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Jesus' Last Words

Tom Pennington Luke 23:44-49


More than seven years ago, now, I embarked on a journey through the seven last sayings of Christ on the cross. We haven't done one every year; that's why it's been more than seven. But we have slowly worked our way through them, and I want to continue to do that this morning.

I think you understand, and most people understand, that a person's last words often provide profound insight into their souls. And that is certainly true of the last words of Jesus. The seven extraordinary statements that He made just before His death on the cross. They are often called, "The Seven Words of the Cross". One of those statements appears in Matthew's gospel and Mark, three of them are only in Luke, and three are only in John. Three of them were addressed to God, one to the thief hanging next to Him, one to Mary His mother and John the Apostle, one to the crowd, and one to absolutely everyone.

Now, just to remind you of sort of how these seven sayings unfold, Jesus was crucified at nine AM in the morning on that Friday. He made three of the seven statements from the cross between the hours of nine AM and noon. These were the statements: Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (a request that was answered within hours by the thief that was hanging next to Him and on behalf of the soldiers who crucified Him), the second is in Luke 23:43, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (to that thief who believed), John 19:26-27 (to Mary) "Woman, behold, your son!" and to John, "Behold, your mother!". All of that happened between nine and noon. But from noon until three PM, complete darkness covered the land and there was nothing but silence from Jesus. Just before three PM, Jesus made a series of four other statements in quick succession. The fourth is recorded in Matthew 27:46: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?", the fifth in John 19:28: "I am thirsty", the sixth in John 19:30: "It is finished!", and the final in Luke 23:46: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."

As we have studied these last words of our Lord over the many years, I have reminded you before, and I will again, of J. Oswald Sanders' comments on these seven last sayings. Listen to what he writes: "Because they were His last words and spoken under such tragic circumstances, the seven sayings of our Lord from the pulpit of the cross are of special significance. In them He laid bare His inmost soul and in them He exemplified the spiritual principles He had been teaching. Each of these sayings is an ocean of truth compressed into a drop of speech. That monstrous monument of the cross was transformed into the most eloquent pulpit of the ages."

Last Easter, we studied the sixth word from the cross, "It is finished!". This morning, as we anticipate the Passion week before us, I want us to consider Jesus' seventh and last saying from the cross. The sixth was a cry of victory; the seventh is a word of confidence. Let's read it together. It's in Luke's gospel, Luke 23. Luke 23 and I'll begin in verse 44. Luke 23:44: "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last." With these brief words Jesus voluntarily laid down His life to save His people from their sins. At this point, of course, His sufferings are almost complete. There was really only one thing left and yet it was the most vital thing of all, and that is, that He would actually die for the sins of His people, His voluntary death in the place of those for whom He would purchase redemption.

Now, what do we learn in this text about Jesus' death? Clearly, this has to do with His death as He announces it beforehand. What do we learn? Well, there are several crucial details here about the death of Jesus that are unfolded in those verses, and they're details that are crucial for us to understand as we anticipate the week before us. Let's look at them together. First of all, in verses 44 and 45, we are introduced to the meaning of His death, the meaning of His death. There are two events described in verses 44 and 45 that give us insight into exactly why He was dying and what was being accomplished in His death. Let's look at them. The first one is the darkness. And in the darkness, we learned that Jesus was suffering the wrath of God for us. Verse 44: "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour..." Now John the Apostle, in his gospel, tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour or about nine AM. During the three hours from nine AM to noon, Calvary had been a very busy place. Obviously, the crucifixion detail had finished its grisly work. Jesus had been attached to the crossmember, the crossmember attached to the upright beam, and now the crowds gathered as it became a public spectacle as crucifixion had become under the Romans. People were mocking and laughing (the leaders of the nation were careful not to do it out loud but to do it among themselves). Jesus remains silent during those three hours except for the three brief statements we just examined together.

But after those three hours, something truly dramatic occurred. Understand, if you had been there that morning from nine until noon, this would look...this would have looked just like any other crucifixion you had seen and, if you'd lived in Palestine in the first century, you would have seen many. It would have appeared exactly the same until that moment. But at noon, something dramatic happens. The sky grows completely dark, and it does so for three hours. Why? Well notice verse 45. Here's how Luke puts it: "because the sun was obscured..." It's an interesting expression. The Greek word that's translated "obscured" here was actually the standard way to describe a solar eclipse. But we know that this was not a solar eclipse. Why do we know that? Well, first of all, it lasted for three hours. Secondly, it happened at Passover and Passover was always at full moon; and to have a solar eclipse, you need a new moon. The Greek expression "over the whole land", can mean the whole earth. That's not likely. Or it can mean the whole entire land of Israel or some major portion of it. That's likely what it means. But however widely this darkness was felt, it can't be explained naturally. There are no human natural explanations for it. God miraculously covered the sun for three hours as His only Son hung naked on the cross.

But the question is why? What message did God intend to send with this prevailing, oppressive darkness? The clear biblical reason is this: to show that Jesus Christ was being judged for our sin, to show that Jesus Christ was being judged for our sin. If you trace darkness through the Scripture, you immediately see this stand out. You remember when God brought judgment on the land of Egypt, one of the 10 plagues was what? Darkness - darkness so bad it could be felt. Whenever we read about the coming judgment that God is going to bring on this planet, we see that it includes darkness. Turn to Isaiah, Isaiah 13. Isaiah is talking about the coming destruction of Babylon, which was eminent, but he moves beyond the destruction of Babylon to an event he calls in Isaiah 13, beginning in verse 6 and following, the "Day of the Lord". That's an eschatological expression, that is, an expression about things that are coming in the last days. This is the day of God's judgment on this world. Verse 6: "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! / It will come as destruction from the Almighty." And it goes on to describe how bad it's really going to be. But notice verse 10: "For the stars of heaven and their constellations / Will not flash forth their light; / The sun will be dark when it rises / And the moon will not shed its light. / Thus I will punish the world for its evil / And the wicked for their iniquity; / I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud / And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless." So, from the beginning, darkness has this overarching connotation of the judgment of God. So, it's not surprising when you come to the New Testament, and as Jesus seeks to somehow help us understand what the eternal punishment of those who refuse to accept His offer of salvation will endure, Jesus often describes that place as a place of outer darkness. Just dark because it's God's judgment. It's interesting, isn't it, that heaven, on the other hand, is described in the end of Book of Revelation as a place in which there is no night, no darkness, only God's prevailing, glorious light? So, the darkness clearly was pointing to the judgment of God. D.A. Carson writes, "The cosmic blackness hints at the deep judgment that was taking place." William Hendrickson writes this, "The darkness meant judgment - judgment of God upon our sins, His wrath, as it were, burning itself out in the very heart of Jesus so that He, as our substitute, suffered intense agony, indescribable whoa, terrible isolation, forsakenness. Hell came to Calvary that day and the Savior bore its horrors in our stead."

Do you understand what this means? Have you ever thought about this personally? If you think about what Jesus endured during those three hours of darkness on the cross - the utter separation from God, the blackness of night, the forsakenness (God forsaken - Jesus was enduring during those three hours what you and I deserved for eternity. He got what you deserve. He got what I deserved. Abandoned by God. Nothing transpired during those three hours of darkness. Jesus was completely silent for most of those three hours and maybe even a little before noon he may have spoken the last word, in the light, at 11 or before. So, Jesus has said nothing. He has hung there in silence for three to four hours. But suddenly around three PM, out of that strange supernatural darkness, Jesus shouted a cry of anguish, a cry that rang across that silent hillside, a prayer to God - Matthew 27:46: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" In a miracle of divine love toward us, for those three hours that Jesus hung on the cross in darkness, the fellowship and the communion that He had experienced with the Father as a man throughout His earthly life, was suddenly and completely severed. You understand this in just a small way. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, if you're a believer, you know how distant you feel from God when you choose to sin. You know that sudden sense of distance and of strangeness and estrangement from God. Can you imagine? No, you and I can imagine this. But try for a moment to imagine what it would have been like to have been the sinless Son of God. He had lived as a man on this planet without a single sinful thought, without a sinful word, without a single sinful act. He had loved God perfectly every moment of His life. He had loved others as He loved Himself. Not a single moment had He ever experienced that distance, only perfect loving communion with the Father. And then, suddenly, with the darkness of those three hours, that communion is completely shattered, and the heavens are like brass. The Father abandoned His Son's human nature. At the cross, God abandoned His Son because He publicly displayed Him as the object of His wrath. 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf..." Doesn't mean he made Jesus a sinner. It means He credited our sins to Jesus, and for those dark hours, He treated Jesus as if He had lived your life and sinned your sins. The darkness, my friend, was yours and it was mine. Galatians 3:13 says He became a curse for us. 1 Peter 2:24: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross..." That day, God treated Jesus like you deserved to be treated, like I deserved to be treated; not just now, but forever. Could you see the essence of eternal judgment that we sinners deserve is separation from a holy God? That's the essence of it. We don't deserve to be in God's presence. He's holy, we're sinners. And if we got what we deserve, it would be complete, utter, eternal separation. That's what Jesus got on the cross. Jesus experienced the darkness because He was suffering the just wrath of God in our place. That was the message of the darkness.

There's a second message back in our text about the meaning of His death. It has to do with the veil of the temple. Now, understand this, Luke intentionally changes the order of events; he shifts the chronology. We know from the other gospels that the veil was torn when? After Jesus' death; at the moment His death. But he here shifts it to just before, not because it happened before, but because he wants us to understand that this event is intimately related to His death. It contributes, as the darkness does, to our understanding of its meaning because the veil shows us that Jesus was gaining access to God for us. Look at verse 45: "and the veil of the temple was torn in two."

Now, sitting here in 21st century Dallas in our nice worship center, it's hard for us to really picture this event. Herod's Temple, in the 1st century, was one of the greatest architectural achievements of the ancient world. Here is a reconstruction based on contemporary descriptions of what it was like. But even that reconstruction doesn't do justice to it. If you'll notice in the middle of the courtyard that was the Temple Mount, there is this massive building that juts up from the surface of that massive platform. That's the temple proper. But you don't have any clue of its size. The actual size of that building, that you see standing in the middle of that reconstruction, is 50 yards (half a football field wide) and 50 yards high. It's a massive building. If you had, like an ant, walked inside those massive front doors, you would have entered the holy place where the priests ministered daily. Toward the back of that expansive room that was called the holy place, was a small room that was a perfect cube - 30 feet by 30 feet by 30 feet. And that room was completely off limits. It was accessible only by one person - the high priest. And only the high priest could go in there and he could only go in there one time a year, on the Day of Atonement, and always with the blood of a sacrifice, never without - both for himself and his own sins and for the sins of the people.

The holy place, where the priests were allowed to serve, and the holy of holies, which represented the presence of God among His people (that's where the Ark of the Covenant was) was separated by a massive curtain. Here it's called the veil. Now, when you read that word, you might in English get the wrong idea. You know, we speak of veils as something thin and almost transparent. That's not the idea here at all. In fact, this word, the Greek word "veil" in our text occurs in the Septuagint (in the Hebrew translation, I'm sorry, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was done before our Lord's time. It was the Bible of the New Testament era) and when this Greek word appears in the Septuagint, it describes that curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. And it was some curtain! The Jewish Mishnah tells us that it was 30 feet by 60 feet. It was made up of 72 squares that had been sewn together and it was suspended from four gold covered pillars. Josephus describes that curtain as primarily a rich blue, beautifully decorated with gold emblems and gold thread. And, again, don't think veil we use the word. Eyewitnesses tell us that that veil, that curtain, was a hand breath thick, four inches thick. And in fact, we read that it took nearly 300 men to lift it.

Why? Why such a massive curtain? It was there for a reason. It was there as a barrier between the sinful people and God, holy God. It pictured the distance that sinful people must maintain from the presence of a God of holiness so that they would not be destroyed. It was a barrier that said, "You cannot access God. You don't have the credentials to do so. You don't have the holiness to do so." But the exact moment that Jesus died, the priests serving in the holy place that day heard a sound. It started perhaps small and grew louder as that massive four-inch veil ripped in two. Mark tells us it happened from the top to the bottom. Why? It's to tell us that this was a miraculous divine act. God was giving a commentary on the death of His Son. Here's what it means. What was the message of the torn curtain? Clearly, it was the end of the priesthood and the sacrificial system. But it was the end of something more. It was the end of the great divide between the sinner and his God. Our great High Priest, Jesus Himself, had entered into the very presence of God to offer Himself as a one time, final, and forever sacrifice.

This is the message of the Book of Hebrews. Turn over to Hebrews. Hebrews tells us we have a high priest with a much better ministry, with a much better sacrifice. Hebrews 9:6, speaking about the earthly tabernacle and temple, said the priest were "continually entering the outer tabernacle [the holy place] performing the divine worship, but into the second [which is often called the holy of holies] only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance." Verse 8: "The Holy Spirit is [was] signifying this, that the [our] way into the holy place [presence of God] has not yet been disclosed while the outer [that] tabernacle is still standing..." It was just a symbol; it was just a symbol. "But [verse 11] when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle"; that is not through an earthly one but into God's very presence. Verse 12: "and [He] did not [enter God's presence] through [with] the blood of goats and calves, but through [with] His own blood [as a sacrifice], He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." And then I love this, verse 13: "For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh..." In other words, if all that Old Testament stuff made it possible for sinful people to interact with God, verse 14: "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Go over to chapter 10:19: "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh..." We have a high priest who's accomplished this.

Listen, you understand what he's talking about here? He's saying on the Day of Atonement, you know what the normal high priest did? He went in behind that veil one time a year, with blood. He offered the blood and then what happened? He came out and he closed the curtain behind him because he couldn't go in for another year and nobody else could go in. But when Jesus went into the real presence of God to offer His sacrifice to the Father, the Father tore the curtain in two and invited us in. Through Christ we can come to God directly. We need no priest but Jesus Christ our Lord. We need no other sacrifice but the one that He already offered once and for all. And we need no ritual. We simply need faith in His sacrificial death for us that allows us to enter the very presence of God. You see, God the Father wanted us to know that in the death of His Son, a way had been made into His presence for all who would turn from their sins and follow His Son as Lord and Savior. If you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, let me tell you today - you a sinful person - that you are just as I am. You can have access to God your Creator. You can be reconciled to God your Creator. But there's only one way. It's through the work of our great high priest Jesus Christ. So, that's the meaning of His death. It prepares us for exactly why He was dying.

Let's consider, secondly, the example of His death, the example of his death. You see, our Lord is our teacher and even in His death, His powerful example teaches us so much. You see, understand this: God can't die. You know some of our songs talk about, you know, they imply that God is dying on the cross. God can't die. It was the human nature of Jesus that died on the cross. It was His humanity. In other words, He died in the same way that, if our Lord tarries His return, you will die, and I will die. He died as we will die. Obviously, He did in much more suffering, but He died. By watching His death as the only perfect human being, we learn from Him how we can face death as well.

Let me just point out a couple of things that jump out here. First of all, we can follow His example in that we can seek comfort in death in the Word of God and prayer. We can seek comfort in the Word of God and prayer. Verse 46: "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.'" You'll notice that some of those words are in all capitals in our English Bible; that means they are taken from the Old Testament. Jesus is quoting the Scripture. These words come from Psalm 31:5. It's interesting that He chose that passage because Jewish Old Testament believers would often pray those very words at night, before bedtime - "Into your hands I commit my spirit." In fact, Psalm 31:5 says this (this is the exact quote from that passage): "Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O Lord [Yahweh], God of truth." The fact that Jesus recited those words at the moment of His death is a powerful example for us because they show us that He lived a life that was immersed in Scripture and in prayer. At the moment of His death, our Lord's thoughts were occupied in prayer, and in a prayer with words that He understood and knew from the Scriptures. He not only knew the Scriptures, He knew what was the appropriate text for that moment, even in His suffering. Oswald Sanders writes, "The habits of a lifetime are not easily shaken. The Master was a Man of Prayer and a Man of The Book. How natural that His last words should blend both? For this word is at once a prayer and a quotation from the Old Testament. He could not have been more appropriately occupied in the moment of His death." And in so doing, folks, He sets the example for us as someday, if our Lord tarries His coming, we face death. Jesus found comfort as He faced death in the Scriptures. And let me tell you something - that's the only place you will find comfort when that time comes. And He found comfort in turning that Scripture into a prayer to God. We need to follow His example.

A second way to follow His example, in how He died, is to remind yourself of the true nature of death as He did. Remind yourself of the true nature of death. Verse 46: "Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit [notice this] My spirit.'" Jesus knew what was happening with death. He understood that. He's reminding Himself and the Father here. You see, Scripture teaches that we are two-part beings. There is a material part of us, a physical part - the body. And there is the non-material part - our soul or spirit. The body, Paul likens to a tent we live in here, during these few years and someday it will be torn down. That's his image for death. Of course, Paul was a tentmaker. It was a perfect illustration for him to use. Your body is just a tent. Listen, don't spend your entire life absorbed with trying to keep your tent from being torn down. It's going to happen. On the other hand, your immaterial part, your soul or spirit, the real you, is eternal. Jesus understood this and His focus was not on His body as He hung on the cross but on His soul. Now don't misunderstand. Even as He prepared to die, there on the cross, Jesus did some things that have to do with this world. For example, He took that occasion to make sure that His mother was cared for. He also took that same occasion to seek some physical relief as He asked for water, for His thirst. Both of those are perfectly valid as we face death. Both of those are valid concerns to consider. But Jesus' primary concern was for His spirit. He understood that the true nature of death is that the physical body dies, the tent you live in is torn down. But you, the real you, lives on. The real you continues. And because Jesus understood that, He said, 'Father, even as this body dies, as the tent is torn down, My spirit I commit to You.'

So, here's a question for you. Where did Jesus go when He died? Now be careful here. It's a little different for Him than it is for us because He was both fully God and fully man. So, let's think about this for a moment. What happened to Jesus when He died? Well, first of all, His divine nature continued unchanged. He filled the universe and beyond as He had before. His divine nature was unaffected by death. His human nature, however, was just like ours except for sin. That means Jesus had a physical body and He had a human soul. His physical body remained for a short time on the cross after His death, and then it was taken down, and it was buried in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But, at death, Jesus' human soul entered the Father's presence at the moment of death. How do we know that? Well just a few hours before, what did Jesus say to the thief, hanging next to Him, had repented and believed in Him? He said, " you shall [will] be with Me in Paradise." And now, at the very moment of death, He prays, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." When it comes time for us to die, like Christ, we need to focus not on the suffering of our bodies but on our souls. We need to understand what's really happening and be concerned about our souls and not our bodies.

A third way you should follow His example is to entrust your soul to the care of the Father. Entrust your soul to the care of the Father. Verse 46: "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.'" You remember, earlier that morning, our Lord had prayed, "Father forgive them". But then the darkness came and what had He said, just a little bit before this in the darkness, "My God, my God". But now, He knows the separation from the Father because of the sins of His people is over. The cup of wrath has been drained. The fury of the storm is exhausted. The darkness is over, and the light is returned. And so, He prays again to the Father. He actually adds the word "Father" to the prayer of Psalm 31:5. And then He says, "Father, into Your hands I commit..." That Greek word translated "commit" means to entrust for safekeeping, to entrust someone to the care or protection of someone else. Paul uses this expression in 2 Timothy 1:12. He says, "...I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have [here's our word] entrusted to Him until [against] that day." 1 Peter 4:19: "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall [are to] entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." You see, Jesus is our example. And here, in the very hour of His death, He teaches us as His disciples how we are to approach death, how we are to behave ourselves - not giving into craven fear, but an attitude of calm, assured confidence. We are to entrust our spirits, our souls, to God because the same thing that happened to Jesus, happens to those who are His disciples in terms of us as human beings. You remember, 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, " be absent from the body and [is] to be at home with the Lord." That happened to Jesus on the day of His death - His human soul transported immediately into the presence of the Father, today with the thief in Paradise. Well guess what? His Father is our Father. If you're in Christ, the Father (and I say this on the authority of Scripture) ...Have you have thought about this - the Father loves you as much as He loves His one-of-a-kind Son? Listen to John 17:23. Jesus prays and He says to the Father, "[Father you] loved them, even as You have loved Me." So, when we come to that moment of crisis ourselves, we too can follow His example and pray, "Father into Your hands I entrust my spirit." Believers throughout church history have used these very words to do so. Of course, Stephen the first martyr, in Acts 7 said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Others like Polycarp, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jerome, John Huss, Luther died using these words. They all followed our Lord's example in His last words as He entrusted His soul to the Father's care. Folks, we don't have to fear death if we understand that our spirits are in the hands of our powerful and gracious Father - the same Father that Jesus said in John 10:29, "is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

Back in Luke 23, thirdly, Jesus' last words point to the uniqueness of His death. There's certainly an example for us to follow. He died like we will die. But there are things that were going on in Jesus' death that have nothing, no relationship to our death at all. His death was utterly unique - in a number of ways, but there are two of them mentioned here. The first: Jesus' death was voluntary. Verse 46: "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice..." Literally, the Greek text says, 'crying out with a mega voice.' We get our English word "mega" from this Greek word. Crying out with a mega voice, He said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Now, that includes a very important point, because crucifixion was a death of slow suffocation, slow gradual suffocation. In fact, on average, historians tell us from the moment of crucifixion till death took about 36 hours, 36 terrible wrenching hours. Because here's how you died in crucifixion: you were affixed either by nails or ropes to the crossmember, your feet were tied or nailed to the cross, and you hung there. Hanging in that position, pressure was exerted against your lungs. It became increasingly hard to get the air that you needed to breathe, to sustain life. And so, you would pull yourself up against the nails in your hands, push against the nails in your feet, up the cross, until you could expand your lungs and get air. But, of course, the pain was terrific in your limbs. And so, you would immediately slump back down. And then you would stay in that position until, once again, you didn't have enough oxygen to breathe, and you would push yourself back up that crossmember and gain another breath of air. But with each desperate lunge of the body upwards to get air, the lungs received less oxygen. And with each hour, the victim grew weaker and weaker before death mercifully came. Eventually, the person was unable to gain enough air to speak and even to whisper. Sometimes the person even became unconscious. So, when Jesus cried out in this moment with a mega voice, it was a sign to everyone there, who understood crucifixion, that Jesus was nowhere near death. But then, Luke records in verse 46: "Having said this, He breathed His last."

By the way, "breathed His last" - those are not the normal Greek words to say that someone died. Luke is letting us know this was a unique death. Matthew puts it this way in Matthew 27:50: "[Jesus] yielded up His spirit." The Greek word "yielded up" literally means to send away. It's even used in the New Testament for divorce. He divorced His spirit. He sent it away. The point of these gospel accounts is this: Jesus was sovereign over His own death. He chose death. Now think of the irony of that. He's the only person who's ever lived on this planet who didn't deserve death. But He chose death. He gave Himself over to death. No one took His life from him. He gave it up. He didn't die because He'd been crucified - that's the point you need to get here. It hadn't been long enough. He died because He chose, at that moment, to lay down His life for you and for me because His death had to be entirely voluntary. And, by the way, Jesus made this so clear during His earthly ministry. In John 10:17-18 He says, "...I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father." Listen, when you celebrate the death of our Lord this week, in one sense of course, even as Peter puts it in the day of Pentecost, there were people who were responsible for Jesus' death because that was their intent; that was in their heart. But the reality was, nobody killed Jesus. He laid down His life voluntarily for His people. Pilate, you remember, was very surprised to learn of Jesus' death. It was much too soon, six hours in, for Him to be dead. In fact, you remember, to hurry the process for the thieves so they could get them off the cross before the Sabbath began at sundown, the Roman soldiers came along either with a heavy wooden mallet or with an iron bar and shattered the lower legs of the thieves hanging next to Christ. Why? Well, it was one very simple purpose and that was to remove their ability to push up with their legs to get oxygen. As a result, they would quickly die of suffocation. But when they came to Jesus, He was already dead. That's because His was a miraculous death. He had sent away His spirit. He had divorced His spirit. He had laid down His life. 1 John 3:16: "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us..." His life wasn't taken. He laid it down willingly for us.

Why? Well, we learn that here as well. Jesus' death was unique because it was voluntary. But it was also unique, secondly, because it was substitutionary. Verse 46, Jesus crying out with a mega voice said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. [And] having said this, He breathed His last." You see, it's not just the fact that He laid down His life for us that matters, although that's crucial, but when He chose to lay down His life, when He chose to breathe His last. You see, Jesus deliberately chose to lay down his life at three PM on that Friday afternoon. Why? Three PM was the time of the afternoon sacrifice going on in the temple just over the wall. And that Friday, was a special Friday. It was Passover. So, at three PM, the exact time Jesus sent away His spirit, just a few yards away the Passover lambs were being killed at the altar at the temple. Now, if you're a student of Scripture, that should bring something to your mind because it was three years, three and a half years before this, John the Baptist had seen Jesus a few days after His baptism and he pointed to Him and he said to his disciples, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." John was saying that Jesus was the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. He was the perfect sacrifice that would take away sin forever. He was the Passover lamb. He was the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement who carried off the sins of the people outside the camp. He was the guilt offering offered for His people. That's what Isaiah 53 says, "He would render [rendered] Himself as a guilt offering" (Isaiah 53:10). His was a unique death in how He died - it was voluntary - and in why He died - it was substitutionary. He had to die to satisfy God's offended holiness and outraged justice. And He had to die the violent death of a sacrifice. Ecclesiastes, or excuse me, Ezekiel 18:4 says, "Behold, all souls are Mine; ...[and] the soul who [that] sins will [it shall] die." Jesus hadn't sinned but He needed to die for those of us who had. He died as a substitute for His people. 1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God..." J. Oswald Sanders writes, "As our Lord closed His eyes in death, a truly human death, His spirit reposed in His Father's hands. His final act of self-committal was a simple and genuine act of faith. Nothing more remained to be done. All was completed perfectly according to the divine plan. So, by a definitive act of His will, He dismissed or breathed out His spirit. Redemption was completed, awaiting only the resurrection as God's seal of final acceptance of His Son's sacrifice. It was Friday afternoon at three o'clock and Jesus sent away His spirit." As the poem says, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming."

How do you respond to Jesus' last words? Well, if you're here this morning and you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you have repented and believed in Him, you can follow His example as you someday face death. But more importantly, you can meditate on and live in light of the meaning of His death, shown in those great signs that surrounded it, and in the uniqueness of His death, the fact that it was voluntary and that it was substitutionary. This week, as you think of our Lord and His death, come back to these concepts - think about them, meditate on them, let them lead you into true worship and praise and love for Jesus Christ. If you're here and you're not a believer, understand Jesus Christ died for sin in order to bring us to God. This is the only way to God. If you've not believed in Jesus, then understand this: you don't know your Creator, you don't have a relationship with Him. In fact, He calls Himself your enemy. He gives you good things in this life to lead you to repentance but, unfortunately, we take those good things and think that means God's okay with us. Listen, judgment's coming for those who refuse to accept Christ. If you doubt that, then look at how Jesus was treated by the Father when He took on the sins of those who would believe in Him. I don't say this with any joy but that's what awaits you if you don't come God's way to Him. Christ died for sin in order to bring us to God, the just for the unjust. I plead with you today to accept His sacrifice. Come to Him, acknowledge Him as King, acknowledge Him as Savior, acknowledge Him as Lord and commit to follow Him. And you will experience all that He accomplished in His death.

Let's pray together.

Father thank You for the great truths we have discovered in this passage. Thank You for opening up the heart of Christ and allowing us to see what was going on in His soul as He speaks there on the cross. Lord I pray that You would help us, who have trusted in Him, to follow His example as we face death. May we think as He thought. May we act as He acted. But Father I pray more importantly than that, that You would help us to think on and meditate on all that He did for us that was unique - as He offered Himself to satisfy Your wrath against our sin, Your justice, as He acted to give us access to You by His own work as high priest, how He voluntarily offered Himself as a substitute to make forgiveness ours. Lord, we thank You. Help us to worship Him, to love Him, to adore Him this week. Fill our hearts with thoughts of these things. And Father, for those who may be here and I'm sure there are some who don't know You, oh God, help them to see a glimpse of their future in the separation that Jesus endured on the cross because of sin. And rather than waiting to endure that themselves for eternity, may they accept the offer of forgiveness found in Christ who suffered it on their behalf if they will but repent and believe. May they do so even today. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen!