Dear radio friends,
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
We have three words in the English translation: “It is finished.” But all we read in the original is one word: Tetelestai. Tetelestai was the sixth word on the cross. Then there was a seventh, according to Luke 23:46, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Putting the accounts of John 19,Luke 23, Mark 15, and Matthew 27 together, we hear seven precious words of our Lord Jesus Christ from the cross. As we today conclude our series on “Preparing to Die Willingly,” we reflect on those words. First, the compassionate word of the Savior: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then the word of assurance to the repentant thief: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The amazing word of filial love, “Woman, behold thy son.” And to the disciple, “Behold thy mother.” The fourth word, a piercing cry of hellish agony: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then, “I thirst,” when He drank of the vinegar mingled with gall, something which He had refused to do at first. When the burden He had come to bear was over, He cried out, as we shall see today, the loud word, the powerful word, the victorious word: Tetelestai – “It is finished.” And then, before He gave up the ghost, the last word: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Yes, as soon as the work of the cross was done, Jesus Christ cried out: Tetelestai! It is finished. And almost immediately following, “Father, I am coming home.”
What a beautiful way to die. This is the climax for us. It is in this way that we also can prepare to die willingly.
We conclude the series on “Preparing to Die Willingly” considering this triumphant cry of victory from the cross. According to the parallel passages, this was a loud cry from the cross. Surely, for us to hear, so that it would be recorded in the holy Scriptures and proclaimed as part of the holy gospel. It was in that way that Jesus Christ went to heaven. And it is in that way that the child of God may die, not fearfully, but joyfully, with that confidence that we go home to our Father. Even though our bodies might be so frail, and even though we may not shout aloud with the voice as the Son of God could, yet from the heart we acknowledge, “It is finished, it is done.” And we go into eternal glory in our death.
This triumphant cry of victory was the victory over death forever. “When Jesus therefore,” we read, “had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished,” that is, it is now come to the end. The hour has now come for Jesus to lay down His life on the cross to save His own. That Jesus is thinking about the end is clear, since the text adds, “he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” “It is finished” means the end has come, I must now die and return to My Father in heaven.
But, no, the idea is not “I am finished,” as if what He had hoped to do in life is now defeated. We must not read the word of Christ that way. He did not say, “I am finished,” but rather, “It is finished.” Although death must come upon all men as punishment, and it must come suddenly, for Christ it was different. Did He not say that He could ask the Father for the heavenly angels to come and to protect Him and they would? And did He not say to Pilate in verse 11 of this same passage of Scripture, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above”?
Nor did Jesus say, “I have finished it” – as if boasting that He had accomplished what He set out to do. Deliberately it is placed in the passive: “It is finished.” Not “I have done it.” He could have said that, of course. But no, here we have the meek servant of Jehovah on the cross. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet He humbled Himself to death, even to the death of the cross. Rather, Christ cried out, “It is finished, it is consummated, it is completed.” That is, the goal for which He had come is now completed. Not only as a matter of time, but of purpose. This is the hour of which He spoke often in His life, especially as He approached the cross. When He spoke of the hour when the Son of man must be lifted up to draw all men to Himself; when He made clear that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up – this is the hour.
By the way, you will notice how often and again we read in the events surrounding the cross “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled,” or “it is written.” Amazingly, those were things which were prophesied in the Old Testament concerning the death of Jesus Christ, whether it is the cry of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” or the vision of Isaiah 53, or the words of Psalm 69 and many of the other Psalms. It is clear that what took place on the cross was predetermined and was already revealed by the Spirit of Christ through the prophets of old. Even at the hour of death Christ had one thing in mind: It is the will of My Father that this must come to pass; this has now been accomplished; it is finished! For the purpose of His coming was to suffer the curse of the cross on behalf of all His people. The hour had come for the Son of man to be lifted up on the cross and to bear death and hell once and for all.
That is why, for three hours, even the sun refused to shine at noonday. And Christ cried out from that hellish agony: “Eli, Eli, My God, My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Not only the wicked world of sinners, the soldiers, the passersby, the malefactors who mocked at Him; not only the thorns, the nails, the blood, the pain; but above all, the face of His Father did not shine. Why? No, not because Jesus Christ had done anything amiss, as the other thief suddenly saw at the eleventh hour. He is just, He has done nothing amiss. But He bore the curse of the tree, since it is written, “Cursed is everyone who sins against the law.”
And since we could never pay for our sins; since our best works are defiled with sin; since by nature we only sin; and since death has come upon us all on account of our sins; Christ, the perfect man, the Son of God in the flesh, took that curse upon Himself, the Just for the unjust. He put death to death by His death on the cross so that now He cried out, “Tetelestai! It is finished!”
Specifically the text tells us when Jesus made this cry. It was when He had received the vinegar. Before He had refused to drink of this vinegar. But now He had cried out, “I thirst.” When He received the vinegar, then He said, “It is finished!” That vinegar mingled with gall was some kind of an anesthesia which was given to those who were there on the cross so that they would suffer the full agony of the cross but also so that they would be able to bear it. No, the Lord Jesus Christ had refused to drink of that because He would suffer the full dregs of hell without any help. But now that the three hours of darkness were over, the soldiers fetched the vinegar because light has come. Hell, really, was over. The agony, the pain, the suffering on account of the sin of all of His people had been endured on the cross.
Now He asks for that drink. Refreshed, He could then cry out, Tetelestai, a confirmation, a declaration that it is all done. It is true, He must yet give up His ghost and He must go to His Father, and He must lie in the grave in His body and then rise the third day. Then He must ascend to heaven, and then He must come again some day in final glory. But essentially, you understand, in principle, His work was done there on the cross, the work of redemption from death and hell.
Yes, He must still, by His Spirit, call sinners and work in them faith and good works and preserve them. But it is done. The purpose of the cross of Calvary was over. When the purpose of the cross was over, then Jesus shouted out with a loud voice, Tetelestai.
Do you hear the ringing sound of victory and the completion of the work of Christ from the cross? Do you? It is all on the merit of the cross that we have deliverance from death. There our Savior did it all. It is finished! It is not the labors of our hands. It is not our prayers. It is not our being in purgatory. It is not by anything that we can do! No, no, no. The purpose of the cross was a satisfaction for our sins once and for all. And it was complete by our Mediator. He once and for all finished what He had come to do. As far as Christ was concerned, and for us too, victory over death was accomplished at the cross. Full payment for sin.
We want proof of that? Let us look at that as we come to the conclusion of our series on death. We look at the parallel passage in Matthew 27, and we read in verse 51ff., that when Jesus had cried out in this loud voice, then “behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” Do you know what that was? There was no more the need for priests and sacrifices and atonements. It is finished. We are no more God-forsaken. Instead there has been reconciliation made on the cross between sinners and the holy One of Israel. The veil of the temple is rent in twain from top to bottom. Hallelujah, death is vanquished!
And we read in the same verse, even “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” Since redemption of mankind must also include the restoration of Paradise, immediately the groaning earth bursts forth in language of joy and justice because the new heavens and the new earth one day, in their full glory, will come. And already here, at the death of Christ and at His triumphant cry, “It is finished,” nature cries out in rejoicing.
Verse 52: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,” foretelling, or course, Christ’s own resurrection from the dead, and ours in that day of days. It is finished, there is victory over death, so that also bodily resurrection is promised. Not only are we justified, so that no longer are the people of God under condemnation, but they have the hope of the resurrection from the dead.
And then verse 54: “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done,” we read, “they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” Yes, surely it was the earthquake and all the other things that were done. But we read that they were watching Jesus. They had heard what He said from the cross, especially when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and then now, “It is finished.” Oh, watching Jesus, they saw it all. And they feared greatly. In Luke 23:47 and 48 we read, “Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.”
Finally, and forever, God’s people have been set free from the sentence of death. But will you notice how He breathed His last breath with contentment and joy? Although His death on the cross was to make satisfaction for sins, hell was really already all over. He could now ask for the drink, be refreshed, and then say, “Finished, Father. Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” He bowed down His head, He gave up (willingly, deliberately, in prayer of thanks and adoration and submission), “Father, into Thy hands commend I My Spirit.” What a way to die. What a way to prepare to die. Death, for the child of God, is not satisfaction for sin, since Christ already took their death on the cross. No, our death is an abolishing of sin and a passageway to eternal life. It is finished. We know that now, although we live in a valley of tears, and still must endure the pain and separation and sorrow of death, in Christ we are able to say, It is finished. And at death, we commend our spirit into the hands of our heavenly Father. We come home. We are absent in this body only to be present with the Lord. We know that when this present tabernacle is dissolved we have a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Let us conclude in the same way we began this series. Death is a universal reality, one which every member of the human race must face sooner of later, young or old, rich or poor, the child of God or the worldling. Yet death and questions surrounding death are often brushed aside even by us, the people of God, until we or some loved one faces death. Strikingly, on the other hand, the Bible, the Word of God, the Book of Life, God’s revelation, the holy gospel faces death and gives to us comfort, joy, and hope so that we may prepare to die willingly.
This is the gospel of grace. Those who know and believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have eternal life abiding in them. They are passed from death unto life.
So they are prepared to die – and that willingly, cheerfully. These confess, because the sting of death is removed, because the just wrath of God against sin is removed, I will face death. I am no more God’s enemy, but His friend. And so I am ready to meet my blessed Creator in Jesus Christ my Savior.
The psalmist cried of old in Psalm 116:8, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” May that be our joy and confession! It is finished.
Our series “Preparing to Die Willing” is also now come to an end. Not that we could not have many more sermons. I trust that this has afforded an overview. In these days of tragedy and terrorism, may these messages have afforded us comfort and hope. And it is my prayer that the Word of God may have also strengthened us to give us reason of the hope that we might give to all those who ask us, and that with meekness and fear.
It has been a joy and honor to bring you these messages. I hope you have been blessed and inspired. I do not know about you, but what sticks in my mind is that message from Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Knowing Christ Jesus has once and for all removed our death, knowing that our righteousness is in Him alone, let us live to God’s glory, let us confess that the reason we live is Christ, the only way we live is Christ. He is our joy. He is the power out of which we live, He is the reason why we live. He is our blessed Savior.
And so we have that hope that when we die, we actually gain. We go to be with our Lord. And, if the Lord tarries, and we are still alive when He comes upon the clouds of glory, then we will join with Him and all the redeemed saints with body and soul to glorify God, crying out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” because it is in Him and through Him that it is finished. Death is vanquished. Hallelujah! Thanks be unto God for the unspeakable gift of His Son. Amen.
Father, we thank Thee for the victory over death which is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our prayer is that we may have that comfort in life and in death that, with body and soul, we belong not to ourselves but unto our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.