Friday, March 15, 2013

It Is Finished!

It Is Finished!
“My ear is still ringing from the muzzle blast...”

The sun was beating down relentlessly on the “iron sheets” that composed the roof of the church building that we were gathered in.  It was almost like being in an oven.  We were ministering to leaders in the Jinja District of Uganda - the birthplace of the River Nile which flows north to provide life for millions of people.  The climatic conditions were so intense that they are readily brought to my remembrance years later as I write these words.

The teaching I was sharing that day was on the avoidance of  religious deception - legalism.  This could best be described by this exhortation by Paul to the church in the Galatian region: “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”  Galatians 3:2 NLT 

Suddenly an illustration came to my mind that had occurred a few years before in a very different part of the world - the fall woods of Wirt County, West Virginia.  It was deer season and I was sitting on a stand twenty feet up in a tree.  In order to make things a little more challenging the instrument of harvest I had chosen for that day was a .44 magnum revolver with a four-inch barrel.  

As if in answer to my anticipation about midmorning several deer came in close but were behind me.  Turning to line up my sights on the nearest one I could not extend my arm fully which placed the gun very near to my face.  As the bullet hurtled toward the animal I was simultaneously assaulted by the force of the muzzle blast - so much so that I actually felt it on my face.  Not only that - the volume of the report was so violent that it has left a permanent impression on my left ear.  Even now as I stop to listen I can hear the ringing that is still reverberating many years later.

“That’s it!”

Transitioning back to that bright day in Uganda I thought, “That’s it!”  Of the seven last words of Christ on the cross the sixth is: “It is finished!”  Even though John’s account says that “he said” the parallel account in Matthew recounts “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice.”  As surely as the blast of that .44 magnum still rings in my ear, so must the unquenchable force of His exclamation ring in our spirit.  It will drown out and dispel the attempts of religiosity to add to His finished work: "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." Galatians 2:21

This was not a cry of desperation - certainly not of defeat. It is a cry of triumphal fulfillment - the birthing forth of a new age. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 1 Corinthians 15:57  “It is the Victor's cry.” C.I. Scofield writes.

Here is the complete verse along with Matthew’s remembrance: “Therefore 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  (Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;...)

     Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright comments on this passage: “ending with the shout of triumph (Greek: tetelestai, ‘it is accomplished’) corresponding to the completion of creation itself. Genesis 2:1-2 Where synteleo is used twice for the completion of the original creation on the sixth day before God rests on the seventh.”

The Thousand Years

The same word is used to indicate the imagery of the completion of the thousand years in Revelation 20:5, 7. It is the summing up of all things in Christ at the consummation of the age - for they were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). The Fathers of the Church saw in the number 1000 "the totality of the generations and the perfection of the life." Regarding the betrayal scene John recounts "Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one." This speaks immediately not only to the disciples but to those also who would believe because of their word.

The contemporary of the Wesleys Adam Clarke writes: It is finished - As if he had said: "I have executed the great designs of the Almighty - I have satisfied the demands of his justice - I have accomplished all that was written in the prophets, and suffered the utmost malice of my enemies; and now the way to the holy of holies is made manifest through my blood." An awful, yet a glorious finish. Through this tragical death God is reconciled to man, and the kingdom of heaven opened to every believing soul.

This is the beginning of the millennial reign of "the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8  For in biblical numerology 1,000 signifies "immensity" or "fullness of quantity." “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son.” Colossians 1:19 NET Bible

The Scottish Presbyterian David Brown observes: It is finished! and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost-What is finished? The Law is fulfilled as never before, nor since, in His "obedience unto death, even the death of the cross"; Messianic prophecy is accomplished; Redemption is completed; "He hath finished the transgression, and made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness, and sealed up the vision and prophecy, and anointed a holy of holies"; He has inaugurated the kingdom of God and given birth to a new world.

The Sixth Day

It is finished - the sixth of the seven last words of Christ - corresponds to the sixth day of creation as noted before.  “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31 This speaks of completion - the finished work.

Of the sixth day the Reformed theologian John Gill comments: and the evening and the morning were the sixth day; by that time all these works on this day were finished; the sun had gone round the earth, or the earth about that, for the space of twenty four hours, which completed the sixth day, within which term of time God had determined to finish all his works, as he did.

What the Father had accomplished in creation by the initiative of His Word had to be brought full cycle so that what was lost in the first Adam might be re-inaugurated in the Last Adam - the Living Word. Christ, by His utterance, announced the end to His suffering.  He also announced the beginning of the end of the suffering of all creation - the age of Resurrection. “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:22

From the American Presbyterian Albert Barnes: Cried again with a loud voice - He cried, "It is finished,"  It was in the height of his agony, probably attended with deep groaning, and uttered amid sorrows which were never else experienced in our world. It finished the work of atonement, made the way of salvation possible, rolled away the curse from guilty people, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all true believers.

The veil is rent!

Matthew records that at the moment He shouted out these words the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom.  This veil was no gossamer that yielded mildly to His authority.  It was a heavily woven curtain: “the thickness of the vail is an hand's breadth,” - as much as four inches. The force of His exclamation was such that the rocks were also split open.  

The great barrier between God and man of death was defeated.  “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:24  NIV

The prophet foretold the coming of this day. “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” Isaiah 53:10  NASB


Returning to that day in Uganda I said to them as well as myself and the members of our team, so shall it be - when the tempter’s voice comes with his fleshly allure to add to the finished work of Christ let us turn our attention to the ringing in our spirit of His final words” “It is finished!”  There is nothing left to be accomplished - He has done it all.

Once again to Paul’s letters: “I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me, and the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20  ISV This has been accomplished - completed - in, through and by Christ alone.  Any aid of human agency is preposterous - “I accepted Jesus, I invited Him into my heart, I have decided, etc.”  Please notice the prominent place of “I.”  If we believe it is about us rather than about Him, the seeds of defeat and discouragement have already been sown and the tares are pushing their way to the surface.

And from the great New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce: “Jesus’ cry ‘It is accomplished!’ (tetelestai, perfect passive of teleo) confirms the Evangelist’s preceding statements in verse 28 that he knew ‘that all things had now been accomplished.”

Two hymns - one from the 19th century and the other more recent express this truth so well.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
Edward Mote - 1834

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
Keith Getty and Stuart Townend - 2002

We turn again to the Apostle Paul for a consuming word on this subject. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”  Colossians 1:19-20 NASB

Yet the enormity of this subject is such that so much more has been said, could be said and will be said - but here we take a selah

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