It Really is Finished (John 19:28-30)
I. When Things are Left Unfinished
How do you typically feel when you realize there's something left unfinished? Maybe every day you walk past an unfinished project car in your garage, or past a half painted wall in your bedroom. Maybe you have a tax return that's unfinished. Maybe it's a school project or a dissertation. Maybe it's a payment plan. Maybe you have a series of medical procedures that are unfinished. Or maybe you have unfinished business with a family member or an old friend. Maybe a conversation that was unfinished. Maybe a confrontation that was unfinished; a relationship or relational circumstance needing resolution. But for now... unfinished.
For most of us, unfinished things are like weights around our necks. Some are minor weights: an unfinished jigsaw puzzle you told yourself you'd complete. Others are major: a broken relationship that could be mended with one more conversation. All these weigh on us in some way. Whatever the specifics of your unresolved business, deep down, all of us want to see what is unfinished... finished. Hold on to that idea and turn over to John 19, verses 28-30.
II. The Passage: “All Was Now Finished” (19:28-30)
To set the scene here, all you really need to know is that Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, condemned, tortured, humiliated, rejected, and now crucified. And that's where we find in him in verse 28, nailed to, hanging on, a Roman cross. Listen to what John tells us...
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
We talked moments ago about what is “unfinished”. But did you notice the word “finished” appears twice in this passage? But its appearance here raises two questions: first, “What was finished?”, and second, “How was it finished?” Let's tackle those in that same order, so...
1. What Was Finished? (vs. 28, 30)
To answer that question, we need to think about what John has already revealed to us in his Gospel. I've noticed a number of commentators on this passage provide answers to this question by marshaling a whole host of verses from other books of the Bible. Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with doing that. In fact, it's critical that we listen to everything God has revealed about the cross. But John's book is the only one of the four Gospels to preserve this final word from Jesus. And the fact that John included this statement should drive us to look first at how the writer prepared us for these words; to look at what John has already revealed.
So if we were to go back and reread everything that came before 19:30, what would we discover about this “it” that Jesus declared was “finished” (or completed, or accomplished, as the word could also be translated)? Let me suggest five very simple ideas, five simply summaries, of the elements John has used to prepare us for this moment:
First, it's been clear from chapter 2 that Jesus has a coming hour. John 2:4, “'Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.'” John 7:8, “'...I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.'” 7:30, “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.” 8:20, “...he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
But John 12:23 marks a turning point: “And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. He continues in John 12:27... “'Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.'” He repeats this idea in John 17:1, “'Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you...”
Second, it's also been clear that Jesus came to accomplish God's work. Jesus told his disciples in 4:34, “'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'” What's interesting is how Jesus includes this same idea in his prayer in chap. 17: “'I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (v. 4) Now wait a minute. Was this work already accomplished in chap.17 when Jesus prayed this prayer? If so, why does our main passage seem to indicate that the Father's work was actually accomplished or finished at the cross? Well, I think we can say this based on what John has recorded: Once Jesus entered the upper room in chap. 13, and was subsequently betrayed, the final pieces were in place; and so he spoke (in the past tense) in light of his unwavering commitment to what must take place.
Third, we've also learned from John's Gospel that when his hour comes, Jesus will accomplish God's work by being lifted up. Early in the book, Jesus tells Nicodemus...
...as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [then John jumps in here to offer an explanation] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (3:14–17)
Jesus repeats this language in 8:28... “'When you [!] have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he...” And again in John 12:31–33...
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [and here's a direct link to chapter 19...] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So even though the phrase “lifted up” alludes to the idea of exaltation, it's also a direct reference to the cross.
Fourth, it was revealed at the outset of the book that Jesus will be lifted up as the Lamb of God. Way back in the very first chapter of this Gospel, John the Baptist (John the baptizer) was asked if he was the Messiah. He made it clear that he wasn't the Christ, but that he was preparing the way for him, and waiting for him. The writer then goes on to tells us this about John the Baptist... “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'” (1:29)
When a Jewish writer puts the words “lamb” and “sin” and “takes away” together in a sentence, it's clear he's talking about a sacrificial offering, just like we find in the Old Testament. So what John is telling us (both Johns!) is that Jesus will be that sacrificial offering. Now the baptizer's words are confirmed later by a very unlikely character. Listen to John 11:49–51...
...Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to [the council], “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [Caiaphas was talking about avoiding a political conflict with the Romans over belief that Jesus was a Jewish king... but John sees God's providence at work here...] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation...
And coming full circle, back to our first point, listen to how Jesus speaks about his hour:
John 12:23-24... And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Okay, let me share one more idea that John has emphasized for his readers. Fifth, in suffering as the “Lamb of God”, Jesus will fulfill God's promised plan. That idea is clear from many verses in chapters 13-19, all that point to how the suffering of Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic predictions of the Old Testament prophets. In fact there are four of those just in chap. 19 (vs. 24, 36, 37... and in main text, v. 28; look there... v. 28 describes Jesus fulfilling verses like Psalm 22:15 and Psalm 69:21). You see, John wants us to understand that God's plan for the Messiah, promised through the prophets, was being completed, fulfilled, accomplished, finished by Jesus.
So what have we learned from John's Gospel that might help us understand the final words of Jesus in 19:30? We learned this: The hour for which Jesus came into the world was fulfilled when he accomplished the Father's work by being lifted up on the cross as the Lamb of God in fulfillment of the Scriptures. That, according to John's Gospel, is the “it” that Jesus declared was finished. But I also want us to consider another question...
2. How Was It Finished? (v. 30)
We've already heard how John 1:29 identifies Jesus: “'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'” That helps us understand the death of Jesus, doesn't it? He died, not as an unfortunate martyr or a counterfeit king, but as a sacrificial offering; a perfect offering that, astonishingly, had the power to take “away the sin of the world”.
But John doesn't want us to forget what Jesus told us about his death. John 6:5... “'I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We find that same emphasis in 10:11–18, where no less than five times Jesus talks about laying down his life. Listen to what he emphasizes about his death, actually, his life in 10:18... “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
Now, go back to 19:30. “... he said, 'It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Brothers and sisters, though Jesus was the victim of men's betrayal, jealousy, cowardice, and cruelty, his death wasn't finished by men. It happened when He chose for it to happen. He laid down his life. It wasn't taken by sinners. It was given, in love, by the Savior of the world.
III. “It is Finished” as a New Beginning
But think for moment what was accomplished when Jesus accomplished the work of God. Just as He said, his death truly did “bear much fruit” (12:24). As the Lamb of God, he “takes away the sin of the world.” (1:29) Just as a lamb under the old covenant would bear the judgment, that death sentence, for the sins of the one who brought the sacrifice, so too did Jesus bear the judgment for our sins on the cross. And in doing so, he broke the powers of darkness and guaranteed their final destruction: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (12:31) And he would do this, “not for the nation [of Israel] only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (11:51b-52) That's what Jesus meant when he declared, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (12:32). We represent the fulfillment of that promise, don't we? Listen again to John's own summary of what was accomplished when Jesus accomplished God's work on the cross:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (eternal in duration, yes, but also in quality)
Now let me share one more passage about the fruit Christ's death produced. This is 16:19-22...
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:19–22)
Brothers and sisters, friends, the joy of new life, a joy that is un-steal-able, that joy is ours because of the finished, I repeat, finished work of Jesus Christ. And to the degree that we ever believe his work remains, somehow, unfinished, we will not experience that joy, but a weight around our necks. The French pastor and theologian John Calvin wrote this about John 19:30...
It was chiefly for the purpose of giving peace and tranquillity to our consciences that [Jesus] pronounced this word, “It is finished.” Let us stop here, therefore, if we do not choose to be deprived of the salvation which he has procured for us.
What did Calvin mean by “let us stop here”? I believe he was warning anyone who might represent the death of Jesus as an unfinished work, and/or live like the death of Jesus was unfinished work. How do we do that? By saying, “Yes, of course we need saving faith in Christ. But you also need to do this, that, or another thing to be truly accepted by God... or to stay in God's good graces.” Even someone under solid teaching can sometimes think (often in subtle ways), “Yes, I do believe in Jesus. I believe He is Lord and that he died in my place. But I also know I need to be this kind of person for God to really love and accept me.” The anxiety of believing you have not done enough in terms of godliness, the anxiety of facing a day of potential struggle, the anxiety produced when you feel like you haven't figured certain things out or have missed something critical, the anxiety related to disappointing God or angering God, the anxiety inspired by the possibility that, in the end, you will fall short, is the very weight Jesus wanted to lift when he uttered with dying breath, “It is finished.” For when you really dig down, that anxiety is rooted in a belief that the work of Jesus was somehow left unfinished, and that we need something else or someone else, that we need to do this or that, to bring it to completion.
But gloriously, the finished work of Jesus (as one writer expressed it) “moves our judgment day from the future to the past.” (Scott Sauls) Everything is complete. The verdict has been rendered. Our accounts are settled. Our release secured. The courtroom is now empty. It's over. We're not waiting by the door for a package to arrive. Eternal life is ours today. Jesus already signed for it. When it comes to our standing before God, our relationship with God, our destiny with God, there's nothing left to be done. There's nothing to be added, and there's nothing that can be taken away. It really is finished.
And that, brothers and sisters, friends, is what inspires the joy Jesus promised. That is the joy of new life; the joy that empowers new life; the joy that no one will take or can take from you. If you don't already know this joy, experience it today by trusting in Jesus and his finished work for sinners like us. If you do know this joy, walk in it. Confess the ways you've lived like it was unfinished and renew your vision of Christ's glorious gift.
Let me finish with a prayer written several centuries ago. I hope you'll make it our own...
“Lead me to the cross and show me his wounds... May I there see my sins as the nails that transfixed him, the cords that bound him, the thorns that tore him, the sword that pierced him. Help me to find in his death the reality and immensity of his love. Open for me the wondrous volumes of truth in his [words], 'It is finished.' Increase my faith in the clear knowledge of atonement achieved, expiation completed, satisfaction made, guilt done away, my debt paid, my sins forgiven, my person redeemed, my soul saved, hell vanquished, heaven opened, eternity made mine.” (“The Spirit's Work”, The Valley of Vision)
Amen. Let's pray.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)