We turn now to what was the sixth cry of Jesus from the cross.
‘It is finished’ (John 19:30)
I guess it could have been a cry of anguish – the whole thing was a waste of time, but the farce is ended.
It might have been a cry of relief – the suffering is over.
But we are to hear this as a cry of victory.
‘It is finished. The task that I have been given has been accomplished.'
John writes, ‘When Jesus had received the drink ..’.
He has already mentioned this drink in John 18:11. There Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
What is this cup?
In the Old Testament we are told that the cup is the cup of the wrath of God, of God’s hatred against sin.
So Psalm 75:8, ‘For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs’.
Jeremiah 25:17, ‘So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me to drink it: Jerusalem .. its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse’
What we have here is mystery beyond understanding.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who was there in the beginning with God, becomes in his love a human being and lives a perfect life. But out of love for us he chose to drink this cup that his Father was giving him – this cup of the divine wrath, this cup of his own wrath.
In one of the Harry Potter novels, Professor Dumbledore needs to destroy a particular object that is rooted in evil. But it is at the bottom of a deep bowl, and the only way to get to it is for him to drink the water. But that water contains all the foul fruit of evil: fear, hatred, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, twisted desires. And he has to drink it to the very bottom.
That is a story.
But what happened to Jesus was no story.
When he hung on the cross, he took into himself all that foul water of our evil, and he took onto himself the wrath of God against that evil. He took into himself utter alienation from God, paralysing despair and eternal loneliness.
And now, having freely drunk that cup which the Father has given him, having drunk it to the very dregs, he cries out ‘It is finished’.
It is finished – I have done what I came to do. The requirements of the law have been fulfilled; prophecy has been accomplished. I am the sacrificial lamb. I am the shepherd who gave my life for the sheep. I have laid down my life so that my enemies might become my friends.
‘He hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, he sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death, by dying, slew’ (SW Gandy)
They found a receipt from a little after the time of Jesus. On it is the word, ‘tetelestai’. It is the same word that Jesus cries out, and it means, ‘the price has been paid’.
That is the ground of our Faith.
True faith is not about gritting your teeth and trying to get yourself to believe or do three impossible things before breakfast.
True faith is not about believing in your ability to do whatever you want
True faith is about you and me, in whatever pit that we find ourselves in, putting our hand in the hand of Jesus and allowing him to pull us out. It is the conviction that Jesus Christ, out of love for us, paid the price – and did it all. Because he drank the cup, we are forgiven, washed clean, made new people, given a new heart and adopted into the family of God.
In some religions you pay for your sins with karma. You get what you deserve, if not now - then. It is the most terrifying teaching.
In other religions, and this is what most people think Christianity teaches, you do good works, and you try to be nice to God, in order to cancel out your bad deeds: although in the end whether it is enough depends on the will of God.
But those who, in faith, turn to Jesus do not need to prove themselves to God, or to do good works in order to wipe out their bad deeds. They know that they can’t. They know that the very fact that we are trying to get ourselves right with God by doing good stuff is, in itself, a bad thing. We are putting our trust in ourselves and in our ability to be good, rather than putting our trust in God. We are trying to justify ourselves.
So those who turn to Jesus and yet still try to persuade God to forgive them, or do good things to make God like them, are like the person who is late for a meeting and who has lost their car key. They search everywhere: upstairs, downstairs, outside in the garden, on the pavement. They blame their wife, the children, the man who came to read the electricity meter, the dog, the hamster. But they can’t find their keys. And when in desperation they have gone upstairs for the sixth time, and in the red mist just as they are about to order the mass execution of their family for moving the key, they put their hand in their pocket – and discover that what they had been searching for, they had all along. And they look rather stupid.
If we have turned to Jesus; if we have put our trust in him, then we are looking for what we already have: forgiveness, justification, approval, significance, security, freedom, validation, righteousness, love.
It is all ours because the job has been done; it is accomplished; he drank the cup; the price is paid. It is finished.