"Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit" (Luke 23:46)
“Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit”
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
April 21st, 2019
I. The Will to Live
You may have heard that yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. It was not the first, but with thirteen dead, it was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. It was also the first covered by the media as the incident unfolded. Listen to the following excerpt from a recent article about the town and the survivors twenty years later:
At Aurora Central High School... English teacher Heather Martin... who was a senior at Columbine in 1999, now walks her students through lockdowns, trying to remain calm for them while imploring them to take it seriously. At times, it’s an unnerving reminder of her own high school experience.
“One day last year, we went on a lockdown for a threat in the building, and I was fine during — kept the kids calm, things were OK, and when I got home, that was when the gravity hit me,” she says. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just did this again, I just huddled in a small office, just like I was when I was a senior in high school.’ And that was really overwhelming.”
In the two-hours that followed the first shots at Columbine (before SWAT officers cleared the campus room by room), as staff and students tried to escape, or hide and remain unnoticed, we know what drove, what sustained these individuals was the will to live. Even in the aftermath, and over the course of the intervening years, what's carried the survivors through the heaviness of the trauma is the will to live.
The will to live is a powerful thing. We routinely hear about people enduring incredibly hard, incredibly harsh circumstances, driven forward by that deep, deep desire to survive. But we also know that, at times, there are forces inside us that can overpower that will to live. Sadly, despair is one of those emotional forces. But, as we open God's word this morning, we find yet another one of these overpowering forces. Look with me at Luke chapter 23.
II. The Passage: "Into Your Hands" (23:44-49)
You may remember that this month we've been looking together at what I've called the 'passion prayers' of Jesus. An older sense of the word passion refers to suffering. And that's exactly what's being referenced when we hear about 'the passion' of Jesus. It's a reference to his suffering.
The Gospels tell us that as Jesus suffered on that Roman cross, he made four statements to God. The first was a plea for God to forgive his persecutors. The second was a cry of grief, as he, our sin-bearer, experienced (in some way) a separation from God the Father.
So what about #3? Well, we find our third 'passion prayer' here in Luke 23, verse 46. Let's start reading in verse 44, that way we can get a better sense of the entire context. Listen as we go back a couple days to this past Friday... to Good Friday. Luke 23, verse 44...
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,  while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  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.  Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”  And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.  And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
Okay. So let's real quickly look at how Luke put this paragraph together. Look with me at three parts of this passage. First, in verses 44 and 45 we read about...
1. A Confirmation (vs. 44, 45)
What kind of confirmation do we see here? Or we might ask, what exactly is being confirmed? Well, before we answer that, look at the two signs through which this confirmation comes. First, in verse 44, we read about a strange darkness that came over the whole land. Second, in verse 45, we read that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two”. This curtain was a large curtain that separated two rooms in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Since this curtain restricted access to what was called the “most holy place”, it was a symbol of how human sin keeps us from the holy presence of God.
So like the darkness, the tearing of this curtain was also a supernatural act. So what exactly was being confirmed through these two signs? Well, if the darkness represented the judgment of God (as it often did in the OT), and the tearing of the curtain represented access into the presence of God, then taken together, something radical is being confirmed here: a judgment from God has brought about a restoration with God. The sin that once separated corrupt sinners from the life-giving fellowship of a holy God, that sin has been dealt with.
But how? Well, that leads us into the very next verse. In verse 46, we read about...
2. A Commitment (v. 46)
Let me read that verse again: 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.
Verses 44 and 45 cannot be understood apart from verse 46. It is in the death of Jesus that our sin, the sin that exalts self, the sin that sickens our souls, the sin that stains us, the sin that severs and separates us from God, that sin is dealt with, once and for all. The judgment to which the darkness pointed, that judgment falls on Jesus, the sin-bearer. And the fact his sacrifice is effective is evident from the tearing of the temple curtain. Again, what is being confirmed here? A judgment from God has brought about a restoration with God. As I Peter 3:18 explains it: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God...
But verse 46 records more than just the death of Jesus. It also records another 'passion prayer'. In Luke's Gospel, these are the final words of Christ: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” It's these words that connect us back to our earlier discussion about the 'will to live'. What is more powerful than even the will to live? A willingness to die for others.
Many throughout history have demonstrated a willingness to die for others. Many monuments and memorials honor such sacrifice. But only one man was willing to carry the heaviness, the horror, the humiliation of human sin, to carry our sin up to the cross and suffer the just punishment we deserved. No one took Jesus' life from him. He laid it down. He offered it up. As we read here, he surrendered it to God. He committed his spirit into God's hands, and then breathed his last breath.
But keep that in mind as we look at where Luke goes next. In v. 47, we go on to read about...
3. A Confession (vs. 47-49)
Verse 47 tells us that... when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
What had the centurion witnessed that led him to this confession? As we learned in our first study, he had heard Jesus ask God to forgive his persecutors (Luke 23:34). He had heard Jesus reassure one of the other crucified men with a promise of “paradise” (Luke 23:43). He had seen the strange darkness. And then he witnessed the way Jesus yielded his spirit to God. All of this was enough to persuade this career soldier that Jesus was not a criminal; that he did not deserve to die in this way.
Some may ask, “Why does Luke have the centurion confirm the innocence of Jesus, while Matthew and Mark both record the centurion saying, 'truly this man was the Son of God'?” Well, the centurion may have said both things, one after the other. Or Luke is simply drawing out the implication for his Roman readers. Remember, Greek and Roman readers would have had a hard time swallowing the idea of a crucified Savior. Luke wanted to drive home the fact that the soldier's confession of Jesus as the “Son of God” was a clear confirmation of his innocence. Jesus was no criminal, even though he died a criminal's death.
Verse 48 also confirms this fact. The crowds that once lampooned Jesus, after witnessing his final hours and his eventual death, they are struck with a powerful sense of both guilt and grief. Finally, verse 49, along with verse 55, help set the stage for Sunday morning. It also helps us understand how Luke learned about all of these details surrounding the death of Jesus. These women were witnesses of what happened, and this morning, we are blessed by their testimony.
III. Trusting and Entrusting
Brothers and sisters, friends, in light of all this, you may be sitting here this morning feeling informed, but at the same time, puzzled. You may be asking, “Okay. But what exactly does this have to do with Easter? Why are we talking about this 'passion prayer' on Easter Sunday rather than Good Friday?”
It's a good question. Let me explain the connection by going back the OT. Turn back and look with me at the words of David from Psalm 31...
In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!  Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!  For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me;  you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
Did you hear that? The dying words of Jesus were shaped by Psalm 31. The words of the suffering son of David connect us back to the suffering of David himself. But these words also seem to connect us to the richness of David's hope. He looked to God as a “rock of refuge”, as a “strong fortress”; he looked to God as deliverer, rescuer, redeemer; he looked, he trusted that God was a “faithful God”. Surely, when Jesus yielded his spirit to the Father, he was looking to God with that same hope. But wait... there's more.
You may remember that this is not the only one of these 'passion prayers' that takes us back to the Psalms. Remember what we learned last time. When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was quoting from Psalm 22:1. As we talked about in that earlier message, this cry of Jesus seems to indicate that there really was some kind of separation that took place between Jesus and the Father. But a question we did not ask or answer last time was this: “Did God really forsake Jesus? Did the Father really forsake the Son?” Well listen to how another quotation from the psalm answers that. Turn over to Acts 2. This is what Peter declares on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:22–36...
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. [Why was it not possible?] For David says [in Psalm 16] concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
 For you will not abandon [same word as “forsake”] my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not [i.e., forsaken... he was not] abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. [Paul makes same point in Acts 13:35!]
Brothers and sisters, friends, did Jesus also know Psalm 16? Absolutely. Did he know about this promise when he, like David, committed his spirit into God's hands. Absolutely.
Like David, Jesus could say with certainty: For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. He knew the faithful God to whom he entrusted his spirit. He knew his Father's plan: his story would end with life, not death... which of course means, amazingly, his story would not end.
Brothers and sisters, if the first 'passion prayer' of Jesus powerfully revealed the heart of Jesus, and the second prayer stunningly revealed the suffering of Jesus, then I think it's fair to say that this prayer is revealing the hope of Jesus. Do you see now how these dying words from Good Friday ultimately points us forward to Easter Sunday?
So what should we do with all this? Well, I believe that first Easter Sunday should lead us to this Easter Sunday. It should lead us to the question, “How will your story end?” Could it also be said of you: “his story will end with life, not death... which of course means, amazingly, his story will not end... her story will end with life, not death... which of course means, amazingly, her story will not end.”
Please hear me: the only way that can also be true for you is if you do what Jesus did: in light of the promise of God and the faithfulness of God, you also commit your spirit into his hands. Yes, the promise of Psalm 16 spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah. But listen to how the Apostle Paul explained the connection between his resurrection and yours:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Cor. 15:20–22)
Let's be clear: to commit your spirit into God's hands is not simply a deathbed act. It is an acknowledgment today in light of your helplessness. It is a confession of your present condition under sin. It is a recognition that your choices have sealed your fate and that your hands are inadequate to change that. God's promise to his Messiah must drive us to his Messiah. As Paul told us in another passage: ...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Ro. 10:9)
Friends, if you have not acknowledged your sin and trusted Jesus in that way, I pray you will. There is no better time than today. If your will is to live, to truly live, both now and forever, then eternal life can only be found in one person: Jesus Christ... for only Jesus conquered death.
For those who have trusted Christ in this way, this Easter, I pray the hope of Jesus refreshes, and if necessary, reorients your hope. It's so easy to put our hope in things like medicine and retirement plans. It's tempting to put our hope in politicians or professors or prophets of self-help. I understand the appeal of hoping in one's religious resume. Brothers and sisters, you may know the right answer when it comes to 'the hope of eternal life'. But what do your everyday choices, what do your responses in the face of difficult times, what do your goals and commitments reveal about where your hope is truly placed.
This Easter, may the hope that Jesus demonstrated on the cross, in light of God's promise of resurrection, may that hope encourage all of us to hope as He hoped: in a God who both keeps his promises and raises the dead. May the new life Jesus makes possible through his own new life be yours. Let's pray together in light of these things.