On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, delivered the longest inaugural speech on record. It contained over 9,000 words-for your information, that’s about five or six Sunday sermons! Now, President Harrison must have been VERY impressed with his prepared comments that day because, in spite of the fact that it was raining and unseasonably cold, he still refused to shorten his inaugural address. He would not step down from the lectern and instead stood there for two solid hours delivering his lengthy speech. Well, because of his stubborn long-windedness that bitterly cold day, President Harrison got pneumonia and then died one short month later on April 4, 1841. You could accurately say “No president has ever said MORE and DONE less.
Now, if we were to contrast Harrison’s presidency Jesus’ death on the cross and the words He spoke there-those few but critically important words and phrases we’ve been studying for the past two months-well, wouldn’t you agree that this comparison would lead us to say the opposite? In regards to Jesus we could accurately say, No man has ever said LESS and done MORE!
Well, today we have come to the end of our study-because this Easter Sunday morning we will be focusing on Jesus’ LAST two sayings from the cross. And, in order to hear those final words as they were said by Jesus, we need to combine the accounts of John and Luke. So, take your Bibles and turn to the Gospel of John 19 as we look at verse 29 and the first part of verse 30; then we’ll turn to the Gospel of Luke 23 and read verses 44-49.
29 – A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
30 – When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished!”
44 – It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45 – for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46 – Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” When He had said this, He breathed His last.
47 – The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
48 – When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.
49 – But all those who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
This is the word of God.
Okay, let’s understand what has just happened. As I told you last Sunday, Jesus was offered something to drink twice on that first Good Friday. Before they nailed Him to the cross the soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail offered Him wine mixed with GALL-a drug to numb Jesus’ body-something to take the edge off of the pain He would feel as they drove those nails into His hands and feet. I guess the idea was to make Him easier to handle as they nailed Him to the cross. But, when Jesus realized what the wine contained, He refused it. Remember? I told you He did this because He WANTED to feel the pain. He wanted us to understand that ours is a Savior Who understands the pain we endure in life. Then in response to Jesus’ fifth saying from the cross, “I thirst,” one of the bystanders took a sponge, soaked it in wine vinegar, put the sponge on a stick, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. This wine vinegar was not drugged and He accepted it because He had two more things to say and would have been unable to say them without moistening His parched throat. So, with His throat clear Jesus spoke a sixth time and said, “It is finished!”
Now, these THREE words in English were only ONE word in the original Greek and that word was, “TETELESTAI.” And in that culture and setting, that word was a powerful phrase-a book ending phrase-a terminating phrase-a phrase that suggested that something was absolutely finished! This word was used to communicate the fact that some great work was finally done! I imagine if we spoke Greek here in the U.S., the residents of the Springfield, Virginia area would say that word, when they finally finish that mixing bowl project at the intersection of interstate 95 and the D. C. beltway several years from now.
Well, if the claims of the cross are true-and they certainly are-then in this context “tetelestai” is a tremendously important word. Because that Good Friday afternoon Jesus was using it to say that everything that was set out for Him TO DO as the Messiah was finished. So please understand this was not a CRY as much as it was a PRONOUNCEMENT. This was not the wail of a helpless martyr. It was not the gasp of a worn-out life. These were not words of defeat or desperation. I mean, Jesus wasn’t saying, “I am finished” or “Oh My goodness it’s finished. It’s over. I’ve failed!” Nor was it a word of relief. Jesus wasn’t saying, “Oh, am I glad it’s finished!” No-this is a word of triumph! These were words of a CONQUEROR claiming victory! In fact, I think if His hands had not been nailed to the cross Jesus would have said this with his arms punching upward into the darkness! “It is finished!”
In his book, Testament of Love, written in 1934, Hubert Simpson put it this way:
“One word has MADE a life. One word has MARRED a life. One word has SHAPED the destinies of empires and altered the course of history. But, mightiest of them all is this single WORD from the cross that answers the hopes and fears of all the years: FINISHED. This shout ran against the current of time BACK to the beginning of man’s transgression…and provided the means of cancellation of transgression of every penitent soul. That shout ran FORWARD to the very end of ages declaring the fact of salvation accomplished for every believer. That shout ASCENDED to the throne of God and gladdened the heart of the Father and of the angels. That shout DESCENDED to the spirits of men in prison and prepared them for the movement approaching when He should lead captivity captive and give gifts to men.”
That ONE WORD uttered by Jesus was indeed a powerful word! Well what did that ONE WORD refer to? What was finished? What exactly was Jesus talking about when He used this word, “TETELESTAI?”
1. Well, first of all as I have said, Jesus’ earthly MISSION was finished.
Jesus had done all that He set out to do-all that God had given Him to do. He had completed His life’s work in those brief 33 years.
Now, how many of you have DIFFICULTY finishing what you begin?
- Have you ever started a letter that you never finished?
- Have you ever started mowing the lawn-maybe you did the front and told yourself you would do the back later and “later” came the next week and by that time the front needed mowing again?
- Men, have you ever started a car repair project-and the car is still up on blocks in your garage?
- Ladies have you ever begun some sowing project and the last stitch is still yet to be done?
- How many of you have home improvement projects you just never got around to completing?
- How many of you planed to have your taxes done and in on time this year but didn’t quite get to it so at the last minute you had to file an extension?
Well, the truth is, ALL OF US are guilty of this because we all have within us this tendency to NOT finish that which we begin. Sometimes this is seen in small things like I’ve just mentioned. But, other times it is seen in the big things of life-the tragic things Like the baby that was aborted because someone was unwilling to complete what they had begun or a marriage that ends in divorce because a husband and/or a wife were unwilling to keep their commitment to “have and to hold til death do them part.”…or the worst example of all-a world that goes un-evangelized because by and large Christians are not willing to finish the task they have been given.
You see, the truth is-it is not easy for US to FINISH things.
Now, we have no problem STARTING things. It is NOT difficult for us to initiate something.
What is difficult for us is to stick with it until we finish it. That is where the real accomplishment is for human beings. And we realize that so we don’t make T-shirts that say “I started the Boston Marathon.” We don’t give out High School Diplomas the day we start the 1st Grade, or 30 year retirement pins the day we start the job. We don’t receive awards at these times because we know its not hard to START something. What IS a challenge for us is to finish what we begin!
Well, as I said, Jesus DID finish what He began. In fact we see throughout His life that FINISHING was always on His mind. I say this because He was constantly using this word, “tetelestai.” He was always working to accomplish all that God gave Him to do. Let’s review some verses that show this. In Luke 12:50 Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is TETELESTAI-COMPLETED!” In Luke 18:31 He said to His disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be TETELESTAI-FULFILLED!” In John 4:34 Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well and he said, “My food is to DO the will of Him Who sent Me and to FINISH His work.” In John 5:36 Jesus said, “I have testimony weightier than that of John.
For the very work that the Father has given Me to FINISH, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent Me.” And then in John 17:4 in His prayer prior to His arrest in the Garden Jesus said, “I have brought You glory on earth, Father, by FINISHING the work You gave Me to do.” And finally here in John 19:30 it says, “When He had received the drink. Jesus said, ‘TETELESTAI-IT IS FINISHED.'”
So, you see, Jesus did not come to the Earth with a random fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach to life. No, He knew exactly what had to be done and this is what He focused on it:
- the men who had to be trained.
- the prophecies that had to be fulfilled.
- the miracles that had to be performed.
- the messages that had to be transmitted.
And Jesus refused to leave the earth until it was done. He refused to quit until it was all FINISHED. Now, as Christians this is something we should try and imitate. And I think it will help if we can understand what it was that motivated Jesus to FINISH what He started. So, what was it that kept Jesus going? How did He stick to it? To answer that question we need to look at Hebrews 12:2 where it says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Who FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Now what does this text say it was that gave Jesus the courage to endure the cross? “THE JOY set before Him.” Well, what was this JOY? It was the fact that Jesus knew that what waited at the finish line was eternity with You and me. In His hour of deepest pain His thoughts were on heaven-eternity spent with us. So, as someone has said, “It was not the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. It was His love for you and me.” This knowledge that His sacrifice would make it possible for the sin barrier to be removed….and fellowship to be restored between God and man-this is why Jesus did all that He did. He literally hung on that cross with Heaven on His mind.
You know, as Christians one reason we abandon many of the projects we set out to do-one reason we grow weary in well-doing-is the fact that we take our eyes off of heaven. We don’t focus on eternal things. You see, we live in an age of INSTANT gratification and because we do we want INSTANT rewards for our accomplishments. And, when that doesn’t happen we give up. Well, as Christians we must remember that, according to the Kingdom rules, we don’t get all of our paychecks this side of eternity. We don’t really rest in this life. No our true rewards are eternal in nature-and they come later.
Now, the Christian life is a wonderful life-the best life-I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but we shouldn’t expect to receive all the fulfilment of living a Christian life in the here and now. You know, many Christians wrongly assume that God meets out justice and rewards in this life but the Bible doesn’t really teach that. This was one of the lessons Job learned in his time of unfair testing. Remember? After his property and family and health is taken from him as a result of nothing he had done God gave him back his health and his house and his possessions. He even doubled the livestock that he had lost in that time of testing-but not his family. Remember? His seven sons and three daughters had died and Job did get seven new sons and three new daughters-but his original children were not returned to him. Referring to this Philip Yancey writes,
“Even in the middle of the Old Testament, which has a shadowy concept of the afterlife at best, the book of Job clearly intimates that Job will one day get his original family back. The ten children he tragically lost will be restored to him, to live in glorious eternity in a redeemed and recreated world.”
You know one reason SS teachers quit, one reason committee members quit, one reason some people quit coming to church is because we expect something HERE. We want our rewards NOW. Well, does that describe you? Are you worn-out Christian? Do you feel like quitting? Do you want to give up because you work a lot for the kingdom but get little or no attention? Well you must hang in there for, as Mother Teresa once said, “God didn’t call us to be successful-just faithful.” So keep on keeping on. Remember-finishers have wounds. They get weary because its hard-it saps our energy as we work to further the Lord’s Kingdom. But, be assured, the God Who rewards justly is watching! There is a crown laid up for you. And, as Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
We must emulate Jesus in this for HE did not give up. No, He kept His eyes on heaven and accomplished every task God had given Him to do. And this leads us to the second thing that was FINISHED on the cross…
2. The Work of REDEMPTION was finished.
You see the purpose of Jesus coming to earth in the first place was to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was born to die-and in so doing pay the penalty for your sins and mine-and that’s another thing that was on His mind when He uttered this word. I say this because, “TETELESTAI.” was also a commercial word in the culture of Jesus’ day. Back then if you bought something on which you made payments-a house for example. Well, when you came to make the final payment you would say, “Tetelestai!” It’s finished! It is paid in full. The payment book is empty. No further payments are required. You know, in a few months we will pay off our mortgage here at Redland. I had Hugh check this week-and he tells me our church has had a mortgage since 1966-almost since the day this church was founded. We have been in debt that long-37 years now. Every time we’ve built or bought property we’ve rolled it all over into the prior debt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but we are FINALLY about to pay it all off and won’t that feel good!
If we spoke Greek when we make that final payment in a few months we would all say, “Tetelestai! It is finally finished. The debt is paid in full!” Well, when Jesus used this one word that day on the cross, He was saying that a PAYMENT had been made-the final payment for our redemption. This is what He was referring to in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it-to pay the full requirement of the law.” (Matthew 5:17) You see, the Law said that where there was sin, there must be death. This all began in the Garden of Eden when God told Adam and Eve not to disobey Him and eat from the forbidden tree…because if they did, they would separate themselves from the intimate relationship with God that they enjoyed….and as a consequence they would, “…surely die.” (Genesis 3:3)
Well of course they DID disobey God and they have passed down that sin nature-that tendency to do this-to all subsequent generations. So, as Romans 3:23 and 6:23 say, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…[all of us disobey God]…and the wages of sin…the debt that sin incurs for all of us…is DEATH.”
Well, this is why the Hebrew people of old sacrificed animals-as a way of admitting their sin and atoning for it. Even back then they knew that as Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin.” The problem was those animal sacrifices could never permanently remove sin. In fact, the Old Testament priests were not allowed to sit when they were on duty as a way to symbolize the fact that their work was never done. They continually made sacrifices. Well the people of that day who died in faith knew this and believed that the last payment for their sins was yet to be made. And Jesus was that FINAL-ONCE FOR ALL-Sacrifice. His death on the cross was a payment that covered all the indebtedness of all mankind.
In fact, you can put any sin in the ledger and write “paid in full” next to it.
- Abandoning responsibilities-PAID IN FULL
- Criminal behavior-PAID IN FULL.
- Selfishness-PAID IN FULL
- Having an abortion-PAID IN FULL
- Fornication or adultery-PAID IN FULL
- Cheating-PAID IN FULL
- Greed-PAID IN FULL
If I’ve overlooked your sin you can add it to the list because the truth is when Jesus died on that cross He paid the penalty for every sin that ever has or ever will be committed. And He could do that-He could die for us all-He could shed His blood and in so doing pay our entire sin debt because He Himself had never sinned. Jesus owed no debt of His own. As Warren Wiersbe put it, “He took my bankruptcy and covered it with His solvency.” Jesus was the one perfect, pure sin offering. He had no sin so He was able to carry ours. You see, I can’t pay your sin debt and you can’t pay mine. That would be like two people who fell in a mud puddle trying to clean each other off. No-we needed a sinless sacrifice-a pure sacrifice. We needed Someone who did not have a debt to pay Himself. Well Jesus was that sinless sacrifice. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “…He Who had NO SIN became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.”
And please understand, on the cross Jesus didn’t just make a down payment and then expect me to keep up installments. Hebrews 10:10-14 says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God….by one Sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Did you catch that? Once Jesus had died for the sins of the world, HE SAT DOWN. Because unlike the other priests whose work was never done-Jesus’ was! It was finished! That first GOOD FRIDAY, our sin debt was paid in full. The work of redemption was completed! So there is no work that we have to accomplish to earn our salvation. Once we admit our need for it, all we have to do is ACCEPT the free gift that God offers us. As Romans 3:23 says, “The wages of sin is death…but the FREE GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
But please hear this-to have eternal life there is one thing you have to DO: You have to accept it. God does not force this gift upon you. Jim Burns tells the true story of a trial that was held in the state of Louisiana in 1982-a trial that held the attention of the entire state. A man was condemned to die for the murder of a family. As he sat on death row, his attorneys frantically tried to secure a pardon for him. They used just about every means within their grasp. But, as the hour approached for his execution, all hope seemed to fade. Then unexpectedly, at 11:30PM, one half-hour before he was to die in the gas chamber, the governor of Louisiana extended a full pardon to the man. The attorneys were overjoyed as they brought the news to their client. As they told him of his freedom something happened that brought the state of Louisiana to a standstill. The man refused the pardon. At precisely 12:00 midnight, they strapped the man into the chair and within a few moments he was dead. The entire state was in shock. The man had a dull pardon, yet he chose to die anyway. Well, a fierce legal battle soon ensued over this issue.
They wrestled with this question: Was the man pardoned because the governor offered him the pardon, or was he pardoned only when he accepted the pardon? The highest court of the state of Louisiana was the arena for this debate and ultimately it was decided that a pardon cannot go into effect until it is accepted.
Well, it is the same with us. Through Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness and eternal life, but for us to have it-we must accept it. In John 3:16-18 Jesus said,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever BELIEVES in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. Whoever BELIEVES in Him is not condemned, but whoever DOES NOT believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
So, Jesus’ earthly ministry was finished; the work of redemption was finished…and then, today Christians all over the world rejoice because one last thing was finished on that Good Friday…
3. The power of DEATH was finished.
And we DO rejoice because all human beings FEAR death-death is the great unknown and we don’t want to face it. We don’t want to stop living as we have seen so many people do but not wanting to die does us no good because life teaches us that death eventually comes to every man. Biologists tell us that in all living organisms two principles exist: ANABOLISM-the building of protoplasm and CATABOLISM-the breakdown of protoplasm. When the former exceeds the latter, there is growth. When the two are held in balance, there is stabilization. But when CATABOLISM begins to occur at a faster rate, there is gradual disintegration and death and this always happens eventually. In short, from the moment of conception, our own death is inherently part of our physiology. Death is a fact. We are all born with an expiration date. Calvin Miller writes, “Death is a fact more unpleasant than life-but a fact that is just as certain as life. It has a way of catapulting itself into our most unsuspecting moments. It becomes the grim reminder at every New Year’s Eve party that we are not merely watching a CLOCK-we are watching our PASSING.”
Well, this unavoidable fact terrifies us! There is an ancient fable of Baghdad that tells of a merchant who sent his servant to the bazaar to purchase food. After only a few minutes, his servant came back and fell at his employer’s feet. Pale with fear he begged,
“A horse, a swift horse, please master. Down at the market I bumped into a woman, and when she turned around and faced me I could see that the woman was Death. She raised her arm to strike me, but I escaped her. Please, I must have a horse-your fastest. I will escape Death by riding to Samarra.”
The merchant loaned his slave his fastest horse and went to bazaar, where he, too, saw Death standing among the shambles. “Why did you terrorize my servant this morning?” the merchant asked Death.
“I didn’t mean to terrorize your servant. Mine was only a reaction of surprise. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
Well, as this story illustrates death is that fear-inducing inevitable foe-one we know we all face and cannot avoid or defeat. As Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto ALL men once to die.”
Now, what does the cross have to do with death? Well, we know that day on the cross JESUS died. He didn’t swoon. He really died. A soldier even ran His body through with a spear to make sure. Jesus definitely died. Those hands that had been placed with healing upon lepers and with cooling upon fevered brows became icy. The feet that had walked ths sands of Galilee were lifeless. The eyes that had looked with compassion on the shepherd-less multitudes glazed over.
The mouth that spoke as never a mere man spoke became silent. The heart that never beat except in love was stilled. JESUS DIED! But as we read in the Scriptures a moment ago, before He did in His seventh saying from the cross, He committed His spirit to God for safe-keeping. Now, was Jesus merely whistling in the dark? I mean, did it do any good for Him to say, “Father into THY hands I commit My Spirit.”
Well, Easter gives us the answer. Because on the 3rd day, God raised Him Who was truly and really dead and now He lives forever and He offers us eternal life as well. So you see, because of the cross, death no longer terrifies us. Now we know that for Christians death is just a gateway to heaven. As 2 Cor. 5:8 says, “To be dead-to be ABSENT from the body-is to be PRESENT with the Lord.” Just like that repentant thief, we know that THE SAME DAY we die, we will be with Jesus in paradise. So, for us death is just the porch of eternity. Because of the cross and the resurrection…we know that our being and personality do not cease with our respiration and pulse.
So, on the cross, Jesus ended-finished-the power of death. As Paul said, He took the “sting” out of it so it can no longer harm us. (1 Cor 15:54-55) When Paul said this he was referring to a bee-because he knew that when it stings it leaves its envenomed weapon in the flesh of its victim. And, from then on that bee cannot hurt us. It’s power is gone. Well in a similar way death-the ancient destroyer met Jesus at the Cross and sank its stinger into Him-sank the last of its venom into His body. And, now, death’s reign of terror is over. Like an unarmed insect, it may buzz about us as a nuisance, but for the Christian-for the person who has put his or her faith in Jesus-it is harmless. The poison is gone. The would-be killer is powerless.
Death has left its venom at the Cross. It no longer has it’s sting! On the cross the power of death was finished.
Ask Him to forgive you through the blood His Son shed on your behalf. Then give Him your life to use as He sees fit. Then come and share that decision, or any decision God has laid on your heart with me as we stand now and sing.
Now for the past two months we’ve been studying Jesus’ last seven sayings-His last words spoken from the cross. But in actuality, God has given you and me the last word. In His final sayings from the cross Jesus proclaimed the glorious truths of the Gospel: that we are forgiven, that He has provided THE way for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him, that He thirsted so we wouldn’t have to. Well we hear all these words-and now it is up to us to reply.
God waits for our response. He gives us the last word. Well have you responded? Have you accepted God’s free gift? Have you committed your Spirit into God’s hands? If not, then today won’t you? Right now-pray and tell God that you are a sinner in need of His grace.