When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30) (Word #6 of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross)
The sixth word of Jesus from the cross has a number of shadings of meaning. In the Greek it is just one word: tetelestai, which can mean ‘it is finished’, ‘it is completed’, ‘it is accomplished’, or ‘it is fulfilled’.
One thing it does not mean is ‘I’m done for’. Tetelestai is not a sigh of resignation. It is a declaration of victory. In spite of appearances – in spite of the tortured body we see on the cross – Jesus has accomplished everything He came to earth to do. He has accomplished the salvation of humanity, and His death will open the door for us to eternal life.
In ancient Israel tetelestai was also a business term meaning ‘paid in full’. Writing tetelestai at the bottom of a bill would be the same thing as stamping a “Paid” stamp in our day. Jesus paid the price for our sins, and the debt has been paid in full. It is over. “It is finished.” Our sins are done away with, and we are free and forgiven.
If we hear nothing else today, we need to hear that. Everything we’ve ever done wrong, every mistake we’ve ever made, has been paid for. It is finished.
That said, there’s another angle that I never really noticed before a few days ago, and that is: God the Father and God the Son have been in control the whole time. They decided when righteousness was fulfilled, and they decided when it was time for Jesus to leave the planet and come home. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John,
“I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17b-18)
In other words, it wasn’t finished until Jesus said it was finished.
If you had asked the political and religious leaders of Jesus’ day they would have told you a different story. If you had asked Herod he would have said “I got rid of John the Baptist and then I got rid of that preacher friend of his. I sent Him off to Pilate dressed like a king – wearing a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He and his followers are finished.” And then Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ blood and sent Him off to be crucified. In Pilate’s eyes Jesus was finished. But as Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…” (John 19:11) It wasn’t finished until Jesus said it was finished.
The religious leaders were no better. They knew that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. They knew the writings the Old Testament. But they had become rich and powerful in their religious careers and they weren’t about to step aside for Jesus. So they conspired against Him. They even bought the cooperation of Judas, one of His twelve ‘inner circle’ disciples. And as Jesus hung on the cross they ridiculed Him saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself. If he is the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” (Matt 27:42) But the suffering of the Messiah had been predicted by David and Isaiah and all the prophets. Everything that day was unfolding just the way God planned it. The religious leaders thought they had gotten rid of Jesus for good… but it wasn’t finished until Jesus said it was finished.
Before Jesus died, he lived long enough to see the first sinner come to saving faith in Him, when the thief on the cross next to him said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus was not going home to His Father empty-handed… He was bringing the first redeemed human being with Him. For that thief on the cross it wasn’t finished until Jesus said it was finished.
And the same is true for us today. I am reminded of a Gospel song called “It Ain’t Over Till God Says It’s Over”. The first verse of the song goes like this:
I know the odds look stacked against you
And it seems there’s no way out
I know the issue seems unchangeable
And that there’s no reason to shout
But the impossible is God’s chance
To work a miracle
So just know
It ain’t over till God says it’s over
Jesus won the victory on Calvary and if we allow Him to, He will win the victory in our lives as well. We here in this time and place, post-Calvary and post-Resurrection, we live in between the now and the not yet: Jesus’ victory is complete, but history is still playing itself out.
Society may say Christianity is a thing of the past. People may ridicule Christian beliefs… but it ain’t finished till Jesus says it’s finished. There may be a situation in life that looks hopeless, and we can’t find a way out… but it ain’t finished till Jesus says it’s finished. People sometimes say our little parish church is done for… they say we don’t have enough people, we don’t have enough money… but it ain’t finished till Jesus says it’s finished. God has ways that we can’t even begin to imagine, as we see so clearly at Calvary.
So here in the darkness of Good Friday… and in the darkness of our world… Jesus declares, “it is finished”. The price has been paid. The victory is won. And when we come to the end of our days, we can say with confidence, as Jesus did, “Father into Your hands I commend my spirit”. Until that day, it ain’t finished till Jesus says it’s finished. AMEN.
~ Preached at Church of the Atonement, Good Friday 2012 ~