When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
Today is Good Friday, both the nadir and zenith of events in our Lord’s passion. It is beyond our mortal categories and capacities to adequately, much less fully, comprehend all that happened on that Jerusalem hill “without a city wall.” Yet we notice that Jesus’ sixth “word” from the cross is a curious thing: “It is finished.”
One might well have expected him to say, “I am finished.” At that point of complete exhaustion, of excruciating pain, of apparent failure and humiliation, no one has ever had more reason to cry out, “Enough! I’m spent! I’m undone! I’m finished!”
But at that focal point of history, the Son of God and Savior of the world focused not on his mortal predicament, but on his immortal purpose, the work to which he had been called, the work he had been sent to do, the work culminating on that fulcrum of salvation we call Calvary. Held in the balance there, offered in the exchange there, was his life for ours.
The larger Biblical witness emphasizes that Jesus had a real sense of his identity. In whatever way was necessary, he knew who he was.
As a 12 year old boy, he astonished learned religious leaders in the Temple with his wisdom and depth of insight, and he admonished Mary and Joseph who had anxiously hurried back to Jerusalem after they had discovered he was missing:
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
As a young man in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he flatly declared that Old Testament prophecy pointed directly at him, as he read to them from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Everyone knew what he was saying. Their eyes were fixed on him, as he sat down and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
When an outcast Samaritan woman at a well bantered with him about religion, and said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us,” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking to you.” (John 4:25-26)
When his disciples said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” Jesus responded, “Have I been with you all this time, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9)
Before the Jewish Sanhedrin the night before his crucifixion, when the high priest demanded an answer, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)
The Biblical witness also emphasizes that Jesus had a real sense of his calling. In whatever way was necessary, he knew what he had been sent to do.
As he taught his disciples, he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)
While he was for the last time on his way to Jerusalem, he drew his disciples aside and said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.” (Matthew 20:17-18)
And in prayer for his disciples before his betrayal, Jesus said, Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (John 17: 1-5)
It is with all this sense of identity, calling, authority, and destiny, amidst the agony of Golgotha, that Jesus cries out “Tetelestai” – “It is finished.”
Christ’s saving, redeeming, justifying, reconciling, sacrificial work of love was accomplished. In that moment the grace and mercy and love of God was dealing with the holiness, righteousness and sovereign justice of God on our behalf.
God the Father’s strong arm of forbearance, like a great dam which had contained and restrained the force of all human sin, lifted, and the weight of that sin came upon God the Son, who alone was worthy and able to suffer its effect.
This is the work that Jesus had been sent to do. This is the work that Jesus alone could do. This is the work of which the New Testament book of Hebrews speaks: When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
None of us can know all that occurred in that work. None of us can know all that transpired in that historical moment within the eternal Holy Trinity. What we can know is what happened for us in the process. We are forgiven. We are reconciled to God. We are made children of God. We receive abundant and eternal life.
Christ’s saving work for us is done. It is finished.
There is a green hill far away, without a city wall,
And there our Lord was crucified; he drank the bitter gall.
We may not know, we cannot tell what pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiv’n, he died to make us free,
Forever free from sin and guilt to live eternally.
How dearly, dearly has he loved! How can we e’er repay?
Our very lives are far too small to match the price he paid on that green hill far away.