Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon Manuscript--Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit--Seven Last Words

At one point, a while ago, I was visiting with a woman that was facing her own mortality. She was thinking about what was left in this life, but also what was to come on the other side of death. “I hope I make it in,” she said.

I replied by visiting with her in more depth about his concern. I probed about whether she had ever accepted Jesus. She replied, “Oh….I know and have confessed Jesus as my Lord and my Savior….it is just that….”
And there was a long pause.

I replied, out of a sense of the Holy Spirit’s leading and not out of my own intelligence, “It is just that it is completely out of your control.”
“Yes,” she replied.

A lot of things in life humble you by making you feel completely out of control. Your child is in the hospital, suffering, and there is nothing you can do to make them better. It’s out of your control.

You work your heart out for years in a job you love. Everybody at work appreciates the work you do. Then you get the news. Somebody halfway across the country believes the company needs to cut payroll, and the position you work in is cut. You hear the news. “It is nothing personal,” the man firing you tells you, “if it were up to me I would keep you.” You want to do something to keep your job. You can’t. It is out of your control.

A phone call comes into the church. A pillar of the church’s body seems ready to die, but she keeps holding on. She is having a hard time letting go. Could you send a pastor over to visit with her? The secretary contacted me, since I was the only one in the office at the time.

Like the example mentioned before, I went.

We talked. We visited about her sense of failure. None of her children were attending worship anywhere. She needed to stay alive. She needed to fix it. She wondered if God would be mad at her for failing in this regard. We looked at Scripture and we prayed. She wanted to fix everything before she was gone. She couldn’t. It was out of her control.

A lot of things are out of our control. Actually, just about everything is out of our control. Except our decisions about our heart, our attitude, our actions. Except our decisions about what we bend our knee to in worship—either the idols that offer us false hope and false security like wealth, strength, and self-sufficiency, or the Lord God.

The Scripture says that the passage we looked at last week, “It is finished” were not Jesus’ final words. His final words were these, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit”.

I was discussing preaching this passage with my mother and my wife as I went to the airport. I do that a lot. I don’t like to prepare sermons in a vacuum. I like to talk them out a little bit as I go. I think it makes me a better preacher to hear what other people hear from the Spirit as they read and hear Scripture.
I shared a few things. Then my mom shared, “I think the hands are important. He says, ‘Into your hands” That is a beautiful way of stating it…Into YOUR HANDS I commit my spirit”.

As usual, mom was right. More right than she knew actually. You see in Luke 24:7 the Bible says that Jesus was “delivered into the hands of evil men”. But as he utters these last words, he does not let these men with bloody, greedy, and violent hands have the last word. He says to God the Father, “Into YOUR HANDS I commit my spirit”.
Jesus’ final words reflect a choice. Let me say that again. Point #1 Jesus’ words reflect a choice.

Evil men thought they were controlling Jesus’ life and his death. They thought they could manage his ministry and put him “in his place”. In Jesus’ last words he defiantly tells those who drove the nails in his hands and feet that they were not in control. He was choosing to relinquish his life to the Father for God’s purposes. He was choosing to surrender to the will of God by going to Calvary.

Jesus is not a victim here. He is a willing participant in his own crucifixion. He chooses to go there for you and I. He willingly places his life and his death in the hands of His loving father. And he is not shy about doing so. He cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. To show his captors and the crowd that they were not in control, He was. And he chose to abandon himself to the arms of God. He chose to live and die in dependence and trust in the hands of an almighty, loving, heavenly father. We should choose to do the same.

We live with this illusion that we can manage our lives well. We live with this idea that if we put enough of our energy and effort into a person or situation, we can control it or them perfectly. Then something happens. We throw up our hands. We realize we are pitiful at managing our lives, our situations, and our world.
Which is, by the way, right where God wants us.

Jesus wants us to pray with him the prayer that he prayed from Psalm 31, as we live and as we die. He wants us to pray “Father, into your hands….”
Jesus’ choice was to relinquish control over his life and his death to the hands of the Father. He wants us to make the same choice.

Placing our lives in the hands of the Father in not something we should wait to do until the moment before the moment we die. We need to live all of our lives constantly depending on God.

This is easier said than done. We can give lip service to “depending on God” or that “we are counting on Him to provide” without actively yielding to God’s will. We can say we are putting ourselves in a position of depending on God when we are really grasping for all the control we can possibly get and hoping for God to fill in the gaps to give us all of our wants.

It is also easier said than done because when we do the real work of surrendering and yielding all of our hopes, dreams, desires, and our very lives to God and what he wants it hurts. Maybe not physically! But for sure it hurts emotionally, mentally, relationally. When we say to God we want to place our lives in his hands, he molds us and prunes us. And that is not always comfortable. It’s always worth it, but it not always comfortable when it is happening.

It is hard to relinquish our lives to God as well because many of us do not like to say no to all the other things that vie for our attention. We want to have our security placed in our bank account and our home, our friends and our families, our political parties and our traditions. And if we truly live a life of dependence on God, He will have priority and preeminence over all of those things.

It is hard to relinquish our lives completely to God, most of all, because we believe a lie. We believe the lie that the things we have are ours. They are not. We believe the lie that the blessings we have we deserve. We don’t. They are gift. We believe that our children, our parents, our spouse, and our friends are ours. They are not. They are gifts on loan from God. And we better be thankful for those blessings, and faithful in how we care for those gifts every day. Each person we love is child and his creation—trusted to us. We believe that the life we have is ours. It isn’t. It is God that gives us breathe, and he can take it away at a moment’s notice.

From the beginning, when Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, we have failed to depend on God. When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve he convinced them that God did not want them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because God did not want what was best for them—he was holding out on them. The serpent said, in effect, “God doesn’t want you to be like Him. You better eat that fruit and take control of your life. Because you can’t trust God to take care of you and have YOUR best interest in mind.” So they sinned by not trusting God and by taking control for themselves instead of trusting and depending upon the Lord.
Now Jesus, as he hangs on the cross, reverses the bad sin of Adam and Eve. In the worst of circumstances he tells the Lord, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit”, which is another way of saying, “Even in this moment where I am suffering and dying here, I don’t trust in other men or women, I trust completely in you.”

So how do we learn to place our lives in God’s hands? How do we begin to depend on God day to day? How do we begin to relinquish our lives to the Father like Jesus did on the cross?

I have four beginning steps, baby steps if you will, that will help you begin to constantly depend upon God in your everyday life.

1. Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior

In the end, the Bible says, “Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”. Why not do it know, instead of before you stand before the judgment seat of God.

The Scripture makes it clear, you cannot serve two masters. You will hate this one, and love the other, or you will love that one, and hate the other. You need to choose who you place in the driver’s seat of your life?

The world? Really? Does this world have your best interest in mind? Does this world love you? Or is it just going to use you and abandon you?

You? You think you deserve to be master of your own life? You think you know better than God? I got to tell you, I think that will be a mess. You know how you make a mess of so many things! You know where you would be without God’s grace!
Place your eternity and your life in the hands of the Lord Jesus by accepting Him as your Lord and Savior.

2. Actively take steps of obedience that demonstrate trust in God

If you do not actively take steps of obedience that demonstrate your trust in God you will be one of those people that come to church and talk a good religious game, but never really live by faith. You will have a semblance of faith in Christ, but you will never really see the power of God at work in your life. The power of God at work in your life becomes evident as you take steps of obedience to trust God.
Jesus obeyed God by going to the cross. He lived a sinless life of obedience. And by actively choosing to commit his Spirit to the Lord in death he takes another step of obedience to God.

You need to trust God enough to have the courage to obey his Word. Even when it hard. You need to trust God enough as well to obey the leadings of His Spirit. Even when it costs you something.

For us, in recent years, we have felt convicted that we should tithe. We were not that good at that when we were single, but after we got married we decided that God was leading us to contribute ten percent of our income to God’s work.

It is not easy. As a matter of fact, sometimes I think about all the other things I could do with the money we have given back to Lord. But less and less now. You know, there is some sense in which divine math trumps modern accounting, and we always end up more blessed than we expected. But it takes a step of faith to obey and trust in this way. Every month.

We have also, during this season, felt led to do a family devotion time with one another. We obeyed this leading from God. Sometimes we just finish the devotion and look at each other and say, “true dat”. Other times we are really led into discussions we need to have. It has been good for us.

You know those steps of obedience God has for you. Perhaps they include being baptized. Or finding ways to serve your neighbor. Or doing something to show your spouse you love them. Have the courage to take steps of faith. Especially the ones that push you out of the place where you are comfortable.

3. Letting go

When Jesus was on that cross, saying those last words, there was a certain sense in which he was letting go. He was placing his life and his soul in God’s hands, to do with as he willed.

We need to do the same.

There are a lot of things that we try and manage and control that we just need to let go of. There are a lot of grudges that we need to let go of. There are a lot of destructive attitudes that we need to let go of.
There are times where we are mistreated, and we want to fight or demand our fair treatment, and really the best idea is just to let go of fretting and stewing over that situation and just let it go.

There are times where we are so stressed about a bunch of things that are completely out of our control. And we need to simply let them go and place them in God’s hands.
You can’t fix everyone. You can’t make every situation right. You can’t make everyone as healthy as you want them to be. You can’t do everything you think you can.

At some point you have to pray about things in your life, and tell God, “Hey, I have tried to control and manage and run this situation for several days or months or years now, and I am just a miserable failure at it. I’m letting it go. I am placing it in your hands.

4. Accepting and working within your abilities and limitations
You can’t do everything. You can’t be everything to everybody. At times you have say, “I can’t do this Lord, I place it in your hands”
Some of you cannot do all the things you used to do. You have to learn to accept where you are at, and live within the limitations you have now. You have to place your limitations in God’s hands, and depend on Him to see you through each day.
Some of you have a hard time saying no to anything, and so you try and do everything, and then get frustrated that you are expected to do everything. Learn that you don’t have to do everything, and control everything. Understand you have limits learn what to say yes to and what to say no to. Pray about it. Set priorities.

Why is all of this important? Because, whose hands you choose to place your life in is ultimately who you worship. Are you going to worship the Lord, and completely depend on Him? Or are bend the knee to your own ego, or the pressures of the world around you? Are you going to have to be confronted with difficult circumstance after difficult circumstance before you are finally convinced that it is almost all out of your control anyway? I sure hope not.

I pray that you will take those hands that you have so desperately been clawing, fighting and grasping for everything with, and I pray you will open them, and place your life, your circumstances, your hopes and dreams, your family, even your death, and place them in God’s hands. I pray that you will pray with Jesus, “Into your hands I commit my spirit”

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