The scene was dark and disturbing. It was a complete contrast from how the week began. A week filled with so much hope, expectation, and promise, ended here on this hillside. A week that began with shouts of “Hosanna!,” would end at a place known as “The Skull.”
There weren’t many who gathered at this hillside where three people, two revolutionaries and the one from Galilee, were crucified. Among the witnesses were the Roman soldiers and religious leaders of the community who wanted to make sure the crucifixion of the one in the middle – Jesus of Nazareth – was carried out. Also there were some of Jesus’ followers, women and men, who risked their lives to be close to Jesus in his final hours.
We have now come to the final moments of Jesus’ earthly life in our journey of Jesus’ final 24 hours. These are the moments that include his betrayal, arrest, and, now, his crucifixion. Our journey has led us to this most important moment that forever changed the world. With this moment, God chose the foolishness of the cross to bring about God’s love, mercy, and kingdom.
As we have said on this journey, the cross was the most inhumane form of punishment ever created. Once Jesus was placed on the cross it would have taken several hours for Jesus to die. Mark tells us there were three hours between the time when Jesus was nailed to cross and when he took his last breath. Most likely Jesus died of asphyxiation, which basically means he lost the ability to breathe.
Before Jesus died, however, he continued to show his love toward others. He tells a revolutionary he would be with him in paradise. In our text from John 19:16-30, John tells us that Jesus took time to make sure his earthly mother, Mary, was cared for. He told John to look after her as his own mother. This act of fulfilled his responsibilities to care for Mary as the oldest son. Once this is accomplished, John says Jesus took his last breath after saying these words, “It is finished.”
Across the world, today, Christians have recalled the story of what took place on that “hill far away.” We do so to remember that Jesus’ death has an importance and meaning. Jesus did not die a martyr’s death, but instead his death began something we still live into today. It began the story of a new life and relationship with the Lord.
There is a temptation to rush to the “back of the book,” because we know how the story ends. We want to go straight to the tomb, so we can celebrate the joy of Easter. We lose something in doing this. Rushing to the tomb prevents us from finding ourselves at the cross and remembering the cost of Jesus’ death and what it means for us today. Sometimes we need to take it all in again and find ourselves meditating on these words, “It is finished.” With these words, we see why Jesus went to the cross and why it changed the world.
That phrase is the quintessential word Jesus could speak from the cross. It is a statement of accomplishment that signifies the work is not just accomplished, but finished. There is nothing left to do. But, what exactly is accomplished and finished? At the surface level, we might think Jesus is focusing on his life and that he could no longer continue fighting. If we look deeper, we’ll see that this phrase tell us something about Jesus, his mission, and the importance of the cross.
What is finished on the cross is the work of establishing God’s kingdom and the Lord’s rule. One of the purposes of Jesus’ arrival was to establish God’s kingdom and to teach us what it means to be members of God’s kingdom. Though this work, Jesus came to take his rightful place as the Messiah and King of all. It was a work that begun when Jesus breathed his first breath and was accomplished when he breathed his last.
Jesus’ establishment of God’s reign didn’t come through what we may consider as the traditional ways of establishing a kingdom, such as through political or military efforts. Jesus, instead, chose the path of love and peace to show what it means to be a follower of God. He put this love into action throughout his three-year ministry, but most importantly was it expressed on the cross when he gave of his life for others. The one who is King gave his life so that his people would be free. The cross is not simply a cruel and unjust means of execution, but it is the revolutionary tool used by the Lord to bring about God’s reign on earth.
The cross is also the tool that allowed Jesus to finish the work of defeating the powers of this world that prevent us from having a true relationship with the Lord. This is the work of reestablishing creation to what it was intended. Scripture tells us the world God created was perfect. No pain, hurt, frustration, agony, brokenness, or sin could be found. That was God’s plan. However, we chose a different plan. We decided to live differently and chose what is often counter to God’s desires. Doing so has allowed things that are counter to God to dominate our lives. Our lives and world have often been defined by a desire to live more for self than for God. There are consequences to this, which allowed for things to exist that were never intended, such as death, brokenness, frustration, resentment, war, hunger, poverty, and so forth.
On the cross, Jesus claimed the victory over the powers of the world, over sin, by becoming the offering of atonement for the entire world. To understand this, we need to go back to the Old Testament and Leviticus. For sin to be atoned for, or forgiven, blood had to be offered. This blood would cleanse the individual of their sin. The problem was this sacrifice was never enough. It had to be repeated. God recognized this and knew the only way sin could be completely atoned for was if he did atonement himself. Thus God came into the world in the person of Jesus and died the death we deserved by our sin and acts of wrong. The cross became the instrument of atonement, the blood the cleanser, that removed the guilt of the world’s sin.
Not just the world’s sin, but your sin and my sin. Jesus also finished the work of redeeming you and me. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, he didn’t simply take the world’s sin with him. He took your sin and my sin with him. Jesus did the work of redeeming us by defeating the things that often hold us back from enjoying the life God desires for us. What Jesus defeated on the cross were things like our hurts, frustrations, wrongs, pains we have caused others, things we have said that we wished we had not said, things we wished we had not done, or things we just cannot let go of. Jesus took all those things, and more, upon himself and died for us.
When Jesus says, “It is finished” he is speaking those words to us. They are words that tell us we no longer have to be defined by our hurts, our frustrations, or the wrongs we have done. We can live by the grace offered to us on the cross. At the same time, they also remind us that it is not up to us to do the work of redemption. God has done the work, and all you have to do is to accept that God died for you to experience the grace that is freely offered from the cross.
We recognize that simply believing that the work of our redemption is finished is hard. We hold on to our hurts, brokenness, and pain and say things like, “There is no way God can or would redeem or forgive me of this.” We all hold onto things thinking there is no way God would forgive us or that the cross somehow ignored some part of our lives.
In your bulletin you received a red card. I want you to take out that card. I want us to take a moment and think about something that you are holding back from God. Something you have not let go of or something from your life you believe there is no way God could redeem. I want you to write it on this card. During our next hymn, we are going to bring these cards up and nail them to the cross. It is a symbolic act that reminds us that God completely finished the work of redeeming all of us. As you do, the altar rail will be open for anyone to come up and pray.
The image that this act will provide will show us that Jesus’ blood washes over all of these things that we believe God cannot forgive. The wonderful thing is that, yes, God can forgive and God has forgiven us by taking upon the cross and finishing the work bringing forth the Kingdom, winning the victory over sin, and redeeming our lives.
The cost of our redemption was our Lord’s life. Yet, Jesus never saw his life as something too important not to give up in order that we may see the cross as the instrument of our salvation. Instead, he took to the cross, completed the mission, and shouted for all to hear, “It is finished!”