Part II: The Psalm of Reunion
The Psalms have been the source of comfort and strength to Jews and Christians for centuries because they not only reveal truth about God and righteousness, but expose the heartfelt hopes, dreams, struggles, fears and emotions that are part of being human. Michael F. Bird points to the Psalms as a rich source for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus.[i] Today, we place great value on “keeping it real,” The Psalms offer an enormous resource for connecting faith and life with authenticity.
Here is Part II of a three-part Holy Week series of blogs focusing on the Psalms. May they enrich your study and prayer as we contemplate the cross and resurrection.
Jesus Last Hours
For the first three hours Jesus hung on the cross, we have record of him speaking only three times of the seven he spoke on the cross. He pled with his heavenly Father to forgive those who brought him to the cross (Luke 23:34). Immediately, Jesus must have been praying for those who betrayed, tried and nailed him to the cross. More broadly, it included all humanity, you and me. Then, Jesus offered pardon and assurance to the criminal, who while dying next to Jesus, turned to him in faith (Luke 23:43). For as long as we have breath God is ready to forgive us and give new life. Finally, Jesus provided for his mother, giving responsibility to “the disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26-27).
About noon — as the toll of physical suffering increased, the burden of sin pressed down more heavily, and the fingers of death closed ever more tightly around Jesus — darkness filled the land. The sun stopped shining. The curtain in the temple was torn in two. Jesus was silent!
About three in the afternoon Jesus spoke again. His final four statements seem to have come over a brief period. First, the crowd heard Jesus’ plaintive cry to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mark 15:34, Matthew27:46). (See Part I here.) Then he spoke a second time as he called out to say, “I thirst.” He was given some vinegar on sponge. (John 19:28-29.)
The three simple words of Jesus’ third utterance are among the most important any person will ever hear: “It is finished (John 19:30).” His suffering was over. The ministry for which God had sent him and he willingly accepted was completed. Atonement for our sin was complete. The binding power of sin and guilt was broken. God and humankind were reconciled. The way to new life and a new creation was prepared. Forgiveness and grace demonstrated. The cross would forever stand, “towering o’er the wrecks of time.”[ii] It was and is finished!
As Jesus bowed his head in death his final words were spoken, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46).” This was his prayer of reunion. Having faithfully fulfilled the mission on which the Father had sent him, Jesus returned home to live forever with his Father.
Psalm 31 at the Cross
Jesus’ relationship with God, his Father, as well as his ministry were nurtured and shaped through Scripture. As a boy discussing the Scripture in the Temple, when facing temptation in the wilderness, and as he opened the Scripture to two bewildered travelers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the Scriptures of his Jewish faith provided the template for Jesus’ self-understanding and life mission. It is no wonder that in his dying moments Psalm 31filled his mind.
With his dying breath, Jesus quoted Psalm 31:5, “ Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.”
Like Psalm 22 several aspects of Psalm 31describe the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross. The Psalmist, King David, sings of his distress. His eye, soul and body wastes away from grief; his strength fails because of misery; his bones waste away; he is a scorn and horror to those around him; he is a broken vessel and those around him whisper and scheme against him to take his life (Psalm 31:9-13).
Yet, the overall theme of Psalm 31 points to trust and confidence in God. The LORD is David’s rock and fortress, a good and loving God, who has proved faithful again and again. Twice David refers to God’s hands. Once, as noted in the words that Jesus quoted on the cross. Again, in Psalm 31:14-15 David expresses his trust in God and sings, “You are my God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.”
When Jesus “commended” his spirit to God, he delivered it up, voluntarily placing it in God’s hands. In the end, Jesus’ death was not forced upon him. He offered himself on behalf of the world.
We need remember that before Jesus offered himself on the cross, he long before offered himself to God day by day, moment by moment. When he relinquished his spirit and placed it in God’s hands in those last moment Jesus brought to fullness trust lived daily in his relationship with the eternal God. This trust in a faithful Father enabled Jesus to embrace his death and face the silent hours in the grave until the third day came. Jesus trusted the promise, providence and power of God to raise him. So, his final word was a prayer anticipating reunion with his Father.
Committing our Spirit to God
As a teenager early in my walk with Christ and ever since, I have been deeply moved by Earl Marlatt’s hymn Are Ye Able. In the hymn Jesus asks, “Are ye able to be crucified with me? Are ye able to remember when a thief lifts up his eyes, that his pardoned soul is worthy of a place in paradise? Are ye able when the shadows close around you with the sod, to believe that spirit triumphs, to commend your soul to God?”[iii]
The answer to these questions is perhaps easier to give when singing the sweet melody of the hymn in the joyful glow of worship than in the challenges and conflicts of real life. Are we, as Jesus was, able to forgive a thief or one who harms? Are we able to relinquish our own will to God’s will when the decision is costly in terms of ourselves and our loved ones? Are we able to follow Jesus into the dark and dangerous places as well as the light and safe ones? Are we able to deliver up ourselves to be a “living sacrifice” day by day and trust that our times are in God’s hands? Are we able to quiet our spirits and trust in God when death is around us and near?
The whole of Jesus’ life of faith and obedience stood behind his prayer to commend his spirit to God. His prayer of reunion was evidence of God’s grace and power present within him. As we commend ourselves to God day by day, with each moment, our hearts will be even more readied by God’s grace and power to deliver our spirits in God’s hands when the day of our own reunion comes.
[ii] John Bowring, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” Public Domain.
[iii] Earl Marlatt, “Are Ye Able,” Public Domain.