April 11, 2020
Seven Last Words of Christ — “It is finished” John 19:30. “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” [Luke 24:46.
Here we have the last recorded statements by Jesus on the cross, both of which are shouted aloud. Matthew and Mark simply tell us he gave a loud shout before He died without any quote of His final words. John and Luke tell us two different things, yet they are closely connected to one another in theological importance. In this final Holy Week reflection, this relationship will be the focus of our meditation.
When we realize that each of the four gospels was written to give a specific presentation to the first intended audiences about the life of Jesus Christ, the divergence between Luke’s report and John’s need not cause us any worries. Both authors are, no doubt, reporting accurately. In fact, it is possible to see a potential harmony in John’s words, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John uses this phrase, I believe, in a way that goes beyond mere euphemism for Jesus’ dying. Jesus had said no one “takes my life from me, I lay it down” earlier in John’s gospel. So, even John would realize Jesus is “giving up” his spirit — laying it down and giving Himself to God in glory. Luke’s report, therefore, could be assumed by John, but not written, for reasons we shall see.
Luke begins by sharing with us the account of the conception of Jesus — that could have only come from Mary’s first-hand testimony — where she is told that her miraculously conceived child will be the Son of God. He came from the Father into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus he tracks Him all the way back to Adam, “the son of God.” And even before providing the genealogy Luke tells us that God revealed that Jesus was His Son at his baptism. Next, Luke was inspired and guided to include in his gospel biography of the Lord the story of the twelve year old Jesus staying behind when Joseph and Mary had left Jerusalem to ask probing, insightful questions of the teachers because He had “to be about my Father’s [God’s] business.” Following Peter’s confession of Christ, Luke gives us the report about the Transfiguration, witnessed by Peter, James, and John, where Moses the Covenant-giver and Deliverer along with Elijah the great prophet talk with Jesus about His departure. Here, God not only identifies Jesus as “my Son,” but commands the disciples to listen to him.
Luke has carefully crafted an account of the life of Jesus that is meant to focus on His identity as God’s Son. He came from God miraculously and was conceived His Son, was a human descendant of the first man Adam — the son of God, was declared to be God’s Son, and His purpose was to do “His Father’s business. In the Garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had consecrated Himself to “drink the cup” that His Father had willed for Him. Thus, Luke would have been very interested to identify the final act of consecration and trust by Jesus when He commits His spirit — His self, His life — to His Father, from whom He had come, by whom He as identified, whose “business” He had been fulfilling throughout His days.
Luke would have us understand that Jesus is completing His purpose and His Father’s design for Him by going to the cross to die and at the end entrust Himself to His Father who had sent Him.
John presents the details of Jesus’ historical life to make a different point about Him and what He means and focuses upon a different last word. The Gospel of John begins with the identity of Jesus as the Word who was with and was God, in the beginning. But, the Fourth Gospel, as his is known, tells us that the purpose of Jesus coming was to “overcome the darkness” and to “make the Father known.” Further, John lets his readers in on the mission of Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). He is the One sent by God, “not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (3:17). Furthermore, in the sixth chapter Jesus declares that his blood and flesh are the true spiritual food that one must “eat and drink” to have God’s life in himself or herself. His life will be given by Himself directly to God and for the world (10:18); it will not be taken from Him, as though he were victim. Finally, John recounts Jesus’ self-consciousness about His own approaching death when he writes: “Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave the world and go to the Father” (13:1). The entire life of the Lord in John’s gospel is to save, to deliver, to overcome, to give life to people, by willingly “laying down His life.”
Little wonder that John focuses upon Jesus’ word: “It is finished.” All that He had come to do is fulfilled. He is not shouting a sigh of relief, as though He is glad “its over.” Neither is He announcing His departure. Rather, John gives these words to bear testimony to the power and glory of Jesus, who has believed, obeyed, trusted, and served the purposes of His Father. It is a cry of victory.
It is only a victorious shout, however, because He can give up His spirit to God His Father. This is crucial to understand, if we are to penetrate into the depths of what happens on the cross. We too quickly simplify the Cross of Christ by thinking it was only to “pay the price for our sins.” That idea, while expressing a truth, is not in any way the fullness of the Cross. When Jesus declares prior to his death that “it is finished,” I think He really means that it is at that moment, not subsequently after He is dead, that the redemption has been accomplished.
He has actually, as I briefly outlined in the Day 4 reflection, reversed the sinful failure of Adam. Where the latter did not trust God and, therefore, trusted his own wisdom; where he disobeyed God to express his own desire and will; where he brought sin and death into the world by his lack of trust and obedience, Jesus does the opposite. No human had ever fully trusted God, fully surrendered to God, or fully obeyed God. All human beings had lived after the likeness and example of Adam. All were slaves to sin and locked in the inevitability of death that they deserve.
Jesus, in stark and inspiring contrast, embraces death that He does not deserve, bears the evil actions of the world, carries our sins, and is subjected to the temptation to believe that God had abandoned Him. But, he does not cease to trust His Father’s goodness and faithfulness to Him. After the trial expressed in His annunciation of the “cry of dereliction,” His last words on the Cross are a shout of victory and of absolute trust in His Father’s love and goodness —“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
God was always with Jesus on the cross; and He knew it. When your life is in Christ, you can know He is always with you. It is finished! There is nothing more for you to do except learn to live in Him. Jesus has undone the way of Adam and charted a new possibility for your life by trusting His Father to the end.
In Jesus, God is your Father to whom you can commit your life.