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James Merritt - In God's Hands

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    James Merritt - In God's Hands

I want you to turn to the Third Gospel in the New Testament. It's actually the first four books in the New Testament were all Gospel's. This is the third Gospel. I want you to turn to Luke 23. There's Matthew, Mark, Luke. Luke 23. And I'll tell you something I found interesting, the only Gospel writer that records the words we're about to read was Luke. Matthew didn't mention this. Mark didn't mention this. John didn't mention this. Only Luke mentioned it. And I thought it about it and, then I said, well, of course Luke would have done it. He's a doctor. He deals with life and death. If anybody would want to know, but where the last words he said? Yeah, I know he said, "Father forgive them". And I know he said, you know, "I thirst". And I know he said, "Woman, behold your son". But Luke being a doctor would have said, but what were the very last words that he said.

So Doctor Luke goes back and does some research and found out the very last words that he said, because, he wanted to know everything he could find out, not just about the life of Jesus, but, about the death of Jesus. Now, before I tell you what those last words were, let me, kind of, get something out about Jesus and you may have not thought about. It's no news that Jesus is dying. I mean, to read that Jesus died. I mean, that's not a big deal. First of all, crucifixion had a perfect record. Everybody that got crucified died. Nobody ever came off that cross. If you got crucified you were a dead person. Okay? So crucifixion meant one out of one crucified people died. Death has the same record, one out of one people die. You die, I die, we die, everybody dies.

So his death in of itself is not a big deal. It's not a surprise because everybody dies. It's not the fact that he died that's such an amazing thing. It's the way that he died is such an amazing thing because death didn't have the last word with Jesus. Jesus had the last word with death. Death was not the master of Jesus. Jesus was the master of death. So we're going to read the story here in Luke 3 and we're going to pick up in verse 44. "It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon". So it's been three hours of pitch black darkness. "For the sun stopped shining and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two". Big deal. Don't have time to go into that right now. "Jesus called out with a loud voice".

Now, these were the last words Jesus ever said with his last breath. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". And when he had said this he breathed his last. I know you don't like to but just for a moment lets do it together. Think about taking that last breath because one day your next breath will be your last one. Don't know when. Don't know where. Don't know how but one day that next breath is going to be your last breath. What will be on your lips? What will be on your mind? What will you be saying? I find it interesting that none of the New Testament Gospel writers are content to simply say that Jesus died. None of them say that. They don't just say, well, he died.

All of them say, "His spirit went directly into the hands of God". And all of them want us to know, he didn't go out quietly into the night. He didn't go out with a whimper, he went out with a bang. He said, death you don't have the last word. I've got the last word. And the very last thing that was on his bucket list was to die in God's hands. Listen, that is the only way to die. That is the only way to die. To die and know you are in God's hands. And in this last statement Jesus does us a big favor. He says, let me show you how to die the right way. Let me show you how to die and to know before you die that when you you're going to die in God's hands. There are three things you better make sure on your bucket list when you draw your last breath.

Number one, you want to be connected to the Father's heart. You want to be connected to the Father's heart. Now, every part of this statement is extremely, extremely important, especially the first word. Let's listen to it again. He said, let's say that together, what's that word? "Father". He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". Now, you wouldn't know this but that's actually a very familiar quotation from the Book of Psalm. It's in Psalm 31:5. Now, had you been a Jew and you had been standing there and you heard Jesus say that, you would have said, I know that verse. Had you been a Jew standing there and you heard Jesus pray that prayer, you would have said, wait a minute, there's something different about that prayer. Because even though King David originally wrote that prayer, Jesus prayed that prayer in a way no Jew had ever prayed because of one word, "Father".

There is no record that any Jew every prayed the way Jesus prayed. There is no record that any Jewish parent ever taught their Jewish children to call God their Father. Jesus wanted the world to know he is connected to the Father's heart. You know, one of the things that irritated the Pharisees so much about Jesus was the way he kept referring to God as his Father. As a matter of fact, I'll tell you something. Did you know we only know of one thing Jesus said when he was a teenager, one thing he said before his ministry began. We only know one thing he said before he turned 30 years of age. When he was about 12 years old we hear these words recorded and it's the only time he ever said anything as a young child or as a young kid, this is what he said.

Listen to this. He's talking to his mom and dad and he said, "Didn't you know that I had to be in my Father's house". Now, his adopted Earthly father is standing right there. But what Jesus was saying to his Earthly father with all respect was, I love you but you're not my real father. He is my real father. You're not ready to live until you're ready to die. You're not ready to die until you're ready to meet God. You're not ready to meet God until you know God as your father. You do not know God as your father until you become his child. You do not become his child until you're born again into this family. You're not born again into this family until you receive his son.

So simply put, God only becomes your father when you become his child and you only become his child when you receive his son. So the point is, when you die you want to make sure your heart is right. And if your heart is right, you will be connected to the Father's heart but you'll only be connected to the Father's heart when you receive Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior. So here's the point. If you want to call on God as your Father when you die you must first call on Jesus as your Savior when you live. So here's the question, are you connected to the Father's heart?

Number two, you want to be committed to the Father's hands. When I die, I not only want to be connected to the Father's heart, I want to be committed to the Father's hands. Now, listen to this statement again. We're going to, kind of, change the emphasis here. Ready? He says, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". Now, remember these are the last words that the human body of Jesus ever spoke on this planet. And notice, this is really, really good. Jesus is the only person that ever chose to die. Most people who died in crucifixion died of asphyxiation or dehydration. He didn't die that way. He didn't die involuntarily. He chose to die. You say, how do you know that? Listen to what he said about his physical life. He said in John 10, "No one takes my life from me. I lay it down on my own accord. I've got authority to lay it down. I've got authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father".

Jesus died voluntarily. And you see that in the word, "commit". By the way, that word commit in the Greek language is a fantastic word. It's a beautiful word. It's a financial word. You know what the word literally means in the Greek language? It was the word that was used, it was a banking term and it was used to deposit something of valuable, money in a bank or to deposit a valuable safe place. Some of us, you may be like me, you may have a safe deposit box in a bank. And I've got a place where I've got some family heirlooms that I've collected over the years; things I've inherited. Things that are really special to me that I want to pass down, that I don't want anybody to ever have except, you know, my family. They're in a safe deposit box where nobody can get to them but me. That's the same idea that Jesus used here. In effect, what he said was, "Father, into your safe keeping I'm depositing my spirit. I am committing my spirit".

Now, you know this, I'm sure but I'll remind you, a deposit is something you do on your own. No bank makes you deposit your money with them. You deposit it voluntarily. You're not forced to do it. Jesus voluntarily gave up his spirit. Jesus voluntarily deposited his spirit and his life into God's hands. You go all the way back to the Old Testament and look at all the Old Testament sacrifices that were made. Not one of them were voluntary. You never read where a lamb jumped on the alter and said, "Take me, I'm yours". They had to take that lamb. They had to put that lamb on the alter. They had to hold the lamb's neck down while they slit that lamb's neck. It was never voluntary. It was always forced, but, when Jesus died it was completely voluntary. He said, "I'm going to die fully placing my spirit into God's hands".

And I want to say it again, you're not ready to die until you know that when you die you're going to deposit your life and your spirit into God's hands, but you're not even ready to do that until you've deposited your life in God's hand. As a matter of fact, let me tell you a secret. If God is your Father, your life is already in his hands, right now. Matter of fact, in that same chapter, that Psalm 31 that we quoted just a moment ago that has this prayer, David wrote these words later. He said, "My times are in your hands". Your times are in God's hands. My time is not in the government's hands. My time is not in some terrorist's hands. My time is not in some murder's time. My time is in no one's hands except God's hands. And I'm telling you, there is no saver place in the entire world to be than in God's hands. You know why? His hands are never full. Those hands never fail and from those hands you can never fall.

Why should we fear death when we're going to placed in the sweetest, softest, most sovereign hands of the universe? Hands that never make a mistake. Hands that never do wrong. Hands that always get it right. Knowing that you can deposit your spirit into the hands of a God who loves you more than anybody in the universe and who wants to spend all eternity with you. What a way to die. Committed. Connected to the Father's heart. What a way to die. Committed to the Father's hands. And then, here's the last thing. We want to die, we want to be confident in the Father's hope. Be confident in the Father's hope.

Now, listen. There's one final word I want you to notice in this statement. You ready? He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit", not my money, not that big house, not that Ferrari, not the 401K, not the beautiful body that I built all these years. He said, "Father, in your hands I commit my spirit", because what Jesus deposited with his Heavenly Father, it wasn't his body he deposited but, as a matter of fact, that was still going to be on the cross for a while. That body was going to be punctured by a soldier's spear. That body was being wrapped in spices and cloth. That body was going to be placed into an ice-cold tomb. What Jesus committed to his Father was the most valuable part of all of us. It is the one part of us that's separates us from the animals. It separates us from the plants. It's the only part of us that's going to last forever. It is our spirit.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most invaluable part of you. Because it's not going to last very long. I hate to burst your bubble. Run the marathon. Run the triathlon. Suck the steroids. Pump the weight. Hit the Stairmaster. You're going to die. And one of these days that belly button's going to hit the floor. Because the most valuable part of you is not what's on the outside of this, it's what's on the inside of this. Your body is going to die, but, your spirit is going to live somewhere forever. And that's why you should have no fear of death if you know Jesus, because, you're going to deposit the one thing that's going to last forever, into the hands of a God who lives forever.

So why is this story in the Bible? And I thank God that it is, because, the death of Jesus is actually a model of how we ought to die. It's actually a model of how we ought to face death with courage and confidence not afraid or anxious, not worried or wincing. When I read this story you know what I know about me? I know that I can die knowing in the final moments of my life, I can commit who I really am into the loving hands of a loving Father. You say, well, Pastor, why do we fear death? Because it really is unknown. Right? I mean, you don't get to die and spend a few years up there and, then come back and say, hey, it wasn't all that bad. But, I mean, you know, it's final and our problem is we're really not sure.

And people say, what really happens when you die? Well, I know what happens. You go to be with the Lord. I mean, we know that. Yeah, but what really happens? Well, you go to be with the Lord. Yeah, I know that but what really, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know whether, I know one thing, we're not going up Interstate 85 when we die. I can tell you that right now. Right? We're not doing that. But death means, and this is why it's so, it's, kind of, it's unknown, we're leaving the world, the only world we've ever known for another world we've never seen. But because of this one statement, listen to me carefully, because of that one statement what we know about his death should free all of us from the fear of death if we know him.

Let me put it to you this way, what happened to Jesus when he died is what happens to us when we die if we know Jesus. What happened to Jesus when he died is what happens to us when we die if we know Jesus. Jesus died with a prayer so that no follower of Jesus would ever die without one. So when somebody's looking at me one of these days, if I'm lying on my deathbed and a doctor walks in and he looks at me and, maybe, he thinks I'm not listening to him. Maybe he thinks I'm in a coma or whatever. If that doctor looks at that nurse and he says, "Poor Doctor Merritt, he doesn't have a prayer". I hope God gives me the strength to sit straight up in that bed and, "Yes, I do". Father, into your hands I commit my spirit because Jesus said when he died, we can say when we die.

1992, I went on a mission trip to Romania. Romania had just come out of communism and, in fact, I took my oldest son, James with me and we were over in Romania for a while. And, then we were going to drive from Romania over into Hungary. We were going from Bucharest to Budapest. So we were driving over into Hungary. Well, even though Romania had come out communism, most of Eastern Europe was still under communism at that time. And so, we get to the border of Hungary and I had never been to a communist check-point. I don't know if you have or not but trust me, it's not fun. All right? It's just not a lot of fun.

We get to this communist check-point and, I mean, it's just, kind of, like you imagine. There in these, you know, dark gray uniforms. It was a dark gray day. It was in the middle of winter. They're not smiling. I mean, there's no comradery about them at all. You stop the car. You give them your passports. They take metal detectors. They have these mirrors, they put them under the car to make sure there is nothing in the car. You roll down your windows. You're under intense interrogation, "Where have you been"? "Where are you going"? "Why are you going there"? "What did you do when you were here"? I mean, all kinds of these interrogations and it's not that I was ever really afraid. I wasn't really afraid, but, I really was wondering, I don't know if we're going to get over there not. They may turn us around and they may just say, "You know, you're not going in here. You've got to go back from where you came".

Well, we were talking about it in the car later and I said, "You know, isn't it great that when a child of God draws his last breath and he gets to the border of Heaven, there won't be any check-points. There won't be any hassles. There won't be any metal detectors. There won't be any need to have your passport checked. There won't be all these interrogation people asking you questions, trying to see if you did something wrong in your life because your passport has been signed, sealed, and delivered on the cross of Jesus. And you will be personally escorted into eternity by the hands of a loving God". So don't miss out on the last words. I don't want you to miss how Jesus said what he said. You ready? "Jesus called out with a loud voice".

Now, let me tell you why that's so amazing. Nobody that got crucified died with a loud voice because when you got crucified at the end you couldn't speak. You couldn't even breath. As I've already told you before, most people when they died of crucifixion, it was due to progressive weakening. The shutting down of vital organs. And unbelievably, undetectable slow heartbeat, unconsciousness and, then this feeble last...Not Jesus. I love that part. "He cried out with a loud voice". He didn't die defeated. He died victoriously. He said, "Father", and everybody could hear it. I can guarantee you people walking by and the heads snapped around. I've never heard of crucified man hanging six hours on a cross do that, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".

And what I'm telling all of us here today is this, that's the way we can all die in God's hands. One of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey. You probably don't know who he is but if you do know who he is, you know what I'm talking about. I love to read. Anything Philip Yancey writes, I read it. In one of his books he wrote something and I don't do this often but he wrote some words one day in a book. And when I got through reading those words it so moved me, they so moved me, they so impressed me that in the margin of that book I had written down one word in big, bold print, underscored it three times and had about five exclamation points, "beautiful".

And I remember when I read that passage I said, if I ever get the chance and the right message, I've got to share this with my people. They've got to hear it. So I want to share it with you now. Listen to what Philip Yancey said. He said, "For everyone, death involves a process of letting go attachments, relatives, friendships, possessions", guys, just hold that on the screen until I tell you to change it, "identity, everything that defines life for us, we let go in death". Just leave it up there just for a minute. "Everything that defines life for us we let go in death".

I have four grandchildren. My youngest is about one and a half, little Conner. So now, I'm in the stage of life that I start thinking, well, Lord, will you let me live long enough to see him graduate high school. Would you let me live enough to see him graduate college? Lord, maybe if he marries relatively young, maybe I'll get to see him get married. But it always ends up, kind, of, sad because I know at the end I got to let Conner go. I know at the end, one day he's got to tell Pop, see you later. Not goodbye but see you later.

And that's what Yancey is talking about. It's that letting go. We know one day, you want to hold on. You do every thing you can to hold on but death, in the end, wins and you got to let go. But then he says this, "For Christian, death also involves an anticipation of new beginnings. We let go bodies that have served us not perfectly, but well enough, in exchange, for new bodies. We let go of known life, touched with grace and pleasure, but also evil and pain in exchange for the promise of a life perfected. We let go of the muddle of doctrine and wavering faith in exchange for sure knowledge, at last and during the rest of life we prepare for that exchange".

I told you, you're going to die one of two ways, prepared or unprepared. Every day of my life now, I am preparing for that exchange. And let me tell you how I'm preparing. I'm connected to the Father's heart. I'm committed to the Father's hand. I am absolutely confident in the Father's hope because I'm convinced one day I'm going to deposit my spirit into the very same hands that's going to take that spirit and unite it with a resurrected body. And I'm going to deposit my spirit into the hands of a God that loves me and is going to live with me and I'm going to live with him forever, and ever, and ever and you cannot be ready to live until you're ready to die. And you're not ready to die until you do it in God's hands. That's the way Jesus died and thank God that's the way we can die too.
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