Luke 23:46 ‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.’ (NIV)
This is the last of Christ’s seven sayings from the cross. These are the final words of Jesus before he died. They were uttered as he completed his life’s work and stood on the very border between this world and the next. Ponder them with me for a few moments.
These are words of calm restfulness. Not long before, a midnight darkness had enveloped Jesus’ soul. The bright sunshine of his Father’s presence seemed no longer to shine on him; all he knew was the black horror of divine wrath. It had been the will of the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief, and the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all. An eternity of suffering was compressed into three dreadful hours. And there had been torn from him that aweful cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But now he is in the light again. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” These words show that calm and peace has been restored to his soul after those hours of darkness and dereliction. Now the Saviour, for all his physical torture, enjoys calm restfulness and joyful communion. The communion he had enjoyed with his Father throughout all eternity is restored, never, ever, to be broken again.
These are words of sovereign resolve. They are uttered, not as a plaintive sigh, but with a loud voice. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” ‘I lay it down; I deposit it’. Here is a powerful reminder that our Saviour’s death was a voluntary laying down of his life as an act of willing sacrifice. Jn 10:18 “No-one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” He could have saved himself, but for our sakes he chose the death of the cross. He deposited his spirit with his Father, that it might be received, and then re-united with his body on the third day.
These are words of joyful anticipation. He had already shouted from the cross, “It is finished”. In doing so he had announced that his work on earth was complete, and so he bade farewell to the world he was about to leave. Now he cries with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. Thus our Lord greets the world on whose borders he is now standing. Now, as he departs this earthly life, what does he see before him? Does he see ahead of him an unfathomable abyss, a gulf of darkness, a senseless chaos? No: he sees hands; he sees the hands of his Father; and into these hands he commits his spirit.
There is a sense in which our Lord’s dying words provide an example for all his followers. Certainly, these words had already been used for centuries by the Jews as an evening prayer. They had originally been penned by King David as a prayer of trust in time of trouble, Psalm 31:5. Very similar words had been prayed much later by Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who as the stones and rocks were hurled at him followed his Master not only in praying that his murderers might be forgiven, but also in committing his own spirit into the hands of his Lord. And so, as a daily expression of trustfulness; as a plea for divine help in time of special need; as a final prayer of commitment as they prepare to depart this life, these words have continued to bring comfort and strength to countless Christian believers.
But in following our Lord’s example of restfulness, resolve, and joyful anticipation, let us never forget the unique achievement of his death. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.’ Jesus is not only an example, he is our Rescuer, our Saviour, our Redeemer. May each of us find to be such for us today, that we may know him for time and for eternity as our companion, guide, and example.
And so, as he closed his eyes in death, Jesus’ spirit rested in his Father’s hands as peacefully as a baby on its mother’s breast. Nothing more remained to be done, and so by a voluntary act he dismissed his spirit. Redemption was complete, and all that remained was the resurrection of the body as God’s seal of final acceptance of the life-giving sacrifice of his beloved Son.