Friday, April 6, 2012

It Is Finished - Good Friday

When he [Jesus] had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).

A criminal stands before a judge and awaits his sentence. The judge pronounces the man acquitted, bangs his gavel and tells the man he is free to go. If this man returns to the judge six months later and asks him to pronounce the judgment again because he doesn’t “feel” acquitted, the judge would probably have the man committed to an institution. The judgment has been made. It is finished.

What was it, exactly, that Jesus declared to have been “finished” while hanging on the cross? Certainly Jesus’ physical suffering was now at an end. He endured the pain of being cruelly mocked and beaten; of having to carry his own cross to the place where he would be killed. He endured the unimaginable horror of being nailed alive to the cross and set in place for all to see and, in the midst of this pain, as his life left him he endured the insults hurled at him by those who watched, and even from among the other condemned men.

Some writers suggest that what is finished is the fulfillment of Scripture. This is true as well, at least in some measure. It was part of Jesus’ mission to fulfill every command of the Father, and every prophecy of the Holy Scripture. Verse 28 of this very chapter of John’s Gospel confirms this for us with the words, “...Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), ‘I thirst.’” Beyond the physical thirst caused by dehydration, Jesus sought to fulfill his Father’s plan foretold in Scripture in every detail (Engelbrecht, 2009).

Verse 28 is an example of the intricacy of God’s working, and how He has caused all things in his plan of salvation to fit just-so, and point us to the Christ. One of the soldiers is prompted by Jesus’ words to give him some of the sour wine to drink. Jesus’ words and the soldier’s actions direct our attention to the words of Psalm 69:21 – and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. As Jesus is the promised Son of David, the afflictions of King David recorded in Psalm 69 foreshadow what was to happen to Christ – great David’s greater son.

This, however, cannot be all that Jesus means when he says, “It is finished.” There are still other prophecies to be fulfilled, most notably, the resurrection.

No, what Jesus means when he cries out, “It is finished!” is this one thing more than any other – the death of Jesus finishes his redemptive work, the work of reconciliation and atonement:

This specific work is now brought to a close. The Lamb of God has made his great sacrifice for the world. It is this that is now done. Our great Substitute has paid the great price of ransom, paid it to the uttermost farthing. “It is finished” indeed! Others will yet preach and teach, and Jesus will work through them; as the King on David’s throne his regal work will continue forever; but the redemptive shedding of his blood, done once for all, is finished and stands as finished forever (Lenski, 1959).

Having fulfilled every command of the Father and every prophecy of Holy Scripture, with the exception of the resurrection which was yet to come, Jesus voluntarily died. “It is finished,” was not whispered from Jesus’ dying lips on his last weak and hard-fought breath. It is not a cry of exhaustion. Jesus declares that his redemptive work is finished in a voice loud enough for all of mankind to hear. John describes this utterance of Jesus using the words, “...he said...” Matthew, while he does not record the words Jesus uttered as John did, does tell us the tone in which they were spoken:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit (Matthew 27:50).

Jesus’ final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” are recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke[1]. From John we learn that Jesus made his declaration that his work was now finished with a loud voice just before he spoke his last; John expands on Luke’s earlier record (Lenski, 1959). Likewise, though they do not record Jesus’ words as Luke does, John and Matthew both say that Jesus gave up, or yielded up, his spirit, alluding to Luke’s account. Jesus yelled, “It is finished,” and spoke to his father saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus’ final words from the cross are a confirmation that all Jesus had been sent to do to seal our salvation had been completed. It is finished and the verdict has been rendered – we, though guilty of sin, have been set free, solely through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Kretzeman writes:

And now, the great work having been accomplished and even the last passage of Old Testament Scripture having been fulfilled, Jesus Himself made the announcement of the redemption’s completion by calling out: It is finished. All that the Messiah was to endure and suffer, everything that belongs to the work of salvation, was finished (Kretzmann, 1921).

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself...he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption...for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26).

There is nothing we have to do – there is nothing we are able to do – in order to set our relationship with God right. Paul tells the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.[2]

No amount of so-called “good” things that we do can earn us God’s grace. God gives us His saving grace as a gift, through faith in Jesus Christ, based on the atoning sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. He has redeemed me, and all people, as Luther writes, “...not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death (Luther, 1986).[3]

Good works do have their place in a believer’s life – they are a response to the awesome gift God has freely given us through His Son. As Martin Luther explained, “A man is justified by faith alone, not by a faith that is alone.” A faith that is alone – that does not respond to God’s good news of salvation and forgiveness by producing good works – is no faith at all. Know, however, that all that needed to be accomplished to defeat sin, death, and the power of the devil, and to set mankind right with God, has been accomplished by the work of Christ Jesus. It is finished. We who believe must reflect to the world the love God has shown us, and wants to show to them, through everything that we say and do.

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible (Vol. I). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Lenski, R. C. (1959). the Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.

Luther, D. M. (1986). Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

End Notes

[1] Luke 23:46
[2] Ephesians 2:8-9
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:15, 19; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; 2:2