"It Is Finished"

by Tom Wacaster

No doubt you’ll recognize the title of this week’s article as one of seven phrases Jesus spoke while dying on the cross. The story of Jesus’ death will, when studied carefully and prayerfully, strike the cords of a man’s heart unlike any other. Who among us is not encouraged when he reads the thrilling story of some hero; especially if that hero gives his life in some sacrificial way?  “It is finished.” Here the Lord speaks as our Redeemer. Though the resurrection and ascension remained in the not-too-distant future, all things had been accomplished which the Father gave Jesus to do. The price for sin was now paid; the atonement for sin was completed. These three words carry profound implications. For one thing, the Old Law could now be taken out of the way. The Jewish leaders could no more harass or blaspheme the Lord. The terrible suffering is at last completed, the shame now past. The Lord had come to this world, suffered, and endured temptation. All that remained was the simple act of conquering death by His resurrection, to be followed by His ascension to the right hand of the Father. When our Lord spoke these words, He was fully aware that all things had either been completed or adequately put into motion so as to make this statement true in every respect. So far as His earthly sojourn and mission was concerned, it was indeed, “finished.” William Barclay provided this beautiful observation regarding these words of Jesus:

When we compare the four gospels we find a most illuminating thing. The other three do not tell us that Jesus said, “It is finished.” But they do tell us that he died with a great shout upon his lips (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). On the other hand, John does not speak of the great cry, but does say that Jesus’ last words were, “It is finished.” The explanation is that the great shout and the words, “It is finished,” are one and the same thing. “It is finished” is one word in Greek, and Jesus died with a shout of triumph on his lips. He did not say, “It is finished,” in weary defeat; he said it as one who shouts for joy because the victory is won. He seemed to be broken on the Cross, but he knew that his victory was won (Barclay, ESword Module).

Someone once said, “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.” The truly great life is not one that is lived in selfish pursuits, but in service to others. The Christian realizes that at least one key to true happiness is bound up in the words of Paul: “Doing nothing through faction or through vain glory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). The greatness of a man’s life is not measured by his material possessions he might leave behind at the time of his death. It is, rather, how a man lives that makes his death a momentous event in the overall evaluation of his life upon this earth. So it is with our Savior. In His death He demonstrated the magnificence of His very character. “It is finished.” With those three words our Lord closed the books on thirty-three years of a selfless and sinless life. When the incarnate Immanuel came into this world it was said He was “laid in a manger” (Luke 2:7); after slightly more than three decades it was recorded that he was “laid in a tomb” (Mark 15:46). Those two bookmarks define the life lived in service to the Father. “It is finished” declared the success of all that Jesus accomplished during that short span of time. His enemies sought to bring upon Him the ultimate shame and disgrace by having Him crucified. They nailed His hands and feet, holding Him forever (so they thought) in that attitude of shame and disgrace. They offered Him wine, mingled with myrrh, but He refused it. No narcotic, no anesthetic, would be allowed to cloud His mind. In His death He would satisfy justice, not evoke pity! He came to conquer Death, not compromise with death’s agony. In His dying moments He breathed a prayer, not for Himself, but for His torturers, that they might be pardoned. “Father, forgive them” was the first of seven saying He would utter from the cross. In His death, as in His life, He demonstrated the undeniable truth that He was, and is, the Word of God to man, teaching forgiveness to others, providing guidance to His mother, granting salvation to the dying thief, and acknowledging God’s righteousness by His complete submission to the death on the cross. He Who was forsaken maintained unwavering trust in the Father Who never forsakes us. In the final moments upon that cross He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” We may never fully understand the import of those words, but as one noted, those words were “the utterance of a Son, innocent Himself, yet disowned.” With His last breath our Lord would declare, “It is finished.” He Who did nothing by halves, paid the debt to the uttermost! Now He could render His spirit to God, which was His to give up; and while the thieves lived on, He hung there dead.

On the cross the magnificence of Jesus is displayed for the world to see. It is there that the sinless Savior died for sinful man. His innocent hands were pierced with nails intended only for the most horrible of offenders. His Holy Name was mocked and ridiculed. And yet, He willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice for the very ones who sought to do Him harm. Behind His sacrifice was God’s love for man, the Savior’s love for the Father, and heaven’s love for lost humanity. Our Lord’s death may seem a paradox to those who do not appreciate things spiritual, but for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, heaven’s gate is opened into Paradise. How can anyone look at our Lord on the cross and not be deeply touched by His magnificence? I am grateful that Jesus could declare with His dying breath, “It is finished!”

Fort Morgan is located on the southern tip of Alabama, just across the bay from Mobile. On the wall of the museum located on the premises there is a bronze plaque containing the following words: “Soldiers of Fort Morgan, your country has given this trust of honor in your charge. Will you make them proud of you and fulfill their expectations? Then have the determined will and strong resolution that you will not be overcome; contemplate no possibility of failure, and with the blessings of God we will withstand the enemy to the last.” Those words were written by General R.L. Page of the Confederate Army. His words were immortalized on that plague because he encouraged his men to believe in the achievable, in spite of the odds that they were facing. I think Paul had the same mind set when he wrote that beautiful passage in Philippians 3:13-14: “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The late Bobby Duncan once commented: “If we make our faithfulness dependent on certain conditions then we are contemplating the possibility of failure.”  I enjoy watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, if only for the notable quotes that come from those three movies. One of my favorite was made by Aragorn as he and his men were about to engage the enemy: “Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” May God help each one of us to have the same mind and the same determination of will as that encouraged by General Page. “And having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).