There are three words in the English language that, when spoken together, can signify either the deepest joy and satisfaction or the deepest sorrow and despair. These words are: “It is finished.” When they are used by graduating seniors, or marathon runners, or Presbyterian elders finishing out their last term — you know it’s a sign of joy and relief. When they are used by a senior who has failed his final exam or by a farmer looking at his crops after a devastating drought, or by a Saints fan watching them play the Vikings, you know it is a sign of dejection.
Sometimes there is an in-between stage when it can go either way. I remember a day back in the fall of 1983 when I used those words. After spending four years in seminary and planning to graduate in December, I had to take my Ordination Exams. It didn’t matter how well you did in seminary — four years could be flushed if you didn’t pass. The tests took two days, and I remember thinking to myself when I closed the book: “It is finished.” I’m not sure if I meant the tests or my pastoral career but at that point in time I didn’t care. It was finished — over, completed — and there was a mixture of joy and uncertainty.
When Jesus uttered those words on the cross there were different responses. For His friends and disciples it meant that all their hopes and dreams were over. It meant the end of their plans for a triumphant Israel and for a promised Messiah — back to a way of life known before. For the Pharisees it meant that the threat was finished, that this troublemaker would bother them no more, and that life would return again to normal. For Satan and the hosts of evil it meant the battle was finished, the victory over God was won. It was a defeat for God, who had tried to reach out to His fallen race in love and that race had nailed His Son to a tree.
Calvin Miller captures this scene in his book The Singer. In this allegorical story Christ is portrayed as a Singer, a Troubadour, who brings a song of Love to a world ruled by one called World Hater, who is Satan. In one scene, the Troubadour has been attached to a great machine of pain and suffering and finally after many hours the World Hater cries out to God:
“Look how he dies. Cry, Creator, Cry! This is my day to stand upon the breast of God and claim my victory over love. You lost the gamble. In but an hour your lover will be pulp upon the gallows. Did you tell him when his fingers formed the world, that he would die on Terra, groaning with his hands crushed in my great machine.”
He laughed and turned to look again upon the troubadour.
“Now, who will sing the Father’s Song?” he asked the dying man.
The Father wept, the fog swirled in bleak and utter numbness.
Very few, if any that day thought that the words meant more than that of a man dying in defeat. But maybe their reaction would have been different if they were aware of an event that took place in the Temple. According to Luke’s gospel, when Jesus breathed His last, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. The curtain symbolized the separation that existed between man and God because of sin. Only the Priest, after much ceremonial cleansing and sacrifices, could enter the Holy of Holies.
Maybe the Sanhedrin did take note; maybe the forces of darkness became a little uneasy. They had Pilate set extra guards around the tomb of Jesus just in case. It did not matter. When Sunday rolled around, that stone rolled away and with it the song of love burst out again. It suddenly became clear that those words on the cross had a whole new meaning.
“It is finished” meant not that His life was over, that everything would go back to the same old pattern. Instead, His work was accomplished; everything was different. That for which He had come was completed. Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue His people and save them from their sins and bondage, to set them free from the power of the evil one. He accomplished that by His death and resurrection. In the words of Peter in his Epistle, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
We are bought with a price — a costly price it was. When He said “It is finished,” He meant that the debt had been paid in full, a debt we owed and could never repay. It is accomplished just as God planned it from the foundation of the world. Now for the disciples the words took on deepest joy and gladness. For the hosts of darkness it was a crushing defeat.
Again, in the words of the Singer:
World Hater reached the threshold of eternity and found the doorway of the worlds not only open hut clearly ripped away. He strained to hear the everlasting wail, the eternal dying which he loved. All was silent. Then he heard the Song.
“No,” he cried. “Give me back the door and key for this is my domain.” He felt again and found the great key at his waist had disappeared.
He steeled himself for the battle out ahead.
He would have to fight the Song. He would fight with every weapon in his arsenal of hate.
But he knew that he would lose. And he knew that when the course of time was done, the door would be put back upon the Canyon of the Damned, and he would be locked in with all the discord of the universe. And he would suffer with all of those he had taught to hate the Song or consciously ignore it.
The meaning of Easter is not simply that because Christ rose from the dead we will be able to live in heaven. It also means that everything Christ came to do was accomplished. John 19:28 says: “After this, Jesus knowing that all had already been accomplished said, ‘I am thirsty’ in order that Scripture might be fulfilled.” When He tasted the sour wine, He then said “It is finished.”
Everything prophesied about Him was completed. Salvation is accomplished, redemption is attained through Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is nothing that can be added to it. Nothing that we can do that makes His sacrifices better. It is not conditional on our good works, on our baptism, on our church membership. All we can do is receive it by faith, celebrate it, and live out our lives in response.
Easter is that celebration of our rescue. In Christ, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He only had to do it once. The cross is empty; He is risen! The cross is empty, and He will never be on it again. The writer of Hebrews 9:26 says, “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
There are times when I think the Christian life is a burdensome one. Many demands are placed on us. I continually struggle to be the person I think God wants me to be. But then the Easter message draws me back: “It is finished. He is risen.” The focus is not so much on what we have to do as on what God has done.
What He calls us to do is to place our trust in Him as our Lord and our Savior; and to live as new people, to live in the newness of resurrection. We cannot live with the same old habits and in the same defeat; we are people freed by Jesus to walk in victory, to walk in newness of life.

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