It Is Finished - John 19:28-30
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Back in 2012 there was a fairly famous story that went viral about two long distance runners. Maybe you’ve heard of this. There was a long distance race in Navarro, Spain. And the leader was a Kenyan runner named Abel Mutai, and second place was a Spanish runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya. At the end of the race Abel was WAY out in front, but he misunderstood where the finish line was. So he hit where he thought was the finish line, and then slowed down. Ivan caught up to him, but instead of passing him - he pushed Abel to keep running and claim the victory. It was one of the greatest moments of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. And people went nuts, “why did you do that Ivan? Why didn’t you push to win?” And the runner explained he said, “Abel was the rightful winner. He had a gap I could not have closed.” A journalist asked him, “But why did you let the Kenyan win?” Ivan replied, ′′ I didn't let him win, he was already going to win. The race was his.” The journalist insisted, ′′ But you could have won!” Ivan looked at him and replied, ′′ But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor in that medal? What would my mother think of that?” Even his coach said it was remarkable, in an interview the coach said, “I probably would have run past the guy.” But Ivan Fernandez Anaya wasn’t going to win like that, and Abel Mutai learned the value of knowing where the finish line was - and I just love that bit about Ivan asking, “what would my mother think of that?” It’s just so pure.
Today we’re going to tell the story of when Jesus crossed the finish line in his ministry - but before we dive into that, we need to take a minute and explore the value of a finish line. Finish lines give us three key pieces. First, I can understand my goal when I see the finish line. I think a lot of people in life spend an enormous amount of time drifting. Do you feel that in your life? We don’t know why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing - and a life without purpose is exhausting, it’s so draining. It’s actually more exhausting to stand still with indecision in our heart, than it is to start running towards a goal. When we see the finish line, we discover our purpose and start moving towards it. Second, I can keep going if I know there is a finish line. A finish line gives us motivation. There’s an old psychological study from back in the 1950’s, where this Harvard grad., John Hopkins University scientist named Dr. Curt Richter performed an experiment on some rats. He placed rats into buckets of water and timed their ability to swim. Apparently rats are known for their strong swimming skills - normally they would last about 15 minutes before they drown. (I know, this was a long time ago - sort of a horrible experiment). But in the second experiment, Dr. Richter would rescue the rats when he saw them begin to stop swimming and sink. He took them out, dried them off and gave them a short period of rest - then he put them back in the water. But here's the crazy part. The rescued rats swam longer than 15 minutes. In fact, they swam for nearly 60 hours. I did the math for you - that’s 240 times longer. Ever since that study, it has been quoted a ba-jillion times because for most psychologists and indeed most humans - that is one of the most obvious examples of the power of hope. A finish line gives you a goal, and it gives you hope - I can keep going if I know there’s a finish line. The third thing a finish line gives you is release. You ever watch a runner blast past the finish line, maybe if you’re watching the olympics - the release of those last steps. There’s this big exhale, their arms sag down, they made it and they’re done. This is the value of a finish line, and today we are going to look at Jesus’ finish line.
Now for those who are just joining us - we, as a church, have been reading the ENTIRE bible in a year. We read through all the old testament and we’re up to kind of the big moment - Jesus’ death on a cross. If you’re a visitor, you picked sort of the BEST Sunday to check us out. This is the whole story right here. Now, of course, the more you study, the more you read - the more you start to see how it all ties together. But even first timers can appreciate what’s going on here. Jesus has lived his entire life, sinless and perfect. The Jewish leaders hate him, so they’re using the Roman occupation to kill him - a humiliating death on the cross, and that’s where we come in. [read v.28-30]. Now the first thing I want you to see here - he’s hanging on the cross, he says, “I’m thirsty”, they give him some sour wine and he says it is finished. But what I want you to see is that first line, “Jesus knew that his mission was now finished.” Now you might ask yourself, “what mission? What was his mission?” And the answer is “his sacrifice for our sins on the cross” - and that’s one of those things that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t read the whole story. So I just want to give you two little examples that will show you the depth of what’s going on here.
First, in Egypt - you remember the ten plagues, right? God’s people are slaves, God sends Moses, “Let my people go” and all that, yes? The ninth plague is darkness, and the tenth plague is death. The angel of death walks through Egypt and the firstborn of every household dies, except for those who take a lamb and sacrifice it - they take the blood and put it on the doorstop. And when the angel of death sees the blood, it passes over that house. This is a massive part of Israel’s history, this is why they have the passover celebration. Listen to this, Exodus chapter 12, [read v.21-23]. Okay, so that happened hundreds of years before Jesus - but did you catch it? What was it they used to put the blood on the doorstep? Hyssop. And what was the stick that they used to put sour wine on Jesus’ lips? Hyssop. [pause]. The blood of the sacrifice causes death to passover that house - that’s number 1. Number 2, in the old testament there's this thing called the “levitical code” - you might remember those readings, it’s just a big giant list of rules and regulations - a lot of it describing the system of sacrifices they used. Leviticus chapter 1, [read v.3-4]. This is the system of sacrifice they were given. You take the sacrificial lamb or goat, a male with no defects, you lay your hands on it, there’s a prayer we say, and our sins are put on the animal and it says, “the lord will accept its death in your place.” When Jesus was hanging on the cross and it says, “he knew his mission was now finished” - this is what he’s talking about. Jesus is our sacrifice. His blood is over our house so death with pass us by. He took the punishment for our sins, died the death we deserved so that we could have a right relationship with God. Jesus paid for our sins.
I don’t want you to miss this. [Go over to the table] I lot of people think this is an altar, because that’s what a lot of people call it. But it’s not - this is a table. Where we come for the presence of God [Point to the cross] THAT is the altar. That is where the son of God was sacrificed for our sins. And I want to be super clear - sometimes there are people who say “God is like a divine child abuser because he put his own son on the altar” But Jesus and God are the same essence - we call them Father and Son so that our little human brains can comprehend the mystery of what’s going on here - but this is God putting HIMSELF on the altar in the person of Jesus as a sacrifice so that death will pass over our house, making us right with Him. It’s not God sacrificing someone else, someone separate from who He is. Jesus is God. They are separate, they are different, but they are the same essence. Jesus is the son of God, and he paid for our sins. Mission accomplished. That’s a word of victory right there.
When Luke tells the story of Jesus on the cross, it goes like this [read Luke 23:44-46]. And what I want you to catch is the way that Jesus SHOUTED. His last words “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.” This is a word of confidence. I mean, that’s what we do with our life - right? We come before the throne of God at the end of all things and we stand there and we say “I trust you God.” Jesus is giving us assurance. When we die - Jesus has torn down the curtain and we are able to stand in front of God. If you have Jesus, if you trust him as your lord and savior - you can be confident about the end of this life. So many people come to the end of life terrified and uncertain, unsure of what comes next. But Christians? We are able to approach death with eagerness, with hope, with excitement - because of what Jesus has done and because of how good God is.
There’s a story that comes from a preacher Alistair Begg, maybe you’ve heard it before - but he imagines the thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus. Actually, I can’t say it any better than he can - let’s show that clip. [show clip]. I know there are some people here who are afraid of death. There are so many Christians who are afraid they have not done enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not enough. But beloved - I need you to hear this truth. It was never about your effort. It was never about you - and the things that you can do or can’t do - it is only Jesus. That is where our confidence comes from, that is where our assurance comes from. Look, if it was up to you to earn your way up to heaven - you wouldn’t make it. If you’re in here this morning and you’re thinking to yourself, “well, I just need to be good enough. I just need to do more good stuff than bad stuff - you’re not going to make it.” I wouldn't make it. There’s no version of the story where we earned our way up to heaven. There is only Jesus. There is only grace through faith in Jesus. My confidence is not in my ability to be a good enough person. I know too much about me to put my confidence in that. But I, just like you, just the thief on the cross - we can turn to the “super-visor angel” and say, “The Man on the middle cross said I can come.” Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands” - that gives us assurance, that gives us confidence when we approach the finish line, because we don’t trust in us, we trust in Jesus.
Jesus bowed his head and then released his Spirit - the end of the story. Well, not the end of the story - but the end of that day. First, Jesus paid for our sins - that’s a word of victory. Second, Jesus gave us assurance - that’s a word of confidence. But that last part is that word of release. Jesus leads us to full surrender. Remember, this is Jesus Christ the son of God and savior of the world - with all authority over the wind and waves, legions of angels at his beck and call. For him to die, he has to let go. He is showing us, with his last breath, he is showing us how to surrender. How to let go, and trust our spirit into God’s hands. Some of us in this room are clinging so tightly. Some of us cling to sin. We think “this is the thing that’s going to fulfill me, this is the thing that's going to make me happy.” Some of us cling to our fears, our anxieties. No matter how many times we say with our lips, “I trust God” in the back of our hearts we’re thinking, “yeah, but not really.” Some of us cling to our status as broken, we think, “I am broken. This is my identity, I can never be fixed, I can never be whole.” We’re trying to take the brokenness of this limited world and we’re trying to make it everything. We give up on the dream of something better, and just cling to our cynical defense mechanisms. Because if I hope then I am vulnerable. If I trust, then I might get hurt. So I’m going to cling to brokenness. Cling to the walls I have built to protect me from the world. But Jesus leads us to surrender. Jesus leads us to release. To let go.
You see, here is the good news that I have for you this morning. In the end…God wins. As we approach the finish line of Jesus’ life, you need to realize - God wins this race. God wins over your sins. Jesus PAID for your sins. In the tradition of the sacrificial lamb, you have been washed clean. God wins over your fears and anxiety - Jesus gives us assurance, a word of confidence that we can shout to the world. Your fears and anxieties have no power here. Now I want to be careful here - I’m not saying you’ll never be anxious. I’m not saying you’ll never have fears. I’m saying that Jesus SHOUTED, trusting God with his spirit - and so we can do the same. When fear and anxiety and doubt rises up in our life, and that’s normal, we can bring those things with confidence to God - we can know that we’re not trusting our own efforts, we’re trusting the man on the middle cross. God wins - over our sin, over our fears and anxiety, and God wins over the brokenness of the world. Jesus leads us to a FULL surrender.
Now if you’re a first time visitor, or perhaps someone who is just checking out to see what Christianity is all about - you might be thinking “good grief, what on earth…” We’re talking bout sacrifices and blood and anxiety and death - it's all, just, kind of a lot. Seems very dramatic, sort of gruesome and intense. But here’s the thing - here’s what we do with this. I have never had to convince someone that the world has evil in it. Not once in my life have I met someone who says, “nah, there’s nothing wrong with this world.” Even atheists who don’t believe in God, they do not agree with me on the existence of that things that is out there, they don't agree about the reality of the divine - even they can find common ground when I say, “you know this world is pretty messed up.” The world is broken. Full of evil and darkness and pain - and we know deep in our hearts, down in our core we have a gut feeling that it shouldn't be that way. This world is not all there is. And so what’s going on here - with all this talk as Jesus approaches the finish line, we use strong language because the desire in our hearts for evil to be gone is strong. When I think about the brokenness of my life, the things that have kept me fearful, the things that have kept me anxious - I don’t have soft words. I don’t “kinda, sorta” want it out of my life. I desperately want it out of my life. I don’t want to give sin a slap on the wrist. When I discovered how good and beautiful and true God’s love is - and I saw the things in my life keeping me away from that goodness - I didn’t want to take my sin and put it in a time out, stick it in the corner so it could come back later. No, I wanted it gone. I wanted my sin dead. I wanted my anxiety and my fear and my brokenness gone forever.
Followers of Jesus use this language. We say, “we die with Christ, so that we can rise with Christ in a new life.” We use really strong language, because what’s going on here is life changing. And so this is my challenge for you this week. I want you to die with Christ. Give up your sin. Reject the old ways. Let go. If you are here today and there is something you are still clinging to, something that has control over your life and you’re still holding on to it - let it go. If there is sin in your life, and you’re sitting there thinking, “no, I need this. This is my identity. This is who I am. This is a part of me.” I’m here to tell you - no it’s not. Jesus paid for our sins. We have that word of victory. Let go of your sin. Or maybe you’re here and it’s fear and anxiety you’re clinging to. And it’s paralyzing you in life. “I’m always afraid. I'm so stressed because I’m secretly convinced that God doesn't actually love me. I’m not good enough for God to love me. I am not enough.” But Jesus gives us assurance, he comforts us and gives us confidence when he shouted, “God I trust you with my spirit.” And you can let go of your fears and your anxiety. You can let his reassurance flood into you - because it’s not about you. It's about the man on the middle cross. You don’t have to earn his love. I assure you, he already loves you. Let go, let go - let those fears die. OR maybe it’s just the general brokenness of the world you’re holding onto. We have been taught to build up walls to protect ourselves from the harsh elements of a harsh world. But in this place we can trust God, we can let down our guard, we can be vulnerable. We can surrender. We can finally release. Let go - let all the brokenness, all the tears, all the pain of this life - let it die with Christ.
And some of you - that’s all you’ve got today. Some of you stumble across that finish line with Jesus, and you bring the old self into the tomb and lay there and that's all you’ve got for today. And that's a victory. That’s still mission accomplished for Jesus. But IF you are able to let go, if you have taken the old self and let it die with Christ - the next step is to rise with Christ to a new life. I want you to die with Christ - let it all go. Then rise with Christ to a new life. Let me see if I can explain it like this. My children, like all children, have gone through phases where they are scared of the dark. It gets dark so quickly, and maybe they need to go upstairs and the lights are off - Daddy, will you come with me? Alright bud. Now - all I do is stand there. I’m not doing anything impressive. Maybe I’ll hold his hand. The world didn’t change. Still dark and scary, and yet walking with Dad changes everything. I’m not up here this morning expecting you to just snap your fingers and poof all your sins and fears have disappeared. Sometimes it takes a long time for Jesus’ words of victory and confidence and release to work down into our spirits. Sometimes we need daily reminders. But the good news I have for you this morning is that God wins when we get to the finish line. Your father in heaven is there to hold your hand. Die with Christ. Rise with Christ to a new life.
I think about that Spanish runner, Ivan Fernandez Anaya and how he pushed the Kenyan runner onward to the finish line. There’s a lot of value that comes from knowing where the proper finish line is. I understand my goal when I see the finish line. I can keep going, even in when it’s hard, if I know there is a finish line. And I’m able to finally exhale and release when I cross that finish line. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you hear God’s word of victory - Jesus paid for your sins. May you hear God’s word of confidence - the man on the middle cross gives you assurance. And may you hear God's word of release - Jesus leads us to full surrender. Let’s pray.