Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"It is finished." (John 19:30a)

Tonight Blakemore UMC will observe Good Friday with a worship service featuring the Seven Last Words of Jesus. Each of seven people will give a 5-7 minute homily on one of the words. I'll be speaking on the sixth word, "It is finished." It's challenging to speak about this verse in only seven minutes. It feels like I'm not finished. I suppose my message won't be finished until I acually preach tonight. Here is what I'm going to say:

“It Is Finished.”
John 19:30a

What does “it” mean? Is “it” Jesus’ life? Certainly these words from his lips mark the end of his life. But is his life finished? Well, because we read these words from a post-resurrection perspective, we know that his death on the cross is not the end of his life. His life is certainly far from finished. He is very much alive and well and active in this world. No. Jesus’ life is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ suffering? Certainly these words mark the end of his suffering on the cross. His death was real. His body and all of its systems ceased to function. His heart stopped beating. His breathing stopped. His brain shut down. The incredible pain he suffered on the cross was finished. But because the risen Jesus is very much alive, his suffering continues. He suffers with and for the world that he loves that is broken and inflicted by injustice, violence, disease, hunger, and greed. No. Jesus’ suffering is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ unjust death sentence? Certainly Jesus’ sentence was dutifully executed by the Roman soldiers, with the cooperation of the religious authorities. But as long as religious and government authorities believe it is right and just to take life, to kill in the name of God or of the state, Jesus’ death sentence is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ relationship with his disciples? Certainly on that terrible day his male disciples thought so. They all deserted him in his hour of greatest need. They fled and hid from the authorities they feared would do the same to them. The women were the disciples that stayed with Jesus to the end. They wept and prayed for him at the foot of they cross. They cared for his body and helped put it in the tomb. And they were the first witnesses to his resurrection. We know from the perspective of Easter that Jesus’ relationship with his disciples was not finished on the cross.
What does “it” mean? When Jesus said “It is finished” he told those present at Golgotha and us today that God’s work of salvation was accomplished. It is finished. There is nothing more to do.
Jesus’ proclamation from the cross of “It is finished” connected his work with God’s completing the work of creation described in Genesis 1:31-2:2

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

It’s important to understand that the Greek and Hebrew words translated in English as “finished” do not mean that creation and salvation are static or inactive. Rather they mean that creation and salvation are complete and dynamic processes that invite human participation. We also need to be reminded that both are accomplished by God alone. In other words we cannot create ourselves, nor can we save ourselves. Creation and salvation are God’s work and are pure gift.
The Apostle Paul describes salvation in Ephesians 2:8 where he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” And in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Salvation is pure gift. All we need to do to get it is to accept it and then to live it. That’s what Paul means by “faith” and “in Christ:” Salvation is a new way of life, lived with Christ and participating with him in his working of preparing this world for the coming reign of God.
Before we can accept this gift of life as it was meant to be lived in the world that God is restoring to wholeness we need to die to the old life ruled by sin and death. Jesus described salvation life in Matthew 11:4-5, “… the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
“It is finished.” What are you going to do about it? I’ll close with these words from Charles Wesley. You can find them at #346 in the Hymnal:

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Maker, asks you why.
God, who did your being give,
Made you himself, that you might live;
He the fatal cause demands,
Asks the work of his own hands.
Why, you thankless creatures, why
Will you cross his love, and die?


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