John 19:30 (Good Friday: Words of Life from the Cross)
“The Fulfilled Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 3, 2015
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is John 19:30:
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
When is something really finished? The Sistine Chapel has required significant restoration since Michelangelo laid down his last brush of paint. The Washington Monument recently had to be closed for almost three years to repair earthquake damage. Walt Disney famously said Disneyland would never be finished. Perhaps only one this has ever really been finished. When Jesus spoke these words from the cross, He was announcing for all eternity that nothing more need ever be done for our salvation. It has been won! It is done. It is finished.
The last word of Jesus from the cross recorded by St. John is a word of fulfillment: “It is finished,” tetelestai in Greek—Completed. Perfected. Mission accomplished. It is done literally to the death. There are no loose ends for us to tie up, no missing pieces for us to puzzle over, nothing to be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. “It is finished.” The redemption price is paid. The world’s sin is atoned for. You stand forgiven before God. The work of reconciliation, peacemaking, between God and sinners is accomplished. The Law is fulfilled. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Tetelestai! It is finished.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came not to abolish the Torah (the Law) and Prophets but to fulfill them. His entire life from the womb to the grave is one of fulfillment. Every word and work of Jesus happened in order to fulfill the Scriptures. He came as the ransom, redeeming us from slavery to sin and death. He came as the substitute sacrifice, the Passover lamb, by whose blood came freedom, the very sin offering through which we receive forgiveness of sins and by whose death comes our life. Christ came as King and Priest and Victim, fulfilling every picture-type of the Old Testament.
Tetelestai. “It is finished.” At the moment these words were spoken by our Lord on the cross, the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. It signified the end of the old covenant and temple, the end of the sacrifices, the end of the degrees of holiness that kept God and people apart. The gap of holiness had been bridged by Jesus; God and people were brought together and reconciled once and for all through the shedding of His blood. The barriers put in place to protect us sinners from a holy God were now torn in two, ripped open by the death of the Son of God and His cleansing blood. He now have full access to God’s throne of grace.
The Book of Hebrews says, “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (2:10) Christ’s suffering is our perfection. On the Sermon on the Mount our Lord Himself commanded, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). But how can sinful people be perfect? How can you and I, steeped in Adam’s sin and our own sin, ever claim that sort of heavenly perfection? How dare we? How can we, who are inclined to sin each and every moment of our lives, whether awake or asleep, be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect?
Here, with this simple word of fulfillment from the cross, Jesus declares “the how,” the perfection that perfects us. “It is finished.” Here is where you must look, not to yourselves. You must look solely to Jesus Christ, to the dying Savior on the cross who is your perfection. He kept the Law perfectly for you, in your place, down to the smallest stroke of the Law’s pen, down to the tiniest nuance of its commandments—in thought, in word, in deed, in intent. Jesus perfectly loved God with His whole heart, soul, and strength. He perfectly loved His neighbor, and that included you and all people. He did all these things in order that He might give His perfection to you freely as a gift, so that you might be perfected in Him. Jesus is your perfection.
This was the joy set before Jesus, the reason He endured the cross and scorned its shame. He can declare before heaven and earth that His mission is accomplished, that the plan from all eternity to undo the deceits of the devil and the death of Adam now stands finished. As far as the sin and death of the first Adam went to corrupt all of humanity and throw the entire cosmos into disarray, so far the death of Jesus, the Second Adam, goes to bring justification, forgiveness, perfection, and life. It is truly finished. Tetelestai!
Therefore, you and I dare not add anything to this word of fulfillment: not with our prayers, our pieties, nor our religious sentiments. These add nothing to what Christ alone has finished. And yet, are we not ever prone to do that? The world of religion is built on this sinking quicksand—the notion that God has not done enough and that we must add to and finish what Jesus only started. Or more insidious: God has done His part, and now you must do your part to seal the deal. Faith and works. Christ plus something more. These are all recipes for heresy and disaster. What God in the flesh in the person of His Son Jesus Christ has finished, let not man add to it! All we can do is trust, receive, delight, and enjoy this gift, freely given. As St. Paul tells us, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
In Christ Jesus, through His sacrifice of Himself on the cross, our salvation is complete. Our forgiveness is guaranteed. Testelestai! “It is finished.” Jesus says these words to you in the death of your Baptism, where you died to sin to arise to new life in Jesus. “It is finished.” Christ says it to you again in the words of absolution that return you to your Baptism and cover you anew in the blood-bought forgiveness of the Savior. “It is finished.” Jesus says these words of fulfillment to you with His body and blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin,” confirming once again His completed work of your salvation.
Remember this Word of fulfillment in the moments when you are tempted to add to Christ’s already completed work. Recall this Word when you doubt in your salvation or are beset by your sins. Remember this Word as you gaze into the mirror of the Law reflecting back your sin, when Satan throws your sin and guilt back in your face, and know for certain that Jesus has fulfilled the Law on your behalf and purchased your forgiveness for your failure to keep the Law. There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus! There is no guilt before the throne of God for those who are in Christ Jesus. Meditate also on this word on this Good Friday, the sixth day—the day of creation on which God made man and woman and the day on which God redeemed all men and women from sin, death, and the power of the devil through the suffering and death of His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, as always, Jesus’ word echoes from the cross with fulfillment and certainty—Tetelestai! It is finished! Amen.