Sunday, March 31, 2013

What is Finished?

Good Friday is a day that we remember the death of Jesus.  On Easter Sunday, we focus on the life that is gained, but on Good Friday we remember the life that was given.  As I read through the gospels this Holy season I was intrigued by three words:  "IT IS FINISHED".  Actually, one word intrigued me:  "IT".  "IT" is just two little letters.  "IT" is also a Stephen King movie that I watched when I was a kid that still causes me wet the bed.  Merriam Webster gives five definitions for the word "IT".  I believe the fifth definition would apply in this case.  A crucial or climactic point example:  <this is it>.  If I consider this definition, then it makes perfect sense that the "IT" in this verse refers to something climatic.  In order to obtain a better understanding and perhaps answer the question, "What was finished?",  read John19:16-37
In verse 16 ,we see that Jesus was handed over to be crucified.  Crucifixion, or execution by hanging from a stake, was considered the most horrible form of death.  In Deuteronomy 21 Moses writes, 22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a tree, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (NIV 84)  Being hung on a tree was a curse.  Jesus was handed over to be executed by the most horrible form of death.  So when Jesus says in verse 30 “It is finished” was He referring to His life?

Life is a fragile thing.  It begins at conception, when God breathes life into an embryo, and concludes when the heart ceases to beat.  We read in the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 1, where life was given to the Christ child when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary.  The physician Luke wrote,35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (NIV 84). In the gospels we read that Jesus lived a mere 33 years.  So when Jesus called out in a loud voice and shouted, “It is finished”, was He referring to His physical life?  Perhaps, but let’s further examine the scripture to determine the answer to this question. 

Could Jesus be exclaiming that the personal ridicule and mental anguish was over?  We see in verse 23 of the 19th chapter of John that the soldiers divided up Jesus’ garments.  I believe this occurred before He was taken down from the cross.  To utterly embarrass the Son of God, He was stripped naked and placed on a cross for the whole Roman world to see.  Read Luke 23:34-39.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[c] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”  36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”  38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.  39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (NIV 84)

 We see in this passage of scripture that Jesus was stripped, sneered at, and verbally abused.  They made fun of Him and said, "If you are really the King of the Jews, save yourself."  But when Jesus said, “It is finished” in the Gospel of John He was not referring to his physical death or the end of his public humiliation.  The "It" has a far greater and more climatic meaning.  So what does "IT" refer to?

Could it be the end of the physical pain Jesus had to endure?  In the first verse of John chapter 19 the apostle pens that Jesus was flogged.  A flogging generally consisted of 40 lashes, save one, with a whip of leather straps.  But, a Roman scourging was much more intense.  It was common that the Roman soldiers would add bones and shards of glass to the tips of the leather straps.  These cutting devices would rip into flesh and expose the bare bones of the malefactor.  According to tradition, Jesus endured a Roman scourging.  Before He even was raised on the cross, His flesh was exposed to the elements.  After He was scourged, we see in the 27th chapter of Matthew starting in verse 27 that the soldiers took Jesus to the Praetorium.  They stripped Him, placed a scarlet robe on Him and gouged a crown of thorns on His head.  If that wasn’t enough, they spit on Him and struck Him over the head again and again.  Then they forced Him to carry His cross to the place called Golgotha.  During that process we see, in the 32nd verse of Matthew 27, that Jesus could not continue so they forced a man named Simon to carry the cross.  I can’t imagine the pain my Savior endured, even before He was nailed to the cross.  It was customary to either nail or use rope to attach the outstretched arms of the malefactor to the cross.  In the case of Jesus, it is clear that His hands were nailed to the cross.  In order that the entire body be secured the criminal was forced to cross his legs at his ankles and another nail or spike was driven through the bones, then embedded deep into the timber of the cross.  Death was not from the bleeding or pain endured from the process.  It is written that some criminals would last for up to 8 days on the cross.  Death occurred when the condemned was not able to hold himself up anymore.  From sheer exhaustion, the body would begin to slump, pressure would be placed on the diaphragm, and the lungs would fill with fluid and blood.  Suffocation was the cause of death in the majority of crucifixions.  So when Jesus shouted the words, "It is finished!", was He referring to the agony and pain of death on the cross?  I don’t think so.

John 19:28-30
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 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.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (NIV 84)

So that Scripture would be fulfilled.  Jesus waited until all prophecy of the Messiah had been full-filled, then He said, “It is finished”.  As stated before "It" highlights a crucial and climatic point.  The coming of the Messiah and the slaughtering of the final sacrificial lamb was the climatic point that is emphasized by it in this sentence.  The final sacrifice was finished and offered for the sins of mankind.  The “IT” is the sacrifice!  I read a small book this week entitled Christ’s Victory and Ours, written by Frederick Grant.  Grant reminds us that we were present the day of the crucifixion.  He quotes the old African American spiritual, "Where you there when they crucified my Lord?"

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Beloved, when Jesus said the words, “It is finished” our sins were blotted out by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb.  Even though our bodies were not present, our sins were abolished.  In that moment, when Jesus spoke His last words, the sacrifice was complete, and our sins were paid for.  When Jesus said, “It is finished”, He was exclaiming that the sacrifice was finished!