Paid in Full
October 18, 2009
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’” (John 19:30.)
Unfinished Business . . . The evidence is all around us.
-During a visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, I learned that the sculptor, a man named Gutzon Borglum, never finished his work. If you study the faces carefully, it’s clear that he spent more time on George Washington than he did on the other three presidents. That’s because he originally planned to extend the figures of each president down into the chest area. But he never lived long enough to see his dream through to completion. His son continued his work for a few months after his death, but he ran out of money. Millions of tourists have visited since then, but Mount Rushmore for all its grandeur remains an unfinished work of art.
-A well-known singer appears with the Boston Pops Orchestra at a great 4th of July celebration. The audience numbers in the tens of thousands. The closing number-a song I hadn’t heard it in 20 years- was “Let There be Peace on Earth.” The crowd held hands and swayed back and forth as she sang, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” It was a moving sight to see so many earnest voices singing what is essentially a prayer for peace. But just a flick of the channel showed how far we are from “the peace that was meant to be.” The screen transported us to some faraway land where tanks were blasting away and men were marching off to war. It was a solemn reminder that the quest for peace is just that–a quest and not a finished journey. With so much killing in the world, the singer’s voice was like a midsummer night’s dream. The search for lasting peace on earth is another bit of unfinished business.
-He was only 50 years old when he died. After years of difficulty, he was about to relaunch his career with a sold-out concert series in London called “This Is It.” For Michael Jackson, the future looked bright. Then came that strange, sad day when they rushed him to the hospital in full cardiac arrest, but the best medical care in the world couldn’t save him. Suddenly he was gone. No one plans to die at the age of 50. A worldwide audience of nearly one billion people watched his televised funeral service. Unfinished business? Plenty.
That may be our worst fear . . . that we will die before our time. But it happens all the time.
We die too young . . . .
Or we die too soon . . .
Or we die with our work unfinished . . .
Or we die with our dreams unfulfilled.
Living an Unfinished Life
We all know what it’s like, don’t we? All of us have unfinished things cluttering up the highway of life.
-the half-mowed lawn
-the half-read book
-the letter started but never sent
-the abandoned diet
-the degree we never finished
-the phone calls never returned
-the to-do list that never gets done
All of us have unfinished things cluttering up the highway of life.
But it can be much more serious than that.
-the abandoned child
-the job we quit in a fit of anger
-the wrecked marriage
-the bills never paid
-the promises never kept
All of us go through life leaving behind a trail of unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams. How few there are who can come to the end of life and say, “I finished exactly what I set out to do.”
A Dying Man’s Final Words
Only one person in history never left behind any unfinished business. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the only person who could come to the end of his life and say-with absolute and total truthfulness-“I have finished everything I set out to do.”
It is Friday in Jerusalem and a huge crowd has gathered at the place called Skull Hill. It was on the north side of the city, just outside the Damascus Gate, and located by the side of a well-traveled road. The Romans liked to hold their crucifixions in public places. Killing people in public had a salutary effect on the masses.
This particular crucifixion started at 9 a.m. For three hours everything proceeded normally. Then at exactly 12 noon, the sky went black. Not overcast, but pitch black, so black that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. For three hours darkness fell across the city of Jerusalem. There were screams, hideous cries, moans, and other unidentifiable sounds. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the darkness lifted, disappeared, vanished, and sanity returned to the earth. One glance at the middle cross made it clear that this man Jesus would not last much longer. He looked dead already. His body quivered uncontrollably, his chest heaving with every tortured breath. The soldiers knew from long experience that he wouldn’t make it to sundown.
For three hours darkness fell across the city of Jerusalem.
Then it happened. He shouted something-“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone in the crowd shouted back to him. Moments passed, death drew near, then a hoarse whisper, “I thirst.” The soldiers put some sour vinegar on a sponge and lifted it to his lips with a stalk of hyssop. He moistened his lips and took a deep breath. If you listened you could hear the death rattle in his throat. He had less than a minute to live.
Then he spoke again. It was a quick shout. Just one word. If you weren’t paying attention, you missed it in all the confusion. Then he breathed out another sentence. Then he was dead.
What was that shout? In Greek it is only one word . . . Tetelestai . . . “It is finished.”
Was, Is, And Always Will Be
Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It’s a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. It’s the word you would use when you finish sailing across the Pacific Ocean; it’s the word you would use when you graduate from college; it’s the word you would use when you pay off all your credit cards; it’s the word you use when you cross the finish line after running your first marathon. The word means more than just “I survived.” It means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”
Tetelestai is the Savior’s final cry of victory.
But there’s more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.” When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, and it is still finished in the present, and it will continue to be finished in the future.”
Note one other fact. He did not say, “I am finished,” for that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. Rather, he cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”
Tetelestai, then, is the Savior’s final cry of victory. When he died, he left no unfinished business behind. When he said, “It is finished,” he was speaking the truth.
What Was Finished?
As part of my research for this message, I looked at my commentary by Matthew Henry who lived and wrote over 300 years ago. Although many have surpassed him in details of exegesis, his work endures as one of the greatest devotional commentaries ever written. In his remarks on this saying of Jesus, he lists 8 things that were finished or completed when Jesus cried out “It is finished.”
1. The malice of his enemies was finished. By nailing him to the cross, they had done their worst. here was nothing more they could do to the Son of God.
2. The sufferings ordained by God were finished. Many times during his ministry, Jesus spoke of “the work” he was sent to do and of the “hour” of trouble that was coming. He once spoke of a “baptism” of suffering he must undergo. All those things were ordained by God. None of them happened by chance. Even the evil plans of the Jews fit somehow into God’s greater plan to save the world through the death of his Son (Acts 2:23). But those sufferings were now at an end.
3. All the Old Testament types and prophecies were fulfilled. Matthew Henry lists a number of examples-He had been given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21), he had been sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), his hands and feet had been pierced (Psalm 22:16), his garments had been divided (Psalm 22:18), and his side was pierced (Zechariah 12:10). There are many other prophesies surrounding his death. All those had been or very soon would be fulfilled.
“The Mosaic economy is dissolved, to make way for a better hope.”
4. The ceremonial law was abolished. As Romans 10:4 puts it, Christ is “the end of the law.” It finds its completion and fulfillment in him. Therefore, all the Old Testament rules concerning animal sacrifices are set aside. And the rules and regulations concerning the priesthood are out of date since the Greater Priest has now laid down his life for his people. Those laws pointed to the cross. But once Jesus died, they were no longer needed. “The Mosaic economy is dissolved, to make way for a better hope.”
5. The price of sin was paid in full. Do you remember the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus? He called him “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) That “taking away” of sin was accomplishment by the death of our Lord.
6. His physical sufferings were at an end. “The storm is over, the worst is past; all his pains and agonies are at an end, and he is just going to paradise, entering upon the joy set before him.”
7. His life was now finished. When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he had only a few seconds to live. All that he had come to do had been fully accomplished. “The Mosaic economy is dissolved, to make way for a better hope.”
Jesus’ life and his mission came to an end at the same moment.
8. The work of redemption was now complete. This is undoubtedly the major meaning. Matthew Henry expands on what Christ’s death accomplished in four statements, each one beginning with the letter F. The death of Christ provided a . . .
Full satisfaction for sin
Fatal blow to Satan
Fountain of grace opened that will flow forever
Foundation of peace laid that will last forever
The Back Narrows Inn
“Paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, you never have to pay for it again. In fact, “paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, it is foolish to try to pay for it again. That point came home to me when we visited some friends who lived in Norwood, Colorado. Whenever this family comes through Chicago, they stay with us. And several years earlier we had stayed with them in Colorado. They were delighted when they heard we were coming through their area again on our way back home from a trip to Arizona. The husband told us not to worry, they would be glad for us to stay with them. I assumed that we would be sleeping on sofas for the night, which was fine with us, but when I called him from southern Utah to let him know we would arrive in 3 or 4 hours, he said that he had a room for us at a local hotel called the Back Narrows Inn. I thought he was kidding. I didn’t think Norwood was big enough to have a hotel. But he was serious. “Our house isn’t big enough (they had moved since our last visit a few years earlier), so we’ll put you up in the hotel.” When I protested, he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve worked it out with the owner and I’ve already taken care of the bill.” That was that. We were staying at the hotel and he was paying. And nothing I could say would make the slightest difference.
“Paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, you never have to pay for it again.
We got to the Back Narrows Inn about 10 P.M. and found it to be a small, turn-of-the-century building that had been converted into a 15 or 20 room hotel. When we arrived, the owner greeted us, handed us our keys, and said, “Your friend has taken care of everything.” Indeed he had. We didn’t even have to formally check in. No credit cards, no filling out forms, no “How will you be paying for this, sir?” It wasn’t necessary because my friend had personally paid the price in full. All that was left to us was to enjoy our rooms, provided free of charge to us by virtue of a friend’s hospitality.
Now suppose that I had tried to pay the bill anyway. In the first place, I couldn’t do it because my friend had already paid it. In the second place, if I kept on trying it would be an insult to my friend, meaning that either I didn’t take him at his word or I wouldn’t accept his hospitality. If I insisted on paying for the rooms, I wouldn’t have stayed in the hotel at all. Either I stayed there courtesy of his kindness to me or I didn’t stay at all.
The same is true in the realm of personal salvation. Either you accept the fact that Jesus paid it all or you try to pay yourself. But who could ever pay for even one sin? How must does a sin cost? How could you ever pay the infinite cost? In the end your only choice is to trust that Jesus has indeed paid in full for your salvation or you reject what Christ did when he died on the cross. There is no third option.
How must does a sin cost?
Name Your Sin
So let me ask you a personal question. What sin is keeping you from God? Is it anger? Is it lust? Is it a hard heart of unbelief? Is it alcohol abuse? Is it an uncontrollable temper? Is it cheating? Is it stealing? Is it adultery? Is it abortion? Is it pride? Is it greed? Is it homosexuality? Is it racial prejudice? Is it a bitter spirit?
Let me tell you the best news you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter what “your” sin is. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.
All of your sins have been stamped by God with one word-Tetelestai-Paid in full.
Anger . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Arrogance . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Gossip . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Drunkenness . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Fornication . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Embezzlement . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Lying . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Disobedience . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Slothfulness . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Pride . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Murder . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Bribery . . . Tetelestai . . . Paid in Full
Those are just examples. Just fill in the blank with whatever sins plague your life. Then write over those sins the word tetelestai because through the blood of Jesus Christ the price for “your” sins has been Paid in Full.
Three Abiding Principles
1. Since Jesus Christ paid in full, the work of salvation is now complete. That is what “It is finished” means. The debt was paid, the work was accomplished, the sacrifice was completed. And since the verb is in the perfect tense, it means that when Jesus died, he died once for all time. The sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of every person who has ever lived-past, present or future.
It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.
And that explains what theologians mean when they talk about the “finished work” of Jesus Christ. That’s not just a slogan; it’s a profound spiritual truth. What Jesus accomplished in his death was so awesome, so total, so complete that it could never be repeated. Not even by Jesus himself. His work is “finished.” There is nothing more God could do to save the human race. There is no Plan B. Plan A (the death of Christ) was good enough.
2. Since Jesus Christ paid in full, all efforts to add anything to what Christ did on the cross are doomed to failure. This is a crucial point because sinners often think there is something they can do (or must do) in order to be forgiven by God. But the death of Christ proves the opposite. No degree of personal reformation (no matter how much you clean up your life), no baptism of any kind, no acts of bravery (not even on the battlefield), no deeds of kindness (no matter what the motivation), no religious activity of any kind can help the sinner take even the tiniest step toward heaven. Sin is forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ on the basis of his death on the cross. Since Christ has died for us, nothing we do (or have done or will do) makes the slightest difference in terms of our salvation, forgiveness, justification, and full acceptance by God. These are shocking words to some people because almost everyone secretly believes there is something we must “do” in order to be saved. But we can go so far as to say that nothing can be added to the value of the blood of Christ. Good resolve and sincere effort are noble things but they cannot forgive or help forgive our sin. That’s what “Paid in Full” really means.
If Jesus paid it all, you don’t have to.
Let me put it very simply. If Jesus paid it all, you don’t have to. If you try to pay for your salvation, it means you don’t think he paid it all. There is no middle ground between those two propositions. God is not trying to sell you salvation. He doesn’t offer salvation at half-price. And you can’t split the cost with him or pay for your sins on the installment plan. God is offering you salvation free of charge. That’s what Tetelestai means. Jesus paid in full so you wouldn’t have to pay anything.
3. Since Jesus Christ paid in full, the only thing you can do is accept it or reject it. In 1863 Charitie Bancroft wrote a hymn called Before the Throne of God Above. A few years ago the song became popular when it was joined with a haunting Celtic melody. Ponder the words of the second verse:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
I want to stand and cheer when I come to the final sentence of the second verse because that is my whole hope of heaven: “For God the Just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.”
So here is the gospel truth. Jesus died. God is satisfied. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant it. Will you believe it?
Questions to Consider
1. Consider your own dreams and goals. How much “unfinished business” is left in your life at this point? How confident are you that you will be able to finish everything by the time you die?
2. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” was that wishful thinking or a statement of fact? If the latter, how could he be so sure that his work was indeed finished and that he had completed all that he came to do?
3. Name some of the “Plan B” methods of salvation that people use to add to work of Christ on the cross. What happens when we add anything to the value of Christ’s death as a means of salvation?
4. Make a list of your sins on a sheet of paper. When you are finished, in big letters write over the list the words “Paid in Full.
5. Take a few minutes to read and meditate on Isaiah 53. What do you learn from this message about the meaning and purpose of Christ’s death?
6. How would you answer someone who says, “I don’t see how the death of one man 2000 years ago can pay for my sins, much less the sins of the whole world?”
Scriptures to Ponder
2 Corinthians 5:21
Pierced for Our Transgressions by Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach
3:16 by Max Lucado
The Cross of Christ by John Stott
In My Place Condemned He Stood by J. I. Packer
The Great Exchange by Jerry Bridges