“It Is Finished” – John 19:30
Introduction: The last word
“It is finished!” – what significant words to hear! With today’s Tenebrae Service and time of meditation and reflection the Lenten season is now finished. The sermon series on the words from the cross is finished. The cross-word puzzle is now finished (fill in: “FINISHED”).
Most significantly these words refer to Jesus, they were His words: “It is finished!” and with this, the Bible says, the disciple and Gospel writer John, who was present at the cross, says, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit!”
What was Jesus talking about? What is finished? Obviously Jesus’ life was finished. Some elderly people, when they are sick and in the hospital, seem to know when they are going to die. Often they do something or say something which indicates that they have some sense that their life is slipping away. Jesus knew that He was in His last moments of life there on the cross. They say that crucifixion is a cruel torture. The body apparently slumps down far enough to hamper the work of the lungs and to constrict the breathing. So the crucified person pushes up with his legs in order to clear the passageways for breathing. But after a couple of minutes, the sheer weight of the body forces him to relax again, making it difficult to breath. And so it goes, the constant battle between a relaxed posture and the need to breath. The person usually ends up dying of suffocation, unable to brace himself for proper breathing. Jesus was at that point – He couldn’t hold out much longer. With one of His last breaths, He managed to cry out: “It is finished!”
Now, it makes one wonder why this day is called “Good” Friday….death is rarely good news, yet we know that it is Jesus’ death that is the reason for this day being called “good”. There is more to Good Friday than just the finish of Jesus’ life. There were other things that were finished as Jesus hung there on the cross. These other things point out more clearly what it is that makes this day ‘good’ – good for us!
1. Jesus’ mission/work were finished
The first thing is that Jesus’ mission and work were finished. But before we get to that, let’s take a little side trip into the Old Testament.
[Excursus: The mission of Israel]
In the very first verses of the Bible, we hear that in the beginning, everything was formless and empty and dark… CHAOS!! But the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and God began to create beauty and order out of the chaos. He created everything, including human beings who were made in His image, and when God looked at all that He had made, it was very good. But it didn’t take long and chaos returned. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were barred from the garden of paradise. A few chapters later, we hear this refrain: “every inclination of the thoughts of human hearts was only evil all the time.” Chaos all over the place!! So, God determined to start over again, with the deluge of a world-wide flood, and with one man – Noah – who had found favour in the eyes of the Lord. A few chapters and a few generations later, another man – Abraham – was the father of God’s chosen people, Israel, who were to be God’s representatives to a still wicked world, and to restore relationships that had again evolved into chaos. It was to Moses and the Israelites, in the Sinai wilderness, that God said “You will be for me a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” They were to be different from other nations. They were to represent God – the face of God, the words of God, the grace of God – to people who were far away from God. In order to make their priestly identity in-their-face daily, they were to wear tassels on their clothing, with a blue cord to remind them of who they were as God’s priests to the world, and of how they were to live. Sadly, they struggled through many generations to carry out and accomplish and fulfill their mission of restoring order in a world of chaos and of restoring people to a right and righteous relationship with God. It was never finished.
Enter Jesus, God’s own Son, God’s true and divine representative to the sinful world. Jesus knew that His mission was from God, that He was to represent the face of God, the words of God, the grace of God to people who were far away from God, and He knew that He was sent to complete the role that the Israelites could not complete. John 4:34 records Jesus as saying to His disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” In the Gospels we hear Jesus teach and tell parables about the Kingdom of heaven. In the Gospels, we see Jesus doing miracles, casting out demons, healing people and showing compassion on those who were otherwise outcast from society. Those things were an important part of Jesus’ work. But Jesus had a clear sense of what His true mission was, of where He was going, of what He was to accomplish. He stated it in different ways: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” “The Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus also had a clear sense of how that mission was to be accomplished (though His disciples couldn’t understand): “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him.” The cross, then, and Jesus’ death on the cross was the culmination, the completion of His mission on earth. It was finished! Since Jesus’ mission was finished, its implications for humanity are also finished. So “It is finished” also means…
2. The power of the law is negated and the reign of sin/death/devil is at an end.
The Law is a condemning power because it shows people their sins and sinfulness, and offers no hope of being right with God, since no one can keep the Law perfectly. In Romans 3, Paul explained why the law is a condemning power: “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of sin (the very 1st sin), death, eternal death, eternal separation from God, ruled over humanity. Paul said it this way: “By the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man…”
Sin and death hovered over people as twin puppets controlled by the master evil – Satan himself. Since the Garden of Eden, his power over people seemed equal to that of God Himself. In the Old Testament, we see both the nation of Israel, and individuals (such as David and Solomon), succumbing to the power and rule of Satan and sin in this world. Jesus, in His death on the cross, put this power and rule of sin/death/Satan to an end in the lives of God’s people. He negated the power of sin in our lives by taking away our sins in His body on the cross. He frees us from the fear of death and the prospect of eternal death and separation from God by rising from the dead to destroy death and to shatter its power. He has taken away Satan’s power to accuse us and to condemn us and to control our lives by conquering and overcoming Satan for us. Although the daily battles go on in our lives, the war is over – the triumph is certain, the victor is Jesus, and with Him – all His people. At times it may feel like sin and the devil still have the upper hand in your life – a certain sin may constantly afflict you; despair, depression, frustration may be your daily companions; doubts about your relationship with God or doubts about the certainty of His forgiveness may plague you. Those day-by-day battles can be very real, and very threatening to your walk with God – but sin and the devil no longer reign. Jesus has conquered them, once and for all, on the cross. Their power is finished, their rule is over, their reign is done. “It is finished,” Jesus said, and He said this for the benefit of His people. In contrast to this reign of Satan, one other thing is finished….
3. Our freedom, our redemption, our salvation.
When Jesus died on Mt. Calvary on Good Friday, everything had been accomplished, nothing else needed to be done to win our forgiveness and salvation. There is nothing that we have to do to earn our eternity, in fact, there is nothing that we can do – for Jesus has done it all – It is finished! Our good works, all of our attempts to earn brownie points with God, don’t contribute in the least to our salvation. Nothing that we do makes salvation more easily attainable. Good works find their proper place as a loving response to that salvation that we already have in Jesus Christ. But He has done it all, He has done everything necessary for our salvation. Jesus had lived a life of perfect obedience, He suffered innocently, He died sacrificially – all of this was complete now as He bowed His head and died. It happened… it was finished… according to the Father’s plan.
There are some words that describe what happened, what was completed there on Calvary. I talked about these words just over a month ago as we considered the first word from the cross – “Father, forgive them.” But let me remind you again…
REDEMPTION – To redeem, in the Old Testament, meant to buy someone back from slavery. If a father was forced, due to His own poverty, to sell someone from his own household as a slave, and then later on he had the financial means, he could redeem, or buy back, that person to be his again. In our world, a company redeems a coupon (buys it back from the bearer) when a product is purchased. What Jesus finished on the cross was our redemption – He bought us back from the slavery of sin, to be His own. Luther says in his catechism: “At great cost He has saved and redeemed me…not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” When Jesus said: “It is finished!”, it was the signal that redemption, too, was completed, and we are free from sin, death and the devil…we are free to belong to God forever.
RANSOM – We all, I believe, have an idea of what ‘ransom’ means – it has to do with kidnapping! It is the price paid for the freedom of another. Jesus not only paid the price for our freedom, but He was the price – it was, as we just heard from Luther, the holy and precious blood of Christ that was the price which won our freedom. Why did Jesus have to die? Why was the price so high? Ps. 49 explains: “No man can give to God a ransom for the life of another – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay.” No payment is enough! But v. 15 affirms: “But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.” So, God can and will – He did – redeem us and pay the ransom price. You see, although no man’s life is enough, the life of the God-Man Jesus Christ is enough to pay the price – not just for one man, but for all humanity. Now we are free FROM – free from our sins, free from the power of the devil, free from the prospect of eternal death. Now we are free FOR – free for a life of praise and thanks to God, free for a life dedicated to serving Him. When Jesus said: “It is finished!” the ransom price had been paid!
SUBSTITUTE – To be a substitute means to take the place of another. There is a substitute teacher – one that comes in to teach when the regular teacher is sick. There is a substitute in volleyball – someone that comes off the bench to play for another player who is hurt, tired, or not playing well. In His life, Jesus was our substitute by keeping the law instead of us, since we ourselves can’t keep it. In His death, Jesus was our substitute by taking the punishment that we deserved. Through the cross, our sins are taken by and borne by Christ. Through the cross, the holiness of Christ becomes our holiness. Usually a substitute is not as good as, not as desirable as, the real thing. But Christ, as our substitute, is better – in fact, His being our substitute was the only way that we could have any hope or future with God. When Jesus said: “It is finished!” the substitution was complete.
I suspect we have all experienced the joy of finishing a job. Whether it is completing a term paper for a university course, or getting a project at work done on time and under budget, or successfully changing the oil in your car, by yourself, for the first time – there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and joy when a job is finished. This past week, one of our bed frames was kind of loose and squeaky. So, I spent 2 or 3 hours taking it apart, tightening up some screws here and there, and replacing some of the slats from under the mattress with ¾” plywood. When all was said and done, there was joy in my heart… just over a salvaged bed frame.
That makes me understand, and hopefully it makes you understand what we read in Hebrews 12… that Jesus, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame. There was a joy for Jesus in finishing the work that God had set out for Him to do. Please understand today, please believe today, that that joy was… YOU! You are the reason Jesus endured the cross. Jesus wanted to restore order into the various aspects of chaos in your life. Jesus wanted to restore you to a beautiful and holy relationship with God the Father. It was His joy to do that. You were His joy to do that. So, He went to the cross, willingly, innocently, sacrificially.
“It is finished!” – three little words, but they sure pack a lot of meaning and power. Christ’s life was finished, but so also was His mission of bringing order back into the chaos of this world. Christ’s life was finished, but so also was His mission of restoring us to the relationship that God intended us to have with Him… from the beginning to the end, to the end without end! Christ’s life was finished, but so also was His mission of destroying, once and for all, the power and reign of sin, death and the devil. Christ’s life was finished, but in that expiration of life was also the completion of forgiveness, redemption, salvation. Nothing more needed to be done…nothing more, that is, except… well, why don’t you come back on Sunday…. Amen.