Revive Our Hearts Radio

The Word of Triumph

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss shares the story of someone who was driven to perform.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Cecil Rhodes was a 19th century British business magnate and founder of the state of Rhodesia in South Africa. It was said that as he lay dying, he cried out, “So little done, so much to do!”

That sounds like something that I often say at the end of a day. Do you ever find yourself wondering if that’s the way you’re going to feel at the end of your life? “So little done, so much to do!”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

As she continues in the series "The Incomparable Christ," Nancy offers a contrast to that idea: There’s no time, and still so much to do.”

Nancy: As we consider the sixth of seven words that Christ spoke from the cross today, we’re going to see a very different ending to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry than that of Cecil Rhodes, and that of many others who come to the end of their lives lamenting unfinished business.

Just to recap a little bit, if you’ve not been with us over the last several sessions in this series on the seven words of Christ: The first three words that Jesus spoke from the cross were words of ministry to others. There was a prayer for His enemies to be forgiven. He spoke a word of assurance to the broken, repentant thief. And then He spoke a word of care and concern for His widowed mother.

So He was focusing on those around Him and how He could minister into their lives. That’s an awesome thing to think of Jesus doing that as He’s being tortured and crucified for sins that He did not commit. But that’s the heart of our incomparable Savior.

Then we looked at the fourth cry, which was a cry of spiritual anguish—“My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—as Jesus went into the deepest, darkest part and mystery of His suffering on the cross. He was abandoned, forsaken by His Father.

Then we looked in the last session at the fifth cry, which was a cry of physical anguish—“I thirst”—and showing how Jesus, in His humanity, experienced the full depth of our human weakness and need. But we also saw how in His thirst He made it possible for us not to have to thirst and to be able to have the living water of life.

The next word that Christ spoke from the cross, the sixth one, may be the single greatest word ever uttered in the history of mankind.

We’re looking today at John, chapter 19. To give you just a little bit of context for this word, let’s start at verse 28:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." 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. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (vv. 28–30).

“It is finished!” Three English words, but one single Greek word, the word . . . and I’ve heard this pronounced different ways, but I’m going to pronounce it the way I’ve heard it most often, and that is tetelestai (te-tel-a-sty). It’s a word that means "accomplished, performed, completed." It’s not just that you finish something—like you don’t do it anymore. But it means to bring it to perfection, to bring it to the desired goal. It’s accomplished. What you set out to do has been fulfilled—tetelestai.

Now, this cry of Christ on the cross was not a cry of defeat or despair. It could sound different ways, depending on how you read it, and how you interpret what was going on there. You could say, “Whew! It’s finished!”—like just relief that it’s all over. Or you could have this despairing cry, “It’s finished!—but I’m so undone by all of this.” You could have a cry of defeat or despair, like, “I’ve been defeated.”

But there was none of that in this cry. In fact, we don’t see it in this account of John. He just says, “He said, ‘It is finished.’” But if you look at the parallel accounts in Matthew and in Mark, you read a little bit more about how He said, “Tetelestai—It is finished.”

Matthew’s version tells us—Matthew 27: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (v. 50). Now, what He said with that loud voice, when you put all these accounts together, was: “Tetelestai! It is finished!” So far from being a cry of defeat or despair, this was a cry of triumph, a cry of jubilation. This was the shout of a Victor!

As Charles Spurgeon said about this word of Christ on the cross, “It would need all the other words that ever were spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is deep; I cannot fathom it.”1

Now, if Charles Spurgeon said there was no language to explain this word, and it was too deep for him to fathom, I can just tell you that in the next twenty minutes I’m not going to fathom this word—or the next lifetime—so I’m just going to do the best I can to give you some fruit of my own study and meditation to give us some glimpses into a bit of what Christ meant when He said, “It is finished.”

The way I would like to do that is by asking the question: What was it that was finished at that moment? What was it that was finished? “It is finished.” What is it? What was finished? I want to suggest several things that were finished that Christ was perhaps referring to when He said, “Tetelestai—It is finished.”

First of all, every Old Testament prophecy about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry was fulfilled, completed, accomplished. All those Messianic prophecies—Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69—hundreds of them about Jesus’ birth and life and ministry and death—they were fulfilled; they were completed. They were accomplished in Christ. “Tetelestai!—It is finished!"

Then we see that Jesus had finished the work that God sent Him here to do on this earth.

The first recorded words that we have of Jesus (You remember them? We talked about them earlier in this series) were in the temple when He was age 12. Do you remember what Jesus said? He said to His parents who had been frantically searching for Him, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49 NKJV).

Now, He wasn’t talking about His carpenter father there. He was probably involved in that business, but He was talking about His Father, “My Heavenly Father. I must be about My Father’s business.”

Well, now it was more than twenty years later, Jesus was thirty-three, and at the cross He was saying that He had completed every assignment that God had given Him. He had healed every person that He was to heal. He had delivered every message He was to deliver. He had fulfilled every prophecy in relation to His earthly ministry. His life’s work on earth was finished. He was not dying as a failure with a long to-do list that He had failed to finish. He had succeeded in the entire purpose for which He came to earth.

That’s why He was able to say toward the end of His life in John 17—just two chapters earlier: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (v. 4 NKJV). "Tetelestai—It is finished.”

By the way, I often think that verse would be my goal in life, and that is to be able to say at the end of my life, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work that You have given Me to do.” I know I will never be able to finish all the work that everybody else has for me to do. I’ll never be able to finish all of the things on my to-do list. But I’d like to be able to say that, by God’s grace, I’ve finished the work that He gave me to do.

Now, whether or not I could say that, Jesus could say that—He finished the work God gave Him to do. Tetelestai!

Then we see that His suffering was ended. The Father had given Jesus a full cup of suffering to drink. From the moment He left heaven’s glory to come to this earth, He had been drinking from that cup.

  • He was born in a cattle shed—part of the cup of suffering when you consider where He came from and where He lived—in those ivory palaces in heaven.
  • He was hunted by Herod. His family was forced to flee to Egypt when He was still a toddler.
  • He had experienced what it was to be tired and lonely and hungry.
  • He had been rejected, marginalized, and ridiculed—all part of the cup of suffering that His Father had given Him to drink.
  • He had been betrayed and forsaken by His closest followers.
  • He had been unjustly tried, cruelly beaten, nailed to a cross, separated from His Father, punished, crushed by His Father for our sin.

He had drained dry the entire cup of suffering, and now not one drop remained. He had finished it all—"Tetelestai! It is finished!"

That should be a comfort to us when we think that because He drank that cup, and He took the eternal suffering that we deserved for our sin, we have the assurance that one day all our earthly suffering will be endedphysical, emotional, relationalall that suffering. One day we will be able to say, “It is finished.” No more crying. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more death. None of it. It is finished! And it will be finished for us—that suffering—because Jesus went to the cross and drank that full cup of suffering that the Father gave to Him for our sin.

What else is it that was finished? Well, here’s something: Sin’s debt had been paid in full—sin’s debt had been paid in full.

Archaeologists have dug up ancient tax receipts and bills of sale dating back to Jesus’ era. They often have written on them this word tetelestai. It means "paid in full." The debt is paid. There is no debt outstanding. The one who had been a debtor is now free, clear, and owes nothing—paid in full.

“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), but at the cross, Jesus paid it all. He paid it all.

Hebrews 9 tells us that, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

God was fully satisfied by the price of Jesus’ blood. So now, no more payment, no more sacrifice for sin was required.

Martin Luther said it this way:

My penitent tears do not justify me. Christ alone has taken my sins away. He cast them into the sea of forgetfulness. This is my defense, a defense which rests upon: "It is finished.”

Tetelestai! Sin’s debt has been paid in full.

Then, the storm of God’s wrath has been spent. It was spent because it had all been poured out on Christ as He became sin for us. Do you know what that means? No more wrath left to be poured out on us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). "Tetelestai! It is finished!"

And then the eternal plan of redemption was now complete. By His death, the price for redemption had been paid. Every demand of God’s righteous law had been fulfilled. Atonement was made for our sins. God’s justice was fully satisfied. The doorway to Paradise was opened, and we could be reconciled, restored to a right relationship with God.

There were no obstacles, no barriers left to fellowship with God. Nothing more was left to be done, no good works that we could do, nothing could be added to it. The work of redemption was perfect, complete, finished.

In his wonderful little book on The Seven Sayings of Savior on the Cross, A. W. Pink says,

This was not the . . . last gasp of a worn-out life. ["Ah—sigh—It is finished."] No, rather was it the declaration on the part of the divine Redeemer that all for which he came from heaven to earth to do was now done; that all that was needed to reveal the full character of God had been accomplished; that all that was required by the law before sinners could be saved had now been performed; that the full price of our redemption was now paid.

"Tetelestai! It is finished!"

Here’s something else that was finished—and this is all tied in together: The old covenant was finished. The old covenant consisted, as you know, of all kinds of sacrifices, shadows, symbols— we’ll maybe do another whole series on that some day. Let me read to you just some excerpts out of Hebrews chapter 9, that talks about that old covenant and what happened to it when Christ came.

Now . . . the first covenant [the Old Testament, the old covenant] had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness [the temple, the tabernacle] . . . the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties . . . gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come . . . he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (excerpts vv. 1–12).

In Christ, all those Old Testament types and pictures and shadows and symbols had been fulfilled:

  • He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
  • He is the acceptable sacrifice.
  • He is our great High Priest.
  • He is the door, the way, the truth, the life.

He fulfills all that was merely shadowed in the Old Testament. So all those years of offering sacrifices, killing animals, shedding blood . . . "Tetelestai—It is finished!"

Then one more thing that was finished: The battle against Satan and sin had been won. At the cross Satan was defeated. He was stripped of his power. The cross was the moment where Satan thought that he had won his greatest victory. “We’ve killed the Son of the Vineyard!” You can imagine that down in hell there a party broke loose with all Satan’s minions and imps celebrating that they had put the Son of God to death.

But what Satan thought was his greatest victory turned out to be his ultimate defeat. The one who had the power of death was defeated by the One who stripped him of all his power by dying.

You read this in Hebrews chapter 2:

That through death he [Christ] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (vv. 14–15).

Christ’s death on the cross was a fulfillment of that first telling of the gospel, that gospel promise in Genesis chapter 3, verse 16 where God said to the serpent—and I’m paraphrasing a bit here: “You will bruise the heel of the woman’s seed [He says that to Satan], but He will bruise your head. [He will deal to you a fatal, mortal wound, and it will be all over with your power!]"

Yes, at the cross, Satan bruised the heel of the woman’s seed—that’s Christ. But also at the cross, Christ bruised and dealt a mortal wound to the head of the enemy.

Colossians 2 tells us, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (v. 15). God disarmed Satan of all his powers, all his authorities, put him to open shame, and triumphed over Satan and his followers, his minions, by Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.

The verse right before that says, “He canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (v. 14).

So not just the battle against Satan won, but the battle against sin had been won. Next to every sin that you or I have ever committed or will ever commit is this proclamation—next to every sin that I have ever committed, that you have ever committed, that we ever will commit is this proclamation, settled and certain: “It is finished! It’s paid in full. The debt has been paid.”

For those of us who try to add something of our own effort, to pay our own debt, it’s ludicrous! It’s like, if you pay off your mortgage on your house, and then you make a trip to the bank every month, on the fifteenth of the month, and say, “I need to make another payment. I owe you this.” NO! When you tear up that mortgage statement, it’s paid in full; it’s finished. No more payment. The house is paid in full.

To try and add something to Christ’s work on the cross, His accomplished, finished work, is like going up to a masterpiece of art in a famous art museum and taking your paint pallet and your little brush with you and saying, “I think I’ll just add something to this grand masterpiece.” NO! It is finished! To add anything to it would wreck it!

Or reading a classic novel and saying, “I think I’ll just add another chapter to this novel.” NO! It’s finished!

Those are puny, weak illustrations for this great truth that Christ paid it in full. The battle against sin has been won. It is finished. At the cross the battle against Satan and sin was won! "Tetelestai—it is finished!"

In many of our churches, this coming Sunday we’ll sing that great Charles Wesley hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
2

During this Passion Week in some of our church services, we may sing this hymn by Phillip Bliss:

Lifted up was He to die, “It is finished,” was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high; Hallelujah! What a Savior!3

Hallelujah!

Let me just close with this paragraph from a book I’ve quoted a number of times in this series by Krummacher—I’m saying only his last name because I can’t pronounce all of his first names in German—but it’s the book called The Suffering Savior. Let me just read a paragraph where he summarizes the implications of these words. He said:

These are the greatest and most momentous words that were ever spoken upon earth since the beginning of the world. . . . It is a shout of triumph, which announces to the kingdom of darkness its complete overthrow and to the kingdom of heaven upon earth its eternal establishment. . . . At these words, you hear fetters burst and prison walls falling down; barriers as high as heaven are overthrown, and gates which had been closed for thousands of years again move on their hinges.

Could I hear somebody say, “Hallelujah!”? (Audience responds: Hallelujah!) Amen—Tetelestai—It is finished! Amen.

Leslie: The words that Jesus spoke on the cross matter profoundly to each person. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us that today in the series "The Incomparable Christ."

We began this series at the beginning of the Lenten season, and I hope you’ll continue listening each day through Easter weekend.

If you’ve missed any of the programs, you can hear them at ReviveOurHearts.com. I’ve learned so many things about Jesus that I’ve never known before.

When you dig into God’s Word like we’ve done, you’ll find treasures buried there. And then you want to tell other people about the treasures you’ve found.

At Revive Our Hearts we’re excited about a conference coming up all about helping you unearth treasures in the Bible and sharing them with other women.

The conference is called Revive '15.  It’s coming to Indianapolis September 25–26. This conference is for leaders in women’s ministry. You’ll get a lot out of this if you’re a women’s ministry director, pastor's wife or teacher. You’ll be encouraged as you get away from the daily battle, talk with women who understand the pressure you’re under, and hear teaching designed just for you.

But even if you don’t consider yourself a formal ministry leader, this conference might still be for you. If you have a heart to get to know God’s Word better and then tell others what you’ve found—you have the heart of a teacher. We’ll help you develop that God-given desire to teach. Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Jen Wilkin will be speaking, along with others. And Lauren Chandler will lead us in worship.

For details on Revive '15, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959.

Well, death has caused great fear for generations, but there is one sure way to escape the fear of death.

Nancy: And we can commit our spirits to His safe keeping. After this mortal body is six feet under, we can know that our spirits have gone to be with God because of what Jesus did there at Calvary.

Leslie: Tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1Charles Spurgeon. Christ’s Dying Word for His Church, Sermons on the Gospel of John.

2Charles Wesley. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

3Phillip Bliss. "Hallelujah! What a Savior!"

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

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