A quick glimpse at our world and lives is like a jump into freezing water. It awakens us to the reality that there is a lot of turmoil out there. Our own walks with Jesus Christ might very well discourage us from the power of Jesus’ words: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The cheap offerings of new spiritualities, prosperity preachers, and philosophical ideas present to us newer and innovative “to-do” lists that pressurise us to do more.
It Feels Like Things Are Falling Apart
This never-ending tide of life is captured by the original poem that inspired Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats. The first stanza reads,
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yet, to us who truly wait for his second coming, Jesus’ words “It is finished” offer a fresh invitation to hope, assurance, and eternal rest.
John’s Gospel: “Life In His Name”
Interestingly, only one Gospel writer captured these words: the beloved disciple, John. We might see Matthew, Mark and Luke as choir members who sing distinct notes about Jesus Christ and his kingdom. John provides a unique harmony, focused on the divinity of Christ and its significance for the salvation of humanity.
In fact, John organises his Gospel into a series of eight “signs” or proofs, reinforcing Jesus’ true identity. They are: first, water made into wine (John 2:1–11); second, the healing of the royal official’s son (John 4:46–54); third, the healing of the lame man (John 5:1–18); fourth, the feeding of the multitude (John 6:1–15); fifth, walking on water (John 6:16–21); sixth, healing of the blind man (John 9:1–41); seventh, the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1–57); and the eighth sign, the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:6–11), after Jesus’ resurrection. How are we to understand Jesus’ cry, “It is finished,” in light of these signs? How do they reveal Jesus’ identity and mission? What should our response be?
Jesus’ words ‘It is finished’ offer a fresh invitation to hope, assurance, and eternal rest.
A key is to read his purpose statement. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Thus, if this is the overriding purpose of the book, then it also offers a key in understanding Jesus’ cry, “It is finished.”
What Did Jesus Come To Do?
Throughout John, Jesus has a strong sense of the mission that he came to accomplish. For instance, at one point the disciples are concerned that he hasn’t even eaten and ask him to eat something. His answer is surprising, and a little enigmatic. For he says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). In fact, he repeats this similar idea of doing the Father’s will or accomplishing the work throughout the Gospel (John 5:30; 6:38; 7:29; 8:42; 10:37-38; 12:44-50).
Jesus had a strong sense of the mission that he came to accomplish.
All of these find a greater emphasis in Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. Finally, he utters those famous words: “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and surrendered his spirit (John 19:30). But what exactly had he finished? On the cross Jesus finished “the work,” that the Father gave him to do (John 17:4).
To expand on the sufficient work of Jesus Christ, I have always been captivated by the contrast between the Old Testament priests and our Great High Priest. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12).
Because It Is Finished, Jesus Sat Down
What do we make of this?
- The cross was not “cosmic child abuse,” as some sceptics of the faith have put it. Rather, Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross on behalf of God’s chosen people. The Father didn’t force this work on him. Jesus chose and lovingly accomplished it (John 10:11).
- The will of the Father, to reconcile people to himself through Christ’s death, further illuminates the love of God. He has perfectly accomplished this work of redemption.
- Jesus Christ has willingly borne sin and its consequences, God’s wrath and death. Therefore those who believe in him will not have to bear them.
- Jesus Christ invites us to eternal rest. For now we no longer have to work hard to keep laws and regulations, so that God can accept us. By grace, through faith, we are accepted first, so that we will live a life of fruitfulness and obedience.
“It is finished” speaks of Christ’s sufficient work on the cross. It is a message of comfort for those burdened by guilt from the many imperfect works that they do so as to be accepted. Christ’s perfect life and death is the only work that God accepts. So it is a great and gracious invitation to those wearied by their own self-righteousness.
The cross is a gracious invitation to those wearied by their own self-righteousness.
It is also a message of assurance for those who have embraced Jesus Christ. For those who are still on the well-worn path of growing in godliness. On the side-roads that sometimes beckon us and weary us, we too are invited to that truth: “It is finished.” When tempted to seek other paths, forgetting this sufficient Saviour and Lord, we too are offered fresh doses of assurance.
On this Easter, with all the turmoil we observe in our war-torn world, and in light of the doubts that may shake our faith, we can consider again God’s victory at Calvary. For we share in it through the pronouncement and reality of Jesus’ triumphant words.