Summary: In today's sermon we see that though Christians encounter opposition, they also experience assurance.
The past few Sundays we have been exploring Christianity by looking primarily at the Gospel of Mark.
I have asserted that the heart of Christianity is a person—Jesus of Nazareth. To that end we have answered three questions:
1. Who is Jesus?
2. Why did Jesus come?
3. What does it mean to follow Jesus?
We have seen that the answer to the first question—who is Jesus?—is given by Mark in the very first verse of his Gospel. He says that Jesus is “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). That is, Jesus is God in human form. Mark gives five evidences that Jesus is God in human form because he shows us that Jesus has power and authority from God to teach, heal, calm storms, raise the dead, and (most importantly and significantly) forgive sin.
The answer to the second question—why did Jesus come?—is that Jesus came to rescue rebels (Mark 2:17). The Bible teaches that we are all rebels against a holy God (because of our sin), and that we are all in danger of facing God’s judgment. Each of us deserves to pay the penalty for our sin against God and his holy law. However, Jesus came and paid the penalty on our behalf so that God’s judgment fell on Jesus and not on us.
And finally, the answer to the third question—what does it mean to follow Jesus?—is that Jesus requires a change of allegiance (Mark 8:34). We are to deny ourselves, die to self, and live entirely and completely for Jesus. Stated differently, Jesus calls us to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The movie Saving Private Ryan, set during World War II, tells the story of a group of men who are given orders to rescue one single man from behind enemy lines in Normandy. We are told that his three brothers have all recently been killed in action, leaving him as the only child of a single mother. When the US Army Chief of Staff hears about the situation, he gives orders to protect this precious remaining son, Private James Ryan, and he sends out a team of soldiers to bring him back alive.
The rescue mission is extremely perilous, and one by one it claims the soldier’s lives. At one point their captain says, “This Ryan better be worth it. He’d better go home, cure some disease or invent the longer-lasting light bulb.”
But the orders to rescue Ryan are obeyed, and in the final battle scene, set on a heavily-shelled bridge, as the Captain himself dies, he whispers his last words to a dumbstruck Private Ryan: “James—earn this—earn it.”
Fifty years pass and, in the closing shots of the movie, we see an elderly James Ryan returning to Normandy with his wife, children and grandchildren. He kneels beside the grave of the captain and, as tears fill his eyes, he says, “My family is with me today. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
Then he turns to his wife and asks with some anxiety, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man. . . .”
In a way, the last words of the captain—“Earn it”—have crippled Ryan. Could he ever live up to the deaths of those young men? Private Ryan has lived his entire life with the last words of his rescuer ringing in his ears.
But Jesus’ last words—recorded in John 19:30—are very different. As he dies to rescue us, Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn it.” He doesn’t say that he gave his life to rescue us; now we must live in such a way as to earn his approval. Instead, Jesus says: “It is finished.” They, too, are words that have the power to affect the course of a life.
As Jesus died on the cross to rescue you and me from sin, judgment and hell, he uttered those staggering words: “It is finished.” The word in the Greek is actually a single word, “tetelestai.” It is in the perfect tense and it means, “It is complete.” This is the word a builder might shout when he places the final slate on the roof of a house he has built. Or the word a couple might use when they finally pay off their mortgage. “Tetelestai! It is finished!”
And notice that it’s not, “I am finished,” as if this was a last desperate, self-pitying cry of surrender, a concession of defeat or failure. No, it’s an exclamation of completion, of achievement, of triumph—“It is finished!”
So, as he dies to rescue me, Jesus doesn’t say, “Freddy—earn this—earn it.” No, he says, “Freddy, it is finished! Your sin—past, present and future—is all forgiven.” It is finished. I can’t earn it, I can’t pay for it, and I have done nothing to deserve it. But Jesus died for me to pay for my sin, to bring me into a relationship with my loving Creator.