Proclamation Not Meditation
We're not here to meditate on the cross. That was a common practice in the late Middle Ages which Luther denounced. He placed all the emphasis on the Word from the cross. Without proclamation coming from the cross, it wouldn't matter if Christ was crucified 1,000 times over. We would remain under judgement (Peters, Creed, 238). So, open your ears to the 6th Word from the cross tetelestai. "It is finished."
What is finished? Do you think this is a proclamation that His life is over? This is the end of His heart beating, His lungs breathing, His soul being connected to His body? No, Jesus always prophesied that He would rise again on the Third Day. Every time Jesus predicted His death He also predicted He would rise. He knows that His soul is not finished with His body. He knows He will walk this earth again.
Well then is Jesus saying His humiliation is over? Is Jesus saying He is finished not fully using His Divine Powers as a Man? No, that's not over yet either. A Roman soldier is still going to ram a spear into the side of His dead body and pierce His heart even after that heart has stopped beating. And brutalizing, abusing a dead body is even more humiliating, in the usual sense of that word, than doing so to a live one.
That spear being jammed into His side, and you can't think the soldier did this gently, spared Jesus from getting His legs broken as was the case of the thieves crucified with Him. But His humiliation doesn't end with a spear thrust. It continues with the burial. The basic Christian confession of faith doesn't end with crucified or even dead but continues with "and buried." See the ghost-white corpse of Jesus being taken down from the cross; see how arms, legs, head flop about lifelessly. See Jesus' mouth open because the jaw is kept closed only by an active use of that muscle.
Sure, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus handled Jesus' body with care, but they had to work hurriedly because sundown approached and with it the Sabbath. And yes, they rubbed His entire body with 75 pounds of spices and wrapped it in linen strips. But remember they do this to the Body of God, and He is dead. And the final indignity, the last humiliation, is still to come. They bury Him. They seal Him in a stone-cold tomb. You should hear and feel this word of proclamation the same way you do the jail door clanging shut on an innocent person. Be startled.
What is finished? Jesus active suffering for sins, for the sins of everyone who has ever lived, lives now, or will live. For your sins. If you were the only sinner that ever existed, if just you needed to be redeemed, the Father still would have sent His Son to the cross.
What Jesus says is done is His active suffering for sins. So, don't you dare think you need to add to His suffering by feeling bad for your sins, by punishing yourself in little ways. When you do that you're not helping Jesus. You're answering His proclamation, "It is finished" with, "O no it's not!"
The 6th Word is literally one word in Greek: Tetelestai, but that is translated with 3 English words. "It is finished." And here it's important to remind yourself that is means is. Jesus does not say, "It will be finished." If Jesus said this, when would you know the active suffering needed to pay for your sins was over? You wouldn't. Then when tragedy, disease, death strike you could rightly conclude this is another step down the road to it being finished. Since Jesus actively suffers no more for sin after this, you couldn't look for anything from Him to finally finish it. Your sin would be like a debt you owed to a mobster. Every time you thought you were finished, the brutal mob bosses Sin, Death, and the Devil would say, "Like hell you are." Only they would mean that literally.
"It might be finished" is just as bad as "it will be finished" sometime in the future. Actually, "might be" is worse. For this is the "Monster of Uncertainty" Luther railed against in Roman Catholicism. You could never be, you were never to be, sure that your sins were finished being paid for. If you failed to confess every mortal sin out loud to a priest, it wasn't finished. If you failed to do adequately the penance assigned by a priest for a confessed sin, it might not be finished. Luther said, "If everything else were sound there [in the papacy], still this monster of uncertainty is worse than all other monsters" (LW, 26, 386).
However, don't think the monster of might be finished' only lurks in Catholicism, it's there in Protestantism too. If it payment for your sins is a matter of your choice, are you sure you made a sincere one? If it is matter of giving your heart to Jesus, are you sure you gave it all? If it's a matter of asking Jesus to come into your heart, might you have not really meant it? The monster of might' haunts you if you think it being finished is based on your pious inner feeling or your pious outer works. Are you willing to stake all eternity on either of those?
Don't Bill Clinton this. While in the highest political office in America he single-handedly destroyed the English language for millennials when in that tawdry affair, he responded under oath: "It depends on what the meaning of the word is' is." The "to be" verb was declared not to always state reality. It could be used symbolically, metaphorically. What is reality, what is truth were up for grabs.
Don't Bill Clinton Jesus' 6th Word from the cross. Is means is. Jesus states not what will be some time in the future or what might be reality here and now. He states what is. His active suffering, the suffering of God in flesh and blood, in place of, on behalf of, for sinners is finished. Nothing needs to be added, nothing can be added to this reality.
The 6th Word from the cross is one word "Tetelestai," and English Bibles translate this as "It is finished," but this Greek Word proclaims much more than 3 English words can carry. There is forever in this Word. There is the mythical 12th of never here; there is from here to eternity, there is forever and ever and world without end in this Word.
The 6th Word is a Greek perfect. It is forever finished. If you could get to the 12th of never, it's still finished there. From Golgotha to eternity it is finished every step of the way. It's like the line the geometry teacher draws on the board and says it goes on forever. And actually, this forever line goes both ways. Because Revelation says that the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. Edgar Alan Poe would have you haunted by the raven saying, "nevermore." By Jesus proclaiming "finished" the active suffering needed to satisfy the wrath of God against all sins in the perfect, He would have you comforted with "forever more."
Not only does this Greek Word proclaim forever-ness' it proclaims passiveness.' It's a passive which means Jesus is letting you know it's finished not just in His eyes. He's not the child at table who thinks his parents ought to go by his standard of finished. God the Father is the One who needs to be satisfied. It is His wrath that needed to be appeased.
It's true; Jesus passively accepted this suffering, but be comforted by the fact that God the Father objectively recognizes His suffering is sufficient to pay for sins against Him which no man could pay for. God the Father said the only way for His wrath against a world of sinners could be stilled, could be quenched is if Jesus took the cup of God's wrath that His Father put in His hands and drank every last drop of it. By saying "It be finished" Jesus lets you know God regards that cup as finished.
Emphasize the passiveness of Jesus suffering and of the Father regarding it as finished to get the full comfort of Tetelestai. The word emphasizes both. The Father doesn't begrudge giving up His own Son to the punishment your sins deserve every day, and the Son doesn't suffer that punishment unwillingly, but gladly. In Great Britain alone there are 50 to 60,000 memorials for WW I soldiers killed in action. The names of a million dead soldiers are carved in stone memorials across the country. Always these memorials add "that their lives had been given not taken" (Unknown Soldiers, 323).
The reality that the Almighty God the Father should give His Almighty Son in place of a sinner like you, and that the Son should willingly be so given is hard to illustrate. But it is the crux of the proclamation of today. Luther says if you lose the "for you" aspect of the proclamation of today, you've lost the cross, the comfort, the salvation (Peters, Creed, ibid.). But you've heard it so very many times. Psychology studies say that if you stare at a chair for 15 minutes while repeating that word over and over, in the end you will lose the concept of chair' temporarily.
Let us hear this again for the first time. In the 1993 movie The Good Son a mother is left holding over the edge of a cliff 2 boys. In one hand is her 10-year-old son that she has just found out has drowned his brother, her little infant. In the other hand is a 10-year-old nephew who after the death of his mother she has "adopted" as a son. They both plead with her to save them. The vile, guilty biological son pleads with heartrending "Mommy, Mommy." She only has strength to save one and must drop the other to certain death to do it. She drops her biological son to save the adopted one. She drops the vile, guilty son to save the innocent one.
This is what God did too. He dropped into hell on the cross His "natural" Son to save us adopted ones. The difference being the Son He dropped was innocent of any wrong doing. We adopted sons were guilty of everything, and unlike the movie, we weren't pleading, "Mommy, Mommy" we were snarling and cursing and with zombie-like viciousness trying to bite the hand holding us. Not sorry one bit for drowning our baby brother.
Now don't do with this what the 70s detective Colombo always did with guilty people. Don't turn around while leaving and say, "Just one more thing." No, there's not. There's not something for you to choose, confess, do, or even believe before "It is finished" proclaims reality. It is finished when Jesus says it's finished. It is finished when God proclaims it is finished. And proclaim it He doesforever. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (20170414); John 19:30