It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. When he had said this, he breathed his last (Lk 23: 44-46)
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19: 30)
“Finished”. Normally something we look forward to being able to say. Something said with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. What then does it mean here? When it is on the lips of the thirsty man who is God? When it comes from the mouth of the God who as a dying man has known the depths of being forsaken by God?
One of the themes in John’s gospel is that Jesus is about his Father’s work. As he says in John 5 – "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working”. But, then, ominously, we read: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God”. The first signal in John’s gospel of where the story will end, where and how it will be finished. The pointer to a deeper more painful truth. The truth that Jesus’ wholehearted commitment to doing the work of his Father provokes us humans to turn on him and kill him. We have all turned away from finishing the work God calls us to as his image-bearers. We have all set about finishing our own work. And so we will all finish off anyone who truly bears God’s image and faithfully does his will.
But Jesus’ work is a life of total obedience and faithfulness. A life of complete trust and commitment to the will and work of God. A life wholly laid down in sacrificial love. And in a world of sinners the cost of that work is great. That is why we turn away from it. But Jesus was going to see his work through to completion. No matter what the cost.
And so, after hours of torment. After prayers for forgiveness and assurance of paradise. After enduring the terrors of abandonment by the God whose will and work he had come to do. After quenching his thirst. Then, and only then, was the work done. He would not leave it unfinished. He would not fail at the end and undo all the good he had done. He would not save himself by coming down from the cross and proving he was the Son of God. He would save others by staying on the cross and proving he was Son of God by being faithful to the last. ‘It is finished’.
And with this finished work, the work of the Temple was also now finished. The work of needing to gain access to God through priestly sacrifices was now brought to an end. The curtain separating sinners from a holy God was now torn in two. The work of redemption. The work of sacrifice. The work of reconciliation between God and those who bear but deny his image. That work was finished once and for all. For all of time and for all of eternity. Completed. Accomplished. Finished.
And so when we hear this word – “Finished” – from the cross we can know Christ’s work for us is done. We can be sure our redemption is gained. We can be confident that the gift of forgiveness he prayed for earlier is fully secured. We can rejoice that all our debts are fully paid. And we can be comforted that his Spirit – the Spirit the crucified Son gave up to his Father on finishing his work - is now given to us. Given to us who have been crucified with him so that we are empowered to finish the work that he now calls us to do as we take up our cross and follow Him.
Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand, your work of redemption finished, grant us grace to rest in your unfailing love, secure in knowing you have offered all and your sacrifice of faithful obedience has been accepted. Empower us now by your Spirit that, confident in such full assurance, we too might be about the Father’s work and live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.
Andrew Goddard has been on the Leadership Team of Fulcrum since its launch in 2003. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics based in Cambridge (where he was previously Associate Director). He has taught Christian Ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Trinity College, Bristol and is also an Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He is a canon at Winchester Cathedral and Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico where his wife, Lis, is Vicar. He is author of a number of books, most recently Rowan Williams: His Legacy (Lion, 2013) and co-editor with Andrew Atherstone of Good Disagreeement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church (Lion, 2015).