Apostle Barbara Childress
Christ submitting to the Father
It is striking that the very first word Jesus spoke from the cross was 'Father' (Luke 23:34). We shall not fully appreciate this until we give full weight to the context in which it was uttered. Luke introduces it with the words: 'Then Jesus said...' What is the significance of this? When was 'then'?
By using this phrase, Luke underscores for us all the things that had happened to Jesus in the hours that immediately preceded his crucifixion. What solemn, terrible hours they were! Taken into custody in the middle of the night, Jesus was hustled through legal proceedings that were themselves illegal. Once delivered into the hands of a contingent of Roman soldiers, he was mocked, ridiculed, spat upon, flogged until his back was shredded into a bloody, raw mass and crowned with a crown of thorns! He was then prodded and driven through the streets of Jerusalem and up the hill of Golgotha where he was nailed to a cross. When he was firmly fastened to it, it was callously and unfeelingly dropped into the hole that had been prepared for it. Now here he hung, suspended between heaven and earth, with blood streaming down his body, surrounded by a multitude staring and gawking at him, and with every nerve in his body screaming in anguish.
Luke's 'then' captures and comprehends all of these things. After all the humiliation, after all the pain, after all the ridicule, Jesus spoke, and the first word that fell from his parched, cracked lips was 'Father'.
Jesus uttered the word 'Father' again before he died. The very last statement he made, recorded in Luke 23:46, couples the word 'Father' with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 31:5: 'Into your hands I commend my spirit.'
The first and last saying of Jesus from the cross begin with the word 'Father'. We might say that word brackets the other words. The word 'Father', always rich in meaning, carries special significance in this context. Here it is a treasure chest packed full of precious truth. Let's seek to open it up a little.
What the word 'Father' tells us about Jesus
An expression of continuing submissiveness
The word 'Father' takes us into the mysterious realm of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are each fully and equally God. One is not more God than another.
But for the purpose of providing redemption for God's people, these three persons assumed different roles. Theologians sometimes refer to this in terms of the 'economic Trinity'. This assuming of different roles required the Father to be the planner and initiator of redemption, the Son to be the provider of it and the Holy Spirit to be the applier of it.
We have been focusing on the Son's action in providing redemption for his people. We can go further and say that this economic Trinity required him to be submissive to the Father in all things.
We have seen that submissiveness at every stage of the journey. It was there when the Son agreed to be the surety for his people. It was there throughout the long ages when his coming was pictured and anticipated in the Old Testament. It was there when he finally rose from the throne of his glory and stepped into human history as a man. It was there when, as a boy of twelve, the Lord Jesus said to his earthly parents, 'Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' (Luke 2:49).
Jesus' submissiveness to his Father was always evident in his public ministry. The Gospel writers tell us that he thanked the Father (Matthew 11:25); that he claimed to be sent by the Father and to do the work of the Father (John 5:36); that he came not to speak his own words but the words of the Father (John 12:50); and that the supreme, driving purpose of his life was to glorify the Father (John 12:28; 14:13).
The Father sent the Lord Jesus into this world for a purpose. He came with a mission that was clearly prescribed and laid out for him by the Father. Jesus carefully and diligently followed his Father's plan. He was able to say, 'For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me' (John 6:38). On another occasion, he said, 'I always do those things that please him' (John 8:29).
One aspect of Jesus' submissiveness to the Father was his close, intimate fellowship with God every day of his life - a fellowship that was evidenced by his prayer life.
Luke goes to considerable lengths in his Gospel to show us the vital role prayer played in the life of Jesus. He tells us Jesus prayed at his baptism (3:21), before selecting his disciples (6:12), on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:28-29) and on the night before he was crucified (22:41,44). He also tells us Jesus 'often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed' (5:16).
That submissiveness to the Father, ever in place from eternity past, came to its highest expression when Jesus went to the cross.
An expression of affection and trust
In the midst of the most horrifying circumstances imaginable, Jesus could still call God 'Father'.
The night before he was crucified the Lord Jesus had asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering he was experiencing there on the cross. The Father had not removed it, and now Jesus was already drinking the first bitter dregs of that awful cup. He hung there with the full awareness and knowledge that the Father in heaven could have prevented it all and could even now intervene on his behalf. But his faith in God and love for God were still intact.
What the word 'Father' tells us about ourselves
Let's now turn our attention to the lessons we can learn from this prayer.
Having God as Father
The first of these lessons has to do with having God as our Father. We cannot, of course, have God as our Father in exactly the same way Jesus did. He was, and is the eternal Son of God. But the glory of the Christian message is that we can still have God as our Father. We can know God in a personal, intimate way through the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many who object to this. Their viewpoint is that God is already the Father of us all, but it only takes a quick glance at the Scriptures to see the fallacy of this view. In John's Gospel we read, 'But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name' (John 1:12). Who are those who may be called the children of God? Is it everyone without exception? John affirms that the children of God are those who have received Christ by believing in his name.
Other verses are equally plain on this matter. Once Jesus got into a fiery debate with the Pharisees on this matter of fatherhood. They didn't hesitate to claim God as their Father, but Jesus refused to allow them to get away with it. He said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God, nor have I come of myself [i.e. on my own initiative], but he sent me' (John 8:42).
Having God as our Father is not, then, something that happens to us automatically. We do not have God as our Father simply because we breathe his air. He is only the Father of those who have committed their lives to the redeeming work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Praying to God as Father
Secondly, we should learn to pray. If Jesus felt the need to pray, how much more should we! In addition to praying himself, Jesus taught his disciples to pray. His parable of the persistent widow was intended to drive home the point that 'Men always ought to pray and not lose heart' (Luke 18:1).
Working for the Father
The second time Jesus used the word 'Father' on the cross was in connection with his committing his spirit to God. And that committal came immediately after he said 'It is finished.' In other words, Jesus committed himself to the Father only after completing the work assigned to him by the Father.
The same God who sent Jesus into this world for a specific purpose and work has also given all those of us who know Christ a work to do. We are called to live for his honour and his glory, to show forth his praises and to demonstrate the difference the gospel makes (I Peter 2:9-10).
We are to be fulfilling this purpose in our families, in our jobs, in our communities. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we are to be conscious of the fact that we belong to God and that we are to live for God. How are we doing with this? Because we are fallible and frail, we cannot perfectly fulfil our purpose as the Lord Jesus did, but we can be diligently working at it.
We may rest assured that death will be far more comfortable for that child of God who has diligently tried to fulfil God's purpose for his or her life. A spiritual principle comes into play here. Those who sow bountifully reap bountifully and those who sow sparingly reap sparingly (II Corinthians 9:6). If we bountifully seek to fulfil God's purpose for our lives we may legitimately expect to find bountiful comfort in the hour of death. On the other hand, if we go sparingly about the Lord's work we can expect to reap a meagre harvest of comfort and grace in the hour of death.
A popular poster reads, 'The Lord has given me a certain number of things to accomplish. At this moment, I am so far behind I will never die.' The truth is, however, that we must die whether our tasks are finished or not. It must be a tremendous sorrow to arrive at the point of death with unfinished business - deeds of kindness left undone, words of love left unspoken, children left untaught in the things of God.
We would do well, then, to heed the challenging words of Charles Spurgeon: 'As long as there is breath in our bodies, let us serve Christ: as long as we can think, as long as we can speak, as long as we can work, let us serve him, let us serve him with our last gasp; and, if it be possible, let us try to get some work going that will glorify him when we are dead and gone.'
Trusting God as Father
In life. We should learn to love and trust God, no matter how difficult our circumstances may be. When we are angry over bitter and adverse circumstances that have come our way, we can learn from the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross to trust God in the midst of difficulty and searing trial.
In death. It occurs to me that in one sense Jesus died a very comfortable death. No, of course I am not suggesting there was no pain or anguish in his death. We have noted again and again the terrible suffering through which he went on the cross. I am talking rather about his attitude about death. His final words reveal that he died with strong confidence and without fear and trembling. He speaks of death in terms of placing himself in his Father's hands. These words picture someone depositing something that is very sacred and precious for safe keeping with one who is unquestionably trustworthy.
Would we know how to die? There is no better teacher than the Lord Jesus Christ. No one died more peacefully than he. We can die peacefully as well if we have the confidence that at death our souls go immediately into the hands of the heavenly Father.
Jesus had been in the hands of wicked people. The Bible emphasizes this in verse after verse. In Matthew 17:22-23 Jesus predicted his death in these words: 'The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him...' He repeated the same thing minutes before he was taken into custody (Matthew 26:45). Other verses also make reference to Jesus being in the hands of wicked men (Luke 24:6-7; Acts 2:23).
As Jesus came to the point of death, he knew he was no longer in the hands of men. Their hands had done all they could do to him, and now he could commit himself to the hands of his Father. Do we understand the implications of this? Jesus knew his soul was going to be received by the Father at the very moment of death. His body was, of course, to be placed in a tomb and resurrected on the third day. At the time of his resurrection his soul and body were reunited, but his soul was safe in the Father's hands during the time his body was entombed.
It is exactly the same for the one who knows God as Father. At the point of death, his soul goes immediately into God's presence and there remains until his body is raised from the grave. At that time his soul and body will be reunited and he will go to live for ever with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), and there he finally will be free from all the wicked hands that have mistreated and abused him here.
How this takes the sting out of death for the Christian! Tell him that death is going to come to him before the day is over, and he will rejoice with the knowledge that for the Christian to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8). This makes death a promotion and not a tragedy, and those who grieve over a Christian grieve for themselves and their loss. John Bunyan understood this. In the Pilgrim's Progress, when Christiana died, Bunyan says her children wept, but Mr Great-heart and Mr. Valiant, two men of faith who knew what death was about, 'played upon the well-tuned cymbal and harp for joy'.
The unbeliever has no such comfort. Yes, there is a set of hands ready to receive him in the hour of death, but they are not the hands of a loving, heavenly Father. They are the fiery hands of Satan himself who eagerly clutches at his prey to pull it down into eternal destruction.
There is, then, a set of hands to receive each and every one of us when we come to the hour of death. The question is only which set of hands it will be.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.