Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, has done some research into the number of words we speak each day. In her book, The Female Brain (Morgan Road, 2006), Brizendine reports that a woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000 words per day. That’s a bunch of words.
The Bible says that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Words mean things. They have the power to help and the power to hurt. They have the power to bless and the power to destroy. Left unchecked our words can become flippant or careless. Jesus warned us about this, saying that someday we will give an account for every careless and throw away word we speak (Matthew 12:36).
Last words spoken by a dying person are important. We become attentive to these words for several reasons. First, they are often prophetic. They speak truth to those who are able to receive them. They are also usually profound. They have meaning and significance. They are weighty. We also give attention because final words are often painful. Dying people use great economy of words. There is nothing superfluous or extra. Because final words are painful words, they are birthed as much as they are spoken.
If you’ve ever stood by the bed side of a dying person and had the experience of watching them pass from this life into the next, perhaps you realize that you were standing on holy ground. 2,000 the Scripture reports how a road side landfill outside of Jerusalem became holy ground for six hours one Friday. During those six hours Jesus spoke final words. 54 of them, to be precise, arranged into seven phrases. From what we know about Roman crucifixion, each word spoken would have involved tremendous physical pain. Jesus spoke as he suffered. Those words were not just words. They were and are words to live by.
The first word Jesus spoke from the cross is a word to those in need of forgiveness. Luke 23:32-34 says, Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him (Jesus). When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. (NLT)
To whom are these words of forgiveness addressed? Who is it that does not know what they are doing? Tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts about those around the cross that day who heard the words first hand.