“It is Finished” preached on John 19:30 on Good Friday, 2018, by Rev Richard Keith
The farmer came home two hours after dark, and made the mistake of sitting down for a rest before his shower. He’d been working since an hour before dawn, and he fell asleep straight away. His wife had to wake him up, and half an hour later he was clean and dressed and sitting down to tea. His wife asked him, “How’s the fencing going?”
Between mouthfuls he simply said, “It’s finished.” It’s a remark that speaks of struggle and pain, of grit and determination, of goals met and of work completed.
It is finished.
So might the surgeon say after a 12 hour operation. So might the artist say after a difficult sitting with a client and four weeks of completing the portrait. So might the world champion coach say after 4 years of planning result in another successful World Cup campaign. So might the decorated general say after years of war are ended by the signing of peace.
It is finished. They are Jesus’ last recorded words in John’s Gospel and they carry an enormous weight of meaning. It was 3 pm on that first Good Friday. Jesus had been nailed to the cross at nine in the morning, and a thick darkness had set in since noon. John chapter 19 verse 28 says that Jesus knew that all was now completed. It means more than just that his life was nearly finished and that his sufferings were nearly over. It means that Jesus knew that his life’s mission had reached its goal.
It reminds us that Jesus did not merely live among us. Although for the Son of the living God to share our life with all its troubles would be almost enough. But Jesus, the perfect man, the perfect union between God and human nature, did not simply exist among us. He came for a reason. On a mission.
In Luke chapter 19, Jesus said,
“I have come to seek and save the lost.”
And in Mark chapter 10, he said,
“I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ life – all the things he said and did – were filled and guided by purpose. He came to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. He came to give signs of the kingdom in his miracles. He came to live the perfect life of obedience to his Father, the life we were created for. And he came to suffer the curse that our sins bring upon us. He lived our life. He died our death. And at 3 pm that Friday, his life had reached that goal.
Mark’s Gospel records that at 9 in the morning, six hours before, Jesus had refused to drink the wine vinegar. It was an anaesthetic. A pain reliever. A dying man’s last refuge to help him endure his last hours. But Jesus had refused it, when it was offered to him. No alcohol was going to shield him from the burden of human sin. It was a weight he would carry on his shoulders alone.
But when all was completed, when the race was all but over, when he had achieved his life’s purpose and his destiny had arrived at its destination, Jesus asked for a drink to say his last words. The soldiers soaked a sponge in the cheap wine, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. And he said,
“It is finished.”
He bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
These three words are a warning, our comfort, and our message.
It is finished.
It’s a rebuke to all our attempts to try to complete what Christ has done. All our restless working to try to please God. All our religious duties, our baptisms and confirmations, our diligent church attendance and celebrations of communion, our money raising and community activities, in an effort to distract God from our many failings and to appease his anger. They’re a waste of time, an expense of needless worrying.
It’s like picking up the scalpel to try to help the surgeon. It’s like picking up a brush to put the finishing touches to the Mona Lisa. It’s like offering to help with the fencing when you have no idea what you’re doing and you’ll only get in the way and either hurt yourself or someone else. What other price must be paid to complete our redemption but the blood of Christ? What further debt must be borne when it is paid in full?
The book of Revelation chapter 7 speaks of a great multitude of people, more than anyone could count, people from every nation and tribe and language. They are dressed in white and stand before the throne of God, singing,
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Who are these people dressed in white? An angel in the vision says,
“They are those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Pure white robes to clothe them and to cover their nakedness. It is a vision of our full forgiveness and of the complete restoration of our humanity, making us fit to praise and to serve our creator in his presence.
Why then would anyone want to patch those pure white robes with the rags of our good deeds? Who would want to soil them with the sweat of their own effort or to try wash them cleaner with their own tears?
It is finished. It’s a warning. But it is also our comfort. Jesus’ words mean that we can rest in his work. That’s how the surgeon wants the patient to complete his work. He doesn’t want the patient to try to pick up the scalpel and to make the first incision. He doesn’t want the patient to wake up and sew the final stitches. He wants the patient to rest in his completed work. He wants the patient to return to his life, set free from his illness and restored to health.
This is how we “complete” Christ’s completed work. This is how we fulfil Christ’s purpose, by fulfilling his purpose for us for which he lived and suffered and died and lived again. We rest in his work, so that it is our healing and health, our strength and joy, our food and drink, the source of our salvation and the goal of our lives. Our religious duties are not duties at all, but expressions of thanks. We serve others not to fill our empty lives, but because God has filled our lives with his Spirit of love which overflows for others.
Are you worried that God doesn’t love you? Are you afraid that God will punish you for what you’ve done? Hear Jesus’ final words. “It is Finished.” Do not insult him with your restless busyness. Rest in his work in which you can find healing and strength.
It is finished. It’s a warning. It is our comfort. And it is our message. To the church-goer who trusts in his own good deeds, we proclaim that all has been done by Christ and no more is needed. To the brother or sister in the Lord who struggles with guilt and with a tender conscious, we reassure them with the news that their sins are forgiven and washed clean in Jesus’ blood. To those who are afraid of judgment, we point to the cross where judgment was pronounced and satisfied. To those who are lost among the fashions of new philosophies and religions we point to Christ who is the end and goal of all religion. To the saved and to the lost, to the sinner and to the saint, to the wise and to the foolish, to the children and to aged, to Jew and Gentile, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist our message is the same: “All is done. No more is needed but that this gift be received. Serve with joy not out of duty and resentment. Live in peace and not in fear. The price is paid, the debt is cancelled. It is finished.”
And so am I.