Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” When He had said this, He breathed His last.
“Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” We usually think, “Oh, that’s a nice sentiment. He’s trusting God to take His spirit to Heaven when He dies,” and when a normal person says that or prays that – “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” – that’s exactly what they mean.
But that is not what Jesus meant when He prayed this prayer. Jesus was quoting one of the psalms, written by his ancestor, King David. King David was the warrior-king. He was the one who slung a stone and killed the ten-foot-tall Goliath. He’s the one who conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. David was always at war, and here’s one of the prayers that He prayed to God:
In You, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness.2 Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. 3 Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. 4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.”
When David prayed, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit,” he wasn’t praying to be taken to Heaven when he died. He was praying for God’s protection because he knew that only God could save him from his enemies. Now, Jesus is echoing His ancestor because He knows that only God can save Him from the greatest enemy of all – Death!
Death had claimed every single person who ever lived, except for three – Enoch, who God took into Heaven; Elijah, who was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire; and Moses, who was resurrected and taken to Heaven as soon as he died. No one else had ever gone to Heaven.
If you said, “Heaven,” to a Jewish person in the Old Testament, they would have said, “Oh, yes, that’s the sky, space, the place where God and the angels live, and those other three saints that got to go there.”
If you said, “Hell,” they’d say, “That’s an interesting new word you’ve got there.”
Because, you see, for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, death was the end. They knew that Enoch and Elijah and Moses had gone to Heaven, but they never imagined that their spirits would ever go to Heaven, or to Hell. That’s because their spirits didn’t go to Heaven or Hell. Their spirits went to death. Their spirits stayed inside their bodies, in the grave, in a kind of sleeping hibernation state.
No one remembers You when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave?
For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, the living—they praise You...”
The people were dead and, for all intents and purposes, their spirits were dead too. Their spirits couldn’t leave, they weren’t aware of anything, they were just there, sleeping, waiting.
Waiting for what? Waiting for Christ. Waiting for their Maker to come wake them up!
All humanity was trapped in death. That was the punishment for sin. But then the Creator, the Judge Himself, became a person, put on human flesh in the form of Jesus the Christ, and died, taking our punishment for us.
1 Peter 3:18-20:
"For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through Whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison...”
The King, the Creator of Life, descended into death. He woke those souls up, He preached to them, and because it is impossible for God, the Source of Life itself, to remain dead, He rose.
With Him, rose the spirits of all those He had awakened. He had taken the punishment of death for them. They didn’t have to serve out their punishment anymore. When we die, our punishment has already been taken, so our spirits don’t have to stay dead either. They go to the place we’ve decided for them to go, either to Heaven or to Hell.
When Jesus died, He faced humanity’s greatest enemy, death, and He completely broke it forever. It has no hold on our spirits. When Christ returns, He will also raise our bodies. That’s the miracle of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus defeating the power of death is the miracle of Easter.
When your body dies, your spirit doesn’t. It returns to God. When Christ comes again, He will bring your spirit back from Heaven with Him, He will raise your body new and healthy from the ground, from the ashes, from decay, and He will reunite your body and spirit, making you a whole person once again, who will live forever and ever with Him.
Easter is what broke death. Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, was the first step toward our resurrection when Christ returns. Amen? Amen.