This brief sermon was part of a seven last words of Christ from the cross service at First Baptist Church (Niagara Falls, New York). My assignment was the seventh word: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). Much more could be said, but I was working with a ten minute time limit. I’ve preached on the larger context here. The prepared text is below and the video is available here and is also embedded at the bottom of this page.
Luke 23:46 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. (ESV)
Jesus’ seventh word on the cross committed His spirit into the hands of His Father in heaven.
Committing His spirit into the hands of His Father is a fitting conclusion to the words of Christ on the cross. Both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 give us Jesus’ last word from Psalm 22:1, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew and Mark understood that Psalm 22:1 is prophetic and that it was fulfilled on the cross when Jesus cried it out loud. Thus both Matthew and Mark highlighted the objective reality that God had abandoned Jesus on the cross and that God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. We know that God was not personally angry with Jesus but Jesus endured God’s wrath for us and Jesus was forsaken by the Father for us. Jesus felt that abandonment in His very soul and we hear that as He says it in Aramaic and as we hear it translated. However, Jesus also did not feel alone on the cross and He wasn’t alone. Thus the three words of Jesus on the cross in Luke reflect the subjective reality that Jesus was in perfect communion with the Father while on the cross. Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); he told the repentant evildoer, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43); and now says, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). Luke intends for us to infer from these last two that Jesus’ spirit went to be with the Father in Heaven when He died. And Luke wants us to appreciate from all three that Jesus did not feel alone on the cross and that this was a valid view of His situation. Indeed, this subjective reality was possible because Jesus personally was innocent and because Jesus is not only fully human but also fully divine. In other words, Jesus can say, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and say, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” and not contradict Himself for it only appears to be contradictory—it is not contradictory in reality. But allowing Luke to have the last of the last words is fitting since even Psalm 22 later says that God “has not hidden His face from Him” (Psalm 22:24) and ends with expressions of faith. (Thus the seventh word is a fitting conclusion to the words of Christ on the cross. But the seventh word also did something.)
When Jesus said “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He did just that. These were not empty words. To be sure they are a statement of faith. Jesus was quoting Psalm 31:5, which reads, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O YHWH, faithful God.” This is a verse full of faith and trust in a psalm that is full of such statements. But the seventh word was not just a verbal expression of Jesus’ active faith and trust in the Father. Grammatically we speak of it as performative. That is, the seventh word accomplished the very thing that was spoken. Just as God said, “Let there be light” and there was light or just as Pastor Kathleen said in December “I now pronounce you husband and wife” those words made Michele and I married. Thus Jesus said, “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit” and by saying this He breathed out His spirit. Modern translations often say “He breathed His last.” I kinda prefer the way the old English versions put it: “He gave up the ghost.” Either way, “He breathed His last” and “He gave up the ghost” are euphemistic idioms meaning “he died” like when we say he passed away, he is resting in peace, he departed, he was called home, he is in a better place, he met his maker, he kicked the bucket, or his body is, in the immortal words of Monty Python, bereft of life. The Greek word literally means to breathe out but the Gospel writers used it euphemistically for dying like expiring. It is a euphemism for dying that is fitting because it conveys this idea of Jesus breathing out His spirit with His last breath. That’s why the Gospels used that euphemism instead of another one. I prefer the old English translation because it brings out the connection – “He gave up the ghost” or to update the language we might say “He gave up His spirit.” Those who died on a cross ordinarily would continue to suffer for much longer, but Jesus committed His spirit into the hands of the Father and by saying this He breathed out His spirit. (Jesus’ seventh word did something else too.)
Jesus’ seventh word leads some evildoers everywhere to praise God saying Jesus was innocent.
The Roman centurion praised God saying Jesus was innocent in the very next verse. The centurion saw Jesus say this seventh word as He breathed out His final breath. It says, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent’” (Luke 23:47). The centurion realized that Jesus was innocent when he saw that trusting faith with which Jesus faced death and how God answered that faith. He praised God because Jesus spoke this word of committal and it was so. This centurion had probably seen many crucifixions in his career but this was the first time he had seen anything like this. Being crucified was a sign of being under a curse but Jesus’ word was heard by God. Furthermore, this centurion had also heard the exchange between the two criminals where the one rebuked the other, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). And now seeing what had taken place the centurion was compelled to agree that Jesus was indeed innocent. It is worth noting that Luke chose a different word for the criminals than we find in the other Gospels – Luke uses a compound word of evil and doer. Those two men were evildoers or wrongdoers. They were wrongdoers but Jesus did nothing wrong. Or in the words of the centurion, Jesus was innocent. The centurion who says this was one of the soldiers. You will remember that the soldiers also mocked Jesus. But now like the repentant wrongdoer to whom Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” the centurion expressed faith in Jesus.
The seventh word continues to have this effect today for an innocent Jesus died in place of us who were evildoers and who call upon Him for salvation. The crucifixion of an innocent man is a tragedy. The crucifixion of the only sinless person to ever live is a monumental tragedy. The only tragedy that is greater than this is that there are wrongdoers who don’t turn to Jesus for salvation and thus won’t commit themselves, body and spirit, to the Father. Some are in open rebellion against God and others think they are a pretty good person and don’t see what all the fuss is about. But for everyone who hears this word and believes, we praise God and recognize that Jesus is the one who is innocent and He died in the place of those who have done wrong. But death will not get the last word. Thanks be to God. Amen.