The next morning, he was then taken to Pilate. Though the Jewish leaders believed Jesus should die for blasphemy, it was not within their authority to execute him. They needed the Roman government to pass judgment on him. By his own admission, Pilate could find nothing with which to condemn Jesus. He even asked the Jewish people to have him released, but they refused, choosing to have a murderer released instead.
We read the rest of the story in Matthew 27.  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.  And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.  And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.  As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.  And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull),  they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.  And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.  Then they sat down and kept watch over him there.  And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.  And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads  and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,  “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”  And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.  Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”  And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then the apostle John tells us Jesus’ last words. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30).
Jesus’ last words might seem odd, perhaps even confusing – what did he mean? What’s ‘finished’? How was it finished?
In order to understand Jesus’ words we have to go back to the very beginning of creation itself.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tells us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). In the next six days, God creates light and darkness, stars and planets, plants and animals, and then he crowns creation by making humanity.
In Genesis we see that God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth… And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’  And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” … The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die… And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Everything was great – perfect – in God’s creation. But that doesn’t seem to be the case today.
The world isn’t very good – children are abused and murdered; men and women struggle with addictions of every kind; people die of disease and starvation everyday around the world; wars destroy everything from families to entire countries; ethnic cleansing and genocide threaten to wipe out whole people groups. Something is wrong. Genesis tells us what happened. God’s word tells us how we went from God’s very good creation to the human-made mess we live in today.
In Genesis 3, we read, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (3:1-7).
Like a perverse joke, Adam and Eve got what they desired. But it was a hideous distortion of the prom
e given by the serpent. Yes, they are more like God, but not in a way they were expecting. Now they know about good and evil. But they know it differently than God does. Think about doctor who specializes in cancer. The doctor knows about cancer. He knows what it looks like, how is grows, how it kills. He even know how to treat it. But he doesn’t know it the same way as the patient who has cancer. The patient has an intimate knowledge of sickness and it treatments because he has the cancer. In a similar way, Humanity now knows sin, not as the doctor, but as the patient – we know it from the inside, because we are now sinners.
Immediately after they eat, Adam and Eve realize that something is different. For now, they fell shame for what they did. In trying to cover themselves with fig leaves, they are trying to hide their sinfulness. Unlike before, they now have plenty to be ashamed of and begin covering up.
So, instead of becoming like God, their rebellion brought pain and suffering into the world. The relationship between man and women was cursed, the relationship between humanity and God was cursed, the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation was cursed. Sin corrupted the totality of humanity and the world they lived in. In fact, in the very next chapter, we see Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain killing his brother Abel out of jealousy and anger.
The world was no longer very good, now it was corrupted by humanity’s sinfulness.
And yet, in the midst of that corruption, God makes a remarkable promise to humanity. Picture this – God’s intimate creation, those who were made in his image, refused to believe God at his word, wasn’t satisfied with the abundance of God’s provision for them, and rebelliously disobeyed his word. Imagine your teenager has just turned 18. You’ve given them a new BMW,
paid their way to an Ivy League university for four years, rented them an apartment, and told them that you are giving them their inheritance early as spending money. In response, they do not embrace you, they do not devote themselves to their studies with hard work. Instead, they spit in your face, yell at you for trying to tell them where they should go to college, then accuse you of not really loving them. Not exactly the response you were hoping for!
And yet, in the midst of their sin, God gives them hope. In Genesis 3:14-15 we read that, “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’”
God says, the one will have an offspring that will be injured by the serpent, but will in turn, deliver a deathblow to the serpent. In the mean time, there will be enmity between the children of the woman and Satan, the serpent. That is, there will be an on-going spiritual conflict. All throughout the Bible, we see godly men and women struggling against sin and Satan. Because we are sinners, we all fail in that struggle. Our very nature is now sinful and so we sin and sin and sin. Even as God’s people, we fight and kick and scream and try to live for God, but we fail to live the kind of perfect life that is required by God’s immeasurable holiness.
Therefore, what all of humanity needs is a Savior. We need a way to be made right with God. We need that son of Eve to come and crush the head of the serpent, and end our struggle with sin. That is exactly what we received in the person of Jesus Christ. Hebrews tells us that Jesus, became like us – taking on flesh and blood – “[so] that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” (Heb 2:14).
Jesus is God, and came to earth, taking on flesh like humanity. Jesus lived a perfect life before God, and then allowed himself to be crucified in our place. Paul explains that the cross was the great exchange. He says, “For our sake [God] made him – that is Jesus – God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). On the cross, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against our sin. The judgment that we deserve fell on Jesus, our substitute. The Bible says, he did this so that, “[God might forgive our sins], by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:13-15).
As a part of sinful humanity, we stand guilty before God, enslaved to sin. But on the cross, though Jesus was bruised, he crushed the head of the serpent, defeating him and winning salvation for his people. What Satan could not know was that death could not hold Jesus, and he was raised back to life just a few days later, proving he was the savior humanity needed.
So as we read Jesus’ final words – it is finished – we now know what they mean. He has fulfilled the promise of God, and finished our struggle with sin, defeating Satan through his death on the cross, providing salvation for us by being our substitute. Death is dead, love has one all to the glory of God.