Good Friday Sermon: “It is Finished”

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)
John 19:30

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.

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Blaming Christians (and Our God) Never Goes Out of Style

“If the Tiber floods the city, or if the Nile refuses to rise, or if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake, a famine, a pestilence, at once the cry is raised: ‘Christians to the lion!’ … Public hatred asks but one thing, not the investigation of the crimes charged, but simply the confession of the Christian name.”

-Tertullian (AD 155-240)

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A Prayer for Holy Week during the Pandemic

We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Amen.

-Clement of Rome (d. AD 99)

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Participation with Christ our Paschal Lamb by Purity of Life

The reference to Christ as the paschal lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 is a rare example of Paul using sacrificial language with regard to Christ’s death. In Paul’s imagery here, the death of Christ corresponds to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. Just as the original Passover ratified redemption from bondage in Egypt and the blood of the sacrificial lamb splashed upon the doorposts marked the identity of those soon to be so liberated,[1] a person’s identification with Christ involves a participation in Christ’s death which also involves liberation from the old ethic that one used to follow. This participation in Christ’s death Paul assumes to be a reality based upon one’s identification with Christ since he says καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι (5:7). The implication is clear, Paul considers their old way of life to be characterized by the synonymous terms κακίας and πονηρίας[2] (5:8), the idea being not that their old lives were completely wicked and evil, but that their old lives contain a leaven that ferments with wickedness and evil.[3] Allowing this leaven to remain has resulted in their not only tolerating violations of the ethical standard Paul enjoins, but also to boast in flaunting this moral or ethical standard (5:6a) in such a way that would offend even non-Christians (5:1). Participation in Christ, then, is participation in Christ’s sacrificial death which involves death to one’s old way of living, and identification with Christ (“clean out the old leaven”) which involves a fundamental reorientation in which the person identifying with Christ adopts new ethical standards as explained by Paul (“be a new lump”). This ethical reorientation is a turning toward the heavenly ethic rooted in purity or sincerity of motive and in ethical truth as opposed to living according to the old way which is characterized by falsehood and deception.[4] Thiselton anticipates the conclusion of Paul’s argument in this section when he writes, “‘Purity’ is not simply a matter of social identity and boundaries, but of reflecting a theological identity as the temple of the Holy Spirit.”[5] The ὥστε at the beginning of 5:8 serves to alert the reader to the point Paul is making by this imagery, that those who identify with Christ are, by virtue of this identification, “participating in a feast which involves perfect purity of character and conduct, and they must make every effort to realize this potentiality.”[6] The reality of their participation in Christ and his death that Paul assumes to be true because of their identification with Christ and his death must now be lived out by participation in the fundamental realities of their new Christ-life. It is not merely adopting a new way of life, but participation in a real and existential way in the reality of their new identity in Christ. Paul’s use of the plural throughout this section indicates that Paul sees this identification as being a corporate, not just an individual, reality. This identification must become a reality within the entire body. This imagery, situated as it is between the specific command to expel the offender discussed in 5:1–5 and the more general advice given in 5:9–13,[7] allows it to serve as a theological foundation for Paul’s ethical reasoning in both sections, which further demonstrates the importance of participation as a foundational motif not only in Paul’s theology but also in his ethic, as well.

[1] Fee, First Corinthians, 405-6.

[2] Which I take here not only to be synonymous terms but also to be more general terms, “wicked and evil.”

[3] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 407.

[4] For further discussion of these terms see Thiselton, First Corinthians, 407.

[5] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 403.

[6] Barrett, First Corinthians, 129.

[7] Paul does appear to get in one further mention of the specific offender in 5:13.

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Two articles about doing church online

Spoiler: I’m not a fan of it. I’m only doing it now out of necessity.

Community and participation in community is something done face-to-face. Here are two articles that express my own perspectives in this even better than I could myself.

Are your streamed worship services or sermons technologically unsophisticated? GOOD

When one of your congregants asks, “Why can’t we do what that cool church is doing?” you may want to reply, “Because we don’t care about being cool! We care about being like Christ!”

Being slick and sophisticated is for salesmen, Hollywood, and Satan.

One more:

Should Churches Really Do “Ghost Town” Worship?

The danger in livestreaming worship in this way is that we communicate to the world and our own people that these are true corporate worship services. The corporate worship of God, however, is a special, public “gathering” or “assembly” (see Gen. 4:26) of God’s people, called out from the world to gather before the throne of grace. Here the special means of grace are given by God in the Word and Sacraments, and overseen by called upon elders. This activity is the most holy and separate activity we engage in as the people of God during our time on this earth. The ability to physically come as real, bodily people to God is the greatest privilege that Christ’s work has achieved for us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we have the technology and that I’m still young enough to be motivated enough to figure it out. But this is  situation where we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances. Making do with technological worship doesn’t represent the ideal that we, admittedly, often do not achieve even in the best of times but that we shouldn’t give up on trying to achieve just because people don’t want to gather in a physical place for worship.

 

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Ray Dalio on “The Changing World Order”

An excerpt:

I believe that the times ahead will be radically different from the times we have experienced so far in our lifetimes, though similar to many other times in history.

I believe this because about 18 months ago I undertook a study of the rises and declines of empires, their reserve currencies, and their markets, prompted by my seeing a number of unusual developments that hadn’t happened before in my lifetime but that I knew had occurred numerous times in history. Most importantly, I was seeing the confluence of 1) high levels of indebtedness and extremely low interest rates, which limits central banks’ powers to stimulate the economy, 2) large wealth gaps and political divisions within countries, which leads to increased social and political conflicts, and 3) a rising world power (China) challenging the overextended existing world power (the US), which causes external conflict.  The most recent analogous time was the period from 1930 to 1945.  This was very concerning to me.

Read the whole thing: The Changing World Order

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Prayers during the Coronavirus Pandemic

This is the text of the prayer I prayed last night (March 18, 2020) during our Midweek service on Facebook Live. I hope it will help you as you pray during this time.

We come before you, Gracious Father, seeking your mercy and grace for…

  1. For those affected either because they are sick or their loved one is sick, for healing and for help in this situation and for peace and trust in you
  2. For those who are high-risk or vulnerable such as the elderly and the sick, that you would protect and care for them
  3. For the poor, especially those with little or no health insurance and those whose ability to feed themselves may be affected by work closures, that you would provide for them and their families
  4. For our government at every level that they work in unity and be more concerned about those they govern than about parties or power
  5. For those scientific professionals who are searching for solutions to end this pandemic, for insight and discernment and understanding and also the ability to communicate their findings so that we can all understand what is happening and where we are
  6. For those medical professionals who are caring for the sick during this time for clarity of thought and mind as they treat patients, for patience, ease their own anxieties about themselves and their families so that they can be whole-heartedly devoted to this task
  7. For students and teachers who are having to shift gears in the middle or end of the semester and for those students whose placements have been canceled or whose graduations and other events are uncertain, grant them peace and patience for the days ahead and help them to have a long perspective on these things
  8. For pastors and church leaders, for wisdom and grace to be able to continue ministering during uncertain and difficult times especially with the limitations placed on us by social distancing and quarantines, and for godly and biblical creativity during these times to be able to continue ministering and to remain faithful to their calling
  9. For Christians in every walk of life, including these that we have mentioned here already, for calmness of spirit, for hearts of compassion, for grace of speech, to be able to live, to speak, to serve, to pray, to give, and to love, in such a way that we lift up Jesus Christ and point those around us to Him, that we would demonstrate in our quiet calmness that we do not have a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind so that those who see us and interact with us will know by our quiet and trusting confidence that we serve a God who is steadfast, faithful, and whose word and promise will never fail.

We ask these things in faith, believing, because we trust in your goodness and your faithfulness shown to us in Jesus Christ, remembering the words of our brother Paul who wrote, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) and we rest in this confidence that all your promises in Christ are “Yes” and in Him “Amen.” (2 Cor. 1:20). Amen.

Some of these petitions were suggested or informed by this article.

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Quote for Today

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.
If you look within, you’ll be depressed.
If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”

― Corrie Ten Boom

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E. P. Sanders on suffering in Paul and Palestinian Judaism

Sanders-PAPJ-9781506438146E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism[1] was instrumental in sparking the discussion about Pauline theology that has dominated New Testament studies in the last generation. Though Sanders’ critique of Schweitzer is on point,[2] Sanders acknowledges the participationist language Paul employs, especially with regard to suffering. For example, part-and-parcel with what Sanders describes as “transfer to being a Christian”[3] is “participation in the death of Christ.”[4] Indeed, Sanders summarizes: “the main theme of Paul’s gospel was the saving action of God in Jesus Christ and how his hearers could participate in that action.” [5]

To be sure, Sanders does go on to say, “the principal word for that participation is ‘faith’ or ‘believing’, a term which Paul doubtless took over from the earlier Christian missionaries”[6] but Sanders also points out repeatedly that participation in Christ’s suffering and death is requisite to being “in Christ” and participating in the resurrection. Sanders makes this explicit in his discussion of Pauline righteousness in relation to participation[7] where he points out that participation in Christ in the form of sharing in Christ’s sufferings is “how one attains the resurrection.”[8]

Later in that same discussion Sanders writes that Paul “tells us over and over again: the goal of religion is ‘to be found in Christ’ and to attain, by suffering and dying with him, the resurrection.”[9]

In Sanders’ conclusion to this same section, Sanders concludes that the true righteousness from God “which depends on faith […] is received when one is ‘found in Christ’, shares his suffering and is placed among those who will share his resurrection.”[10]

One further point from Sanders is important to point out. Sanders notes that “Paul does not have one fixed terminology for participation” and concludes that “the very diversity of the terminology helps to show how the general conception of participation permeated his thought.”[11] This means that, first of all, that since participation permeates Paul’s thought we ought reasonably to expect that participation permeates his thoughts on suffering, as well. It also means that we must be careful not to limit discussion of participatory suffering in Paul to passages that employ only certain key terms or phrases, but must be on the lookout for places where Paul discusses such participation in suffering apart from those terms. Indeed, given the diversity Sanders notes, it is reasonable to assume that Paul will discuss participation and suffering employing a variety or terms and phrases.

 

[1]E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

[2]“But more important—and this is basically what is wrong with Schweitzer’s theory as a whole—Schweitzer did not see the internal connection between the righteousness by faith terminology and the terminology about life in the Spirit, being in Christ and the like (terminology which here will be called ‘participationist’, which seems better than the controversial term ‘mystical’), a connection which exists in Paul’s own letters.” Sanders, PAPJ, 440.

[3]Sanders, PAPJ, 463.

[4]Sanders, PAPJ, 463.

[5]Sanders, PAPJ, 447.

[6]Sanders, PAPJ, 447.

[7]Sanders’ point in this section is that “righteousness by faith and participation in Christ ultimately amount to the same thing” (506).

[8]Sanders, PAPJ, 505.

[9]Sanders, PAPJ, 506.

[10]Sanders, PAPJ, 551.

[11]Sanders, PAPJ, 456.

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Schweitzer on Pauline Suffering

Albert Schweitzer’s Mysticism of Paul the Apostle[1] is often cited in the debate over participation and union with Chris but his chapter on “Suffering as a Mode of Manifestation of the Dying with Christ”[2] is most informative with regard to understanding Pauline suffering. Schweitzer sees Pauline suffering as a part of participating in Christ’s death (though Schweitzer does not use these terms).[3] While some of the verses Schweitzer cites[4] speak more to identity or self-denial or self-sacrifice in the ministry of the Lord rather than suffering per se, Schweitzer is correct that there is certainly a “dynamic conception of union with Christ in His death”[5] and this union, which Paul relates is signified by baptism, is more than simply an identity marker; this union is a constant lived experience.

Schweitzer’s claim that suffering with Christ is a primitive Christian concept that did not originate with Paul[6] is undoubtedly true, but it is Paul[7] who brings suffering with Christ to the fore.

Schweitzer goes against the notion that Paul’s teaching in this regard is “explained by the unique character of his experience at his conversion” and instead, regards that Paul views his “Christ-dedicated life” as a” being delivered over to death.”[8] This experience, Paul has “generalised in his teaching.”[9]

Schweitzer is correct that Paul sees his suffering as divine validation upon his life and ministry a true Apostle of Jesus Christ and that his suffering is the direct result of his daring to “speak out the full truth about the significance of the Cross.”[10] Paul’s suffering “only shows how far he has already advanced in the dying with Christ, and accordingly, how vigorously the life of Christ is unfolding itself in him. Thus in the end his sufferings come to mean more to him than even being caught up into the third heaven and into Paradise.”[11]

[1]Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, trans., William Montgomery, New York: Macmillan Company, 1955.

[2]Chapter VII, 141-159.

[3]141, 142

[4]143.

[5]143.

[6]147.

[7]As well as Peter, though their emphases might be different.

[8]148.

[9]148.

[10]158.

[11]159.

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