Paul said in Philippians 3:10 that the passion of his life was to know the power of Christ's resurrection and to share his sufferings and become like him in his death. I think we should follow Paul in this. We should long to draw from Jesus the power to live and die like he did. Surely that is one of the reasons the gospels show us so much of Jesus' death. God's will for us is that we learn from Jesus how to die.
Jesus' Suffering and Your Suffering
It is a strange and terrible perversion of the gospel to say that since Jesus suffered for me, therefore I don't have to suffer—I can be comfortable and prosperous. The stumbling block of the cross is removed if we say he became homeless that I might have the finest of houses. He was rejected by men that I might be admired among men. He lived in poverty that I might live in luxury. He endured suffering that I might enjoy ease. Jesus taught just the opposite: "If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me." If we suffer with him, we shall be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
Learning from Jesus How to Die
Therefore, when we see Jesus die, we see two things: the price paid to bring us to glory; and the example given for how we are to get there. So let's learn from Jesus how to die, by focusing on Luke 23:44–46.
1. Remember That God Reigns
When you come to die, remember that God reigns. "It was about the sixth hour and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two." Who saw to it that the sun's light failed? Who ripped the temple's curtain from top to bottom? Over and around the death of Jesus Christ is the ruling hand of God. He has not fumbled the ball. There are no loose ends. Luke made it crystal clear in Acts 4:27f., "Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus both Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place."
It is true that Jesus said to the mob who arrested him in Gethsemane, "This is your hour and the power of darkness." But what a sovereign statement that is. The power of darkness will not be given an hour by the almighty God. Pray, who reigns when Satan must await his hour and when his limits are appointed by Another? God reigns—in life and in death. "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me, I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39). "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief. We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:10, 4). When you come to die, remember God reigns and nothing has slipped between his fingers.
2. Remember That God Pities
When you come to die, remember God pities. We have not risen in our thinking to the magnificence of God if we think that because he rules in life and death he cannot pity. What was the meaning of the darkness at noon and the rending of the temple curtain? Was it not God's clothing his world in the color of grief and rending the garments next to his heart? "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him"—but not without pity, not without grief. "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. He knows our frame, that we are dust." The nails and spear and rod and crown of thorns did not feel like pity. Neither do intravenous needles, respirators, tubes down your throat, and hand restraints. All the more reason to remember that God reigns and that as a father his child, so he pities you in your dying.
3. Remember That Your Spirit Lives On
When you come to die, remember that you have a spirit that will live on. "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." Jesus knew and we should know that death for God's people is not the end nor even a sleep for our conscious personalities. Paul put it like this in 2 Corinthians 5: "We are of good courage and would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." Philippians 1:23, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." We will die like Jesus if we remember that like him we have a spirit which at the moment of death does not die but lives on with God.
4. Remember That God's Hands Are Open to You
But that implies a fourth thing to remember when we come to die. We should remember that God's arms are open and his hands extended to his dying children. "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." Not: into the grave. Not: into the void. Not: into the dark unknown. But: into the hands of God.
One of the great temptations at the hour of death is to believe that our death is a horrible blow from God and that therefore we are under his wrath and cannot commit our spirit to his care. Let us learn here from Jesus. His death was a horrible blow from God. He became a curse for us. But Jesus did not abandon faith in God's love for him.
1 Corinthians 11:29–32, "Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world."
This is a startling statement. Sometimes the Lord takes the life of a believer because of sin. But Paul says that we should view it as a chastisement to save the believer from something worse. Therefore, even if we come to our death believing that we are being chastised by the Lord—even then we can and should commit our spirit to him. For his purpose for us is love.
5. Don't Murmur, Complain, or Rage Against God
Therefore, finally, when you come to die do not murmur or complain or rage against God. He reigns, he pities, his loving hands are open to your spirit. And in those hands is Paradise immediately after you die.