Father, Into Your Hands

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Luke 23:46

So at the very end, death came quietly with Jesus breathing out his life, literally expiring with a prayer, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The moment of Jesus’ death imprinted itself indelibly upon the memories of all who witnessed it. No one who was there ever forgot the sights and sounds of Golgotha on Good Friday afternoon especially the way it ended. Even the soldiers who made up the crucifixion detail were impressed, and that’s saying a lot. They began by making fun of Jesus, mocking his Royal Highness, the so-called King of the Jews. On Golgotha they laughed at his agony and tossed dice for his clothes at the foot of the cross. Service in the Roman army tended to harden a man to the sight of suffering and death. But by the time Jesus died these hard-bitten Roman legionnaires had a different attitude. In fact, the centurion who commanded them, cried out as Jesus breathed his last, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

I wonder what made a veteran Roman officer like that offer such a remarkable testimony to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Well, for one thing, there were the amazing signs that accompanied Jesus’ final hours. From noon until three o’clock an eerie, supernatural darkness descended upon Golgotha. And at the moment when Jesus expired, the world of nature was convulsed as if Jerusalem itself was suffering its death-pangs. Here’s how the gospel of Matthew’s describes that moment.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Matthew 27:50-54

But it wasn’t just the darkness and the earthquake and the splitting rocks that impressed the soldiers. It was the way Jesus died and the words that Jesus spoke from the cross that made even these coarse and hardened Romans take notice. The whole scene drew from them an awe-filled testimony to Jesus’ goodness and grace. Mark’s gospel reports the testimony this way: “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. . . . Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:57, 59).

FATHER, INTO YOUR HANDS”

At the very end, the Gospels tell us that Jesus cried out in a loud voice. According to the Fourth Gospel, what Jesus cried out was a shout of accomplishment and victory: “It is finished!” That cry, his sixth word from the cross, was a triumphant assertion that with his death Jesus had completed the work he came to do, the work of salvation which demanded his life as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. In John’s gospel Jesus is the Lamb of God the ultimate sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world. “Then,” John adds in describing the moment of Jesus’ death, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

But Luke, in his account, tells us that as Jesus did so, he spoke one more time, the seventh and final word from the cross: “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice,” Luke tells us, “he said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46, NKJV). So at the very end, death came quietly, with the Lord Jesus breathing out his life, literally expiring, in a prayer. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This seventh word from the cross, like several of the others, is a quotation from the book of Psalms. Jesus died with the scriptures on his lips, which is not a bad thing to remember when our time comes. Here are the opening verses of the 31st Psalm.

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. . . . 3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

Then comes verse 5:

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

Psalm 31:1-5

In both the psalmist’s version and the prayer that Jesus offered, these words are a wonderful expression of faith and trust. Jesus, you see, knew whom he was talking to when he addressed God in prayer. As always, it was “Father.” His whole life had been about doing his Father’s work, fulfilling his Father’s purpose, obeying his Father’s will. Even as a boy he had told his parents that he must be about his Father’s business. Whenever he prayed, which was often, he always called God his “Father,” and he taught his followers to do the same. So when the time came for him to die, Jesus knew where to turn.

He also knew where he was going. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Death for Jesus was not the great unknown, not a blind leap into the void, into the darkness. Earlier, you recall, he had made a promise to the man who died beside him, the thief who turned to him in faith: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s an ancient Christian tradition, based on an obscure verse of scripture, that after his death Jesus descended into hell and set free the Old Testament believers who were captives there. Whether or not that is the right understanding of that verse, we must not think that Jesus spent the days between his crucifixion and resurrection cut off from God in hell.

I believe that, in a spiritual sense, Jesus did descend into hell. But he did that on the cross when he experienced, for a time, the judgment of God upon human sin. Jesus did not go to hell in the literal sense of spending the time between Good Friday and Easter in the place of damnation.

When Jesus died, his body rested for three days in the tomb, awaiting resurrection on Easter morning. But his spirit returned to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The Son of God was reunited with his Father, after offering the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin. And three days later he was vindicated and glorified by his resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, said that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection is the proof that Jesus really was who he said he was. It is the confirmation of all his claims and promises.

Imagine if Jesus had not risen three days after he died. What would that have done to his words from the cross? His promise to the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” would sound like empty bravado. His cry, “It is finished” would refer to nothing more than his life. His dying prayer, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” would be little more than wishful thinking.

NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP”

But Christ has been raised, and that changes everything for him. It changes everything for us, too, if we have put our trust in him. Because I belong to him, because he has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, I can be sure of eternal life. I have a real and living hope for the future.

Just this morning I was reading about the current spiritual crisis in the country of Japan. Public opinion polls report that some 60% of the Japanese people say they feel afraid every day. “What people need in this situation is hope in the Christian sense of the word,” says Maasaki Suzuki, a well-known Japanese musician and a Christian. “But,” he adds, “hope is an alien idea” in Japan. The Japanese language doesn’t even have a word for hope in the Christian sense, that is, hope for the future, including hope for life after death.

But if I belong to Jesus Christ by faith, I have hope. And I can hope for grace from him to die the same way he did in faith and without fear. I too can entrust my spirit into God’s hands, knowing with the confidence born of faith that for me, to die is to depart and be with Christ.

Jesus’ death and resurrection transforms the experience of death for everyone who knows and loves him. We who have put our trust in him can follow him even into death with a childlike faith. In the mid-sixteenth century, two bishops of the Church of England, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were sentenced to be burned at the stake for their adherence to the Reformed faith. In his last letter to his family Latimer wrote:

Die once we must; how and where we know not. Happy are they whom God giveth . . . to die for his sake. Here is not our home; let us therefore accordingly consider things, having always before our eyes the heavenly Jerusalem, and the way thereto in persecution.

The night before the execution a friend offered to stay with Ridley for company. “No, no,” he replied, “that you shall not. For I mind, God willing, to go to bed and sleep as quietly tonight as ever I did in my life.” And the next morning Ridley, who was a bachelor, said with a smile as he went out to the execution stake that he was going to his wedding.

This is how Christians can face death, and not only death, but life! Whatever fears or problems you may be confronting, remember this simple prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I’ll tell you a little secret about myself. I pray that prayer silently each time I get on an airplane. But really, it should be our daily prayer, too, shouldn’t it? For example, we could pray it each night before we go to bed, like the bedtime prayer I learned when I was a little boy

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Or we could pray it each morning when we wake up to begin another day. “Father, I commit myself into your hands today.”

Most of all, if we know Jesus Christ, if we love him as our Savior and live for him as our Lord, we can pray this prayer when our time comes to die. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And if we do, we may be sure that we will not only sleep in him, but because of Easter Day, we will wake again and rise to share his glory.