Pastor James Preus
April 15, 2022
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
Let us pray:
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.
Amen. (LSB 883:3, Thomas Ken)
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”, Jesus cried before he died. This is same Jesus, who from the cross cried out in dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This is the same Jesus upon whom the sins of the whole world were laid, so that even in the garden before a whip had made a single stripe on his back, he sweat drops of blood under their burden. Where does he get the confidence to commit his spirit into the hands of the Almighty God, who had forsaken him on the cross and who has so willed to crush him? Because Jesus Christ is true God, begotten and beloved of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, and as true man, he is completely innocent of all sin. Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God, who has fully and completely fulfilled the entire Law under which we were once enslaved.
Jesus did not find himself nailed to the cross by accident. It was for this purpose that he came into the world. John the Baptist declared him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus himself declared several times that he would be delivered over to evil men and be crucified and on the third day rise. This was all part of God’s plan to redeem us. Jesus said, “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) This is also why St. Peter declared after Jesus’ ascension on Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24) And not only did Jesus have confidence that he would rise from the dead on the third day, he had confidence that his soul would dwell with the Father in heaven, as he said to the thief on the cross, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). This was all part of God’s plan.
Yet, this does not mean that it was all for show. Jesus didn’t pretend to suffer on the cross for our sins. He did not pretend to die. He wasn’t acting when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” No, the suffering Jesus’ endured was real. The divine abandonment was real. The sins he bore were real sins with real guilt. Jesus bore hell on the cross for us. And the death he died was a real death. His soul departed his body. His body became inanimate and cold. Our God and brother hung dead on the cross. Jesus died.
Yet, he was not afraid to die. He died confident that he had done no wrong, confident that he had fulfilled all that God required of him and of every human being. He died confident that he had fully paid for every sin laid upon him and that he was returning to his Father in peace.
Jesus’ last words, “into your hands I commit my spirit!”, are actually a quote from King David in Psalm 31. And Martin Luther paraphrases it in his morning and evening prayers, “Into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.” So, Jesus is by no means the first or the last person to pray these words to our heavenly Father. Yet, had Jesus not said these words, had he not commended his soul in death to our heavenly Father, no one would ever be able to utter this prayer.
Jesus once said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul, but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) How can we commit our spirit into the hand of him, who has the authority to destroy our soul in hell? God commands that you be perfect. You know the commandments. You shall have no other gods before the LORD. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. You shall not despise God’s Word and preaching. Honor your father and mother. You shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not covet. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Well, have you done these things perfectly? Have you satisfied God’s standard of perfection? Are you comfortable committing your soul into the hands of a righteous Judge?
Throughout history, there have been stories of people, even some ostensibly very righteous people, who have had great fits of terror on their death beds. They are terrified to die, because they know that after death comes judgment. While horrible and faithless as this is, these dying fools had much more sense than seems to be common today. No one sees the urgency in death today. They fear death. You can tell that by how they hide from it and deny it. You see it as people shunned the words of eternal life and the medicine of immortality, because some priests of science told them to give up meeting together in order to stay healthy. But today, few take notice that when they die they will meet their Maker, their Judge. They march toward death in arrogance, claiming to have no regrets. But they would be much wiser to know that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
Yet, should you be so terrified to die? Should the knowledge that after death comes judgement and that you have not fulfilled God’s Law, that God is indeed a righteous God, terrify you? No. Rather, you should have confidence to face death and say, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
When Jesus suffered on the cross for the sins of the whole world, he suffered for your sins, for all of them. That means that when Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”, he was confident that all of your sins were atoned for by his suffering and death. If any of your sins remained, Jesus would not be able to say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Rather, he himself would be terrified to die. But because Jesus has said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” you have the right to say these sweet words as well with confidence that they are true.
King David first penned these words in Psalm 31:5; the full verse is, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” Indeed, that is how we may commit our spirits to the LORD. He has redeemed us with the precious blood of Christ Jesus and his innocent sufferings and death. God has purchased our salvation. You have been bought with a price! The prophet Isaiah writes, “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) St. Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24) St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Again the Apostle Paul writes, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14) Again Scripture says, “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification, therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 4:25-5:1)
These words of comfort are not a hypothetical theory. Jesus died for these words. He Himself committed his soul to the Father having taken on your sins. This is not a superficial statement. Jesus took ownership of your transgressions, atoned for them, and then with full confidence, committed his soul to the Father, so that you can do the same.
We not only commit our souls to our heavenly Father in death, we commit our souls to the Father in life. God alone can keep us faithful. God alone can lead us out of temptation, out of unbelief and other great shame and vice. And he does this through Jesus Christ alone. Every morning and evening we commit our souls to God our heavenly Father for the sake of the suffering and death of his dear Son, trusting that God will guide our ways, lead us out of temptation, forgive our sins, protect us from danger, and keep us in the true faith. And in this way, we are ready for death at all times. Death no longer can terrify us, not because we are ignorant of judgment or arrogant before God, but because Christ has taken that terror away from us. He committed his soul to the Father and in so doing, he has paved a path for our souls as well.
Let us pray:
I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously kept me this day. And I pray that you would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night, for into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things, let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.