This is the most exciting of the words of Jesus from the cross. Other words and cries we value so highly as precious and important from our Lord and Saviour and each in their own way cause us to look within our own hearts at our own relationship with our heavenly father. However this cry of Jesus –tetelestai is a declaration of joy, a statement of reality that no-one can deny. God has fulfilled in Jesus Christ His plan of redemption prepared before the creation of the world, but now executed in time with an impact on the past, present and future of His people for all eternity. God had declared that He would redeem a people to Himself for His own glory. Here was evidence of the length to which He would go to achieve His goal. Here was the cost to Himself in the person of His precious and beloved Son that sinners might be saved that you and I might know our transgressions forgiven, our debts wiped out and the barrier to fellowship with the living God obliterated –Hallelujah! This cry of victory is the ground of our assurance of salvation –because of what Christ has done not based on what we hope we can do. It is an objective fact not dependent on our feelings and emotions but on the finished work of Christ. Hebrews 10:10 states: We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…but when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy. What an honour, what a privilege is yours and mine as sons and daughters of the living God to know this wonderful truth. However do you here still need to put your trust in Jesus? Can I encourage you to take that step without delay!
1. A Familiar Word
This was not a unique word to Jesus; rather it was a common everyday word. It was used:
A. By Servants /Slaves Their masters gave them tasks to perform and when all their duties had been carried out in a satisfactory manner they would report back and declared tetelestai finished. Jesus God’s servant, the one obedient to His father declared in John 10:17-18:The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life –only to take it up again. No-one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I have received from My Father. Jesus was the true model servant. Philippians 2:5 states: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. In our Lord’s prayer recorded in John 17:4 he said: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.
B. By Priests The Jewish people brought appropriate animals to the priests in order to offer the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament.The animals for sacrifice had to be perfect, without blemish as only the best was acceptable to God. For example Leviticus 4:23 with respect to the ‘sin offering’: he must bring as his offering a male goat without defect. A priest would examine the animal carefully –if it was indeed without a blemish then in Aramaic he would declare the equivalent of tetelestai finished to indicate that the animal could be used as a sacrifice in the worship of Almighty God. Jesus was faultless. In John 8:46 to an angry mob who were using all kind of language to attack Jesus, including some vocabulary that I trust will never escape through our lips, Jesus gives this extraordinary challenge: Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe Me? We can only grasp the powerfulness of these words by attempting to put ourselves in His place and family members or people we grew up with and with whom we are have relational difficulties and imagine ourselves asking – can any of you ever recall a time when I spoke out of turn or when I ever did anything wrong? None of us would ever go there – we know we are sinners but Jesus was not a sinner. In words that encourage us to seek His help in prayer the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in 4:15 says of Jesus: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are –yet was without sin. At His trial before Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor stated: I find no fault in Him (NKJV) or I find no basis for a charge against Him. (NIV)’ Judas the man who betrayed Jesus admitted: I have sinned, he said, for I have betrayed innocent blood (Matthew 27:4). God the Father had already over the life of His Son declared: This is My Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). Jesus was the spotless lamb the perfect sacrifice given in our place.
C. By Traders It was also a business term that would be heard regularly in the marketplace. In that context tetelestai finished meant that a debt had been paid in full; that is a person was standing at the payment point and had handled over the exact sum of money required to obtain the goods. Once that amount had been counted and confirmed by the trader he or she would have declared tetelestai the transaction was now completed. The goods were now legally the property of the purchaser. In the context of the offering of Christ on the cross He offered in full the payment to ransom our souls from eternal ruin. Naturally we are spiritually bankrupt but Christ paid in full to release us from our plight.
D. New Testament Usage In Matthew chapter 17 there is the account of a discussion of whether Jesus pays one of the taxes levied on Jewish citizens in the Holy land in the 1st century AD. 24 After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax? 25Yes, he does, he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. What do you think, Simon? he asked. From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes— from their own sons or from others? 26 From others, Peter answered. Then the sons are exempt, Jesus said to him. 27 But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours. This word is also used in Luke 2:39 describing the actions of Mary and Joseph on their trip to the Jerusalem Temple for the dedication and circumcision of Jesus. This verse records that: when they had performed all things according to the Law (NKJV) or when Joseph and Mary had done [literally finished]everything required by the Law of the Lord they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. In Luke 18:31 we read: 31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. 33On the third day He will rise again. The most famous usage of all is that which occurs in out text in John 19:30 in which it is proclaimed that Jesus in His death paid the price of our redemption. He performed the utmost requirements of the law could exact. He accomplished the work which the Father had given Him to do. He had finished the procuring of atonement for His people Hallelujah!
2. A Faithful Saviour
Jesus modelled for us an example of dedication to the Father’s will and purpose for His life, even though the work was hard and centred on the pathway to Calvary. How easy it would have been to opt out of such a mission, yet His commitment to the calling He received even during His struggles in Gethsemane is an inspiration to us. In our own land how many Christians there are who opt for an easy pilgrimage avoiding giving the kind of commitment to God’s work that He requires from us? The reasons too often given for choosing one church rather than another when people move to a new location is often couched in language of what we can get out of it rather than opportunities for service in the Lord’s name. Some years ago in Fife Watson Moyes, then minister of the large Viewfield Baptist Church in Dunfermline, expressed deep concern about the numbers of Christians wishing to leave smaller Baptist Churches in Fife to join larger ones like His own congregation. In fact if the reasons given were less than adequate there were occasions on which He declined to accept some people as new members telling them to return back to their former church where they were needed to serve God in their local community. This was a most courageous step to take and incredibly rare in our land today. This approach came from a kingdom perspective – looking at the bigger picture of what God would wish to happen in that situation. Although we rejoice at the growth in our church in recent years it is not about numbers but about the effectiveness of our service for God. The larger the church becomes the greater our financial position, our pool of talents and other resources the more the Lord will expect from us. Jesus in Luke 2:49 said to Mary and Joseph: Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house (NIV) orabout My Father’s business (NKJV)? His consciousness of the priorities of His calling was evident throughout His ministry. He knew the difference between what he could do and what God expected Him to do in a variety of different situation. At the wedding in Cana in Galilee when asked by Mary to provide additional wine by a miracle replied (John 2:4): My time
has not yet come. To the disciples at Sychar in Samaria in John 4:34 who were concerned about the priority of getting a meal after a long journey were reminded by Jesus that: My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. Throughout His ministry the disciples were reminded that the pathway to Jerusalem and His ultimate triumph was through the cross –something from which they recoiled until after Pentecost. At His transfiguration (Luke 9:31) Jesus was revealed talking with Moses and Elijah. What did they talk about? His departure [exodus], which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. On another occasion, recorded in Luke 12:50 He declared: I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is completed [accomplished /finished –same root word as John 19:30]. John 17:4 is a wonderful proclamation: I have brought You glory on earth by completing [finishing] the work You gave Me to do. How could you in prayer to God honestly describe how you are getting on with the work God has called you to do? I am sure all of us would say ‘a work in progress’ –more to be accomplished! It is important never to be complacent, yet at the same time to say with Paul to each other the words of 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. Praise God for such assurance in Christ!
3. A Finished Work
Here in this glorious moment of triumph, in this declaration of the victory of God in Christ we see:
A. Suffering Consummated For Jesus used to the glory of heaven, to come to earth and face the restrictions of human existence; the restrictions of life in Nazareth with its poverty and subsistence economy. The continual opposition of religious leaders who questioned His every move and doubted His right and competence to teach the Word of God! His miracles attracted great audiences, but His teaching and calls for discipleship were not accepted by the majority of those who heard Him preach. The number of committed disciples during His early ministry was very small indeed. John 7:2-5 recorded the polite ridicule of His step-brothers who told Jesus at the time of the Feast of tabernacles: You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world. For even His own brothers did not believe in Him. His disciples abandoned Him in the garden of Gethsemane first of all in spirit when He asked them to pray with Him, instead of praying they repeatedly fell asleep (Luke 23:39-46) and then when He was arrested they forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50). His lonely vigil in the trials before Pilate and Herod and supremely in His separation from His Father on the cross was His suffering intensified and reached its lowest depths –it was now over for ever Hallelujah! tetelestai Finished Philippians 2:5-8 declares: 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,7but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
B. Satan Conquered God created a perfect world Genesis 1:31: God saw all that He had made and it was very good. Yet right from the beginning Satan tried to subvert God’s plan. In Eden his insistent questioning (eg. Genesis 3:1 Did God really sayyou must not eat from any tree in the garden? If he could not make God’s people divert from God’s plan he tried to kill the royal line at various points in history right down to the slaughter of babies and young children in Bethlehem on the orders of King Herod at the time of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18); from the temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) to the critical comments of Peter (Matthew 16:22) after the revelation of the way of the cross. Peter said: Never Lord…This shall never happen to You! What did Jesus say to Peter in His stern rebuke (v23): Out of my sight Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. Even on the cross itself the human beings used by Satan were the religious leaders who taunted Jesus with these words: He saved others, they said, but He cannot save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him.Yet Jesus resisted all these and other temptations tetelestai finished. I Corinthians 10:13 is a wonderful assurance to us in our Christian life: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
C. Salvation Completed Years ago in England a picture was painted for the Royal Corps of Signallers. A signaller unarmed, lay dead in no-man’s land. He had been sent to repair a cable snapped by shell fire and so restore contact again. The picture showed him lying dead in the fulfilment of his task, holding together in his stiffened hands the broken ends, so the current could go through. Beneath the picture is one word: Contact There is much in life that remains unfinished. The musical composer Schubert left his unfinished symphony, The sculptor Michelangelo left most of his statues unfinished –many more than his ‘Moses’ and ‘David’ could have been completed –but they were not finished! Many a manuscript in an author’s drawer; numerous DIY tasks around vast numbers of homes….the list is endless, except on the cross there was heard the cry of the victory of God tetelestai finished Jesus had accomplished the work given to Him by the Father.
We have four pieces of evidence of the truthfulness of this declaration from the cross.
(i)The Torn Veil Matthew 27:50-51 records: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice [tetelestai] He gave up His spirit. At that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life… Access directly into the presence of God accomplished through the atonement obtained by Jesus –hallelujah!
(ii) The Resurrection of Jesus How could we have known for certain that this was true the most public and verifiable way was in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul in I Corinthians 15:12-20 proves this point. 12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
(iii) The Exaltation of Jesus Philippians 2:9-11reveals the contrast to the humiliation of Jesus with His exaltation:9Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. What is He doing in heaven prior to His second coming? Hebrews 7:25: Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.
(iv) The Gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15) from Pentecost onwards to empower His people for service. Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem…to the ends of the earth. In reflection on this cry of Jesus the great missionary statesman Hudson Taylor in his conversion testimony said: ‘If then the entire work is finished, all the debt paid, what remains for me to do? In another instant the light was shed through my mind by the Holy Spirit, and the joyous conviction was given me that nothing more was to be done, save to fall on my knees, to accept this Saviour and His love, to praise God forever.’ Oh may each of us not leave this church today without accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord! ‘Lifted up was He to die, it is finished was His cry, now in heaven exalted high, hallelujah! what a Saviour! Amen.