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Lenten Series - The Seven Last Words

It Is Finished

John 19:30

It Is Finished! With an exclamation point after the word, finished. What does that phrase, “it is finished” mean? Does it mean, over and done with? Does it mean, it is accomplished? What does the phrase, “it is finished,” mean? 

The text for tonight is from John 19:30.

It is finished. These words can mean, “ Over with. It is over and done with.”  Think of a frown, think of a feeling of depression and deep blue sadness.

During our lifetime, we all have experiences with “It is finished. It is over and done with.” For example, when I was a boy up, I would fall in love with little girls and then be dumped.  Sally Rogentine in fifth grade dumped me for the first time as a little boy and said  it was finished, all over, done with. Then, in ninth grade, I had a crush on Adelma Garber and that “like affair” was soon over, finished, over and done with. She dumped me. We were sad for a time. In my senior year of high school, it was with Lorna Finkelbaum, who dumped me, right after graduation from high school, it was finished, over and done with, all over. So we know what “It is finished can mean.” It can be over and done with.

The same thing can happen with a job. We receive our pink slip from Boeing and we know that we are to be fired, laid off, out of the job, dumped. The job is now finished, all over, over and done with.

Sometimes the phrase can be used to describe a ball game. My basketball team lost in the NCAA tournament. The ride is finished, over and done, but it was great while it lasted, but it is now finished, over and done with.

Sometimes the phrase can be used with a hobby. The ski season is over; it is finished, over and done with, and it is time to put away the skiis until next season. Or, the boating season is over and done with; it is finished, all over, and it is time to put away the boat until next season. Or the fishing rod. Or the hunting rifles. Or the hiking boots. Or the gardening tools. Or whatever the hobby may be for its particular season: it is over and done with, finished.

An elderly gentleman, perhaps your father, gets deathly sick and dies before you get to the hospital. You walk in the room and someone says, “It is all over. It is finished. Dad died.”

It can happen when a husband and wife aren’t get along that well and the love between them gradually dies. Either the husband or the wife will say to the other, “It is over, done with, finished. We have to get a divorce.”

And so in all of these everyday situations, “it is finished” means over and done with.

It is finished, meaning, over and done with, is also associated with the Bible. These words, it is finished, is associated with the end of the life of Christ and those words mean, “over and one with.” Let me give you three examples.

The Romans finished Jesus off and killed one more revolutionary. The Roman Empire was the most powerful political force on earth for three hundred years. It was in 63 BC that the Roman Empire can be the “superpower” of its particular century, and Pompei was the ruler. The Roman Empire built arches and aqueducts, armies and armadas, and they ruled ruthlessly, stomping out all opposition. Throughout the conquered nations, there were always counter-revolutionaries for the Romans to extinguish. There were political fires to be put out. In the year 6 AD, in Galilee, the Romans killed 2,000 revolutionaries. Two decades after Jesus died, the Romans eliminated another 3,000 revolutionaries. And Jesus, he was one more revolutionary to be eliminated from the face of the earth. The Romans killed Jesus and finished Jesus and finished the Jesus movement. As far as the Romans were concerned, it was all over. Finished and done with.

The Jewish leaders also thought it was finished, all over, over and done with. The Jewish leaders assumed that Jesus was dead and the Jesus movement was dead. The Jewish leaders had agitated the crowd into a riot, had falsely accused Jesus, and gotten the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, to condemn Jesus by execution. Jesus had attacked their temple, their sacrifices, their places of privileged authority. It was now finished. The job was done. Jesus and the Jesus movement were dead. It was finished.

The disciples thought Jesus and the Jesus movement was finished, over and done with. Their leader had been killed on a cross, and now they would grieve and go back to their occupations and jobs: fishermen, tax collectors, or whatever.

So “it is finished” mean that the Roman leaders, the Jewish leaders and the disciples thought Jesus was finished, over and done with.

But,  “It is finished” can also mean, It is accomplished. It is accomplished, fulfilled, completed. Then one puts an exclamation point after the phrase. It is accomplished. The job is done. The work is complete. This calls for a victory celebration, high fiving all the people around. And then, the mood of the phrase is quite different than we have been talking about in the first part of the sermon with the pessimism of “it is over and done with.”

Let me give you some examples. The best painter of the world is standing back from the canvas, admiring the work that he has just finished, the Mona Lisa, the most famous portrait of all painting of all history. It is exquisite. The artist, Rembrandt, steps back from the canvas, looks at his work, puts down his paint brush for the last time and says, “It is finished! It is perfect. The job is done. There is nothing I can do to improve it. This is as perfect a painting as I can make. It is finished!, he exclaims inside.”

A second example. The artist, Michelangelo, stands back from his stone sculpture, the marble figure of young King David, and looks at his marble statue with is brilliant eye for detail. There is nothing more that he can do. He puts his mallet down, his chisels, his fine polishing stone and says, “It is done. The work is done. It is finished. I have finished it. There is nothing more I can do.” And the mood of the phrase, it is finished, is triumphant, an exclamation of satisfaction.

A third example.  An expert finisher of wood is finishing his product. A finely made desk that he has made. This artist in wood is an expert, and he has crafted a polished desk, made of the finest oak, that you have ever seen. After the building, the sanding, the smoothing, the numerous coats of varnish, desk glistens like a jewel. The artist stands back, admires the work he has done, puts down his finishing tools, and says, “It is finished. It is accomplished. I had the design in my mind and after all these weeks and months, I now have finished it. How grand. It is grand piece of furniture. There is nothing more that I can do to make it better.”

We also have other examples from our own simple and plain lives, when we say, It is finished, but the mood is positive and triumphant. A student graduates from high school or college and says after the ceremony: “I finished. I got the degree.” And Grandpa or Grandma says,  “Great accomplishment. You have much to be proud of.” Or, you plan a big wedding and the wedding is pulled off, and when everyone is gone and the mother and father fall into the sofa in exhaustion, they high five and say, “It is finished. We pulled it off. What a great party we had.” Or when you finally finish your taxes and have filled in all the numbers and have added your signature, you say to yourself, “It is finished. I accomplished the job. I got the taxes done.” So the mood of the statement, It is finished, can be exclamatory and victorious.

It is with this mood of victory and exclamation that we hear these words from the lips of Jesus, “It is finished!!!” His final words on earth, according to the Gospel of John, are not: “O shucks. It is over. Over and done with.  Close the book on that.” No, not at all. The mood is just the opposite. When Jesus said, It is finished, the Greek words mean, “It is accomplished!!! I have done the job that God gave me to do. Yes, it is accomplished. God’s will has been accomplished in my life.”

Let me give you three examples of “it is accomplished” from the Bible. First, with God. God had the same feelings of accomplishment. That is, it was like God saying from heaven when Jesus died, “I did it. It is accomplished. I, God, made a perfect human being, unlike Adam, unlike Eve, who succumbed to temptations from within and without. In Jesus I, God, made a perfect human being who resisted temptations within and without and he was the most loving human being to grace this earth.” …  It would be like Rembrandt stepping back from the famous Mona Lisa and exclaiming, “It is perfect. There is nothing more that I can do to make it more perfect.” It is like Michelangelo, stepping back from the best sculpture in the world, of young David, saying, “It is perfect. There is nothing that I can do to improve on it.”  So likewise, when God stepped back and examined what he had done in Jesus, God said, “It is perfect. It is finished. It is accomplished. I wanted the world to have the perfect human being and now the world has the perfect human being in the person of Jesus. Jesus is perfect love in human form.” God said, “It is finished. There is nothing that I could have done to make it better.”

Second example: Jesus, as he died on the cross, also said the same thing, “It is accomplished.” This is a victorious and triumphant statement. Jesus was perfectly obedient to God throughout his whole life and even unto his death. Jesus personified love throughout his whole life; he personified love in his teachings; he personified love in his miracles. and at the end of his life, Jesus personified God’s love by dying on the cross that others might live. And so as Jesus died, he said triumphantly, It is finished. I accomplished what God gave me to do in this world. To be the loving person that God wanted me to be. …Earlier in John 17:4, Jesus said, “the way I glorify God is to accomplish the work that he gave me to do.”

Third example in the Scriptures of “it is accomplished.” The Apostle Paul, as he came to the close of his life, wrote similar words in II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” So as Paul came to the end of his life, these were his feelings: that he had fought the good fight of life, that he had finished the race that God had placed before him; that he had kept the faith.” So Paul was feeling victorious about his life, not that his life was perfect but that he had done God’s will in his life. Paul knew it; he knew that he had been faithful unto death. But never perfect nor without sin.  Paul had finished the race that God gave him to run, and God wants you and me to finish the race that God has given us to run, to do the work that God has given us to do while we are here on earth.

God wants us to feel that way about our lives, “It is accomplished. I have accomplished what God has given me to do. Not me, but Christ who lives in me. God’s plan and purpose for my life have been accomplished.  God has used the minutes, hours, days, months and years that have been entrusted to me and God’s will and purpose have been done in my life.” This is not bragging or comparing oneself to another or a symptom of pride. It is just a fact of life. That is the way that God wants us to feel about ourselves as we come to the end of our lives, whether that is young or old in years. That we can say like the Apostle Paul said about his life; I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” God wants us to feel that way about our lives as well.

Let me give you some concrete specific examples of what I am talking about. These three examples are of an older person, a middle aged person, and young person who could all say, “It is finished!! It is accomplished. I  did the job that God gave me to do on this earth.”

Dale Linebarger is dying of cancer right now. He is a wonderful man, a loving husband and father and grandfather, a fine school teacher and then school principle. He has a devout Christian and Christian leader. Like all of us, he is not perfect or sinful. That is why Jesus came and died on the cross, to forgive us for all of our imperfections and sins. And so as Dale slowly comes to his last days and months of life, we say, “It is accomplished. To paraphrase John 17:4, Dale glorified God here on earth by accomplishing what God wanted him to do with his life: to be a loving family man, a loving teacher and administrator, a loving Christian and Christian leader. It can be said of Dale, with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That describes Dale Linebarger to a T. When I held his hand in the hospital yesterday, I could tell him so clearly that his life accomplished all that God wanted him to do and Dale nodded affirmatively.

Patti Arnold. She died of cancer, much too young. In her late thirties or young forties. I remember her as being part of the altar guild and coming into the fill the communion cups, wearing her soccer uniform, being ready for a women’s soccer game that day. Patti was a wonderful woman who died prematurely from a human point of view, but in her years given to her, she accomplished what God wanted her to be and do. It could be said of Patti: “She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith.” Her life was fulfilled, accomplished, victorious, even if she died too young.

Mike Bonovez, a young man who was a Luther Leaguer of mine in my first job out of college, dying in the Viet Nam War in 1966. When I am in Washington D.C, I always look his name up on the Viet Nam wall and remember fondly this fine young man from his Luther League days. His life was so very short, but God accomplished his plan and Mike fulfilled his life in twenty three short years, just as Jesus fulfilled God’s plan in a short thirty-three years.

And God wants you and me to have the same feelings about ourselves as we die. No matter how imperfect, no matter how sinful, no matter how many shortcomings we have, Jesus died to accomplish forgiveness for us. Knowing that, God wants us to feel the same way about our lives as our lives are ended: Well done, good and faithful servant. It is finished. God’s will has been accomplished through your life. You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. Henceforth, shall a crown of glory be laid up for you in heaven.”

In the gospel of John, written by a man who was an eyewitness, who was standing at the very foot of the cross, we hear Jesus’ last words and the spirit of those words was triumphant, a strong finale, when Jesus concluded his life by saying,  “It is accomplished!” Amen.