Summary: The last word Jesus spoke from the cross, as John records it in his Gospel, was the word: "Tetelestai", "It is finished." At the time of his death, the place where he spoke that word was not a pretty sight. But through the centuries the beauty and power
It was not a pretty sight. Made of roughly hewn wood and splattered with human blood after having served its gory purpose, the cross was anything but beautiful. It symbolized worldly secular power brutishly exercised over any perceived foreign evil that might threaten Rome. It was a place of punishment reserved for only the worst of non-Roman criminals to meet their end. And yet because of what God accomplished through his Son’s sacrifice on this bloody instrument of torture, the cross became not something ugly and vile but something beautiful.
Today crosses adorn the necks of graceful beautiful young women as well as successful athletes and rock stars. Jewelry stores fashion it out of gold and rare metals while sometimes adorning it with precious gems in lavish, artistic designs. For some it has become only a charm, instead of the charter of salvation that it truly is.
Tonight we remember the price for sin that was fully paid by God on the cross. Jesus summed it up with his last words before he died when he mustered his final breath and announced to those close enough to hear “It is finished.” Those are the words St. John, an eyewitness to the event, records Jesus saying as his very last words. Tετέλεσται.
I know that there are some who mistakenly think that when Jesus died on the cross that God was paying a ransom price to Satan, but it was actually God the Father who demanded and received the perfect atoning sacrificial offering for our sins. Only the blood of his only begotten Son could pay the price completely. All of the other sacrifices that had been made beforehand by God’s people simply foreshadowed the one final, ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for us all.
Good Friday is God’s Friday. Did you know that the etymology for Good Friday came from the phrase God’s Friday? That is how people originally spoke of it. Just like the word “goodbye” came from another old English phrase: “God by ye.” It was how people said farewell to one another and was a way of saying “God go with you.” But on Good Friday Jesus did not say goodbye to the world. What He said goodbye too was sin and death and everlasting condemnation.
After Jesus no other sacrifice would be necessary. Therefore Jesus’ final words on the cross were his final pronouncement, not over himself, but of a death sentence to sin and death. “It is finished.” Sin and death would never have a death grip hold over the world.
Tετέλεσται. “It is finished.”
The phrase has usually been applied to Jesus’ ministry and his life’s work on earth to atone for the sins of the world, but it just as easily could be applied to the iron grip that sin, death, and the devil held over the world itself.
Jesus sacrifice finished sin’s reign of terror. In Him, God the Father was now approachable for all. That’s why the fact that he called us his brothers is so significant. The locks on the gates of hell that separated man from God were now shattered.
No longer would humanity be held captive. No longer would creation be the enclave of evil. The Son of God ended sin’s horrible reign by taking the full horror of sin on itself.
That is what makes Good Friday good. God’s Friday says not goodbye, but “God by ye.”
I don’t know all the details of your life. As a pastor I do sometimes get to know more than I want to know. I know how sin can sometimes become a struggle and turn our lives into a living hell. The devil lies in the details of that struggle. The only question is whether he lies captive and chained, or whether he is like a bad dog on long leash, just waiting for his chance to attack when someone comes within his range.
But the grace of God in his Son puts Satan on a short leash. It is God’s own way of showing how no human being alive today is beyond God’s reach. None who lived, none who died, none who crucified him. On Good Friday, God’s Friday, God died for all. Within 3 days the significance of his victory would be revealed to the world. On the day he died, his victory was revealed first to those who needed to hear it most. To those held captive and to those who enslaved the captive, the gates of hell were burst asunder. Tετέλεσται. “It is finished.”
Sin and death would no longer reign. Jesus would reign as the triumphant King who trumped Satan himself.
Tonight we ponder the price he paid for that victory. And we sing his praise for gladly paying it.
“It is finished.”