Gospel of John (19) — “It is Finished”

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            This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John.  In just a little bit, we’ll be in John chapter 19.

            But I want to begin by quoting a verse from 2 Corinthians, where Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

            As you well know, we are living in a world where people are obsessed with getting something new – a new phone, a new car, new clothes, a new hairstyle.

            But, after a while, you begin to wonder, how new can you actually get?   Because over time, everything that is new eventually becomes old and obsolete.  That new car you just bought became a used car the moment you drove it off the dealership lot.  And it won’t take long for that new car smell to disappear either.

            The same people who were so anxious to get a new iPhone 7 the moment it came out, only one year later, they considered that phone obsolete and were anxious to get rid of it so they could get the new iPhone 8.  And, of course, we all know it won’t be long before people will wonder how in the world it was possible for them to survive using such an obsolete piece of technology as an iPhone 8.

            With everything being marketed as “new and improved”, you begin to wonder just exactly how much can you really change?  How much can you really improve on?

            And, deep down, we know that what we really need today is not better gadgets, better education, better research or better technology.  None of that will give us an abundant, fulfilling life.  What we really need is a change of heart.

            God knows that.  And that’s why he wants to give us a new life.  Because only the one who made us – and has given us this life – is able to give us a new life.  There’s a beautiful statement in Revelation 21, where the one seated on the throne (God) says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

            When we came to Christ, the Bible says we took on a new life.  The old life is over, God makes all things new.  Jesus put it this wayhe told Nicodemus, “you must be born again.” (John 3:3).  It’s not just a remake of the old; it’s something brand new!  It’s not just an improvement of the old; it’s a new life.  God told the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

            But, before God could do any of that for us, something had to happen first.  Jesus had to die on the cross.  This morning, in our study of John, we come to the crucifixion.  If you’d like to follow along in your Bibles, we’ll be in John chapter 19, and our video will pick up at the very end of verse 16.

            VIDEO

            While Jesus was on the cross, the four gospel writers tell us seven things that he said:

  • Regarding those who crucified him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
  • To the thief who hung on the cross next to him, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 24:43)
  • To his mother and to the apostle John, Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son.  Son, behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
  • To his heavenly Father, Jesus prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
  • Toward the end of his life, Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
  • His final prayer was, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
  • And the final words Jesus spoke in our text this morning, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

            That word “finished” actually appears twice in our text.  In verse 28, we read, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28).

            And then, after he drank the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).  But what exactly is it that was finished?

            You may have heard several different explanations.  There are some who would say that Jesus had finished all of the work that he came to do.  He fulfilled every prophecy written about him.  And now it was time for him to die, trusting that God would fulfill the rest of the prophesies by resurrecting him from the dead.

            Or maybe you’ve heard it said that Jesus was talking about his painful, humiliating time on the cross.  It was finally finished. And Jesus was just grateful it was about to be over.

            Or maybe you’ve heard it said that when Jesus died, the debt for our sins was finished, or paid off.  I actually preached about this a couple of years ago and made mention of the specific Greek word that’s used here.

            It’s the word “tetelestai”.  Archaeologists have found tax receipts from the early centuries that have that word written across them – “tetelestai”, “paid in full”.  And if you’ve ever experienced the joy of paying off a car loan or your home mortgage or your college tuition, you know what a thrill it is when you finally write that last check and you can say, “It is paid in full”.  And so, perhaps Jesus spoke the word “tetelestai”, “It is finished” to mean, “It’s paid for, paid in full”.  There’s no more debt.  Our debt of sin is completely paid off.

            Now, I actually believe that there is truth in all three of those explanations.  I think it’s true that Jesus finished all the work that he came to do.  In John 17:4, he prayed to his Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

            And I also believe Jesus was thankful that the pain of the cross was almost finished.  And I most certainly believe that our debt of sin was canceled on the cross.  Paul wrote in Colossians 2:14 that Jesus “[canceled] the record of debt that stood against us…nailing it to the cross.”

            But I think the apostle John may have intended more than those three things when he recorded these words of Jesus, “It is finished.”  Because the more I study, the more impressed I am with how many parallels there are between the gospel of John and the story of creation in Genesis.  Let me show you what I mean.

            At the very beginning of the John’s gospel, this connection is obvious and, in fact, I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times in this series.  John starts out with the words, “In the beginning…” (John 1:1) which of course takes us back to the very beginning of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1.1).

            And the first thing that appeared in the world that God created was, of course, light.  “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).  And John also talks about light in the first few verses.  He says, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9).

            Genesis goes on to talk about God creating life – plant life, and then birds and fish, and then all the animals.  “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” (Genesis 1:24).  And the gospel of John is just filled with the life that Jesus brings.  The word “life” appears 43 times in the gospel of John.  For example, in John 6:33, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

            But, while the first few chapters of Genesis are focused on telling us about the creation of the world, John is more interested in telling us about the re-creation of the world.  Or, to put it another way, John is telling us about how God is re-creating things to be the way he meant for them to be to begin with.

            We read in Genesis chapter 2, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2).

            Creation was finished.  And it was very good.  And so, God rested.  But we know that it didn’t stay very good for very long.  Adam and Eve made the choice to sin, which brought shame and fear and violence into this world and, of course, death.  And before long, creation was not good.  It was not what God had intended.  God created this world as a place where he could have close communion with the people he created, but sin separated us from our God.

            And so, in order to restore that relationship, Jesus came into this world.  John 1:14 tells us that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”  The living Word who was with God, and who is God, became a human. The author of creation and life came to live among us.  And that was Jesus.  He came to rescue us, to redeem us, to reconcile us, and to restore God’s creation to what he intended for it to be.  Jesus came so that he could make it very good again.

            Some of the early church fathers, like Athanasius, had this theory that the creation wasn’t actually finished in Genesis.  God’s creation wasn’t truly finished until Jesus died on the cross.  And, at that point, it could be then said that “it is finished”. 

            It’s an interesting theory, but I don’t think it holds up.  Because, after six days of creation, we’re told that “God finished his work that he had done.”  But, I think what we can say, and maybe what the early church fathers meant, is that Jesus came into this world to re-create us, to bring us back to what God wanted us to be from the beginning.  And so, as he hung on the cross, Jesus said those same words that appear in Genesis, “It is finished.”

            And, in Genesis, after God said, “It is finished”, what did he do?  He rested.  On the Sabbath.  On the seventh day of week.   “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2).

            And immediately after Jesus said, “It is finished”, what did he do?  His body was laid in the tomb, and he rested.  On the Sabbath.  On the seventh day of the week.

            But, in this re-creation story, Jesus is actually playing two parts.  Because he is not only God, the one doing the creating; he’s also man.  And so, in this new creation story, Jesus plays both roles.  He is the God who has finished his re-creation.  But he is also the man.

            Look back to John chapter 19.  Last week we saw that after Pilate had Jesus beaten, after the soldiers mocked Jesus and hailed him as king of the Jews, Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd.  And then, Pilate said, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5).

            The Greek word that Pilate used there is anthropos.  What is significant about that word is that it doesn’t just mean “man” as in, “Here is a male person.”  It means “human being.”  Pilate was saying, “Behold the human being.”  Which is one of the last things that happened before Jesus said, “It is finished.”

            It’s also one of the last things that happened in Genesis before God said, “It is finished.”  When God created human beings in Genesis 1, the Greek Old Testament used the exact same word that Pilate used to describe Jesus:

            “Then God said, ‘Let us make man [anthropos] in our image, according to our likeness’… God created man [anthropos] in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

            So, just as God created man on the sixth day as the culmination of his creation, Pilate presents Jesus to the Jews as “the man”, the new Adam if you will.  It reminds us of what Paul described in I Corinthians 15, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit.” (I Corinthians 15:45)

            And in Genesis, after the creation was finished, what did God do with the first Adam?  He put him in the garden.  The garden of Eden.  “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Genesis 2:7).

            After Jesus said, “It is finished”, where was he placed?  The apostle John is the only gospel writer to tell us this, but it seems to be important to him, because he mentions it several times.  “Now in the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41).

            How fitting it is that Jesus was placed in a garden just like Adam and Eve were placed in a garden.  And then, after Jesus was raised from the dead, John tells us about a conversation that Jesus had with Mary Magdalene.

            In John chapter 20, Mary shows up at the tomb of Jesus and she finds it empty.  And she starts crying.  And when she turns around, Jesus is right there in front of her.  But she doesn’t recognize him because her eyes are filled with tears.  But it’s what John says at that point that I find so interesting.  In verse 15, John tells us that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. 

            Which seems so fitting because the man who was in the first garden, Adam, was also the gardener, the one God commanded to “work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15).

            So, what’s the point?   And I know that’s what some of you are thinking.  So what if there are some similarities between the gospel of John and the creation story in the beginning of Genesis?  It’s all very interesting and it makes for some trivia, but what’s the point?

            The point is this – I think John wanted us to see that through Jesus, God was beginning the work of creation anew.  At the crucifixion, God put the old creation to death.  A world that was controlled by sin and shame and fear and death was crucified along with Jesus, so that a new creation could burst forth.

            And when Jesus said, “It is finished”, I think that’s what was finished.  That’s the work that Jesus completed.

            And when Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was buried just in time for the Sabbath — the seventh day of the week.  And Jesus spent the seventh day resting in the grave.  Just as God rested on the seventh day.

            And when Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday morning, it was the first day of the week. The first day of a new creation.  A new creation blooming in this dead old world.

            Which is why Paul is able to say in 2 Corinthians 5, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5.17)

            When you belong to Jesus Christ, when you give your life to Jesus, when you trust Jesus and follow Jesus — when you’re in Christ — you are living in that new creation.  And John wanted to make sure we understood that.  He wanted us to know that the old things were finished at the cross, and a new creation is blooming.

            Which is why I think John told us that resurrection morning took place in a garden.  A garden that symbolizes the garden of Eden, at the very beginning.  And that’s why Jesus was raised on the first day of the week.  It was the first day of the new creation.

            So, when Jesus said, “It is finished”, what he meant by that was, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

            But someof you may be thinking — it doesn’t look like the world changed on the day Jesus died.  We’re still surrounded by sin and suffering and fear and shame.  Our world is still filled with violence.  Death and despair and decay are still disrupting God’s creation.

            Some of us know all this from our own personal experiences.  And we all see it every day in the headlines.  We hear it every night on the nightly news.

            Even though the scriptures tell you that a new creation has already dawned, your eyes and your ears and your broken heart tell you that it all seems to be the same as it ever was.  And I get that.  I have days when I feel that way, too.

            But maybe part of the problem is that you and I have been taught that God and Jesus and the cross are giving us something they were not really trying to give us.  Maybe you’ve been told that the point of all of this is to give you a system that forgives your sins and teaches you how to live a happy life until God whisks you away to heaven when you die.

            But I want you to know, that’s not what it’s all about.  God is inviting you into a story as old as creation itself.  A story of what God has been doing in and for the world from the beginning.  A story that finds its climax in the cross and resurrection of Christ. A story where it looks like sin and shame and death have won.  But God says, “No!  They do not win!  I am making all things new!”

            Because that’s what God is telling you and me and the whole world in Christ’s death and resurrection. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

            Have you ever seen a flower breaking up through a piece of pavement?  I think that’s what the crucifixion is like.  The crucifixion is the part of the story that tells you the world you see around you — this world that is messed up by sin and shame and fear and vandalized by death and decay — this world has already been finished by the cross.  This world is the pavement, and you are the flower blooming up through it.

            And so, yes, there’s still sin in this world.  And there’s fear and shame and death and decay. And, as long as you are in this world, you are going to experience all of those things.

            But the crucifixion changes everything because that’s the day God transformed all of that into dead pavement.  The pavement will resist you.  It will hurt you.  It will try to hold you down.  But you are that flower, nourished by the water and the blood that flowed from the side of Jesus.  He shares his own life with you now.  And God is making you grow up through that hard, dead pavement.

            So, when the pavement seems too hard, remember – “it is finished”.  That’s what Jesus said as he closed the chapter on that old world of sin and shame and fear and death.  Trusting that God would resurrect him on Sunday morning, to embark on the next chapter — the new creation.  And what I’m asking us to do — what God is asking us to do — is to believe that with all our hearts. And trust our lives to the story God is writing. 

            And as God pushes us up through the cold, dead pavement of the old world of sin and shame and fear and death, we need to remember this.  Near the beginning of his gospel, John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

            The crucifixion wasn’t very good to the people who lived through it.  When Jesus died, it looked like the darkness had swallowed up the light of the world.  But resurrection morning was just around the corner.  And the resurrection is what makes the crucifixion good.

            God has promised a resurrection for us and for all creation.  As we wait for that day, we often feel like the disciples must have felt on that Friday afternoon.  There are days when it looks like the darkness has extinguished the light.   There are days when it feels as though the pavement is too hard and we’ll never be able to grow up through it.

            When those days come, let us remind each other of what Jesus said, “It is finished.”  The pavement is already dead.  The darkness has not, will not, and cannot extinguish the light.  It is finished.  “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  It is finished.   God is making all things new, the way he meant for them to be in the very beginning.

            Brothers and sisters — It is finished.

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