Monday, April 02, 2012

It is Finished (John 19:30)

Today is commemorated as Palm Sunday in churches around the world, the day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was the beginning of His final week that would end in His death on the cross, and ironically the only day of His earthly life, with the possible exception of the day of His birth, when He received the worship He was due. But as we know, it did not take long for the tide of public opinion to shift against Him during what we call Passion Week, the week of His suffering, betrayal, rejection, and crucifixion. Over the last several weeks, we have been studying the seven statements that Jesus spoke from the cross, and today we come to the penultimate word. In English, we read three words, “It is finished.” If we were to read this in the Greek New Testament, we would find it is only one word: Tetelestai. But this single word of the Greek language is so profound that the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said it “would need all the other words that were ever spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it.”[1] Theologically, this word has so many ramifications for us that it would require hours, if not days or weeks, to fully treat it. So, for time sake, we must limit what we say about it here and now. And I have chosen to limit it by the bounds of this text and its context. The words of John 19:30, and the surrounding context speak of the finishing or completion of two particular aspects of the person and work of Christ. It speaks of the fulfillment of all the prophecies about Him, and it speaks of the completion of His mission to save the world from sin.

I. The prophecies have been fulfilled.

Last Sunday, we dealt with the saying of Jesus in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.” And we discussed at some length the necessity of this saying in order to fulfill prophecy. John said in verse 28, “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’” One of the reasons for Him saying that word (it is a single word in Greek) was to fulfill Scriptures that stated that the suffering Messiah would thirst in His dying, and that He would be offered vinegar to drink. Every other promise that had ever been made by God’s prophets about the coming of the Messiah, His earthly life, His ministry, and His suffering, had taken place. Of course there were more prophecies that had not been fulfilled yet, and those would have to follow His death. But of those prophecies concerning how He would come, who He would be, what He would do, and how He would die, had all been fulfilled. Now that He has announced His thirst and been offered the sour wine-vinegar to drink, He can say at last, “It is finished.” Spurgeon said, “There is not a single jewel of promise, from that first emerald which fell on the threshold of Eden, to that last sapphire of Malachi which was not set in the breastplate of the true High Priest.”[2]

The Messiah had been prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, as the Seed of woman (Gen 3:15); born of a virgin (Isa 7:14); born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2); a descendant of Abraham (Gen 12:3, et al.), of Judah (Gen 49:10), and of David (2 Sam 7:12-19). Of course all of these are uniquely true of Jesus. In addition to these and many other aspects of His birth, there were explicit prophecies concerning His ministry on the earth. When Jesus entered the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of His public ministry, He was handed the scroll of Isaiah from which to read, and the words for the day were the words of Isaiah 61 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." And then Jesus closed the book, and sat down, and said to the congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Those words describe perfectly the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. He did preach the Gospel to the poor. He did proclaim liberty to those who are captive in sin. He did grant sight to the blind. And He did many other things that the Old Testament had announced in advance that He would do. When John the Baptist was in prison awaiting his execution at the hands of Herod Antipas, he sent word to Jesus: “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” And the word Jesus sent back to John was this: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:2-5). In other words, “I am doing everything that the prophets said the Messiah would do.

And of course the prophets also spoke of His suffering and death. In our study of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross, we have mentioned how there were prophetic images in David’s Messianic Psalms, particularly Psalm 22 and Psalm 69, which spoke of His manner of death. But nowhere will you find a more exact description of the suffering of the God’s Anointed Servant than in Isaiah 53.

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering … Isaiah 53:3-10 (NASB)

And now each of the multitude of prophecies has been finished, fulfilled, and completed, and they are completed in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Spurgeon notes, “Brothers and Sisters, what a wonderful thing it is, that a mass of promises, and prophecies, and types, apparently so heterogeneous, should all be accomplished in one Person!”[3] Indeed, if we were to read all of the prophetic descriptions of the Messiah apart from knowing Christ we might consider them to be contradictory and impossible to find fulfillment in a single person. In the words of Spurgeon, “He must be a Prophet like unto Moses, and yet a champion like Joshua; he must be an Aaron and a Melchizedek; he must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph. No, He must not only be the lamb that was slain, and the scapegoat that was not slain, the turtledove that was dipped in blood, and the priest who slew the bird, but He must be the Altar, the Tabernacle, the Mercy Seat, and the Showbread!” Where can all of these promises, pictures, and prophetic words and images come to pass in one person? Only in Jesus. Spurgeon says, “Take away Christ for one moment, and I will give the Old Testament to any wise man living, and say to him, ‘Take this. This is a problem; go home and construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that which is herein foreshadowed.’” [4] If Christ had not come to fulfill all of these things, then they could not have been filled in any other individual. And thus, as He died, the Lord Jesus is able to examine the catalog of biblical prophecies, including and up to His thirst, the drink He would be offered, and now His impending death, and say with confidence about the entire array, “It is finished!”

These words, or the singular Greek word Tetelestai, indicate that the prophecies are all fulfilled. Now, a second truth is expressed in these words as well, which is somewhat related and yet distinct from the first. And that is …

II. The mission has been accomplished.

If you are like me, I imagine that you often start more things than you finish. My library is filled with books I never finished reading. Around my house and my office are the remnants of projects that I started and never got around to finishing. Some time ago, a friend of mine taught me a valuable lesson about life. He is a triathlete and marathon runner. He told me that he had finished the Marine Marathon in DC, and I asked him naively, “What place did you come in?” I can’t remember exactly, but he said something like 347th place or something. I said something dumb like, “Oh, well, maybe you’ll get ‘em next time.” He said, “No, you don’t understand. Most people don’t run marathons to win. They run to finish the race.” He didn’t view his 347th place finish as a loss. It was a victory because he finished. The more I thought about that, the more I thought that life is a lot like that. What matters is not how fast we run the race, but whether or not we finish what we set out to do. When Jesus died, He could say in a unique sense that no one else ever could, “It is finished.” He had completed what He came to do.

The mission of Jesus was announced by the prophets in advance, and it was declared to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 before His birth: “you shall call His name Jesus (which means “Yahweh, or Jehovah, is salvation”), for He will save His people from their sins.” He came to save His people from sin. And how would He do that? Jesus said of His own mission, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28). His mission was to serve humanity by giving up His life as a ransom to save us from our sins.

We understand this word “ransom,” and usually associate it with a payment that is made for the release of hostage or someone who has been abducted. We envision movies where someone glues letters clipped from a magazine or newspaper together to make a ransom note, and then someone shows up with a briefcase full of money in exchange for the release of the victim. Well, in the case of our predicament and Jesus’ ransom, the situation is somewhat different. We have not been abducted or kidnapped. We have willingly entered a state of slavery – slavery to sin. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God, and by that act, humanity was taken captive in the slavery of sin. Each of us is born in that state by virtue of their sin, but each of us makes our own sinful choices as well. So we are sinners from birth by nature, and we demonstrate that through our own sinful choices and actions. Our predicament is utterly helpless and hopeless apart from the delivery of a ransom. But Jesus did not come to earth from heaven with a briefcase full of unmarked bills. He came into the world with all that He would need to pay the ransom – a human body. The ransom would be paid with His blood as He becomes our substitute and a sacrifice for sin on the cross. At the cross, He bore the sins of humanity beneath the full measure of God’s wrath. As He carried our sins, the fellowship of God the Father and God the Son for the first time in eternity, prompting Jesus to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But now, with the price having been paid, the sacrificial substitution offered, Jesus can say, “It is finished.”

For centuries, on the altar before the Tabernacle and the Temple, countless animals bled and died as sacrifices for sin. But the work of the priest was never done. These animals did not pay the price. They were like purchases made on credit. They promised that payment would be made, but the payment had not been delivered. And so one after another, at times by the dozen, by the hundreds, or by the thousands, more and more blood flowed from lambs and bulls and goats. But the price had not yet been paid. It is interesting that when the Lord gave Moses the instructions for building the Tabernacle, He specified how every furnishing was to be constructed. But there was one piece of furniture noticeably missing. There was to be no chair, because the work of the priest was never done. There was no time for sitting and resting, for there was always more to be done, more blood to be shed. And so the writer of Hebrews says, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He (Christ), having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). His mission of redemption was finished.

Archaeologists have discovered ancient papyri in the Near East which were receipts for taxes that had been paid. And across those papyrus pages are written the single Greek word, Tetelestai. It means “paid in full.” If you were to write out all of your sins, and the penalty that they deserve in the justice of God, and staple that list together with that of every human being who has ever lived or ever will, you would find that Jesus has written in His blood across every page, Tetelestai, “Paid in full!” It is finished. Our sin debt is paid for by His blood in His substitutionary death on the cross. Paul says in Colossians 2:14 that Jesus has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The record of sin and condemnation was nailed to the cross as Christ became sin for us and received our wrath and paid our debt. It is finished and it is paid in full.

This means that nothing more is required. How will you be saved? By looking to Christ as your sin-bearer and seeing the debt of your offenses before God as paid in full in Him. What more then can you add? Can you add your own works to this? Can you add participation in some ritual, or observance of some holy day, or financial contribution to any religious institution to this? No, because the debt is fully paid. There are some things that can be improved by addition. You can improve your paycheck by adding an extra digit. But there are other things that addition only destroys. Imagine if you were to add a “g” to the word “love”? Would it make it better? Would you rather have “love” or a “glove”?[5] I remember my high school science teacher mixing chemicals in the lab one day. He mixed the liquid from one bottle with another liquid from another, and nothing happened. But then he dropped just a few flakes of another chemical into the beaker, and a small explosion occurred. That is what happens when we try to add anything to the completed work of Christ. It doesn’t enhance our salvation, it destroys it. Spurgeon said, “Will you pin your rags to the fine linen of Christ’s righteousness? Why will you add your counterfeit farthing to the costly ransom which Christ has paid into the treasure-house of God?”[6] You have nothing to contribute; all you can do is receive. The price has been paid by grace, in blood, and in full for you.

A year or so ago, I had a conversation with a church-going man who professed to be a Christian. The man said to me concerning someone who had recently died, “I know she is in heaven because she was a good person.” I said, “Do you think that is what it takes to get to heaven?” He said, “Sure!” I asked him, “Suppose you were to stand before God and he were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’” He said, “Because I am a good person, and I’ve done some good things,” and so on he went. I said, “Have you ever put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” He said, “Oh yes, that too.” I said, “No, not ‘that too,’ but ‘that only!’” He protested and continued to debate me, until I finally said, “Listen, who are you trusting in to get you into heaven? Jesus alone, or your own goodness.” He said, “My own goodness.” I said to him, “Sir, then I must tell you on the basis of your own words that you are not a Christian, for a Christian is one who trusts in Christ alone to save them.” I am sad to say that the man has never spoken to me since. But I spoke to Him as truthfully and lovingly as I could. And I would say the same thing to any one of you today. Our only hope is to be found in Christ alone, and we can add nothing to the salvation that He offers us freely by His grace. If we try to add to it, what we are saying is that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said, “It is finished.” Is it or isn’t it? If it is, then you need nothing but Christ. If it isn’t, then we have no hope. It is as simple as that.

As I preach this sermon today, I have two aims. One is to speak to the heart of the one who is not a Christian, who would acknowledge that he or she has never placed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To you, I would say that you can look to the cross and find all of your sins forgiven because Jesus has paid the full debt and finished the work of redemption. And it is my most earnest prayer and desire that you would do so even this day. But I also desire to speak to the one who, like that man I just described, thinks that Christianity is about what you do. If you describe your Christianity as something that you have done, then that is not Christianity. The Good News of the Christian Faith is that you cannot do anything to make yourself right with God. It has all been done for you by Jesus. All there is for you to do is receive Him, receive His gift, receive His shed blood as the payment for your sins and the purchase of your redemption. He has paid it in full. I heard it said a long time ago when I was just a young Christian, “Christianity is not spelled D-O, but D-O-N-E.” All that is required to reconcile you to God and rescue you from sin has been done by Christ, and when it was completed, He said with finality and full confidence, “It is finished!” My prayer is that you will come to rest and abide in the reality of the finished work of Christ.

[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Christ’s Dying Word for His Church,” in Sermons on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), 170.
[2] Spurgeon, “It is Finished.” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon No. 421, December 1, 1861, p. 2. Available online: Accessed March 28, 2012.
[3] Spurgeon, “Finished,” p. 2.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Philip Ryken, “Mission Accomplished,” in James Montgomery Boice and Philip Ryken, The Heart of the Cross (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1999), 57-58.
[6] Spurgeon, “Finished,” p. 6. 

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