The Word of Triumph
April 5, 2014 | Brian Bill
Over 15 years ago, when we lived in Mexico, I visited a town called Taxco on a Good Friday morning. I began my ascent up the cobblestone streets in search of the town plaza. When I finally got there, I saw hundreds of people who looked like they were waiting for something. Some were perched in trees, others were standing on park benches, and still others were looking out the windows of area buildings that lined the town square. I picked my spot and headed for the second floor balcony of a restaurant where I could take everything in while enjoying a good Mexican meal.
As I sat at my table overlooking the crowd below, a group of younger guys grabbed the table next to mine. I smiled at my fellow gringos and dug into my quesadilla, hoping they wouldn’t block my view of the plaza. They ordered pizza and beer and began telling raunchy jokes.
And then, as if on cue, the crowd below parted and I saw a man carrying a huge wooden beam. He walked slowly, and with great effort, as he struggled to keep his balance. Another man followed. He put his cross down, took out a whip and started beating his back. Bright red blood appeared on top of the lacerations he had from a previous whipping. I kept hoping he would stop because it looked so painful. But he didn’t. He kept thrashing himself until the whip had turned red and raw muscle was exposed on his lower back. When he fell to the stony street, tears ran down my face and splashed into my Diet Coke.
By now the guys at the table next to me had started to make fun of the procession below. In between their joking, they would look down, make a funny remark and go back to their pizza, oblivious to the pain and agony right in front of them. I wanted to say something to them but I was too choked up. Here I was, looking at a few men who were doing all they could to relate to the suffering Jesus went through and sitting right next to guys who couldn’t care less.
As I thought about this, it struck me that this is an accurate picture of the human race. Some of us are trying to do everything we can think of to get to heaven. We focus on trying to be good, or when that fails, we punish ourselves in the vain hope that God will accept our sacrifices. Others are just cruising through life, focused more on having a good time than on eternal realities. To people like this, life is just a party.
When I looked at the irreligious guys next to me and then gazed at the religious men down below, I swallowed hard because neither approach will get you to heaven. The only way to gain God’s favor and enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and eternal life is by entering into a relationship with Jesus.
It really comes down to whether the work Jesus did on the cross is complete or not. He either finished what He came to do or He didn’t. If He didn’t finish, then we have more to do. If He did finish, it’s all been done.
Turn to John 19:30: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’” Don’t miss the link between cry #5 and cry #6. Jesus was parched with thirst. The wine vinegar was put to His lips, which fulfilled Scripture. The liquid loosened his tongue so that it didn’t stick to the roof of his mouth, and hydrated His throat so He could utter these words, “It is finished.”
Notice that this verse is translated, “It is finished.” Jesus is not saying, “I’m finished” in a defeatist sort of way almost like He tried and just couldn’t do it. His death is not an accident. It’s not as if a great injustice was done. In fact, by His death justice was fully satisfied so that we can be declared righteous.
It Is Finished
Have you ever stopped to think about the words we use? According to www.yourdictionary.com, the top expressions for 2013 were “selfie” and “YOLO,” which stands for “You only live once.” What a picture of our culture of individualism and consumerism. It’s all about me, myself and I living any way I want because this life is all there is.
I’d like to submit to you that the greatest word ever spoken in all of history is the Greek word,“Tetelestai.” While it might not be very common in our culture today, it is profoundly powerful. In English this sixth shout contains three words: “It is finished.” In the original only one word is used: “Tetelestai!” And this one word is packed with power. It’s truly the greatest word ever uttered by the greatest man who ever lived! It terrified Hell and sent a thrill running through Heaven.
My aim is that as we unpack this shout of the Savior we will hear it in all its freshness and forcefulness. For those of you who like to go deep, you’re in for a treat because we’re going to dive into some rich doctrine. We’ll then move from the doctrinal to the devotional; from position to practice. Or to say it another way, we’ll start by asking, “What does it mean?” and then we’ll end with, “Why does it matter?”
Delicious Doctrine – What Does it Mean?
First of all, we learn from the other gospel accounts that “Tetelestai” was trumpeted in a loud voice. It wasn’t a whimper but the cry of a conqueror. It was a shout of victory, a word of triumph.
It’s also important to know that this verb is in the perfect tense. That’s significant because it refers to an action that has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It literally means, “It was finished and as a result it is forever done.” Or, “It was finished in the past, and it is still finished in the present, and it will continue to be finished in the future.” We could say it this way: “All has been done that needed to be done. Nothing more is needed.”
Literally it means, “A goal achieved; a consummation; to bring something to a successful end; to carry out a task to full completion.”
When Jesus shouted tetelestai, people in the first century would have immediately understood the meaning because the word was used in multiple contexts.
- A farmer would say this word to describe an animal so beautiful that it seemed to have no faults. He would look at his lamb and declare, Tetelestai!
- A priest would examine a sacrificial animal for blemishes and if it was perfect, he would shout out, Tetelestai! My mind runs to 1 Peter 1:18-19: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
- A carpenter, after finishing a perfect piece of furniture would smile and say, Tetelestai!
- An artist, admiring his finishing touch on a canvas that needed no correction or improvement, would step back and pronounce, Tetelestai!
- A servant would run to his master after faithfully finishing all the work assigned to him and report, Tetelestai!
- A son, after being sent on a mission by his father, would not return until he took care of every last detail. When he totally finished, he would smile and report to his dad, Tetelestai! I can’t help but think of John 4:34: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’”
- A prisoner was given a “certificate of debt” that was nailed to his cell door so everyone could see all of his crimes and the penalty that was assessed. When the prisoner served all his time, the indictment was taken down and the judge would write the word, Tetelestai! across the charges. The freed prisoner was then given this document so if anyone questioned him he could take it out and point to the word Tetelestai! He could rest in security and safety because his crimes had been paid in full. Check out Colossians 2:14 in the New Living Translation: “ He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”
- And, perhaps most importantly, this was a banking term. When someone had a debt and it was paid off, the creditor would write Tetelestai on the certificate of debt signifying that it was paid in full. Several years ago, archaelogists digging in Egypt uncovered the office of a “CPA” and discovered a stack of bills, with the Greek word Tetelestai inscribed across each one to show the debt was paid in full.
“Paid in full” means that once something is paid for, you never have to pay for it again
It is finished. There are no defects or slivers. The picture is perfect. The job has been performed exactly to the specifications. The prisoner is set free. The debt is fully forgiven. “Paid in full” means that once something is paid for, you never have to pay for it again. You’d be foolish to even try.
What Was Accomplished
Go back to verse 28 for a minute: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished…” This is the same word found in verse 30. It is finished because all has been completed. Let’s look at 4 things that were accomplished when Jesus shouted, “Tetelestai!”
1. His suffering was completed
Written over 500 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah 53:3 predicted that Jesus would face intense suffering during His entire life: “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Jesus was born to suffer. We learned a couple weeks ago that his physical sufferings were severe but they were nothing like what He experienced on the cross when He became the sin sacrifice. God the Father turned His back, and the sun stopped shining for three hours as the accumulated stench of the sins of the whole world were poured out on Him.
Now the cup has been drained. The awful storm of God’s wrath has been spent. The darkness has ended. The wages of sin have been paid and divine holiness has been satisfied. His suffering is complete. Tetelestai!
2. The sacrifice was fulfilled.
For hundreds of years, rivers of blood had flowed from the altar of God and yet the penalty for sin was never fully paid. The Book of Leviticus describes a rather complex system that involved offering different animals to be sacrificed. The priest would take the animal, kill it, drain the blood, and burn the carcass on the altar.
Leviticus 16 describes in stunning detail what took place on the annual Day of Atonement ceremony. The high priest would offer up two goats in sacrifice. One was killed and the blood was sprinkled beyond the veil on the atonement cover in the Holy of Holies. The priest placed his hand on the other goat and prayed over it, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto the innocent animal. It was then released outside the camp.
When Jesus died, He died as the final and perfect sacrifice. His blood opened the way into the Holy of Holies, vividly pictured when the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom as He took His final breath (Matthew 27:51).
He is also the scapegoat who was crucified “outside” the camp when He was killed on the outskirts of Jerusalem, taking the penalty of sinners who transfer their sins to Him. Leviticus 16:22 pictures what Jesus did on our behalf: “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place…” Jesus was in that “solitary place” when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Hebrews 13:12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.”
God demanded a bloody sacrifice as payment for sin. There is no way we can meet this requirement so He sent His Son to die in our place, shedding His blood, paying the price, and offering Himself as the final sacrifice for our sin. He is both priest and sacrifice. Hebrews 10:11-12: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” The work of Jesus is complete. He is seated, not standing because the price has been paid and the mission has been accomplished.
That means Judaism has reached its completion in Christ. He fulfilled it all and it’s therefore finished. That means that the mass is unnecessary because the sacrifice has already been accepted. I grew up saying these words, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all his church.” Shortly after I got saved I read the Book of Hebrews and it hit me that the sacrifice has already been accepted. It is finished! The sacrifice of the Savior is sufficient. Christ has completed everything. Tetelestai!
3. Satan was defeated.
While Satan still has some power, He is a vanquished foe. He may have thought the cross was his point of greatest victory, but it was anything but. John 12:31: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Hebrews 2:14: “…so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.” 1 John 3:8 makes it clear what Jesus did when He fully paid the price: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Satan was expecting Jesus to say, “I am finished” but what he got was different. Because “It is finished” Satan is finished!
The price has been paid. Satan is defeated. Tetelestai!
4. Salvation was secured.
Because everything has been done that needed to be done, we now have open access to God the Father. Theologians talk about the “finished work” of Jesus Christ to communicate a profound spiritual truth. There is nothing more that needs to be done. I love how Charles Spurgeon said it: “The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition; there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God.”
I’m reminded of the preacher who mixed up his words one Sunday by telling people he was going to “confound” the Scriptures when he meant that he was going to “expound,” or explain them. I sure hope I don’t end up confounding you, for as Howard Hendricks liked to say, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” I’m going to aim for clarity. You let me know how I do. When we put our faith in Him as our substitute, trusting His finished work on the cross as full payment for the wages of our sin, at least four things take place.
- Regeneration. We’re given new life and become a totally new person. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
- Justification. We’ve been declared righteous in spite of our sinfulness. Romans 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s righteousness has made a way for us to be right with Him. This is a legal term from the world of law. To justify means to “declare not guilty.” I’ve heard some people say that it means “Just-as-if-I-never-sinned.” That might be a clever way to remember the word but it falls short because it means much more than that. Wayne Grudem defines it this way: “An instantaneous legal act of God in which He thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us.” We are found not guilty but we are also declared righteous and as Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Your sin record is wiped away and you are credited with the perfect, eternally secure righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be justifed is to be declared positionally righteous, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s a fact even if you don’t feel it. Let’s ponder the deep meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
- Adoption. We’ve been brought into God’s family and we will never be cast out. Romans 8:15-16: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’”
- Sanctification. We’ve been set apart and are in the process of being changed. We’re unfinished projects, but Christ will complete His work in us. Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Since Jesus finished His work for us, He will finish His work in us!
Devotional Desserts – Why Does it Matter?
I want to conclude with some devotional desserts that come out of this delicious doctrine. This answers the question, “Why does it matter?”
1. Since Jesus paid it all, there is nothing more that needs to be done.
Salvation is not a do-it-yourself project or even a 50-50 arrangement, where you do your part and Jesus does His. Jesus has done it all so that you don’t have to. Some of you are trying to clean yourself up to make yourself more presentable to God. The bad news is that you can’t make enough changes in order to meet God’s requirements. Isaiah 64:6: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” The good news is you don’t have to because Jesus did it all for you.
Your acceptance is not based upon anything you do but on what has already been done for you
Can I speak bluntly? Stop performing! Your acceptance is not based upon anything you do but on what has already been done for you. These are shocking words because many of us secretly believe that there is something we must “do” in order to be saved. No amount of personal reformation, church attendance, baptism, or good works will get you any closer to God. Sin is only forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.
Let me put it in a math equation (I’m not very good at math so I borrowed this from Tullian Tchividjian):
JESUS + NOTHING = EVERYTHING!
Because Jesus cried, “It is finished,” your sin debt has been canceled. Since He paid it all, you don’t have to. One of the things I often hear when I invite someone to church is something like this: “I just need to clean up a few things…I’ve got to get my life straightened out first.” To which I always say, “You don’t have to clean yourself up before you come. Come as you are and He’ll clean you up.”
2. Everything has been done but salvation must be received in order for it to be activated in your life.
The debt has been paid in full but it will only be applied to the ledger sheet of your life if you ask for it to be done. John 1:12: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.” Believe that Jesus did it all and then receive the redemption that has been done for you.
3. If you’re saved, you’re eternally secure.
If you are genuinely converted, you can’t lose your salvation. That also means that you only need to ask the Savior to save you one time. J.D. Greear wrote a book recently with a provocative title that I initially didn’t care for. It’s called, “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.” But as I dove in I realized that his title makes a great point. Once you’re saved you are always saved and you don’t need to keep asking Him to save you.
I get in by His “done” and I stay in by His “done,” not by my “doing.” If I think I stay in by my doing, then I’m done…and that will be no fun.
4. Jesus’ work is finished, but ours is just beginning.
Once we receive Jesus Christ into our lives, we’re responsible to take the message of His completed work to all people. According to Acts 1:8 we’re to go with the “gospel of done” to those in our community, in our county, in our country, and to the continents: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In ordet to help equip us we’re offering our spiritual growth seminars again the Sunday after Easter. Check the insert in the bulletin to see if class 101, 201, 301 or 401 would be the best fit for you.
Jesus’ work is actually continuing, though now it’s done through us. Are you committed to the Great Commission? Who will you talk to this week about Jesus? Who can you invite to one of the Easter services?
Can you hear this cry from the cross? Tetelestai! It is finished! Is it loud enough to drown out your dullness or your doing? Will you continue to perform or will you settle for partying over pizza and beer? If you’re all about “try” more, listen to this “cry” more. He shouted it so you will get it. The divine demands have been met in the divine done! Are you ready to embrace the Gospel of Done?
A young man came up to a pastor one day and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The preacher replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s too late!” The man responded, “What? Are you kidding me? You mean there’s nothing I can do?” The preacher shook his head and said, “No…it’s too late. It’s already been DONE! The only thing you can DO is believe.”