This is the seventh or eighth year that our church has participated in a Good Friday service with other churches in our area. Here is the text of my sermon from Friday and here is a link to the entire service on YouTube. (My part begins around 1:13.)
“It is Finished” (τετέλεσται)
This phrase, at least in translation, is kind of ambiguous. Obviously “it is finished” in that Jesus is now at the end of his life and his suffering has ended. But how do we take that? When we reach the end of this chapter, the light of men has plunged into darkness. The life of the world has fallen down into the depths of death. What had given men hope is now gone and it seems there is nothing left but to despair. Had the hope of the world come to an end? Had the sin of men triumphed after all? Was death to have the last laugh?
After all, it appears so. Jesus dies the violent death of so many of God’s people before him and after him. Much has been written about the medical causes behind Jesus’ death, but those explanations only to give concrete reality to the terrible and awful way of dying which was inflicted upon Our Lord.
This is how Jesus can stand with his people in suffering. Every week Christians around the world lay down their lives for their testimony for Christ. And every single one of them is welcomed into the presence of Jesus who eternally bears in his body the marks of his own suffering for righteousness’ sake. Our brothers and sisters draw their last breaths, leaving behind husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, parents, houses, money, possessions, but they open their eyes in a fraction of a second and know that it was all worth it. They close their eyes here to the cruel faces of their tormentors and immediately open their eyes in heaven to the face of their Savior welcoming them and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
But Jesus also relates to the sufferings of his people who suffer not necessarily under persecution, but who endure the sufferings that are common to the human condition but they bear up under these sufferings with trust and hope, even joy. So much of the journey that our Lord took in his humanity was filled with loss and sorrow and pain. We see him tired and hungry and thirsty and angry and sorrowful and tried and tempted. He weeps over the faithlessness of his people; he weeps at the tomb of his friend. By virtue of his death and endless life he stands in the presence of the Father interceding for us not as one who has an abstract understanding of these things, like he read about it or heard about it, but as one who has known the full measure of these experiences and who intercedes for you in your fatigue and hunger and thirst and anger and sorrow and trial and temptation and he seeks for you mercy and grace knowing full well the weakness of your flesh and what you will need to endure.
So his suffering is finished but what does this mean? This expression, “It is finished” translates one word from the original language and that word is used only twice in John’s Gospel, here and a few verses previous in v. 28, though it’s used 26 other times in the rest of the NT. It refers not simply to something happening and now being over, it refers to a goal being completed. It is often translated “fulfilled” or “completed.”
It’s not like detention, where you’re simply killing time until the bell rings; it’s more like your graduation day when the day that you’ve anticipated and worked so hard for is finally here! Frodo throws the ring in Mount Doom and says, “It’s done.” Not oh well, we’re out of time but, “We did what we came here to do and now we’re finished.”
This word is sometimes used for the fulfilling of a religious obligation and some earlier commentators even saw it as pointing to the completion of sacrificial rites. When this word is used previously in v. 28 it is used in this fashion. The scriptural foreshadowing of Messiah’s sacrificial death is now fulfilled, what those promises pointed to has been accomplished. A closely-related word (from the same word group, in fact) is used to carry this idea in John 17:4 “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
He finished this work in the very act of mediating for you, for your sins, enduring the full measure of God’s wrath for those the Father had given into his care and even now he has lost none of them and in the last day he will stand with every single one as they pass through the Day of Judgment because he finished his work. And until that Day he intercedes for you and we know that his prayers are answered precisely because he finished his work, bearing the curse of the covenant for us so that we who know him by faith may enjoy the blessings of the covenant. The Apostle says of all those promised blessings that they are “Yes,” in Him and “Amen” in Him.
That’s why our understanding of this one word is so important. Our Lord didn’t suffer and then say, “Well I suppose that’s sufficient.” My dad worked for the City of Jacksonville for almost forty years and he had an expression, “That’s close enough for gov’t work!” Meaning, it’s good enough. It may not be pretty or even high quality, but it’ll do for now. That’s not what this word means. This isn’t the statement of a worker who sees that quitting time is close so he pounds in a few more nails and says, “That’ll do.” This isn’t the declaration of a team who has eked out a small lead and who simply stalls the ball until the clock runs out.
This is the statement of a craftsman who has built something as a labor of love and who labors long and hard and when every nail has been set and every edge smoothed out he lays down his tools because he knows there’s nothing that could make his creation any better. This is the declaration of the warrior who has vanquished the oppressor of his people and who arrives home and sets his shield aside and strips off his arms and takes his wife and children into his arms and says, “It’s done, we’re at peace once more.”
“It is finished” not because Jesus failed, but because he succeeded. “It is finished” not because the clock ran out, but because he did what he came to do and he accomplished the task that was set before him. “It is finished” because there is nothing left to be done; Jesus has done everything.
Jesus has been condemned so that his people might go free. Jesus has been forsaken so that we might be welcomed by God. Jesus was laid in a grave so that his people may be freed from the grave. Jesus succumbs to death willingly so that we, his people, might be triumphant over death in the last day.
We look at the Cross of our Savior through the lens of faith and see it as a symbol of shame because our Lord hung naked and shamed before the world as the vilest criminal would be, not for his own sins but for the sin of his own, his glory veiled and hidden. But we look at it again, still through the eyes of faith, and we see the glory of the cross. We see that the One who hangs there would soon be raised in triumph and seated in the seat of glory waiting for his enemies to be made a footstool under his feet. We see the One who will soon openly and fully manifest his kingly rule when he returns in power and in glory.
We see this and our sorrow turns to joy as we realize that we need only trust in him and rest in him by faith, looking with hope and longing for the day when his full glory is revealed, when once again he is lifted up in glory and consummates God’s plan by renewing all things unto himself. And in that day the One who sits on the throne will utter a similar phrase, Rev. 21:6–7: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” We overcome because he overcame. “It is finished,” not because he was defeated but because he was victorious.