Easter 2014 - Good Friday – A Time to Die

April 20, 2014

Luke 23: 46

3pm Friday afternoon - another hot day in Jerusalem - not an ordinary day. Not that you could ever call crucifixion ordinary. But the Romans did it all the time. It was their favoured method for dealing with criminals and troublemakers. There were plenty of easier ways to kill people—and the Romans knew all about those ways, too—but crucifixion had its advantage. It was such a gruesome spectacle that it caught the public attention in a way that something mundane like poisoning could never do. The Romans were crucifying 3 men on the eve of the Jewish Passover. The city would be clogged with religious pilgrims. The message would come through loud and clear—Don’t mess with us. 
First 3 hours - no problem. The 3 men spoke to one another briefly and people in the crowd shouted —mostly jeers and taunts. Jesus seemed had a following of people—friends and family—who came to watch the proceedings. They didn’t say much.

1. Three Hours of Darkness

Everything changed at 12 noon. Suddenly everything went dark. The sun disappeared and thick darkness settled over the land. It was an ugly darkness that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. At 3pm the sun came out just as suddenly as it had disappeared. All eyes were drawn to the centre cross. Something had happened to Jesus during those 3 hours. The other 2 looked awful, the way men always do when they are crucified, but Jesus was different. Something terrible had happened to him during that 3 hours of darkness, some awful burden that had descended on him and sucked out what little life was left in him. You didn’t have to be a doctor to know that he was about to die. 
His chest heaved mightily with each breath, his eyes looked faraway, his voice was little more than a groan. His head dropped, he took another breath, he shouted one word, “Tetelestai!” and it seemed as if he had died. A moment passed, then he took one final breath, and shouted, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he bowed his head and his whole body seemed to slump forward. Stunned silence - “Surely, this was the Son of God.” Shock. “Who was that man?” Anger now, and fear on the faces of the crowd. Here and there, soft sobs and quiet tears. Much later came the spear in the side, but Jesus was long dead at that point.

2. Last Words

Luke 23: 44 – 46 - Every word tells us something important:
Father—Jesus’ favourite title for God. It spoke of the intimate family relationship that had existed from all eternity. His first word from the cross had been, “Father, forgive them.” His last word was, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” In between he had cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He called him, “My God” and not “Father” because in that agonizing moment, the Father turned his back on the Son as Jesus bore the sin of the world. God forsaken by God! But no longer. Jesus dies with the knowledge that the price has been fully paid and the cup emptied. Jesus yields his life to the One he called “Father.”
Into your hands—O, the touch of a father’s hands. What son does not long for his father to reach out and embrace him? There is something wonderful about this expression. It speaks of safety—"I am safe in my father’s hands”—and of greeting—"Welcome home, Son”—and of love—"Daddy, it’s so good to see you again”—and of approval—"I’m so proud of you, Son.” For 15 hours Jesus has been in the hands of wicked men. With their hands - they beat him - they slapped him - they abused him - they crowned him with thorns - they ripped out his beard - they smashed him black and blue - they whipped his back until it was torn to bits. All that is behind him now. Wicked hands have done all they can do. Jesus now returns to his Father’s hands.
I commit— means to deposit something valuable in a safe place. It’s what you do when you take your will and your most valuable possessions and put them in a safe-deposit box at the bank. 
My spirit— Jesus meant his very life, his personal existence. Now that his physical life was over, Jesus commits himself into his Father’s hands for safe keeping. “Father, I can no longer care for myself. I place myself in your good hands for safe-keeping.”
3. The End of the Story

The moment has come. Jesus has only seconds to live. All that he came to do has been accomplished. It is time to die. 2 things happened at the very end of his life that merit our attention.

A. His Physical Sufferings Reached Their Climax.
The pain now is unbearable. Breathing is almost impossible. The crowd gathers round, like vultures. The friends of Jesus watch in horror as his life ebbs away. The angels look away. The Son of God is about to die. Only one question is left unresolved. What was the ultimate cause of his death after only a few hours on the cross? 2 possible answers: “Jesus’ death after only 3 to 6 hours on the cross surprised even Pontius Pilate. The fact that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and then bowed his head and died suggests the possibility of a catastrophic terminal event. One popular explanation has been that Jesus died of cardiac rupture...However, another explanation may be more likely. Jesus’ death may have been hastened simply by his state of exhaustion and by the severity of his scourging, with its resultant blood loss and preshock state.” Very simple conclusion: “Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, “excruciating.”

B. He Voluntarily Gave Up His Life.
This may seem at odds with the gruesome account given above. Christ was arrested and tried like a common criminal. He was beaten within an inch of his life. He suffered the terrible ordeal of crucifixion and died an agonizing death. Surely his life was forcibly taken from him. Not so. John 10:17 - 18. Matthew 27:50 tells us that at the moment of his death, Jesus “dismissed his spirit.” That is, he voluntarily yielded it up to the Father. His life was not taken from him against his will; when the time came, he gave up his life voluntarily. To the very end, the Son of God remained sovereign over the affairs of men. 
Lessons and applications: 1. He knew it was time to die. 2. He wasn’t afraid to die. 3. He died with his life complete. 4. He died without anger or bitterness. 5. He died in complete control of his senses and his circumstances. 6. He died knowing where he was going—back into the Father’s hands.
The death of Jesus is a model of how the faithful face death. They are not afraid. They are not filled with remorse over wasted opportunities. They endure with grace, knowing that a better day awaits on the other side of the great divide. If they suffer, they hold fast to the promises of God as their only hope. When the moment finally comes, they have courage to face it for they have committed themselves completely into their Father’s hands.
So Jesus died like a child asleep in his father’s arms. Exhausted, weary, having suffered the worst that man could do, he finally yielded up his life and breathed his last. It was a quiet ending, a graceful exit, a peaceful passing from the brutality of this world.

4. Take Me Home

Max Lucado paints an unforgettable word picture of what Jesus’ death was like seen from the perspective of heaven: No Wonder They Call Him Saviour.
Were it a war—this would be the aftermath.
Were it a symphony—this would be the second between the final note and the first applause.
Were it a journey—this would be the sight of home.
Were it a storm—this would be the sun, piercing the clouds.
But it wasn’t. It was a Messiah. And this was a sigh of Joy. 
“Father!” (The voice is hoarse.) The voice that called forth the dead,
the voice that taught the willing. 
Now says, “Father!” “Father.” The two are one again.
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.

5. Freed From the Fear of Death

Of all the fears that trouble the heart of man, perhaps none is greater than the fear of death. All of our fears can be rolled up into this greatest fear—we are afraid to die. We fear death because it is so final. We fear death because we are not sure what happens when we die. We fear death because it means leaving the world we know for another world we know nothing about.
Men will do anything to keep from thinking about death. They will drink themselves into a stupor rather than face the reality of their own mortality. They race through life going 1000 kms an hour, rushing from one thing to another in a desperate attempt to keep their mind off the inevitable. 
We fear so many things—nuclear war, financial collapse, international intrigue, AIDS, the onset of old age—but behind them all lurks the great unspoken fear of death. It is unspoken because you cannot speak of the things you truly fear. They are too frightening for words. Death is the final enemy. It is the end of one thing and the beginning of . . . What? Modern man does not know how to finish that sentence. Therefore he is afraid.
Into the breach steps Jesus Christ and said, “Fear not, for I have conquered death.” He was there. He died just like all men die. And he came back to tell the story. No one else has ever done that. 
“Fear not.” You must be joking? Only a fool doesn’t fear death. Only a fool . . . or a follower of Jesus. 
Hebrews 2: 14 – 15 - Who holds the power of death? Satan does. Death belongs to him. Death is his. He owns it. Before Satan was, death was not. When Satan is no more, death will be no more. Between now and then, Satan still rules the realm of death. Men fear death with good reason. They are entering a realm Satan controls.
But the death of Jesus Christ has spoiled Satan’s power. As long as men stayed dead, death was Satan’s ultimate tool to keep men in chains. But one Man changed all that. He died, but he didn’t stay dead. He broke Satan’s power when he tore off the bars of death. 
Now no one need fear death any longer. Death still comes to all men, but for those who know Jesus (and only for them), death has changed its character. It is no longer the entrance into the dim unknown. It is now the passageway into the presence of God.

6. The Shining Mercy of God

How mistaken we are about death. We think that we are going from the land of the living to the land of the dying. Not so. We are going from the land of the dying to the land of the living. Jesus Christ has said it, and it is so. As we pass beyond the curtain, we live on and on. But it will not be as it is today. In that day, we rise to new life: —not with halting limp or wrinkled brow
—not with dimming eyes or faltering steps
—not with twisted spine or runaway tumors
—not with bitter memories or faded dreams
—not with amputated leg or injured heart No, we rise clothed in the shining mercy of God.

7. What Happens When We Die?

There is one great lesson we should take away from this story of the final words of the Lord Jesus. Death holds no fear for the Christian, for when we die, we pass from this life into the hands of our Heavenly Father, and he will take care of us. What happens when we die?
1. Our body is buried and our spirit goes to God.
2. We pass into the personal presence of God.
3. We pass from this life into paradise.
4. We are in the Father’s hands.

These things are true for the followers of Jesus because what happened to him will one day happen to them. Where he leads, they will one day follow.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, used to offer this comment as a final apologetic for the evangelical faith: “Our people die well.” We die like the rest of mankind. But we have a hope that transcends the grave. For the followers of Jesus, death has lost its sting and the grave its victory.

What makes the difference? It is Jesus Christ and nothing else. In him and through him and because of him, death has lost its fear for us. Like all men, we prefer to live as long as possible. But when the time comes, we will not shrink back in unspeakable dread. We know One who has been there, and has come back to tell the story. He said, “Fear not. I will be with you.” For those who know Jesus death is not the end but the beginning of life.

Our Father, we thank you for a hope that transcends this dying world. We live, we die, and through Jesus Christ, we pass into your loving hands. Teach us to live each day as if it were our last because someday it will be true. In these quiet moments we recommit our lives to you believing that you will be faithful to us, in life and death and in the life to come. We pray these things in the name of Him who conquered death, Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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