“The Seventh Word: Father, Into Your Hands . . .”
Luke 23:44-46 Easter April 12, 2009
SI: We’re meditating on the words Jesus spoke as he was dying on the cross.
These are often called the Seven Last Words or the Seven Words of the Cross,
because Jesus spoke seven times.
INTRO: This afternoon we’re going to Black Mountain, NC for a few days.
Even though we’ve been there a lot, sometimes stop at the NC visitors center
on I-40. There is a big rack full of brochures of tourist things to see and do.
We look through those brochures for interesting things in the Black Mountain area
that we don’t know about that we might want to see.
Any time you go on a trip you want to find out about the place you are going.
That’s especially true if you have never been there before.
Let’s say you were going out West, going to see the Rockies or Grand Canyon.
Or maybe going to Europe or some other far away place and never been there.
You would go to the travel section of Books a Million, buy a travel book.
Or you would get on-line and see what you could find out about where
you are staying and what you will be seeing and how you need to get ready.
There is a journey you are going to take one day to a place you’ve never been.
You’re going to cross a river.
This side of that river is your present life.
All you’ve ever known is this side of the river. Life in this fallen world.
But at your death you’ll cross the river to the other side, to the place
the Bible calls the better country.
What’s over there? What can you expect?
The Bible does not give lots of details.
There are popular books about near death experiences.
90 minutes in heaven, that sort of thing.
People go into detail about what they supposedly saw when their heart stopped
on the operating table. Some of those descriptions are very detailed,
and frankly, they’re disappointing.
The Bible itself is much more limited in what it tells us,
and it’s much more satisfying. It gives us the big picture.
It tells us the most important things we need to know.
So that we can face death with confidence.
And that brings us to Jesus and the cross.
Jesus was about to die. His death was moments away and he knew it.
In those final moments he spoke his very last words.
We’ve looked at his seven last words these past seven weeks—
these really were his last words.
And they were words about his death—
what he expected when he reached the other side.
The reason this last word is so important is because it’s not just a word about
Jesus’ death, it’s a word about the death of every believer.
When Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
He was talking about your death as well as his.
By virtue of your union with him, His life is your life, his death your death.
So this is a very important passage.
Jesus is speaking his last words—but they are not just his last words,
they are the last words of all believers.
If you are a Christian, these are your last words too.
And these last words of Jesus reveal, in a sort of broad outline,
what you can expect when you make that final journey.
And by you, I mean, you believers. You who are trusting Jesus.
Three truths about your death emerge from Christ’s last word.
MP#1 When you die, your body and your spirit will be separated.
Jesus affirmed this fundamental understanding of death when he said:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
His body was going into the grave, his spirit into God’s presence.
Your death will also be a separation of your body and spirit.
When God created human beings, he made us unique in all the universe.
We are not angels and we’re not animals.
Angels are all spirit. They don’t have bodies.
Sometimes angels have appeared in a visible form.
But do not have physical bodies like we do.
Animals are all body. They don’t have souls.
That doesn’t mean animals aren’t precious to God—they are.
Even in their brief existence they bring glory to God.
But they are purely physical. When die, pass out of existence.
I know that disappoints many pet owners. But don’t be sad.
It’s clear that in the new creation there will be animals.
I might even break down and get a dog in the new heavens and new earth.
So we aren’t angels and we aren’t animals.
Human beings are a perfect union of the physical and the spiritual.
There is a physical part of us—that’s our body.
And there is a non-physical part, what Bible calls soul or spirit.
Soul and spirit are not two different things—two ways of talking about
this non-physical part of the human person.
Death breaks apart this union of body and spirit
and the Bible teaches that this is a violent and unnatural separation.
The book of Ecclesiastes describes death as the silver cord being severed.
As if a silver cord binds body and spirit together—this is snapped at death.
It describes death as the golden bowl being broken,
and the pitcher shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well.
Death is not what God intended for human beings when He created us.
Intended for us to live with body and soul untied forever.
Death is the result of sin. Part of the curse. Not the way things ought to be.
We’re going to see in a minute that Jesus works death for our good—
Just as God works all things for the good of his people.
But death itself is not good. It is a breaking apart of what should not be broken.
Paul calls it the last enemy. He goes on to say death is swallowed up in victory.
For that reason, as Christians don’t have to fear death—but it is still an enemy.
That’s the reason we grieve when someone we love dies.
Even when death delivers them from suffering, we still grieve.
Because deep down we know that we were made to live forever.
Once again, book of Ecclesiastes speaks of this.
It says we have eternity in our hearts.
In The Lion King, Simba the little lion cub is afraid of death.
His father Mufasa, the king, says: Don’t be afraid.
Death is natural. We’re all part of the circle of life.
That is not biblical teaching. That’s Hinduism, that’s eastern religion.
And it’s becoming more and more common in America.
It might comfort people to say that death is natural and that we’re all
part of the circle of life, but it’s not true.
It’s true for plants and animals, but not for people made in God’s image.
We were not made to return to the dust. We were made to live forever.
But even though death is a violent and unnatural separation of body and spirit,
you are still yourself when you die. Your spirit retains its identity.
You pass through death into a conscious and fully personal existence.
But it’s an existence without a body, which is not how we were made.
One of the fun things about raising children in the Christian faith is the great
theological questions they ask, especially when they are little.
I remember my children trying to understand death.
Wondering what it meant for your spirit to be in heaven without a body.
I could tell by their questions that knew intuitively that it was not natural.
Remember one of my children asked: How can souls see?
My answer was: I don’t know, but they can.
So death will be a strange. Crossing the river will be strange.
You’ve never known life without a body.
But Jesus experienced it and you will too.
And now we get to the good part.
MP#2 When you die, your spirit will be taken into God’s presence.
Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
He called God “Father” again.
Remember the 3 hours of darkness, 3 hours of God’s wrath?
During that time the fatherly presence of God was taken from Jesus.
He was forsaken for us.
Then the darkness lifted and the Father’s loving presence was restored.
Jesus knew that his spirit was going to be with the one who loved him.
Jesus had full confidence that God the Father would receive Him with joy.
Now this is the great part for Christians—only true for Christians.
You will get the very same reception by God the Father that Jesus’ did.
This is the reason: Christ’s death was a substitutionary death.
Every part of his suffering and death was done in union with his elect people.
So all the benefits of the crucifixion are yours if you are trusting Christ.
And this is one of the great benefits.
At your death, your spirit will be received by the Father, just as Jesus’ was.
Or you could look at it this way: When Jesus committed his spirit to the Father,
he was committing your spirit as well.
Furthermore, it appears that it is now Jesus himself who receives your spirit
when you die and presents you to the Father.
In Acts 7, we read the account of the first NT martyr, Stephen.
As Stephen was being stoned to death, he had a vision of heaven.
He was able to see across the river while he was still on this side.
What did Stephen see? Do you remember? He said:
“I see heaven open, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Why was Jesus standing? All the other places in the New Testament the ascended
Lord Jesus is described as being seated at the right hand of the Father.
Steven’s very next words answer the question. Stephen said:
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Not, Father, receive my spirit. But, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Jesus was standing for Stephen. He was standing to meet him.
Standing to receive him and bring him to the Father.
Stephen’s death revealed that it is now the Lord Jesus himself
who stands and receives the spirits of believers.
So you see why being taken into the presence of God at death is such
a good thing for Christians?
Not only did Christ commit your spirit to God when he committed his own.
Not only will God the Father receive you as He received His own Son.
But it is Jesus Christ himself, the one who loves you and died for you,
who will actually stand and meet you and present you to the Father.
There will be a welcome there, that will be so loving, and so affirming
that I know it will surprise us. Jesus’ welcome and the Father’s welcome.
As a boy, one of my pleasant memories was my dad coming home winter evenings.
He always walked home from the church, and wore an overcoat.
He would hug me and I would hug him, and the mixture of his loving arms
and the cold fabric on his coat felt so good.
Into my father’s hands. That’s just a tiny picture your soul’s welcome.
Richard John Neuhaus was a great Catholic writer, a great American.
He was the editor of the conservative journal First Things.
Father Neuhaus passed away this past January.
In his book on the seven words of Christ he says that for many years he has
practiced the same bedtime ritual. He would cross himself.
Then he would repeat in Latin these words of Jesus: “Father, into your hands . . .”
And then he would pray:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
The Lord Jesus will indeed take your soul at death,
the loving hands of the Father will receive you.
We know it’s true because Jesus’ last words are our words too.
But we can’t stop here. As wonderful as it will be to be welcomed by Jesus
and the Father into heaven—that is not the end of the story.
MP#3 When you die, your body will rest in the grave until the resurrection.
I want us to look past Christ’s final word to what happened on Easter morning,
and the implications for us who die in the Lord.
Jesus died, his spirit went to be with his Father,
his body was taken by friends and laid in the tomb.
But Jesus did not remain a spirit without a body, his body was resurrected.
And it was Jesus himself, but he was changed. His body was glorified.
Before the resurrection he had a body just like ours.
Jesus was not a sinner, but he came “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”
His body was subject to all the weaknesses that our fallen bodies have.
He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and tempted in his body.
He suffered and died in his body.
But when he rose on Easter, he rose with a glorified body.
What is Christ’s glorified body like? The Bible only gives us hints.
He had power over his resurrected body—able to bend to will of spirit.
He appeared suddenly—but he was not a ghost, ate fish, touched
Resurrected body glorified further when ascended into heaven
Apostle John saw Christ, records this vision in Revelation 1.
Christ was such a dazzling, overwhelming, awesome figure
John fell down as if dead, Christ put right hand on John, do not be afraid.
It will be the same with all believers.
When you die, your body be buried and there it will decay.
Your spirit will be met by Christ, and ushered into God’s presence.
Your spirit will be glorified, freed from all of the corruption, weakness of sin.
Your spirit will be holy and beautiful.
But even in that perfectly glorious condition, you will be incomplete.
God made us as physical and spiritual beings.
We’re not angels. We don’t become angels in heaven.
We are men and women and we need bodies.
Christ came to redeem us as whole people, body and soul.
That is how God created Adam and Eve in their perfection in the Garden,
and that is how God intends for us to spend eternity.
It is God’s plan is for you to have a body like Christ’s.
The Bible calls Christ, the firstborn among many brothers.
In heaven you will look at him, worship him and long to be complete as He is.
And you will be, at the Resurrection, when Christ returns.
His resurrection is a guarantee that you will be raised.
Some day you will be like Christ, not only in spirit but in body.
You will have a glorious body like his with a divine glory and power.
How can we understand this mystery? Paul gives three illustrations.
He compares it to putting on new clothes. Taking off old, putting on new.
It’s taking off all weakness and decay, all sinful desires,
and putting on power, purity, immortality.
Paul also compares this new body to sleeping and waking.
Emphasis is that one day our bodies will be awakened.
When wake up from a long sleep, refreshed, new day is dawning.
You get up and go out into a new world.
And a new earth is exactly the home that God is preparing—
this world restored, for our use, and pleasure, and work.
Paul’s third illustration, his longest—compares this new body to a seed and plant.
A seed is buried, it dies in a sense—out of that comes a plant
that is much more glorious than the seed itself.
Wow, that’s amazing. But how does that help me now?
This is how—it gives you hope.
Not just hope as face death, hope in struggles of life.
Many of you have heard of Joni Earekson Tada, maybe read her books.
As a teenage girl she broke her neck in a diving accident,
paralyzed from the neck down. That has been her life. It’s hard to imagine.
And yet in this condition she has done great things—heart for handicapped people.
What has sustained her? Certainly the presence of Jesus Christ, daily walk.
But also the hope of the resurrection. This is what she wrote in one of her books:
“I can scarcely believe it, I with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness—powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord-injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives someone who is manic depressive. No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope.”
CONC: Just two concluding thoughts:
1. Only believers in Jesus Christ have all of these assurances, not unbelievers.
Death is a terrible thing for unbelievers. Your body and spirit separated.
And then what happens?
The Scottish pastor, Alexander MacLaren said:
“O dismal! O deplorable case! A poor soul is turned out of house and home,
and knows not were to go; it departs, and immediately falls into the hands of justice.
That is exactly right, justice.
Your spirit is also brought before God.
But without the welcoming smile of Jesus Christ.
And so you face God not as your Father, but as your Judge.
Hebrews 10 “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
And at the resurrection you will be raised, but not with
a glorified body like Jesus Christ.
You will simply be raised by the bare command of God
to stand before the judgment seat.
If you are not a Christian.
If you have never repented of your sins, given your life to Jesus Christ,
and put your faith in him, don’t delay.
Today is the day of salvation. At communion today call out to Jesus for salvation.
Then tell someone. Tell another Christian what you have prayed.
2. For all you Christians, if the Lord has all these wonderful things planned for you.
If your soul and body is safe in him, how confidently you can commit
to him all the lesser concerns of your life.
What could you possibly be facing now that is greater than your death.
If you can trust Christ for eternal life, how much more can you trust Him
for the concerns you have in this life?
Jesus lives and so shall I
Death! Thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever,
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.