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From the Series: 7 Words from the Cross
May 22, 2011

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his Spirit. (John 19:30)

I have looked forward to the privilege of speaking on these words today. Jesus has come through the agony of his suffering, enduring all the pains of hell. He has cried out from the depths, but now he’s announcing his victory. He moves into death, not defeated, but triumphant: “It is finished.” F. W. Krummacher says,

These are the greatest and most momentous words that were ever spoken upon earth since the beginning of the world… In these words chains burst and prison walls fall down.[1]

I am praying that this will be your experience as your hear these words of Jesus today. I have a very simple outline that I hope you will find helpful and memorable: Christ finished. You haven’t. But with him, you will.

Christ Finished

“It is finished” (John 19:30).

What was finished?

1. The long night of his suffering

I put this first because John described how someone held up a sponge soaked in vinegar on a stick, and the Apostle says, “When Jesus had received the drink, he said ‘It is finished.’” Matthew Henry says,

When He had received that last indignity in the vinegar they gave Him, He said, “This is the last. I am now going out of their reach.”[2]

This was the end of his excruciating suffering. Jesus knows suffering from the inside—more than anyone has ever known it. But he is not suffering now. He’s done with that. It is finished. He’s not in the grave either. He’s at the right hand of the Father where he intercedes for us.

That is of massive importance for us. A suffering world needs a savior who knows about suffering. A savior who is overwhelmed by suffering, a savior who remains in suffering is of no use to us.

We need a Savior who has triumphed over suffering. That is what we have in Jesus. He was plunged into indescribable suffering, but he was not overcome by it. He came through it and he triumphed in it.

What was finished?

2. The full course of his obedience

Remember why Jesus came into the world. The Son of God became a man to live the life you and I would have to live in order to enter heaven. Jesus lived the perfect life. There was no sin in him. The night before he died, he was able to say to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Spurgeon says,

Examine the life of the Savior from Bethlehem to Calvary, “look minutely at every portion of it, the private as well as the public, the silent as well as the spoken part, you will find that it is finished, complete, perfect.[3]

Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it].” (Matthew 5:17). Every commandment of God was fulfilled in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout his life, Jesus loved God the Father with all his heart, soul mind and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself. He’s the only person who has ever done it. Jesus’ perfect life of obedience was now complete and he was about to lay it down, so he said, “It is finished.”

What was finished?

3. The decisive battle with his enemy

The life of Jesus was a life of suffering, it was a life of obedience, but it was also a life of conflict with our great enemy the devil. Look at the world today and ask the question: Where does evil come from? Why do so many marriages fail? Why do wars keep happening?

Jesus spoke with absolute clarity about Satan or the devil. Confronting the devil was the first act of Jesus’ public ministry. The Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Throughout his ministry we see Jesus casting out evil spirits that were holding human lives in bondage.

The story of this conflict goes back to the beginning of the Bible. Satan tempted the man and the woman and led them into sin that caused them to lose the joys of the paradise of God.

They got the knowledge of evil and came under the power of the evil one. That’s been our story ever since. It is the explanation of what we see in the world today. But God promised that a Redeemer would come, saying to Satan, “You will bite his heel, but he will crush your head” (Genesis 3:15). What a picture!

The Redeemer stamps on the head of the snake, crushing it, and in the same act, the snake bites his foot with deadly poison. That is precisely what happened at the cross. In Christ’s death he breaks the devil’s power, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

You might expect the Bible to say, “Jesus triumphed over Satan by the resurrection,” and that’s true, but that’s not what it says here. It says Christ “triumph[ed] over [him] by the cross.” Ronald Wallace says,

The hour of His death was the hour at which He engaged in the final assault, and came to closest grips with the satanic enemy… It was the hour when the powers of evil were forced to stand and stake everything in one decisive battle.[4]

At the cross, Satan was like a gambler who knew he was losing, and running out of chips, he was forced to put everything on the table. Jesus swept the boards and then he said, “It is finished.”

When Jesus died, he went beyond the reach of Satan. Satan could no longer tempt him. The devil could no longer afflict him or cause him to suffer. When Jesus went into death, it was “game over” for the devil and “game on” for us. The decisive battle with the enemy had been won.

He shared in our humanity “so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). The Son of God became a man. He fulfilled the law of God, and then laid down his life as a sacrifice for us. He is able to save sinners and there is nothing that Satan can do to stop him! It is finished.

What was finished?

4. The complete work of his atonement

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to give his life as a ransom for many, and on the cross he says, “It is finished.” He has borne the guilt of our sins. He has endured the punishment of our hell. The divine wrath has been spent on him. The justice of God has been satisfied in him.

The perfect sacrifice has been offered. Complete atonement has been made. Hell has been vanquished. The condemnation has been removed.

Now the Redeemer says, “It is finished.”

If you visit the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton,[5] you can walk through the “rotunda of witnesses,” where beautiful artwork forms the background to some marvelous statements about Jesus Christ. One of my favorites is from Jonathan Edwards,

Though millions of sacrifices had been offered; yet nothing was done to purchase redemption before Christ’s incarnation… so nothing was done after His resurrection, to purchase redemption for men. Nor will there be anything more done to all eternity.[6]

What can be added to Jesus’ redemptive work, his death and resurrection? It is finished! His long night of suffering is over. He’s no longer on the cross. The full course of his obedience is over. The decisive battle with his enemy is over. Christ finished. You haven’t. But with him you will.

You Haven’t

There was only one person in the history of the world who could ever truly say, “It is finished.” No one will be able to say it when they die, because no one will be able to say it while they live. None of us will be able to say to God “I brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” I haven’t been able to say this of a single day of my life.

As a Christian, you have begun the work of all the commandments, but you have not finished the work of any! I cannot identify a single day of my life that I could say, “I lived that day to perfection.”

Every Saturday, every Sunday, every day of the week, we are in the position of saying, “We have done the things we ought not to have done. We have not done the things we ought to have done.” And that will never change this side of heaven. You may grow in your Christian life, but you will never move beyond being a believing sinner. Spurgeon says,

We can find a thousand flaws in our best works; and when we lie dying, we shall still have to lament our shortcomings and excesses.[7]

Sinners on earth can never say, “It is finished,” and neither can sinners in hell. Christ finished. You haven’t. But with him you will.

With Him You Will

Here’s what you get when Jesus is yours. Or to say that another way, like the New Testament does, here’s what is yours “in Christ.” Jesus completed the work of atonement, so…

1. …In Christ you are forgiven, accepted and loved.

If you are in Christ, you don’t have to do something else to be loved and accepted. All that you need is in Christ. If he is yours then love, forgiveness and acceptance are yours. You are accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6 KJV).

Jesus completed the full course of obedience, so…

2. …In Christ you have already lived a righteous life.

Jesus has lived it for you. If your hope of heaven rested on your works, it could never stand. Your works are not complete; they’re not finished. If your hope depended, in any degree, on your own works, something you had to do in addition to what He has done, your hope could never stand.

But when your hope of heaven rests on Christ’s work, that hope is secure, because Christ’s work is complete, “It is finished.” Luther says,

The law says, ‘do this’, and it is never done. But grace says, ‘believe in this’, and everything is done already.[8]

Some of us are living under the law and it is never done. You will never have joy as long as you live here.

In Christ you have already lived a righteous life. He lived it for you. You are complete in him (Colossians 2:10). Just as your sins were laid on Jesus and counted as his. His righteousness is draped on you and counted as yours. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus completed the decisive victory over Satan, so…

3. …In Christ the devil is a defeated foe.

Some of you look at your family history and you can see the work of Satan, the destroyer, running over generations. You wonder if some kind of curse hangs over your family. You ask, “What does this mean for me?”

I say to you on the authority of Scripture, no curse can stand against you, if you are in Christ. How could it? He won the decisive victory over Satan on the cross.

Maybe you find yourself overwhelmed by the strong pull of temptation. Satan knows your weakness and he has been running rampant in your life because of it. You have failed so many times that you’ve got to the place where you can hardly imagine prevailing over this enemy.

General Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army. One day his granddaughter, Catherine, was getting ready to speak at an open air meeting for the first time. She was nervous and said to her grandfather, “I don’t know if it will be much good, but I’ll do my best.” The old general said to her, “Catherine, with Christ you can do better than your best.”

Let that be an encouragement when you feel defeated. You have done your best and you’ve failed. With Christ you can do better than your best. In Christ your enemy is a defeated foe, which is why the apostle Paul said, “If God be for you, who can be against you?” (Romans 8:31).

Jesus completed the long night of his suffering, so…

4. …In Christ your suffering will lead to glory.

No suffering lasts forever. Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Look at the resurrection body and the new creation. All this is your when Christ is yours—no more sin, no more pain, no more tears, no more death. Christ finished. You haven’t. But with him you will!

What to Do With a Completed Work

Believe it

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was surrounded by darkness, and he was two breaths away from death. Simply hearing that Jesus said this is not going to change your life, but believing it will.

As he hung there in the darkness, it hardly looked like Satan’s power was broken. It hardly looked like hell’s gates were splintered. It hardly looked like death’s sting was drawn.

A week after Jesus died, the world did not look very different. The same was true after another month, another year, another century, another millennium. Is the world different than the day Jesus said this?

Caesar was still on the imperial throne, selfishness and pride still dominated high places, the hearts of many seemed to become no better but rather worse with the passing of time.[9]

When Jesus said, “It is finished.” this was a cry of faith, a cry anticipating all that would come from his completed suffering, his perfect life, his atoning death and his decisive victory.

That means this is a cry that must be embraced by faith. Most people have heard the words, “It is finished,” but the question is: Do you believe that “It is finished?” It was not obvious then and it is not obvious now, except to the one who has faith in Jesus.

The book of Hebrews makes it plain how you live a life of faith, “At present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus.” That’s what the Bible says. What do we see? We see wars. We see cancer. We do not see everything subject to Jesus.

And what is Jesus doing? Making the world a better place? Putting an end to human suffering? Ridding the world of evil? He never says any of these things. He is “Bringing many sons to glory,” and he is able to do this for you (Hebrews 2:8,10).

How does that happen? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in the middle of the difficulties you are facing today. Believe that “it is finished,” and as you believe, what he accomplished at the cross will become yours.

Proclaim it

It is our marvelous privilege to share the gospel. It really is good news, which is what it means. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say it like this…

Think about what happens when a king triumphs in battle. He sends back messengers to proclaim victory. They sound the trumpets, “The battle has been won. The king has triumphed and the enemy is defeated. Now we can live in the peace and joy that flows from our king’s victory.”

But if the king loses the battle, he sends back military advisers who say, “Man the ramparts. Prepare for battle. The enemy will soon be at the gates. We all need to fight for our lives.”

Do you see the difference? Either the battle is won and we can live in the joy of it, or it is lost and we must prepare to fight ourselves. Every religion in the world says in some way, “You need to fight for your life. Say the prayers. Do the good works. Observe the disciplines.”

But in the gospel Jesus says, “It is finished.” King Jesus has won the victory and he invites all who will come to him to share in its spoils. Our mission is not to ask people to do something for God, but to announce what God has done through Christ and say, “Make this yours! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! Enter into the good of all that he’s won.”

Enjoy it

It’s natural for us to feel we need to make a contribution to our salvation, but how can you contribute to something that’s already complete?

You can’t. When a new house is built, you don’t keep building, you move in and enjoy it. When a new road is opened, you don’t start digging, you get in the car and enjoy it. When a gift is given, you don’t start paying for it, you receive it and you start enjoying it.

A.W. Pink tells a story about a Christian farmer who was trying to explain the gospel to his carpenter friend. He tried to explain the finished work of Christ, but the carpenter was one of those people who felt that he needed to do something himself.

One day the farmer asked the carpenter to make him a gate. When it was ready, the farmer took it home on his wagon and hung it in the field. The next day the carpenter went to see his completed work, but when he arrived, he was surprised to see the farmer with an axe in his hand.

“What are you going to do?” the carpenter asked.

“I’m going to add a few cuts and strokes to your work,” the farmer replied.

“There’s no need for that,” the carpenter said. “The gate is fine as it is.” The farmer took no notice but, lifting his axe, he slashed and hacked at the gate until it was completely spoiled.

“Look what you’ve done!” cried the carpenter. “You’ve completely ruined my work!”

“Yes,” said the farmer, “and that is exactly what you are trying to do by making your own miserable additions to the finished work of Christ.” [10]

It is finished!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

In my place condemned He stood.

Sealed my pardon with His blood,

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die,

“It is finished!” was His cry.

Now in heaven exalted high,

Hallelujah! What a Savior![11]

Is he your Savior? Christ finished. You haven’t. But with him you will.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in his finished work today.

© Colin S. Smith

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Please include this statement on every copy distributed:

By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

[1] F. W. Krummacher, The Suffering Savior, p. 396, Banner of Truth, 2004.

[2] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 5.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, sermon #2344, Christ’s Dying Word for His Church, Nov. 3, 1889.

[4] Ronald Wallace, Words of Triumph, p. 76, John Knox press, 1964.

[5] http://www.billygrahamcenter.com/museum/index.htm.

[6] Jonathan Edwards, Works, Vol. 1, p. 572, Banner of Truth, 1974.

[7] C. H. Spurgeon sermon, Christ’s Dying Word for His Church.

[8] Martin Luther from the Heidelberg disputation, article #26, 1518.

[9] Ronald Wallace, Words of Triumph, p. 79.

[10] (Adapted) A. W. Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Savior…, p. 119-20, Baker, 2005.

[11] Phillip Bliss, from the hymn, Hallelujah! What a Savior, 1875.



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