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Cries From The Cross

A Cry Of Victory

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 8, 2001

Selected highlights from this sermon

When we breathe our last breath, will we be able to say that we’ve finished everything that God wanted us to do? Many of us will probably fall short of that mark. But Jesus didn’t.

When He said, “It is finished,” He meant that everything the Father had given Him to do was absolutely and completely done. His sufferings were over. Our redemption was bought and paid for. Our sins had been covered by His blood. And Satan had been defeated.

So where are you on your to-do list?

You and I were born with an expiration date. Someday we are going to exit this life. “Ready or not, here we come.” And the question is going to be whether we will have done all that God wanted us to do. I think that many of us will have to say we haven’t. We’ll die with regret. There are some things that God wanted us to do that we might leave unfinished. And there are some things that we might have finished that really won’t last too long. But when Jesus came to die, He could say, “It is finished.” He finished everything that God wanted Him to do. What a life! What a Savior!

In a few moments we’re going to be continuing our exposition, but I need to remind you that we are on cry number six from the cross, and cry number six is “It is finished.” And I hope that, as a result of this message, our lives are transformed. And if you came here today with a sense of guilt and are seeking forgiveness, this message is for you. If you came with lack of assurance of salvation, you’re not sure whether you are going to go to heaven or not, this message is for you. If you came here today thinking that some calamity has overwhelmed you, that is too heavy for you to bear, this message also is for you, because our Savior made all things possible for us to believe, all things possible to live through and to fulfill His own will for us.

Now, let’s take our Bibles and turn to the 19th chapter of the Gospel of John, where we have these words recorded for us. John 19:29: “A jar of wine vinegar was there so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it up to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

What I’d like to do is to begin by looking at this word in a preliminary way—“It is finished.” And it is one word in Greek. The word “teleō” means complete. “Tetelestai” is the perfect tense which means it is completed—it is finished. What can we say about it? First of all, the verb itself has no subject. We are not told exactly in this expression what was finished. Now, we’re going to be filling that out because we have the rest of the New Testament that helps us to understand that, but as a cry, as Jesus is hanging on the cross, He says simply, “It is finished.” And we will be supplying the it.

Secondly, I want us to realize that this is the Son reporting back to the Father. After all, the Father had sent Him to this earth to do a great and mighty work, and it began at Bethlehem, and now it ends at the cross. And though Jesus still has to die and be buried and raised again, all of that is a foregone conclusion. What He’s saying is, “Father, whatever it is that You have given to Me, I have finished it.” And finally the Bible says that He cried this with a loud voice. Now, John does not record that, but if you look at Matthew and Mark, you’ll notice that the texts in their Gospels say that Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and then He said, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit,” which is the last word of the cross, which is the one we will be studying in our message next time. John does not include that last word. That’s why you have to take all of the Gospels and put them together to get the coherence. But it only enables us to understand that it was when Jesus was on the cross saying, “It is finished,” it is that cry that He made with a loud voice.

I want you to know today that it’s a cry that this world has to hear. It’s a cry that we want to make with a loud voice. It’s a cry that I want to shout to you. It’s a cry that I want to shout to those who are listening by cassette tape or radio. We say to you today, “These are the words of Jesus from the cross,” and this word is it is finished.

Now if ever there is proof of the fact that looks can be deceiving, it’s right here, because if you had seen Jesus die on the cross, if you had been there, He really didn’t look any different from the thieves that were crucified on either side of Him. The Bible says He was crucified in weakness. He was crucified looking as if He was dying in defeat. But I want you to know today that Jesus is reigning from the cross, and this cry—tetelestai—is a cry of great and marvelous victory. What a marvelous opportunity that Jesus Christ gives us as we look at this word, “tetelestai.”

All right, my friend, let’s ask the question now. What was finished? Well, first of all, His sufferings were finished. When Jesus came into this world, the Bible says that “in the volume of the book you have written, in the volume of the book it becomes very clear as to what I am to do.” And it begins at Bethlehem, being born in a manger. And all throughout His life, Jesus was experiencing poverty and rejection. Now it’s as if the Father had this book and Jesus was living it out in His experience.

You remember at the age of 12, He’s in Jerusalem and His parents come looking for Him. And He says to them, “Did you not know that I should be about My Father’s business?” Later on, at the wedding in Cana, He says to Mary, His mother, “What have I to do with thee? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus knew that He had a job to do and an hour in which to do it, and so Jesus fulfilled that. Later on it says that in Nazareth, they tried to push Him over the brow of a hill, but they couldn’t because His hour was not yet come.

But here’s my point. I want you to realize today that Jesus Christ, His miracles, were not always believed. His teachings were not always obeyed. His claims were not always accepted. He experienced all of this rejection and suffering. And then we come to the cross, and because we’ve covered this in other messages we will not go into detail, but there He is, carrying His own cross, and He stumbles beneath it. There He is being lacerated. There is the crown of thorns. There is the blood. There is the sweat. There is the thirst on the cross. And worse than that, there is the Father who turns aside, and the Father and the Son are no longer in communion as Jesus becomes sin for us. And Jesus is saying, “Father, it is finished.” The suffering is over.

It’s interesting that this word “tetelestai” was sometimes used by servants who were given assignments by their masters. They’d come to the master and the master would say, “I want you to do this, this, this.” The servant would come back a few hours later and say, “Tetelestai. (I’m done.)” Jesus, here on the cross, is saying, “Father, the cup that You have given me I have drunk. Tetelestai.” (It is finished.)

By the way, there are some of you who are called to suffering. You’re going through physical suffering, spiritual suffering, emotional suffering. God bless you, some of you are going through all three kinds of suffering. And in a sense you are also reporting to the Father, and someday you’ll be taken to heaven, and as you die, you’ll be able to say, “Father, it is finished. At last I leave this life with all of its suffering. And even those of us who haven’t suffered much—we still have our suffering in the future—but we too shall follow the path of Jesus and say, “Father, the suffering is over.”

What else is involved in that little word it—It is finished? Well, our redemption was finished. You know, in the Old Testament you find that sacrifices were always brought. You had lambs and you had sheep. Of course, lambs, sheep, goats, birds that were brought, and the priests were there, offering these continually, the Bible says. In fact, they were not allowed to sit down, because if they sat down it gave the impression that their work was finished, so when they had that eight-hour shift, they stood the whole time. And so constantly, you had animals being brought. It was an endless stream because sin is an endless stream. And everybody knew that an animal could never substitute for a human being. So these sacrifices were actually symbolic. Oh, they cleansed you ceremonially in the sense that you went through certain rituals that made you clean in a ceremonial sense, but they didn’t touch the conscience. They didn’t get down deep inside.

Now in Old Testament times, God sometimes did touch the conscience and cleansed people, but you remember He did it on credit, knowing that Jesus Christ was going to die. But I want you to notice the contrast with Christ. We read in the book of Hebrews, “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one. He entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with the blood that is not his own. If Christ did that, then He would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.” But notice this now, folks. “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” It is finished!

The word “tetelestai” was not only used by servants reporting to their masters. It was also used in business transactions. As a matter of fact, papyri manuscripts have been discovered that have this word on taxes. Somebody has taxes to pay. They pay their taxes, and “tetelestai” is written across. No longer can anything be demanded of you because it was paid, and it was paid in full.

Jesus took our debt and He covered it with His payment. He paid it in full. And if God were to demand any righteousness from me added to what Jesus did, God would be unjust because it has been paid. We sing:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe.
Sin has left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

The demands of the Law were met. You and I didn’t keep the Law, but Jesus kept it not only in His death, but in His life. He fulfilled the Law. He kept the Law perfectly on our behalf.

God’s justice and holiness were met, and the sword of God’s holiness can now be put back into its sheath because Jesus met that requirement, and the thunder of God’s judgment has been silenced because Jesus said, “Paid in full.”

You realize what this means. Today I am speaking to some of you women who have had an abortion, and you, in the quietness of your soul, have thought many, many times about what all that meant, and what happened, and you’ve regretted it. And yet perhaps you were pressured into it. I don’t know the circumstances. You know and God knows. And God is saying to you today, my dear friend, “That sin is covered.”

Some of you have been guilty of immorality and God is saying to you today, “That sin is covered.” Some of you are involved in perhaps cheating and lying, and the list could go on and on, and as you give the list of sins it becomes even more terrible because it can be multiplied out in many, many different ways. And you are going through that sense of shame and guilt and alienation. And today Jesus says, “Tetelestai.” It is finished!

“Oh,” you say, “Pastor Lutzer, you’re being too easy on sin because you’re letting people off the hook.” Let me put it this way. When you come to accept Christ as Savior, your sin is taken from you because it is laid on Jesus, but there’s still sin inside of you. There’s sin in us this morning, but on those who believe, there is no sin “upon” them. And so when we accept Christ as Savior, as our sin is taken from us, God begins to work within us to bring us to love holiness, to love righteousness, and if we don’t, we will be disciplined because it’s true. He does not put up with these kinds of sins in the lives of those who love Him and believe in Him. But so far as the sin itself is concerned that is in our past, Jesus says to us today, “It is finished.” And even the sins that we are going to commit (God help us, may we not), but sins that we may commit in the future, God says, “It is finished.” I need to preach that because for every person who is going to misuse grace (and there’s always the possibility of misusing grace), there are ten people who are defeated because they don’t understand grace.

I’m reminded of the words of Martin Luther. Remember when a friend of his wrote a letter to him and said, “Oh, Brother Martin, I have sinned so much I cannot forgive myself.” The friend’s name was Spalatin, who was responsible for the library there in Wittenberg, a good friend of Luther’s. Spalatin said, “I cannot forgive myself.” He had given some unwise counsel to somebody, and because of that, trouble erupted, and so he said, “For me there can be no forgiveness.” I wish I had before you today the letter that Luther wrote to him, which I’m going to have to paraphrase.

But Luther basically said, “Oh Spalatin, you are a great sinner.” He said, “Come over to us because we are hardboiled sinners.” He said, “Spalatin, you have to get used to the idea that Jesus didn’t just die for childish nominal sins. Jesus just didn’t die for the pranks that the little kids do from time to time. Oh no, Spalatin. Jesus died for great sins.” And these are Luther’s words now: “He died for damnable iniquities,” and come to think of it, all iniquities are damnable because they would all send us to hell.

So I say to you today, my dear friend, that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it is finished! What did He mean when He said “It is finished?” He said the sufferings are finished. He said redemption for us as sinners (I’m talking about us now) is finished. And the defeat of Satan is finished.

In Colossians, chapter 2, there’s a marvelous story of what happened at the cross. You know, if you had a video tape and you looked at the cross only with human eyes, you wouldn’t see what was happening because there were all kinds of battles going on in the spiritual world. Satan was opposing Christ, and it says in Colossians 2, “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross, having disarmed the powers and the authorities.” That’s the devil. He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Use your imagination for a moment. I want you to see that when Jesus died, what was really happening was that loathsome beast, the serpent (the devil), was trying to strike the heel of the seed of the woman, and that’s all that he could do. And the Scripture says that the seed of the woman, namely Christ, was crushing his head. So the loathsome beast, with all of his fangs and all of his accusations and all of his poison, is trying to undo what Jesus is doing, but he cannot.

And now I want you to see this and I know that you can’t see my feet because the pulpit is in the way, but I’m taking my shoe like this, and I am rubbing the heel right into the carpet. I want you to imagine that this heel is being rubbed right into the asphalt, taking the head of the serpent and just crushing him and taking out all of his life. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. He disarmed him.

I want you to visualize a courtroom scene (Okay?) because in the old Testament it says that a man by the name of Joshua, not the Joshua the commander, but a different Joshua, was standing in the presence of the Lord, clothed in filthy garments, and Satan was standing next to him to accuse him, because he is the accuser of the brethren. So who is in the courtroom? You are there. I can see you there. God is there and the devil is there. So what does the devil do? He accuses, and this is what he says. He says first of all, “God, if you were to take these people to heaven you would defile the courts of heaven. Look at the abominable sinners they are.” Furthermore, what the devil is saying is (to you and to me), “Don’t you know that you have sinned too much? Don’t you understand that you really did cross some important boundaries and that you are outside of the boundaries of what God can forgive? You have no right to go into heaven.” And then what he argues, quite plausibly, is that everybody should suffer the same fate as he, namely to be in eternity forever, paying for their sin in the lake of fire, which is what he’s going to have to do. And arguing that it would only be just if everybody else did the same thing.

The apostle Paul visualizes here that above the cross, all of our sins were written on some kind of a cosmic bulletin board. That’s what he says. He says that Jesus Christ took all of these sins and all of these accusations, even though the accusations in themselves are just because we are miserable sinners, and God took them and He nailed them to the cross, and He took them away so that when Jesus said, “Telestai—Paid in Full,” we can turn to the devil and say, “You might be right about the extent of my sin, but you are not right about the extent of my personal punishment, because Jesus bore it for me.”

“Be gone, for it is written, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is even now on the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us.” Devil! Telestai! Paid in full!

By the way, how do you handle the accusations of the devil? When you sin and Satan comes to you… And by the way, I’m toying with the idea of preaching a series of messages entitled What to Do After You Sin. I think it would be relevant, wouldn’t it? (chuckles) Oh don’t look so pious, you folks. (laughter) Only you know how very relevant it would be. How do you handle the accusations? The average person continues to commit the same sin because he says, “I’ve blown it anyway and there’s no use standing up.” Do you look at your life and say, “Well, God, I’m not as bad as this shame within my heart would lead others to believe because, after all, I did do some good things?” Or do you try to say to yourself, “Okay, it is bad, but on the other hand I also want you to know that in my own heart of hearts I really do desire you.” Listen, if you talk to the devil like that, he will have you for lunch. He’ll have you for lunch. You must always talk to him by saying, “Telestai! It is finished!”

What happened at the cross? What is involved in the “it”? Jesus said, “The suffering, my suffering, is over.” He’s saying, “Your redemption is complete,” and then He says, “The defeat of Satan has already happened. It’s already a done deal.”

How do we break this down? Let me give you three important lessons. First of all, I want you to know that the issue is not the greatness of your sin, but the worth of the sacrifice. The issue is not the greatness of your sin, it is the worth of the sacrifice. I remember in my short life meeting people who told me that they could not be forgiven because there were things in their life that were so terrible that if I knew them I would agree with them that they could not be forgiven.

Even in this audience today there could be people that, if the truth were known, you’ve committed crimes, you’ve done evil, you’ve deceived, and you say to yourself, “It isn’t for me.” But I want you to know today that while it’s much better to live a good life than to live a bad life, that the real issue, so far as God is concerned, is not the greatness of the sin. The real issue is the wonder of the completeness of the sacrifice, and the One who, on the cross, said, “It is completed. It’s done. The sacrifice has been made.”

Remember that old line that frequently is asked of Christians? This is a common question that people… I get this frequently when I explain the Gospel to people. They’ll always say something like this: “Do you mean to tell me (notice how the question begins because obviously they are headed for a very specific target) that there could be somebody out there who murders others, and because he believes on Jesus on his deathbed, he gets to go to heaven, whereas a good, sane, decent person, who has never done any of those things goes to hell?” That’s the way the question is asked, and it’s usually approximately in that tone, though not quite as loud. The whole point is to make the Gospel appear ridiculous. Isn’t that stupid?

But I want you to know today that the answer is yes. But I need to explain why the answer is yes. God says, “I think so much of what Jesus Christ did on the cross that I can even forgive a murderer if he believes in Him, but I cannot forgive a good, sane, taxpaying, decent citizen who doesn’t believe on Him.” That’s the wonder of the sacrifice.

This society of ours needs to hear what I’m going to say next. Of course, they need to hear everything I’ve said so far, I think. That’s a humble opinion. (chuckles) Whenever you add to “It is finished,” you subtract from it. If you take the word “love” and you say, “Well, you know, I like the word love but I’d like to add a letter,” you get something else. It’s no longer love. The minute you begin to say, “I need to contribute towards it,” or “I need to get my life straightened up so that I am worthy of grace,” you do not then understand grace. Grace accepts you as you are if you are willing to transfer all of your trust to Jesus and accept what He did on the cross. Telestai! It is finished!

The second lesson (And this gets difficult now; I don’t like to preach about these things any more than you like to hear me preach about them.) is that those who pay for their own sin will never be able to say, “Telestai! It is finished!” You see, even if you do not accept Christ as Savior and you say, “I’m going to bear my own sin,” (And I remember talking to somebody who said, “I’m going to stand before God on the basis of my own record. I will not accept the record of somebody else. I will not accept Jesus. I am willing to stand there on my own record.”) you will suffer eternally, and in a hundred million years you still will not be able to say, “It is finished!” It will never be finished for you, never, never be finished because Jesus suffered in a few hours of time what all of the eternities of hell can never owe to a holy God.

There’s a final lesson, and that is, of course, that the need to accept Jesus Christ is urgent. Now, I’m going to tell you about some of my pet peeves at this point as to how the Gospel is sometimes presented by very well-known and very well-meaning people. Sometimes you hear people say, “Yeah, you should get saved.” Everybody awake now! “You should commit yourself to Christ.” I think that kind of terminology confuses the issue. What am I supposed to do to commit myself to Christ? I know that Paul says he was committed to Christ, and I’m committed to Christ, and I hope you are, but that’s confusing terminology. We don’t come to the cross to commit ourselves when we are talking about salvation. We don’t come to give anything. We come to receive.

I like much better the words of the hymn:

Nothing in my hand I bring
But simply to thy cross I cling.

Now that’s getting closer to the essence of the Gospel. Or sometimes you hear people saying, “You should make (and they are speaking to non-Christians now) a promise to follow Christ.” Oh my! Follow Christ! What’s following Christ? And furthermore I follow Him today and I fail tomorrow. Where does that leave me?

I like this terminology. It’s the best way I know how to put it, and if you can improve on it, you come and tell me later how you’d have used a better term. What we must do is to accept Christ as our sin bearer. We must accept Him as the one who died for sinners, and say that He died in my place, receiving the judgment that I should have received. And I accept that and embrace it because I am a miserable sinner who cannot save myself.

This past week I was listening to somebody who was talking to somebody about an eccentric preacher (I suppose some like that exist, don’t they? Eccentric preachers?), who would get a crowd by taking his umbrella, pushing it into the mud, walking around it long enough until a crowd gathered. I’d say that’s eccentric. But when he was doing this, a young man shouted out in sort of a sarcastic way, “What must I do to be saved?” and the preacher said to him, “It’s too late.” He said, “You mean I can’t be saved?” And the preacher said, “I didn’t say that, but according to your question, ‘What must you do to be saved?’ it’s too late.”

Well, as you know, the point that he was trying to make is simply this, that it is done. It is finished. But what you and I must do is to transfer our trust to Christ, and say, “He is mine.” And when you do that, you not only are saved but you have the assurance of salvation because you know that what Jesus Christ did on the cross is sufficient for you, and that He died and His payment was accepted by the Father on your behalf, and thereby your assurance rests.

I conclude with a personal word from my own heart. As best as I know my sinful heart, I would like to trust Christ so completely and so entirely that if, when I get to heaven, God says, “Trust in Christ is not enough; you also have to bring something else,” I’d be damned forever because all of my faith was in Christ alone. And I don’t believe that God is going to require anything else and I’ll tell you why. Telestai! Paid in full!

Hm! No wonder we sing,

Lifted up was He to die,
It is finished was His cry.
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah, what a Savior.

There is none other like Him!

And let us pray.

Our Father, we thank you for these marvelous words of Jesus. We thank you today that we can have assurance of heaven. We thank you today, Father, that we can say to the vilest of sinners who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

And we know, Father, that He died for those who believe on Him and paid their debt.

Now, my friend, what do you have to say to Jesus today? Would you come to Him? Would you receive Him even where you are seated? Say, “Jesus, save me. I come to trust you.”

Oh Father, for those who are struggling within and have not yet come to peace, I pray that they may not be left alone. I pray that they may not sleep at night. I pray, Father, that their week would be a week in which they seek you. And I pray, oh God, please don’t let them go until you have saved them. And for those who know you, we pray that you might not let us go until we have been reminded of your work in our hearts, and the cleansing of the blessed Holy Spirit. Do that, oh Father, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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