My Soul To Take

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

Edgar Allan Poe, the 18th century American Author and Poet, once wrote, “Sleep, those little slices of death—how I loathe them.” There are people in this world who dread sleep. The fear of sleep, otherwise known as somniphobia,[i] is a sleep disorder condition that significantly impacts the quality of life. It can cause panic attacks and keep people apart from friends and loved ones. The typical symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and overall feelings of dread. Like Poe, people who suffer from somniphobia see sleep as tiny slashes of death.

Many of us are familiar with another common literary classic from the 18th century—the children’s prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

If we go further back through the centuries, we turn to the Jewish traditional evening prayer.[ii] Before going to sleep, every pious Jew offered this prayer to the LORD saying, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Though Luke was aware of the other last words of Jesus before he gave up the ghost, he wanted his readers to focus on this final prayer to his Father. Jesus chose to pray it at the threshold of the soul’s ultimate sleep—the dreaded slash of death.

This prayer comes straight out of Psalm 31:5:

Into your hand I commit my spirit;

you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

This psalm paints a picture of David’s life-threatening trouble before his enemies. He calls out to the LORD, the Righteous Deliverer, his Rock of Refuge and Strong Fortress.[iii] David seeks a speedy rescue from the human shame and hidden snare that surrounds him on every side. He cries out to the LORD asking Him to preserve his life from death:

I am in distress;

my eye wastes away from grief,

my soul and body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

and my years with sighing;

my strength fails because of my misery,

and my bones waste away.[iv]

But when Jesus, David’s greater son,[v] prayed it, it was a prayer of trust in his Father at the point of death. When Jesus prayed this prayer before he fell asleep in the arms of his Father, he prayed it as no other Jew ever prayed it. At the beginning of the prayer he cried out to no other on earth—not his disciples, his brothers and sisters, or even his own mother. Jesus reached out to his Father in heaven to rescue him from the evil one,[vi] “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Let the biblical record show that no one ever prayed in this way until Jesus did. His reference to his Abba, his Daddy, his Father, was as revolutionary a relationship as it gets! “Father” framed the ministry of Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. As a young boy, his words echoed throughout the temple walls, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[vii] Midway in his ministry his words stayed the course, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”[viii] And at the end of his ministry his words embraced the human hearts of darkness, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”[ix] The Son never let go of his Father’s hand, and his Father never let go of His Son’s spirit.

In this prayer Jesus offered himself to God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus voluntarily laid his life down; no one took it from him. In John 10:11-18 he said:

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

And in John 15:13 Jesus said:

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The Good Shepherd trusted in God, the Great Shepherd of his soul till death. Even though he walked through the darkest valley, Jesus feared no evil nor the presence of his enemies for his Father was with him.[x] Jesus’ faith in his Father’s powerful presence and steadfast love comforted him—it controlled his circumstances to the end of his life… even his death on a cross.

The world, unbeknownst to everyone, save for Jesus, was coming to an end on the cross at Calvary. At Jesus’ birth, the star of Bethlehem pierced the darkness and shined upon the Son of God who lay in a manger. At Jesus’ death, darkness came over the whole land and swallowed the bright noonday sun that failed to light the Son of Man who hung on a cross.[xi]

As it was in Genesis when darkness covered the face of the deep,[xii] so it was in Golgotha when darkness came over the whole land. For a span of three hours, the earth upon which the cross of Christ towered was a sinful wasteland void of God’s presence. As black as those three hours were, did the serpent’s sinful poison of the world pour into the soul of our Savior until he became sin for us all. Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed.[xiii] [xiv]

Darkness and evil are one and the same. It signified the reign of the evil one when Jesus cried out in the dark garden, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”[xv] The darkness of evil is a fitting canopy for the sinful wasteland. It sets the stage for the Son of God to reveal Himself through His high priestly work. As he commended his spirit, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. At the tail end of darkness God in Christ said, “Let there be light” and there was light.[xvi] God in Christ separated the light from the darkness by tearing the thick human made curtain in two. The curtain blocked all eyes from and barred anyone access to the Holy of Holies—the dwelling place of God. The high priest who entered once a year offered the shed blood of an innocent animal for himself and the sins of the people.[xvii] But now, in the darkest recesses of the temple, this great curtain was pierced and divided[xviii] from top to bottom.[xix] Jesus is the steadfast anchor of our soul.[xx] He is our Great High Priest[xxi] who has entered the inner shrine behind the curtain on our behalf.[xxii] Like stray sheep, we lost our way in the darkest valley, but now we can return to the shepherd of our souls.[xxiii] [xxiv]

As God rested after six days of work on the creation,[xxv] so Jesus rested after six hours of work on the cross after he made a new creation. The old world has passed away, behold the new world has come. The old way of being human has passed away, behold the new and living way of being human has come.[xxvi]

So this evening, before you lay down yourself to sleep, pray to our Father our soul to keep: “Father, into your loving hands I entrust my willing spirit.” May you sleep soundly as your heavenly Father watches over your precious soul. Amen.

Endnotes

[i] Somniphobia, “Do you have a fear of sleep?” The origin of the word somini is Latin (meaning sleep) and phobia is Greek (meaning fear).

[ii] I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 876.

[iii] Psalm 31:1-3.

[iv] Psalm 31:9-10.

[v] Matthew 12:42.

[vi] Matthew 6:13b.

[vii] Luke 2:49.

[viii] John 5:19.

[ix] Luke 23:34.

[x] Psalm 23:4.

[xi] Amos 8:9-10. On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

[xii] Genesis 1:2.

[xiii] 1 Peter 2:24.

[xiv] Isaiah 53:3-6. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

[xv] Luke 22:53.

[xvi] Genesis 1:3.

[xvii] Hebrews 9:7.

[xviii] Hebrews 4:12.

[xix] Matthew 27:51.

[xx] Hebrews 6:19a.

[xxi] Hebrews 4:14.

[xxii] Hebrews 6:19b.

[xxiii] 1 Peter 2:25.

[xxiv] Hebrews 10:19-22. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

[xxv] Genesis 2:1-3.

[xxvi] 2 Corinthians 5:17.

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