It is Finished

Over this past Lenten Season, and especially surrounding Palm Sunday and Easter I was kind of struck anew by the words of Jesus on the cross. They were not new words for me, but His words of “It is finished,” made me step back and think on numerous occasions these past few weeks, and re-examine His sacrifice, and more importantly my response. I heard a message recently that made mention of these very words of Christ, and the presenter stated that they were not words of defeat said meekly with head hung low, but they were words of victory and determination, “IT IS FINISHED.”

And for the past few weeks, I have been trying to make sense of these three short words, and how they should impact my life. Yes these words make reference to Christ’s journey to the cross, and his perseverance at the hands of the Roman guards that tried to break him. They clearly make reference to the completion of his task on earth and the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. And yes these words make reference to the teachings that Jesus left for his disciples, having just washed their feet hours earlier in the upper room. These words most likely make reference to Jesus being able to leave behind his thirty three years toiling in human flesh, just think how joyous he must have felt to be free from all of the struggles and temptations of our human journey. I also believe that these words of finality reference the sacrifice of his flesh for our sins upon the cross. But the direction of these words that I have been ruminating over for the past few weeks is that Jesus is also referencing the fact that our blindness to the Truth is finally coming to an end as well.

In those three simple words perhaps Jesus is declaring for his followers that they can finally live in freedom; that all of his teachings, his parables, and his actions can finally make sense in light of the cross.What does the sacrifice of Jesus mean to you? How do you look at life differently in light of this man, both human and God all at once, dying on a cross in your place? If the cross does not exist, if Easter morning never happens, does your life as you know it change drastically?

I realize I am speaking to a primarily Christian audience this morning, people that are perhaps, all too familiar with this Easter story, too familiar with this risen Christ.

I remember reading a book I was given once about the spread of Christianity in India using the simple tool of The Jesus Film. People would commit their lives to traveling to the un-reached villages of India to show this film about the life of Jesus, to introduce a different way of living, loving and forgiving, and to introduce a King that did not separate the human race into different castes, but instead erased the boundaries of social injustice. And I will never forget reading about the reaction of these people upon seeing this film. A film on the life of Jesus is obviously not complete without the crucifixion and resurrection, and when we in the Western world often hear the recap of these events we are reminded of the stories we have heard since childhood. However, in these villages in India where the name of Jesus had yet to be spoken, his story affected them in very different ways. When Christ was flogged and nailed to the cross, people in the crowds would wail and scream in horror, and they would yell in anger at the outrage of the murder of this innocent man. The story was so fresh, so new, that they could react in no other way. And again upon his resurrection, the crowds would cheer with such jubilation it was as if they were there in the crowds hearing for the first time from Mary’s mouth that Jesus had risen, and the tomb was empty.

So when we hear those words, “It is finished,” written in John 19, I pray that we can be challenged that the lives we lived before the cross can be buried in the tomb along with the rags of Christ, and just as Christ has risen from the dead we too can rise with a new purpose. Our scripture passage for us to focus on this morning is from the book of Hebrews 9:11-15 and it states:

“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Here is the part that is sometimes the toughest. In order to fully appreciate the cross, in order to fully marvel at the sacrifice, we must first acknowledge the need for God’s grace, our need for the cross. Some of us in this room this morning may not see the need for a new covenant. Some of us perhaps are completely fine with the choices that we make, are completely fine with the direction of our lives, and are completely content in the purpose and fulfillment of our days completely separate from the cross. And it is at this point that our conversation may get a little blurry, because I am a sinful man, and a man that knows that at the core of who I am, sin lurks in every shadow. I need not only the cross but a Savior as well.

Perhaps you are here this morning scratching your head at locating your sinfulness, or perhaps you just need a refresher course on some of the seven deadly sins, so together I want us to look briefly at some of the very things that Christ died to free us from. I read an incredible book about three years ago on the deadly sins contrasted against the beatitudes entitled Seven, by a guy name Jeff Cook. It is a book I have had in my office for a long time waiting to to use for a messages such as this, and so I am going to reference it quite a bit about four very common areas of sin and struggle.

I want to start with Pride. Jeff writes, “Pride is the natural love for myself magnified and perverted into disdain for others. Augustine called pride the foundation of sin, for ‘pride made the soul desert God, to whom it should cling as the source of life, and to imagine itself instead as the source of its own life.’ In other words, the more I make my life, my well-being, my enlightenment, and my success primary, the farther I step from reality. Thus the hell-bound do not travel downward; they travel inward, cocooning themselves behind a mass of vanity, personal rights, religiosity and defensiveness.”

We got some new Smurfs yesterday at a yard sale out in the Keystone neighborhood. And as Gideon and I were having a Smurf battle yesterday I was reminded by Vanity Smurf, as he stares into his hand mirror, that no matter what I do, pride loves to hold up my reflection as an idol to be cherished. The cross says that our days of self obsession can end, and be replaced by a genuine care for others and their needs. Pride destroys our ability to connect with others, while the cross builds a bridge of reconciliation and community.

Or let’s take a brief look at our struggle with greed. Our small group had a discussion just this past week about the question of, “How much is enough?” It is easy to believe that the decisions that I make only have an impact on those immediately around me, but that is simply not the truth. Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Or as Jeff Cook puts it, “Hundreds of millions of people have died so that someone somewhere might have a bigger, better, more secure, more impressive bubble.”

Bubbles are beautiful , but they are weak illusions that are easily controlled by the blowing of the wind. Whether it is the way we spend our time, our talents or our finances, greed has a way of justifying our decisions. Greed is both a failure to act and also a failure to know, and it is the cross that leads to the freedom from our “bubbles.” The cross leads to the freedom of generosity and an outward heart that asks the question, “What can I give today?” Instead of the question, “What do I want today?”

Or take the struggle with lust for example. Lust involves so many words that we are often uncomfortable saying out loud, and especially in church. But lust is simply this, handing control of my body and mind over to illicit cravings. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.”It is our absence of joy, our absence of purpose and holy passion that leads to the chasing of simple and empty pleasures.

The Bible never asks us to purge our desires, as if the thought of desiring something is a bad thing. But what the cross does for our lives is that it encourages us to better direct our desires toward that which is good. May the cross help us trade in our lust for mercy and our perversion for peace.

Instead of focusing on the remaining 4 deadly sins, I am going to lastly concentrate on one that seems to be the plank that is often in my own eye, and that is wrath or anger. Wrath is one of the quickest sins to separate us from one another, it builds walls almost immediately upon its release. Wrath plays on two things, our inability to forgive, and our inability to deal with injustice with intelligence. Now I do believe that there is such a thing as righteous anger, anger directed toward injustice in a calm manner with a well thought out plan of attack. But far too often my anger arises when the illusion of “what is mine” is shattered. When my plans, or my stuff, or my family is threatened, wrath turns its ugly head.

The beauty of the cross is that it allows us to understand that everything is God’s, and when we release ownership of things or people we often are unchained from the fear of loss. When we possess nothing but that which has been given to us from God, we no longer have to protect what is “ours” with wrath. Instead of quarreling, our lives are surrounded by peace. Instead of a trail of broken relationships, our lives are surrounded by grace-filled community.

In the book Seven that I have made several references to this morning, the author, Jeff Cook, pointed out a new discovery for me, that I had never thought of before. In regards to the parable of the prodigal son, the son did not return to the Father out of gratitude or out of love; he simply came home because he was hungry. Had his money lasted, his return may have never occurred. Now there have been times in my life that I have simply come to the cross out of hunger. I have literally crawled to the cross out of desperation and need, because I was starving on the crumbs of my own pride, selfishness and anger. But this morning, just a few weeks removed from the celebration of Easter Sunday I want to challenge you, challenge myself, challenge all of us, not to approach the Father out of hunger, but out of love.

As I close this message this morning I want to challenge you to see the cross with fresh eyes. I want you to picture yourself in a field in India learning about the Risen Christ for the very first time, and I want you to respond with the same emotion that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ did. Please listen to those three simple words of Christ, and truly believe that “It is finished.” You are free, free from your old ways, free from your pride, your greed, your lust and your wrath. Free, as our scripture in Hebrews stated, to serve the living God. So I challenge you this morning to say those three simple words out loud in response to the cross, in declaration that the cross matters, and that you are free.

It is finished! I mean it. Shout it out this morning with the confidence that only comes from God, and step into a new reality of grace and forgiveness. It is finished!

April 22, 2012 <> Mike Warneke

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