Pastor Eric Schroeder - Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Text: John 19:30

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There is a big difference between stopping and finishing. An example or two might go a long way in reinforcing that gap. Example #1: Running a marathon. I have no doubts in my mind that every single person here could start running a marathon. In addition, every single person here could also stop running a marathon. But only one out of four pastors would be confident that we could finish a marathon. That narrows it down, some, doesn’t it?  Example #2: Climbing Mount Everest. Again, every single one of us here could start climbing Mount Everest. In addition, every single person here could also stop climbing Mount Everest. How many of us would be confident that we would have the mental and physical ability to finish climbing Mount Everest, to make it all the way to the peak and then safely back down? Do you see the point? There is a big difference between stopping and finishing.

Every single one of us—whether it was 10, 20, 30…70, 80, 90 years ago—started living. Every single one of us is going to stop living someday (unless judgment day comes first). When we hear about a death, or when someone close to us dies, there are a number of ways to talk about dying without actually using that word. Perhaps most often we hear that someone passed away or is no longer with us. We might read in an obituary that this person lost a long battle with cancer or that person’s life came to a sudden and tragic end in a car accident. How many times do you hear that someone “finished” his or her life? I know I don’t often hear it phrased that way. What about you? If you died today, would your life simply come to a stop, or would it be finished? Have you ever thought about that before?

That’s the kind of question that makes us stop and think about why we are here in the first place—in other words, what our entire purpose is for living here on earth. Is the meaning of life to amass earthly wealth? We know that’s not it, because after we die, no amount of money can do us any good. Is the meaning of life to make the world a better place? That sounds a whole lot more noble, but how far can it really go? We can fix some little problems, but not the big ones. As hard as people may have looked, no one has ever found a fountain of youth.  No matter what the advertisements say, there is no such thing as anti-aging cream. With all the medical advancements and technologies and medications, no one has found a vaccine to ward off death. We can prepare for natural disasters and react more quickly these days, but we certainly cannot prevent them from happening. One more option: is the meaning of life to have lasting relationships with other people? Now we are getting closer, but if that were our greatest hope, then death would never be a finish line. It would just be the end—the end of our human relationships, the end of all the plans that we made for our lives, the end of our purpose for existence.

So what does it take to truly finish a life? Nothing short of perfect obedience to God. And that is exactly why we are here today. It’s why we call this day Good; because only Jesus was able to fully accomplish God’s Holy purpose for each one of us. From the moment his tiny heart first started beating in the womb of the Virgin Mary until the moment his pulse stopped and he gave up his spirit, Jesus pleased his Father with everything he did, everything he said, and even everything he thought. An entire life of temptation, and yet not one single stumble into sin. And then, as his breath was failing and his heart was about to quit beating on the cross, he gathered his strength to proclaim the most powerful thing that any human being has ever said: “It is finished.” 

He didn’t say, “It’s over.” We could understand if he did. All the suffering, all the pain, all the incompatibility of the sinless Son of God in a sin-filled world—all that was now at its end. But he didn’t say “ended.” He said, “finished.”  And we know what he meant. We heard it in our reading from Isaiah earlier in those blessed and familiar words:  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

You see, Jesus’ death wasn’t just the end of his life; it was the completion, the finish of God’s plan of redemption for every sinner—those who lived before him, and all who come after him. His death was the only answer for sin; because only the shedding of his innocent lifeblood and the offering of his priceless life could provide the payment for our peace with God. Everything that was unfulfilled in our lives is now entirely fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life sacrificed for us. 

Think back over the past twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life, and picture the events as a conversation between Jesus, the Son, and God the Father. Jesus prayed in the garden that if there was any other way to accomplish the same goal, let it be so. “Father, If it is possible, let this cup be taken from me.” We don’t hear an immediate answer, but the events that follow tell us that there was only one way for God’s will to be done. Soon after that prayer, Jesus willingly hands himself over into betrayal and arrest, and the Father says, “That’s a start, but it’s not near enough.” 

Jesus is bound and taken before the corrupt Jewish leaders, being beaten and accused of blasphemy. The Father knows it’s not fair, that His Son tells only truth, but he says, “It must continue.” 

Just like Jesus foretold, Peter denies ever even knowing Jesus. The Father says, “I know that hurts, but it is not enough.” Jesus ends up in the hands of the pagan Romans. Pontius Pilate finds nothing wrong with this King from another place, but has him flogged anyway, frees a murderous rebel in his place, and sends Jesus away to be crucified. The Father says, “It’s just about time, but still not enough.” 

Finally, as he hangs on a cross, suspended between earth and heaven, the sky goes dark. For three hours, the Father says nothing, because he sees no Son, only your sin, and his anger burns.  Until…It doesn’t just stop. It is finished.  The debt is paid in full. The law and its justice is fulfilled. The plan is completed, the goal is reached.  The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. “It is finished.”

And as Jesus speaks, the Father does, too. He echoes the words of his Son, and he says, “It is finished.  Well done, good and faithful servant.” Remember those words. One day they will be spoken to you, because Jesus not only finished his life, he put the finishing touches on your life, too. We can rest assured that our sin is paid for and our forgiveness has been won. May God keep us in this faith until our days here are over, and our Savior meets us at the finish line and carries us home. AMEN.