“Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit”
(Luke 23:46 – Good Friday – April 15, 2022)
Luke 23:46 – And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Having said this, He breathed His last.
The words spoken in the hour of death can be some of the most tender and intimate. They are deepest expressions of love between family and friends. For believers in Christ, some of the most heartfelt words spoken in the hour of death are in our prayers. Even as we say our last goodbyes this side of heaven, we are lifting our hearts in prayer to Him who alone saves us from death and promises to bring us to live with Him in the eternal joys He is preparing for us.
During this season of Lent, we have been focusing on the seven words, or sayings, of Jesus from the cross. Three of the seven words He spoke were prayers. They were some of the most tender and intimate expressions of a dying Son to His Father. And it is because of Jesus’ prayer, even in His hour of death, that we have been given a living hope in the hour of our death. For not only would He die for us, but He would rise from the dead to give us His eternal life.
Jesus’ first words from the cross had begun with a prayer to His Father. It was a prayer of forgiveness in behalf of those who crucified Him. Indeed, it was a prayer in behalf of us all, for whose sins He was nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even as Jesus suffered at the hands of men, He prayed in that intimacy of the Son who knew His Father’s tenderhearted love – that love of the Father which reaches out to save lost sinners; that love of the Father which even now was not sparing His own Son, but giving Him up for us all, as the sacrifice to pay for our sins and reconcile us to God in peace.
Jesus’ middle words from the cross were a prayer too, but they were different. In that darkest hour of anguish, as God the Father was laying on His Son the iniquity of us all, punishing Him with hellish abandonment, that tenderness and intimacy of Jesus’ first prayer to His Father was missing as He cried out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Yet here, Jesus’ last words from the cross are again a prayer to His Father in most intimate terms. For now, He has suffered everything necessary to redeem us from sin and death. “It is finished!” He has just cried in triumph. And as He is about to lay down His life as the last act of paying the wages of our sin, He prays these seventh words from the cross, words of tender and intimate trust: “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'”
When Jesus prayed these words and bowed His head in death, it was not weak words of resignation by one being overcome by death. For it says He cried out these words with a loud voice: “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Then having said this, He breathed His last. John’s account tells us: “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
Normally, death by crucifixion was a long and drawn out torture. When healthy people were crucified, usually they survived at least 12 hours; but victims might linger many days before death put an end to it. But Jesus died only 6 hours after being nailed to the cross. Even Pontius Pilate marveled that He was already dead, when Joseph of Arimathea came to ask for His body.
This is because Jesus willingly gave up His life; for His work of saving us was now finished. Our Savior met death with a cry of triumph as death’s Conqueror. Death had no power over Him, for He is the Lord of life. As the one who had come to conquer sin and death, He gave His life as the ultimate sacrifice for us all, a willing sacrifice in obedience to His Father. As Jesus had explained: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
Therefore with that loud cry, the beloved Son of God prayed confidently: “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Jesus entrusted His human soul into those loving hands with most tender and intimate trust. Even as His spirit left His body, it was in view of His triumphant resurrection in body and soul on the third day, Easter morning.
In the death of God’s Son, we learn something about the moment of our death as believers. For God has made us His children through baptism and faith. Already, He has united our souls to the life of His Son. So what happened to Jesus in the moment of death will happen to us.
First of all, unlike the opinions of many, we know the death of the body is not the end. The human soul is not annihilated, but continues to exist after death. Nor is there a kind of soul sleep, in which a person is in a deep unconscious state, unaware of anything. Nor does the soul wander about seeking a resting place, revisiting places in this world, as in the ideas of ghosts. Nor does the soul go into a place called purgatory, to spend time in the punishments of fire.
Rather, we know from Scripture that at the moment of death, the soul leaves the body and returns to God for judgment (Hebrews 9:27). In the case of unbelievers, already in this life their soul was spiritually dead; for it was not joined to the life of Christ by faith to the only Savior of sinners. For them, the soul continues in the everlasting death and God-forsakenness of hell.
But for the child of God in Christ, just like His Son, though the body dies the soul goes into those loving hands of our Father in heaven. As Jesus promised the repentant and believing criminal on the cross, as soon as death comes to the body the soul goes to be with Him in paradise. Then on the day of resurrection, Jesus will call forth our bodies from the graves, glorified and reunited with our souls. And we will live in glorious joys forevermore, in that wonderful place He has prepared for us in His Father’s Kingdom.
In light of all this, now we know how to prepare for death. We prepare rightly through faith in Jesus’ death for us; in which He has taken away all our sin and removed the curse of death from us. And we prepare rightly through faith in Jesus’ resurrection for us; in which He lives to forgive all our sins and grant us the blessing of eternal life.
From Jesus, we learn how to meet death rightly as we look up to our Father in heaven with childlike trust in His Word and promises. And we learn to meet death with prayer as dear children of our Father in haven, as we commit our lives to Him in Jesus’ name.
We see first that Jesus Himself met death with the Word of God on His lips and in His heart. Here in the moment of death, He prays the Word of Scripture in Psalm 31:5: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit.” This was nothing new. Just as all throughout His life that Word had been Jesus’ constant companion and source of strength and comfort, so also now it was in the hour of death.
What an example for us! Every day, as we prepare for our last hour in this world, what could be more important than keeping the Word and promises of God in our hearts and on our lips? When our bodies are failing, when nothing else can save us, the Word of God and His promises in Christ can never fail us.
In that dark hour, Satan may cast his fiercest assaults against us. He may tempt us to feel that God has forsaken us. As the accuser, he may show us the ugliness of our sins and the sheer number of them, and tempt to despair by that question: “How can you ever be forgiven? How can you ever be counted worthy to enter God’s presence in heaven? How can you escape the judgment of God’s own Law that condemns the sinner to hell?”
But even then, the Word of God which we have held dear in our hearts will be our comfort and strength. For how does God respond to such accusations against us? We already have His answer at the cross. Already, God has condemned His Son for our sins. Already Jesus has born the hellish God-forsakenness and death our sins deserved. Already, Jesus has cried on the cross: “It is finished!” Therefore in Christ, God declares us perfectly forgiven, and set free from all condemnation. Not only that, God is counting to us the sinless life of His Son, who fulfilled the whole Law of God for us. Now as we are baptized into Christ, God sees us cleansed of all sin by His blood and clothed in His righteousness; and God counts us worthy as His holy children and heirs of heaven.
So even in the hour of death, we cling to the Word of God which has sustained our faith through life, and we need not fear. We cling to the promise of Jesus in John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
It is the same Word and promises of God in Christ which form the prayers in our hearts and on our lips. Here, we see that Jesus Himself met death with confident prayer to His Father. Again, it was nothing new. Hadn’t Jesus spent His whole life in prayer to His Father, casting all His burdens on Him, calling on Him for strength, asking that His will be done, praying to the very end: “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit'”?
Again, what encouragement it is for us to be constant in prayer. Each day, Jesus teaches us to pray to “Our Father who art in heaven,” lifting up to Him every need of body and soul, entrusting our whole lives to Him for Jesus’ sake. As we are in the Word of God, He leads us to pray with Psalm 31:14-15: “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.” And that lifelong prayer of childlike trust will not change in the hour of death. Even as our bodies are failing, yet the Spirit of God in us intercedes for us with groanings that words cannot express; and Christ Himself intercedes for us at the right hand of His Father (Romans 8:26, 34). Even then as we breathe our last, by the faith God has given us in His Son, as His dear children we pray from our hearts: “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
And just like Jesus, that prayer of faith is a cry of triumph. For as surely as He lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). In the moment our eyes close and our senses fade this side of heaven, Jesus will open our eyes to inexpressible joys and wonders of paradise in the presence of God. We shall see God the Father, who has loved us with an everlasting love that gave His Son for us. We shall see God the Son, who loved us and gave Himself for us. We shall see God the Holy Spirit, who loves us and joined us by faith to our Savior in the life that never ends. And together as the children of God, we shall join the heavenly host, singing:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.