We’ve all seen it, the last strikeout of the World Series and the mad rush from the dugout that follows; the final seconds ticked away in the Super Bowl or the March Madness tournament; the last bow at a special performance which is answered by echoing cheers. The training, the practice, the hopes, the dreams, the efforts of a long season: finished! “But,” you are saying, “you can’t compare that to the scene here, set on the hill of the skull under skies of divine darkness.” Of course, you’re right. Here, on a hill outside Jerusalem, is a scene more like when the Allies broke into concentration camps at the end of World War II and the skeleton-like survivors could scarcely believe it was over. This is more like earthquake victims or survivors of a mine collapse—traumatized, having been in the dark for days but now brought to the surface—in shock, blinded by the light, breaking down in tears upon their rescue. They had been pushed to the limits of human endurance—and now it’s finished.
Yet even those scenarios pale in comparison to the first Good Friday. Who can even begin to understand the torments of soul, the pains of hell that the Son of God endured? Who can even begin to comprehend what he went through as he was despised and rejected by man and forsaken by God his Father—to say nothing of the physical torment of crucifixion? Moreover, Jesus wasn’t alive by the end of Good Friday. No. When all was finished, “He bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” On the cross the Son of Man and the Son of God died; proved by the wounded side. Then they placed him in a tomb. “He began and ended his life in the same way—wrapped in cloths and laid in borrowed quarters.”
But just before he died, Jesus spoke three words of truth, perhaps the three most important words he ever spoke: “It is finished.” We don’t know if he shouted them out in a loud voice or forced them out between breaths; John, the only one to record them, was near enough to hear them. Yet whether spoken loudly or softly between gasps, these three words echoed throughout heaven and earth—and hell!—and continue to echo in this sin-wrecked world, giving eternal hope and comfort to all who hear and believe: “It is finished”! But what is finished? Everything done for us and our salvation. On the cross, we see the power of God doing what we, simply put, are unable to do.
The human mind (especially the minds of self-determining Americans) can’t wrap itself around this thought and the human mind doesn’t want to. We could spend this evening categorizing the sins of everyone “out there” as proof. Yet the greatest display of sin, the resistance to the will of God, isn’t confined to the dark alleys and the jails. Rather, it is found on your street; at your workplace; and in your home. It is engrained in us from little on and is contrary to how God works. “Perform well and you will be rewarded. Play hard and you can win. Study hard and you will get an A. Work hard and you will be paid.” But this thinking spits in God’s face by looking at the cross, God’s incredible sacrifice, and saying, “No thanks, God; I’ll pay my own way. No thanks, God; I’m a good person, and I’ll make it on my own.” Only when you work hard enough, be good enough, or perform for him will God ever love you back. Satan planted this garbage in the human heart when he led the world into sin. To the sinful mind it makes sense; in every other aspect of life, hard work and good deeds get rewards. Ironically, the sinful mind doesn’t understand the seriousness of sin. There is no quicker path to eternal death that takes you further from the glory of the Father than choosing to stand on your own goodness.
Here, on the cross, we see God’s way: the only way. As we say in the Nicene Creed: “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.” And there on the cross, it was finished: the suffering Jesus endured for the sins of the world: finished; the full payment, the complete punishment of your sins: finished; God does not—will not—punish you for your sins, since they have already been punished: finished; since God himself did it all, it was done fully and perfectly: finished; Satan cannot accuse you anymore: finished; your sins need not burden your conscience: finished; death no longer is a haunting fear: finished; hell has no power over you who put your faith in Jesus the crucified: finished.
And we know for certain it is finished because another gospel writer tells us that Jesus’ last words from the cross began with the word “Father.” God’s face was once again turned to his Son. The punishment was over; the sacrifice, accepted. Father and Son were again at peace. For you, dear friends in Christ, this also means that your punishment is over and that God is at peace with you. Through faith in his Son, you are clothed in Jesus’ holiness; you are a dear child, adopted into God’s own family through Baptism. He turns his face toward you now and gives you peace.
And because of this cross and these three words of truth, on that day when each of us finishes our earthly journey, we can gently bow our heads too—as Jesus did on the cross, as if going to sleep—and commend our spirits into our Father’s hands. Life isn’t finished then—but just beginning. For this God of all power and love will take us, call us by name, and bring us into his eternal joy. Amen.