Jesus’ Last Word: Tetelestai, “It Is Finished”

Our readings for this Good Friday service are drawn from the Gospel according to Luke. John, for some reason, records a word of Jesus that Luke did not record: tetelestai – It is finished.

John 19:28–30 (ESV) “28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The word “Tetelestai,” “It is finished,” begs a question: “What is finished?”

The thing finished – the referent of the pronoun, “it,” for you grammarians – started a long time time ago,  moments after the world fell into sin. Two readings from Genesis will suffice to summarize the story for this meditation.

Genesis 2:16–17 (ESV) “16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””

Genesis 3:6–7 (ESV) “6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Everything that steals our joy entered into the world the moment mankind listened to Satan, the adversary, the accuser, and turned away from God’s instructions. It all comes down to death, the death of a right relationship with God, the source of life. We all know its symptoms: shame, fear, rage, sorrow, apathy, grief, cruelty, selfishness, depression, judgment, confusion, loneliness, anxiety. These were not meant to be part of the human experience but when death came it brought a whole host of pain in its wake.

Adam & Eve’s decision to distrust God calls to mind Proverbs 14:12 – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

Jesus said, “Tetelestai” – It is finished. So what is finished? The crushing of Satan’s head. The adversary is undone.  The prophecy given immediately following Adam & Eve’s foolish decision told us that this disaster would be overturned:

Genesis 3:15 (ESV) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Now, Jesus says the word from the cross that we contemplate this evening: “tetelestai” – It is finished. Satan was crushed. The power of Satan’s work was undone by God himself entering into death to break its bonds.

The book of Hebrews puts the whole story in a nutshell.

Hebrews 2:14–15 (ESV) “14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

The restoration has begun. It begins not in the power structures of the world, but in the hearts of people who are willing to trust Jesus. It begins when we accept God’s perspective on ourselves: that we are his dearly beloved and we are worth dying for. As we see Jesus die, know that he would do it again, for you, for me.

To think of the cross as primarily pointing to our sin is to miss the main point of the cross. The parables Jesus told describing the kingdom of God were not about heinous torture willingly endured. They were about fathers who love their children and long to see them home. They were about kings and nobles who want their feasting halls filled. They were about shepherds searching for lost sheep and people finding great treasure.

Jesus died to set us free from the natural consequences of sin, not to strangle us in chords of guilt and shame. While it may be appropriate to spend a moment contemplating the depth of our sin as displayed on the cross, it is crucial that we see the depth of God’s love and God’s desire for our redemption in the cross.

Tetelestai. It is finished. God has showed us his love for us. “Greater love has no man than that he gives up his life for his friends.” God cannot show love for us in any greater way. It is finished. Satan is conquered.

The question for those looking at the cross is, “Will you receive it?” Will you take for yourself God’s view of you, that you are worth dying for? All that needs doing for you to be reconciled to God has been done by Jesus Christ. Tetelestai. It is finished.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you could do that would make God love you less.

Will you trust that word of Jesus from the cross, tetelestai, when the attacks of the vanquished enemy, Satan, come upon you? Each time feel the onslaught of shame, fear, rage, sorrow, apathy, grief, cruelty, selfishness, depression, judgment, confusion, loneliness, anxiety and the like, will you look again at the cross to see your own infinite value to the creator of the universe?

Will you let Christ’s finished work do its work on you?

Paul describes the continuing task of our lives in this way to the Christians in Rome:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)

Look at the cross. See the love. Let it move you. Let it transform how you think of yourself, how you think of others, how you think of the world, and how you think about how to love others as Christ has loved us.

Amen.

The Humble Alarm – A great tool for focus, productivity, creativity and joy

There are all sorts of wonderful time management systems and programs to help you organize your life and keep moving in the direction you want. But the humble alarm has, perhaps, the greatest value in helping you use your time in a focused and productive way.

We all have limited time available. Most of us have enough to do that we have to schedule our day. We have a certain amount of time for exercise, prayer, getting the kids off to school, before a particular appointment at work, before dinner, etc. The result is that while we are doing all the things we need to do our minds are subtly watching the clock. It’s like a background process on your cell phone that is always running and using up your battery even though you never see it.

Setting an alarm will change all that. Of course you can keep track of the time, but why should you use up the tremendous creative and productive power of your brain for something so mundane? If you have ever checked the clock while you are working on a project, then your brain is running its time-keeping app in the background and sapping some of your creative energy. (This doesn’t apply if you are working toward a hard deadline for completing a project, of course.) If you have noticed that you keep an eye on the clock when you are playing with your kids, then your brain is running its time-keeping app in the background and subtly distracting you from being fully engaged with your children. If you take time to read/pray/journal/meditate and check the clock in the middle of your time… well, you get the idea. Executives with personal secretaries do this all the time: “Don’t disturb me for the next 90 minutes unless it’s an emergency.”

Setting an alarm frees your mind to focus on the task at hand. Setting an alarm frees you to fully give yourself to whatever you are doing. Setting an alarm can help you minimize distraction. Setting an alarm will help to maximize the focus and creativity you can direct at whatever you’re are doing from playing to working to praying.

Setting an alarm frees you to be more fully in the moment if you have a schedule to keep.

Alarms aren’t for every task. When you do use an alarm, it can either be setting aside a block of time (like the executive’s 90 minutes mentioned above) or an alarm to make sure you stop in time for the next thing you have to do.

If you start setting alarms, I bet you will find yourself much more fully in the moment. You will be immersed in the task at hand, present for the energy, creativity and joy that come with undistracted engagement.

Instead of watching the clock, set an alarm and forget about the time altogether. Try it and see.

Dig Deeper Audio/Video Bible Study – “Ecclesia – Church”

In this episode of Dig Deeper, we continue our series “7 Greek Words Every Christian Should Know” with the word “Ecclesia,” which is the word translated as “church” in most English versions. By the end of this study you will see that “church” doesn’t have to do with buildings at all, except insofar as they serve the needs and mission of the ecclesia.

CLICK HERE for the audio version of this Dig Deeper Bible study

Or click the image below for the YouTube video version of this Dig Deeper Bible study

Dig Deeper Bible Study on “hagios/holy”

In this Dig Deeper Bible Study, we look into the Greek word, “Hagios,” which means, “holy.” This is part 3 of the 7 part series: Seven Greek Words Every Christian Should Know

CLICK HERE to listen to or download an MP3 audio only version

Click the image below to view the video version of this Dig Deeper Bible study on YouTube.

Which Pixar character is Donald Trump?

I have strong political feelings, but I rarely comment on them, especially when it concerns people. I like recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia’s maxim: “I attack ideas not people.” But people get elected and so occasionally commenting on a person is part of the process in our country. Here’s my comment for today:

I think I found Donald Trump in the Pixar movie, “Up!” Tell me what you think.

I think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for an unprincipled do-whatever-it-takes bully, a guy who admittedly has given lots of money to both political parties because it buys him access. Do you think someone who buys access isn’t going to sell access? Do you think someone who uses eminent domain to force people off their property for the sake of his development efforts is going to be the champion of the little guy once he is elected?

I understand that there is a great deal of anger out there on the part of conservatives, libertarians, constitutional originalists and the like. It seems like no leader is fighting the socialist trends you fear. But do you think Donald Trump is really conservative or just tapping into that frustration? Do you think Donald Trump is really a champion of individual liberty or he is just tapping into that frustration. Do you think Donald Trump really respects and reveres the principles of our constitution or do you think he is just tapping into that anger? I think he is none of those things and just recognizes the opportunity that is presenting itself.

The developer in “Up!” saw the opportunity to get Carl’s property for his building project by having Carl committed to an institution after Carl briefly lost his temper when the construction crew damaged a mailbox his deceased wife had painted. It was all an accident, but the circumstances were irrelevant to the developer. He found a way to get what he wanted, so he took it. He was a winner.

I, myself, lean to the conservative, libertarian, constitutional originalist side of politics, though I think there is a middle ground to be sought for a compassionate society.

But I think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the guy who took Carl’s home.