In the sports realm, many games are won or lost in the 4th quarter or even in those tense, breath-holding minutes before the buzzer sounds. My former pastor, Stu Weber, refers to the final season of this earthly life as our “4th quarter.” I like that. Isn’t the way we live out our last days especially crucial to our victory? In Philippians 3:14, the apostle Paul even sounds like a team captain. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. That is exactly what we see Jesus doing in the gospel accounts, pressing on . . . setting his face on Jerusalem. Since JESUS KNEW that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father, NIV John 13:1a, his life instructs us how to live out our 4th quarters victoriously. Jesus taught us how to live and how to die.
Most are familiar with Jesus’ agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Mark 14:36a Focusing on that prayer alone without the broader context, one might think Jesus was surprised and defeated by the events of his last days. Not so!! In every way, Jesus’ death was a victory.
First, Jesus accepted his final earthly assignment from the Father much earlier as revealed by Luke 9:51-53. Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. When Jesus set out for Jerusalem that last time, clearly his purposes far exceeded an observance of the Passover.
Secondly, during this final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus forewarned his disciples three different times that he was going to die. (1) Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33, Luke 9:22. (2) Matthew 17:22-23, Mark 9:30-32, Luke 9:43 b-45. (3) Matthew 20:17-19, Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34. Further, Jesus received and announced his anointing by Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 22:1, John 11:55-12:11) as preparation for his burial. All the verses cited in this paragraph make it clear that JESUS KNEW where, when, and how he was going to die.
Thirdly, just in case we missed this foreknowledge of Jesus in the synoptic gospels, John repeats the phrase JESUS KNEW three times in the Upper Room Discourse. John 13:1 JESUS KNEW that it was time for him to go to the Father. John 13:3 JESUS KNEW all things were under his power, but he did not use that power to stop the suffering coming to him. John 13:11, 18, 21, 38 JESUS KNEW he would be betrayed and denied. Again, JESUS KNEW of his impending death and yielded to it even though he had the power to avoid it.
What can we learn from the disciples failure to listen to Jesus? While the horrible events that followed the Last Supper were not a surprise to Jesus, they were to the faithful eleven disciples. Although Jesus had spoken of his death on the three different occasions cited above, his followers did not, could not, or would not hear him. Even so, he instructed them knowing the Holy Spirit would give them recall at a later date.
When others want to speak of their impending death, let us not turn away from the topic with protestations of negative thinking or silly assertions of improving health! We who will remain are grieving the loss of but one. Let’s give those who are trying to say good-bye to everyone for now the opportunity to do so. It is one comfort we can give—listening, believing, accepting. Hopefully, our mortality is made easier by honest, intimate conversations. Facing death together may ease the grieving of all involved.
According to Ira Brock, M.D. and author of Dying Well, I love you, I am sorry, I forgive you, and please forgive me are the most important words at this time. That which is limited increases in value the more limited it becomes. Knowing someone is about to finish their race makes their smile, touch, and words to us very potent and precious.
John 8:28-29 NLT So Jesus said, When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.
NIV When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.
John 10:14-18 NIV I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.