Famous Last Words
by Brent Dyer
We often take special note of people’s last words. I am struck by the similar stories of two men whose last words are recorded for us in scripture, each speaking to a different side of the same God. Both men were stoned to death for speaking the word of God to people too angry to hear them. Both men die with a prayer on their lips.
The first is Zechariah in 2 Chr 24:20-22. Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada, who had been the mentor to king Joash until his death. Joash was a good king until Jehoiada died, at which point he fell deep into idolatry. When Zechariah came to tell Joash to turn from his ways, Joash refused to listen and had him stoned.
The second man is Stephen in Acts 7. Stephen, a faithful servant in the Jerusalem church, was discussing Jesus with a group of Jews. By the end of his speech, he accused the Jews of turning the temple into an idol and rejecting God, just as their rebellious fathers had. At this, the Jews lost their temper, drug Stephen out of the city, and stoned him to death.
Both men spoke the truth to people that should have known it. Both men accused their audience of idolatry. Both men were stoned to death. Both men have their last words recorded, and yet here the contrast is startling. 2 Chr 24:22 records the last words of Zechariah son of Jehoiada. “And when he was dying, he said, ‘May the LORD see and avenge!’ ”. Zechariah calls down God’s judgement on unrepentant sinners. Stephen’s last words are given in Acts 7:60: “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Stephen uses his dying breath to call down God’s mercy on ignorant men, just as Jesus had done.
What a fascinating contrast this creates. Zechariah’s message is of judgement, an ominous statement of God’s righteousness. But, Stephen reminds his murderers, even with his last breath, of the love and mercy of God.
Both messages are vital to remember. God is a righteous judge who executes justice on the wicked, but he is also a merciful father who passes over that same justice when a sinner comes to repentance. As Christians, we approach God with reverence and thanksgiving, fear and overflowing joy. Both are necessary in our posture to God. Both are necessary in the message we share with others. We would do well to remember these last words.