Later, knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 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. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19: 28-30
Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at how the writers of Scripture thought about what Jesus did on the Cross. Here in these verses, we actually have Jesus giving us an insight into what He thought he was doing as He gave his life on the Cross. These verses are holy ground for us as believers as Jesus tells us why he chose to die.
This might seem strange but to help us reflect on Jesus understanding of his death I want to us to first listen to Karl Marx. I am not quoting Marx because I think he was right in everything he said but because I think he was right in one particular way. Marx claimed that the basic human problem is alienation. Now stick with me here. Marx said there were two types of alienation. There was an objective alienation, people were alienated from their rights and property because of an unfair economic system, that was a fact. Then there is a subjective alienation. Marx said if your economic situation is awful, you will feel awful. Here is where it gets interesting for us. Marx said that no amount of tinkering with our subjective feelings of alienation would ultimately change anything worthwhile. He said that it was only if the objective causes of our alienation are changed that we will feel differently. He said that an objective change in our situation is the only way we will experience a real authentic change in our feelings. Marx said that your feelings are just the symptoms of your real situation. An objective change in your situation will result in a subjective change to the way you feel about it. Got it?
What on earth has that to do with the Cross and us?
I wonder if you noticed that there are three really significant words in that passage from John. ACCOMPLISHED, FULFILLED AND FINISHED. (in fact, in the original Greek, the first and last word are the same) Scripture is telling us through those words that the Cross did something objective.
Jesus great purpose in life was accomplished on the Cross. He had summed up that purpose famously in these words “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 Jesus as he was dying realised that his purpose was being accomplished, he was giving His life as a ransom for sinners. His death would be the means by which sinners would be set free.
What was accomplished through the Cross? Well we could sum it by saying,
- Sin was punished and forgiveness provided.
- Evil was defeated and humanity liberated.
- Death was destroyed and immortality being brought to light.
- Enemies were reconciled to God and one another.
All of that equates with salvation for humanity being accomplished by the cross.
Jesus according to John also believed that His death was not a tragic end to his life but the wonderful fulfilment of a larger story. He is death wasn’t the result of a cruel twist of fate but was fulfilling Scripture. Jesus understood that God’s great plan of salvation that had been working itself out through history was coming to its climax in the cross. He realised that His death was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant. He knew he was being pierced for our transgressions not his, he was being crushed for our iniquities not his own; and the punishment that he was bearing would bring us sinners peace with God and that by his wounds we would healed.
Jesus’ final words “it is finished” aren’t a cry of despair but of victory. Jesus was declaring that His atoning death had finished the great work and plan of salvation. Jesus through His death, and the resurrection that would vindicate it, had done everything that needed to be done for our salvation. This is why older theologians loved to talk about “the finished work of Christ.” The work of salvation was done, completed, finished, accomplished through the cross. Our sin was once and for all decisively dealt with as Jesus gave up His spirit and died for us.
Let’s go back to Marx. Remember he said that to deal with the human situation the objective situation needs to be changed. Increasingly today there are those in the Church who want to say that the Cross only makes a difference by changing our subjective feelings. It doesn’t change anything objective in our relationship with God. The Cross shows us that we are loved and that we should therefore be inspired to love. It reveals how God feels about us and so shows how we should feel about God and others as a result. Now that is absolutely true. Just look at what John says:
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4
But if we look carefully, we can see that while subjective explanations of the cross, that say that it makes an impact on our feelings are true, they are not the whole truth about the atonement. John also says that “He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for sins” God sent Jesus to die as the way in which He dealt with our sins not just to change our feelings about them.
The theologian Alister McGrath explains why this is important:
“We feel alienated from God because we are alienated from God. We feel ourselves to be guilty in His sight, because we are guilty in His sight. A purely subjective approach to the meaning of the cross is deficient on its own. It lacks something vital. It fails to deal with the fact that the cross actually changes things not just how we feel about them. To use the imagery of healing, if you are seriously ill you are likely to be depressed by it. Someone who offers you emotional therapy (You’ll be better soon, don’t worry about it, relax) but fails to address the disease which is slowly but surely killing you, can hardly be said to have redeemed your situation. The subjective reassurance bears no relation to the objective state of things. You are being deceived. … An objective view of the cross tells us, we feel guilty because we are guilty, but we can rejoice at feeling forgiven through the cross because we have been forgiven through the cross. There has been a real change outside us which brings about a real change in us of our experience of God. Our feelings match up with the real situation and both the situation and our feelings are transformed by what God has done for us through Christ.”
You are saved and forgiven not because you feel saved and forgiven. Rather it is because Jesus did everything that had to be done for your salvation on the cross that you can feel genuinely saved and forgiven. His death brings the forgiveness of your sins from God. The assurance of salvation for us lies in remembering and relying on what Jesus did on the Cross for us not how we feel about it. Feelings follow the facts when it comes to salvation not the other way around.