2. Final Words of Jesus: Words of Confidence (Lk. 23:44-49)Related Media
Final words can tell you a lot about a person. Winston Churchill, Britain’s optimistic, motivational leader in WWII, who once said to the British troops: “Never, never, never, never give up.” But on his deathbed, reflecting on the condition of the world, this same man’s final words were: “There is no hope.” About one year before he died, Malcom Forbes, the billionaire publisher who had everything the world could offer, was interviewed by Joan Collins who asked him: “You have money, possessions, and fame. If there is one thing you want above all else what would it be?” Forbes wishfully replied: “Everlasting life.” C.H. Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher on his deathbed said, “My theology has been four very simple words: Jesus died for me.”
These are the final words of three different men. One with final words of despair, another with final words of longing, the last with final words of assurance. Jesus’ first words on the cross were a prayer for others – a prayer for their forgiveness. Jesus’ final words on the cross were a prayer for himself – “…into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The subject of this sermon is “The final words of Jesus on the cross.” What we are going to learn from our study of this text (Luke 23:44-49) is that in his deity, Jesus had complete and sole control over his death.
Notice the setting for this final scene at the cross. God darkened the earth: “It was about the sixth hour and there was darkness was over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was darkened - sun’s light failed, died out” (44-45a). Even the heavens gave miraculous testimony to what was happening below on earth. From noon until 3PM the earth was enveloped in utter darkness. The blackness at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law is appropriately mirrored here at the giving of the Saviour.
Darkness strikes fear into the human heart, doesn’t it? It instills a sense of gloom, foreboding, wickedness. Such supernatural darkness as this surely indicates that, at the very least, God was acting, and, specifically, that God was acting in judgement. You may explain the darkness by a cloudy day or eclipse, but the truth is that God actually blotted out the sun.
In verse 4 of his poem, “The Maker of the Universe,” F. W. Pitt writes this: “The sky that darkened o’er his head, by him above the earth was spread; The sun that hid from him its face, by his decree was poised in space.”
This is the hour of which Jesus had spoken, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53). The darkness at Calvary could be felt. It was a foreboding darkness. This was a darkness that reflected the absolute evil of the human heart, the absolute evil of Calvary. The physical darkness was a reflection of the spiritual darkness, which had been exhibited at every turn during Jesus’ life. He came to his own and his own did not receive him (Jn. 1:11) – they were spiritually ignorant of who he was. He performed miracles for the benefit of the sick and suffering, but few gave thanks and few confessed who he was. The religious leaders claimed to know the Scriptures, but they didn’t recognize him and they rejected him.
So, God darkened the earth. And then God divided the veil: “The veil of the temple was torn in two” (23:45b). The darkness and the dividing of the veil were miracles. God performs miracle to testify to who he is, to get our attention, and to publicize what he is doing. The crucifixion of the Saviour could not be kept secret. No one can say they didn’t know for it was a public miracle at a public event in a public place. This was the most important event in human history.
The dividing of the temple veil indicates a division in the ages, a dividing point in the history of redemption, an indication that the old was passing away and the new was coming, the day when the religious rituals and the priestly sacrificial system were ending and the day when salvation by grace through faith was dawning. A new spiritual day was about to break into history, a new means of approach to God was coming into view. What was formerly closed is about to be opened. As someone else has said, “Alongside the darkness is the opening up of access to God.” No longer was the way into God’s presence covered by a veil and restricted to the High Priest alone. But from now on, the way into God’s presence was open to all who believe. The only mediator between God and man would now be Jesus Christ himself, the very one who is being crucified. How ironic is that!
The darkness was a sign to the unbelieving world and the divided veil was a sign to the religious world (e.g. the Levites and priests). The darkness symbolizes the depths of gloom but the divided temple veil symbolizes the dawn of a glory.
You see, a division and transition are taking place. The darkness is transitioning to a grand and glorious light. The darkness of Calvary…will be shattered by the brilliance of an empty tomb. The burden of sin will give birth to salvation. Jesus’ separation from God will end in eternal reunion. The despair of death will be dwarfed by the hope of life. The tragedy of crucifixion will be overshadowed by the victory of resurrection. The agony of suffering will turn into the joy of deliverance. The oppression of gloom will be overpowered by imminent glory.
That’s what this setting brings before us. The gloom and darkness of sin and death are about to be radically transformed. And we see the beginning of that transformation in the final words of Jesus, for now we notice that Jesus’ previous cry of abandonment by God has changed to a cry of confidence in God.
1. Jesus Final Words Express His Confidence In His Father
a) Jesus is confident in his Father concerning his own deity. Jesus addresses God as “Father” (23:46). The Jews knew what it meant to call God his Father. To address God as “Father” was to claim equality with God. When Jesus said in Jn. 5:17-18, “My Father has been working until now and I have been working…the Jews sought all the more to kill him because he not only broke the Sabbath but also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” To them, Jesus’ claim to equality with God was blasphemy. But Jesus is absolutely confident concerning his own deity. That’s why Jesus could say, “I and my Father are one” (Jn. 10:30) and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
To address God as Father means that Jesus is the Son of God. As the Son of God he is the sent One from the Father for “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). In coming here to die, the Son was fulfilling the Father’s will. Only the God-man could utter these words in truth. Only He could cry with a loud voice at the moment of greatest weakness. Only He could truly claim and address God as his Father. So, Jesus is confident in his Father concerning his own deity. And…
b) Jesus is confident in his Father concerning his own authority: “… into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46b). By committing his spirit into the Father’s hands, Jesus is expressing complete confidence in his Father and he is expressing complete authority over his life and death. By saying this, Jesus was trusting his Father for whatever would happen to him from that moment on, for the Father’s safe-keeping of his life. The resurrection of which Jesus had spoken would rest solely in the hands of his Father. This is absolute confidence.
In this confidence, Jesus exercises and expresses complete and sole authority over his death. Notice that He had authority to control the very means and moment of his death. He had authority to control the means of his death. That’s why he could prophesy in Lk. 9:22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things & be rejected by the elders & chief priests & scribes and be killed and be raised the third day.” That’s why Jesus could prophesy in Lk. 18:31-33, “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished, for he will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge him and kill Him. And the third day he will rise again.”
Jesus could prophesy these things because he had complete and sole authority over the means of his death. And He had authority to control the moment of his death: “… into your hands I commit my spirit. And having said this he breathed his last” (23:46b). No human can order another person’s spirit to leave him. When the spirit leaves the body that is the moment of death. “This is the moment,” Jesus was saying. “Now is the time – not a moment before or after.” Pilate didn’t choose the moment of Jesus’ death. The centurion didn’t choose the moment of his death. The soldiers who nailed him to the cross didn’t choose the moment of his death. The soldier who pierced his side with a spear did not choose the moment of Jesus’ death.
So, Jesus is confident in his Father concerning his authority over his death. He had authority to control the means and moment of his death. And Jesus had authority to control the initiative and purpose of his death. The initiative was his voluntary choice. He wasn’t compelled to die. He said, “I lay down my life so that I might take it again. No man takes my life from me but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received from my Father” (Jn. 10:17-18). He died when and how he chose to die. The initiative of his death was his voluntary choice. And the purpose of his death was to do the Father’s will. It was the Father’s will that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance. The purpose of his death, then, was to redeem ruined humanity. The purpose of his death was to reconcile us to God.
So, first we have noticed that Jesus’ final words express his confidence in his Father concerning his deity and authority. Now notice also…
2. Jesus Final Words Express His Confidence In His Future
a) He was confident concerning the destiny of his body: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46b). To put yourself in someone else’s hands is to express confidence. Hands connote security, strength, dependability, as when children jump from a high ledge, confident that their father will catch them and care for them.
Prior to the cross, Jesus said that “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Matt. 17:22). Those were hands of treachery, untrustworthy hands. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his disciples, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45). And the soldiers who came to arrest him “laid their hands on him and seized him”(Matt. 26:50). Upon releasing Jesus to be crucified, Pilate “washed his hands”(Matt. 27:24), trying to symbolically declare his innocence in the whole sordid matter while all the while having hands stained with innocent blood.
But here, Jesus is confident in his Father’s “hands” concerning the destiny of his body. He is confident that in the words of Ps. 16:8-10 “his soul would not be left in Sheol nor his body see corruption.” What a contrast between the hands that betrayed and crucified him and the Father’s hands - these were loving hands, secure hands, comforting hands. Jesus is confident in the Father’s hands to care for his body while it was in the grave; and to raise his body from the grave.
When Jesus uses the word “commit”, he is saying “I am handing over to you the care and control of everything that happens to me from this moment on. I am entrusting myself entirely to you. I am pledging myself to you, binding myself to you irreversibly.” As Peter says of Jesus, “When he suffered he did not threaten but committed himself to him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
Jesus was making a life-and-death commitment here, that God would raise him again, that God would not abandon him, that he would be reunited with his Father, that death would be swallowed up by life.
The reformer John Hus made a life-and-death commitment. He believed the Scriptures to be the infallible and supreme authority in all matters. He died at the stake for that belief in Constance, Germany, on his forty-second birthday. As he refused a final plea to renounce his faith, Hus's last words were: "What I taught with my lips, I seal with my blood." He was confident in his beliefs and his eternal destiny. Jesus was confident concerning the destiny of his body. And…
b) Jesus was confident concerning the dismissal of his spirit: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46). Jesus is confident of his authority and control over his death. He is confident that death was not the end, that God would keep safe his spirit, that his spirit would be reunited with his body at resurrection. He is confident that resurrection would follow his death and burial. He is confident that his prophecy in Lk. 9 and Lk. 18:33 would be fulfilled. He is confident that after being scourged and killed, he would “rise again on the third day” (Lk. 18:33). He is confident of where he was going and of what lay ahead - his death, burial, resurrection and ascension and ultimately his return to earth again.
There is a sense of calm, of peace here in what Jesus says. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” There is no panic, no desperation, no call for deliverance. There is no sense of futility or frustration, no recantation of his prophecies or teachings, no doubts about his claims to deity. Rather, there is this utter sense of calm confidence that, in fact, even at this hour, all was well. The work of redemption had been completed; he had borne the load of our sins - the debt had been paid, the claims of God had been satisfied, he had exhausted God’s punishment in the three hours of darkness. There was nothing more to be done other than to dismiss his spirit.
Previously, in the garden, Jesus had prayed for deliverance as he anticipated the awful work of Calvary: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Lk. 22:42). But now, the darkness is passed, the work is done, the suffering is over, the sin question is dealt with.
Previously, Jesus’ cry of dereliction echoed from the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”(Matt. 27:46). The burden of sin, the spiritual darkness of the place, the separation from God were unbearable. But now Jesus is confident in his communion with his Father, confident in the Father’s care and love, confident in his relationship with the Father. And he says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And thus Jesus died, his final words expressing full confidence in his Father, and his final words expressing full confidence in his future. As Luke so often does, he concludes his account with a variety of responses, responses that are exactly the same as the various responses to the gospel today.
The centurion responded with a bold confession (23:47). He “saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, ‘Certainly this was a righteous man’” (23:47). He saw the wicked act. He heard Jesus’ gracious words of forgiveness and confidence. Like the criminal on the cross who received forgiveness, this man also saw what had happened and understood the truth. This is Luke’s grand finale to the whole crucifixion event. He ends it with a bold confession: “This was a righteous man.” This centurion testifies to Jesus’ innocence. This affirms the confession of the criminal on the cross, that Jesus had done nothing amiss. His confession was born out of the conviction that he had just witnessed and participated in a wicked act. And in bearing such testimony, the centurion “glorified God”. The centurion responded with a bold confession.
The crowd responded with pricked consciences (23:48). “Seeing what had been done, they smote their breasts.” Their consciences were pricked by what they saw. They saw the darkness and they heard Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. And in that moment, they realized what had happened. But now it was too late. What utter condemnation of conscience they suffered, so much so that they beat their breasts. Deep remorse and grief struck them. They had heavy hearts because they had stood idly by and watched a grievous injustice.
The onlookers and participants were all alike self-condemned. Conscience, you see, strikes terror into the heart when it condemns you. You can’t have peace of heart if you have a troubled conscience. We need consciences that are informed by the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 3:21; Acts 24:16).
The centurion responded with a bold confession. The crowd responded with pricked consciences. And…
Jesus’ acquaintances responded with distant coldness (23:49). “All his acquaintances and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” These “acquaintances” probably refers to Jesus’ disciples. The “women from Galilee” probably refers to those who had accompanied Him from the beginning of his earthly ministry. These were people who knew him intimately. These were people you would have expected to be grief-stricken, horrified at what had happened before their eyes. Instead, all it says is that they “stood at a distance” – remote, unidentified, almost disconnected. Perhaps that’s what they wanted – to be disconnected from what had happened, as though they weren’t part of it. Perhaps they stood there in fear that they would suffer his fate if they were too closely identified with him. They “watched these things” – impersonal, uninvolved, mere observers, detached, without reaction.
The scene we have looked at began with miracles. God darkened the earth and divided the temple veil. Miracles accompanied the death of the Saviour and miracles will accompany his return: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Heb. 12:26). This is a sign to the world that God sovereignly rules over his creation and can suspend the normal patterns of nature if he so chooses. The scene we have looked at began with miracles and…
The scene we have looked at ended with testimonies. The question Luke is asking is: “Which testimony do you believe?” Is it the testimony of the unremorseful criminal who said, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us”(Lk. 23:39) with emphasis on “us”. What he wanted from Jesus was to save his own skin. He wasn’t interested in whether Jesus was the Christ or not. All he wanted was the benefit of his power if he was the Christ. Is it the testimony of the repentant criminal: “We receive the due reward of our deeds, but his Man has done nothing wrong” (Lk. 23:41)? Is it the testimony of the cynical rulers who sneered at Jesus or the hardened soldiers who offered him sour wine as a gesture of mock empathy? Is it the testimony of the inscription over the cross, “This is the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37)? Or, is it the testimony of the centurion: “Truly this was a righteous man.” What do you think? Which testimony do you believe?
Do you believe that the death of Jesus Christ has swept away the veil of darkness and opened up the light of life; has paid the penalty of sin and made possible our forgiveness and reconciliation to God; has overpowered the gates of hell and opened up the very gate of heaven for those who believe?
From Jesus’ final words, we have learned that in his deity, Jesus had complete and sole control over his death. He laid down his life and He rose again from the dead. He bore the cross so that He could be our Saviour. He dismissed his spirit in full confidence in his Father and the future. The question is: Do you trust Him and what he has done? Do you believe that his death is sufficient to atone for the sins of every human being who ever lived, if you will only trust Him? Do you believe that the One who forgave the thief on the cross can forgive you, that the One who loved his enemies loves you?
Do you trust him? The crowd at his trial and crucifixion didn’t trust him. The soldiers didn’t trust him. The Jewish leaders didn’t trust him. But his death and resurrection has proved them all wrong. It has proved that he is fully trustworthy for Jesus prophesied in Lk. 18:18-34 that he would die and rise again and that’s exactly what he did.
For those of us who do trust Him, what an assurance this gives us today! What a renewed sense of faith and hope this gives us, that the One who died for us has risen and is coming back again; that by trusting Christ as our Saviour and Lord we stand forgiven at the cross. That’s what this song expresses: “This the power of the cross! Son of God—slain for us. What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.”