28 After this, Jesus, knowing[a] that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
“It is finished.” These are words of our Lord spoken immediately before He died on the cross. What do they mean? The Greek word that is here translated “finished” is the word “teleos.” That word does not merely imply that something is “over.” It means more. It connotes the idea of completion, accomplishment, and fulfillment. If we go back only a few verses to verse 28, we read “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished. . .” The Greek word there translated “accomplished” is the same word – teleos. And look at Luke 22: 37, where our Lord says “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me. . .” Again, the underlying Greek word is teleos, here translated “accomplished.”
What our Lord is saying then is not simply that he is now ready to die and that His physical suffering is over. Not at all.
I have spent 35 years working for and awaiting verdicts. Verdicts are words of decision and finality and consequence and power. When a verdict is pronounced, the battle is over. Someone wins and someone loses. I have experienced the rush of joy at a favorable verdict and the bitter disappointment of an unfavorable verdict, time and time again. I know a verdict when I see one, and these three words of our Lord Jesus Christ are a verdict. Or, rather, the verdict.
These three words mark the end of a spiritual battle that has been raging since the fall of humanity; since the rebellion of Satan. These words mark and announce the final and ultimate victory; the inevitable defeat of evil. It is accomplished.
It is all very fine, you may say, for one to take to the pulpit on Good Friday and speak of grand spiritual abstractions such as the final, universal defeat of evil, but what, you may fairly ask, does it mean to me? It seems very much like I face potent evil every; I face the fallen world and my fallen nature every day. Do these great words of Christ mean anything to me, here and now?
Yes, they do. These words not only have universal and ultimate consequences; they have immediate personal consequences for each of our individual lives, here and now. These three words are perhaps the most compact statement of the gospel anywhere in the Bible. They not only speak of the last chapter of history, they speak to us directly, in the very fallen circumstances in which we find ourselves.
And one of those immediate, personal consequences is rest. Once we understand that God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves; that all has been accomplished; that all will be well, then we may rest in His grace, rest in His assurance, rest in His promise. Our eternal destiny is fixed; it does not depend on our own merit. The Christian life may be one of striving, but for the Christian, there will be no anxious striving. We are fighting battles in a war that has already been won.
These words give us rest and they also give us perspective. How many times have you heard a coach say “get your head up?” When the team is down and all looks lost, we tend to drop our gaze and look not ahead, but at our feet. It is a sure sign that we’ve given up the fight and if we are to have any chance of victory, the coach knows that we’ve got to change the way we’re looking at things.
Tim Anderson, the author of several best-selling books on strength and conditioning, takes the matter deeper. He says that the human body is designed for a forward gaze:
We are made to keep our heads on the horizon both physically and mentally. When we drop our head, when we drop our thoughts, the body and mind follow. We slouch, we get depressed, we lose confidence and we “wilt.” Holding your gaze on the horizon helps keep your posture strong and your mind agile. When you can see the horizon, you have confidence and hope. You also have awareness and peripheral vision – if threats and attacks are coming, you’re more likely to notice. People that slouch, or mope, look like victims. People that stand tall look like victory.
What is the horizon? It’s the place where the edge of the earth meets the edge of heaven. It is the place where our hopes and aspirations meet with mundane life – with the frustrations, disappointments and decay of this mortal life. It is where all of our unfinished symphonies meet the perfect music of the spheres. The horizon is the farthest focal point we can stretch our gaze to. It is, if you will, the place where time meets eternity. Dare we turn our gaze there? In light of all that life has thrown at us, in light of all our failure and disappointment and loss, do we dare to keep our heads up and our gaze forward?
These final words of Christ on the cross tell us that we may. Indeed, they invite such forward- looking optimism. In light of Christ; in light of His completed work, what we see on the horizon is not death, but delight. Not frustration, but fulfillment. We see an empty cross and an empty tomb and hear the Master’s voice saying “All has been accomplished. Follow me. I have prepared a place for you.” And this is enough. It is all we need. Despite our failures and losses, our disappointments and frustrations, we may keep our heads up and our gaze forward and walk on to Him who did finish the work, who has accomplished all. Then we walk with confidence and awareness, from strength to strength, and on toward Him in whose presence is fullness of joy and in whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.