Thursday, April 19, 2012

Luke 23:46 "Father Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit"

The Season of Lent began on February 22 with Ash Wednesday and culminates today in the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Throughout this season we have been focusing our thoughts on the seven statements spoken by Jesus Christ as He died on the cross. The great Puritan Bible scholar Matthew Henry wrote that “one reason that He died the death of the cross what that He might have liberty of speech to the last, and so might glorify His father and edify those around Him.”[1] Think about that for a moment. No other mode of execution would provide Jesus the opportunity to speak these wonderful words of grace that do so much to enlighten us to His love, His suffering on our behalf, and His purpose in dying to redeem us from sin. In the first saying, when He prayed for His Father to forgive His murderers, we saw His infinite mercy. In the second, when He promised paradise to the repentant criminal, we saw His abundant grace. In the third, when He entrusted the care of His mother to the Apostle John, we saw His tender compassion. In the fourth saying, after the sky was darkened and as He bore the sins of humanity under the flood of God’s judgment, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In that expression, we see His intense agony. In the fifth saying, as Jesus said, “I thirst,” we saw His unique character. In the sixth saying, as He said, “It is finished,” we saw His complete mission. And now we come to the final of the seven sayings. After uttering this statement, Luke and Mark say that “He breathed His last.” John and Matthew speak of how He “bowed His head” and “gave up” or “yielded up His spirit.” This is the final dying word of the Savior.

I remind you of the extent of His suffering that He has endured. In addition to dealing, throughout His life, with opposition from the religious and political leaders of His day, undoubtedly orchestrated by Satan to destroy the Messiah before His mission was completed, we know that He was betrayed by one of His own disciples and handed over to His enemies. In that moment, every one of His followers abandoned Him. Bounced around in a kangaroo court where He faced false charges from lying witnesses who had received payment to speak against Him, Jesus was convicted in the greatest mockery of justice the world has ever known. He was tortured extensively, from beatings to scourgings, not to mention the shameful mockery He endured before ultimately being sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be executed in a cowardly attempt to appease a bloodthirsty mob. Crucifixion was the cruelest form of execution ever devised in the minds of sinful men. After carrying the heavy cross to the place of death, the victim of crucifixion would be stretched out, the joints being ripped from the sockets to add to the pain and misery and make the process of dying all the more excruciating. Then, nails would be driven through the wrists and the crossed ankles of the victim as they were raised up in public shame and humiliation. The death would be long and agonizing. In addition to traumatic blood-loss, dehydration, and agonizing pain, the cause of death in crucifixion was almost always suffocation. As the body weakened, it was harder to draw in breath. The victim would fight for breath, pressing against the spike in the feet to thrust the body upward and outward to inhale. Eventually, exhaustion, pain, and complete agony would make breathing impossible. Jesus endured all of this.
But we must remember that He endured it for us and for our salvation. He died the death of a wicked sinner, though He was completely righteous. The death He died was that of a sacrificial substitution. He died under the providence and purpose of God in our place. In Him all of our sins might receive their just penalty under the justice of a Holy God. Every sacrificial lamb, and goat, and bull that had ever been slain under the sacrificial system of Israel had foreshadowed the day when Jesus would become for us the ultimate sacrifice. God Himself, incarnate in human flesh, would bear our sins that we might be reconciled to Him. And now the end of that process has drawn nigh. He utters one final saying, and then He gives up His spirit to death. As we look at this final saying, we see that it is not the helpless cry of a hopeless victim. It is rather the triumphant cry of a victorious King, whose mission to redeem His people from sin is now complete. There is an understated humility and meekness in these final words, but at the same time, a tone of intimacy, confidence, and sovereignty over life and death as He says, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

I. The Dying King Speaks Intimately

The Fourth Commandment prohibits the taking of God’s name in vain. While we usually associate this with a specific set of blasphemous vulgarities, to take God’s name in vain means something broader. It means to use God’s name in empty and meaningless ways. Over the centuries, some have taken this commandment more seriously than others. When pious Jews would come across the covenant name of God in Scripture, they would substitute the name Adonai for YHWH, thinking that it would prevent them from misusing the covenant name. At various points in Israel’s history, people would speak impersonally of God by referring merely to Heaven, or pronominally by simply saying, “Him.” On the other end of the spectrum, we might point to modern man’s tendency to speak flippantly of God as “the Man upstairs,” or “the Big Man,” or something ridiculous like that. But when Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son, spoke of God in a way that no one ever had before. He spoke of God as His Father. Though God had been spoken of in times past as the Father of Israel, no one dared to speak of Him with such intimacy as to call Him their own Father. It would have been considered blasphemous and vanity to be so familiar with Him. Jesus changed all that.

In every time but once, in the fourth saying of the cross when He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” Jesus always addressed God as “Father.” In that unique occurrence when He refers to His Father as, “My God,” He did so because the intimacy of their eternal coexistence was ruptured as He bore the sins of humanity under the full measure of divine and holy wrath. The severity of that judgment was so intense that all of creation was affected. The sky grew completely dark in the midst of the day and the earth shook. But here, with the full penalty now paid for the sins of humanity by the shedding of His blood and the world-saving mission now completed in His death, He is able to speak once more with the affection and intimacy that He had known for all eternity. He says at last, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Of course, He could uniquely claim this for Himself, being the divine, coequal, coeternal Son, and Second Person of the Triune Godhead. But Jesus did not reserve this intimacy merely for Himself; He taught His followers that they too could speak to God and address Him as “our Father.” The Bible tells us that all who receive Jesus Christ are adopted as the sons and daughters of God. He becomes in truth a Father to us all through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. It is the great longing of God that all of His children in this family of faith would know the intimacy of a personal relationship with Him that Jesus experiences and makes possible for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, before His arrest, Jesus prayed, that His followers “may all be one,” saying, “even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). Jesus had prayed in that prayer with great intimacy, calling out to God as “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36), using the most tender of all expressions, akin to us saying, “Daddy” or “Papa.” And the Apostle Paul said that we, as followers of Jesus, can use the same intimate terminology as we approach the God of the universe. In Romans 8:15-17, he writes, “you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Again in Galatians 4:6-7, he says, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” The death of Jesus makes this possible for us, by removing our sins and covering us with the very righteousness of Jesus Himself.

But in our suffering, we are so prone to forget that we have been loved with this kind of intimate love! It doesn’t take much for us to forget that the God who created the universe and who reigns over all in glorious sovereignty is in fact our Father! Notice Jesus, enduring the most cruel hardship ever experienced by anyone in human flesh, crying out to God and casting Himself upon Him as His intimate Father! Oh that we, the adopted sons and daughters of God, might rest in the intimacy of the only begotten Son as we cry out to God in the hardships of life and even in the face of death! The King of Kings, the Lord Jesus, speaks intimately as He addresses the Father with His dying breath.

II. The King Speaks Sovereignly

Have you ever been in a situation when things were completely beyond your control and you felt helplessly dragged along by your circumstances or the will of another? Some of us experienced that a year ago when we crossed the border from India to Nepal late one evening. In a rustic and dark border control shack, we sat in front of an Indian official and heard him tell us that if we crossed the border, we could not return. This didn’t go along with our plans. We had planned to cross that same border back into India two weeks later. I plead our case and produced documentation, but to no avail. The man said, “You can go to Nepal tonight, but if you do, you cannot come back to India.” There was nothing we could do to change his mind. He was in control, and we were at his mercy, and he didn’t have any. But we had come to go to Nepal, and to Nepal we must go, not knowing if or how we would get back to India, or home to the U.S.A. We were not in control of any aspect of that at this point. It was very unsettling.

Often we are tempted to look at the suffering and death of Jesus in a similar way. We see Him being hauled off from Gethsemane by an armed contingent, and dragged from one authority to another who pronounce His fate. And then we see Him being nailed to the cross and hung to die. It seems to us that everything is radically out of His control and that He is at the whim of wicked people. But this is not accurate. At no moment in this entire episode is Jesus ever out of control. At no moment is He a helpless victim. He is not passive in His dying. He is the active agent, sovereignly in control of all that is transpiring. We see this by His words, “I commit my spirit,” followed by His deliberate act of bowing His head and breathing His last. Everything, including His dying breath was in His complete control.

In John 10:17-18, Jesus said, “I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” At the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword from the mob that had come to take Him away, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Pilate said to Him, “Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus said, “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11). Jesus was in control of the whole ordeal. And when it came time to die, it was Jesus who determined when and how He would go. Augustine said, Christ gave up His spirit in death “because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it.”[2] Those at the scene of the crucifixion could not believe that He was dead so quickly (“quickly” being a relative term, for hours had elapsed). In order to hasten death so that the bodies could be removed from the crosses before the Sabbath, the soldiers came around to break the legs of the victims so that they could no longer raise up to draw breath. But when they came to Jesus and found Him already dead, they could not believe it! In order to prove that He was really dead, the Bible says that “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). He did not need their assistance to hasten His death. When He knew that the time was at hand, He voluntarily breathed His last and committed His spirit to His Father. He was sovereign until the very end, including over the very moment of His death.

Now, in this sense, Jesus is utterly unique. None of us can control when we will die. You may object to that and ask, “What about suicide?” Surely you know that many attempt to take their own life and fail to do so. They try to end their life but they live on, in whatever state, with all the scars and shame of their failed attempt. The fact remains that we do not control the moment of our death. But as Jesus was sovereign over His dying moment, He too is sovereign over ours. And if we have lived knowing Him as Lord and Savior, then we can rest in His sovereign control over our lives and our deaths without fear, knowing that when our final breath draws nigh, our spirit – that immaterial part of our being that will live on eternally in heaven or hell – will depart in the hands of our Savior. It was in this tranquil peace that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died. Acts 7:59 records his dying words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Because Christ was sovereign over His own life and death, we know that He is also in control of our own, and we can live and die without fear, knowing that because He committed His own spirit to the Father as He died for us, we can commit ours to Him as we live and as we die.

The dying King spoke intimately to His Father, and sovereignly as the Lord of life and death as He died on the cross. But I want to conclude by pointing out how confidently He spoke in His dying breath.

III. The Dying King Speaks Confidently.

Of the many fears and phobias that afflict humanity, one of the most common is the fear of the unknown. For example, if you hear a rattling of the door, you may fear what caused it. Perhaps it was an intruder, or it could have merely been the wind. But until you know for certain, there is a sense of fear at what could be causing the rattling sound. But suppose you knew that it was your loving father opening the door and ready to embrace you and lavish you with gifts? If you know that, then all fear is removed. Another fear that often grips human beings is the fear of death. I can’t help thinking that the fear of the unknown underlies much of our fear of death. We fear death when we do not know what is on the other side of the door. But if we knew that on the other side of death’s door, there was a gracious and loving Father who would be there to receive us and embrace us and to lavish gifts of unspeakable glory upon us, then the fear of death would vanish. We could face death with confidence and assurance. And that is how Jesus faced death.

There is confidence in the words of Jesus as He says that He is committing His spirit into the hands of His Father. Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit. Jesus is not here committing His spirit to the great unknown. As He yields His life up to death, He knows that He is committing His Spirit into the hands of His Father. It is interesting how the word hand is used in the suffering and death of Jesus. While they were still in Galilee, Jesus had told His followers that He would be delivered into the “hands of men, and they will kill Him” (Mk 9:31). At Gethsemane, He told His disciples that the hour was at hand and “the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt 26:45). Yet here, when it comes time to die, Jesus knows that He is not in the hands of these sinful men, but in the hands of His Father. Thus Peter can speak of the entire ordeal in Acts 2:23, saying that Jesus had been nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men who put Him to death, but that it all occurred by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.

Jesus’ confidence in the face of death assures us that this is not the end. If death meant merely the end of existence, then there would be nothing to commit to the Father. If eternal suffering and perdition awaited on the other side of death, then there could be no confidence in committing Himself to the Father. But Jesus knew full well that on the other side of death there was life that continued on, a glorious life in the presence of His Father where He had eternally dwelt and shared in the glory of Triune deity. There is a confidence in knowing that though His body will go into the grave, His spirit will be with the Father in mere moments. He had promised the thief, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” And there they would come into the presence of the Father together.

But Jesus also knew that death was not the end of His body. He knew, and had announced to His disciples in advance, that after He was killed, He would rise from the dead. Thus, though His dying word is a prayer to His Father, it is not His final word. After rising from the dead, Jesus would continue on in the presence of His disciples for forty days before ascending to His Father. And Jesus has promised all of us who follow Him by faith that the same future awaits us. When death comes, our spirit will depart to be with God. As the Apostle Paul said, “I … desire to depart and be with Christ” (Php 1:23), and in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” But we also have the promise that we will follow Christ in resurrected glory as our bodies rise from the grave on the final day. Jesus said, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming … for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, " DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:22-23; 52-57).

Death’s only advantage over us comes through the fear of standing before a holy God and having to deal with our sins. But if we know that Christ has come and conquered our sin and the law that stands to condemn us through His death, and conquered death and hell for us through His resurrection, then all fear is gone. We who have trusted in Jesus by faith can look death in the face and say, “Where is your sting?” We know that there is life eternal to be gained immediately and ultimately when our bodies will burst forth like Christ’s from the tomb in resurrected glory!

At the Council of Constance in 1415, the great evangelical Gospel leader Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic for preaching the simple of Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone – the same message that we preach here every Sunday. And after condemning Hus to be burned at the stake, the leading bishop said, “We commit thy soul to the devil!” But Jan Hus steadfastly declared in response, “I commit my spirit into Thy hands Lord Jesus Christ. Unto thee I commend my spirit, which Thou hast redeemed.” Hus had the same kind of Easter confidence that the Lord Jesus Himself and all of His faithful followers have had through twenty centuries of Christian History! Because we know that Christ has redeemed us from sin and its penalty through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, we can face death without fear, knowing that our spirit has been entrusted to God and that life everlasting awaits beyond the grave. Because Jesus said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit,” we who are His by faith can say the same thing in the face of death.

As we close in prayer, I would like to ask you to consider the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He did this for you and for your salvation. If you have never trusted in Him before, I pray that this day you might you might behold Him dying on the cross for your sins, and conquering death for you through His resurrection, and turn to Him in repentance and faith and receive Him as your Lord and Savior. And if you have, then I pray that this Easter, you would consider these final words of Jesus, and know that because of His life and death and resurrection, you have been granted a wonderful intimacy with God. You need not cower from Him in fear or wonder about His love for you. He is your Father, and you can live in the embrace of His love. And you can trust completely in the sovereignty of God over all that comes your way in life and even in death. Knowing this, you can face each new day, even and including your final day, in the confidence that your spirit has been committed to Him, and He has redeemed you to Himself in a relationship that can never be severed, not even by death. There is life beyond the grave. Easter is a reminder that He lives, and that in Him you have life everlasting as well.

[1] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), 1907.
[2] Augustine, On the Holy Trinity, Book IV, Chapter 13, Paragraph 16 (page 78 in this edition);  in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, Series 1, Volume 3. Accessed Online schaff/npnf103.pdf. Accessed April 5, 2012. 

No comments: