The Final Word -- A Good Friday Message (Luke 23)

The Crucfixion - Taddeo di Bartolo (Art Institute of Chicago)

Note: This was shared at a Troy Community Good Friday Service, April 15, 2022 at First United Methodist Church. 

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


The end is near. Death is waiting impatiently to take Jesus from the earth. Who would have thought  Jesus would end his life this way? Here he was, nailed to a cross, bleeding, and struggling to breathe. You have to wonder what might have been had he stayed away from Jerusalem? 

His followers, including the women who followed him from Galilee, watch from a distance as his breathing becomes more labored. Death will come soon ending his suffering, but death will also end the dreams Jesus had inspired in so many people. Yes, it’s finished. It’s over. It’s time to move on. Perhaps another deliverer will appear to run off the Romans. 

Of course, just a few days earlier things looked much different. Remember that large crowd who welcomed Jesus into the city by proclaiming him the Son of David? Those cheers had given way to mocking. People are fickle. Why follow this lonely and rejected loser hanging from a Roman cross? 

While the crowd saw a loser, Luke envisions Jesus’ impending death in cosmic terms. He imagines a moment of divine vindication of Jesus’ mission that comes with a darkening of the sky and the rending of the veil of the Temple. Jesus has done his part, now it’s time to rest.

As we come to the last of the seven words of Jesus, it’s noon and darkness has settled on the land. It will stay that way until three. Before death comes, the veil of the temple is torn in two. Yes, something cosmic is taking place. The old age is about to end and a new age is about to begin. With that, Jesus offers his final word, a word of release, so that the new age can begin. 

Having given himself fully to bring a broken world back into relationship with God, he calls out one more time. He speaks to the Father as he breathes his last breath: "Father into your hands I commend my Spirit." 

There is no cry of abandonment here like we find in the Gospel of Mark. Instead, Luke speaks of Jesus resting in the hands of God. It’s time for the Sabbath to begin. Luke’s Jesus knows God will receive his spirit, but Jesus also knows that the journey hasn’t ended. The next phase is about to begin, but first, he needs to rest.

So how should we respond to this scene? What should we say, after watching Jesus die in this way?  Alan Culpepper writes that the "death of Jesus is a `thin place.'" It’s a place where the "separation between heaven and earth was very thin." Golgotha might not be a place of great beauty, but the distance between the two realms of heaven and earth becomes especially thin in this moment as Jesus enters into this final conversation with God before he rests. Culpepper responds:  "Those who hear his prayers are moved to confession and contrition."1    

Luke points us to three different witnesses to these events. The first witness is a Roman Centurion, who proclaimed Jesus to be innocent and righteous, though the previous verdicts of Pilate and Herod stand. The truth is, we join with Pilate and Herod in placing Jesus on the cross.

Then there are the crowds who leave the scene in mourning, beating their breasts. Did they see something here that overcame their initial rejection?  Alan Culpepper reminds us that we must also go home "beating our breasts with those whose hopes seemed to die there." Therefore it is "only by witnessing the darkness of his death and the despair of the loss of hope [that] we [can] fully appreciate the joy of the resurrection."  (9:463).

Finally, Luke turns the camera to the periphery of the crowd where we find Jesus' friends and family watching from the distance. They stand at a distance, perhaps afraid of arrest, but they’re also there to give a witness to their devotion to the one who died on that old rugged cross.   

These three voices confirm that this man was no ordinary criminal. He wasn’t even an ordinary human being. Though they might not fully understand what had happened on Golgotha, they seem to understand that they’d been touched by the hand of God.

So, how do those of us who know the story of the resurrection, respond to the cross? Luke asks us to stay awhile and take in this sight so that we may fully enjoy the blessings of Easter. As we contemplate this scene, may we pray to Jesus with these words of Karl Rahner:

Have mercy on me, Receive me into your love. And when I come to the end of my pilgrimage, when the day begins to decline and the shadows of death surround me, speak Your last word at the end of my life also:  "Father into Your hands I commend his spirit." O good Jesus.2


1. Alan Culpepper, "The Gospel of Luke," in the New Interpreter's Bible, 9:462-3.

2. Karl Rahner, Prayers for a Lifetime, (1984), p. 59.


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