Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
This subject of death is relevant to every person. Unless our Lord Jesus comes first, this will happen to you. You will go through it.
You might think today that the subject of death is a long way from what concerns you. The truth is that this is far more relevant to you than anything else that may take your time or your interest today. This could happen to you next week, later this year, or for some who are younger, it may not happen for 70 or even 80 years. But it will happen.
On Memorial Day, we remember those who’ve gone into death. What happened to them? Where are they now? One day I’ll go into death. I’ll leave the friends and family I love behind. I’ll go on and so will you. What have you done to prepare for it? What is your readiness for it? Since you do not know the time or the place of this event, but you do know the certainty of it, how well-prepared are you?
Everything you need for facing death can be found in Jesus’ words: “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (23:46). I want us to gather what we can from our Savior’s words—Spirit, Father, hands, and commit.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
These words remind us what death is—a temporary separating of the spirit from the body. I say “temporary” because the Bible teaches the resurrection of the body. On the third day the tomb was empty.
Jesus rose from the dead and those who belong to him will share in his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). God will clothe your spirit with a body that is no longer subject to pain, sickness, decay or death; it will be adapted to eternal life.
This will happen when Christ comes again in glory. Until that day, when a believer dies, his or her soul is separated from their body. When God created Adam, he made a body from the dust of the ground, and then he breathed life, spirit into it.
You are a body/spirit union. That is how God has made you. Your body belongs to the earth—dust you are and to dust you will return. Your body will decay and one day it will die. But your spirit goes on forever.
The Bible uses various pictures to teach us about the body and the spirit, “Remember him; before the silver cord is severed” (Ecclesiastes 12:6). Solomon says, “It is as if there is a silver cord that ties your spirit to your body. Death is the cutting of that silver cord. When this happens, your spirit and your body are separated for a time.” When your body no longer has the life of your spirit, it is like a puppet with no hand inside.
Then Solomon says, “Remember him…before the pitcher is shattered at the spring” (12:6). This has nothing to do with baseball. Your life is like a jug filled with water. Your body is like the jug; your spirit is like the water. If the jug is dropped and smashes, it can no longer contain the water. The water spills out and it is separated from the jug.
Death is the separating of what God has joined together. It’s the undoing of your nature. That’s why it is such a fearful thing. It is the dismantling of what God has built.
The priority in God’s Word
Jesus does not say, “Father, into your hands I commit my body.” He says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” When a person dies various things may happen to the body—it might be buried or lost at sea. It may be horribly disfigured in an accident or there may be no body to be found. Whatever happens to the body, it is to be honored.
But the focus of attention in the Scriptures is not on the body, but on the spirit, because while you have a body, your body is not who you are. Your body will die, but your spirit will go on. Paul says, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:20). Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so looking after your body is important, but caring for your spirit matters even more.
Some of you spend a great deal of time and a lot of money caring for your body. You have exercise routines. You’re committed to healthy eating, healthy living and you pour a great deal of energy and attention into caring for, and even developing, your body. I do not criticize you for that. I commend you.
But let me ask you this question: Are you doing more for your body than you’re doing for your spirit? Because if you are, you’ve got life completely upside-down. Listen to what the apostle Paul says, “Physical training is of some value…” (1 Timothy 4:8). There is some value, “…but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (4:8).
All that you do to care for your body is good, but it is only useful for the present life. How you care for your spirit, your pursuit of godliness, a Godward life, holds promise not only for the present life but also for the life to come. The priority is obvious.
Some of you have a great deal of unhappiness because you do not like your body, “I’m too fat. I’m too thin. I’m too short. I’m too tall.” Your body doesn’t look like you want it to look. Your body doesn’t do what you want it to do.
It has been 30 years since I gave this ring to Karen. I still remember when I picked out the ring, the jeweler putting it in this box for me. What a strange thing it would be to put the ring away and put the box it came in on display.
Don’t get fixated on the body. Care for the body. Exercise the body. But remember, your body is not who you are.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
Jesus says “Father” the first time that he speaks from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) and the last time that he speaks from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Between these two wonderful words of fellowship with the Father, lies an awful abyss of darkness in which Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why doesn’t he say “Father?” Because your sin-bearer is entering into all the dimensions of hell, and the knowledge of the love of God is beyond his reach.
The Bible speaks about death in two ways. There is death the way we normally think about it, the severing of the body and the spirit. Then there is what the Bible calls “the second death.” The second death is simply the judgment of God in which the body and the soul are cast into hell (Revelation 20:14; 21:8).
Jesus experienced the first death and the second death at precisely the same time. He died a double death on the cross. Strictly speaking, he endured the second death before the first death. During these three hours of darkness, Christ endured all the dimensions of hell. He entered into the second death on the cross.
That is what the Bible is referring to when it says that he tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). It doesn’t mean you won’t die. It means if you are in Christ, you will never know the second death.
On the cross, Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins. The punishment that would have been mine was poured out on him, and through faith in Christ we have peace with God. Isaiah said it this way, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5). As he endured the pain of my hell, the love of the Father was beyond his reach. That’s why he cried out in the darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
But it didn’t end there! The Old Testament says, “You will not leave his soul in hell” (Psalm 16:10). Christ endured this hell. He came through this hell and out of this hell. After hours of suffering in the darkness, Jesus says in triumph, “It is finished,” and then, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Do you see the significance of this? The hell is over. The price is paid. The infinite agonies of the Son of God have passed. The light of the Father’s love, that he has known for all eternity, shines on him again.
Hugh Martin describes how the justice of heaven and the injustice of earth and of hell all conspired together against Jesus at the cross. There’s the wrath of God on him. There’s the hatred of man on him. There’s the unleashing of the demons on him. But, he says,
Christ’s action outlasted and outlived them all.
Klaas Schilder, the great Dutch theologian says,
First, He suffered the pain of hell, and died the eternal and the spiritual death. But that has gone now. All that is left for Him to do now is to surrender the body, to give up the tortured instrument in which and by which… He has accomplished His hardest work; namely the descent into the affliction of hell.
Jesus was not overwhelmed by death. It didn’t overcome him. He didn’t run out of strength. That’s why he said, “I have power to lay down my life and power to take it up again. No one takes my life from me!” (John 10:18). Christ’s life was not taken; it was given. He gave himself in death, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
His life was strong within Him; if He had willed to do so, He could have unloosed the nails and come down into the crowd that stood mocking Him. He died of His own free will…
That is a statement you could not say about anyone else. And this is the significance of Jesus speaking his last words with a “loud voice” (Luke 23:46). Friends, have you ever heard of anyone saying his last words with a loud voice?
Have you ever been with someone who’s died? Their life drains and drains and drains until it becomes a whisper, and then hardly a breath. Nobody dies with a loud voice. If you’ve got a loud voice, then you’ve got a bit longer before you die.
But Jesus spoke his last words with a loud voice. What does that tell you? Jesus is not going into death in defeat; he’s going into death the Victor. Mark tells us, “When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39). No one ever died like that!
Christ endured the second death for us and that changes the nature of death for all who are in him. If you are in Christ, you will never experience the second death. Christ endured that for you on the cross. All that is left is the separation of the body from the spirit. For the Christian believer death is transformed.
If you are in Christ, death for you will not be going into the dark abyss of judgment. You will be going home to your heavenly Father. Alec Motyer says,
Death is not so much something which happens to a Christian as something God works for him. The death of a Christian is precious to God (Psalm 116:15). It is something He has a special regard for.
If you take in all that Jesus’ death means for you, it will transform your experience of death. Ronald Wallace says,
Death is now an experience in which God no longer is absent, but present to receive the spirit in its separation from the body, in order to clothe it again and keep it for everlasting glory.
When you face the greatest challenges of life
When you come to the hardest things of life it is so wonderful to know that God is your Father. Jesus invokes the name, “Father” when he has to face two of the most difficult challenges a man or a woman has to face in this world—forgiving and dying. “Father, forgive them.” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When you face these storms, your main strength will lie in knowing that you are a child of God.
How can I know God as my Father? The Bible tells us, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). You can come to Jesus today and say, “Make me a son who does the will of the Father. You are God’s Son by nature, make me an adopted son, an adopted daughter in the family of God by grace.” Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me, I will never turn away.”
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
The whole life of Jesus has been in hands of his Father, and now at death, he commits his Spirit into the Father’s hands.
Here’s what happens at death to a believer: Your spirit goes into the immediate presence of God, into the Father’s hands. That’s why the New Testament says that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Whatever happens to your body, your spirit is safe in the Father’s hands.
Someone has the awful experience of their body being ravaged by cancer, and it seems that they’re a shell of their former self. Another person is horribly mutilated in an accident. If you’ve ever had to identify the body of a loved one, as I have, you’ll know the agony of it. Whatever happens to your body, your spirit is safe in the hands of the Father. When the box is smashed, he keeps the jewel safe.
Jesus has been in the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45). But now he places his Spirit in the Father’s hands. The Father’s hands are the place of eternal security. No one can snatch you out of the Father’s hands (John 10:30). Your loved ones who have died in Christ are safe in the Father’s hands.
Earlier this month, Karen and I had the joy of my colleague, Johnny Prime, staying with us. Johnny is pastor of the church in Enfield where Karen and I served for sixteen years before coming here. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to catch up with him.
Over the past couple of years, Johnny’s mother had died of cancer and then his youngest sister, Cilla, also died of cancer at the age of 38. Many of you also have gone through a family bereavement of someone very young. We got to talking about this, and he said,
One thing that has helped me is this: No believer who has died has ever regretted it… You know, Colin, she died when she was 38 and if I live until I’m 90, in the light of eternity, it isn’t really that big a difference.
I have another friend whose wife died of a sudden illness. He really struggled. His life was devastated. He told me afterward someone had told him this and that he had found it really helpful, “You can’t tell her what you want to say, but she is in the Father’s hands, so you could always ask the Father to tell her for you.” That’s beautiful. Think about that in relation to your loved ones in Christ—you miss them—safe in the Father’s hands.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
Here’s our Lord Jesus Christ at the moment of death, in an act of faith that’s borne out of a life lived for the Father’s glory. I want to live in such a way that when I die, I have a knowledge of the Father that enables me to say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
We trust what we know. It’s no use going through life saying, “I have a belief in a god—whoever he, she or it might be.” That will be of no use to you when you die. You need to know God as Father through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, in such a way that you can say at the end of your life as Jesus said, as Stephen said and as countless Christians have said , “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Robert Lewis Dabney was a pastor and a confederate army chaplain in the Civil War.
This week, I read a sermon that he preached in the woods to a gathering of officers and soldiers who were about to go into battle. Dabney preached a sermon called, “Our Comfort in Dying,” in which he spoke about the unknown journey into the world of spirits.
How could we endure to be launched out into the untried ocean of space, peopled by we known not what mysterious beings… How [can we] be certain that we will not lose our way in the pathless vacancy and wander up and down forever, a bewildered solitary rover amidst the wilderness of worlds?
Truly will the trembling soul need someone on whom to lean, some mighty, experienced, tender guardian, who will point the way to the prepared mansions. That guide is Christ. Therefore let us say in dying, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.”
…on whom will you call, you who have neglected your Savior, when you pass down into this valley of great darkness? When death thrusts out your wretched soul from its abused tenement; when you launch forth into the void immense, a naked shivering ghost, when you stand before the great white throne? Can you face these horrors alone?
Call on Christ, then, today, in repentance and faith, in order that you may be entitled to call on Him in the hour of your extremity. Own Him now as your Lord, so that He may confess you then as His people.
What will it be like when your spirit leaves your body?
The first time Karen and I visited the United States, we spent some time with a friend of mine who was a pastor in California. There were a couple of guys in his church who owned small aircraft, and one afternoon they took us for a flight.
It was absolutely magnificent flying up the coast, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. After about an hour, we landed on a small peninsula where we enjoyed a meal together—four couples in two planes.
The pilot of the first plane had been flying for 30 years, which prompted Karen to ask the guy who was flying us, how long he had been flying. “Just a few months,” he said.
We enjoyed the meal, but after a while the lead guy began to get agitated. He got up from the table, left the restaurant, then came back in a few minutes later shouting, “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go!”
A heavy mist was rolling in fast, and so now there were four couples running down the path toward these planes. The lead guy was first. I’ve never seen so fast a take-off. As the first plane took off, our guy was obviously in a panic, and I was saying my prayers.
He revved up the engine and we left the ground, not able to see a thing. Then we heard the voice of the first pilot, “Hold steady. Ten seconds and you will be through.” We all counted…
It was scary. But on the count of ten, we burst through the fog into the most brilliant sunlight. I will never forget it. It was glorious.
Christ will not leave you lost in the mists of eternal darkness. To be away from the body is to be home with the Lord. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:13).
All the way my Savior leads me, O the fullness of His love.
Perfect rest to me is promised, in my Father’s house above.
When my spirit clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages, Jesus led me all the way.
 Hugh Martin, The Atonement, p. 83, cited in Macleod, A Faith to Live By, p. 138.
 Klass Schilder, Christ Crucified, p. 430, Sovereign Grace, 2001.
 C. H. Spurgeon, Christ’s Words From the Cross, p. 112, Baker, 1981.
 Alec Motyer, After Death, p. 79, Christian Focus, 1996.
 Ronald Wallace, Words of Triumph, p. 85, John Knox, 1964.
 R. L. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, Banner of Truth, 1967.
 Fanny J. Crosby from the hymn, All the Way My Savior Leads Me, 1875.