Jesus' Last Prayer
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|"Crucifixion" by Michelangelo|
The text for today is Luke 23:44-46:
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It may not be the posture for prayer that first comes to mind. The Son of Man cannot prostrate Himself with His face to the ground in the custom of the ancient Hebrews or modern day Muslims. He cannot kneel at the altar railing or by the side of His bed like you or I might. He can bow His head and close His eyes, but He probably can’t see much already with the blood weeping from the pricks of His thorny crown. And He can’t fold His hands together like many of us teach our children to do. You see, both of His hands are stretched out as far as they can reach. And since He’s nailed in place to the cross, He can’t go away to a desolate place by Himself as is His custom, though He’s certainly never been more alone, even surrounded as He is by the jeering crowd. The deep darkness is a sign that even the heavenly Father has turned His back on His Son, as He pours on Him the cup of wrath for each and every sin of each and every sinner since Adam’s fall all the way to the Last Day.
Still with all of that going on, Jesus prays. And His final prayer, uttered with His final breath, is not in a silent whisper, but spoken with a loud, confident voice: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Jesus prays the prayer He learned from the lips and laps of Mary and Joseph every night as a child. It was the bedtime prayer of the Old Testament, Psalm 31.
“In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let Me never be put to shame; in Your righteousness deliver Me! Incline Your ear to Me; rescue Me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for Me, a strong fortress to save Me! For You are My rock and My fortress; and for Your name’s sake You lead Me and guide Me; You take Me out of the net they have hidden for Me, for You are My refuge. Into Your hands I commit My spirit, You have redeemed Me, O Lord, faithful God.” It’s a bedtime prayer, authored by the Holy Spirit, and set to word and music by Jesus’ illustrious ancestor, King David. Now Jesus—David’s Son, yet David’s Lord—prays it in the very hour of His death: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
The psalm is certainly more challenging and substantial, but similar to our own prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Or the last sentence from Luther’s evening prayer that Aimee and I, and so many other Lutherans throughout history, have taught our children: “For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”
This is the same message that you will find in the hymn we’ll sing near the closing of tonight’s service: “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night.”
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere, I sleep, at peace may be.
Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-full Day. LSB #883 vv 2,3
“Teach me to die”—that’s how children, including many of you, learned to pray before our society got the well-intentioned, but totally mistaken notion that we should try to cover up all evidence of death, especially from our children. In our process of censoring and sanitizing we’ve left many people unprepared to deal with death—their own death or the death of their loved ones.
Psalm 31, both prayers, and hymn #883 all display a healthy awareness that there is evil out in the world that seeks to take body and soul. But they also confess a firm trust in God’s grace and mercy. Each expresses a willingness to entrust everything—body and soul—to the Father’s loving hand, with an understanding that while death is not natural, while death is a horrible thing, there is something far more terrible than physical death.
Unlike our culture, unlike you and me, Jesus does not avoid death, the talk of death, the thought of death, or even death itself. He does not run from it. He was born to die. You might say that He rehearsed for His death every night when He went to bed and prayed, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
What trust! Even as He slips into death. Even when it appears that the evil one has won! Satan’s taken his best shot at Jesus. Got one disciple to betray Him. Another to deny Him repeatedly. The rest to abandon Him. And then with all sin heaped on His shoulders, even the Father leaves His Son to suffer the damnation of hell alone as the sky turns to black and the sun and moon cover their eyes in horror at the pouring out of God’s wrath. The serpent had to be twitching his tail in glee!
But even in that abandonment Jesus prays with trust: “My God, My God…” After all, His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death blaze the way for your salvation. They rescue you from every evil of body and soul from the devil. And Jesus knows it. He does it willingly and obediently. As the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He lays down His life as a ransom for many, as full payment for the wages of sin, for the sin of the world.
All your sin belongs to Him. He took it all the way to death, to a cursed death on the cross. Jesus has taken it and answered for it. He is the once-for-all sacrifice that atones for sin. He leaves none out. All sin. Every sinner. You too. With all His saving work accomplished for sinners, Jesus prays with all boldness and confidence: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” He will not be abandoned in the grave. Death cannot hold Him. In three days the Scriptures will be fulfilled. He will be raised from the dead. And then He will go to the Father’s right hand in glory. Jesus knows the end game. For Him and for you.
Unless the Lord returns first, you also will die. That’s a fact, a sobering reality. You will die. You will breathe your last. For some it will come sooner rather than later. Learn from Jesus Christ how to die. Rehearse for it every day when you pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil”—another bedtime prayer of sorts. For when you pray that way you pray with all boldness and confidence that when your last hour comes you trust that your heavenly Father will give you a blessed end. You pray trusting that He will graciously take you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. All for Jesus’ sake who died for you!
That’s the end game. It’s certain and sure. And the evil one can’t do anything about it for you who trust in Jesus. This world’s prince may still scowl as fiercely as he wants, but he can’t harm you. He’s judged. The Good Friday deed is done. It is finished! This one little petition can fell him! Your life is held safely and securely in Jesus who has crushed the evil one.
“Deliver us from evil.” This last petition of the Lord’s Prayer is your Nunc Dimittis. You, like St. Simeon, can depart in peace. In other words, you can die in peace. For your eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation. Jesus and His kingdom has come to you. And in your Baptism, the Lord has “delivered you from the dominion of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
In addition, the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar are your medicine of immortality, which strengthens you in body and soul unto life everlasting. It is a foretaste of the eternal feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. A pledge and token, so that what you now have by faith you will have by sight when He gives you a blessed end, when He takes you to Himself in heaven, and raises your body on the Last Day.
Until then, we are like St. Paul, who, while facing imminent death wrote with all boldness and confidence: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). Until then we pray: “Deliver us from evil,” knowing that we pray along with the risen Lord who gives us this prayer. We pray, trusting that the One who began a good in work in us is faithful and will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.
Tonight and every night, you can go to bed in peace, and commit yourself in the God’s loving hands, knowing that you are a beloved child of the heavenly Father. Knowing that for the sake of Jesus Christ and His work of salvation, you are delivered from every evil of body and soul, including death and hell. Knowing that your Great High Priest continues to pray for you and intercede on your behalf. Knowing that through the work of the Holy Spirit you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.