The Dying Word
A sermon based on Luke 23:46
Sunday, March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday
"He should be committed." That phrase can have pretty different meanings, depending on the context, can't it? "He should be committed to the job. He loves the work and it pays well." "He should be committed to the team and spend less time with his girlfriend." "That guy's a few cards short of a full deck. I think he's lost his marbles and should be committed… to an asylum." "That guy belongs in a straightjacket. He should be committed to a padded cell."
Today we talk about commitment. We should be committed to serving a God who's done nothing but love us. But we're so crazy that we rebel against him to our own harm again and again. And we should be committed to a cell for eternity.
But… Jesus was committed. We see that again this Palm Sunday as he willingly rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to carry out the mission that he was committed to fulfilling. And once he did fulfill that mission, he committed his spirit to the Father, knowing everything was complete. That's the sixth word or phrase that Jesus spoke from the cross and our text for this morning found in Luke 23:46…
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.
We should be committed to God. But we're not. And it's crazy how often we rebel.
A wife ought to be committed to a rich and good looking husband that's done nothing but love and serve her. She would be crazy to cheat on him! A husband ought to be committed to a rich and good looking wife that's done nothing but love and serve him. He would be crazy to cheat on her!
And what has our God done for us? He humbled himself. He "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:7-8)
Why did he do it? "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Jesus has done nothing but love us, serve us, make us rich! And we should be totally committed to him in return. But we're not. We cheat on him… again… and again. We're not committed to him. We don't commit our spirits to God in obedience. We don't humble ourselves to serve him and others. We don't commit our lives to him. We don't commit our time to him. We don't commit our souls to him, fearing, loving, trusting him above all things.
We're like a cheating spouse. And it's not a one-time thing. It's habitual. We're not in our right mind, but driven by our mad sinful nature. And for our lack of commitment, for our crazy infidelity, we ought to be committed... not to a cell, but to hell, not to an asylum, but to the abyss.
But… in spite of our lack of commitment to God, we aren't forsaken by him, but held in his loving hands. How? Through Jesus. Jesus was committed to his mission. In Isaiah 50(:6-7) a prophecy about Jesus has him say, "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame." And that's what Jesus did: He set his face like flint. Like stone, he could not be moved from his mission, no matter what the cost.
So he rode in Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed burro knowing full well what would happen on Thursday and Friday. He willingly rode to his death, that he could carried our sins on his back just as the donkey carried him. He offered his back to be beaten, his face to be mocked and spit in. He willingly endured the torture and crucifixion, the agony of the asylum of hell, separated from the Father. What committed love he showed to you and me! It almost seems crazy!
Nevertheless, he was that committed that he would go through hell to rescue us. And even though he was forsaken by the Father, he knew it would end in a wonderful reunion. So his dying word was, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
This is a quote from Psalm 31. One commentary said that this Psalm was frequently used as a Jewish bedtime prayer. I immediately thought of "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" where we commit our souls to the Lord: "I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
That's, essence, what Jesus prayed as his last word on the cross: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." And how fitting Psalm 31 was in that case. Here's a little more of that Psalm:
10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. 11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me. 12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. 13 For I hear many whispering, "Terror on every side!" They conspire against me and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, "You are my God." 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me…
22 In my alarm I said, "I am cut off from your sight!" Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.
Though Jesus was forsaken by the Father and cut off from him in that hell on the cross that won our forgiveness, now, with his mission complete, he was rescued. Now, with his mission complete, he could commit his spirit to his Father's loving hands once more. He could pray the Lord his soul to take. Now, with his mission complete, we are forgiven. And we won't be committed to the hell that we deserve.
And because we're not committed to hell, we can pray "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" with confidence and commit our souls to him, in our sleep, even in our death. The confidence Jesus displayed on the cross in this word is the same confidence we have in his work completed for us. And so we can boldly say,
"Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God… My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me…" (Psalm 31:5,15) We can pray that boldly, confident that he will keep us in his care, no matter what we're going through, no matter what enemies pursue us, no matter what challenges we face. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…" (Psalm 23) I can pray with confidence, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
And because we're not committed to hell and can commit our souls to him, just as Jesus committed his spirit to the Father, we are committed to Jesus. One version of "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" adds the line, "If I should live for many days, I pray the Lord would guide my ways." And so we commit our souls to Jesus, but we also commit our lives to him in thanks for all he's done for us.
Like a devoted spouse, we long most to please him. And we recommit ourselves to him. We commit our time to him. We commit our energy to him. We commit our gifts and abilities to his service. We commit our money to him—not just some of it, but using it all to his glory. We commit our bodies to him, just as he's committed his body to us in the Lord's Supper. We commit our lives to serve his cause, in thanks for the truth that we can commit our souls to his eternal care.
And as we do, well… forget Allstate! You're in good hands in God's hands because you know "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) And should you ever doubt it, just look to the cross again. And see how committed he was to the cause of rescuing us from being committed to hell. Then recommit your souls to him, and recommit your lives to him who gave his life for you. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.