William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United
States, delivered the longest inaugural speech on record.
It was over 9,000 words. Harrison must have been awfully
proud of that speech because it was a cold, rainy, January
morning. He refused to wear an overcoat or to abbreviate
his address. After standing in those miserable conditions
for two hours he contracted pneumonia and died less than
one month later. Somebody quipped that, "No president has
ever said more and done less."
Now contrast that with what Jesus did when he hung on that
cross on a hill called "Calvary." His statements were few.
We only have seven recorded. They were brief. Not one is
more than ten words long in English. But as few and as
brief as they were, all eternity was altered by what he
said. I suppose one could say "No man has ever said less
and done more."
The best of all His statements were the words of victory:
"It is finished." "Later, knowing that all was now
completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was
there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a
stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it 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." (John 19:28)
That phrase comes to us in the English in three different
words: It-is-finished. But in the original language, the
Greek, it was just one word: Tetelestai. Tetelestai was a
powerful word. It was a very terminating phrase that
indicated something had been totally consummated. It is
absolutely finished. Some had thought that this was a cry
of desperation. Jesus yelling, "Oh it's finished!" It
wasn't. Others thought it might be a sigh of relief, "Ohhh,
it's finished." It wasn't that either. I'm convinced that
this was a word of triumph, not tragedy. This was a word of
jubilation, not lamentation. This was a cry of victory, not
a cry of despair. In fact, he could have shouted
"Tetelestai!" IT IS FINISHED!
But, what was finished? Jesus' earthly work
It's a lot easier to start something than it is to finish
it, isn't it? Whether you're talking about a project, a
college degree, a marriage, a commitment, a life, whatever:
it's just a lot easier to start than it is to finish.
That's why we only give rewards to those who finish. You
don't see t-shirts that say, "I Started the Boston
Marathon," do you? Nobody gets a diploma the first day of
school. You don't get the gold watch at the beginning of
the second month on your new job. You're rewarded when you
finish. Frankly, most of us have a difficult time finishing
what we started, but not Jesus. He was a finisher.
This word, "Tetelestai," is used three other times in
John's gospel and all three times it comes from the lips of
Jesus. '"My food,' said Jesus 'is to do the will of him who
sent me and to finish his work.'" (John 4:34) "'I have
testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work
that the Father has given me to finish, that which I am
doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.'" (John 5:36)
This man is saying early on I am set to finish what I
Just hours before he would go to the cross, he's in prayer
with his Father and said, '"I have brought you glory on
earth by completing'" (there's that word, Tetelestai) '"by
completing the work that you gave me to do.'" (John 17:4)
Hours later, he cries out while hanging from his hands,
"'It is finished.'" (John 19:30) When Jesus came to this
earth, he didn't come with a random "fly by the seat of
your pants" approach. He had a specific plan. He knew
exactly what needed to be done. He knew the prophecies that
needed to be fulfilled, the men that needed to be trained,
the miracles that needed to be performed and the message
that needed to be communicated. He said, my job is to do
the will of He who sent me and I'm going to finish that
The reason so many people feel so unfulfilled in life, so
frustrated, so unhappy, is that they simply don't follow
Jesus' example. They have no life plan. They chase every
rainbow, every source of instant gratification and drink
out of every pleasure pool. But they stay perpetually
thirsty. Jesus, by contrast, said I want to know what my
Father wants me to do and I'm going to do it until I finish
it. People, that's the same secret for fulfillment in your
life. We are on this earth for the very same purpose that
Jesus was here. We're here to bring glory to the Father.
This might surprise you, but we're going to accomplish that
exactly the same way. We're going to accomplish it by
simply being obedient, by going to our own cross
symbolically and by letting ourselves be crucified so that
God can live and reign in us. We're going to be fulfilled
by staying the course and by finishing the race.
That last thing is the hardest thing to do. Some of you are
asking "How do you do that? How do you stay motivated? How
do you have the courage to run the entire race of life
right to the finish line and do it well?" Let's examine
what the Bible shares with us about Jesus' secret.
"Let us fix our
eyes on Jesus, the 'author and,'" (look at the word)
"finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the
right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) It tells
us how to finish! Here's how we finish, we look at Jesus.
Where was Jesus looking? "The joy set before him he endured
the cross," he hated the shame, but he went through it.
Why? Because he knew just on the other side, he was going
to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God having
provided the way for man to be reconciled to Them. We keep
our focus on where we're going. In an age of immediate
gratification where we want instant satisfaction, we must
remember that our reward is in eternity.
Now don't misunderstand. I wouldn't trade the Christian
life for anything because as we seek to fulfill our purpose
and finish the race God bears fruit in our life. We've
studied those: Love, joy, peace, patience, all nine fruits
of the spirit from Galatians 5. Nobody can experience those
in the same measure as a Christian can.
But there's another side to that coin. Being a follower of
Christ will make demands on our life. It will require
sacrifices if our walk with God is genuine and tells us how
we cope with that sacrifice, with the demand and with the
annoyances of life. "For the joy that was set before him,
he endured the cross despising the shame and now he's
sitting at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews
Some of you are on the verge of quitting. Some of you
studying this lesson may be on the verge of quitting a
ministry, you're beginning to feel frustrated and maybe it
seems fruitless. Are you a Bible school teacher who's
wondering, you should just quit because you think "I'm not
getting through to any student?" Are you a personal worker
who's the same way? Are some of you thinking about quitting
your marriage? Are some of you thinking, I don't know if
I'm going to keep this church-stuff up?"
Can I give you one little bit of the best counsel? Look
where Jesus looked. Re-focus on eternity. "This world is
not my home; I'm just a passing through. My treasure is
laid up somewhere beyond the blue." If you don't believe
that, you're going to have a hard time ever finishing life,
Paul said "...at the proper time we will reap a harvest if
we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) Don't quit. Tetelestai.
Jesus finished his work.
The plan of
redemption was completed. He knew the plan of
redemption was finished. That word, "Tetelestai" is an
interesting word. It was often used in the first century in
a commercial sense. For example, if somebody had a loan
that required installment payment, that man might walk in
on the last day and slap down that little bit of money and
say, "Tetelestai," it's finished, it's paid off, it's done.
And the lender would look at him and say,
"Congratulations!" When Jesus cried out, "Tetelestai," all
of those around the cross would have made that association.
It's paid, it's finished. What's paid, what's paid in full?
The answer is the payment for sin, the purchase of
Just how did Jesus purchase our redemption? How does that
The requirement of the law was that anyone who sinned would
die. That was the curse of the law. Now remember the word
"die" means separation. If you sin, you would be separated
from God eternally. That was the way it would work.
Somebody would have to come in and cancel that debt, wipe
it out, pay for it. From the beginning of time, God decreed
there had to be a blood sacrifice. I don't know why, we'll
ask God when we get to heaven. We've got some clues. We're
told that life is in the blood. Sin is death; life cancels
out death, which was going to be the payment. It had to be
a blood payment to take away our sins.
Now for centuries God had allowed the blood of animals,
rams, bulls, goats and heifers, as a symbolic payment for
that sin. But "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and
goats to really take away sins." (Hebrews 10:4) No, if our
sin was ever going to be taken away, the sacrifice that
would adequately pay for it and cancel the debt would have
to meet three criteria: 1) It would have to be human; 2) it
would have to be sinless and 3) it would have had to live
under the law, the old Law of Moses fulfilling every jot
and tittle perfectly. "But when the time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to
redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full
rights as sons." (Galatians 4:4) Therefore the sacrifice
had to be a human and born under the law. Jesus met all
three of these criteria. Consequently, He could and would
make the payment for us.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are
in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of
the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and
death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was
weakened by the sinful nature," (look at this) "God did by
sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a
sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in
order that the righteous requirements of the law might be
fully met in us." (Romans 8:1-4)
We've been set free from sin and death because God sent his
own son in the likeness of sinful man to be our sin
offering so that the righteous requirements of the law
might be met in us. Notice it reads "met in us" not "met by
us." We can't meet the requirements of the law. Nobody
could except Jesus.
The greatest part of the whole thing to me is in verse
three, that last line of the verse, "He condemned sin in
sinful man." Do you know what that says? That when God
looks at me, a sinner, but a sinner who's in Christ, a
Christian, he doesn't look at me and say "I condemn you,
you sinner." Instead, "He condemns sin in sinful man." He
says I condemn your sin, I put your sin on the cross and I
let you have the righteousness of Jesus." Tetelestai. As
the song says, "Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin
had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow."
The power of
mortality was finished. The natural enemy of
humanity is death, isn't it? Someone said, "Man wants to be
happy, but man can't be happy because he does the very
thing he doesn't want to do, he dies." That describes most
How many times do we try to postpone death? How many times
do we try to avoid that monster? How many times do we dance
around it and pretend it's not there? We try to duck its
grasp, but we all eventually end up in its stranglehold.
I've got great news! Jesus has broken the stranglehold.
Jesus never preached a funeral service. In fact, Jesus
messed up every funeral he ever attended. They were
mourning for Jairus' daughter, and he had just brought her
from the grave. They were leading the widow's son out from
Nain. He just made him rise up. They had been weeping for
Lazarus for four days. Jesus said "Roll the stone back.
Lazarus come forth." Jesus destroyed every funeral he ever
In the three days that encompassed his death and
resurrection, he stripped death of all its power. "But
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the
firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since
death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead
comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in
Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn:
Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who
belong to him." (1 Corinthians 15:20)
When they took the lifeless body of Jesus off the cross
that Friday afternoon, they placed it in a borrowed tomb.
Knowing his claims about coming back to life and fearing
his followers, the soldiers rolled a stone across that
tomb, sealed it and placed a guard around it. But, they
could not contain the seed of life. On that Sunday morning
Mary and the other women were there when He, life, had
burst forth. He was the firstfruit. The first to be raised
from the dead, never to die again. When he comes again all
who've died in him, will come out of the grave given a new,
imperishable and incorruptible body. "When the perishable
has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with
immortality, then the saying that is written will come
true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O
death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1
Folks, when Jesus said, "Tetelestai! It is finished!" he
turned death from a bottomless pit into an exit ramp,
taking us off one road and putting us on a better one. The
way we face death is the acid test, the ultimate measure of
our faith. Do you have that kind of faith, that kind of
trust, that God will raise you up from this dust? He can -
you can count on it because he broke the stranglehold of
death, and he came back never to die again. It's finished.
It's now up to you! Lesson
#1257 April 7, 1996