Scripture Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; John 19:28-30 (text); Hebrews 10:12-14
Good Friday Meditation, April 6, 2012
Ever wondered why this day, a commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion c. A.D. 33, is called “Good”? How can this day be good when it is the day when the Lord Jesus Christ suffered excruciating torture and death by crucifixion? Some say it comes from German or Old English terms which means “God’s Friday” or “Good Friday.”
As early as the 2nd century, Christians started commemorating the Pasch (“Passover”) of Crucifixion and Resurrection in a time of fasting, prayer, and penance. It is a celebration of our Holy God’s great love in Christ, so that in some parts of Europe, the day is called “Great” or “Holy,” not just “Good.”
The reason why the day of Christ’s death is called “Good” is summed up in this the sixth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished.” What was he referring to as finished? A high school student in a Christian school once told me that his teacher said this word meant that the suffering of Jesus, the pain that he has endured for many hours, is now ending.
To be sure, this is true. After he died, his mangled and torn body will not feel pain anymore. The mocking and humiliation he will not hear anymore. But is this all that is finished? If Jesus said this as a sigh of relief, or as his resignation to death, then he is a mere man who is about to die.
No, “It is finished” is a word that transcends all that mortals like us can ever think of in relation to his death on the cross. In the original Greek, John uses one word: tetelestai, a passive mode for teleo, which means “to complete, bring to an end, finish an activity or process.” It can also mean “to carry out, accomplish, perform, fulfill, keep, an obligation or demand” (BAGD, 997-8). So, it could be translated as a passive, “It has been completed, finished, accomplished.”
So who did the work of “finishing”? It is the Triune God: the Father decreed that Christ must do the work, Christ finished the work, and the Holy Spirit enabled him to accomplish it.
As we remember our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross, we will solemnly ponder on two things: first, His Work for His Father; second, His Work for His People. May this meditation help us see how heinous our sins are, and how infinite God’s love is for us that he sent his Beloved Son to suffer the utmost for us: inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors of eternal hell.
His Work for His Father
Jesus is the Son of God who was sent into the world to do his Father’s will. He revealed this mission throughout his life in his teachings, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34), and “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). How did Jesus accomplish the Father’s work?
It is finished. Our text in John 19:28-30 uses the word “finished” in connection with Jesus’ fulfillment of all the prophecies of Scriptures about him. In his resurrection “sermon” to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus told them, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,”and his suffering and death were prophesied, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”(Luke 24:44-46). This is why most of the Gospels, especially Matthew’s, repeated this fulfillment formula all throughout his life, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet…”
It is finished. When Jesus fulfilled all Scriptures, he was actually obeying God’s law, not only the law of Moses, but all the law and the Prophets, ”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). This also means that he was, although human, perfectly obedient and sinless, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Since Jesus is our holy and sinless Substitute, he is able to endure the full penalty for all our sins under God’s judgment, to the satisfaction of God’s justice and holiness.
It is finished. The Triune God’s work of redemption, decreed from eternity, is finished. Because of this, his name is glorified. In speaking of God’s eternal decree of electing his people for salvation, Paul says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:5-6). The Father’s glory was Christ’s ultimate goal in his finishing God’s work in his suffering and dying for his people, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you… to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:1-4).
This is why the Father was pleased with His Son, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). His resurrection was evidence that his sacrifice on the cross was a pleasing aroma to his Father in heaven, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).
His Work for His People
Even on the cross, Jesus was aware that he was fulfilling Scriptures on behalf of all that the Father has given to him. His life of suffering and death were all part of God’s overarching plan for redeeming his people.
It is finished. He was born to save his people from their sins, and he wanted to finish this work from the beginning, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) Not his physical baptism, but his baptism in his suffering and death. His sinful people were under the curse of the law, so he had to be “born of woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4), and to be a curse for them, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ ” (Gal 3:13). When he finished his work on the cross, he is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him… Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…” (Hebrews 7:25; 9:15).
It is finished. Instead of his people paying the penalty of death and hell for their sins, it was him who came “to give his life as a ransom for all” who would believe (Matt 20:28; see 1 Tim 2:6). In becoming a ransom, he was the One who paid the penalty for sin—death—by willingly sacrificing himself on the cross, so he “has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people. Since he did this once for all when he offer up himself… But, as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 7:27; 9:26). It is as if when one pays off all his mortgage debt for his house, and he receives the final statement that is stamped, “PAID IN FULL.”
It is finished. His sacrifice for the sins of his people was a complete, once-for-all payment. It is preposterous to think that wicked human beings can add their penances, crucifixions, pilgrimages, almsgiving, rosaries, processions, tears, and other “good” works to the eternal, completed and finished once-for-all sacrificial work of the holy and perfect Son of God.
It is finished. His suffering and death not only accomplished our redemption, but also our right standing before a holy God. When he died, he “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). This means that his perfect obedience was counted to our account, we who are cursed sinners, so that we would not be cursed by our striving to be righteous before God with our own works, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).
It is finished. Not only did he provide for our redemption and justification, but also for our sanctification, so we may be holy and blameless before God in our lives. He has sent his Spirit of righteousness to enable us to produce fruits, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:12-14). His resurrection was the result of his pleasing sacrifice, and he was raised to make us new creation, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
It is finished. By his own death, he has conquered death, hell and the devil forever, so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death we subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebr 2:14-15). This is why we could look forward to that coming day of victory when Jesus returns for us and unites our resurrected bodies and souls, and exclaim with Paul, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:53-57).
Christ completed God’s work. He fulfilled all the Law, perfectly obeying God, and all Scriptures. He did all that the Father sent him to do.
Christ completed his Father’s work for his people. In enduring God’s wrath on the cross, he paid the ransom for his people, satisfied God’s holiness and justice. In so doing, he earned justification and sanctification for his people. He did not merely make salvation possible for us. He finished, accomplished and perfected it forever! Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
“Tetelestai! ” “It is finished!” This word was not a sigh of relief or resignation, but of victory. He knew he would rise from the grave and sit at the right hand of his Father in glory. And through his victory, we too will have complete, perfect victory over sin and death for eternity.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.