‘Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit’: Teaching Jesus’ Words From the Cross to Teenagers

Charlie was only two when his parents had to bring him in for an MRI. Unfortunately, their worst fears were true. Charlie had a large tumor on his brain. Praise God, Charlie is alive today, ten years later. However, his life is still filled with medical tests, treatments, and procedures. Going in for an MRI or other tests has not gotten easier. Now that he knows the pain and side effects he is about to face, the experience is only worse. 

Each time he is scheduled to go back in he will inevitably ask, “Mom, do I have to?” His parents, as much as they don’t want to, will have to answer, “yes, you have to.” To go through with that first MRI or that first round of chemo took bravery and trust. To go back through it all again takes an even greater level of bravery and trust in mom and dad. 

Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’ final cry from the cross:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Luke 23:46

Jesus knew all along what was ahead. Like Charlie, he knew the cup he had to drink; that it would be bitter and painful. That’s why he prayed in the garden: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” 

But Jesus also trusted and submitted himself to his heavenly Father. He concluded his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane with: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Then, with his final breath, Jesus completed his life of childlike faith in his Father. 

The words “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” were not original to Jesus. He is quoting Psalm 31:5: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” These were originally written by David as a prayer declaring his unshakable trust in the Lord. Many dangers, toils, and snares came David’s way. In and through them all, he trusted in the Lord. 

Nobody has ever been in a more desperate place than Jesus was when he was handed over by his enemies to be crucified. From the looks of it, Jesus had been forgotten by his Father. In Psalm 31:5, immediately after saying “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” David could celebrate saying “you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Jesus, hanging on the cross, seems to have no reason to say that. Yet here he is, living by childlike faith and trust in his heavenly Father.

When we show teenagers this final cry of Jesus, they better understand his righteousness, are comforted in their own weakness, and are encouraged to mature in faith. 

Show Students the Faithful Life Jesus Lived All the Way to the End 

Jesus’s death on the cross was a sacrifice for our sin. On the cross, Jesus obediently paid the price God requires for sin. Theologians refer to two different aspects of Christ’s obedience: passive and active. His sacrificial death was Christ’s “passive obedience.”

But Jesus’ death on the cross was also part of his “active obedience.” He lived a fully righteous life and did everything God’s law required. He actively obeyed all the commands of the Father on our behalf

As he cries out to his Father from the cross, Jesus completes his life of perfect trust in the Lord. This is something none of us have done. From the beginning, we have leaned on our own understanding. Back in Genesis 3, the serpent sowed confusion and deception in the garden. He tricked Adam and Eve to rely on sight instead of faith. Genesis 3:6 tells us that when “Eve saw that the tree was good for food” she took of it and ate. Adam did the same. 

Israel makes the same mistake at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses is on the mountain receiving instruction about the tabernacle so that the Holy God can “dwell in their midst” (Ex. 24-31). But the Israelites cannot see this. Instead “The people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (Ex. 32:1). When this happens, they say, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us.” 

Notice that in both Exodus 32 and Genesis 3, the emphasis is on people living according to what they see instead of what the Lord promised. This is how we all, at one time or another, have lived. Except Jesus. 

According to sight, Jesus’s death on the cross was hopeless. According to sight, he was forgotten. But Jesus was not living by sight. In the way we have all failed, Jesus obeyed. He cried out with childlike faith: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

These words from the cross help teenagers see what the righteousness of Jesus actually is. He has lived faithfully in the face of life’s challenges. We, on the other hand, have all trusted in our own understanding, walking by sight instead of faith. Not Jesus. He lived by faith. 

Comfort Students With the Sufficiency of Jesus’s Faith.

Many teenagers feel weak in their faith, or experience seasons of doubt. It is great to hear stories of heroic faith, brave martyrs, and pioneering missionaries, but sometimes I find them more discouraging than energizing. I know how irregular my heart can be. The person I find the most relatable is the father of the boy with the mute spirit in Mark 9. He comes to Jesus, desperate for help. Jesus tells him that “All things are possible for the one who believes.” Instead of responding with a vigorous affirmation, “the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”(Mark 9:25).

This is where many teenagers land. They believe, but they also doubt. Is that wavering faith enough to save? No. Jesus’ faith is enough. Understanding that Jesus’ faithfulness is what saves them, not the vigor of their own faith, frees them when they doubt and waiver in their faith. 

Encourage Students to Mature in Faith

Ironically, the childlike faith of Jesus is something we mature into by the work of the Holy Spirit. Throughout Acts, for example, we see the formerly confused and timid disciples boldly calling crowds to repent and honor Jesus. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 angers the crowd and incites them into stoning him. In his final moments, we see how the Holy Spirit has developed Stephen’s Christlike faith: “As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). 

This is a clear echo of Jesus’s Psalm 31 prayer on the cross. Stephen has been made like his Lord. He models Peter’s call to “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet. 4:19). This is the mature faith that God wants to form in our teenagers. 

Jesus was perfect in his childlike faith, even while paying the penalty for our faithlessness. Because he did this, teenagers can turn to Jesus, asking him to help their unbelief. Our life of faith begins slowly. We stumble along the way. But by God’s power, both we and our teenagers grow in faith like his. He matures us into ones who live, walk, and die with the faith of a child.

Dan Montgomery is Jane’s husband, Micah & Molly’s daddy, and the Youth Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls, SD. Before moving to Sioux Falls, he helped lead a College/20s ministry for eight years. He has an MA in Historical Theology from Wheaton College. A native of the Chicago suburbs, he misses living close to a place with good deep dish pizza. He also loves running (for fun!), playing the piano, and hanging out with his family.

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