Good Friday.18 “Finished” John 19:30
Wow—that’s a whole lot of Scripture there! What to preach on? Well, this one verse jumps out at me: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “Finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit.” and from that verse, just one word, “Finished”. It is just one word in Greek τετελεσται and you can supply the English words “it is” to finished, though they’re add ons, and in this context not helping, really, at all. Best, I think, to just leave it at “finished”—but in a very particular sense that was captured marvelously by the famous linguist and Raleigh native David Sedaris (known in some circles as a humorist). Sedaris recalled a German friend who struggled with English, though not nearly as much as Sedaris struggled with German. They were discussing a mutual friend. Sedaris asked if Josh were still smoking. His German friend replied: “Josh is, oh, how do you say it? He is finished with his smoking” which made it sound to Sedaris like Josh had a certain number of cigarettes that he had to work through, like 600,000, and finally(!) he’d crossed the line, completed the race, collected the prize… finished with his smoking!
That’s exactly the sense in which Jesus utters His final word from the cross, “Finished!” For, indeed: the Lord had set Himself a goal before He was born into our flesh in Bethlehem. He’d set this goal for Himself the moment our first parents ate the forbidden fruit, fell into sin, and lost life and salvation and connection with God. The goal was simple, though astonishing: to bear the sins of all the world, all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, for all time, all the idolatry, cursing, church-shunning, parent-hating, murdering, fornicating, stealing, lying, coveting—all the big and little wicked works that we’d all ever do—take every single one of those sins on Himself, bear them in His own Body to the tree on Golgotha and there destroy them along with His own Body. Finish them, once and for all…(!)
“Impossible!” You say. First, how can God become man and still be God and yet still be really and truly human like me? OK. I can’t explain it or get my head around it either, in the same way as I can’t touch McDonald’s hot coffee without being burned. But I can drink it all right, as C.S. Lewis wisely observed long ago. It’s a Mystery how God can become Man, true God, 100% equal with the Father and the Spirit and true Man like you and me in every respect, save without sin of His own. I can’t understand it. But I can swallow it whole, which is to say I can believe it just fine.
And how can the death even of the Man who is also fully and truly God do anything for my sin? How can He who is without sin become sin for all of us? Again, I can’t explain it or get my head around it. But the Scripture tells me it is so—that God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for all of us. So I believe it, just fine.
And I see it, I really do, in the 4 Gospels, Jesus went around hanging with sinners, touching them, eating, drinking with them, teaching them of Himself, promising them rest whenever we come to Him by taking up His cross as our very own. He literally took all our sins and diseases and hurts and pains into Himself. That’s how His healing went. And even those of us who did not see Him those three years, even us, He has visited, touched, taken on our burdens to redeem. The Bible says so, and I believe it, just fine.
He was, as Isaiah says: “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… and we esteemed Him stricken by God, smitten, afflicted. Yet He was wounded for our transgressions. Bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him. And by His stripes we are healed.” Yes, I hear that from Isaiah. And in the Gospels I see it all go down, way down, way, deep down. I see how much the Pharisees hated Him, how they tried to trick and bait and trap Him, and how He keeps slipping through their fingers until He lets them have their Way, their Day with Him. I see how the crowds loved Him when He was giving out free lunches, loaves and fish, and whipping up 180 gallons of the best wine you’ve ever tasted to keep the party going at the wedding at Cana. I see how He made the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak, the demoniacs clean, the rich poor and the poor rich. I see how they loved Him when He was doing that, (well maybe the rich not quite so much). I see how they hailed Him as King riding into Jerusalem that last Sunday on a “borrowed” donkey. “These are not the droids you’re looking for. You can let these pass…”
But I also see how, when He told them the truth, that yes, in fact, He really is a King. No, actually His Kingdom cannot be seen here, now, for it is not of this world. But yes, it is a real Kingdom. The only truly real Kingdom. Yes, He’s come so that where He is, you can be also. Yes, He can make more loaves and fish, but the real food you need to eat is His Body and Blood(!) because unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood you have no life in you. No, you can’t come to this Feast just as you are; because sinners cannot handle dinner with God. But yes, come anyway, because sharing My cross, losing your life for My sake and the Gospels, you’ll save it. Because yes, Mr. Thief, yes, I will remember you when I come into My Kingdom. Today, in fact you will be with Me in Paradise…
I see that when He tells them the truth, that without His dying for us, without His washing our feet, baptizing us into His Name, working His faith in us mysteriously, magically by Word and Sacraments, with no works of our own needed or helping, that we balk at this. We don’t like being beggars after all, charity cases. We are proud. We want to help. Surely there’s something we can do to pay You back Jesus, to make it square! And when He shakes His head and smiles and says “You’ll never get into the Kingdom that way. The front door is for the Son alone to walk through. Come around the back to the servant’s entrance though, and I’ll sneak you in.” I see how when we are too proud to beg, too smart to believe, too cocky to confess our total sin and unworthiness and His utterly free grace and mercy, I see how that makes us nail Him to the cross, give Him sour wine to drink, scorn and mocking for all His grace and mercy.
Yes, I see that quite clearly, actually. The Gospels make it plain; especially our Gospel for today! We are the vinedressers who saw the Son, the heir come to feast with us and say: “Let’s kill Him and the inheritance is ours!” I see that, weirdly(!), He saw that too, made it part of His plan. The last and most bitter of the 600,000 cigarettes He had to get through was this one, the one we lit, the nail you drove, the spear I stuck into His side, to make sure. Yeah, the last and most bitter blow “was the one that justice gave,” that the Law itself demanded.
And you know what Jesus says to all of that? Finished! “Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh… Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God, Thy pow’r and reign.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.