The last word of Christ from the Cross: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
These words were shouted loudly. This is not the last gasp of a man at the end of his strength. This is the mighty voice of the Man who has infinite strength, who is not losing the fight with death, but is voluntarily laying down His life. This Man says, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
As He has before, He is quoting a Psalm. King David wrote Psalm 31, including these words: “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.”
By saying these words on the Cross, Christ is saying something remarkable. Only a little while before, He had cried out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But Christ shows now that He is not in despair. He knows that His Father is ready to receive Him again at His heavenly throne. He has not rejected His Son forever, but only for a brief time upon the Cross, and then only for the sake of redeeming sinful mankind. The Father is still Christ’s Rock and Fortress and Refuge.
What wonderful faith our Savior has! He trusts His Father even when He has laid on Him the sins and guilt and punishment of the whole world. Christ saw beyond and past the agony to His Father’s loving heart.
May we, who suffer far less, never forget the Father’s love for us.
Into the hands of this loving Father, Christ entrusts His spirit. He surrenders His life in perfect submission and trust. The Son of God lets the link between His flesh and soul be severed. His Body becomes lifeless upon the Cross, while the spirit goes to be with His Father in Paradise.
This is death: the separation of body from soul. What God joined together in creation was not originally intended to be torn apart. But because of sin, we brought death into the world. The spirit of a man flies away, and the body becomes lifeless and cold.
This separation we call death is only the beginning of the greater death, which we call hell. That eternal torment of both body and soul is the end of all who die in sin.
But Christ has rescued us from hell. We will still likely experience the thing we call death, which is the separation of soul from body. Yet this death of the flesh has lost its sting. Christ died in a gentle way, releasing His soul into the Father’s keeping. Now when we pass away from this present life, our passing is gentle. Our body sleeps below while our spirit is received into God’s loving hands. No matter how unpleasant the circumstances of death may happen to be, Christ has made death into a peaceful slumber for the bodies of his saints, and perfect bliss in Paradise.
So Saint Stephen, even while he was being stoned to death, was able to pray, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” His prayer echoed the prayer of his Lord on the Cross. He knew that the ugliness and violence of his death could not destroy the beauty and peace he was entering. He looked to His Savior in the clouds at the right hand of Majesty, and knew that he was safe. Stephen was not being thrust unwillingly into a cold, dark unknown place of terror. No, he was being brought home to the Paradise of light and life to see His Lord and Savior face to face.
In Doctor Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers, we say something similar. “Into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.” All we are and have are in God’s hands. We acknowledge this gratefully, because He is the all-powerful One who is gracious towards us. There are no better hands to be in than His.
Especially, our life is in His hands. We know that at any time, He may call for us to leave this earthly existence. All times are in His hands, not ours, and that is for the best. Today He may call for us to come home to Him. That may cause us to be fearful, yet it should not. He has conquered death and removed its sting. He has opened the way to Paradise through His Body, given into death on the Cross for our sins. The beginning of the best days of all is on the day that we leave this valley of the shadow of death.
Yet we still fear, because death is wrong. Death is still evil, for all that its sting is removed. We cannot trust as strongly as Christ did on the cross. We remain weak sinners.
So we look to Him all the more. We look to His death on the Tree, the death that was on our behalf. He suffered the agony that we will never have to suffer. No matter how painful our earthly death might be, it is not the excruciating torture that our sins deserve. He suffered that, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. Therefore death is not the threat it should be. It is not the terrifying mouth of hell to swallow us forever. No, frightening and evil as death still is, through that doorway we pass into Paradise.
But that specter, death, is horribly wounded. Death is sick and dying because it was forced to swallow up the Son of God, the Deathless One. Christ became the poison that has afflicted death. The stomach of death has burst open, and even now we saints of God pass through death and out of death. The grave cannot hold us. Once death was compelled to swallow the Immortal God, death was as good as dead.
This Christ has accomplished when He removed the power of sin by shedding His Blood for all mankind. The threats of the Law, death and hell, are destroyed for us. Christ became the death of death by entering willingly into death’s domain.
So He shouted out loudly, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” He was not shouting because the Father is hard of hearing. He was shouting so that we could hear Him, and hear the victory in His words. He was shouting so that death could hear Him, and tremble in fear. He was saying, “Here I come, death! Open up and swallow Me down!” And death could not disobey the voice of the powerful Son of God, and had to take Him in.
By dying, Christ has destroyed the power of death. Although we are sad at the gigantic price that our guilt required Christ to pay, yet we are extremely glad that He willingly paid it for us.
By His death, He has made us alive forever.
In His Name. Amen.
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