Much has been said about “The Seven Last Words of Jesus.” Jesus spoke seven times when He was on the Cross. Often, on Good Friday, sermons are preached about the seven last words of Jesus. Jesus said, for example, when He looked down on the blood-spattered hands of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Later, He said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And just moments before His death, He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
In the message today we want to look at the seven first words of Jesus, that is, the first seven recorded occasions during which He spoke—and try to learn some lessons from those words. It is not always easy to trace the chronological order of events in Jesus’ early life, but we will try and follow the order established by those who have carefully studied the life of Christ.
1. “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).
These words were spoken at the time when Jesus had gone to the Temple at the age of twelve. For the first time, He accompanied Joseph and Mary to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. When the feast was concluded, and the caravan of people were moving back toward home, suddenly at one point in the journey, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing.
There is no indication of neglect or carelessness on the part of Joseph and Mary. It was a common practice for families to travel together, and these families were so well acquainted that the children of one family were like the children of another. The families were so pre-occupied with what they had heard at the Temple and with the joys of returning home again, that they had not discovered that Jesus was missing.
They had spent a whole day without Jesus. Have you ever done that? How often have you gone through a day without Jesus? Actually He was with you, but the day went by without really thinking much about Him. It is easy for us to be like the people in the days of Noah, who went about their normal and ordinary business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and raising families—perfectly legitimate things, but allowing those things to consume so much of our time that we hardly even notice that the Lord isn’t in our thoughts.
When Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing, they re-traced their steps back to Jerusalem, and they found Jesus talking with the learned scribes in the Temple. Luke 2:46 says that He was sitting in the midst of the teachers—not only asking questions—but He was also giving answers. Those who heard Him were astonished.
Luke 2:48 says that Joseph and Mary were “amazed” that Jesus had stayed behind. The surprise of Joseph and Mary at this apparently thoughtless act of Jesus provides some insights for us:
1) Their surprise shows how obedient to his parents Jesus previously had been. He had been so loyal and obedient in the days of childhood that they had confidence in His dependability, and were startled and confused on this occasion when He was not with them.
2) Their surprise proves that Jesus’ childhood had been normal and natural, and not marked by certain supernatural abilities such as those described in some of the Apocryphal writings. The books of the Apocrypha tell some strange things about Jesus. For example, one time the teacher was about to whip Jesus with a paddle, but the paddle turned into a serpent. Jesus had been a normal lad.
When Joseph and Mary expressed their concern for Jesus, He replied that really they should have understood that He must already be about the business of His heavenly Father. These words have gone down in history as an indication that Jesus was aware early in life that He was a special person, on a special mission from God the Father. No one knows just when the boy Jesus first realized His unique relationship with the Father, but at the age of twelve He made it known publicly.
The “Father’s business” was not primarily preaching and working miracles. The Father’s business for Jesus was primarily to execute God’s plan for becoming a sacrifice for sin. Jesus Himself later said, when describing His purpose for coming to earth: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
William Carey, the first missionary to India, was a shoe cobbler by trade. He used to say, “My business is proclaiming the Gospel of Christ; I mend shoes to pay the expenses.” We should all consider our secular employment as a means for earning a living so that we can give ourselves to the task of developing the Christian life. All of us need to take seriously the duty of living in obedience to God’s Word, and being about the Father’s business.
2. “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
The second scene in the life of Jesus (at which He spoke), was at His baptism. John the Baptist had just said, “I have need to be baptized of thee.” Jesus insisted however that in order to “fulfil all righteousness” John should baptize Him! John accepted this request of Jesus and performed the baptism.
The question is sometimes asked, “Why should Jesus be baptized?” “Why should He (who did no sin) offer Himself for baptism?” There are at least three reasons. First, it gave approval to John the Baptist’s ministry. Second, it identified Jesus with the human family. Jesus was willing to identify humbly with us. He affirmed His solidarity with sinners as He prepared to execute the plan of salvation. Third, Jesus’ baptism was a public example for His followers.
Jesus said in Matthew 3:15 (after John the Baptist had hesitated and said that it would be more fitting for Jesus to baptize him)—Jesus said, “Let’s get on with the baptism; suffer it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The word “righteousness” (in the Epistles) refers most often to the right standing with God which believers have when they embrace the faith. The word “righteousness” (as used in the Gospels) refers to the conduct that is befitting those who are right with God. The baptism of Jesus is an example for us to follow. Water baptism is a ceremony which is right.
To “fulfill all righteousness” (for us) means that whatever the cost—we should always seek to do those things that are right.
3. “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).
The occasion for the third time when Jesus spoke was during His temptation in the wilderness.
Mark’s account says that the testing in the desert came “immediately” after the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:12). Often, our greatest hours of triumph are followed by our strongest times of trial. Right after you have been blessed really good, you may very well face a severe trial.
Actually, Jesus spoke three times during the period of testing in the desert. He responded to each of the three temptations which Satan put before Him by appealing to the Scriptures. Whether Satan appeared in bodily form and spoke with actual words, or whether he came to Jesus like he comes to us—with subtle suggestions to the mind—we cannot be sure. But we can be sure that the devil is real and that he tempts with great skill.
The first temptation was an appeal to the physical appetite (Matthew 4:1-4). Satan said, “Turn these stones into bread.” And with one single word Jesus could have turned the hard stones of the desert into tasty loaves of bread. But Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.”
The second temptation was an appeal to personal glory (Matthew 4:5-7). Satan said, “Jump down off the pinnacle of the Temple; God will take care of you.” And Jesus could have dazzled the people’s senses by descending through the air unharmed. But Jesus said, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
The third temptation was an appeal to political influence (Matthew 4:8-11). Satan said, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” And Jesus could have worshipped “the god of this world” and tried to side-step the Cross. But Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Jesus was victorious over the snares of the Devil. His basic weapon was the proper use of the Scriptures. Just so, we are to meet the temptations of Satan by using the same weapon that Jesus used. We must desire and study and know the Scriptures so that we will be well-armed against the enemy, and so that we will have a Scriptural dart to throw at Satan each time he comes our way.
4. “Then Jesus turned . . . and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him . . . , Master, where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see” (John 1:38-39).
On one of the days after John the Baptist had spoken the words, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples (Andrew, and an unnamed disciple who was undoubtedly John). Again, they saw Jesus walk by, and John the Baptist repeated the declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Andrew and John heard the message, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and they seemed to understand the words, for John says in verse 34 (of chapter 1), “And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.” And so they timidly approached the newly-discovered Messiah, and followed Him for a while. At one point, Jesus suddenly turned around and saw them following (verse 38), and asked them a question. Jesus said to these two timid men, “What are you seeking?”
Andrew and John were somewhat surprised (and perhaps embarrassed), and they stammered out their question: “Master, where dwellest thou?” (Where are you staying; where is your home?) And Jesus answered kindly, “Come, and you shall see” (John 1:39).
Jesus at one time said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). When the two men arrived with Jesus, they certainly found a poor lodging—perhaps some cleft in a wilderness rock just south of Jerusalem—where Jesus slept with no covering except His cloak, and no roof but the canopy of the heavens. It may have been the unnamed place referred to in John 10:40, close to the scene of John’s baptizing.
Jesus likely took the disciples there so that they might see the poverty of His condition and realize how they might fare if they decided to cast their lot with Him. They must have enjoyed their visit, because verse 39 (of John 1) concludes by saying that they remained with Him that day. It was about “the tenth hour” when they arrived. (That was 10 o’clock in the morning according to the Roman system; 4 o’clock in the afternoon according to the Jewish system of reckoning time—and they likely returned home about dusk.)
The first thing Andrew did the next morning was to find his brother Simon and acquaint him with Jesus. Andrew was so impressed by the visit with Jesus that he was unable to keep his discovery to himself. He had seen the Lord, and had heard Him speak, and was blessed by Him. It was his goal to break the news to his brother and invite him to get acquainted with Jesus too. One of the marks of true salvation in an individual’s life, is an urgent desire within to see others saved also.
5. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4).
These words were spoken at the time when Jesus performed His first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
Mary had told Jesus that the family had run out of wine. And Jesus responded with the words of verse 4. The remark, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?”—was not intended to show disrespect. That form of address was a title of respect in Jesus’ day. It was used as a polite term for addressing women. On the Cross, Jesus said, “Woman, behold thy son.” There was no rudeness in the words spoken to His mother. Jesus, at the wedding, was simply asserting that He was no longer primarily a son of Mary, but that He was now the world’s Redeemer.
From this point on, only spiritual ties bound Him to human beings. He later said, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50).
The words, “Mine hour is not yet come,” clearly refer to the time of His suffering and death. Mary was not asking that Jesus merely perform a miracle. Mary was hoping that Jesus would give a supreme manifestation of who He is, and that He would remove all suspicion that people had about His identity. (There were still some people who charged her with impurity because she was expecting a child before she was married to Joseph. The Gospel accounts had not yet been written, and most people didn’t know the chain of events that led to our Lord’s birth—and so lots of rumors were floating around.)
Mary had now hoped that Jesus would give a full display of His glory, and make it absolutely clear that He was the Messiah—but Jesus knew that the full manifestation of who He was could not come until Calvary, and until the resurrection had occurred three days later. And so Jesus said, “Mine hour is not yet come.”
Mary took no offense at the answer which Jesus gave. She left the matter in His hands. At the same time, she was sure He would do something, and so she instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus requested of them.
6. “And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16).
When the time came for the annual spring Feast of the Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to observe the Feast. When He entered the outer court of the Temple, He discovered a shocking atmosphere.
To make things more convenient for the worshippers, facilities were provided for the sale of animals (to be used as sacrifices), and provision was made for the exchange of Roman coins into Jewish currency. These conveniences were made necessary because most of the worshippers came from far away and could not bring their animal-sacrifices with them. And some lived in territories outside Judea and used a different money system.
But when Jesus arrived at the Temple area in Jerusalem, He was deeply troubled by what He saw: cows were over here; sheep were over there; doves were being sold at exorbitant prices; coins were being changed into Hebrew shekels.
Matthew 21:12 says that Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. Jesus did not use violence on people. He simply made these traders leave the sacred area of the Temple. (He took decisive action but He did not physically harm people.)
The Temple was intended to be a house of prayer—a place where people could meet God (Matthew 21:13). But instead of a place of quiet reverence, it was filled with the noise of a marketplace and with the smell of an animal barnyard.
The people didn’t seem to understand God’s concern for spiritual devotion. Their worship was cluttered with lots of activity, but it was mostly an outward form. They came to Jerusalem, and went through the motions, but many were blind to the joy of simple obedience to God’s commands in their daily lives.
We have similar concerns today. God’s house is to be a place where His Word is proclaimed, where sinners repent, and where the saints have an opportunity for spiritual growth. God’s house was never intended to be a place for athletic clubs and bingo games and church banquets—and whatever else it is that diminishes the preaching and teaching ministry of the Word.
7. Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Our greatest need as human beings—is not money, not education, not old-age pensions. Our greatest need is to come into a right relationship with God.
Nicodemus (who came to Jesus by night) was a good, clean, moral man—a ruler of the Jews. But he wasn’t happy; there was no peace in his heart.
Nicodemus started the conversation that night by complimenting Jesus. He said, “I know you are a teacher come from God” (John 3:2), but Jesus brushed the compliment aside, and immediately began to teach Nicodemus. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
The new birth is a mighty spiritual change which is brought about in the human heart by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. One who is born again receives a new nature, and day by day there are new desires, new goals, and a new outlook on living. Paul speaks of becoming “a new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Peter speaks of becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
The new birth is spiritual in character and it is mysterious in nature. Jesus said that it is like the wind—and the wind blows where it pleases; you cannot tell where it comes from, nor where it goes to (John 3:8).
This mighty change is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart (Titus 3:5). It does not happen by our own efforts, yet it requires resolve (cooperation, complicity) on our part. We become recipients of the new birth when we believe the Gospel, and repent of our sins, and gladly obey the Lord by receiving Christian baptism and setting out to live for Him.
The new birth is a mystery which no one can adequately explain; yet it is a reality which no one can really explain away.
Last words are important. The last words we heard loved ones speak before they died will always be remembered. First words are important and interesting also. When we start a conversation with people, it doesn’t usually take long to find out what they are thinking, and where their interests lie. Jesus said:
- Be about my Father’s business (Luke 2:49).
- Do those things that are right (Matthew 3:15).
- No Satan, I will not serve you (Matthew 4:10).
- What are you looking for? (John 1:38).
- God’s timing is always best (John 2:4).
- Don’t make God’s house a place of merchandise (John 2:16).
- To see the kingdom of God one must be changed from within (John 3:3).
These are some of the important issues of life. These are the things Jesus was thinking about early in His ministry. These are things we need to keep in mind as we continue the journey of faith.