Dear Radio Friends,
To help us this week in remembering and meditating on the cross and suffering of Jesus Christ, I have chosen John 19:30 as the text for this message, where Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished.” In Greek that is simply one word, tetelestai. One word that says so much. There is no one word ever uttered in the history of this world that means so much. This word takes us back to eternity, to the counsel of God. At the same time it looks ahead to the end, to the new heavens and earth, to heaven to come. Contained in this word is the whole gospel of salvation and everything related to our salvation.
This word is the apex, the climax, of history. It is the turning point, the hinge on which all of history and all of your salvation and mine turns. “It is finished.” To whom does Jesus speak this word? The answer is, to all. This most important word ever spoken is a word that everyone must hear. He speaks it against Satan and all who are opposed to him. He speaks it to God His Father. And He speaks it to us His people.
When we think of it as a word spoken to Satan, we see it as a word of conquest, a word of victory. Jesus did not actually just say this word, but He shouted it from the cross. In Luke 23:46, which records the next word of Jesus from the cross, we read that “when he had cried out with a loud voice, he said, Father into thy hands I commend my Spirit.” The cry with a loud voice was the previous word, this one, “Tetelestai,” or “It is finished.”
Why does He shout? Because this is a cry of victory from the battlefield of the cross.
This world that we live in is the setting of a history-long battle between the seed of the woman, Christ, and Satan, who is called in Genesis 3 the seed of the serpent. From the very beginning of the world it has been Satan’s design to undo everything that God had done. He designed to make ugly everything that God had made beautiful. He designed to bring defeat and death into the world of life that God had made. And his desire especially is this, to prevent the salvation of any one of God’s people.
And so already in heaven Satan wars against God, and he is cast out of heaven. Then Satan makes his next move against God, and comes to Adam and Eve in the garden, and through his wile and craft brings sin and death into this creation.
This battle continues all through the Old Testament. It is there in the children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Enoch is persecuted. Noah is mocked. Abraham is a stranger in the earth. The Israelites are persecuted in Egypt. When they come into Canaan they are cursed and tempted.
Satan is always attempting to undo what God has done.
This battle becomes the most intense during the life and ministry of Christ and reaches its climax at the cross. Jesus says to those who oppose Him, “Ye are of your father the devil, and his works ye do.” Through the unbelieving Jews, Satan was coming at Jesus. And now when Jesus says, “It is finished,” He speaks that word as a word of conquest to the devil. The battle is won by Christ, on the cross. The devil is defeated.
Now, when at first we look at Christ on the cross, it does not appear to be a moment of victory. Instead, it seems that Satan is having his day.
What do you see? You see, Jesus hanging on the cross, weak and bleeding and dying and forsaken of all His disciples. He is alone.
Listen to what you hear the crowds crying: “Away with Him, crucify Him.” The earthly judge condemning Him to death: “Take Him. Do with Him as you please.” The mocking crowds cry, “Crucify Him.” There is a whip tearing His skin, a hammer pounding the nails into His hands.
And meanwhile heaven is silent. Do you see or hear anything from heaven? Christ cries out in His suffering: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And God does not speak a word of approval. The angels do not come to His assistance. He seems defeated in death.
It is reported that Queen Elizabeth I of England said on her deathbed, “It is over. I have come to the end. To have only one life and to have done with it, to have lived and loved and triumphed, and now it is over. One may defy everything else, but not this.”
Does not it seem that this is what Christ is saying? A cry of despair, a cry of defeat, a cry of a worn-out life? “It is finished.”
But, beloved, it is not so. For look again and listen again. Listen to the words of Jesus Christ. He said to the Jewish leaders in John 10: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
Before the judgment seat of Pilate, Jesus said something very similar. When Pilate says, “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” And again, when Christ is in the garden and they come to arrest Him He says, “Whom seek ye?” They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And then, when Jesus says, “I am he,” they fall flat on their backs at the power of the word and presence of the Son of God.
There is no defeat in this word.
Why does He not answer Pilate? Why does He give His back to the smiters? Why does He not come down from the cross? Why does not call a legion of angels to His assistance?
Because He chooses not to.
This is the voluntary suffering of Jesus Christ. And His enemies here are doing His will. They did things. They said things. They jeered. They nailed Him to the cross. They fed Him vinegar on a reed. All so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. God had determined what they would do to His Son. There is no defeat. There is victory in this cry of Jesus.
As He goes to the cross, Jesus says in John 12 verse 31, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world [the devil] be cast out.” All the enemies of Christ are defeated in this word. “It is finished.” Satan is finished. Sin is finished. Death is finished. The curse is finished. “It is finished.”
Satan’s power is finished. He is bound that he may deceive the nations no more. Hebrews 2:14 puts it this way: “…that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
In the cross of Christ there is an irony. He comes to destroy death. He comes to destroy the devil who has the power of death. And He does it by Himself being subjected to death and the power of the devil so that He may overcome. He removes the sting of death, which is sin. “It is finished.”
So first Christ speaks this word against Satan as a word of conquest.
Now, in the second place, we should think of this word of Jesus Christ as a word that he speaks to God. And then we see it as a word of completion.
This is a word that Jesus speaks to God in John chapter 17 already before He goes to the cross. In John 17 verse four He says: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” And, again, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world.” In Hebrews chapter 10 we see again that this is a word that Jesus speaks unto God. There we read: “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.” He is speaking to God and saying, I have fulfilled the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the prophecies and pictures in the sacrifices. It is finished.
In a little while the veil of the temple will be rent in two. What does that mean? It means God is done with the temple. God is done with the types. They have served their purpose. They have come to their final manifestation in Jesus Christ. Everything in all the types is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is finished with the holy practices. He is finished with the offices of the temple.
Again in Hebrews chapter 10: And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.
What does that mean? Think of what it means. Every morning and every evening those Old Testament priests made sacrifices, again and again. Every year they had the Passover feast and they killed a lamb over and over. Every year on the great day of atonement two goats were taken, one that was sent out into the wilderness, the other that was killed for the people. And every time they did this, they knew that it had to be done again because it did not finish the work. It did not pay for sin. It was impossible for the blood of the sacrifices to take away sin. But now, Christ in His death finishes that. He pays the price, and He knows that the sacrifice will not need to be repeated. “It is finished.” There is success and completion in this word.
In the death of Christ also the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled. As you read the gospels, especially as they speak of the cross, they again and again say, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” They gave vinegar to drink, they crucified Him between two criminals, they parted His raiment, they did not break His legs, He cried out “My God, My God”—why? All, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. The Old Testament is the message of the coming suffering Savior. Christ is there in His blood and sacrifice.
Jesus was very conscious of this. Just a couple verses earlier, in John 19 verse 28, we read this: “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled….” He knew. And as He looks to God and has His eye on God, He says, “Father, I come to do thy will, to fulfill thy will for me.” He has come in the flesh. He has made known through His ministry who He is. He has organized a group of disciples who will be the foundation of the New Testament church and carry on His witness. He has gone to the cross. He suffered, in the agonies of the cross, not only the persecution of men, but the darkness and the agony of the pit of hell. He has cried out from the pit of hell in utter forsakenness. And now He says, “It is finished.”
He has obeyed perfectly the will of God for Him.
But there is more here in this word as He speaks it to God. It is finished is not only a word spoken in the context of this world of human history, but as He speaks it to the Father, it is spoken in the context of eternity, as the fulfillment of the eternal counsel of God for Him. This is the eternal Son speaking to the eternal Father and saying, “Father, it…our counsel, our eternal counsel and plan…it is finished.”
In Acts chapter two the apostle Peter hints at this when he says that it was by the predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God that the wicked Jews took and killed Jesus Christ. And the same apostle calls Him the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
And now there is a conversation between this lamb and the God who slays Him, and he says, “It is finished.” He is referring to their eternal counsel concerning the redemption of mankind. They have an eternal plan and purpose for all things in the history of this world. The Father and the Son and the Spirit saith, “Let us do this, let us make man, let us redeem fallen man….” Everything that we see in the history of this world is a result of their saying, “Let us do this.”
And in all this, God triune has one purpose and goal—His own glory in the salvation of His people also eternally chosen. That plan includes everything, every fine detail of the life of this world and this universe. It included all the great things, the creation, the fall of the devil, the fall of mankind into sin, and the dark hour of man’s running from God. All that was there. That was because God had this beautiful plan of salvation to redeem from fallen humanity a people to himself, to come to them and rescue them in His grace from the darkness of their sin and the curse. And God in that plan determined to send His Son as Savior to the cross. This is central to the plan of God. And Jesus is saying to the Father: “It is finished.”
The cross is the centerpiece of history, not first planted on Calvary, but planted in the eternal counsel of God, planned by God before all else. Christ, who is before all things and by whom all things are and for whom all things were made (read Colossians 1:15-17), this Christ now says to the Father: “It is finished.”
The work of the cross, which makes possible every detail of God’s beautiful master plan for the history of this world, is finished. This is a cry of satisfaction. It is finished.
An architect draws a blueprint. A builder takes the blueprint and he builds a house according to it. And when he is done, when everything is done, the landscaping is complete, trees are in place—it all looks very good. Maybe before the owner sees it, the builder and architect walk around and say, “It is finished.” They look at the blueprint, and they see that everything is in place, just as planned.
Christ says, Father, it is finished, it is done. As planned. And the Father is satisfied. In creation, He looked at what He had made, and behold, it was very good. God looks down on the cross, and He says, Very good. We know this from the resurrection. The work is finished.
And so, second, this is a word of completion that the Son speaks to the Father.
A third way for us to think of this word is that Christ speaks it to and for His people as a word of comfort.
It is finished. Jesus is telling His people, telling everyone who believes in Him, that what had to be done to secure their salvation is finished. Oh what a comfort.
Sin’s payment is finished. The breaking of sin’s power is finished. Satan, our great foe, is overcome, is finished. Death is destroyed, finished. All the blessings of salvation and the treasures of heaven are secured for us. It is finished. The wrath of God is turned away from me, it is finished. Every comfort, every promise, every grace, glory, and heaven are secured for me. I am purchased from the grip of the devil. The price of redemption has been paid. It is finished.
Perhaps you say, “But it does not seem to be finished. Jesus’ work is not finished at the cross, is it? Does not He still have to go into the grave, be raised, ascend into heaven, send the Holy Spirit, rule from heaven, make intercession for us, and come again as Judge? And, when I look around in this world, or look at my life, or look into my heart, there is still so much work that Christ must do. Is it finished?
But, you see, here is exactly where the comfort of this word comes in. Yes, we are still in the struggle with sin. Yes, there is still war and disease and death. Yes, we have not reached heavenly glory yet. But you see, when Christ says, It is finished, He means that all these blessings have already been secured for us, and so, in the midst of trouble, we do not have to fear and be afraid and wonder. We need not be overcome with the weight and the guilt of our sin. Christ has paid the price, Christ has broken the power of sin. Even when He goes to the grave, the grave cannot hold Him. It has no power over Him.
What a comfort for us, also when we die. We die and then we stand before the Judge. Christ dies, and He has already stood before the Judge, and He has made the payment, so that as He goes into the grave, death and the curse of death have no power over Him. It is finished. It is finished for every one who believes in Him.
Is that important to you, beloved?
Do you not see this as the central word of the most important word that is ever spoken? It is a word that tells us what the cross was all about. This is what Christ did in His death, He finished it, He paid the price of redemption.
The cross of Christ should mean more to us, more than anything else in the world. In Galatians 6:14, Paul says, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” We glory in the cross, and by it the world becomes dead, unimportant to us, because we are taken up in eternal things.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for what Christ has done for the completeness of His work, for the payment, for the victory, for the comfort. We pray, Lord, that we may live in the knowledge of the cross and that it may also bear on our lives and change us to live to Him and to live apart from, dead to, this world. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,