April 10, 2020
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46
Jesus’ last words from the cross are a paraphrase of Psalm 31, where King David says, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” The Psalter is a prayer book. Faithful Jews had been praying Psalm 31 for a thousand years by the time Jesus prayed this verse from the cross. David wrote this Psalm as he was pursued by one of his many enemies throughout his life. Those of us who have put to memory Luther’s morning and evening prayers may find this verse familiar, because it is the basis for this sentence in both prayers, “For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.” Indeed, we should commend our spirit, body, and all we have into the hand of the Lord as long as we live. If our life is in God’s hand, what harm can come to us? Yet, Jesus teaches us from the cross to commend our spirit into God’s hand not only throughout life, but in death.
This is a profound statement. It is common for those who believe in God to entrust their life to God. Many more of us have been doing this the past few weeks. We don’t know what is going to happen. We do not know how great the danger is or when it will pass. But we commend our souls to God, knowing that he who rules the wind and waves can certainly guide us through this storm.
Yet, Jesus teaches us to commend our souls in death, not just in life! And indeed, unless we learn to commend our souls to the Lord in death, we dare not die! For death is a terrible thing if your soul is not in God’s hand! And make no mistake about it; we are all going to die! So, we better learn from our Lord Jesus how to die, as we sing in the hymn:
Teach me to live that I may dread/ The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may/ Rise glorious at the awe-full day. (All Praise to Thee My God, This Night, Thomas Ken, LSB 883:3).
Again, this is what St. Paul teaches us in Romans 14, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Jesus had such faith in God, that he felt confident to lay his soul in his hand even in death as if he were placing a precious treasure securely in a safe and locking it for safe keeping. Even as he felt the torment of hell on the cross, the guilt for the sins of all people, the pains of body and soul, even just moments after he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”, Jesus has the confidence to commend his soul to the Father.
Jesus displayed this confidence before his crucifixion. He declared, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) He told his disciples repeatedly that he would be betrayed into the hands of evil men, be beaten, flogged, and crucified, and on the third day rise.
Yes, we know that Jesus said these things. We confess Christ too. Yet, how did Jesus continue to confess these things, so that his last words on the cross were a confession of this truth? First, Jesus is God. He prayed in the olive grove the night he was betrayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5) Jesus knew that it was impossible for death to hold him, because he is the author of life.
Secondly, because Jesus was perfectly obedient to God. He never sinned. God the Father said to Jesus both at his Baptism and at his Transfiguration, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” As Jesus was crucified, he knew that he never transgressed God’s commandment, even once. He was innocent of all sin. The sins he died for were not his own, but ours.
Thirdly, Jesus believed the words of the Prophets, who declared God’s plan. Isaiah prophesied, “Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:4-7) And the Prophet continues, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he should prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” (vss. 10-11) Jesus knew that he was that lamb led to the slaughter to bear the iniquities of the people. Yet, he knew that though he would suffer, he would be raised from the dead and would see his offspring with prolonged days. This is why Jesus didn’t resist those who arrested him, even though he could bring them to the ground with a word. This is why Jesus committed his spirit into the hand of him who willed to crush him. He had confidence in the promise of Scripture.
Jesus’ confidence to commit his spirit in death to his heavenly Father should give us confidence to commit our spirits to God in death. Not, because we have confidence in ourselves, but because we have confidence in Jesus. We are not God, but Jesus is most certainly God. He proved it with mighty works, by fulfilling the Scriptures, by the testimony of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and of course, through his resurrection and ascension to glory. We are not without sin. We have been disobedient to God. We deserve this plague which is upon us. We deserve to die. Every death reported during the pandemic is a proclamation to each of us that we deserve to die for our sins. We can all recognize with the thief on the cross, “We indeed suffer justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
So, we look to him who did no wrong, yet suffered for our sake. We see that Jesus indeed suffered not for his own sins, but for ours. And being God, Jesus is able to pay for the sins of all people. Indeed, his blood is an infinite source of salvation!
We look to Scripture to see in Jesus our confidence to commit our spirits to God. Scripture states, “‘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 Corinthians 15:55-57)
Death is a reality to us all. We’re all going to die. Death is God’s punishment against sin. And eternal damnation is the punishment after that. God’s wrath against sin is real. We see that in the crucifixion of Christ. Not knowing whether you are on good terms with God before you die is the most terrifying thing you can imagine. And many live that terror. They don’t know whether they have been good enough. They hope. They hope they will pass the test. But Scripture clearly says that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Except for Jesus. And it is through Jesus alone that we are justified and redeemed. Jesus committed his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father in death, so that we sinners might commit our souls to the hand of God without fear. We are reconciled through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is certainly a good example. We should walk with him. Yet, trying to follow Jesus’ example in life will do you no good unless you first follow his example in death. Trust in Christ’s death. Commit your spirit to him, who raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Amen.