This message required a bit of biblical dexterity.
Because when Jesus says in John 19:30 “It is finished,” what is completed has its origins in Leviticus 16 (see in sermon below).
HOWEVER, during the 10:00 worship service on Sunday, I had neglected to place my marker in Leviticus 16. I scrambled to find it just before the message began, unknowingly stopped at Leviticus 15 instead. Then, during the sermon when it was time for Leviticus 16, I turned (inadvertently) to Leviticus 15 and started read its verse 16. I got two words in before I realized something was very wrong.
To see what I almost read, click here.
Fortunately, crisis averted and I turned to Leviticus 16:15 and the message proceeded smoothly, landing at this bottom line:
His perfect finish means your fresh start.
Not to get overly dramatic on you, but don’t you know that in the annals of human history, when great artists or builders or writers have completed their masterpieces, their enduring works of art, that they just had to step back from the finish product and with incredible pride & delight declared, “Ah! It is finished!”
Like DaVinci, painting the last stroke of the Mona Lisa (AV), steps back, surveys the work and says “Yes! It is finished!”
Or Gutzom Borglum when the last stone was sculpted into Mount Rushmore (AV) looks at it in all of its breathtaking scope and says, “Hallelujah! It is finished!”
Or Tolstoy, upon penning the final words of War & Peace (AV in Russian!) looks it over in that crazy Russian alphabet and says, “Finally! It is finished!” (Which is what anybody who ever read it said by the end as well.)
Or The Eagles! The last solo for Hotel California with dueling, dancing guitars gets wrapped up and (through the haze of smoke!) they could say, “We did it! Can’t get any better! It’s finished!” Or Billy Ray Cyrus, finishing up Achy Breaky Heart said, “It’s finished!” And we all answered, “Thank God! DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” To which he answered, “if you think I’m bad, just wait til you meet my daughter.”
Or you. You built that deck, painted that house, restored that car, completed that project & looked it over with justifiable pride and declared, “It is finished.”
And in these majestic, painful, powerful words that really form the basis of the entire series, Jesus declares from the cross, in the throes of death, in John 19:29: IT IS FINSHED.
But have you ever paused to think just exactly WHAT was finished? Because these words and this thing – this portrayal of Jesus by the incredible & artistic biographer John – starts way back. I mean way back. What Jesus finished started long before Jesus even appeared. Look at Leviticus 16:15-16, written about 1000 years before Jesus even appears:
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
So in the ancient Jewish system, the priest on Yom Kippur – still a holy day, still the Day of Atonement – slaughters a goat. Now look at 16:21:
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task.
He lets the second goat go free. The first one (slaughtered) satisfied God’s overwhelming sense that sin – collectively and individually – is not a trifling, trivial matter but is deeply & eternally serious & must be dealt with. The second goat, the scampering off one, is the transfer of guilt and shame put on the one who is banished from the community. It’s where the notion of a scapegoat comes from. All in all, these rituals are ancient, brutal, bloody, gross, & almost incomprehensible.
But look at what Hebrews 10:4 says about them:
4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Imagine being a lifelong Jew & being told all of a sudden that this thing you thought was taking away sins wasn’t really taking away sins. Why not? Because, what was going on with those goats wasn’t the real thing … but a picture of the real thing. What was going on with the goats was something you had to RE-DO year after year after year.
And so Jesus in John’s hands is on the cross in chapter 19. And it is the most fascinating thing. Look how the section starts in 19:28:
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.
Oh! He is hanging, dying, in what LOOKS LIKE a helpless situation … and in reality he is in control. These words about Scripture – hello! Leviticus! – being fulfilled let us know that the cross does not hang in isolation but is instead a great culmination. It’s the culmination of something that began in Leviticus if not before. And then look at the END of this same section in John – a section, BTW, in which John uses such tender care to describe such terrible brutality. Because just after detailing that Jesus had no broken bones but he did have a pierced side, John offers this summary in 19:36:
See the bookends? Everything before and everything after lets us know that Jesus is not a victim in this awful choreography; he is the author of it. He’s not caught by surprise or off guard & not taken aback by it. It’s all by design. An awful design but his design.
Because it really does all go back to those goats and that blood and our sin. Because there is a debt of sin we have. It’s got to be dealt with and paid for and marked ZERO BALANCE. Like I said earlier, though, we trivialize sin. As if it is a relic of a bygone era. We rarely use that word unless we’re making fun of preachers with thick Southern accents. But actually ALL of us are in the same situation as that woman who was under hospice care and when I asked her what to pray for, she said, “My sins.” Gulp. And before we leap to comfort in that situation – as in, “oh you don’t have as many as most!” (Well, who cares about THAT?! Not God!) – we need to feel that severity. There is not a single one of you, not a one, whose greatest need is anything other than FORGIVENESS of sins. Your sin and my sin really is a foul stench before a holy God and it has to be paid for and dealt with. Good God, I can hardly believe these words are coming out of my mouth! These are the least politically correct words ever! But they are true. Because sin has put all of us in a fix and we need something done and something new. A different way to start.
And some of you are tracking with me. But others of you are resisting me. You’re kind of too sophisticated to think of yourself as a sinner who needs sin dealt with and paid for. And then still others are actually offended by what I’m saying. I actually love the offense most of all, because I want to offend you all the way into the arms of the king and his kingdom. Because the Gospel of Jesus is offense to the core as it does not waver: you are a sinner. And before John 19, all that had been done to deal with that sin was a couple of goats every year and a hollow picture of the real thing.
Which is why, coming back to Jesus, we are coming to the climactic moment in this whole series. Remember, throughout this segment, Jesus is not a victim, he’s the author; he’s not surprised, he’s in charge. That’s why after 19:29: 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. – just like Passover, more from way back – we get not a moment in isolation but the culmination of the library: IT IS FINSIHED. And get this: this is not uttered a sigh of resignation or defeat. This is a Conqueror’s Cry! And as if to prove that this is a moment of victory of which he fully in charge, look at 19:30b: With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. No one took it from him. He is in charge and HE GAVE IT UP. Willingly. And when you see the grand sweep in John’s mind – Passover, Leviticus, those goats, this moment – it is so clear. The goats were just the beginning. Jesus is the finish. And Jesus was just that. And in that moment – as Romans 3:26 says he is both the “just & the justifier”; the one demanding payment and the one paying it (THE ONE DEMANDING PAYMENT AND THE ONE PAYING IT!!!!) – the debt was paid in full. Zero balance. Here it is, folks: His perfect finish means your fresh start. Slate clean. Conscience clear. Not as piece of jewelry. As an anthem of completion and forgiveness and a brand new you.
Listen. IT IS FINISHED means that what happened on the cross can’t be added to. It can’t be improved upon. For you and for me to get right with God, it’s the not the cross AND. It’s not Jesus PLUS. It’s the cross AND NOTHING. It’s Jesus PLUS NO ONE. You can’t add to it, you can’t improve upon it, you can simply admit how broken you are before it, how hopeless without it, and how needful you are of it. My gosh, this offensive! It says not only are you in the predicament of being a sinner but there is nothing you can do on your own to get out of that predicament. It violates every sense we have in life of earning our way, gaining an advantage, buying things of significance. So. Offensive. And I want to offend you right into the arms of the King and the gates of the Kingdom. His perfect finish means your fresh start.
I just want you to see what an incredible artist John is in telling this. Look at 19:29: READ. Now 19:32-34:
32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
Tender care. Terrible brutality. He is so delicate in telling us every detail of this bloody, horrific moment. And I suppose John gives his best art (paradoxical) to this scene because in so many ways, the cross is God’s masterpiece. That’s what Jesus meant. It takes a great artist like John – who I imagine looked at the end of his ch. 21 and said with some pride – IT IS FINISHED – to let us know just how comprehensive and complete this was. Makes me wonder if John himself, like those great artists I mentioned earlier, when he completed his masterpiece, said with his savior: It is finished. Because just think of all the people who’ve gotten a fresh start by reading John itself and himself! His perfect finish means your fresh start.
Listen: I don’t want you to think you get right with God because he IS nice. Nope, you get right with him because he GOT bloody. Please don’t have a notion of a vague God who forgives people because he’s got a sweet nature; it is instead because of a decisive moment in history – the culmination of history. We don’t serve a nice God; we adore a bloody one.
Because I love this contrast. Listen to this: READ
Years ago the president of Harvard and a graduate of Yale made totally contradictory statements. Charles Eliot, prez of Harvard, said this in a lecture called The Future Of Religion: “(Modern man has outgrown the need to believe in divine atonement.) Let no man fear that reverence & love for Jesus will diminish as time goes on. The heroism & pain of his life and death will be vastly heightened when he is relieved of all supernatural power.” In contrast, Yale Grad RA Torry who became prez of the Bible Institute Of LA said this: “Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ and you will not draw men to you for very long.”
WELL GUESS WHICH ONE WE’LL BE?! His perfect finish means your fresh start.
My gosh. Someone here needs a fresh start from drugs. It does come from a vaguely nice god but from a truly bloody one. Someone else needs a fresh start from beating yourself up. You are merciless on yourself. And today is the first time you’ve realized that Jesus was beaten up for you! And then others here, you know what you need a fresh start from? Messed up priorities. You’ve never really doubted anything I’ve said today … you just allowed the world to edge it out of the way. Today, know that God acted decisively and definitively in history so that you and your priorities could start all over.
And what does a fresh start look like? Listen to this note from Ron Dozier regarding a man who we hosted for our Room In The Inn ministry on a Friday night in March when we also had our Night Of Worship:
Last night neighbor Vic who is 21 prayed to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
We sat together during the night of worship. The presence of the Lord was thick in the room and the Love of God was so inviting. What Chris shared on being broken planted a seed. Vic and I talked about forgiveness and he shared how he is here in Charlotte from Columbus, Ohio because he allowed unforgiveness to drive him away from home particularly his grandmother. We called his grandmother last night and she wept joyfully because she thought if she received a phone call concerning him it would be about him dying.
The night of Worship represented a night of new beginning I am sure for Vic and many people.
His perfect finish means your fresh start.