God loves it when we pray, and one of the many times we love to pray as his children is before we go to bed. Many of us may have once said – and may still say — “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” And then we go on, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” The reason we can pray that prayer and not worry about what will happen if that should happen is because we know that whether we are awake or asleep, whether we are alive or have died, through Jesus our Savior we are in our Father’s hands.
When Jesus committed himself into his Father’s hands on that horrible, wonderful day, he was really saying a bedtime prayer. We are told that one of the bedtime prayers Jewish parents would teach their children was from Psalm 31:5, the last words Jesus said on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The bedtime prayer of Jesus on the cross was different from any other bedtime prayer ever uttered, however, because he knew with certainty that he would die before he woke, and so he spoke. He spoke with a loud voice, even though being able to speak with a loud voice was completely abnormal for someone who had been enduring the exhausting capital punishment of crucifixion.
Also not normal was the time of day that Jesus spoke this bedtime prayer. St. Luke tells us that it was the ninth hour. That Jewish way of telling time would make it our 3:00 pm, since they began the hours of the day at 6:00 in the morning. But it’s this abnormally loud prayer at the not normal time for going to sleep that speaks directly to your heart and mine to let us know why we can pray with confidence at bedtime and at the end time, whenever that bedtime during the day or that end time of life may be.
Jesus’ bedtime prayer was not spoken at a normal time, but this obviously was not a normal day. From the sixth hour to the ninth hour – from 12:00 noon until 3:00 pm – complete darkness covered the land. The words used here tell us that the sun just quit. It failed. The sun doesn’t just quit. It doesn’t just say, “I have decided not to work today.” The one who put the sun in the sky in the first place told the sun to stop working, because in its place during these dark hours God our Father wanted darkness – darkness during which our Savior also had earlier said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” During that earthly darkness, Jesus had endured the spiritual darkness of being apart from his Father so that in that way he could endure the curse of hell itself, which was the punishment for all the sins that he was bearing as the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.
And that is what he had just accomplished. Right before these last words of Jesus, Jesus had said he was thirsty so he could be given a little drink to regain some strength before announcing, “It is finished.” “Dear Father, I have done everything you sent me to do. I now commit myself into your hands. The day’s accomplishments – yes, my life’s accomplishments – are complete. And now it is time to rest. Now it is time to depart in peace. Now it is time to die.” And so after Jesus had said this, “he breathed his last.”
That is quite a thought isn’t it – quite a scary thought, isn’t it — committing ourselves into the Father’s hands after our day’s accomplishments – after our life’s accomplishments? Isn’t that more frightening than even the thought of dying — the thought of needing to wonder whether the Father’s hands will receive us after we have died, if we are asking him to do so on the basis of our life’s accomplishments? We know very well what we have accomplished spiritually in life. The results of those accomplishments are the reasons why Jesus was on the cross during those dark hours. Can I ever say, “It is finished,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” when I know how many words I have spoken which did not finish with joy, but jealousy; when I know how many things I have done which did not finish with service, but selfishness; when I know how many thoughts I have allowed into my mind which did not finish in any place good, but in so many cases bad? Yet, though the Bible tells us we must confess that “we all like sheep have gone astray and each of us have turned to his own way, the Lord placed on him the iniquity of us all… He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
On that day at the ninth hour there was another lamb besides the Lamb of God who was being led to the slaughter. Every day by God’s command at the Jerusalem temple there was to be the slaughtering of a lamb for what was called the Evening Sacrifice. That’s what we sing about in one of our evening liturgies when we say, “Let my prayers rise before you as incense and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” 3:00 in the afternoon was the time when that lamb of sacrifice met its end, so that it could be offered to the Lord as a powerful reminder that just as God had given himself totally to his people, so his people could now pledge to give themselves totally to him. As this lamb of sacrifice was being offered as the final offering of the day, the holy Lamb on the cross was offering himself as the final offering for all time. “It is finished” meant he could commit himself into the Father’s hands, since no more prophecies about the Messiah needed to be fulfilled, since no more sacrifices pointing ahead to the Messiah needed to be offered, since no greater payment for sin could ever be made.
And so that we would not miss the point of this last, great sacrifice of all time, God also let the ninth hour of that first Good Friday be the time when the great, huge curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. That curtain was what separated the main part of the temple from what was called the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, that little room which only could be entered one time a year by the High Priest of the people, as he sprinkled blood from another lamb all over the inside of that place. No one else ever got to see it – until now. And now there must have gasps of complete shock as they looked inside at what they never could have imagined their eyes being allowed to see – the place of God’s presence. Now everyone could see it, because there was no more need for it. No more blood was needed in that room, because “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, purifies us from every sin.”
And so now it was time for God’s Son to say farewell, knowing full well that just as the Scriptures had predicted what was now taking place on that holy hill, so the Scriptures had predicted what would three days later take place in that guarded tomb. “Father,” Jesus could say after all the unspeakable agony. “Father,” Jesus could still say with a loud voice. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” That bedtime prayer of our sinless Savior is what allows your and my every prayer to be one in which we can say as one of our hymns so beautifully sings for us, “Lord, be my consolation, My shield when I must die; Remind me of your passion When my last hour draws nigh. My eyes will then behold you, Upon your cross will dwell; My heart shall then enfold you – Who dies in faith dies well!” That faith is well-placed and everything about that prayer is most certainly true because of Jesus Christ being able to commit himself into his Father’s hands after all was said and done with a prayer of complete and total confidence and victory – a prayer of confidence and victory that through Jesus is also therefore our prayer of confidence and victory at any and every time of life – but at that time on that day at the end of Jesus’ life it was, praise God, A Bedtime Prayer at 3:00 in the Afternoon.