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—which equals about five or six Sunday sermons!
President Harrison must have been VERY impressed with the comments he prepared for 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. And because of his stubborn long-windedness that bitterly cold day, President Harrison lowered his resistance, 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? I mean, in regards to Jesus’ final words spoken from the cross we could accurately say, No man has ever said LESS and done MORE!
Today we come to the end of our study. 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 chapter 19 as we look at verse 29 and the first part of verse 30; then we’ll turn to the Gospel of Luke chapter 23 and read verses 44-49.
John 19:29 – 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!”
Luke 23:44 – 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.
Okay—let’s understand what has just happened. 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, as Bobby said at our Maundy Thursday service, when Jesus realized what the wine contained, He refused it 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.” 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 but more than that—you see this word, “TETELESTAI” is in the PERFECT tense. That’s significant because it refers to an action that has been completed in the PAST with results continuing into the PRESENT. The PAST tense says this happened. The PERFECT tense adds the idea that “this happened and it is still in effect today.” It literally means, “It was finished in the past and it is still finished in the present, and it will continue to be finished in the future.” We could say it this way, “All had been done that needed to be done. Nothing more is needed.”
I mean if we spoke Greek here in the U.S., the commuters who use I-66 to get to and from work every day would WANT to say that word—when they finally finish widening that road that is ALWAYS so congested during rush hour but they couldn’t because I’m sure more widening will be needed in the future. John chose this word when he wrote his gospel to communicate the fact that when Jesus uttered His sixth statement form the cross, He was saying, “It is FOREVER done! There will never need to be another cross. There’s nothing that need be added to what I have done on this cross and there never will be. It’s FINISHED and always will be.”
Well, if the claims of the cross are true—and they certainly are—then this statement is a tremendously important one. That Good Friday afternoon Jesus was saying everything that was set out for Him TO DO as the Messiah was finished once and for all.
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—His statement was one 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!” That ONE statement uttered by Jesus was indeed a powerful one—the MOST powerful one every spoken uttered by the greatest man Who has ever lived.!
Well what did that statement refer to? WHAT was finished?
(1) Well, first of all as I have inferred, 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?
- How many of you have e-mails in your “in box” — a long list of e-mails you have intended to answer but haven’t gotten around to as of yet?
- Men, have you ever started a car repair project—and the car is still up on blocks in your garage?
- How many of you have home improvement projects you started but just never got around to completing?
- How many of you planned 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. This week I read that the granite depiction of the four American presidents at Mt. Rushmore is an uncompleted project. It’s not finished and probably never will be. The sculptor had originally planned for the figures to be depicted to their waist. Even Michelangelo, who is considered one of the greatest artists of all time, would often begin a project only to abandon it in a fit of anger. Amazingly he left more UNFISHED works of art than the ones he completed.
So we’re not alone in our lists of UNFINISHED things. Sometimes it’s small things. But, other times we never complete 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 many of 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 Marine 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 it’s 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. 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—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 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, ‘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 ALL 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. 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. 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 fulfillment 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 with His sixth statement. 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.
I was happy to hear Bill Jones report the other day that we’ve already paid off nearly $800,000 on our mortgage for the ROC. Only $1.2 million to go. Won’t the day we burn that note be a great one!? In fact let’s covenant that when we make that final payment we will 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 2nd 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. As I said earlier, 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. As Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto ALL men once to die.” 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! John Ortberg tells of a friend who worked as a denominational official in Minnesota. One of his jobs was to travel to little rural communities where they didn’t have churches to do funerals. He would go out with an undertaker, and they would drive together in the undertaker’s hearse. One time, they were on their way back from a funeral, and my friend, John, was feeling quite tired. He decided he would take a nap. Since they were in a hearse, he thought, “Well, I’ll just lie down in the back of the hearse.” Sounds like kind of a creepy thing to do, but this is a true story. The guy who was driving the hearse pulled into a service station, because he was running low on gas. The service station attendant was filling up the tank and he was kind of freaked out, because there was a body stretched out in the back. While he was filling the tank, John woke up, opened his eyes, knocked on the window and waved at the attendant. John said he never saw anybody run so fast in his whole life.
Death is that unavoidable enemy that causes us great fear. Now, what does the cross have to do with this fear—this death that comes for us all? 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 the 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 2nd 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. (1st Cor 15:54b-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. Its 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 its sting! On the cross the power of death was finished.
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. 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.