If you have been following along through the final words series you probably noticed that there was one word that we have not heard yet, it is only found in the gospel of Luke and tonight is the night I want us to hear this final word. Luke 23:44-46.
This was Jesus’ final prayer to God. As we have seen, several of Jesus final words were actually prayers. There was his first word, Father forgive them, there was his cry for mercy, My God my God, why have you forsaken me, and now there is a final prayer, into your hands I commit my spirit. Not only was this a prayer to God, but like many of Jesus other final words and prayers, it was also a quotation of scripture. This final prayer comes from Psalm 31:1-5.
Looking at Jesus words in the context of the psalm we see that this is not Jesus giving up but once again giving himself over to his father. This is a prayer of faith and trust in God. Even in this moment of death, Jesus was looking to God to be his rock of refuge and a strong fortress to save. This is a final prayer of complete and utter faith in God the Father. There are those who believe that Psalm 31 was a nightly prayer taught to children by their parents, much the way we might teach our children to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” So if this was a prayer taught to children, in a moment of incredible pain and anguish Jesus is holding on to the most basic foundation of his faith. The simple truths we learn as children.
When I was in seminary I spent a summer working as a chaplain at a nursing home and I was responsible for 2 floors of Alzheimer’s patients. It was amazing to see that while their memories deteriorated – the basic truths they learned as children remained. When we would gather for worship services each week the people couldn’t focus on a sermon, but they could all sing Jesus loves me. And while most of the scriptures I read seemed to just pass right over them, when I read Psalm 23 many would say it along with me – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. We remember the basic truths we learn as children. We remember those simple prayers we said at bedtime or mealtime and the same is true with Jesus. He remembered the simple prayers Mary and Joseph taught him as a child and in his darkest moment, that is what he prayed. Father, in your hands I commit my spirit.
It might be a simple prayer of faith and trust, but it is also a powerful prayer because Jesus is teaching us that in our darkest moments we can continue to trust God. When everything seems lost and hopeless, we can trust God. When we are facing the reality of sin and sorrow, fear and failure, we can place our lives into the hands of God. I have spent some time this week reading and reflecting on the cloth we have been writing on and I have to say I have been both overwhelmed and encouraged. I have been overwhelmed because there is great pain and sorrow and brokenness and sin that we all struggle with. I saw words on that cloth that reflected my own heart and life and I saw words that filled me with compassion for those who are struggling to find forgiveness and freedom. I hope you will maybe take a moment tonight to not only add your brokenness and sin to the cloth, but take a moment to read and reflect on what you see. Don’t read the words with judgment, read them with compassion. There are people among us who are struggling and wrestling with sin and we need to be praying for one another and encouraging one another.
But something else struck me as I reflected on those words; they were all written by people who have been here this week for worship. They were all written by people who are striving to do what Jesus did in this moment on the cross – place their hearts and lives into the hands of God. That encourages me. That inspires me. That fills me with hope. While we are a broken people – we are a broken people of faith who trust God in the darkness of our lives. While we are sinners, we are sinners who seek forgiveness every day. We pray, Father into your hands we commit our spirits. When we face the challenge of sickness or sin, we pray, Father into your hands I commit my spirit. When we face what seem to be impossible situation or insurmountable obstacle we pray, Father into your hands I commit my spirit. When things at work, at home or in relationships are outside of our control we pray, Father into your hands I commit my spirit. When we just don’t know where to turn we pray, Father into your hands I commit my spirit.
I want to invite you tonight to just do that. I want to invite you to close your eyes and think about the sin that seems too strong to overcome, the problems that seem to have no answer, that desperate situations that really seems to have no hopeful outcome. In a time of silence I want to invite you to just reflect on those situations, place them into your hands and then in a moment I will invite us to pray this prayer of Jesus of Jesus
Father into your hands… I commit my spirit… Amen.
Now this was not just a prayer for Jesus at the end of his life, this was a statement about how Jesus lived his life. I want to take you back to the very beginning of Jesus ministry. Jesus was taken into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and then he was tempted by Satan. What Satan tempted Jesus to do was to follow his own path instead of the path of God. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread in order to meet his own physical needs. He tempted Jesus to test God’s love for him by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple and allowing angels to catch him, and he tempted Jesus to turn away from His father to gain all the wealth, power and glory of this world, and every time, Jesus said no. What Jesus was doing in the wilderness was placing his life into the hands of God. In essence, Jesus was praying, Father into your hands I commit my spirit. He was saying, God I am going to live my life your way and for your glory and according to your will. And that is exactly what Jesus did.
Jesus’ life was a reflection of God’s life. His life was a reflection of God’s love and mercy and nowhere was that more clearly seen than in the work of Jesus’ hands during the 24 hours leading up to this final prayer. The first thing we heard tonight was that Jesus hands washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus took the form of a household servant and willingly washed the dirty, smelly feet of his friends. What the hands of Jesus are doing here is just a reflection of God’s hands. God picks us up out of the muck and mire of our lives and cleans us off, look at Psalm 40:1-2.
Out of the miry bog, out of the muck and mud and filth of our lives God lifts us up and cleans us off. So Jesus hands are reflecting the hands of God but then he says that they are also setting for us an example. Jesus said, I have set for you and example that you should do as I do. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to show them how he wanted them to serve and love each other. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to show us how he wants us to serve and love each other with our own hands. Who are those that need our hands to help lift them up? Who needs our hands to help clean them off? Who needs our love to help them know the value and worth that God sees in them?
Jesus hands didn’t just wash the disciples feet that night, it then went on to serve the disciples the Passover meal and offer them the bread and wine. Jesus hands lifted up the bread and the cup. Jesus hands shared the bread and the cup with his friends and when Jesus calls us to remember him in this meal it is a call to actually live out his life. The word remember doesn’t just mean to think about what Jesus did and recall in our minds his actions; it means to literally attach ourselves to Jesus or live the way he lived. While we most often think about communion as an opportunity to receive the grace and mercy of God, which it is!, it is also a meal where we commit ourselves once again to following the example of Jesus. When we receive from the hands of Jesus the bread and cup we are making a statement that we will allow our hands to serve those who are hungry and thirsty. Will we allow our hands and our lives to do this? Will we give to those in need? Will we give to those who are thirsty?
I am excited that our youth want their hands to do this. A few weeks ago in church some of our youth heard about those around the world who are thirsty and need clean water and they wanted to reach out to them and help. They have set up a display about how we can put our hands to work. It might mean giving money, it might be reaching out to family and friends and inviting them to give to clean water projects or it might be in giving up soda or other drinks for a week and giving that money to those who are thirsty. I don’t know how God is calling you to use your hands to provide food and water to those in need, but I hope we will be willing to do something. When we share in communion tonight we need to hear the cry of those who are thirsty around the world and when we accept Jesus – the living water we need to think about ways to get clean water and living water to those who thirst.
After Jesus hands served the Passover meal, they came together in prayer. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of suffering might pass from him. Jesus knew that he was being betrayed and that a trial was coming. Jesus knew that he would be condemned to die and so he asked God if there could be another way. Jesus’ hands reached out to God and pleaded for another way, any other way, but in the end – those hands were raised in surrender. They submitted to God’s will and purpose. But once again what we see is that Jesus hands weren’t just praying, they were setting for us an example.
Jesus specifically asked his disciples to pray with him. He wanted them lifting their hands to God with him and for him. He wanted them to watch and pray with him and Jesus still wants our hands working in prayer. Jesus wants us to pray for those things that break the heart of God. God wants us to pray for those who are weak and in need, those who are hopeless and living in despair. God wants us to pray for the strength to help change our world but ultimately God wants us to submit our hands to His will and purpose.
To pray, thy will be done, means that we are willing to place our own will into our hands and offer it up to God. We have to let go of our will, our desire, our need to be in control so that we can take up God’s will. This is a difficult prayer, but it is the prayer that Jesus calls us to pray. Not my will but thy will be done.
And then the very last thing we see the hands of Jesus do is carry a cross. Jesus takes his hands and picks up the hard and splintered wood of a cross and carries it to Golgotha. Once they arrive, Jesus hands are then laid out on that cross and nails are driven in. Jesus hands make the ultimate sacrifice. They give everything they have not for his own well-being but for the life and salvation of others. Again, these hands not only reflect the hands of God, but they set for us an example. Jesus said, if anyone wants to follow me, let them take up a cross. If we want to follow Jesus then we have to be willing to pick up a cross, our hands have to be willing to give and sacrifice and serve and reach out to others in an all out effort to bring them life and salvation.
The hands of Jesus in his last 24 hours reveal to us the hands of God. They lift us up and wash us clean. They serve us and offer us food and water. They pray for us and die for us so that we might be forgiven and so that we might live forever. Those are the hands of God reflected in Jesus and when he commits his hands into the hands of God he is saying to all of us – this is the way to live your life. This is the way to use your hands. Specifically Jesus is saying this to us tonight. 3 of the 4 stories we heard tonight about the hands of Jesus took place only with the disciples. Jesus’ hands only washed the disciples’ feet, his hands only served the disciples the bread and the cup and his hands only prayed with his disciples in the garden and when Jesus says that these are to be an example for us he was talking first and foremost to his disciples – to us.
This final word of Jesus isn’t just a prayer that Jesus may have learned as a child, and it isn’t just a quotation of scripture or a final reminder that Jesus placed his entire life faithfully into the hands of God, it is also a call for us as followers of Jesus to place our hearts and lives and the work of our hands into the hands of God.
I would invite you to do that tonight. Commit your heart and life to God. Commit your hands to the work of Jesus’ hands and pray with me, Father into your hands I commit my spirit.