Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last Seven Words of Christ: I Am Thirsty, It Is Finished, Into Thy Hands I Commit My Spirit: John 19:28-30 and Luke 23:44-49

Today we are going to conclude our Lenten series on the Seven Last Words of Christ as we examine the power and impact these words can have on our lives. During our first week, we began with Jesus' first words on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” as we looked to that incredible act of forgiveness to better understand it, see what Jesus intended Christian forgiveness to look like, and ways we can move towards that kind of mindset ourselves. Then we looked at the phrase, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” as we sought to understand how faith can provide us grace, hope, and forgiveness. Next, we looked to Christ's words, “Woman behold your son, son behold your mother”, as we examined the importance of care, responsibility, and love. Last week we explored why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” to see how Jesus handled the separation from God and ways that we can deal with those feelings ourselves. Today we are going to explore the final three phrases or words, “I Am Thirsty,” “It Is Finished,” and “Into Thy Hands I Commit My Spirit” as we look to the faith and humanity of Christ in the most dire of circumstances.

The Beginning of the End; I Thirst!
As we conclude this Lenten story today we see Christ crucified, hanging on the cross. He has been on the cross now for almost six hours, since 9 o'clock that morning. He has been beaten, mocked, and is now nearing the end of His torture. It is not often appreciated that our Lord Jesus died in terrible, terrible pain. If you run the clock back from 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the moment of His death, back to about 3 o'clock in the morning, and you see what happened to Jesus as He moves through those hours, what you discover is that our Lord Jesus Christ has just been through 12 hours of torture. Arrested in the middle of the night. Slapped around. Pushed around. Mocked. Slapped again. Crowned with thorns that went into His scalp. Scourged with the cat o' nine tails, those sharp pieces of leather studded with bits of bone and stone and metal, again and again and again. Hitting Him again and again and again until His back was shredded. Until you could see right through to the rib cage.

They pounded the nails into His hands and into His feet. Now some movies portray Jesus almost standing on a platform with the nails going through the tops of His feet. As we learn more and discover more, archeologists and Biblical scholars are changing that thought. Now it is believed that Jesus' feet were straddled on either side of the vertical beam, his legs bent behind Him and He was nailed to the cross through His ankles. He had no way to support Himself without intensifying His agony. Not for one second did He have a moment's rest. Not for one moment had anybody offered Him any kind of support.

It is therefore, no wonder He was thirsty. Loss of blood. Exposure. Heat. Exhaustion. Dehydration. He has been on the cross now for 6 hours. It's hot and the sweat is no doubt rolling off him. No wonder Jesus was thirsty. So many times we look to these words for some theological importance, some other worldly wisdom. But sometimes the most obvious answer is the right answer.

It was Dr. Charles Haddon Spurgeon who helped us capture the great paradox found in the words, "I thirst," by sharing:

"Who was this that said, 'I Thirst?''

"It was he who balanced the clouds and filled the channels of the mighty deep. "He said, 'I thirst,'' and yet in him was a well of water springing up to eternal life! "Yes, he who guided every river in its course and watered all the fields with grateful showers--he it was, the King of kings and Lord of lords, before whom hell trembles and the earth is filled with dismay, he whom heaven adores and all eternity worships--he it was who said, 'I thirst!''

"Matchless condescension--from the infinity of God to the weakness of a thirsting, dying man!”

He was thirsty. He who is the water of life now dies of thirst. He was thirsty because He was human. Thirsty because of all He had been through in the last 24 hours. Thirsty because His mortal body was giving out. This is the portrait of a man, that was fully human, experiencing what any human would under those circumstances. And again we see the bond, the human bond, between God Incarnate, the Word made Flesh, and us. We see the human side of Christ coming through, giving us the opportunity, the proof, that as we suffer, He has already suffered. A proof that hopefully will draw each of us closer to the One that loved us first.

It Is Finished
The next words to be spoken by our Savior as He hang on the cross were, “It is Finished.” The logical question that most people would have at this point is, “what was finished?”.

There was a couple that had been married for a very long time. They had a wonderful marriage and a tremendous bond. Unfortunately, one of them became very sick. So sick, that this illness was going to claim their life. During those last times they had together, they liked to lay in bed and clasp their hands so that their wedding rings touched. As they did this they would recite their wedding vows over again to each other as a sign of their covenant to each other. Eventually the one's health faded and they died. The surviving spouse, out of respect and honor, took both of their wedding rings and had them welded together and attached to their wedding photo with a little plaque that read, “A Vow Completed.”

God entered into a vow with each of us. A vow to be committed to us. Jesus continued that vow calling himself the church's bridegroom and calling us, the church, his bride. These words, “it is finished”, signify for us a vow completed, a covenant fulfilled. With the culmination of Jesus' death, the sacrifice was complete, the bridge was built, and now all of humanity had eternal access to the Father. It was done, it was finished. Christ had accomplished that which He intended.

Into Thy Hands
Christ is now in the final moments. His body is weak, His strength is fading, and death is coming. “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

It was just moments ago that Jesus was crying out in that same loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? , My God, My God, why have you Forsaken Me? It was just moments ago that Jesus was separated from His Father, embracing the burden of humanity's sin...alone. It was just moments ago that Jesus was crying out to Abba, why have you abandoned me? But now, moments before His last breath, Jesus returns to His Father, places all His trust in God and God's will, and exclaims, “into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

Max Lucado captures this moment better than anyone else in his book, No Wonder They Call Him Savior, when he wrote:

"The voice that screamed at God, 'My God, My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me,'' now says, 'Father.''
The two are again one.
The abandoned is now found.
The schism is now bridged.
"'Father.'' He smiles weakly. ''It's over.''
Satan''s vultures have been scattered.
Hell's demons have been jailed.
Death has been damned.
The sun is out,
The Son is out.
"It's over.”
An angel sighs. A star wipes away a tear.
"Take me home.''
Yes, take him home.
Take this prince to his king
Take this son to his father
Take this pilgrim to his home
(He deserves a rest.)
"Take me home.''
Come ten thousand angels! Come and take this wounded
troubadour to the cradle of his Father''s arms!"
"Farewell manger's infant
Bless You holy ambassador
Go Home death slayer
Rest well sweet soldier
"The battle is over."

Luke is the only writer to record these last words of the Son of God: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And interestingly enough the last recorded words of Jesus from the cross, are another quote from the Old Testament, this time from Psalm 31:5. Jesus simply added the word Father to the front of the quote. Jewish mothers would teach their children to recite that verse at night before they went to bed. For many children, it would be the first verse of Scripture that they ever learned.

In this time of death, Jesus was returning to His Father, praying to His Father. Jesus was crying out loud enough for all to hear, that He was placing His trust, His life, in the hands of His Abba. He deposited his soul, his love, his life with the Father.

How could Jesus have faced his death upon the cross as He did, without the fear of dying that sometimes overwhelms us? Because He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt whose hands had held His life and into whose hands He would be returning - the Father’s hands.

The death of Jesus is a model for how we should face death. Not afraid. Not filled with remorse over wasted opportunities. Holding fast to the promises of God as our hope. Committed completely into the Father’s hands.

These last several weeks we have traced Jesus' last seven words from the cross. Words of forgiveness. Words of salvation. Words of care. Words of abandonment. Words of agony. Words of covenant. Words of commitment. These words are rich with meaning and importance. They provide for us a model of true Christ-like qualities. They encourage us to see the hope in a hopeless situation. They point out for us the love in the midst of a sea of hate. They reveal the connection we have with Jesus through Jesus' humanity.

These last several weeks have afforded us a great opportunity. They have given us a new lens by which to connect to Christ. They have helped us understand that God's love knows no bounds. They have helped us explore and better understand and be reminded, that Jesus while fully divine and God Incarnate, was also fully human. Hopefully, they have helped you reconnect with, connect more deeply to, and be refreshed by, the One that first loved you.

Go and be Christ-like. Go and be Christ-filled. Go and be the hands, feet, and love of Christ to a world in search of Him. Take these seven words, and use them to spread His name, so that all may hear, all may be loved, and all may be saved.

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