Posted by: stpowen | June 23, 2011

‘It is Finished!’

John 19:30.   ‘So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!”  And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.’

A little while ago, I looked at one of the Seven saying of Jesus on the Cross (1).  Today, I want to look at another- almost the last (2).  The first cry was one of compassion (Luke 23:46), others were cries of anguish. Here we have a cry of victory.

The Greeks used to boast that their language was capable of giving much in little; a whole ocean of meaning in a few drops of language.  In the Greek, my sermon title is reduced to a single word- Τετελεσται (tetelestai)- ‘It is finished.’  I want to look at this single word today and try to measure some of the depths of it.

Tetelestai comes from the verb, teleo which means ‘to finish.’  Words like ‘telephone’ (‘the voice at the end’) and ‘television’ come from it.  Tetelestai  is the Perfect Tense of teleo.  It suggests something that has been brought to a conclusion.  It is said that the Greek scientist and philosopher Archimedes was sitting in his bath when he suddenly realised that a body displaces its own mass in water.  So excited was he by this discovery that he leapt from his bath and ran naked through the streets of his town crying, “Eureka!”, ‘I have discovered!’  This also is a Greek verb in the Perfect tense.  Finally, Archimedes had resolved what had been puzzling him for so long.  His search was over;  he had discovered.  This may help us with our understanding of tetelestai. It means, ‘ It has been finally finished.’ There is no more to do.

‘It is finished.’  What was finished?  The foundation stone of God’s purposes in the history of man was now laid once and for all.  It had been prophesied and declared in various ways, but now it was accomplished.  “The purpose of God may be summarized thus:  to display His grace and to magnify His Son in the creating of children in His own image and glory” (A. W. Pink). This was the work given to the Son by the Father:  to redeem from among mankind a people for God, cleansed from their sins and this is what He had accomplished.  “I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).

Our Lord is speaking therefore especially of His sacrificial work on the cross.  He had prayed in the garden,  “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”  Now He had drained the cup;  the three hours of darkness were over, the Father’s wrath towards sin had been propitiated; justice had been satisfied, excepting only the final act of dying which followed almost at once.  It was indeed finished.

The word teleo,translated ‘finished’ in John 19:30, appears quite a few times in the New Testament and has some very interesting meanings :-

Matt 11:1, A.V.  ‘…..When Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples…..’

Matt 17:24.  “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

Luke 2:39.  ‘So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord…..’

Luke 18:31.  ‘…..And all the things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.’

So what was made an end of at the cross?  Our sins, the guilt of them and their very memory in the mind of God (Jer 31:34).

What was paid?  The price of our redemption (2).  ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (Gal 3:13).

What was performed?  All the righteous requirements of the law.

What was accomplished?  All the work that the Father had given Christ to do (John 17:4).

There are seven things that we may see finished, fulfilled or accomplished on the cross.

1. On the cross we may see the fulfilment of all the prophesies which had been written of the Messiah in the Old Testament.  He was Despised and rejected of men’ (Isaiah 53:3); ‘Hated without a cause’ (Psalm 69:4; ‘Led as a lamb to the slaughter’ (Isaiah 53:7);  His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16);  He was forsaken by God (Psalm 22:1);  He was ‘numbered with the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12); His clothes were distributed by lot (Psalm 22:18);  He was mocked by passers-by (Psalm 109:25), taunted because  God did not deliver Him (Psalm 22:7) and, finally, given vinegar to drink (John 19:28; Psalm 69:21).  Indeed, there remained a few prophesies concerning Him that could only be fulfilled after His death, such as the piercing of His side (Zech 12:10), His bones not being broken (Psalm 34:20) and His being placed in a rich man’s grave (Isaiah 53:9), but all that needed to be done before His death had now been done and so, ‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said “It is finished!”  And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit (v30).   Note that it was He who gave up His spirit; no one can kill God.  “Therefore My father loves Me, because I lay down My lifew that In may take it up again.  No one takes it from Me but I lay it down of Myself”  (John 10:17-18).  Having fulfilled all the prophesies, He dismissed His Spirit.

2.  On the cross we see the completion of all His sufferings.  We are told that all His life our Saviour was ‘A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,’  He declared, “I am afflicted and ready to die from My youth up” (Psalm 88:15).  From His earliest days, the shadow of the cross hung over Him.  In His conversation with Nicodemus He spoke that, “the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14) and again, ‘“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all peoples to Myself.”  This He said, signifying by what death He would die’  (John 12:32-33).  When Peter confessed that He was indeed the Christ, ‘From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things’ (Matt 16:21).  On the mount of transfiguration, He was speaking with Moses and Elijah, ‘Of His decease which He was about to accomplish (Gk. teleo) at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:31).  The cross was always before Him, and though He naturally shrank from it as a Man, yet He pressed steadily on towards it (Luke 9:51; John 18:11).  “Shall I not drink the cup which My father has given Me?”  And drink it He did, right down to the dregs.  His physical sufferings must have been immense, but they were as nothing compared to the spiritual and mental tortures that God laid upon Him.  All the sins of His people, all our wickedness and vileness, were laid upon His sinless shoulders (2Cor 5:21); He became the very epitome of sin.  And the Father turned away.  The Lord Jesus had said, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is always with Me’ (John 16:32).  But on the cross the Father, who cannot look upon wickedness (Hab 1:13) had turned away from Him, and the sun had darkened and the weight of sin upon Him became intolerable, and He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

‘We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains He had to bear;

But we believe it was for us He hung and suffered there.’

But now, the hours of darkness have passed, atonement has been made.  “It is finished!”  His sufferings are completed.

3.  On the cross we see the purpose of His coming attained.    Before the Lord Jesus came to earth- indeed, before the very foundation of the world- He had been given a task by the Father.  “Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Your will, O My God” (Psalm 40:8).  As a boy of twelve He told His earthly parents, “Don’t you know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  At the start of His ministry on earth, He declared, “The works My Father has given Me to finish, these I do” (John 5:36).  Under the shadow of the cross He told His Father, “I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).  There on the cross, the divinely-given task was achieved. The Father’s will was done.  ‘Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief’ (Isaiah 53:10).  The Pharisees, the priests, Pilate, Herod, the Roman soldiers, they all performed their wicked parts in the death of our Lord; yet they only did what God’s own counsel had decreed before ever time was (Acts 4:28).  The Lord Jesus performed what the Father had ordained, and there on the cross, it was completed.

4. On the Cross we can see the accomplishment of the Atonement.  ‘For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost’ (Matt 18:11).  The Lord Jesus came, above all other things, to save.  We owe a debt that we cannot possibly pay- a debt of righteousness which we do not possess.  We need a Mediator to come between us and an offended God; we need a city of refuge to which we can run; we need an ark to shelter us from the waves of God’s righteous anger against sin; an advocate to plead our cause before God and to satisfy His outraged justice; we need a robe of perfect righteousness to cover all our sins, a surety to pay our debts on our behalf.  The Lord Jesus is all these things for us.  He has come between us and God’s justice.  He is our refuge, our Surety who has paid the last farthing of what we owe.  Tetelestai.  ‘It has been paid.’  He is our covering for sin and He is our great High Priest who has offered the one perfect sacrifice for sin, acceptable to God. It is finished.

5. On the Cross we can see the end of all our sins.  ‘And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).  If my iniquities have been laid upon Christ they are no longer on me.  To be sure, there is still sin in me for I still carry the relic of my old Adamic nature and In will do until I die and shed this old body forever, but there is no more sin on me.  I am no longer under condemnation.  Why not?  Because someone else has borne my punishment; someone else has taken the blame.   ‘[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree’ (1Peter 2:24).  It is a principle of the law that you can only be punished once for the same offence.  If someone else has taken my punishment, I am no longer under its penalty.   If someone has taken on my debt I am no longer liable to pay it.  On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest placed his hands upon a live goat, symbolically transferring to it all the sins of the Israelites, before releasing it into the desert.  This looked forward to the day when God the Father would lay all our sins upon the Lord Jesus Christ and He would take them away.  But what of future sins?  Will I still incur the guilt of these?  By no means!  This is the wonder of the atonement- not only are our sins laid upon Christ, but His perfect obedience and righteousness are credited to us who believe.  ‘For He has made Him who know no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2Cor 5:21. cf. also Rom 5:19; 1Cor 1:30).

An anonymous writer of the early Christian era expresses the wonder of the atonement so well.

‘He Himself took upon Him our sins, Himself gave His own Son as a ransom for us…….For what could cover our sins but His righteousness?  In whom was it possible for us, lawless and impious as we were, to be justified, save only in the Son of God?  Oh, sweet exchange and unsearchable act of creation…..that the lawlessness of many should be hidden in the One righteous, and the righteousness of one should justify many who were lawless!’  (Epistle to Diognetus, IX).

So when God, as Judge, looks upon believers, He sees no sin in His people, but only the perfect righteousness of Christ.  As Father, of course, He still sees our failings and lovingly corrects them, but as Judge, He sees none.  ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’ (Heb 10:17). Christ has taken them away forever.   ‘For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us’ (Psalm 103:11-12).  Tetelestai.  It is finished.  It is the end of all our sins.

6. On the cross we see the fulfilment of tha Law’s requirements.  ‘The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good’ Rom 7:12).The fault is not in the law but in sinful man who cannot keep it.  Yet the law must be kept, and kept by a man, so that it might be honoured and magnified, and its giver vindicated.  ‘To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Rom 3:26. Cf. also 8:3-4)  Christ has lived the life of perfect righteousness and obedience that we cannot live; he has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, and so have we, in Him.

Perhaps some personal testimony will be helpful here.  My father was a difficult man, and we had a very uneasy relationship punctuated by some blazing rows.  I can remember thinking to myself, “Why doesn’t the old fool shut up and leave me alone?”  Then he was gone; carried away by a heart attack, long before I became a Christian.  There was no time to say goodbye, much less apologize.  How then can I keep Exodus 20:12 which bids me ‘Honour your father and mother’?  It is no good trying to keep just the other nine commandments, even if I were able.  James 2:10 tells me, ‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.’  Praise His name, Jesus Christ has come to my rescue.  ‘Then He went down with [His parents] and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them’  (Luke 2:51).  He  has kept the law in my stead, and paid the penalty for my failure on the cross.  It is finished.  The law’s requirements are fulfilled.

7. Finally, on the cross we see, by the eye of faith, the defeat of Satan.  The death of our Lord, that which appeared to be the Satan’s greatest victory, was in fact his death-knell.  ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ (1John 2:8).  The work of the devil was to plunge the world into sin and death and corruption.  Christ’s work was to redeem a people from the great wreck of mankind, to take away the curse on the earth so that a restored and renewed people might live with God forever in a new heavens and a new earth (2Peter 3:13).

Satan is defeated and it happened at the cross.  ‘inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil’ (Heb 2:14).  No longer has Satan any claim on us.  We don’t work for him any more (Rom 6:16-18).  We are now the willing servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and we delight to do His will (Psalm 40:6-8).  Tetelestai.  It is finished.  Satan’s power is broken and the day will come when it will be ended completely forever.  In the meantime we are told, ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7).  He must, for our new Master is stronger than he.

We rest upon a finished work.  ‘There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1).  There is no more to do- nothing we can do  to achieve salvation.  “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  Are you burdened, trying to earn your way to salvation?  Come to Christ and rest.  Then rise up to serve Him, not because you must but because you may;  because Christ invites to share in His glorious victory and to tell the good news to others.

Notes.

1. On Mark 15:34.

2. Not quite the last.  Luke 23:46 tells us that, ‘When Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”‘  I take these as being our Lord’s final words from the cross.

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