Epitaph: What Does it Say?

An epitaph isn’t something we think about often, but it is rather fitting, as many believers are observing Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection this week. There have been some interesting epitaphs written over the years:

“Famous voice actor Mel Blanc–who gave voice to characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig–immortalized one of his most well-known lines on his tombstone:”1

“That’s All Folks!”

“Actress Bette Davis had to fight her way up…at every step of her career. She immortalized her struggles–and triumphs–on her final resting place:”1

“She did it the hard way.”

“Quoting a famous line from one of his most famous speeches–“I Have a Dream”–Martin Luther King Jr.’s epitaph embodies his faith and inspirational spirit:”1

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty; I’m free at last.”

EPITAPHS CAN SAY A LOT ABOUT YOUR LIFE OR DEATH…EVEN, HOW OTHERS FELT ABOUT YOUR LIFE OR DEATH

Our family listened to a sermon in December last year on Jesus’ family tree, based on Matthew 1. Sure, it may not be the most exciting passage in Scripture, but it has a purpose. As we followed along, reading all the names, my husband pointed out the following verse:

“and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon by the wife of Uriah,”

Matthew 1:6 ISV

We lost power shortly after we read that and continued talking as a family. I don’t remember ever noticing how Bathsheba was referenced here before. Scripture doesn’t mention her name, like it does Rahab, Ruth, and Mary; it just calls her, “the wife of Uriah.” Even though Uriah wasn’t technically part of Jesus’ kingly lineage, he was still an honorable mention for his faithful allegiance to King David.

This epitaph, of sorts, is a constant reminder of David’s sin with Uriah’s wife…there for everyone to read. Typically, our sin isn’t something we want to broadcast for everyone to see or know. Isn’t it fitting, though, whose name you see at the end of that genealogy (Matthew 1:16)? God provided the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus, the Messiah, to be the payment for sins and The Way to receive forgiveness. This is a reminder that all of us sin…and that because of Christ’s death for us (and resurrection), we can all be covered with His forgiveness! It’s because of His forgiveness that we can “come clean” with our sin, sharing our experiences, and the reality of the hope we have because of Jesus!

IN JOHN 19, WE SEE ANOTHER KIND OF EPITAPH

It hung on the cross, above Jesus’ head…a sign to all explaining why He was being punished this way…the “accusation,” as Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote in their accounts of the crucifixion. Another word for the Greek word Matthew, Mark, and Luke used, meaning “accusation,” is “crime.”

Crime? He was without sin (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5)!

Exactly! John said, in his gospel, that Pilate had questioned Him and heard the case against Him, yet there wasn’t any fault found in Him (John 18:38, 19:4). So, Pilate wrote an inscription to be fastened to Christ’s cross:

The King of the Jews

This same saying was written in three different languages for those who passed by to be able to read…and they did. John 19:20 tells us that “many of the Jews read this sign, as where Jesus was crucified was near the city.” Black letters written on a white tablet, which is what this was said to be, according to the Greek word “epigraphé,” would be easily read. Jesus had claimed that He was the King of the Jews, when Pilate questioned Him (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, and John 18:37), so it makes sense why Pilate wrote this inscription, as this is what he knew was true from questioning Him.

John called the “inscription” a “title,” rather than a crime in his gospel. It’s interesting that a synonym for “inscription” is “epitaph…” Christ’s epitaph was not a crime, though they considered it so. It was one of His many titles. Do you know how “the one chosen” in ancient times was crowned king? A horn full of oil was poured on the top of one’s head for his anointing…to grant him the title/position as king. To be king is an appointment by God (Daniel 2:21). Guess who else was an anointed king (Hebrews 1:8-9)?

“Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary, who was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.”

Matthew 1:16 ISV

“Messiah” also means “Christ” and…

Anointed One!”

Now, that’s an epitaph!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Growing up, around the table before Easter dinner, we’d talk about different aspects of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Maybe this season, you could ask your those you’re celebrating with to discuss:

  • In what areas is Jesus King over your life, and in what areas do you need to let Him reign more?
  • What are some other titles for Jesus? Spend some time in awe of Him.
  • If you were to do die, what epitaph would others write on your tombstone? What title would they give you? What would you be remembered for?

1 “10 Famous Epitaphs: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird.” Merkle Monuments, 1 May 2018, https://www.merklemonuments.com/10-famous-epitaphs-the-good-the-bad-and-the-weird/.

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