THE FINISHED WORK
“I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” John 17.4.
The Lord is still pleading in reference to His Father’s covenant engagements with Him as Mediator. Already* we have considered the plea: “I have glorified thee on the earth.” Now let us consider His further plea: “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” How blessed to listen to those words!-truly it is everlasting life to know them; and peace that passeth all understanding to realize them.
See, He claims the Father’s recognition of the fact that He had fulfilled the salvation-work assigned to Him; and in consideration of which His Father had engaged to accept Him as the Representative and Saviour of His people: to “raise him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come”; there to invest Him with all power in heaven and in earth, to be administered on their behalf; there to put “all things under his feet, and give him to be head over all things to his church, which is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all”-in order that His people’s “faith and hope might be in God”; and that nothing, visible or invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, should be able to hinder Him in being “the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him”; or, in other words, receive Him, for to receive is to obey,-or, believe Him, for to believe is to obey,-and is therefore called “the obedience of faith.”
Now He declares, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” It was as good as done; He was about to be wounded for our transgressions . . . bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53.5) that the chastisement of our peace might be laid upon Him. One man’s disobedience had brought sin into the world, and death by sin; He, by one obedience unto death, was about to bring in everlasting righteousness, and the gift of eternal life through Himself, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
“I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” It was not only during His earthly ministry the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator, did work. He could say: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5.17). Every manifestation of God from the beginning was by Jesus Christ; every communication from God to man from the beginning was through Jesus Christ. From the time the promise was given in Eden-the Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head-His work began; and earlier than that, for in Proverbs 8.22-31 where undoubtedly Christ, “the wisdom of God,” is speaking, He says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth; when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” Our blessed Lord was the agent in creation, all things visible and invisible were made by Him; He was the pattern, the model after whose image and likeness Adam was created; and before Adam and Eve acknowledged their sin, or repented of their transgression, He was “the Lamb slain” for them “from the foundation of the world.” What was “the tree of life in the midst of the garden” but an emblem of Christ? What were the “coats of skin” with which God covered the nakedness of our first parents but early pictures of the righteousness of Christ, covering our nakedness at the cost of the life of Him who procured it? Whose voice was it that brought conviction of sin and promise of redemption to our first parents? It was the voice of Jesus.
If we go through the Old Testament history, we find Him in all the communications of God with men. What did that bow encircling the heavens signify-that pledge to Noah and his posterity that the deluge should no more cover the earth? It was a picture of Christ! What was the ark that saved them? A picture of Christ! Then came that grand ceremonial law, which from the beginning to the end told of Christ. What were all its sacrifices, but pictures of Christ?-its altars, its tabernacle, its temple, all told of Christ, till at length the Babe of Bethlehem was born.
What was His whole earthly life but one continued occupation about His Father’s business? Hear His first discourse in the synagogue of Galilee: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4.18,19). Every miracle He wrought was an illustration and pledge of the work He came to do; when He opened the blind eyes, unstopped the deaf ears, cast out devils and raised the dead, it was but a continued illustration of His great salvation-work. He was about to give sight to blind souls, and hearing to deaf souls; He was to cast out demons from possessed souls, to raise dead souls. All His miracles were pledges of His power to save. “Whether it is easier to
say … Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say. Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy), I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine
house”(Mark 2.9-ll). But now, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
Those blessed hands were about to be bound; the feet that went
about doing good were soon to be pierced; the brow, “fairer than the children of men,” was now to be crowned with thorns, the
emblem of earth’s curse: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake . . .thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee,” so the sentence ran; and men plaited a crown of thorns to crown the Saviour with. Having plaited a crown of thorns, wherewith in solemn mockery to crown the King, the King of kings and Lord of lords, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only true God, not satisfied with the infliction of the most excruciating physical suffering, men hurled reproach at Him in the hour of His agony, until the prophecy of Psalm 69.20, “Reproach hath broken mine heart,” was literally fulfilled. Little knew they what they did. The gentle heart, ever wont to pour forth love, was to break on Calvary; nothing remained but this. “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” He speaks of it as done; and it was as good as done. He speaks of
himself as one passed out of the world at this time: “And now I am no more in the world; but these are in the world, and I come to thee.” So completely was He laid upon the altar, His whole self was there. His whole heart, and thought, and soul were there.
Let me call your attention to four things-subjects for great and everlasting praise; sources of infinite and inexhaustible comfort.
1. A work given to Christ, and undertaken by Him for man’s redemption.
It was a prescribed work; a definite work; a complete work; there
was no uncertainty about it. “The work which thou gavest me to do.” We have a beautiful summary of this work in Daniel 9.24, the great prophecy of the Messiah: “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” This was the work given by the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ to do; and this was the work He now declares Himself to have finished. See the evil to be dealt with, in its threefold aspect,-“iniquity,””transgression,”and “sin”: evil, in the principle, in the character, and in the practice; sin, as a crime, as a debt, and as a disease; and all dealt with by the glorious Christ, and in this way He was “to finish the transgression.” How did He do that? By fulfilling the law. The law demanded one of two things-obedience; or, failing obedience, satisfaction. Christ met the law in both ways; He obeyed it to the uttermost, and He rendered infinite satisfaction on the behalf of those who had transgressed it. He finished the transgression-put it out of the way;
so that God can never look at any sinner standing before Him in Christ, as chargeable with a single transgression.
Again, He was “to make an end of sin.” What a wonderful expression! To seal it up. The original gives the same idea as that in Revelation 20.3 where Satan is shut up in prison, and a seal put upon him that he might do no further harm. Thus the Mediator was to deal with sin-to make an end of sin; to shut it up; to put it away; to abolish it; to take it out of God’s sight for evermore. How little we enter into the fulness of Christ’s great salvation!
Again, He was “to make reconciliation (to expiate, to make atonement) for iniquity”; to satisfy the justice of God; to meet and suffer the righteous sentence pronounced against iniquity. We know how He did this-by giving up Himself, “the Just for the unjust.” “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” What a wondrous incarnation of love and power Christ appears to the mind and heart of the believer, while we listen to Him uttering such words as these!
But He had to do more. He was “to bring in an everlasting righteousness.” Himself, the righteousness of God, He was to bring in-to our emptiness, to our poverty, to our ruin, to our death; nay, more: He was to bring in this everlasting righteousness, into the very heaven of heavens, for our benefit and in our behalf to bring it in meritoriously, actually, effectually, absolutely, and acceptably, a righteousness, from everlasting and to everlasting: “Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God [there is the everlasting righteousness] which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned” (Rom. 3.21-23). See also 2 Corinthians 5.21: “[God ]hath made him to be sin for us, [that is, in our place] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” He was “to bring in everlasting righteousness” for us.
Again, He was to “seal up the vision and prophecy”; that is, to consummate them, to ratify them, to fulfil them, to secure all their precious promises, and to preserve them for His people-as a seal protects and preserves. All that rich treasury of promise is to be obtained, fulfilled, secured, and laid up for His people; all that rich salvation He was pledged to accomplish and to apply; all those visions that patriarchs and righteous men desired to see, the Lord Jesus was to embody, to fulfil, to accomplish, to consummate. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”; and when He came. He fulfilled to the utmost all the conditions of all the promises; He became the substance of all the shadows, and He was the glory of all the visions.
Finally, and most glorious, “to anoint the most Holy.” I need not tell you there is an allusion here to the Holy of holies in the tabernacle and in the Temple; that Most Holy Place, the sanctuary of God, where His throne was between the wings of the cherubim, the mercy seat, Jehovah’s habitation; where He held intercourse with Israel; yes, where the high priest ministered, and the glory was
revealed. What a costly structure it was! what care was bestowed upon it! what a variety of materials it was composed of! The plan was God’s own; the materials were all appointed by him; the workmen inspired by Him; the pattern given by Him, how carefully it was covered with many coverings; how wondrously furnished and anointed! What was it a picture of? for it was but a picture, “a pattern” of something in the heavens. Compare two passages of God’s Word, and you will see what it meant. “Let them make me a
sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25.8). “I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people”(Lev.26.11,12).
The Holy of holies in the Tabernacle was that sanctuary. It accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings till it was superseded by the grander Temple, when they became dwellers in the land of promise. But still, whether in the Tabernacle or the Temple the Most Holy place was Jehovah’s immediate dwelling place. His throne was there. Compare 2 Corinthians 6.16: “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Most
Holy place in the Tabernacle and in the Temple was the picture of a great idea that lay very, very near to the heart of God. His purpose was also to build a home for Himself-an habitation for God-built not with such materials as suns, and stars, and skies, and worlds; but with living stones, even redeemed, rejoicing, loving hearts. He laid the foundation in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His only begotten Son. “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2.20-22). Yes; sinners believing on the Lord Jesus Christ are “living stones,” gathered out of the quarry of nature. They are cemented by the blood of Christ into this building, which, when it is complete, Jehovah Himself shall fill: inhabiting the praises of His people for evermore; revealing to heaven and earth, to angels and men, the sanctuary of God, where He will dwell forever, and rest in His love;
communing there with His outward creation; and making known by the church [to] “the principalities and powers in heavenly places . .. the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3.10). If the Most Holy place of old was glorious, what think you will be the glory of this sanctuary which the Lord Jesus Christ has anointed?-His home of grace and glory; the habitation of the Most High God; furnished with all His fulness; provided with all His graces, defended by His omnipotency;
adorned by all His attributes; a praise through all the universe; admired by all creation; a monument of what His love could do; of what His power could do; of what His Christ could do- to the praise and the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Well might the prophet say, “A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary” (Jer. 17.12).
2. “I have finished the work.”
So he pleaded; and whether looking backward upon the earth, where His work was over; or forward to the glory, where He was to “see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied,” He pleads with His Father, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” “The work given” by the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ is altogether finished; “the transgression” finished; the making an “end of sin” finished; the “making reconciliation for iniquity” finished; the bringing in the righteousness of God, the “everlasting righteousness,” finished; the “sealing up the vision and prophecy” finished; the Scripture is fulfilled, the foundation of the Most Holy is laid, and the topstone shall be Christ-and you and I, sinners, who believe, are the living stones of the building-redemption finished;
the types and the shadows finished; forgiveness sealed and finished;
the separation which sin had made between us and God, and between the members of Christ, finished; the distance annihilated;
and those “who were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
3. This was no light work
All the angels in heaven could not have accomplished it. Jehovah is represented in the prophecy of Isaiah as wondering that there was no man to accomplish it. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him” (Isa. 59.16).
It was no insufficient work; the Lord Jesus left nothing for us to do, nothing for angels to do, in order to the completion of that which He had undertaken to accomplish. “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” It was no disappointing work: it did not disappoint the Father; it did not disappoint the Son, or He would lot have pleaded, “I have finished it”; it did not disappoint the Holy Ghost; and it will not disappoint you. “For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10.11).
It was no uncertain work; some people seem to think and speak of it as if its completion depended upon whether they consented or not. Christ’s work was no uncertain work nor is it an unsatisfying work; try it; God tried it. “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28.16). Devils tried it in vain; judgment tried it; death itself tried it, but the grave could not hold Him; and many a guilty sinner has tried it. He that falls upon this Stone shall be broken, even though his may be a hard heart;
“but upon whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder.”
Lastly, it was no unnecessary work; without this work of Christ being undertaken and finished, no sinner could be saved; you cannot reach heaven by any other way; you cannot approach God in any other name. Talk not of your works, your prayers, your intentions, your charity. It is written, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). And now, the Father is satisfied; the Son is satisfied; and the Holy Ghost is satisfied. I ask you, in the presence of God, individually, are you satisfied with Christ as your “all in all” for acceptance with God? I tell you the issues of eternity hang upon your answer.
4. The whole mediatorial work and office of Christ.
This was appointed and provided for by the Father; thus He glorified Himself, and thus He glorified Christ: and through this work will He glorify whosoever believes and claims this finished work of Christ as the Father’s gift and pledge for the salvation of lost sinners. Observe how, by the person and work of Christ, Jehovah vindicated His wisdom in creating man.
(1) The life of Christ on earth has proved that sin is no necessity of our nature; here was a true Man without sin:
(2) The life of Christ proved that sin is no consequence of the circumstances in which we are placed; Christ was “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin”; such is the record concerning Him:
(3) By the Lord Jesus Christ’s life and work our God has vindicated His goodness in eternally punishing those who sin against Him; for He has provided and proclaimed such a salvation as “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.” Consider what an aggravation of sin is the rejection of the gift, the neglect of that Christ, the refusal of that salvation! And yet how many of the sons and daughters of men live in the practical neglect and rejection of Christ. Was there ever such a message as He brings? Was there ever such a salvation accomplished as that He has finished! Were there ever terms so easy as, Believe and live! Were there ever such cogent motives-“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”:
(4) Through the work of Christ, God has proved that He can be just while He is “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
(5) And thus, too, God has vindicated His righteousness in raising poor sinners from the dunghill, and putting them at His own right hand in the heavenly places. What doth not union with the Son of God entitle me to, and qualify me for!-and if I myself, my happiness and my glory, are to be the reward of “the travail of his soul,” what crowns too bright, what kingdoms too glorious, what majesty too divine to be bestowed upon me as the reward of what Christ did and suffered for me! Look at God’s commended love to you in Christ Jesus; come to the marriage feast He has prepared for you in Christ Jesus; listen to His appeal to you, for while Christ pleads with His Father-“I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do”-the Father Himself by those very words appeals to you; for “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4.10). O wondrous love of God in Christ, following us evermore through evil report and good report, and resting forever where it delights to dwell!
Like some bright river that from fall to fall
Through many a maze descending-bright through all,
Finds some low valley where, each labyrinth passed,
In one broad lake of light it rests at last.
Taken from, Our Lord prays for His Own; Thoughts on John 17. Chapter 6.
*See Gospel Tidings Vol. 13 No.7. p.277.