In This Chapter
It was about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three o’clock, for the sun was darkened by an eclipse. And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Then, crying out with a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And having said these things, he breathed his last.
A Quick Dip1
Hands: When something is placed in someone’s hands, that person gains control over that object. In this manner, hand refers to power. God’s hand refers to God’s power. In Scripture, God’s hand creates, judges, and redeems; it liberates, assists, and sustains. Indeed, God’s power is portrayed by what God accomplishes through the work of his hands.
Commit: The Greek word translated as commit means to give something to another for its safekeeping. The verb form used in this passage means “I commit myself.” Jesus is saying, “I entrust myself to your safekeeping, care, and protection.” Furthermore, this entrusting points to the confidence that Jesus has in his trustee. The Hebrew word commit in Psalm 31 contains a similar assurance and means to put oneself under God’s faithful protection.
Spirit: People in Jesus’ day understood the spirit to be the soul or life force that gave the body the ability to move and breathe. Many also believed that the spirit was the part of a person that survived after death.
- What is your most valuable asset? To whom would you commit this asset for safekeeping?
- Do you have a close, trusting, personal relationship with God? What could you do to strengthen this relationship?
- Who or what has the greatest control over your life?
An Evening Prayer
As a child, did you ever say that bedtime prayer: “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”? My cousins always said that entire prayer every night at bedtime. I, on the other hand, always said just the first two sentences then switched to, “God bless Mommy and Daddy…” I never prayed the “If I should die” part. It gave me the heebie-jeebies.
This childhood prayer, asking God to keep one’s soul, is very similar to a traditional Jewish evening prayer from Jesus’ day. This prayer was taken from Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,”2 and these are the words which Luke records as Jesus’ last prayer.
Whoa. Time out. In the last chapter, we read that Matthew and Mark recorded Jesus’ cry of abandonment as his last prayer. Here Luke records something completely different. Why the difference? And who is right? What was Jesus’ final prayer?
All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified around 9:00 a.m. and died around 3:00 p.m. During those six hours on the cross, Jesus spoke many words. Different people came and went beneath the cross; they saw and heard different things. By the time the Gospels were written years later, witnesses were scattered, and although Matthew, Mark, and Luke shared some of the same sources, they also heard from different observers. Let us thank God that we have four gospel accounts; otherwise, some of Jesus’ words would have been lost. However, it is pointless to debate which words were truly Jesus’ last; the important question is, what can we learn from each of the prayers Jesus uttered on the cross?
When drawing up our last wills and testaments, my husband and I had to decide what to do with the things we would leave behind after our deaths. Our most valuable assets — the things we cherish most deeply — are our children. Therefore, the most important question we faced was: to whom would we entrust our children for their care and protection? Of course we would never leave them in the custody of strangers; instead, we put them into the hands of those whom we knew and trusted the most, the ones who would love and cherish them the most, the ones who had the greatest power to care for and protect them. To borrow a word from Jesus’ prayer, we committed our children to another’s care in our wills. As we noted in “A Quick Dip,” to commit something or someone means to deposit that item or person with another for safekeeping. When we commit, entrust, or deposit something with another, it is a sign of our complete trust and confidence in the one whom we have chosen as our trustee.
However, when choosing someone to care for our children, trustworthiness was not the only factor my husband and I considered. We also looked carefully at our trustee’s power and resources. We wanted to appoint someone with the physical health, emotional strength, and financial resources to care for our children. For similar reasons, we deposit money into our bank accounts; the bank — backed by the federal government — has the power to ensure the safety of our funds.
Upon his death, however, Jesus left behind no last will and testament, no legal document. Instead, he left a prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” In that prayer, Jesus placed his most valuable asset — his spirit, his soul, his life force — into the hands of the one he most trusted. Jesus knew that no one would love and cherish his spirit more than his Father, and no force in the universe or beyond had more power to protect it and keep it safe. So Jesus placed everything he had in his Daddy’s hands.
Jesus’ prayer reveals that there is one asset I failed to include in my own will; I have one asset even more valuable than my children. Jesus’ prayer urges me to ask, “Into whose care will I place the one thing that I possess which is eternal — my spirit?” For each one of us, this is perhaps life’s most significant question.
Fear Versus Trust
I remember a time when I was twelve years old. It was a late summer evening and I was walking to the house from the barn. We had recently lost a calf, and I was thinking about its death, the death of my grandmother, and the death of a friend’s father. I worried about the death of my own parents. What would my life be like if something happened to them? I knew that eventually something would happen, and they would no longer be here.
Then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning from the sky, it hit me: one day I would no longer be here. The reality of my own mortality frightened me so much that it drove me to my knees. Everything was spinning around me as questions, doubts, and fears raced through my mind. I quickly scrambled to my feet and stumbled to the house as I pushed all the questions aside. I was too scared to even look for answers.
A decade later my uncle died unexpectedly, and the old fears returned. I was in college and had several religion classes under my belt. I had studied the Bible, read many books about God, and had heard almost a thousand sermons. Yet when it came to death, I was still scared senseless. I had found no answers.
Another decade passed and found me listening to a young mother tell about her son’s battle with leukemia. Her son and my daughter were in a gymnastics class together, and as we watched them play, I could not imagine what that mother had gone through during her son’s illness. They had battled cancer most of his life: in and out of treatment, in and out of remission, enduring agonizing pain and suffering, and facing death on several occasions. During the worst episode, this mother told me how she had prayed to God: “I told God that I knew he had the wisdom and power to do what was best for Coleman. So I just said, ‘God, I am putting my child into your hands. Do whatever is best for him.’ And immediately a deep sense of peace came over me. I was ready for whatever might happen.” What happened eventually was a bone marrow transplant that saved the child’s life, but aside from the miracle, I was struck most deeply by this mother’s prayer. How could she pray like that? How could she just let go of her child? She had expected death and was ready to accept that real possibility. I, on the other hand, knew that I could not have said that prayer, could not have let my daughter go — not even into the hands of God. I realized then that this mother was at a point on her faith journey which I could not yet even fathom. It is called trust.
Moving from Fear to Trust
How, I wondered, could I ever learn to pray like that young mother? How could I learn to face my own death or the death of my family members and not be afraid? I think Jesus’ last prayer in Luke shows each of us exactly how we can do this.
Look back and compare Jesus’ prayer in Luke 23 to the prayer from Psalm 31. There is a slight difference between the two passages. It is just one word: Father. Earlier in Psalm 31, the psalmist refers to God as Lord, but in his dying prayer, Jesus — once again — calls God Daddy. When we hear this familiar word on Jesus’ lips, our attention is once more directed to the close relationship that Jesus shares with God. As we have observed in our study, Jesus spent his entire life in touch with God’s will and God’s love. We have seen this connection in Jesus’ work, in his teachings, in his miracles, and in his prayers. God is no stranger to Jesus, so at his death, we are not surprised to hear Jesus commit his spirit into God’s hands. After all, that is exactly where Jesus placed his life while he walked here on this earth.
If you and I want to be like Jesus, if we want to be able to trust God in life as well as in death, then we must work to develop a similar relationship with God. As I learned in college, you can study the Bible, you can attend daily chapel services, you can listen to preachers and teachers talk for hours and hours about God, but these things may not lead you to a relationship with God. As Jesus has shown us, that relationship can be developed only by spending time with God — alone and uninterrupted. If we truly seek to listen to God, to discover God’s purpose for our daily lives, to rely upon God’s wisdom and strength in our day-to-day struggles, then our relationship with him will quickly grow. So will our trust. You see, the moment when God ceases to be a stranger to us, our fear dissolves. At that same instant, we come to realize that there is no other being in the created order whom we can trust more.
There is another profound truth which Jesus expresses in this prayer. It has to do with God’s hands. As we noted in “A Quick Dip,” hand refers to one’s power. We have already discussed how God’s tremendous power is displayed both in the creation and the redemption of human life. However, hand means more than just the power or ability to do something. To hold something in one’s hands means to have control over that object. So when Jesus places his spirit in God’s hands, he is turning over the complete control of his life force to his Daddy. Again, looking back over the way Jesus lived his life, it is obvious that Jesus did not turn over control to God just at the moment of death. No, the Son had awarded complete control to his Father throughout his earthly life.
This points me back to Psalm 31 and that ancient Jewish prayer. Every evening, the pious Jew would pray, “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” I have to wonder: was this also a daily prayer of Jesus? Did Jesus utter these words only at the end, or was he echoing a prayer that he had prayed throughout his life? There is no documentation to answer this question for us, but whether he used these words or others, it is clear that Jesus entrusted both the safekeeping and the control of his life into his Daddy’s hands each and every day that he walked upon this earth.
Now I find myself having circled back to life’s most significant question: into whose hands do I commit my life force? Honestly, to whom do I daily award control of my life? I saw an old bumper sticker recently, and I am afraid it sums up the way I have lived most of my life. The sticker read: “God Is My Copilot.” It is another one of those popular Christian sayings. However, when studying Jesus’ prayer, I ran into a problem with this saying. This bumper sticker points to a basic human desire; namely, to be the pilot in one’s own cock-pit. My desire has always been the same. This is my fantasy: I want to have control of my plane and my own destination. I wish to travel where I want and do whatever I want — until I run into trouble. Whenever things get out of hand, I then turn the control of the aircraft over to my copilot. Once God gets me out of the emergency and back on a level course, I resume control of the plane. It feels great to pilot your own craft knowing that you have such a capable copilot standing by!
Well, frankly, Jesus’ prayer blows this fantasy and this type of relationship right out of the sky. In Jesus’ prayer — and in his life — God is the pilot. If I want to follow Jesus’ example and live as he does, then I must give permanent control of my plane to God. And what, then, should I do? Should I move into the copilot’s seat or the navigator’s chair? I have to ask myself: does my plane really need a copilot or a navigator if God is its pilot? No. So I instead move to the back of the plane and become the steward. I live and work under the pilot’s orders, and as I do, through both fair and foul weather, I trust the pilot’s hands to guide me safely to the destination of his choosing.
We opened our study of Jesus’ prayers in part 3 by asking several questions: When we turn to God in prayer, requesting God’s help for ourselves and bringing our own needs to God, what should we say? When we experience conflict, pain, and grief; when we need help making important decisions; when we feel lost or confused, how should we pray? We have now examined several passages of Scripture where Jesus himself is the subject of his own prayers, and we have learned a great deal from each of these prayers.
In chapters 6, 7, and 8, we found Jesus almost crushed by fear and grief. In Gethsemane, Jesus faced his greatest test: the choice between following God’s plan or his own desires. Three times we heard Jesus pray, “Not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus taught us that the best thing we can do when our faith and obedience are tested is to pray, to move closer to God. When we move closer, then we, like Jesus, will receive the courage and strength we need to make the right choice, the very best choice for our lives.
In chapter 9, we saw Jesus standing in a crowd, becoming troubled and confused as he spoke about his own death. We heard Jesus pray, asking God to reveal his weight, his importance, his power, his glory. Immediately God answered, pointing to his acts of creation and redemption, reminding both Jesus and us of his power not only to give life, but to save life. With this prayer, Jesus taught us that we can ask God to bring light into our moments of darkness and confusion, and God will not hesitate to answer such a request.
In chapter 10, we heard Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” In this prayer we learned that whenever we face a devastating personal crisis, whenever we feel hopeless and abandoned, it is all right to question God. However, it is important to ask the right question, and the right question is not, “Why is this happening to me?” but instead, “Where are you, my God, my Leader, and my Strength?” If we reach up for the One who is stronger than any other power, we will discover that we are not alone; for God abandoned his beloved Son so that we would never be alone. Emmanuel. God is with us.
Now here in chapter 11, we hear the echo of what could well have been Jesus’ daily prayer for himself, “Daddy, into your hands I commit my spirit.” We are invited to follow Jesus’ example and say this prayer for ourselves, yet we must realize that we cannot say these words — we will never be able to entrust our spirits to God — if God himself is a stranger to us. We will never be able turn over the control of our lives to God unless we can first understand the depth of God’s love for us and the ultimate power which God has to care for us. How can we do this? How can we come to trust God as completely as Jesus did? The best way is to follow Jesus’ own example and pray for ourselves.
Pray. Move closer to God. Ask Jesus’ Daddy to show you his power and his love. Ask questions — hard questions. Reach up. Do whatever it takes to ensure that God is not a stranger in your life. If you will seek each day to strengthen that relationship, then one day soon, you — like me — will find yourself praying in complete confidence, “Master, into your hands I entrust my life.” And at that moment, you — like me — will find yourself at a place on your journey called trust.
Chapter 11 Footnotes
1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix, found in the free PDF download.
2 C. Maurer, TDNT 8:163.