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Series B

The Seven Last Words
Father, Into Your Hands I Commit my Spirit

By Pastor John O'Neal, Grace Lutheran Church, Des Moines, Wa.

GOOD FRIDAY Luke 23:44-46

Tonight, we bring our Lenten journey to a close. We have examined and reflected on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the Cross.

So far, we have heard our Lord share these words:

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

He shares with a repentant thief the promise; "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

We saw Jesus commit the care of His mother, Mary, to his closest friend John.

Then we heard that powerful cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me."

The words, "I thirst," were examined.

Yesterday, the words, "It is finished."

Now, the words "and when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, `Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' And having said this, He breathed his last."

After Jesus had spoken the Sixth Word and before he spoke the Seventh Word--Luke tells us that the curtain of Temple was torn in two. In the Great Temple there was a place called the Holy of Holies. This was the meeting place between a Holy God and a sinful people. This curtain prevented un-holy people from entering the Holy house of God. Once a year the Great High Priest was permitted by Jewish law to enter this place with awe and trembling to make the sacrifice for the sins of the people. This was the Great Day of Atonement.

However, when Jesus cried out, "It is finished"--this curtain was no longer necessary. Jesus Christ would now be our only mediator between God and His people.

With that part of the journey now completed--Jesus was ready to go home!

Max Lucado captures this moment better than anyone else when he wrote:

            "The voice that screamed at God, `My God, My God,

            Why have you forsaken me,' now says, `Father.'

            The two are again one.

            The abandoned is now found.

            The schism is now bridged.

            " `Father.' He smiles weakly. 'It's over.'

            Satan's vultures have been scattered.

            Hell's demons have been jailed.

            Death has been damned.

            The sun is out,

            The Son is out.

             "It's over.

            An angel sighs. A star wipes away a tear.

            " `Take me home.'

            Yes, take him home.

            Take this prince to his king

            Take this son to his father

            Take this pilgrim to his home

                        (He deserves a rest.)

            " `Take me home.'

Come ten thousand angels! Come and take this wounded troubadour to the cradle of his Father's arms!"

            "Farewell manger's infant

            Bless You holy ambassador

            Go Home death slayer

            Rest well sweet soldier

                        "The battle is over."

So Jesus cried out with a loud voice--(not a whisper or a whimper) for all to hear his declaration, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!"

Dr. William Barclay writes, "Jesus died with a prayer on his lips. `Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' That is Psalm 31:5 with one word added-- Father. That verse was the prayer every Jewish mother taught her child to say last thing at night. Just as we were taught, maybe, to say, `Now I lay me down to sleep,' so the Jewish mother taught her child to say, before the threatening dark came down, `Into your hands I commit my spirit.' Jesus made it even more intimate, for he began it with the word Father. Even on the cross Jesus died like a child falling asleep in his father's arms."

Often, we dismiss or think unimportant what we have learned as children in Sunday School or on our parents' knees. However we are learning from the behavioral sciences just how important it is to learn the right things in our childhood days.

Back in the early sixties Dr. Karl Barth came to America to lecture at Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. Barth was a theological giant of the 20th Century who had stood up to Hitler and was exiled by Hitler from his teaching position in Germany to his native Switzerland where he had held the chair of "Church Dogmatics" at the famed University of Zurich.

The crowds jammed the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago to hear him speak on various subjects related to the Christian faith. After some twenty-five years now, all the importance of those lectures have lost their place in people's hearts and minds all, except one statement he made in response to a somewhat arrogant reporter who asked the question, "Dr. Barth, what is the single, most important discovery you have made in your years of theological work?"

After a pause for pondering, the great intellectual Professor of Zurich said:  "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." We never outgrow this simple message, and our response to it sets the tone for every age and stage of our earthly life.

Yes, Jesus in his final moments on his journey did not speak large words. He did not engage in a philosophical debate. He uttered the words of the first prayer he ever learned. This is what gave great comfort to his soul in his last moments. Yes, these last words were a testimony to what life is about. He began life with God--and he completed his earthly journey with God.

These last words of Jesus have further inspired some of the great names of history to repeat these same words when death was knocking at the door--people such as Christopher Columbus, St. Augustine, Polycarp, George Hebert, St. Bernard, John Huss, Thomas Becket. I am sure there have been thousands of others whose names are unknown to us--but more importantly--they are known by God the Father.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in his book, The Strength to Love, how he moved from believing things about God to believing in God. He wrote:  "The agonizing moments through which I have passed during the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God. True, I have always believed in the personality of God. But in the past the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category that I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. God has been profoundly real to me in recent years. In the midst of lonely days, and dreary nights I have heard an inner voice saying, `Lo, I will be with you.' When the chains of fear and the manacles of frustration have all but stymied my efforts, I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship."

In this prayer that makes up the Seventh Word from the Cross, we see that it is a Prayer of Communion with God, it is a Prayer of Confidence in the power of God, and finally it is a Prayer of Commitment--Jesus entrusting God to prosper the work he had done on the Cross. He deposited his soul, his love, his life with the Father.

It has been reported what others said as their last words when death was near.

Macbeth said, "Out, out brief candle; life's but a walking shadow."

Goethe cried, "Light! More light!"

Anatole France said, "Draw the curtain; the farce is played out."

Jesus Christ said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"

It seems that a new relic not that long ago surfaced for auction in Paris. On May 12, 1993, two slivers of olive wood, said to come from the cross on which Jesus was crucified, were sold for more than $18,000 in a crowded auction. The bidding started at $1,858 and was completed just 90 seconds later when a woman in the front row offered $18,587. Accompanying the two slivers of wood were two certificates from the Vatican that apparently authenticated the wood back in 1855.

We have not studied, prayed, and worshipped our way these past weeks through the seven last words of our Lord Jesus from the Cross to get two slivers of olive wood. We have not traveled through the Word of God for more rules. We have traveled this Lenten season to deepen our relationship with God--to see how God in Christ has fully entered into the human experience. We have worshipped and worked to draw closer to the Christ of the Cross--not a sliver of wood.

Some of you have probably heard of the name of Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf.  During the years of his youth, he rebelled against the faith in which his parents had nurtured him.  Although he knew better, Zinzendorf lived a life that was not worthy of the Gospel of Christ and the Cross.

One day, a family friend took him to an art gallery where a famous religious painting was being displayed.  It was a graphic picture depicting the Crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the Cross.  There was something about the picture that gripped him in a special way.  He stood and studied the painting for a long period of time, as though he was in a trance.  Then his eyes spotted the writing on the bottom of the painting, which read:  "All this I did for thee.  What hast thou done for me?"  In that moment, he saw the truth about God, and the truth about himself--and the power of the Cross.  It reawakened in him a desire to recommit his life to Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Church.

For several weeks now, you and I have probed the meaning and the mystery of the Cross-. Now, let the "Cross" do its work. Pick it up and carry it. It will be the most meaningful thing you have ever done. Only when we pick up the Cross can we draw closer to our Savoir, and understand why he could shout in the presence of utter darkness, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit."

Amen and Amen!

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