Jesus Christ is suspended from a wooden cross between two criminals. Blood flows freely from his punctured wrists and feet, from the deep lacerations on his back, arms, and legs, the result of intense flogging. A crown of thorns is jammed onto his head, causing blood to drip down his face and sting his eyes. Bits of flesh dangle and flutter in the wind, the same chilly breeze that carries voices from a crowd of onlookers, mesmerized by the horror, unable to tear their eyes away.
He said he could save people. Yet He can’t even save Himself.
Jesus’ breathing is tight and spasmodic as He attempts to prop Himself up and perhaps alleviate the agony in His arms. The crucified thief next to Him observes His pitiful, bloody shape; he watches Christ shift and writhe in pain. The thief hurls a couple of insults but is rebuked by the other thief across him who, despite spewing similar insults at Jesus earlier in the day, realizes his error and pleads for mercy from the Savior.
Jesus promises him they’ll be together in paradise later that day.
The hours stretch, the soldiers gamble for His clothes, the skies grow increasingly dim. And then, after six excruciating hours of being naked in front of hundreds, bleeding profusely from the head, back, and just about every part of His body; after shaking relentlessly from the throbbing pains shooting through his nerves every time His body weight sagged against the giant nails impaling Him; after sustaining cramps in every muscle, freezing up His body in wave upon wave of pain; after using up every ounce of energy fighting for oxygen, taking in short breaths but unable to exhale because of the ongoing, cramp-induced paralysis in his chest muscles; after somehow pleading the Father to forgive the mocking crowd around Him, Jesus, a broken man, unrecognizable from happier days healing and preaching in the countryside, slips slowly into the cold clutches of death.
“It is finished,” he cries.
And then He breathes His last.
It wasn’t until my later years as a Christian that I would ponder the Lord’s death in such graphic imagery. It wasn’t until much later in my journey of faith that the meaning of this phrase would be explained to me in all its profound glory.
“It is finished.” (John 19:30)
When these words passed Jesus’ lips right before His death, it wasn’t because he was relieved the pain was finally over. He wasn’t serving notice to the Roman authorities that His trial had finally concluded either.
It was because Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, God incarnate, the Word become Flesh, did the unthinkable – he gave His life as payment for our sins that we might be spared the wrath of the Father and be reconciled to Him.
Let’s break it down.
Every person since Adam and Eve was born tainted with sin (Romans 5:12); we were birthed with a full propensity and desire for unrighteousness, with no care to be holy or reconciled to God. Indeed, from the day we are born we have a compelling desire to have things our way, even if it means screaming, whining, and fighting without any restraint.
We carry these base attitudes into our teenage and adult years, our depravity knowing no bounds. We grow up steeped in sin. We pursue sinful lifestyles and aim to gratify every selfish and immoral impulse in our bodies. We may think and say we do good, that we believe in living good lives but the truth is we crave the darkness, our hearts secretly love evil, and we embrace the world (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:21-32). No one is exempt (Romans 3:10).
But there’s a price for evil. And God, by His holy nature, demands that the price be paid. The infinitely holy God who cannot even look upon sin, whose very nature is the exact opposite of evil, demands that sin be accounted for, in a judicial as well as moral sense, for that is what his Holy nature requires.
That sin be punished by death and an eternity in hell (Romans 6:23; Luke 16:23).
If it sounds nasty it’s because sin is a deadly problem, one that God takes very seriously. Evil will be punished on God’s terms, the lake of fire being the final judgment for the damned (Revelation 20:15; 21:8)
The only way to escape eternal punishment is to live a perfect life – to achieve perfect righteousness (Matthew 5:48). A perfect existence from cradle to grave that God can look at, evaluate, and declare satisfactory according to His law (Romans 2:12-13).
Anything less than perfect is worthless. We are to be holy just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). And it’s either 100% perfection or we’re in trouble.
Which is pretty much what the Bible declares of man in the first three chapters of the book of Romans.
If that was all there was to this deal, the story would end here. We’d all be consigned to hell, terrified and angry and despairing, yet God would glory in His righteousness because justice was upheld, His Holiness and Perfection validated.
But it doesn’t end here. The story is far from over. God may be infinitely Holy and Just but He is also LOVE. And it’s His compelling, perfect love that devised a plan, a means of escape from eternal punishment for man that didn’t require infinite torment in Hell (Romans 5:8).
The plan was simple – send His sinless son Jesus to live that perfect life (John 3:16). To demonstrate perfect righteousness that no one else could achieve. To fulfill the requirements of God’s law without failure. And then offer that spotless life as a penal sacrifice to God, Holy and Righteous and waiting.
Which is exactly what Jesus did. He came, He saw, He conquered evil and death. He lived a pure life, unsullied by sin or the evils of this world. Although tempted and tried in every way He lived a 100% holy and blameless life (Hebrews 4:15). And he eventually offered His life as a sacrifice at Calvary, dying a brutal and humiliating death for the sins of the world.
How brutal was Christ’s suffering and eventual death on the cross? Medical experts have attempted to capture the horrors of crucifixion – Christ’s crucifixion – in graphic scientific terms. The introduction to this article was based in part on what one doctor believes was characteristic of Jesus’ final hours of crucifixion. It was bloody, tormenting, and one of the cruelest ways to die.
But the real pain of the cross was what happened within the Truine Godhead the moment God the Father poured out His wrath on His Son. The Trinity, God in three persons but still one God, experienced something that we as human beings will never fully comprehend. And that was the moment when the Father had to “turn away” from His Son. As Christ assumed the sins of the world, the Father momentarily “forsook” His Son, so abominable was the stench of sin on Jesus.
As Christ took upon Himself every sin imaginable, God treated Him as if He Himself had committed thousands upon thousands of despicable acts. Murder, thievery, rape, blasphemy – you name it, Jesus atoned for it.
All so that we won’t have to.
This act of penal substitution (Christ receiving punishment for our sins instead of us – 2 Corinthians 5:21) was so radical it caused a mysterious, painful tension between God the Father and God the Son. The sins of the world were unbearable to look upon by the Father, so much so that when Jesus became the sin offering, the Father had to turn away. That, more than the physical injuries and emotional pain of the cross, was what wracked the Savior at that moment and caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Then, after the great outpouring of God’s divine incense on each sin borne by Jesus, His wrath abated, appeased.
“It is finished.”
Jesus had completed His mission, what He came to earth to do. He bore upon Himself the sins of you and me, atoning for them in our place, satisfying God’s requirement for justice, that we might escape the divine punishment (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2).
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” says Hebrews 10:10. He gave Himself for us, even endured the Father turning away from Him, so that we might know true peace, mercy, and love.
That’s why He said what He said. His work was done, perfected, and accepted in full by the Father. His resurrection three days later would seal the deal, showing just how dynamic God’s plan of redemption was, how full, final, and victorious His salvation for the elect would be.
This is the means by which we can be reconciled to God, a means which can be appropriated simply by repenting of our sins and believing Jesus performed this great work and rose from the dead to save us (John 1:12; Acts 3:19; Romans 10:9).
If you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, that is if you are not trusting in Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins, then you are on a path to eternal damnation. When you one day face the Creator, you will be asked to give an account for all the things you have done; you will have to explain yourself fully to God (Romans 14:10b-12).
And if all you have to offer Him are tainted, man-powered efforts at righteousness, then you’re in deep trouble. For any attempt at human righteousness always falls severely short of God’s demand for perfection (Romans 3:23).
The only thing that can save us is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And the way it works is this: When you put your trust in Jesus as the ONLY way to save you from your sins, God declares you justified – cleared from your sin (Romans 5:1-2).
Imagine being in court for speeding. The judge examines the evidence and you’re found guilty. Can he just let you off the hook? Of course not; justice must be served. So he sentences you to a hefty fine. The problem is you can’t pay; you’re broke. And just as you think you’re now in more trouble than you can deal with, a man walks in and offers to pay the fine on your behalf. Because he loves you and wants to set you free.
Do you accept the offer?
Substitute speeding with sin and switch the hefty fine to eternal damnation and you basically have a picture of how God’s salvation plan looks. The real question is, when the Day of Judgment comes – and it will come (Acts 17:31) – will you be trusting in your rags of human goodness to save you from God’s wrath or will you stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ, pleasing and acceptable to God?
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him.” (John 3:36)
I’m humbled and grateful that God made a way for me to be saved and that He suffered the horror of divine punishment on my behalf. His last three words before dying on the cross comfort me because they tell me He paid the price.
May you trust in Jesus for salvation and find comfort in His last utterance from the cross.
“The work has been done / redemption has been won /
The war was over without a fight / It is Finished”
It is Finished
Beat the System, 1985