The Last Words of Jesus
The last words of people have often been recorded. In law, a deathbed statement is not considered hearsay. Scripture makes a point of specifically saying: "These are the last words of David" (2 Sam 23:1). Since 2012 we have been going over Jesus' Seven Last Words from the Cross which are really 7 sentences. This Good Friday are the very last words of Jesus.
Only Luke records the actual words, but Matthew records that "Jesus cried with a loud voice" and Mark records that "Jesus uttered a loud cry." In other words, contrary to T. S. Eliot's famous poem Jesus' world doesn't end with a whimper but a bang. Luke is the most emphatic of all about the loudness of the last words: "Jesus called out with a loud voice." Literally, Luke says, "after crying aloud a mighty voice Jesus did say, Father into Your hands I commit My Spirit.'" Coupled with Matthew's and Marks's description of the scene the Last Words of Jesus were preceded by a whoop of loud but inarticulate sound.
The Last Words of Jesus aren't a whimper but a bang, and they are not spoken to a blinding light but a father. How it saddens me as a pastor to here pious Christians tell their dying loved ones "go toward the light." That's what you tell literal Easter chicks not Good Friday Christians. They get this "go toward the light" nonsense from supposed after death experiences. If you have to tell you're dying loved one something, tell them something Biblical: Go to the angel who carries your soul to heaven. Go to Abraham's bosom; go to the throne room of God; go to the Jesus who says, "Come unto Me, all you who are heavy laden;" or commit your spirit to your heavenly Father as David does in Psalm 31 because by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he saw Jesus doing that today.
Remember the Father Jesus commits His Spirit to is the One who wouldn't let the cup of wrath against the world's sins pass by Him in Gethsemane. The One who willed His holy lips to drink and drain that cup filled with all the filth the fallen hearts of men think, all the foul profanities they say, and all the hateful things they do. You've probably gagged when unknowingly taken a swig of curdled milk; you've probably gagged when finding a hair in something you've just drank; you certainly have refused to knowingly drink curdled milk or a drink with even a single hair in it.
It was His Father's will that Jesus drink large gulps of His wrathful cup that squirmed with every disgusting thing you can think of and other things you can't even imagine. So deeply did Jesus drink that He was certain His God had forsaken Him; so deep was His degradation that the sun couldn't bear to watch God the Son so humiliated. It's like in Steven King's Misery. His devilish kidnapper demands that he drink from dirty, soapy water in order to get the drug she has him hooked on. From then on, the character is broken.
Yet, what happened after Jesus says, "It is finished"? He returns to calling God, Father, even as He taught us daily to pray. Jesus returns to where He began the eternal damnation of the cross: calling God Father. His first word from the cross is: "Father, forgive them." This too is also only recorded by Luke. After all sins have been paid for, after all God's eternal wrath against your sins has been swallowed by Jesus, He again sees the Father's face. The Father had turned away from His beloved Son for 3 dread hours. But all that damning, dying, and forsaking is over.
Jean Valjean says of his beloved Cosset, "It is nothing to die, but it is dreadful to die without seeing her" (Les Miserables, 1199). Momentarily Jesus will experience the separation of what God never wanted separated and God Almighty could never experience unless He willed to: the soul separating from the body. And then His dead body will be stuck in a stone-cold tomb. But before He dies, He sees His Father's face. He doesn't die looking into a blinding light that Paul says is inapproachable. He dies seeing the face of whom He prayed to in Gethsemane. The One He called at that time not just Father', but Daddy.'
The Last Words of Jesus are spoken with a bang not a whimper, to the Father not a blinding light, while Jesus is heading not to burning ring of fire but to hands. A persistent error I find among lay people is that they believe once Jesus dies that's when He goes to hell to suffer. This is the teaching of some, but it has never been the teaching of Lutheranism or Catholicism for that matter. Do you really know what you're saying if you think after Jesus dies then He goes to hell to suffer? You're saying that when Jesus says, "It is finished" it really isn't. There is still hell to pay, to suffer, to go through. You're saying that hell is more than being forsaken by God. You're saying that the Father's hands Jesus commends Himself to promptly drop Him into hell!
The first clue we have to what is really going on is that Jesus says not only "Father" but that He commits', commends', deposits' His Spirit into His hands, plural, not the singular as usual. We normally say, and so does Scripture, the hand of God. The plural is noteworthy and more personal. The thought of committing His Spirit to His Father's hands is in contrast with another New Testament statement about the hands of God. Hebrews 10:31 says, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
What does this say about those silly trust falls? They've been around since I was in youth group. They say faith is illustrated by you falling backwards and trusting that the arms of others you can't see will catch you. This view of faith really comes from the liberal Lutheran Paul Tillich's understanding that faith is a leap into what is not certain. How does this compare with Paul saying, "I know whom I have believed" (2 Tim. 1:12)?
Hebrews says it's a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God that you know are there, and Jesus doesn't do that. He commends, He commits, He literally deposits all that He is, His Spirit, into His Father's hands as His Body remains in the tomb. Will you make that deposit, or do you want to continue to fall blindly into the hands of God which is dreadful? You don't have to fall into the hands of God whom Hebrews later describes as a consuming fire because you're at where His fiery wrath has already burned. Let me illustrate.
Grass fires and prairie fires are frightening. They race like the wind and consume everything in their path. A father sees one coming miles away. He burns a large patch of prairie and takes his daughter to stand in the middle. She is terrified at the prospect of the approaching fire. Her father assures her, The flames can't get to us. We're standing where the fire has already been." (Illust. Bib. Preach. 154). That's you. You're standing at the foot of the cross where Jesus declares it's over. God's wrath has been burned out on Jesus' holy flesh and blood. At this spot, under His body as you are in Baptism; covered by His Spirit of forgiveness as you are in Absolution; and bodied and blooded to His holy Body and Blood, the wrath of God's fire is burned out. Like Paul says, "You know Whom you have believed, and are convinced that He can keep everything you've entrusted to Him all the way through Judgment Day." Because every single reason, the Father had for not doing so, has been nailed to the cross and not only forgiven but forgotten.
Jesus spoke His last words with a bang, to His Father, commending His Spirit into His hands, and this is not Jesus expiring but Ex-Spiriting. Our English word expire' is from the Latin, breath out.' Mark and Luke do have the same form of the Greek word expneo which is usually translated "breathed His last." But expneo comes from pneo and that's the root of the word pneuma which we translate as spirit," and His Spirit is what Jesus says He commits into His Father's hands.
Matthew and John are more pointed about this. Matthew specifically says Jesus "yielded up the Spirit." And John says, Jesus "Handed over the Spirit." Both of them use the definite article "the" with Spirit so we have no doubt whom is being referred to. It's the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, that Jesus yields and hands over when He dies. Because Luke, and only Him, records the committing of His Spirit to His Father, his account can be translated "He breathed out His Spirit" (Lenski, 1154).
What a momentous thing takes place on a Friday that only forgiven sinners can call Good. The Spirit that hoovered over the face of the waters at creation; the Spirit that is able to resurrect long dry bones, even dust, and ashes; the Spirit that is given by Water Jesus commands us to use; who is found in the mouth of men forgiving sins; who comes in the Body that Christ gives for Bread and in the Blood that Christ gives for Wine, is breathed out by your Savior today so that you might breathe Him in deeply.
The certainty we all crave that our sins are forgiven, that our future is in the Father's hands, and that He is always on our side is not found in thinking deep theological thoughts; is not found in feeling good things about God; is not found in doing good works. No, certainty about forgiveness, the future, and God standing with you through thick and thin is found in the Spirit that Jesus breathes out after giving a loud whoop and depositing His Spirit into His Father's hands.
The Greeks had a maxim: "'Look to the end.'" Never judge a man's life till you see how he dies (Cartledge, The Spartans, 83). The Christian maxim is look to how your Savior died to see how you can. You too can pray that your spirit be deposited in heaven's bank. Because Jesus is on the cross redeeming not His innocent soul, holy life, or sinless self, but your sinful one. The Son has just finished purchasing a place not for Him in heaven but for you. The Spirit He breathes out today is for you to breathe in. It's the Spirit of God's love, grace, mercy, peace and everlasting life; rather than "breathe deep the gathering gloom" given off by a dead decaying world, breath deep the Spirit Jesus breathes out into Water you can touch; Words you can hear; and into Body-Bread you can eat and Blood-Wine that you can drink. Breathe in and give out a sigh of relief. Amen
Rev Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (20180330); Luke 23: 44-46