“When Jesus had received the sour wine,
he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed
his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30
The three words “it is finished” are arguably the most powerful words ever uttered on earth.
They are the words the Savior uttered just before bowing his head and giving up his spirit in death. They demonstrate that the cross for Jesus was not the just punishment of a criminal, but the divine means of accomplishing the greatest work ever done—the eternal redemption of human beings!
I once heard a Bible teacher point out that the word translated finished in the text can also be translated by the words complete or perfect. Translated that way gives much more teeth to his three-word statement. He literally declared as he was about to expire: “It is completely complete; it is perfectly perfect! In other words, everything needed to accomplish human redemption has been completed; there is nothing left to be done. When the Savior uttered these words, sin can now be forgiven, and sinners reconciled to God. Hallelujah for the victory of the cross.
The New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this theme by presenting Jesus as our Great High Priest who alone was the final sacrifice for sin:
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest
of the good things that have come, then through
the greater and more perfect tent (not made with
hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once
for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood
of goats and calves but by means of his own blood,
thus securing an eternal redemption.”
Judging by the way many Christians live their lives today you would think that Jesus actually cried from the cross, “it is almost finished.” It’s as if the work of Jesus in itself is not enough; God is now waiting for the Church to complete the work. Few would be honest enough to admit that, but the way they live betray the fact that this is what they think Jesus actually meant. That was the way I lived for many years before being instructed more clearly in the Gospel. I carried about a low-grade guilt, always feeling as if I was falling short in my attempts to please God. When the pastor pointed out how badly we had failed to please God each week, we rushed the altar and ‘rededicated our dedication,’ pledging to do better in the coming week. But we were back again the following Sunday, asking God to forgive us for our failures and recommitting ourselves to try harder in the coming week.
The problem, of course, was my failure to believe that what Jesus accomplished on the cross was in itself totally sufficient to reconcile me to God. I was acting as if the cross almost finished the work of redemption; I now needed to add my own performance to the mix. But as my eyes opened to the completeness of the finished work of Christ on my behalf, slowly I began to move away from the performance-based life I lived, and entered a rest generated by faith in the finished work.
This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews means when he (or she) states that “we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). What is the rest that the writer speaks of? He goes on to describe it: “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (4:10).
The key is found in the statement, “rested from his works.” In other words, the writer is saying that the rest which Jesus provides is the result of doing exactly what God did on the seventh day after working for six days—he rested from all his work which he had done. In the same way, the Gospel calls us to embrace the fact that our relationship with God is totally dependent, not on our own performance, but on the performance of Another. The way I like to say it is, we are only saved by works—either our own (which we are doomed to fail at) or the works of Another (trusting the perfect record of Jesus works).
What are you trusting in—your own works or those of Another? Many of those who claim to believe the Gospel are allowing a mixture of both faith and works to determine their acceptance with God. But you might say, doesn’t James teach that “faith without works is dead”? Yes, but by that he doesn’t mean that it takes a mixture of both faith and works to be justified. Rather, he means that when one truly believes the Gospel, it releases life-giving virtue that transforms us in every way so that we begin to live differently.
Do you base your life and very existence on the most powerful three words ever uttered?