If you had only enough breath left in this life to say one last thing to those around you what would you say? Imagine the day you are lying weak on a hospital bed, your family gathered in your room. Everyone’s face is hanging low with sadness. The room is heavy and quiet – except for the steady sniffles, the occasional burst of mournful crying, the hushed talk of your condition or which relatives have been contacted, the beeping of monitors, the polite intrusion of nurses checking in on you. And if you in that moment are lucid enough to talk, what would you say? Knowing that perhaps more than anything else you’ve ever said those final words would linger on your family’s ears, what parting gift of words would you offer?
Other’s Last Words
–“I am not the least afraid to die.” –Charles Darwin,
–The epic surprise of Julius Caesar upon discovering his good friend was his assassin said, “Et tu, Brutus?” – Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor
–“Don’t you dare ask God to help me” –That was actress Joan Crawford to her servant who began to pray after she
–“I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark” – Thomas Hobbes
–With great dignity Louis the VIII, King of France, stated: “A king should die standing”
–Writer Eugene Oniell, in great frustration exclaimed: “I knew it, I knew it. Born in a hotel room, and [curses], died in a hotel room!” –
–Perhaps my favorite is General John Sedgwick’s words as he was killed by a bullet during the Civil War: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”
–Leonardo da Vinci expressing a deep sense of failure stated: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
–Comically, Oscar Wilde looking at the wall of his room said: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” Apparently the wallpaper stayed.
–And as the rugged champion he was George Washington’s final words were “I die hard but I’m not afraid to go.”
Jesus’ Last Words
For 6 hours of the most indescribable agony Jesus slouched on a cross. Only the three 9 inch Roman nails punched through His hands and feet kept Him pinned up. With His flesh shredded from the scourging, dozens of deep piercings in his skull from the crown of thorns, and unimaginable exhaustion, He was facing death by suffocation – as all victims of crucifixion had. With time and air running out, and excruciating pain surging within, Jesus spoke 7 last things from the cross. Collectively these are His final words before He inhaled Jerusalem’s air for the last time. One of those things He said is Number 2 in our list of The Top Ten Things Jesus Said. In John 19:30 Jesus said 3 words, “It is finished”.
Jesus’ work on this earth was a commission from His heavenly Father. His birth, His perfectly righteous life, undeniable miracles, earth-quaking preaching, all finally concluded with His death on the cross. Submitting Himself to His Father at every point, it led Him downward to the most humiliating and shameful death of crucifixion. Yet all the while His work was climbing all the way up to that final, apex task of His earthly mission. With His death we see both the lowest and the highest point of Jesus’ time on earth.
#1: The Cross is where the Complete Payment for our Sins was Made
The cross is where the complete payment for our sins was made. It has been discovered by archeologists that receipts for tax payments in Jesus’ day would have a Greek word written across them: tetelestai. This Greek word means “paid in full”. When a tax collector, like Matthew or Zacchaeus used to be, collected taxes from citizens, those citizens would receive a receipt with “paid in full” across it, indicating that they had paid all that was due.
Now get this, when Jesus was taking His last breaths on the cross He said the exact same Greek word: tetelestai. “Paid in full”. It is translated into English as “It is finished”, but it means the same: payment is finished. Payment is completed. Paid in full.
What payment was He talking about? What did Jesus mean for us? The sum total of our penalty accrued from all our sins was paid in full by our Savior Jesus Christ. That debt is not paid off by the religious, moral or spiritual equity in our account. Rather it is Christ’s precious, holy blood that was the only acceptable currency to end our debt.
What we have here is the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the Gospel. What do we mean by “substitutionary”? We mean that God provided a certain Someone as a substitute to replace us as the target of His wrath. That certain Someone is His Son, who was without sin, without guilt, without ever having displeased God. He was commissioned to come into this world in order to step in and receive the just wrath of God and thus turn away, or satisfy the wrath of God. That Jesus was our substitute means that we will never endure the condemnation, the penalty, the wrath of God Almighty for our sins against Him. Someone else took our place. As the prayer in The Valley of Vision says about the cross [pg42]:
“There infinite punishment was due, and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I migh be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light…
Furthermore, Jesus endured all of the penalty. Not part of it, not most of it, not almost all of it. But all of it. Do you see what that means? God expended all His wrath on Jesus. There is no leftover wrath. Too many people think and act like Jesus made a contribution towards their sin debt and the balance is leftover for them to payoff.
An illustration might help from baseball. A complete game is when a pitcher who starts the game pitches all nine innings. No relief pitchers. Complete games used to be the norm in the early 20th century and most pitchers would complete the games they started. Today that is very rare with the average starter going only 6 innings. Now the trend is to have a Bullpen stocked with different specialty relief pitchers: middle relief, closers and so on. Gone is the guy who guns it out the whole game.
Jesus threw a complete game on the cross. His death is the complete payment for all our sins. We do not need to relieve Him. He went the whole way and made the whole sacrifice all on His own. We could not help, cannot help and should never see anything we do as in anyway contributing to our salvation.
The one sacrifice Jesus made on the cross has covered it all. No additional sacrifices are necessary by us. Take Hebrews 10:12-14, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
And then verses 17-18, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.”
The complete payment for sin was made at the cross.
#2: The Cross Condemns our Effort to be Self-Righteous
Secondly, the cross of Jesus Christ is God’s way of condemning our efforts to be self-righteous – not arrogant, but, simply independently righteous. There is the tendency people have to think that by living a life that reaches a certain moral height God will approve them and make a place in His kingdom for them. In other words the sacrifice many people are trying to offer to God is a living sacrifice – living a good, moral, religious life.
But, this is the wrong kind of sacrifice for sins. The Bible says only a death sacrifice can atone for sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” We cannot do with our lives what Jesus did in His death. It is only the death of Jesus Christ God accepts – not our attempt at a righteous life. The cross condemns our effort to be self-righteous.
Only until we condemn ourselves for our sin and condemn our own efforts we will never be saved, for until we stop trusting in ourselves to be good enough we will never realize God has already offered salvation a different way: by faith. Then when we sing our song today it will be a truth we personally know: What good I’ve done could never save, My debt too great for deeds to pay, But God my Savior made a way, Hallelujah for the cross!”
#3: The Cross Intersects both God’s Wrath and His Love
The cross intersects both God’s wrath and God’s love. You cannot look at the cross with one eye closed; you must see both divine wrath and divine love climactically expressed together in this one historical moment.
On the one hand is the holy wrath of God, His just and righteous intolerance towards sin, His fierce displeasure with wickedness getting full vent. He has vented His wrath before. If you are looking to better understand the attitude God has towards sin examples abound: 2 Peter 2 says angels who sinned were thrown into gloomy dungeons until judgment day, the Flood drowned the whole of humanity, Sodom and Gomorrah burned to the ground, poisonous snakes sent to kill sinning Israelites, or the ground opening up to swallow rebellious Israelites, or even the future description of the Lake of Fire. But, if you want to see God’s reaction to sin, look no further than the cross. The cross publicizes God’s wrath towards sin.
And wrath is what sin arouses within God. It is “the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath”. This is the whole point of the 3rd stanza in the haunting hymn titled: “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” when it says,
“Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.
Do you want to know why this people react to that so badly? Because they miss one simple point: God has a right to be angry over sin. And He has the right to punish it. It is His to judge. That’s just a fact of the universe. If you don’t accept that you will balk against any notion of God being a wrathful God and store up wrath for your own unbelief and skepticism.
But God is the Creator of all things. All of us creatures owe our existence to Him. All creatures find their reason, meaning and purpose for existence fixed in Him. Furthermore, as God is moral perfection we are accountable to Him for the moral quality of our lives. We do not get to break from Him to live how we want under our own defined moral standards. That is to reject God and replace Him with ourselves as god in our lives. You don’t have to “serve” Satan to make him happy, you just have to be like him and break yourself from God’s rights to you and try to replace God in your life with you. But God, as your Creator has rights to you, and will bring you to account.
Here is our dilemma: God’s wrath is aroused towards us because of our sin as mankind. We are in the worst kind of danger because we are truly sinners in the hands of an angry God. That’s our dilemma. Now here is God’s dilemma: He loves infinitely those with whom He is angry.
This same Creating, Holy God whose anger is so affected by sin, is also a God with a deep, bottomless well of love towards His creatures. Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!” God is love says 1 John 1:5, and His love is the expression – get this – of who He is. Not who we are. His love is unrelenting, powerful, compelling Him personally towards the creatures He has made, and His gifts. “Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best; tis an ocean vast of blessing, tis a haven sweet of rest.” Or as our song today says, “Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!”
But how now does that wrath of God and love of God intersect at the cross? Because there He punished sin to fulfill His justice, but, by punishing Someone other than us He is able to pardon us for His love’s sake.
Salvation means believing in your Substitute. The words “It is Finished” means that God’s Son finished it all for you. You can finish with the life of “trying”. And you will find that finish line is a starting line for a new life. His last words in death become the first words in our new life.