The last words of a man are frequently given a certain weight, as they are those words signifying what was on his heart as death approaches. So too with our Lord and Savior, Jesus, as He sacrificed Himself upon the cross for our sins, we should seriously consider the import of His last words in those moments of pain and suffering.
Concerning these last words, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to record seven sayings from the cross for our benefit and edification. It is of some interest that two of these seven sayings are quotations from the Psalms.
The more famous of these two quotations is Jesus’ fourth statement from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34),” a quotation taken from Psalm 22:1, a Psalm which is one of the clearest and most direct prophecies in the Bible concerning the cross of Christ. Considering the 22nd Psalm was written a thousand years before Christ died, it is one of the greatest biblical evidences for the foresight and knowledge of God extent, and much could be said about it. Yet, today, let us examine Jesus’ other citation from the Psalms, given while on the cross, and it is a quotation taken from Psalm 31:5, “Into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).”
One suspects that most people are not even aware that this particular utterance was a citation of the Psalms, but so familiar was Jesus with the Sacred Scriptures that when He offers us a quote that is word for word comparable to one found in the Old Testament, we must conclude it is indeed what it appears to be: a quotation drawn from Jesus’ intimate connection with God’s word.
This statement, “Father, into your hands,” is, in the context of the cross, given especial weight because it is generally understood as being Jesus’ final words before death. His penultimate statement, “It is finished,” was spoken concerning His mission and work, but His final words were a more personal reflection of His own private situation and His attitude thereof. They were a statement concerning His faith and His expectation, both of which were born from His relationship to God, something we can more readily appreciate if we place the quotation in its larger context within the Psalm.
While the whole of Psalm 31 has relevance to the situation of Christ upon the cross, and is in its own way a messianic prophecy, let us for the sake of brevity consider only the immediate context around the quote: “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 hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (Psalm 31:3-5; ESV)”
Jesus, in His moment of death, surrounded by enemies, understood that He was not alone, He had never been alone, and no matter what men did to Him, His soul was secure because of His relationship with His Father. Even as the body perished, there was waiting for Him a home eternal and hope everlasting, for He had followed the Father’s direction. Just as His earthly father David had once expressed it, Jesus had confidence, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6).”
This attitude of confidence in the face of even death is one that the follower of Christ can have as well. This is the theme eloquently expounded on by Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39; ESV)”
If our soul is in the hands of the Lord, there is nothing that can be done to damage us; even death will fall short of doing actual harm. Yet, this situation is not one that comes, all of a sudden upon us at the conclusion; it is a condition obtained by being in the love of God and Christ. David was able to conclude that he would dwell in the house of the Lord, because he had determined to allow the Lord to be His Shepherd (cf. Psalm 23:1). Jesus was able, in death, to commit His Spirit into the hands of God because He had much earlier committed His life into the same, letting God be His guide, His rock and His fortress. If we want that confidence, and that hope, let us do the same.
If you would like to learn about the hope and confidence to be found in Christ, the church of Christ invites you to come freely worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.