have been in a very important position there, and he's saying, John, carry this on. "Behold your mother," amazing. Now for the moment that has been described by some as the crucifixion in the crucifixion, or as I like to put it, God's most painful moment.
We're gonna go to one more passage. Matthew 27, turn there with me if you would. Lot of Bible turning today. It's fun, isn't it? Matthew 27, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So go backwards. I love this sound of Bible pages turning, don't you? Some of you are swiping. There's no swiping sound on a tablet, just, but it counts 'cause it's still the word of God. So turn or swipe, just don't swipe your friend's Bible. Matthew 27, verse 45, from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, that would be 12 to three, there was darkness over all the land, and about the ninth hour, Jesus cries out with a loud voice, saying Eli Eli lama sabachthani, which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Some of them stood there when they heard that, said, "This man's calling for Elijah," and immediately one of them ran and took a sponge and filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed and offered it to him to drink, and then the rest said, "Let him alone; see if Elijah will come to save him". And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
So without explanation, the sky suddenly turns dark. By the way, the weather conditions in Israel are very similar to Southern California, so on an average day at noontime, it's sunny overall in California, and that's probably the way it was on this day. Sun's out and then suddenly it's pitch dark, and I think this is sort of a metaphor of the darkness coming upon the land, because you see, the devil was at work. Revelation 12:12 says, the devil has come down to you and he's full of fury because he knows he has but a short time. Here at the cross, the devil is full of fury. He's throwing everything he has at Jesus to stop him, and if that wasn't enough, in effect, the Father is putting all the sin of the world upon his Son. And Jesus is dying in our place. He's dying as our substitute, and that's why Jesus says, I believe, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"?
Listen, if the Bible were a work of fiction, which it is not, but if it were, we would never have our hero say words like this. But Jesus says them. What do they mean when he says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? I don't think that they're the words of a man in doubt or he's doubting his faith. To the point, they're, "My God, my God". Sometimes people get angry with God, say I'm never gonna talk to God again. I'm never gonna go to church again. I'm never gonna read the Bible again. Jesus says, "My God, my God". Yes, they're words of why, why is this happening, but they're words to the Father. Always take your pain and turn it into a prayer. Even if you don't understand, you go to God and say, Lord, I'm in pain, I'm praying about it.
Read the Psalms. David and others did that many, many times. They cried out to the Lord, oh, my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that's higher than I. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Sometimes people ask me, is it wrong to ask God why? And some would say, yes, never ask God why. It's a lack of faith, really? Jesus asked God why, so go ahead and ask away. And that is our tendency when something bad happens. We say, God, why did you let this happen to me? Why, why, why? Ask away, ask why all that you want. Don't expect an answer, but ask why. No, seriously, you can ask why, but even if God were to tell you why, I don't think you would be happy with the result, because I think what would happen is, if he were to explain it to you, it would not satisfy you.
You know, Habakkuk talked about how he didn't understand why something was happening, and he said to God, I don't know why this is happening. God says, I'll tell you. Yeah, tell me, and the Lord tells him, and Habakkuk says, I don't understand, that makes no sense to me. So if I were to sort of summarize God's response, if you'll allow me, when we cry out why, here's God's basic answer. I'll tell you later when you're ready for it. It's like explaining something to a child. You know, I could try to explain it to them now, but I'm gonna have to wait 'til they're a little bit older and they're gonna understand it. And God could explain it to you now. Okay, I'm gonna tell you why X, Y, and Z happened, and here it is. And as you listen, you go, well, I don't like that at all. I disagree, yeah, that's right, let's wait 'til we get to heaven and then I'll tell you and then you'll get it. So until that day, just trust me. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? He was dying as a substitute for us. To him was imputed the guilt of our sins, and he was suffering the punishment for those sins on our behalf, and the very essence of that punishment was the outpouring of God's wrath against sinners.
Did you read this article in the paper? I just read it yesterday, about a French police officer who gave his life saving others, so amazing. His name was Arnaud Beltrame. I hope I'm pronouncing it right, maybe not. So a terrorist who identified with ISIS hijacked a car, killed a passenger, wounded another, got into a firefight with police, and the terrorist ends up in a market, storms a market, he'd take hostages. Officer Beltrame was first to respond. As police were negotiating with the terrorist to release the hostages, Officer Beltrame offered himself in the place of a hostage, and the terrorist agreed. And the officer went in there and the terrorist killed him. He gave his life for others. He saved a life by giving his life.
Why did Jesus have to die? We were the hostages of the devil, and Jesus took our place on the cross. In some mysterious way that we can never fully understand during those awful hours on the cross, the Father was pulling out the full measure of his wrath against sin, and the recipient of that wrath was Jesus. Listen, God was punishing Jesus as though he had personally committed every wicked deed committed by every wicked sinner, and in doing so, he could treat and forgive those redeemed ones as if they had lived Christ's perfect life of righteousness. It's amazing, he did all of this for us on the cross. And by the way, for Jesus to bear the sins of the world was a fate worse than death. I think it was worse than the crucifixion itself, worse than the scourging, worse than the mockery, worse than the blows to his face, because he who had never had even a single thought out of harmony with the Father is now having to have all this horrific sin placed upon him as he dies for each of us. It was God's most painful moment, and he did that in your place. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"?
After he bore the sin of the world, he cried out the words, "I thirst". By the way, this is not just any thirst. This is a thirst of a man who is completely dehydrated and now has come to this horrific ordeal. "I thirst," and then his next words were, "It is finished". By the way, that was one word he uttered from Calvary. "It is finished," the word is (speaks in foreign language). It was a commonly used word in that day. You'd use it after you'd do a job, like if you framed a house and you finished the job, you'd say (speaks in foreign language), it's finished. Or you make an omelet, I doubt they made any omelets back then, but you make an omelet, (speaks in foreign language), come and get it, (speaks in foreign language), it's completed, it's accomplished, it's done. Jesus says, (speaks in foreign language), I've done it. I've paid the price, I've fulfilled the obligation. It's completed, it's accomplished. And finally, to his Father, "Into your hands I commit my spirit".
Listen to this. One day what happened to Jesus will happen to us. You say, I'm gonna be crucified? No, I doubt that, but one day you will die, as I said in the beginning, and you will give your last statement and you will breathe your last breath. You will face death, but look, here's the thing that we need to understand. What happened to Jesus when he died will happen to us when we die, and what Jesus said when he died can be said by us when we die, if we believe. We can say, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". You don't have to be afraid to die as a Christian. If you're not a Christian, you should be scared to death of death. It should terrify you, it should mortify you. It should freak you out. If you're a Christian, you don't have to be afraid.
You say, but why, I still have to die. Yes, but death is different for a Christian. Oh, by the way, a spoiler alert. Jesus rose from the dead after he died on the cross, and death died when Christ rose, so he has opened the way to heaven for us. When a Christian dies, they don't cease to exist. They just move from one place to another, and by the way, they move to a much better place than they're in now, so you don't have to be afraid. You can just say on that day, "Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit". This is what Stephen said, remember him, the book of Acts? Young man preached the Gospel to the religious leaders and they decided to execute him. And as he was being stoned, which by the way is a violent way to die, he prays this. First of all, he says, I see Jesus standing on the right hand of God the Father. Wow, what an awesome vision God gave him, a glimpse into the other side. I see Jesus standing, and the Bible says he had a face like an angel. He just glowed. And then he prays to the Father, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit". And then he said, "Do not hold this sin against them". Wow, he sounds just like Jesus. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". Stephen prays, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit". Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". Stephen prays, Lord, don't hold this sin against them. Amazing, and you know what the Bible says? It says he fell asleep.
Isn't that an interesting phrase? Sometimes people think when you die, you just go into like a really long nap. But the word sleep in the Bible is a metaphor only used for a Christian. The Bible never uses sleep to describe the death of a nonbeliever. It only uses the word to describe the death of a believer. And it's a word that is used to let you know it's okay. Don't be afraid. You know, is it scary when someone says go to sleep? Are you? Now if you're a kid, maybe it is. Kids don't like to go to sleep. Go take a nap, no! Time for bed, no! Now you go to an adult, especially an older one, and say, go take a nap, and they're like, yes. Why, well, naps are refreshing. Close your eyes, get recharged a little bit. Greg, it sounds like you're speaking from experience. Yes, I am. I don't take a lot of naps, and I don't take long naps, but sometime in the day, if I take like a five-minute nap, it gets all the cylinders firing again for me.
And so the Bible uses this as a picture of death for the Christian. Stephen fell asleep. Yeah, one day you'll fall asleep. You say, well, what happens after that? You go to heaven, yeah, yeah, but what happens after I fall asleep and then go to heaven, what, what? I don't know, Bible doesn't tell us. Oh, we hear all these stories about a great light and hovering and all this stuff. We don't know that, okay? But all I know this, is I die and I go right into the presence of God, so don't be afraid of death if you're a Christian. Don't be afraid. Why, because Jesus died on the cross for me, that's why. And because Jesus rose again from the dead for me, that's why. He did all of this for us, and I wanna say in closing that some of you are here maybe and you're not sure if you'll go to heaven when you die. You'd like to think you would. Say, I'm a pretty good person. I think, you know, I've lived a pretty good life, and I expect to get to heaven. You're gonna basically put your entire eternal destiny on that? How 'bout being sure? I know I will go to heaven when I die. Say, oh, that's boasting. No, well, okay, maybe it is. I'm boasting, I'm boasting on God. He gave me this gift, but he can give you this gift, as well.
I don't want any of you that are hearing this message or watching it, wherever you are, to end this day without knowing that you're right with God and knowing that you'll go to heaven when you die. Now it's up to you. I'm gonna put this ball in your court. God wants to forgive you. He wants to give you the assurance and certainty you'll go to heaven when you die, but you must believe in Jesus, the Jesus who died on the cross. You believe he died on that cross for me. He shed his blood for me. He rose again from the dead for me, and now I believe in him. Paul said, he loved me and gave himself for me. Why did he do it? Because he loves you. God loves you. Yeah, well, I've done some horrible things. Yeah, God knows all about that. He knows every detail of everything you've ever done. Nothing's a surprise to him, but the blood of Jesus shed on the cross will cover it all. That's the only way you can get rid of your sin. And I wonder if some of you would like to get rid of your sin and know that you can go into God's presence one day. If so, I wanna give you an opportunity to pray and ask Jesus Christ to forgive you so you can have this great hope. Let's all bow our heads.
Father, thank you for your word to us. Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to die on the cross. Lord Jesus, thank you for coming and making such a sacrifice for such undeserving people. And Lord, we don't wanna miss this gift, this gift of eternal life. I pray for any that are here, any that are watching, wherever they might be, that they'll see their need for you and that they will come to you and believe in you.
Now all our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed and we're praying together, how many of you would say today, Greg, I wanna know Jesus in a personal way? I want him to forgive me of my sin. I wanna know that I will go to heaven when I die. Pray for me. If that's your desire, wherever you're sitting, if you want Christ to come into your life, if you want him to forgive you of your sin, if you wanna be sure that you will go to him when you die, would you raise your hand up right now, wherever you are, and I'll pray for you. Just raise your hand up high where I can see it, saying I want Jesus Christ. God bless you and you and you and you. Anybody else, raise your hand up high. God bless you, God bless you, as well. Wherever you are, raise your hand up. Up in the balcony, raise your hand up. You want Christ today.
You guys watching the screen, I can't see you, but you're watching the screen here in the amphitheater in Riverside or at Harvest Orange County or Harvest Dos Lagos, Harvest Woodcrest, Harvest Eastvale. Wherever you are, would you raise your hand up? Just say, yeah, I need Jesus. I'm ready to believe in him. Anybody else, if you haven't raised your hand yet, lift it now. Let me pray for you. Raise your hand up. Now you that have raised your hand, I want you to pray this prayer out loud right where you are. Again, as I pray, pray this prayer after me out loud, okay? Let's pray, pray this now.
Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, but I know you're the Savior who died on the cross for my sin, and you rose from the dead. Jesus, I turn from that sin, and I choose to follow you from this moment forward as Savior and Lord, as God and friend. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.