Palm/Passion Sunday: It Is Finished (6/6)
Other sermons in this series
“The Seven Last Words of Christ”
Scriptures: Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30
Jesus was not a victim.
Nothing about the passion of Jesus Christ indicates that his life should have ended any differently than it did. Was the torture and death he suffered a horrible and atrocious miscarriage of justice? Absolutely and in every way imaginable! But the fact remains Jesus was not a victim of the system. It’s terribly difficult to wrap our heads around why it had to unfold in the way it did, but the biblical witness is that it all happened according to God’s ultimate plan.
In life, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, and in death, he submitted to the Father’s will. Jesus was faithfully obedient from the beginning of his life to the very end it. And his final words, probably uttered in a breathless whisper, were an acknowledgment that the Father’s plan had been completed. At this point, three or so hours into his crucifixion, there was only one thing left to do, which was to take his last breath and die. And so, in his final seconds of life he managed to quietly utter his last words from the cross: “It is finished.” After which he exhaled his last breath and died.
As you know, there are a plethora of films depicting the life and ministry of Jesus. What if someone devoted an entire film to his final three hours of life, those hours on the cross? Specifically, portraying what Jesus might have been thinking about in those final hours of life? I can imagine such a film being mostly flashbacks of his life, flashbacks to scenes from his birth, scenes from his childhood, scenes from his young adulthood (which would require creative license on our part since there’s nothing recorded in the Bible about that time in his life), and, of course, scenes from his ministry.
I believe that over time Jesus grew in his understanding of who he was. I can imagine that even at an early age he might have recognized that there was something about himself that was different than normal. Maybe he didn’t have the words to describe it or the wherewithal to make sense of what he was intuiting. But I tend to think that as he got older, he began putting two and two together, so much so that even by the time he was twelve, he was starting to see the bigger picture. It’s interesting to note that even at that young age he may have been seeing something about himself that Joseph and Mary weren’t seeing, even though they’d been let in on the secret of Jesus’ life purpose even before he was born!
One flashback could be the time when, at the age of twelve, he remained in Jerusalem at the close of the Passover festival while his family set out for home. After realizing he wasn’t with them that first night on the road, they returned to Jerusalem the next day and then spent the next three days searching for him. Exhausting every nook and cranny within the city where they thought he might be, they finally made their way into the temple where, to their shock, they found him talking with the priests. When Joseph and Mary expressed their exasperation over the fact that they’d been looking for him for many days, his response was quite telling. “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). In other words, Why didn’t you think to look here first? You of all people should know by now that this is where I’m most at home.
From there, his understanding of who he was slowly came into focus. And before he fully accepted the “terms” of his life’s call and began his public ministry, I think he fully understood the ramifications of what he was accepting. Throughout his ministry, he alluded to the general details of his death. He knew he’d be “handed over” by the religious leaders, and he knew it would be a bad experience for him. But he also knew that for as objectionable as it would be, it was a vital component of God’s plan of redemption. And so, I can imagine that from the cross, he might have thought back to all those moments in his life when the details of this plan of redemption were revealed to him. As the whole of his birth, life, death, and yes, his resurrection, all came together in his understanding, he embraced it and lived into it, fully aware and in full acceptance.
During those three hours, I think it’s possible that Jesus reviewed his life and saw how it all led to this very moment, when he would take his final breath. And seeing that he’d accomplished everything given to him to do up to that point, he quietly let the world know that his work was complete. “It is finished.”
It’s interesting, though, that Luke records a different final utterance before dying. According to Luke, Jesus’ last words were “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” To most of you, that rendering probably sounds a bit off. That’s because most of us know it as, “I commit (or commend) my spirit.” The Greek word for “commit” or “commend” can also be translated “entrust.” The Greek word for spirit is ‘pneuma,’ which is almost always translated “spirit.” But the editors of the Common English Bible went with “life” instead of “spirit.” While I can’t say for sure, I think their reasoning is that one’s spirit, one’s pneuma, is in essence the life force of a person. It’s the part of each of us which is eternal. It’s the part of us which connects us to God, which allows us to know and hear God, to be able to respond to God. It’s the part of us that comes alive when we say yes to Jesus. My spirit is my life force. It is in essence my life. Before he died, Jesus entrusted his life, his spirit, to God.
Why would he do that? Was it necessary to give over his life to God after having spent 33 years obediently doing that very thing, even to the point of death? Not really. So, here’s what I think he was doing. I think he was telling both God and those persons present at his crucifixion, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do; there’s nothing more I as a human being can do from this point on. It’s now up to you, Father. I untrust all the work I’ve done in your name, my life’s work, into your care so that you can continue to unfold your plan of redemption from this point on.” Today, we might say, “The ball is now in your court.”
Jesus entrusted the entirety his life’s work into the Father’s hands. And it was only a matter of weeks before the next part of God’s plan of redemption was initiated. That event was the birth of the church at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon a group of Believers and filled them with his presence and power. And from that moment on, the church was the body of Christ in the world. The church was given the task of continuing the work Jesus had been doing for the last three years of his life. And in order for the church to be able to actually do it, God gave them his Spirit as their source of strength, power, knowledge, etc. Just as the spirit, the pneuma, is the life source of each individual person, so the Holy Spirit, the Holy Pneuma, is the life source of the church.
Here’s my point. On the cross, Jesus completed his earthly work. But his work in us and in the world was only beginning. There was so much yet to do. And today the same thing can be said; there is still so much to do for the sake of the kingdom of God. Are there people in our community who don’t know the wonderful love of Jesus Christ? If so, our work is not yet done. As long as there are people who haven’t yet heard the Good News and had an opportunity to respond to it, our work in unfinished. Jesus’ work as a man ended on the cross. But the work of taking the Good News of Jesus the Christ to all who would listen began at that point. And the responsibility of carrying out that life-changing work has been handed down to us. And the truth is, we’ve been empowered by the Spirit to do this work, and to do it well! Thanks be to God.