If you knew you were going to die within a few minutes and had the energy left to utter only one more sentence or two, what would you want to communicate to the world? Archimedes of Syracuse (298-212 BC), possibly the greatest mathematician of ancient Greece said; ‘Wait till I have finished my problem.’ Peter Abelard (1079-1142AD), the greatest philosopher in Europe in the early 12th C AD and lecturer at the University of Paris declared; ‘I don’t know’. Dominique Bouhars (1628-1702), a French Jesuit grammarian who spent his life persuading his fellow-countrymen to speak their language correctly, (in French) was recorded as saying: ‘I am about to…or I am going to…die… either expression is correct.’ Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1603), was recorded as saying the following utterance: ‘O my God! It is over I have come to the end of it, the end, the end. To have only one life and to have done with it; to have lived, loved and triumphed and now to know it is over. One may defy anything else but this.’ Lastly Joseph Addison, a writer and literary figure in England (1672-1719) summoned his wayward stepson Lord Warwick to his bedside and in a final plea to the young man to trust Christ concluded with: ‘See in what peace a Christian can die’. We have never met these people but can make an informed guess about what really mattered in their lives. What is your real passion and mine? Is it something that in the light of eternity is of real and abiding significance? This is the challenge with which we are to live our lives for the Lord.
Jesus uttered His cry of triumph tetelestai finished and then concluded with these words recorded by Luke in 23:46: Jesus called out with a loud voice Father into Your hands I commit My spirit. When He had said this, He breathed His last. Jesus was not hanging on to life. After His cry of triumph declaring the completion of the work the Father had given Him to do, He confidently laid down His life and committed Himself into the arms of His Father in heaven. No fear of death, no regrets about His life, but it was recognition that His work was accomplished.
1. Jesus Died
It is stating the obvious but not everyone accepted it! The Docetists, a cult that claimed to be Christian and was very popular for a time in the 2nd C AD, believed that Jesus only appeared to be human. The perfect Son of God, they said, could not partake of human flesh and blood and be like sinful humanity. A person who could perform such miracles and live in such a remarkable manner had to be a heavenly being not one tainted with the limitations of a human body! However the Bible makes plain that Jesus had a real human body and experienced all the kinds of things that other human beings can encounter. He knew what it was to enjoy food but also to go hungry; to enjoy the experience of a cup of cold water on a hot day as well as being thirsty; to wake up full of energy for the new day but also to be exhausted after a hectic and stressful one. In the twenty-first century in which there are vocal critics of the faith who deny the deity of Christ we need to remind ourselves that for the first two to three centuries after the start of the Christian Church the huge battle the first Christians had to win was the affirmation of His true humanity, in addition to His deity!
Jesus died. This was a clinical fact. The Romans had an objective procedure for confirming that a prisoner had died prior to his body being handed over to relatives for burial. To release a prisoner while he was still alive was a capital offence –that solider could lose his own life. A Roman soldier was not stupid enough to take a chance on risking his career and his life for a man who was doomed to die within forty-eight hours as a result of the injuries incurred through the process of crucifixion. The Jewish historian Josephus (37-101AD) had three friends who were crucified by mistake. The Roman officials hurried to get them down from their crosses within a matter of minutes, but two died of their injuries within 24 hours and the other man was an invalid for the rest of his days. In John 19:31-37 we have details of the procedures carried out on this occasion. 31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of his bones will be broken, 37 and, as another scripture says, They will look on the one they have pierced. The Jewish authorities (following the command given in Deuteronomy 21:22-23) wanted the men dead prior to the Sabbath day which began at sundown –the legs of the other two men crucified with Jesus were broken to stop them supporting their bodies by pushing with their legs and pulling with their arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Without this action breathing was impossible and death would quickly and mercifully follow. Jesus’ legs were not broken as He was already dead. The brutal scourging which He had endured, which killed lesser men, would have weakened His body and made an early death more likely. John 19: 34 -35 records the observation of an eyewitness who saw a soldier pierce the chest cavity of Jesus and two distinct liquids flowed out. Without going into the medical details tests on cadavers in the twentieth century have shown that on bodies severely injured without penetration of the chest that up two litres of haemorrhagic fluid gather between the pleura lining of the rib cage and the lining of the lung. This separates the clearer serum at the top, the deep red layer at the bottom. If the chest cavity were pierced at the bottom then both layers would flow out [D. Carson, John, p. 623], confirming that the victim had been dead for some time. This has not stopped Muslims claiming that someone died in Jesus’ place –possibly Simon of Cyrene [Quran Sura 4. 156: ‘they did not kill him, neither did they crucify him, it only seemed to be so’ – Mohammed got his ‘evidence’ from Docetic sources written in a later century.] However, the eyewitness account confirms the fact that Jesus died!
2. Jesus Died Confidently
Jesus called out with a loud voice, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When he had said this, he breathed his last. He died confidently because He had:
(a) The Father’s Presence The quality of His relationship with the First person of the Holy Trinity was one of perfect communion. Throughout His earthly life Jesus had sought to do only that which pleased the Father and had done everything He said He would do. His first, fourth and last cries from the cross were addressed to the Father. We know from Luke’s Gospel that by the age of twelve He was conscious of His calling. Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s House? (Luke 2:49). Or in an alternative translation: Didn’t you realise that I should be involved with my Father’s affairs? (Luke 2:49 NLV mg) In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used the word ‘Father’ fifteen times. Likewise in His Upper Room teaching in John’s Gospel chapters fourteen to sixteen (43 times) and in the Lord’s Prayer –His Prayer in John 17 six times; He talked about the Father many times because this was His most important relationship bar none. This is why in His model prayer for His own disciples, recorded in Matthew 6:9, He urged: This is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your name… Jesus died confidently because of the presence of His Father with Him in death as in life, even if because of our sin that presence was not felt as it had been prior to Calvary and would be so again for ever following His glorious resurrection. American pastor John Drescher was once challenged by a grieving father: ‘where was God when my son died?’ His reply: At the same place He was when His own Son died.’
(b) The Father’s Promise Jesus died confidently in the light of the Father’s promise recorded in Psalm 31. Psalm 31:5 reads: Into Your hands I commit My spirit; You have redeemed me O Lord, faithful God [English Standard Version]. David here uses the Hebrew perfect tense [Leupold Psalms p.259] a declaration of confidence in the action of God in the past, even though with respect to Jesus it concerned the immediate future. Old Testament prophets and Paul, for example (Romans 8:28-30) used past tenses prophetically to indicate their total confidence in God. Unfortunately the NIV [and some other modern versions] rendering of Psalm 31:5b: …redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth although linguistically possible misses the point of the Psalmist. However in His use of this verse from Psalm 31 Jesus adds the word Father to indicate the special nature of His relationship with the first person of the blessed Trinity. With respect to the second part of the verse not cited by Jesus it was not necessary for Him to be redeemed. Redemption was what He obtained for us –however He was released from the suffering endured on the cross as he had paid in full on our behalf the price of our reconciliation with the Father. For Jesus His use of this O.T. promise was a declaration of trust in the Word of God that His Father would take care of Him. Each of His prayers to the Father from the cross was tied to Scripture. His request: Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34) was a fulfilment of Isaiah 53:12: For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. The cry of dereliction in Mark 15:34: My God My God why have You forsaken Me? is taken from Psalm 22:1, which was a real personal experience of abandonment, yet it is followed in Psalm 22:4-5 by these words of confidence in God, in spite of how the Psalmist feels in the harrowing circumstances he faces. In You our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. They cried to You and were saved; in You they trusted and were not disappointed. The promises of the Father in His Word gave confidence to Jesus in His time of trial and can do so for us in our dark hours of affliction and trials.
(c) The Father’s Protection supremely, these words speak of the Father’s protection. Jesus called out with a loud voice, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When he had said this, he breathed his last. On a number of occasions Jesus had warned His followers that He would be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinners who would ill-treat Him and then crucify Him. They put a crown of thorns on His brow; they mocked Him and beat Him; they ridiculed Him in Herod’s presence; they shouted crucify Him; they nailed Him to a cross; they urged Him to come down from the cross and save Himself if they could…but now Jesus was no longer on the hands of sinners, that humiliation was over. Psalm 31 the Psalm quoted by Jesus has other treasures that would have been in His thoughts as He uttered these words. Psalm 31:8 declares: You have not handed me over to the enemy. Satan had fought so hard to defeat the purposes of God, to prevent the redemption of the people of God- but Jesus had won the victory; the shout tetelestai finished was still ringing in his ears. Satan was a defeated foe, living on borrowed time before he would end up bound to his eternal fate. Psalm 31:8 was now a fact of history for the person of Jesus Christ for the eternal good of His people. David had further declared in Psalm 31:15-16: My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your unfailing love. For David it was a prayer for the present and the future. On the cross of Calvary the deliverance for Jesus was complete. His Father had brought Him through to victory!
3. Jesus Died Voluntarily
The other men on the crosses on either side of Jesus had no choice life was drained from them through the most cruel form of death humanity has yet to devise. They was though a marked difference with the death of Jesus. Sinful human beings were responsible for His death. Peter declared to the large crowd in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:23…you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. We are always responsible for our actions. Yet this was not the whole truth. Peter in the first part of Acts 2:23 also makes another point: This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge… Sinners were responsible for their actions yet in the ultimate sovereignty of God His will was done. However, there was an even more amazing angle on the events of Calvary recorded in John 10, a passage in which Jesus speaks about His death on the cross, He said these amazing words in John 10:17-18: The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life –only to take it up again. No-one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have the authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. The death of Jesus was a voluntary action on His part, willingly laying down His life as the Good Shepherd on behalf of His sheep (John 10:15). Thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices had been offered on behalf of the sins of the people at Passover for over thirteen centuries, yet none of the victims was or could have been a willing sacrifice, yet Jesus willingly forgave His enemies from the cross; provided salvation to a repentant thief on the cross and made arrangements for the care of His mother from the cross before voluntarily laying down His life as the victorious Saviour.
4. Jesus Died Victoriously
Jesus called out with a loud voice, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. When He had said this, He breathed his last. In His thirties Jesus had completed the work God had given Him to do. Other believers such as Frances Ridley Havergal, the gifted poetess and hymn-writer and Dundee’s own Robert Murray McCheyne of Free St Peters, are amongst those whose deaths appeared so premature – yet how much they accomplished for the Lord. You and I may have many more years of life on earth –but will we accomplish all that God has planned for us to do? The proof of the success of the mission of Jesus was in the miracles that took place following His death. (a) The Torn Curtain (Matthew 27:50-51: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This is no lounge curtain. It was approximately 60-65 feet high around 30 feet wide and its thickness was ‘the thickness of the palm of the hand’ (Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1971), p.611). God opened the way for us directly into His presence. No longer do we need to pray through an earthly priest or confess our sins to them. Hebrews 4:16 declares: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (b) The Earthquake and its impact (Matthew 27:51-53: The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) There were graves opened –the miracle being what followed…the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life! Jesus was victorious over sin and death. An American geologist in 2012, in a presentation on evidence for earthquakes in southern Israel in the year of Jesus’ death and resurrection, made reference to several earthquakes with the biggest taking place on the day of His death on 3 April 33AD.
He stated: The persistent 33 A.D. seismite indicates the biggest 33 A.D. earthquake was M~6.0. This biggest earthquake was likely April 3, 33 A.D. that startled city residents and caused moderate damage, especially to the western side of Temple Mount. Pivots of two, 20-m-high, metal doors of the Temple appear to have been damaged, and the 20-m-high curtain in front of the doors was torn, likely by displacement of the lintel of the Temple during the earthquake. (Steven Austin, Cedarville University Ohio Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 44, No. 7, (2012) p.559)
At the giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:16-18 such seismic activity resulted in great fear: everyone in the camp trembled. Here the giving of the grace of God would bring joy and exultation. Paul in his magnificent chapter on the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:51-58 declares: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.55Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. Jesus died victoriously His work accomplished salvation for His people. In those wonderful words in John 10:27-28 Jesus also said this: My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of My hand. In the light of such a victory we too can rejoice in the declaration of confidence by Jesus in God, who in His final utterance from the cross declared: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When He had said this, He breathed His last. Amen