“It Is Finished!” (John 19:30)
Good Friday (April 10, 2020)
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
There are times when we all love to hear the words “It is finished.” Who would not want to hear from the governing authorities, “It is finished! The Covid-19 plague is done! The Stay-at-home orders are ended!” How about hearing “It is finished” from our dentist, who has finally stopped that painful drilling... Or to hear “It is finished” from the auto mechanic, who has been working on our car for two weeks . Regardless who speaks them, “It is finished” can have a most comforting ring.
But how do these words strike you when they are spoken from the mouth of the battered and bloody Son of God, as He hangs suspended between heaven and earth on a tortuous Roman cross?
In the Greek of the original text, the phrase It is finished is actually only one word: “tetelestai”. The root of this word means to be complete. It is a passive verb with no subject. The hearer is left to supply the subject : “it”. It is also in the perfect tense, meaning the action done in the past has effects that continue on into the present. Hence, a literal translation of what Jesus said is: “It has been completed!” Or “It stands finished!”
We can only imagine how Jesus’ followers, who were on hand to hear Him say, “Tetelestai,” reacted to it. After all, they were still in a state of shock that their Messiah had been so rejected by their own leaders¼ humiliated before even the Gentiles and now crucified. Their hearts must have been gripped with utter fear and horror to hear from their Messiah’s lips, “It is finished!” It must have signaled to them that not only was his life over, but their hopes of salvation had died with Him. In their dismay, fear, and despair, could they have had any sense that such an expression was rightly good news?
Many in the world look at the crucifixion and say, “It’s too bad it had to end that way! After all, Jesus was a good man. He showed so much promise. His words spoke of love and He had to die at the hands of such hate. He was such a compassionate soul, too bad He was not afforded any. Too bad!”
Just as Jesus’ teaching has been misunderstood by many, so His death has gone unappreciated by many. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He did not mean, “My life is ended,” or “Whew! It’s finally over!” His “Tetelestai” was not an expression of disappointment or sheer exhaustion or even relief. Rather, Jesus’ “It is finished” was a proclamation of victory.
You see, Jesus was not actually a victim in a purely conventional sense. As Jesus had often made clear by his phenomenal miracles, no one could have actually laid a hand on Him, if He hadn’t allowed them. He had the power of the Creator of all life. Besides, Jesus had been on a mission and that nasty, old, Roman, cross was central to his goal, a goal which His death had now fulfilled. John recorded just a few verses prior that Jesus “…knew that already all things had been completed” (tetelestai). Jesus’ death was not simply an act of random violence or the injustice of men. His death had been decreed by God. His cry of “It is finished!” was cry of utter accomplishment.
Earlier when forewarning His disciples of His upcoming death, Jesus had said to them, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (Jn. 12:27). On another occasion He had said, “I have come not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
The Child of Bethlehem was born to die. It was His destiny that the wood of His cradle be exchanged for the wood of His cross. Jesus had come to be the sacrificial Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was proclaiming, “My mission to atone for sinners has been completed. With my death, the guilt of sinners from Adam to those who will live until the end of time, has been removed.”
One Lutheran scholar has written, “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.” (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; Rom. 6:10). (Lenski, p. 1309).
“It is finished!” is now the banner of Good News that flies over all of our lives. Yes, in His Law God had weighed us all in the balance scales of His justice and found us all wanting and worthy of His eternal wrath. But now it all stands finished! Jesus has already borne the judgment due us sinners. We heard the pangs of hell He suffered in our place from His parched lips, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus had made full atonement. God is now reconciled with us. We no longer need to fear His wrath.
Accordingly: “It is finished!” There is nothing for us to do to earn God’s favor. God has reconciled Himself to us in Jesus' sacrifice. God’s favor toward us stands forever sealed to us in Jesus’ blood. As signified by the temple curtain being torn from top to bottom at Jesus’ last gasp of life, heaven’s doors stand open to all who believe in and are baptized into Jesus Christ.
It is finished! The one who seeks to accuse us before God night and day, has been silenced by the Lamb. The Devil’s accusing power over us has been vanquished.
It is finished! If we are called upon to suffer in this world, we can be certain that it is not stemming from God’s wrath. Instead we can be confident that He is allowing such affliction to come to us out of His grace that we might share in the sufferings of Christ in order that we might also share in His glory. (I Peter 4:12-17).
It is finished! That brother or sister who sins against us does not have to atone for that sin before we can love and forgive them. The atonement has already been made. We can forgive as we have been forgiven.
It is finished! Now, we can live in this world and we don’t have to really be a part of it. Our destiny lies with the Crucified Christ. Our sights and priorities can be set on those things above. For in His tetelestai Jesus has assured us, sinners, “You shall be with me in paradise!”
So, yes, today it is Good Friday! Jesus’ “It is finished!” has not only put the Good in this Friday, but it has also put the blessing of God’s abiding good grace into our everyday lives and made possible the Great Easter on our horizon. And no, virus… no amount of our own suffering can separate us from God’s love … no enemy can destroy either our body or soul. In victorious expression we can say with Jesus, “O Lord, into your hands I commend my body and my spirit!” Amen.