The ancient Greeks boasted about being able to say much in a word. Yes, Hellenists considered it the perfection of oratory to put an ocean of meaning in a drop of language. Jesus did it to perfection and surpassed them all.
Jesus was the Servant both of His Father and of all people. Not one time, not even once did He step out of this servant role during His ministry. He never showed any inclination to act in His own divinity or use His divine power independent of His Father. This was true even when, He was hanging on His cross. Stopping the sacrifice to redeem all who would cry out to Jesus in repentance would have been a huge sin against God. It would have made Satan triumphant and demonstrated a major flaw in the plan of redemption.
Forsaken by His Father
Jesus endured many onslaughts from the devil in His ministry. The last salvo though, did not spring from Satan’s arsenal; instead, it came from His Father. Without question, it was the toughest of them all. The missile exploded when the Lord was the weakest and the pain was the greatest. He had lost so much blood and used up so much energy just trying to breathe. The throes of death were already settling in and His holy body was beginning to shut down. Could His pure mind handle one last struggle—and of all places, with it coming from His Father?
Isaiah had prophesied this very moment some 750 years earlier.
“It was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:7, 10-11, NIV).
Jesus had always given absolute loyalty to His Father. The Lord knew He could depend on Him—anytime, all the time. But what would Jesus do this time, when every nerve in His body was screaming at Him to come down from that cursed cross?
The ears of history have never heard a cry pierce the soul quite like this one, so gut wrenching in its pathos: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It marks the only time in Jesus’ incarnation that He referred to His Father with language other than that of a son to a father.
God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil” or to tolerate treachery, and Jesus was hanging there as our “guilt offering,” with our sins – the sins of the world on his shoulders (Habakkuk 1:13).
The heavenly Father responded to His Son in those moments with silence.
Separation from God—it was the worst challenge of the many Jesus faced, by far the worst. Jesus had always known His Father was right there with Him throughout His incarnation; He could see Him and hear Him. Morning after morning He had awakened, talking with His Father (Isaiah 50:4). They had enjoyed such a close relationship.
In these extreme moments of His holy life, when the shroud of death was slowly moving over His shredded and mangled body, Jesus hung there alone.
Let it be restated: from eternity, Jesus had never experienced separation from His Father.
It is part of the mystery of the incarnation that for the first time, in this moment, Jesus felt abandoned. It came at a time when He was bloody, bruised and mauled. His flesh hung from His bones. His tongue was so very swollen, and clung to the roof of His mouth. His holy blood had seeped from the crown of thorns down His forehead and onto His eyelids, gluing them together. And His blood kept moving, ever so slowly, right into his eyes, stinging like hot fire. Jesus on that cross could not even wipe His own blood out of His eyes.
What would He do in this hour of His soul’s black midnight? If the raw anguish of crucifixion could not make Him buckle, would this combination of separation and abandonment push Him over the edge so that He would grasp for His omnipotence independent of His Father’s plan? Would He change His attitude toward His Father and break the bond between them? And especially so when His Father and the Holy Spirit were not there to guide Him? After all, those twelve legions of angels were standing on tiptoe, just waiting for the order to take Him off the shameful cross (Matthew 26:53).
The Triumph of Implicit Trust
We know the answer: the High Priest of our confession did not come down from the cross. He kept hanging on the sharp-edged nails, and by doing so healed the breach between His Father and fallen men. God “[reconciled] the world to Himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19; Hebrews 3:1–3; Isaiah 53:10). Jesus did it as our substitute, with the sins of all humankind on His tender heart (Isaiah 53:10; Romans 10:10; Hebrews 6:20).
Yes, Jesus became every man’s guilt offering. And, yes, the will of His Father [prospered] in His hand” (Leviticus. 5:17–19; Isaiah 53:10).
Because the love of God mandated it, Jesus stayed on the cross all alone until He died. In doing so, the cross of Jesus shows love is more powerful than pain, shame, or abandonment. We should remember Jesus taught in the parable of the unjust judge, “Men always ought to pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16; Hebrews 12:3). Jesus hung there in history’s greatest miscarriage of justice amid the greatest stress of His incarnate life. Amazingly, Jesus kept His clarity of mind to the very end (Luke 23:43).
THINK ABOUT IT: Jesus demonstrated on the cross that implicit trust in God always trumps pain, shame and abandonment.
When the Lights Go Out
When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, I learned preaching from Dr. Gardner Taylor, a pastor in New York City. I'll never forget those lectures. I remember his telling us a story when he was preaching in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country, and he was out in a rural, black church that had only one little light bulb hanging from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary. He was preaching away, and in the middle of his sermon, all of a sudden, the electricity went out. The building went pitch black. Dr. Taylor did not know what to say, being a young preacher. He stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, "Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark!"
Sometimes we get our best picture of God in the dark. And the good news of the Gospel is that whether or not we can see Him in the dark, He sees us.
Amid this deep isolation, both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus came through again. “Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28). They gave Him wine vinegar on a sponge to drink. One last prophecy needed to be fulfilled and the vinegar did it (Psalm 69:21).
In Jesus’ divinity, He knew the victory was His. Yet, in the true humanity of the Son of Man, a mere thimble full of cool water would have felt like a deluge of rain on His dehydrated body and very swollen tongue.
The very lonely God-man, the Prince of paradise, was hanging between earth and heaven as Jehovah’s trustworthy servant. He was faithful in life and faithful in death.
The last Adam was almost dead. His sanctified life was clicking down to its final seconds. Paul later wrote to Timothy, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5–6).
What a loyal servant!
The ancient Greeks boasted of being able to say much in a word. Yes, Hellenists considered it the perfection of oratory to put an ocean of meaning in a drop of language. Jesus, our champion, outshined them all on His cross. He did it while every nerve in His holy body screamed for relief. No speech writer or orator of history has ever matched what Jesus did here.
Our Lord’s holy body was very weakened to the point of death from blood loss. But Jesus still retained His brilliant mind and condensed the whole plan of redemption into one word when expressed in Greek. “Tetelestai!” It means, "It is finished.” One word said it all! (John 19:30).
THINK ABOUT IT: If you and I, dear reader, could have been standing on Golgotha’s knoll that day when Jesus said it, we surely would have picked up His bodily weakness. But we also would have felt His determination, His sense of victory, and triumph, His unbreakable resolve.
Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address defined the purpose of the American Civil War with 272 words, and changed the course of the conflict.
Jesus Christ rewrote salvation history with one word, and did it when His last little drops of blood were falling on the gray rocks below.
The clock of His holy life was ticking not in minutes, but in seconds.
He had been such a strong specimen of a man, strong enough to walk all over Israel, up and down her many hills, and her mountains. But all of that strength was now gone.
He had finished the work His Father gave Him to do.
“It is finished” – tetelestai. Volumes of meaning are capsuled in Jesus’ blood in that single word. With no desire to be exhaustive, I will share a brief six. Any astute student of the Scriptures can add to my list:
1. “It is finished.” The anger and malice Jesus felt from His sworn enemies was over. The enmity had been so brutal Pharisees were known to turn their heads when He walked by so that they would not have to look at Him. Isaiah prophesied that too (Isaiah 53:3) – tetelestai!
2. “It is finished.” The sacrifice that brought salvation for “whosoever will” was made, as planned before the foundation of the world. The new path to the Father is Jesus alone through a New Birth (John 14:6) – tetelestai!
3. “It is finished.” Every prophecy in the Old Testament concerning Messiah’s first advent was fulfilled, including Psalm 69:21 – tetelestai!
4. “It is finished.” Jesus had “endured the cross, despising its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Shame was one of the devil’s most trusted weapons to hold people in his grip in his kingdom. But no longer – tetelestai!
5. “It is finished.” The Old Covenant, marked by the Passover meal was now history, and the New Covenant launched. For two thousand years since then the Holy Communion has continued to live, reminding us of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood. No other sacrifice will ever be needed – tetelestai!
6. “It is finished.” Our sins were so great and the debt so high we could not even pay the interest. But Jesus died in our place. He paid our bill with His own blood and stamped each of our accounts “paid in full” – tetelestai!
By this time, Jesus’ face and head had swollen almost beyond recognition and His eyelids coagulated and sealed with His own blood (Isaiah 52:14). The Savior Who gave blind men sight had now lost His vision; the Rose of Sharon in those moments was blind (Song of Solomon 2:1). But He could still see with the eyes of His soul and knew His Father would be waiting for Him on the other side of death’s chilly Jordan. Yes, Jesus knew the silence of God did not mean the absence of God. He also knew resurrection was a mere three days away.
Jesus reached into the depths of His holy soul one last time and found His final reservoir of energy. His very parched tongue moved in sync with His vocal cords as He cried out with the loudest voice He could muster, “Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit.”
“When He had said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46).
It is finished, the battle is over,
It is finished there’ll be no more war,
It is finished the end of the conflict,
It is finished, and Jesus is Lord.
Lyrics and music by Bill and Gloria Gaither and Don Hustad, 1971.