Scripture References: John 19:30; 1 Corinthians 15:14; Hebrews 10:1–14
Two thousand years ago when Jesus was hanging spread eagle over the town garage dump he said something radical. He said, “It is finished” then “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
Then, some years later, the apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians in the Roman city of Corinth, explaining the basis for the message he was preaching. He told them: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:14). What was he preaching? His message was about the significance of Jesus’ radical words.
I want to talk about the significance of “It is finished!” But before I do, you need to know without Jesus’ resurrection nothing I would say would means diddly. A dead man, however, got up and walked; so, those radical words of Jesus’ can be stated more emphatically: “It is really finished!”—It ain’t no April fools joke!
Have you heard of the Winchester Mystery House? In San Jose, California there’s a mansion built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the gun manufacture William Winchester. When he died of tuberculosis, Sarah inherited the modern equivalent of $520 million dollars and 50% of the company. In 1884, she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley and began, without a plan, to complete it. Funded by her tremendous wealth, a team of carpenters worked continually for 38 years. There were stairways to nowhere and windows that opened to blank walls. Construction stopped only once: upon her death in 1922.
Sarah never felt the house was finished. There was always more work to do. I bet God says that about us sometimes: “You never think the work is done; you don’t think it’s settled. But I settled it two thousand years ago. It’s finished, it is really finished.”
When I greet someone I often ask them how they’re doing. The most common response is: “I’m tired.” They’re busy with work, busy with kids, busy with chores, busy running from event to event, busy with sports, busy with being busy.
Are you worn out?
Have you ever heard someone return from a vacation and say they need another vacation to recover from their vacation?
Others are tired because they’re getting older, their bodies aren’t working as well as they used to. I just had surgery because I jumped wrong on a trampoline. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d been 15 years younger.
Still others are emotionally tired. They’ve gone through tough stuff. They know first-hand that we’re broken people, living in a world of other broken people.
But what really concerns me as a pastor, is when I see spiritually exhausted people. Folks who are continually working, like Sarah Winchester’s carpenters, to be approved by God. They assume if they’re going to gain and maintain God’s love, they have to earn it.
Origin of the Law of Reciprocity
Where in the world does this idea come from? Well, I think it comes from two places:
1. How the World Works
First, the world functions according to the law of reciprocity—it’s a psychological phenomenon which basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. This phenomenon shows up all over the place: work hard in school, get a good grade; work hard at work, get a raise, or all least keep your job. If I put in so much good into a relationship with my spouse, my parents, my neighbors, then I expect to get so much good back. In sum, perform and prosper.
2. What the Church Teaches
Second—and I can’t recall ever being directly taught this—I grew up going to church and youth group, and attending Christian camps. And what I was taught was all the things I should do to be a ‘good’ Christian: read the Bible, pray, attend church, follow the rules, wear the right clothes, speak the right words, participate in the right projects. What I caught from all of that was if God was to be happy with me, I had better perform well.
It’s not a far jump from these to the conclusion that God must also work according to the law of reciprocity. That, in other words, his love is contingent on my performance.
But that’s not how it works! Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross tells us that God’s unconditional love comes first, before we do anything (1 John 4:19). Jesus did all that needed doing for God to accept you.
Society won’t tell you this good news, but Jesus does. We need to know that the work is finished, because life is exhausting, and we’re tired.
Do you know that Jesus said in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (v. 28). He didn’t say, “Come to me, I’ll tell you how to get it right.” He said, “Come and rest; it is finished.”
Three Symptoms of Exhaustion
We believe theologically in justification by grace, that we’re loved and accepted by God not because of what we do, but because of what God in Christ has done for us. And yet we live functionally as though we’re justified by works—that we have to validate our existence by what we do.
Social media is case in point: If we’re smart, we tweet it to the world; if we’re beautiful, we’re posting pictures of ourselves, etc.. We want folks to say, “She really matters.”
That’s exhausting. Do you want to know if you’re tied to the performance treadmill? I’ll give you three symptoms of exhaustion and you can diagnosis yourself.
Has anyone heard of the word: Stress? It pops up when multiple things have a claim on you and are being pulled in different directions. Like, you feel the need to perform well at work, but all feel the need to be attentive to your spouse, and a present parent to your children.
Brittany came to me the other day and said that we weren’t connecting as well as she would like. My first thought was, “Really? We’re working together all day long.” That wasn’t what she was getting at. She was saying that in our down times, my mind was still off in space thinking about the church. The claim of the church is a strong force, pulling in an opposite direction from being a husband and a father.
When strong conflicting claims are pulling long enough, you get tired, then you get sick. “Ah,” you say, “get your priorities straight; manage your time better.” But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is deeper.
The conflicting claims are asking a profound question: What is your identity? Most of us answer: “I am what I do.” That’s where our value is.
Picture stress a bit like a vice in a blacksmith’s workshop. One arm of the vice is the law, all of the obligations imposed on you. Then, think of the vice’s other arm as all of the desires you have for yourself. These two arms—obligations and desires—squeeze us so tight because of our fears. If you had no fear of being judged, or no fear of not obtaining your desires, then you wouldn’t have any stress. But fear. Why? Because your identity has been tied to what you do.
So, stress is one symptom we run into on the performance treadmill. Another symptom is depression.
You know the heavy load of hopelessness that settles like a dark cloud over your confidence and hope, that’s depression. It typically comes when we feel judged. But it can also come from our own self-criticism.
Judgement makes us feel weak, and when weakness becomes the only thing we believe about ourself to be true, depression overtakes. For some it can be so debilitating that they can’t drive, can’t read a book, can’t talk to their spouse, can’t cook or eat. Life get’s paralyzed.
But, and hear me, depression clues us into just how much we desired to be valued. In the face of judgment, we wilt like a flower in the summer heat.
I’ve talk about stress and depression, and there is one more symptom that tells us we’re on the perforce treadmill: Anger.
Anger is a response to a hostile invasion. Remember the old advice about defensive driving: “Drive as if the other drivers hate you, and are trying to kill you”? An angry person lives like that. They interpret difficulties and conflicts as an attack on their sense of self.
When your heartbeat is raging, your hands are shaking, the red lights are flashing in your mind, that’s your body responding to the fear that you just might be truly be small, weak, insignificant, and vulnerable after all. Anger is our attempt to mask fear and protect our self.
Friends, stress, depression, and anger are all prisons of fear that are hard to escape from.
I hate Valentine’s Day. I remember back in 4th grade when I stayed up all night making Valentines for my class. The following day, I delightfully distributing them the decorated paper bags each classmate had placed on the windowsill. When the time came to retrieve our bags, I ran to the window, carried mine back to my desk, and dumped it out. Four Valentines fell out. Two were generic. Two were nasty-grams: “We don’t like you. Why are you in our class.”
I was paralyzed. I felt condemned. I shrunk. What did I do to deserve this? What could I do to be acceptable? Judgement brought fear: stress, depression, and anger followed—how could I fix it?
Romans says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Why does it say that? Because judgement is really finished!
How Change Comes
Now, if you listen to what I’m going to tell you next it will change your life. I’m going to read you something so good from the 10th chapter of Hebrews.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb 10:1–14).
I’m hear often: “Ya know, I’ve gone to church, but nothing is different. I feel the same when I come out of church as when I went in. What’s the point?” I get that. It makes me sad.
It makes me sad because what folks are telling me is: “I’m not receiving good news. The radical ‘Once and for all—It is finished’ truth isn’t being applied to my soul, like a painter applies paint. The stress, the depression, the anger—they’re still there.”
So, consider the last verse I just read: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all times those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). That means that it is not what we do that changes us. What changes us from the inside out, is what the Lord has done for us.
If you really listen to what I’m going to tell you next, I think you’ll find rest in those radical words of Jesus: “It is really finished!” I want to make three contrasts, which I hope you’ll remember.
1. Petition vs. Praise
The first contrast is the difference between petition and praise.
I have a good friend. He’s old, has grey hair, and had been in Christian ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He’s done some crazy things in ministry one of which was hosting a TV show. That’s crazy—you never know what’s going to happen, especially if it’s live.
Once on his show he was interviewing Richard Dortch. I don’t expect you to know who Richard Dortch is, and he died in 2011 anyway. But Richard Dortch had been a well respect superintendent in the Assemblies of God church. He was so well respected, that when the evangelist Jim Bakker’s ministry was taking off he asked Richard to come and run things, to give the ministry some respectability. So Dortch joined up with Bakker and things blossomed. But then, Richard sold his soul, did inappropriate things with money, and went to prison. My friend interviewed him when he got out of prison.
During the interview, my friend asked a question and Richard began answering, then, all of a sudden he stopped, faced the camera, and said, “I am so sorry, would you please forgive me?” Then the interview continued. After about 3 minutes later it happened again. Richard stopped in mid-sentence, turned to the camera and said, “I am so sorry, would you please forgive me?” My friend thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.”
But then it happened a third time. When it happened a fourth time, my friend said, “Richard, will you shut up. You’re driving me nuts. We forgave you the first time. God loves you. Christ loves you. We love you. Can we get back to the interview?”
Richard was groveling, locked into petition.
Friends, some of you have stuff in your closet that you’re confessing every day. Some of you did something last night and perhaps you’re thinking, “Lord, if I go to church on Easter, will you come and wash me?”
I’m here to tell you that God’s perfect love reaches down to imperfect people—it’s unconditional. God’s acceptance isn’t based on how well you grovel, or your doing penance. It is based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. When you get that, when you realize that God’s not mad at you, joy will flood your soul, and praise will flow from your mouth.
2. Religion vs. Reality
That’s the difference between petition and praise. Another contrast that helps us to grasp that It Is Really Finished, is the difference between religion and reality.
Let’s go back to the first verse in Hebrews 10: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (v. 1). Then from verse 3: “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.”
The Israelites made more sacrifices than you ever will. And none of those sacrifices fixed them. The only thing they did was remind them them that they were dirty rotten scoundrels who deserved hell and needed grace.
I really hate religion, I really do. Because religion only ever says: “Not good enough.” Sacrifices and rituals are never enough. They never clean our conscience from sin. They surely never tell us good news: “It is finished!”
Religion makes people crazy, it ties them in knots, it bends them into a pretzels; it makes them sick; it leaves them thinking that God is mad at them and they back flips to perform. Religion makes people neurotic.
Have you heard of The Caveman Myth? The Greek philosopher, Plato, told this myth, illustrating the difference between shadow and reality. He said, imagine if you were born in a cave, growing up there from infancy, and all the people you saw were shadows reflected on the wall by the fire as they walked behind you. If shadows were all you ever saw, it would be natural to mistake them for reality. But they aren’t reality.
This is what Hebrews 10 is saying about religion. All the sacrifices, the blood, the religious works, the prayers, the pilgrimages, the feasts, the fasts, all of it is religion—a shadow of reality. And shadows cannot help you.
This is why the writer of Hebrews points to Jesus, the Lamb of God. He is the one the shadows point at. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11–12). Did you catch that? He sat down! It is really finished!
There’s a story of a orphan girl. Sitting in her dorm room one day she wrote a note; put it in an envelope; walked outside; climbed onto the seating wall in front of the orphanage; stood on her tip toes; and tucked the note into a crook in a branch of a nearby tree.
While she was doing this the principal of the orphanage was watching from a window. After she was back in her dorm room. He went down to the tree, retrieved the note, and opened it. It read: “To whomever finds this, Will somebody love me?”
You don’t have to write notes. Some of you have been writing so many notes you’ve run out of ink: God would you love me; I’m being good; I’ve memorize Bible verses; I read the Bible every day; I say my prayers every night; I’m involved in more ministries than there are minutes in the day; would you please love me.”
Jesus is the reality. And his resurrection… it’s the stamp of authenticity declaring that God’s love is unconditional.
3. Judgement vs. Joy
So we have the difference between petition and praise; and religion and reality. The last contrast you need to know is the difference between judgment and joy.
If you look at the whole of Hebrews 10, I think you can hear it telling you to sing. Sing because judgment is finished: it fell on Jesus. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). It’s finishes, it’s really finished.
I live with three dogs, but I’m going to tell you about two of them. One is small and white. He is Milo, and he’s old. He doesn’t do much of anything. But he’s obedient. When I get up in the morning I let him out to do his business. I don’t need a leash. When I say come, he comes. When I say sit, he sits. When I say go to bed, he goes.
But this dog doesn’t know how to have fun. Once I threw a frisbee for him and he just stood there, “That was interesting,” he said. “Do you think you could do it again?” That’s Milo, he’s obedient, but he doesn’t understand grace.
I have another dog. Her name is Nevada, and she is a big as a mountain. If you come over to visit, this black beast will knock you down to say hello. When I let her out I have to put her on the leash even though we have a fence, because she won’t come back. Last week when it snowed I forgot to put her on the leash. It took two hours to get her back in the house. I stood at the door yelling at her, “Come in here, dog! Come in here or I swear I’ll break your legs.” And she came over to the door shaking her tail, as if to say, “You won’t break my legs, you love me,” then crouched down in play-mode and ran away again.
I love these dogs. I really appreciate Milo’s obedience, he doesn’t give me a heart-attack. I love Milo. But I delight in Nevada. She makes me laugh.
Sometimes I do things right. And when I don’t I’m still loved. That’s the difference between judgment and joy. When I think about that, I remember how I am forgiven, how Jesus paid it all, how grace abounds, how Jesus rose from the dead, and then how he sat down. It is really finished. I’m free. I’m forgiven. I’m loved unconditionally and so are you.
Had Jesus not risen there would be no reason for joy. But he did.
It is finished; it is really finished!