When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar he said It is finished: and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.
IT IS FINISHED
April 1st 1988
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost”.
I want first to set these words in their context, and then say a little of what is implied by them, and finally to draw from those thoughts some personal application.
Whilst the Lord Jesus was hanging on the cross He spoke seven times. There is deep significance in every word that Jesus ever spoke but there is a very special significance to believers in the words that He spoke whilst He suffered on the cross.
1. His concern for others.
The first three of the Lord’s sayings show us the concern He had even on the cross for others. Luke 23.33,34: “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do”. Isaiah tells us that He would intercede for transgressors, (ch.53.12); He would intercede on the behalf of those who were wicked and sinful, “Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.” I am sure the emphasis must be on the words, “they know not what they do.” They do not know the enormity of the crime they are committing; they do not know the horrible and wicked act of which they are now guilty. They knew they had crucified a Man;
they knew they had nailed Him to the tree – that was perfectly evident to them and to everyone else; but as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians2.8 “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”. So theirs was sinful and wicked ignorance; it was ignorance in the face of the clearest proof, the perfect life the Lord had lived, the wonderful miracles He had performed, and His perfect innocence as He came to the cross. What they did know made them most awesomely guilty, but they did not fully know. They did not know what, in all its magnitude, they had done. So the Lord prays for them, “Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.” There is His concern for the wicked, for the transgressors.
2.The certain prospect of paradise.
In Luke 23.42-43, we read how one of those wicked men crucified beside Jesus was brought to repentance. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with
me in paradise.” This speaks of the certainty of the blessings of salvation, and none but the One who had all power in heaven and in earth could say such a thing as that.
3. The Lord’s compassion.
We see the Lord’s compassion in John 19.25-27, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then saith he to that disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home”. It is not surprising that John records this. Here the Lord was showing that now in Christ Himself two unrelated people had the most intimate of relationships, and also it is showing that John now carried a burden of responsibility in that relationship. A word, first, then of forgiveness and then of salvation and thirdly of tenderest affection. The Lord is deeply concerned for Mary’s welfare. It is amazing that the Lord, amidst all the agony of crucifixion, should have such deep, compassionate concern for those about Him, both His enemies and His closest friends; those who were alienated from Him like the malefactor, and those who had lived their lives wonderfully and meditatively as Mary had done right from the very beginning when she pondered those things about the Lord in her heart.
These three first statements of the Lord, form the first part of the context of the words of the text.
4. Forsaken of God.
We must remember now the way the Lord spoke about His own feelings in the next two statements. Matthew 27.46: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The history of the Church and the history of godly men from the Apostles’ day down to this has failed to fathom the mystery and the wonder of those words. One old Christian writer put it like this, “God forsaken of God.” We do just begin to understand why the Sin-Bearer had to feel that forsakenness – because “He was made sin” and must therefore feel the burden of that sin. He feels it in this experience of His forsakenness, the frown of His Father against the sin of the people with whom He is so wholly identified.
5. The Saviour’s thirst.
Here in John 19.28: “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith I thirst”. Of course you know why He had to say ‘I thirst.’ If you turn back to Psalm 69.19-21 “Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and say dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee. Reproach hath
broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave Me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” That is why He said, ‘I thirst’. Again it is His purpose to convey to those around Him and to believers right down from that day to this, some impression of the physical anguish and pain that He suffered, and the awful consequences of the spiritual anguish as it affected His own body in the Garden when He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground. These things are recorded, not that we might dwell somewhat crudely upon the physical aspects of our Saviour’s death, but to make us sensitive, to wound our spirits, to make us realize what He did have to bear. So He said ‘I thirst.’
6. It is finished.
Then there is a change! Before Jesus dismissed His Spirit there is a change in the way He spoke and in the content of what He says. Here we have the beginning of victory. He is now beginning to look beyond the griefs and sorrows, and in this verse that I have read as a text, He says “It is finished.”
7. Father, into thy hands …
In Luke 23.46 you have the final words of quiet assurance, we might almost say, words of deep contentment, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Shortly before, He said, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” But now He says, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
‘It is finished’ These words mark the turning point amidst those seven statements from the cross. After our Lord’s concern and consternation there came an awareness of His triumph, and He knew this before He was laid in the grave. He could say with amazing assurance, “It is finished.” And these were not words of helplessness and hopelessness. If we were dying, we might say ‘My life is over’, but there would be a kind of finality and hopelessness about that; it would be an expression of our utter weakness; we are helpless in its grasp, but not so here. In the Greek it is a single word, and the meaning of this one word in the original is deeply significant. It does not mean that His life is coming to an end, it signifies the thing to which many other events have been pointing. When people draw pictures they trace a line in the picture back to the horizon, and the point on the horizon is the way in which the eye will move, and when you read the Old Testament it is rather like hat. The Old Testament gives a wonderful panorama. When you
read it with the eye of faith, the believing eye, that eye will look to a point on the horizon, and at that point you will see a cross, and on that cross you will see the Saviour, and from the Saviour’s lips you will hear the word “Finished’.” All that is contained in that picture, every line drawn in that picture, moves toward that point and is expressed in this one single word, “Finished’.” It means that everything which had to be done is done; all is complete, nothing is left undone. Everything to which history had been pointing is accomplished.
In John 19.28 there is the same word – it is translated differently in our English translation, but here you read, “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished”. The word “accomplished” is the same as “It is finished”. The thought is well expressed in this word ‘accomplished.’ It is all that history has been pointing to, all the history of God’s own revelation. I am saying things that many of you know full well – you are convinced of the truth of them, but we do well to remember when we come to these annual occasions and to emphasize again the things that we know so well, so that we might feel in our hearts once more the wonder of what Christ has done; the wonder of this great, this tremendous truth, that in His Person, in His life, in His work, in His words, and now in His suffering on the tree the whole of history is being expressed and fulfilled, so it is said of Him that He knew “that all things were now accomplished”, and He gives expression to that knowledge in this precious declaration “It is finished”.
This does not mean that there was nothing more which the Lord was going to do. We know very well, and Scripture teaches very plainly, that the third day He rose again; that He was going to do. He was triumphing over death; that He would do. He would meet with His disciples, talk to them, instruct them, command them, commission them; that He was going to do. He would ascend into heaven’s glory; that He was going to do. He would take His rightful place and be crowned with glory. He was going to take His place of intercession as the Great High Priest of His people, entering into the Holy of Holies. ‘It is finished’ does not mean that all of our Saviour’s activity had come to an end, but it does mean that all the lines of God’s purposes were focussed upon this point, this very moment. You might think of the spokes in the wheel all pointing inward to the axle of the wheel. Now here you have the Saviour at the very centre of God’s purposes, whether they be purposes in the past or purposes in the future. The Lord well knew that there was much in the future that rested upon Him, even as He hung upon the cross. Looking, as it were, into the past; seeing all that had been spoken of Him in the past fulfilled in His own Person and suffering ;here, He also could look forward and see all that He was yet to do,
flowing from His suffering on the tree. So He could say in that sense, “It is accomplished.” There is no uncertainty about the future, after His suffering, after His being laid in the grave, after His conquest of death, and after His resurrection. There was a certainty about what would happen, and that certainty had much to do with the very things that He had been speaking of; the work that He had been doing upon the cross in bearing the sin of many in His own body.
I came across a paragraph in the writings of C. H. Spurgeon on this verse which impressed me very much and it has to do with the first thing I want to say about this finished work of the Lord Jesus. You see He came to fulfil all that had been represented in the Old Testament by what we call the types and shadows. Sometimes they were typical people; sometimes they were typical actions of typical people.
“He must be a Prophet like unto Moses and yet a champion like to Joshua; He must be an Aaron and a Melchisedec; He must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph, nay, He must not only be the Lamb that was slain and the Scapegoat that was not slain, the Turtledove that was dipped in blood, the Priest who slew the bird, but He must also be the Altar, the Tabernacle, the Mercy Seat, the Shewbread. There are prophecies so apparently contradictory that one would think they never could meet in one Man, such as these. “All Kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him,” and yet, “He is despised and rejected of men”. He must be a Man without spot or blemish but yet One upon whom the Lord doth cause to meet the iniquities of us all. He must be a glorious One, the Son of David, but yet a Root out of a dry ground.”
Much is written about the way in which the Lord has fulfilled those different forms of prophecy. These lines that meet at the point of the cross are drawn by men, by actions, by events in the Old Testament, in the experiences of Israel as a nation particularly, in the work of the priesthood, and especially in all the sacrifices. All this meets in the Person of Christ and only He has the right to say,”It is finished.” “It is accomplished.” “It is fulfilled.”
3. One sacrifice for sin for ever.
Then think particularly of the sacrifices, because here there is a special sense in which this word means “It is finished” in the way of being completed, never to be repeated. He is bringing an end to something which had existed for all those hundreds and hundreds of years. Hebrews is an epistle to which one would often turn, with these thoughts in mind, because it speaks very much of the Priesthood and of sacrifice. “And every priest standeth daily
ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices which can never take away sins” Hebrews 10.11. That is a deeply significant phrase, “which can never take away sins.” Why, then, did God command the priest to stand daily and to minister in this particular way, and to offer day after day the same sacrifices? Because the line drawn through all those sacrifices meets at the cross. That is why. “But this Man, this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (vv.12-14). He had offered the only sacrifice that was ever really made with the intention that sin should be put away. The other sacrifices represented what was necessary for the taking away of sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” They represented what was necessary, but this is the only sacrifice that has taken away sin, and He has offered that one, that one and only sacrifice. In that sense there is a finality about the sacrifice of Jesus. It ends a whole long period of history with one glorious accomplishment. Sin is dealt with finally, for ever dealt with, on the cross and in the suffering and by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and He knew it. Oh! blessed be God, He knew what He was doing. He knew what He had done. He knew the glorious extent of His accomplishment. “Knowing that all things were now accomplished He said “It is finished.” “It is finished.”
4. Perfect obedience.
If you were dying tonight you might say, ‘This is the end’, and there is hopelessness and weakness in that, but when Christ says ‘It is finished’ what He is saying is, “I came into the world for this very moment, for this very purpose I was born of a woman that I might die on the cross.” No wonder, then, looking back over His life He sees every event in His life from the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb, through the time of His birth, through the time of His childhood and youth and early manhood, through His short ministry, through the bitter opposition that He endured in that ministry, He looked back over all that, and He sees a life of perfection. In looking back over ours we see miserable failure and sin upon sin, but He could look back over His whole life and could inwardly with utter conviction say that He had done what the Father gave Him to do. He had obeyed His Father’s will in every detail, in every respect. There is a note of triumph, then, in this remarkable expression, “It is finished.” When we say anything we may be conscious of the many ways in which we have expressed things badly, or even put things wrongly. A preacher is very conscious of this, but there was never a single word out of place in the Saviour’s ministry, never a word in the wrong place, with the wrong emphasis,
never a single sentence that was misplaced in His sermons -Wondrous Man! Blessed Preacher! Now He says “It is finished” He has said everything apart from the one sentence that remains before
He dies, exactly at the moment when it should have been said, in exactly the way it was intended that it should be said. “It is finished.” That is why, as humble-minded believers, we place so high a value upon the precious work and ministry of our Saviour.
Obedience, then, is complete. It has always been a wonder to me whenever I have thought over these things seriously, that the One ,who is the Sovereign Lord and the Sovereign Law-giver, that He should come, come within the nation of Israel which was peculiarly under the law, a nation of children under a child-guide, peculiarly elected out from the nations of the world by God to be under the tuition of the law, and there He is born an Israelite according to the flesh, the Law-giver stooping to come beneath the requirements of his own holy law. “When the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the law.” (Gal. 4.4). Then the Apostle goes on to explain this wonderful thing that the law-giver should stoop to come beneath the requirements of His own holy law, “to redeem them that were under the law.” They had broken the law they were under the condemnation of the law. The requirements of the law were beyond every one of them. “There is none righteous, no not one”; and Jesus knew that, and of each one of those He had eternally loved, it is true, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and so He must come and subject Himself willingly to the requirements of the law. That is one reason why He was circumcised as a child, because He was made under the law and
because He was part of a nation that was under that specific law, the law of circumcision. That is why His mother made the offering of a poor person for her cleansing after the Saviour’s birth because here is the One who, both in His Person and through those around Him, would keep the law; He would encourage those about Him to keep the law. He has come, then, “to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.” In Romans 10.4 the Apostle says “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth”. There is a very strong connection between the words “the end” and the Lord’s words from the cross “It is finished” – the same word originally. Christ is the end of the law. He is the One to whom the law was directing the sinner. We often think of the law as being a matter of condemnation and curse. It is, because it is God’s holy law and we are unholy, but there is also this in the law that it is another of these lines drawn through Old testament history toward the cross and you cannot begin to understand the cross if you know nothing of the holiness and justice of God. Well, here it is, Christ is the end, the point to which the law
was directing attention. The end of the law in this sense that all that the law requires is fulfilled in Christ’s life, and now in His death. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” Every one of those believers is in himself unrighteous, and it is in the Saviour’s law-keeping, in His perfect obedience, in His constant righteousness that they are to see their righteousness. “He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness.”
5. The wages of sin.
Then there is another aspect. The broken law makes requirements, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”, so the death of the cross is “the end of the law”. The great point to which the law directs our attention is the death of the sinner, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” That is the point to which the law is directing our attention. It is there on the cross that you have to see the One made sin, dying for sinners, “the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God”. So, in the Saviour, John the Baptist’s words are blessedly fulfilled, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
6. Satan vanquished.
This was the end of the conflict between Jesus and Satan. I believe it was, and it had been, a prolonged and a most bitter conflict. You read in the Book of Revelation how when the man child was about to be brought into the world that vile, evil beast was there ready to devour the man child as soon as he was born. And the whole of the life of the Lord Jesus was like that, not just the forty days’ temptation in the wilderness but all the way through, more or less, to the end. But this is the end, the end of the battle with the powers of evil, and from that moment onwards they are finally and for ever conquered. It has rightly been said many times that Satan, though he is a bitter enemy and a fierce antagonist, is a defeated foe. He has been finally and for ever conquered, and we simply await the time when he will be finally cast down into the lake of fire. “It is finished”.
I want to come now to some concluding thoughts. What is the consequence of these truths in a personal way? What kind of application is it necessary for the preacher to make?
Firstly, to urge and exhort you to believe wholly and utterly and with all your heart upon the Saviour because He alone could say “It is finished.” The only escape from the condemnation of a holy God, the only escape from eternal punishment, the only escape from the misery and guilt of sin, the only escape from a guilty conscience, is in the One who said “It is finished.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
Secondly, never ever think to add anything to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Now I believe that is why many sensitive hearts are troubled, that is why many spiritually sensitive hearts lack assurance and confidence. It is why many stand, as it were, at the threshold of the Church. They know in a theoretical way that Jesus said “It is finished.” They would go along with what I have been saying tonight in a doctrinal way. Yes, they say, that is true, but it seems as though they cannot yet see that in those words which Jesus spoke there is a complete and perfect work accomplished, and they are trying to add a little of this, a little of that, a little of their own feeling, a little of their own doing. But that is not the way! Jesus did not say ‘It is finished when this or that happens in the life of this or that believer.’ He just said once and for ever, “It is finished.”
Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands
Do you really believe that, or are you still trying to work out a righteousness by your own effort? Never think to add anything to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.
That was why that hymnwriter had such a sense of assurance and confidence. He saw that Christ his Saviour, his Lord, had done all. A\ comfort and assurance in spiritual matters has to be derived from this certain and blessed truth that the atoning work of Jesus Christ is finished. We never will be required to add anything to it, not a long life, not a long Christian life, not a long life of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not one aspect of that life is to be added to the finished work of Jesus Christ as the ground of our salvation and acceptance before God, not a single part of it! It is essential that we see the distinction between justification and sanctification. They are not the same thing – there is a distinction, but they are for ever linked together. We are not taken into heaven upon the basis of our obedience, but upon the basis of the Saviour’s obedience, and those who enter heaven enter as those who are sanctified by the Spirit of God.
Thirdly. If you know this is true, then what you know to be true is lot to be denied. It is not something of which you are ever to be ashamed.
Ashamed of Jesus! that dear friend
On whom my hopes of heaven depend!
No; when I blush be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
No, No. There is no reason to be ashamed. Some who have totally misunderstood the death of Christ upon the cross may think that Christians ought to be ashamed that their Leader should die such an ignominious death, numbered with the transgressors, rejected, outside the city wall. Those who really know the truth of the Saviour’s death and the significance of the Saviour’s words, “It is finished” have no reason for shame. There is no possible reason for you to blush or be ashamed of what the Lord has done. Rather, it is something to boast in, to glory in, as the Apostle did when he gloried in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ – no shame. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” says Paul to Timothy, “nor of me his prisoner.” You do not need to be ashamed of God’s people. Years ago I thought I would be ashamed to be known as one of them, but now, no shame! I am ashamed of my sin and of the sins of God’s people; that is something to be ashamed of;
but I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.
Fourthly and finally. Ever be thankful to God that Jesus could say at the end, “It is finished.” Find reason tonight to give thanks and praise to our Lord because of that wondrous and glorious declaration; that He could say “It is finished” and therefore with that authority of His Divine Person He could dismiss His spirit, commit His soul into the keeping of His Father’s hand, and give up the ghost. May God bless His Word to us and may we delight in that great truth. “It is finished.” Amen.