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“Take Me Home”



The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/29/20

The Sermon at The Sanctuary for 3/29/20
“Take Me Home” Luke 23:44-46

So, how’s this whole self-quarantine thing working out for you? On day one we stocked up on food and non-perishable supplies to last several weeks to remain in isolation for as long as necessary. Forty-five minutes later I’m bored and back at the supermarket because I wanted some potato chips. Then on the second day without sports I found a lady sitting on my couch. Apparently, she’s my wife. She seems nice.

So, on the third day I decided to get tested for the Covid-19 virus. I was told that the test returned positive. I replied that can’t be correct because I have over 300 rolls of toilet paper. Sheesh. When I got home I was asked, well are you sick? No, I just picked up a case of Corona Light. Anyway, my grandfathers were called to war, now I’m being called to sit on a couch. I can do this. The CDC has informed us to prevent the spreading of the virus we should stay home, practice social distancing and don’t go into crowds. So, what’s new? I’ve been doing that all my life. Hey, it’s just a few weeks of isolation with family. What could go wrong? Hmmmph.

All kidding aside, if you played the Coronavirus version of Where’s Waldo? you’d spot him in an instant because he’d pretty much be the only one in the picture. As we’re experiencing the world being postponed like a baseball game called on the account of rain, we watch our leaders humbled by the reality that no amount of money, no army in the world or stockpiles of weapons can deter it’s spread.

Are we ourselves humbled by the reality that we’re nowhere near as independent and confident of the control we have over our lives than we did just two weeks ago? Our plans have changed, and our lifestyles have been altered. For all the boasting on what we were going to do and how we were going to do it, they have now just become empty, spoken words.

Most times, a person’s last words reveal how they lived their life, what was important to them and what they think of the afterlife. Do you know what ‘last words’ are spoken most often? They’re just four short ones: “Here. Hold my beer!”

Joking aside, a person’s last words are important. We hang on to the dying words of those closest to us. We pass on the final words of great leaders for the next generation. It’s as if we’re waiting for them to sum everything up in a few final statements.  Famous last words have been recorded through history; some are famous, obvious, and ironic. Some are chilling and some are blessed. Here are a few:

“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
~~ Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary, d. 1923

“Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
~~ Oscar Wilde, writer, d. November 30, 1900

“All my possessions for but a moment of time.”
~~ Elizabeth I, Queen of England, d. 1603

“Lord, help my poor soul.”
~~ Edgar Allan Poe, writer, d. October 7, 1849

“Oh wow.”
Spoken three times in succession while looking at his family                                                                
 ~~ Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur, d. October 2011

“Good-bye kid. Hurry back.”                                                                                            
Spoken to Lauren Bacall as she briefly left his bedside                                                                                  
~~ Humphrey Bogart, actor, d. January 14, 1957

“It is very beautiful over there.”
~~ Thomas Alva Edison, inventor, d. October 18, 1931

“My God. What’s happened?”
~~ Diana (Spencer), Princess of Wales, d. August 31, 1997

“Waiting, are they? Waiting, are they? Well, let ‘em wait!”
In response to an attending doctor who attempted to comfort him by saying, “General, I fear the angels are waiting for you.”
~~ Ethan Allen, American Revolutionary general, d. 1789

“Now comes the mystery.”
~~ Henry Ward Beecher, evangelist, d. March 8, 1887

“I’m going to the bathroom to read.”                                                                                                       
~~ Elvis Pressley, musician, actor, entertainer, d. August 16, 1977

 “That was a great game of golf, fellers.”
~~ Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, singer / actor, d. October 14, 1977

 “I’m shot. I’m shot.”
~~ John Lennon, musician, poet, d. December 8, 1980

“Damn it…Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
To her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud
~~ Joan Crawford, actress, d. May 10, 1977

“Just don’t leave me alone.”                                                                                                                
Spoken to Catherine Smith as she injected a lethal dose of speedball into his arm                                                                                      
~~ John Belushi, actor, comedian, d. 1982

“Hold the line boys! They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”
Killed in battle during US Civil War
~~ General John Sedgwick, Union Commander, d. 1864

“I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room, and G-D it, died in a hotel room.”
~~ Eugene O’Neill, writer, d. November 27, 1953

“Let’s roll.”                                                                                                                                                
Overheard on an open phone line just before attempting to regain control of the hijacked Flight 93 on 9/11
Todd Beamer, everyman’s hero, d. September 11, 2001

 “Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.”                                                                                                                
~~ Pablo Picasso, artist, d. April 8, 1973

“You got me.”                                                                                                                                                 
~~ John Dillinger, gangster, d. July 22, 1934

“Die my dear? Well, that’s the last thing I’ll do!”                                                                                                                
~ Groucho Marx, actor, comedian, d. August 19, 1977

As he was dying on the cross Jesus had a few final words, seven to be exact. This morning let’s look at the last words Jesus made from the cross, late in the April afternoon of his crucifixion. 

The time is 3 P.M. Friday afternoon. It’s another hot day in Jerusalem. Things are worse now on Skull Hill.  The smell of death permeates the air. There are more screams, more cursing, more crying. Flies and insects swarm around the three naked men. There are shouts, restless words from the crowd. Several hundred people have gathered to watch the end.

It hasn’t been an ordinary day. Not that you could ever call crucifixion ordinary, but the Romans did it all the time. It was their favored 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, and this time the Romans had hit the trifecta, so to speak. They were crucifying three men on the eve of the Jewish Passover. That meant the city would be congested with religious pilgrims. The message would come through loud and clear—Don’t mess with Caesar.

Things had started well enough. The three men were crucified at 9 A.M., the normal starting time. The crowd was larger than usual, mostly because of the Passover and the man in the middle, one Jesus of Nazareth. The hard part was nailing the men to the cross, at best it was a bloody ordeal. If the victims struggled, the thing could turn into a mess. But the man in the middle hadn’t struggled at all. He looked half-dead before they laid him on the cross.

The first three hours were no problem. The three men spoke to one another briefly and people in the crowd shouted various things—mostly jeers and taunts. Jesus seemed to a have a following of people, friends and family who came to watch the proceedings. They didn’t say much. They held each other, wept and prayed for God to deliver them all.

Then, everything changed at 12 noon. In the blink of an eye it went dark. The sun disappeared—just like that—and thick darkness settled over the land. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Those who came to gawk and mock were now stumbling and falling over each other. It was a thick, ugly darkness that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. And it lasted for three hours.

Then at 3 P.M., the sun came out just as suddenly as it had disappeared. All eyes were drawn to the center cross. Something had happened to Jesus during those three hours, exactly what was hard to say. The other two looked awful, the way men always do when they’re crucified, but Jesus was different. Something terrible had happened to him during those three hours of darkness. Some awful burden, perhaps every sin that had been committed and yet to be committed had descended on him and seemed to squash out what little life was left. You didn’t have to be a doctor to know that he was about to die.

His chest heaved terribly with each breath, his eyes looked faraway, his voice was little more than a groan, death rattled in his throat. Suddenly he grunted something out and somebody shouted back to him. Then the soldiers moistened his lips with a sponge stuck on the end of a hyssop stalk. His head dropped, he took another breath, then spoke one word, “Tetelestai!” It is finished. It seemed as if he’d died. A moment passed, then Jesus took one final breath, and exhaled, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he bowed his head and his whole body slumped forward.

Stunned silence. Followed by, “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. Sometime later a spear was plunged into his side, but Jesus was long dead at that point.

This is how Luke the physician tells the account of the last moments of Jesus’ life:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:44-46).

The moment had come. Jesus entrusted his spirit to the Father. All that he came to do was accomplished. Two things happened at the very end of his life that we should understand.

His physical suffering is over, and he voluntarily gave up his life.

Jesus was arrested and tried like a common criminal. He was beaten within an inch of his life—he wasn’t recognizable. He suffered the terrible ordeal of crucifixion and died an agonizing death, yet he gave up his life. Jesus says in John 10:17-18:

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”

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.

So, let’s look at these final words of Jesus, God praying to God. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Every word tells us something important.

Father—This was Jesus’ favorite 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.” But 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 looked away from 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, the cup emptied, the burden borne, estrangement ended. Whatever happened in those three mysterious hours of darkness is now in the past. Jesus yields his life to the One he called “Father.”

Into your hands—What son doesn’t long for his father to reach out and embrace him? There is something wonderful about this expression. It speaks of safety, “I’m safe in my father’s hands” and of greeting, “Welcome home, son” and of love, “Dad, 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. With their hands, they slapped him. With their hands, they abused him. With their hands, they crowned him with thorns. With their hands, they ripped out his beard. With their hands, they punched him black and blue. With their hands, they whipped his back until it hung in ribbons.

All that is behind him now. Wicked hands have done all they can do. Jesus now returns to his Father’s hands.

I commit—The word commit means to deposit something valuable in a safe place. It’s what you do when you take your most valuable possessions and put them in a safe-deposit box at the bank.

My spirit—By this phrase, 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 am at the end; I have nothing. I place myself in your care so I can be where you’re at.”

You may not know that these words are a quotation from Scripture. With his final words, Jesus recited Psalm 31:5, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” and simply added the word “Father” to the front of the quotation. Do you know that it was a Jewish custom for mothers to teach their children to recite that verse every night before they went to bed? For many Hebrew children, it would be the first verse of Scripture they ever learned.

On the cross, as his life is ebbing away, Jesus remembers the prayer of his childhood, the prayer his mother taught him in Nazareth, the prayer with which he ended each day. In the end, his strength gone, his body tormented almost beyond recognition, his mind recalls the words he learned as a little boy, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The prayer has the same meaning and effect as the prayer many of our children and grandchildren have prayed at night, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.”

Pastor and author Max Lucado paints an unforgettable word picture of what Jesus’ death was like seen from the perspective of heaven in his book, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

“Take me home.”

Of all the fears that trouble us, perhaps none is greater than the fear of death. All our fears can be rolled up into this greatest fear—we are afraid to die. We fear death because it’s well, so final. We fear death because we aren’t sure what happens when we die. We fear death because it means leaving the world we know, for another that we know nothing about.

Death is the final enemy. It’s the bully on the block of life. It’s the end of one thing and the beginning of…what? A bright light? Blissfulness? Utopia? Nothingness? Most often, people don’t like to think of the answer, or don’t know how to finish that sentence. Perhaps they’ll mention that a loved one is in a better place, or at peace. 

But into the breach steps Jesus Christ. He has 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.

These are the words found in Hebrews 2:14-15:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

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. If men stayed dead, death was Satan’s ultimate tool to keep us bound and in darkness. But one Man changed all that. He died, but he didn’t stay dead. He broke Satan’s power when he committed his spirit into his father’s hands.

Now no one need fear death any longer. Death still comes to us all, no one gets out alive—but for those who know Jesus, death’s character has changed. It’s no longer the entrance into the dim unknown. The mystery begins and it’s now the passageway into the presence of God.

As we enter eternity, it will not be as it is today. In the day we enter Paradise it won’t be with a faltering limp and dimming eyes, not with a twisted spine or a tumor ridden body, not with bitter memories or faded dreams, not with an amputated limb or an injured heart.

No, we won’t enter like that; we’ll enter clothed in the shining mercy of God.

There’s one final thing we should take away from this story of the final words of Jesus.

So, what happens when we die?

Our body is committed back to dust and our spirit goes to God. We pass from this life into paradise. We enter into the personal presence of God. We are in the Father’s hands, his house, our home. We won’t wait at the pearly gates for St. Peter to check us in. We won’t find ourselves in some cosmic waiting room, nor will our soul sleep.  We won’t be navigating the river Styx or find ourselves at the threshold of Dante’s Inferno.

Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross?  At the thief’s repentant request to, “Please remember me Jesus when you enter your kingdom.”  Jesus replied, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Not some day, not later. Not at the end of time, not when the trumpet sounds, but immediately. Jesus was saying, “You will be where I am.”

These things are true for the followers of Jesus because what happened to him will one day happen to us. Where he leads, we will one day follow—and we’ll commit our spirit into our Father’s hands.

One more poignant last word,

“Why not? After all, it belongs to him.” After a priest reading him his last rites had said, May the lord have mercy on your soul                                                                                                                
~~ Charlie Chaplin, actor, d. December 25, 1977

What will your last words be?

This is the Word of the Lord for today.


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