March 1, 2020
We've been looking at snapshots John gives us as Jesus goes from arrest to trial to crucifixion. Now on to the 12th picture John gives us. He says it so simply. Remember, John was there. Here's what John remembers:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
What do you hear when you hear the words, "It is finished?" It depends on the context, right? If it's at the end of a project…it is finished is a good thing. If it's at the breakup of a relationship…it is finished is not such a good thing. Same with the last bite of a favorite dessert, although there's both good and bad with that it is finished. What do you hear when you hear Jesus say, "It is finished?"
How many times, do you suppose, Jesus said, "It is finished," when working on a project? Remember, before he began his public ministry at around 30-years-old, Jesus was a carpenter. A carpenter worked with more than wood. He was a master craftsman, working with stone, wood, brick, and mortar. In those contexts, when he said, "It is finished," Jesus meant the specific job within a reasonable timeline and according to exacting specification. The project is finished.
Carry that out to the cross. What is our greatest need? To be made right with God. Forgiveness. To be able to stand in the presence of the One, True, and Holy God forever. Which is not something we could ever earn on our own. It's nothing we deserve. So when Jesus died on the cross, and he cried out, "It is finished," he meant his work to save us from our sins. He saved us from ourselves. He took upon himself that consequences of sinful life that should have been ours to bear. What is finished? Jesus' work for us on the cross. The lasting sacrifice is made. Our sins are washed away. "It is finished," is the cry of our Master Carpenter.
"It is finished" is also the shout of our Good Shepherd. At the end of the day, when the shepherds brought all their sheep back in, they would shout "Finished!" Finished, because the sheep were back in the sheepfold. The sheep are safe. Finished. The sheep are protected from predators. Finished. As Jesus hung from the cross, the Great Shepherd, he knew where his death would bring us. So he cried out, "It is finished!" Jesus knew. As life was bleeding out from him, Jesus could picture us, the sheep of the Good Shepherd, gathered safely in the arms of God. And so he said, "It is finished!" We are safe. We are safe because of what Jesus did on the cross. He could picture taking all those hurt by sin and healing them. He pictured taking the thorns out of our lives and bringing us back to safety. Jesus pictured us safely in his arms. Finished is the cry of victory.
Then John goes on to say, in verse 30, that Jesus gave up his spirit. Why do you think John puts it that way? I think it means Jesus willingly gave up his life for us. They didn't take it from him. He willingly gave up his spirit for us. He decided when he was going to the cross. Jesus decided what he was going to say when he was up on the cross. And Jesus decided when he was going to die. He gave up his spirit.
Let's pick things up at verse 31:
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
What happened with the two crucified on either side of Jesus? Their legs were broken to hasten their deaths. With broken legs, they could not push up to help with breathing. So they were still alive. But Jesus had already died. And we've already seen why…because he gave up his life at God's intended moment.
This leads us to our last picture. To make doubly sure that Jesus was dead, they pierced his side. It was up through his ribs, toward his heart. Blood and water came out. Basically, with certain kinds of trauma, especially the ones Jesus endured, blood and other bodily fluids can mix and settle in certain parts of the body. It makes sense this is what happened in Jesus' chest cavity, around the area of his heart.
But I also believe John had a symbolic purpose for including this picture. Part of me wonders if John was giving us his sense of Jesus dying from a broken heart; a torn heart. His heart was torn by his love for all of us. When Jesus felt the full weight and the full wrath of God for our sin upon his life, it broke him. That's why he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The ugliness and wretchedness of our sin drove him to the gates of hell, where he felt full separation from God.
Let's now collect all these pictures John has shown us of Jesus' last day and see how they fit into our lives.
When we put all these pictures together, and get to this final scene after a long and difficult day, we get a picture of victory. Victory over sin. Victory over temptation. When you are tempted; and if you're at all like me, it's probably something familiar; when you are tempted, think of the cross, and remember that God can be victorious over this. Sometimes we don't know how long it's going to take. How many times do I come close to victory but then crumble before the temptation? But the cross assures me that there is victory over this temptation. I know it's going to happen. Today, tomorrow, next week…God will lead me to victory over this temptation. Amen? That's what we picture when we see the cross.
Another thing we picture is God's power for everyday life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "The message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing without the cross, but to us who are being saved it's the power of God." Do you ever have moments or even days when all you can do is call on the power of God? "Lord, give me strength to get through this." You can't build yourself up to get the kind of power the cross naturally gives you. Genuine power. It only comes from the cross.
Next picture yourself as a person of strong faith. That's what the cross gives us. Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Picture that in the cross. Picture the change in your life. Picture what God can do in you and through you. Paul goes on to say, "God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." When you behold the wonderful cross, the little things of this world fade, and you become more intensely interested in the things that count: Loving God…worshiping God…loving others…serving others…leaving a positive footprint wherever you go and whatever you do.
Finally, the greatest picture of all when you look at the cross is of yourself forgiven, clean, and pure in God's sight. That's what the cross is all about. To paraphrase Paul from Colossians 2, "In this way God took away Satan's power to accuse you of sin. And God openly displayed to the whole world Christ's triumph at the cross where your sins were all taken away." Picture yourself as forgiven, clean, and pure in God's sight.
Don't ever let yourself think that you are anything but forgiven, clean, and pure in God's sight. There is nothing you have done or could do that would ever separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. That's the power of the cross. That's the power of forgiveness. That's the power of change. Through the power of the cross, God has done more for us than we could ever do for ourselves, or dream possible.
What is your life worth? Look to the cross. Hear the last word of Jesus' earthly life - finished.