A happy story…
Six-time New York Times bestselling co-author Mark Dagostino invited Facebook readers to “Write a happy story in 3 words.” Many responded, including some members of our church family. Among the suggestions were phrases like, “Love my family,” “You’re in remission,” “Love, Laugh, Love,” and “Married 50 years!” One contribution especially caught my eye: “It is finished.”
These were the final words of the God-man Christ as He hung, willingly… sacrificially… upon that rough and ruthless Roman cross. Of the four gospel writers only John records them. As the New Living Translation has it,
“Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28-30, NLT).
In the whole of the Bible the phrase occurs in only one other place and in a much different context. James writes, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15, KJV).
When sin’s work is ‘finished’ (full grown, completed) the result is death. When Christ’s work is ‘finished’ (discharged, fulfilled) the result is life — atonement for all who will acknowledge Him as Saviour and bow to Him as Lord.
Luke adds one more, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46, NIV). It is a quotation from Psalm 31:5. This discrepancy should not alarm us. Different witnesses notice and/or remember different things. What stands out to John, the most intimate of the disciples with Christ, are those words which reflect the overall mission that was Christ’s incarnate life.
Earlier in this gospel John records Jesus saying, “…I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 1017b-18a, NIV). What transpired on the cross was not a defeat, but the completion of a mission. The devil had not won a victory, but had all along been an unwitting tool in the Almighty’s great plan of redemption.
In this, the words of Joseph appear prophetic: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20, NIV).
This past Sunday we heard of the work of Teen Challenge — one of a great many ministries whose mandate is to support individuals in the turning inside out of evil into good. What does God want to turn inside out in you today? What might have been the redemption He’s had in mind all along for that wicked or destructive thing in your life thus far?
A wise Wycliffe missionary once summarized, “No evil thing has ever happened in your life that God cannot use redemptively for greater good than the good He might otherwise have done had the evil thing never happened.” You might need to chew on that statement a bit, but the cross is God’s ultimate testimony to its truth. “It is finished” – truly “A happy story.”