Sunday, April 13, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Three Days…
#1—Good Friday: It is finished!

Three days.  Three days that changed the world.  We’re going to take a fresh look at each of these three days, what happened and what they mean for us.  The first day is Good Friday. 

Jesus died on Friday.  We call it Good Friday, but there was nothing good about it, so why do we call it that?  Here’s what happened:

In the middle of the night, while Jesus was praying, a posse carrying clubs and torches found and arrested him.  They were led to the spot by Judas, one of Jesus’ inner circle, who had agreed to betray Jesus for money.  The rest of Jesus’ inner circle, fearing for their lives and safety, fled into the darkness.  They left Jesus alone in the hands of his enemies.  

Jesus was dragged before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court, who was looking for evidence to put Him to death.  False witnesses gave conflicting testimony.  Finally, the high priest asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of God.  And Jesus sealed His own fate by answering, “Yes.”  They had all the evidence they needed: blasphemy from His own lips.  They handed down the death sentence. 

But Israel was an occupied nation.  They had Roman soldiers who kept the peace and a Roman governor who ruled with bloody cruelty.  Only the Roman governor had the authority to issue the death penalty.  So they took Jesus to Pilate…but they changed the charges.  They knew that a charge of blasphemy would carry no weight with Rome.  So they charged Jesus with sedition; they said He claimed to be a king and was inciting rebellion against Rome. 

A little background.  In those days, the Jews longed to be free of Roman occupation.  Many Jews placed their hope in the coming of a Messiah—the Greek word was Christos, from which we get our English word, “Christ”.  They believed that the Messiah (the Christ) would be a God-sent leader who would drive out the Romans and make Israel free and great.  There were at least 18 Messiah candidates that we know of in Jesus’ lifetime.  Every one of them met the same fate.  They were captured and executed, most of them by crucifixion.  So while Jesus’ claim was blasphemy to the Jews, it could easily be portrayed to Pilate as sedition, a threat to the peace.

Pilate had a difficult job.  He was charged with keeping the peace in a very volatile country, and he did it by being ruthless. An ancient writer named Philo said Pilate’s rule was marked by bribery, insults, robberies, supreme cruelty, executions without a trial, and a furious, vindictive temper.[1]  He wasn’t a nice man. 

Now he’s faced with another threat to the peace: Jesus, accused by the Jewish rulers of trying to be the Messiah and lead a revolt against Rome.  Like many lies, this one had a grain of truth.  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked him.  “Yes,” Jesus said.  But despite this admission, Pilate knew that Jesus was no political threat, that the Jewish rulers were motivated by self-interest.  He wanted to let Jesus go, not out of any kindness or sense of justice, but for his own self-interest.

When the Jewish leaders insisted that he condemn Jesus, Pilate offered them a choice: Jesus or Barabbas.  Barabbas was an freedom fighter—he had taken part in a recent uprising and was on death row.  In one of the supreme ironies of history, the Jewish leaders who had turned Jesus in on trumped on charges of sedition, chose Barabbas who was actually guilty of sedition. 

“Give us Barabbas!” they shouted.

Still unwilling to cave in to the Jewish leaders, Pilate thought that a good beating might satisfy them, so he ordered Jesus to be scourged.  Jesus was stripped, and his back stretched tight across a whipping post.  Then a trained Roman legionnaire applied 39 strokes with a whip called a “cat-o-nine tails”.  This whip had nine leather thongs each tipped with a piece of metal.  An experienced soldier could strip the skin and flesh off the back of a victim.  Many of them didn’t survive the scourging.  Jesus was beaten to within an inch of His life.

 Afterwards, Pilate presented a bloodied and beaten Jesus to them, and insisted that he could find no reason for a death penalty.

 “Crucify him,” they shouted.

“Why? What crime has he committed?”

“Crucify him!  If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar.”

That was the final straw.  Pilate was already on thin ice with Caesar; if the accusation that he was soft on anti-Rome terrorists got back to Rome, he was done for.  So in a final act of self-interest, Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus was laid out on the crosspiece and fixed to it by iron nails driven through the top of his wrists.  The crosspiece was then raised on a ladder or pulley and bound to the upright.  Then Jesus’ feet, placed one over the other, were nailed below.  Crucifixion was a long slow agonizing death usually ended by suffocation, as the victim was no longer able to relieve the constriction of the chest.  It was invented by the Persions, developed by the Cathaginians, but perfected by the Romans who used it widely to terrorize occupied populations. Josephus refers to it as ‘the most wretched of deaths’. Cicero called it ‘a most cruel and terrible penalty…incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it’.  It was so terrible that no Roman citizen was permitted to undergo it, no matter how heinous his crime.[2]

On Friday, Jesus died on a cross.  We call it Good Friday.  You have to wonder, “What could possibly be good about Good Friday?”  The answer may be found in Jesus’ final words before He died.

John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Question: What did Jesus mean when He cried, “It is finished!”?  What was finished at the cross? 

Given the terrible suffering that Jesus experienced, it would be natural to think that He was simply saying, “It’s over.  It’s done.  I’m dying.”  But that’s not what He meant.

ILL: Recently, Laina and I refinished our dining room chairs.  The estimate to refinish them was $150 per chair!  There are 8 chairs—you can do the math.  I decided we could do it ourselves.  Between the cleaning, stripping, sanding, and multiple finish coats, it took about 10 hours per chair.  When we finally finished, one of us said, “It is finished…whew.” And the other said, “It is finished…woohoo!”  One was a sigh of relief, and the other a shout of triumph.  I’ll let you guess which one said what…but all I want to say is that I’m really proud of Laina for doing all that work!

How many of you let out a sigh of relief when you finished school?  “It’s over…finally.”  How many gave a shout of triumph?  “Woohoo!  I did it!”  You know what I mean.

Jesus gave a shout of triumph from the cross.  “It is finished!”  The Greek word is tetelestai.  It means that something is fully accomplished.  Or as you say sometimes, “Done, done and done!”    What was finished on the cross? 

 

1. Jesus’ response to the Father’s will: complete obedience.

As the Son of God, Jesus goal was to exactly what His Father wanted.  He lived to do His Father’s will.  He said this repeatedly.  Here are a couple examples.

In John 4, while Jesus’ disciples had gone into town to pick up food for lunch, Jesus had a conversation with a woman by a well.  When they returned, they urged Jesus, “Teacher, eat something.”  Jesus answered with this enigmatic statement, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  Of course, they thought someone had brought Him food while they were away; maybe the woman they had seen visiting with Jesus.  Then Jesus said this:

John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

You’ve all heard the saying, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”  Jesus didn’t live to eat; He lived to do God’s will and finish His work.  And what was that work?

John 4:35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

The woman whom Jesus had met at the well had invited her neighbors to come and see Jesus for themselves.  I imagine as Jesus said this, He swept His hand toward the field where dozens of people were coming to meet Him.  God’s work was this harvest of people—bringing people back to God.

Jesus lived to do the will of His Father and finish His work. 

John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

Jesus always did what the Father wanted.  He lived in perfect obedience to God.  Even in those last terrible hours before the cross, when He prayed in the garden, Jesus said,

Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Even when doing God’s will meant facing an agonizing death and enduring the wrath of God for all human sin, Jesus said yes.  “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  This was how He lived every moment of His life.   He could even say to His adversaries, “Which of you can accuse me of sin?”  And they were silent—none of them could. 

He lived a perfect life—the only human who ever lived in complete and perfect obedience to God.  Read His life…and you have to love Him!  He loved the unloveables and the outcasts.  He healed the sick, freed the oppressed, opened blind eyes, and even raised the dead.  He fed the hungry and promised rest for the weary.  He had time to hug children and to stop for the most marginalized people in society.   He spoke with unmatched authority and His words ring true centuries later.  There has never been anyone else like Him…ever. 

He is not only our Savior, but our example, the One we follow, the One whom we want to become like. 

What was finished on the cross?  Jesus’ response to the Father’s will: a life of complete obedience.  “Not my will, but Yours be done.” 

It is finished.  Done, done and done! 

2. Jesus’ revelation of the Father’s heart: the final Word.

As the Word of God, Jesus’ goal was to fully reveal the Father to us.  Jesus came to make the invisible God visible.  He came so we could see and know God.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Who is the Word?  Jesus.  Notice that the Word was in the beginning.  There has never been a time when the Word wasn’t.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus, the Word, took on human flesh.  He became one of us.  We’ve seen His glory, full of grace and truth.

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

No one has ever seen God, but the Son, the Word, has made Him known.  The Greek word here is the word for a narrative that tells a story in detail.  Jesus’ life is the narrative story of God.  Jesus took on flesh and lived among us so we could see what God is like.  God is like Jesus.  If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.

John 14:8–9 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

Want to see God?  Look at Jesus.  When you see Jesus, you have seen the Father. 

Friends, do you ever wonder what God is like?  Look at Jesus.  He is the final Word on God.  He fully revealed God to us.  Do you ever read things in the Old Testament and wonder about God?  I do—I admit that I don’t understand some of the Old Testament stories.  But when I have questions about what God is like, I know where to go.  I look at Jesus.  He is the final Word on God, the full revelation of the Father’s heart.  And the final revelation took place on the cross. 

There we see grace and truth in full measure.  We see the full truth of our sinfulness and rebellion, and of God’s holiness and justice.  And we see the full grace and love of God as He took our place and bore our punishment.  God is more holy than you can imagine, and God is more loving than you’ve ever dreamed.  We often say that the gospel is the you are more flawed than you ever dared to believe, and you are more loved in Christ than you ever dared to hope.  In Jesus we see the full measure of God’s grace and truth, and it was fully revealed on the cross.

What was finished on the cross? Jesus’ revelation of the Father’s heart.  Do you want to know what God is like?  Look at Jesus, full of grace and truth. 

It is finished.  Done, done and done. 

 

3. Jesus’ redemption of the Father’s world: paid in full. 

As the Lamb of God, Jesus came as the full and final sacrifice.  From the very beginning, God said that the penalty for sin is death.  And from the beginning, God allowed a sacrifice to take our place, so we could approach Him without dying ourselves. 

  • When Adam and Eve sinned, an animal was sacrificed to make clothing and cover their nakedness, so they could stand before God.  One sacrifice for a person.
  • On the Passover night in Egypt, each family sacrificed a lamb and smeared the blood on their door.  One sacrifice for a family.
  • Later, the Israelites would offer the scapegoat each year.  The high priest would lay his hands on the animal and confess the sins of the nation.  One sacrifice for the nation.

Then when Jesus came, John Baptist said:

John 1:29 “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

One sacrifice for the world. 

Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and to reveal the Father’s heart, and to redeem the Father’s world.  Here is His mission in His own words.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He came to give His life as a ransom for many.  He knew that as the Lamb of God, He was the full and final sacrifice that would atone for our sin and reconcile us to God.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

He came to seek and to save the lost.  He came looking for you.  For me.  He came to bring us back to God, and He knew it would cost Him His life.

It is wrong to think of Jesus as a martyr, a victim of the competing political and religious forces of His day.  It is clear as you read the story that He was in charge the entire time. 

John 10:17–18 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

No one took Jesus’ life from Him; He laid it down.  He gave it.  And He said that this is why He came: to give His life as a ransom for us.  To be the final sacrifice. 

Jesus gave His life to redeem the Father’s world.  He took upon Himself all our sin and bore God’s righteous wrath and judgment in our place.  And before He died, He shouted, “It is finished.”  Tetelestai!  Paid in full!  That word was actually stamped upon bills when they were paid in full.  Tetelestai.  It is finished—paid in full.  Every sin is paid for.  God’s righteous judgment is satisfied.

Some people have trouble with this idea of God’s righteous judgment.  But everyone wants justice. 

ILL: This week, a jury found Gail Gerlach not guilty in the shooting death of Brendon Kaluza-Graham.  It was a controversial verdict and people were divided.  Some thought the verdict was an injustice because Graham didn’t deserve to die for stealing a truck.  Human life is more important than property.  Had the verdict gone the other way, some would have thought it an injustice that Gerlach went to prison for 10 years for protecting himself from perceived harm from a thief.   What did both sides want?  Justice. 

Everyone wants justice.  Everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong, and the sense that wrong should be corrected or punished.  We are uneasy with the idea of God’s righteous judgment, but we would be more uneasy without it.  Justice is part of our nature.  God is holy—more than you can imagine.  You are sinful—more than you know.  And justice demands that your sin be punished, and that punishment is death.  That’s justice.

ILL: Let’s go back to the courtroom.  Let’s imagine that it is you on trial.  But in this case, there is no doubt about your guilt.  There are no questionable circumstances.  You are guilty, everyone knows it, and you admit it.  How do you plead?  “Guilty your honor.”  The judge announces your sentence: you will serve the rest of your life in prison.  You will die there.  Your life is over.  You begin to sob.

But then something remarkable happens.  The judge rises from the bench, and orders the bailiff to set you free.  “I’m going to serve your sentence,” he says, “so that you can go free.”  And with that, the judge is handcuffed and taken away. 

You see, the judge is your father, and he loves you.  He is a judge and justice had to be served.  But he is your father, and love had to be expressed.  So he took your place.

Good Friday is so bad because of the horrible evil that men did.  And Good Friday is so good because of the incredible love of God that overcame all the evil.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What was finished on the cross?  Jesus’ redemption of the Father’s world.  On the cross, Jesus paid it all—our sins were paid in full.  Love won.

It is finished!  Done, done and done.

Communion and prayer

Closing video

[1] Ortberg, John (2012-07-31). Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (p. 167).

[2] Milne, B. (1993). The message of John: here is your king!: with study guide (p. 277). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.