The Pont d’Avignon is a renowned world heritage site. The bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture yet its remaining four arches fail to span the river Rhône, so it stands as an incomplete work. What a graphic illustration of humanity’s failure to find God! In contrast, Jesus’ three words on the cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) stand as a wonderful invitation for all to put their trust in Jesus’ completed work of bridging the gap between themselves and God.
The indisputable facts of history tell us that Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate and during six hours on the cross uttered seven sayings. The penultimate was just three words. Twelve letters in the English alphabet. One word in the Greek text. They have been described by Krummacher as ‘the greatest and most momentous words ever spoken since the beginning of the world.’
These are not words from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away tale! Rather, Jesus was announcing the completion of his mission on behalf of sinful human beings as his exemplary life came to an end, having lived the life we could never live.
A unique life
Jesus’ life began with his birth, as natural as any other human being. However, his conception was supernatural, for Mary was told by the angel, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Luke 1:35). The eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, took to himself a human nature and was born of a woman.
His life is unparalleled in human history. Jesus knows the full orb of human experience: birth, childhood, adulthood, hard work, thirst, hunger, weariness, weeping and rejoicing. He lived in humility and poverty, without privilege or advantage and in perfect obedience to his Father’s will, without fault or failure.
He came from God to fulfil God’s predetermined purpose. The exact contours of his person, life and sufferings had been foretold by the Old Testament prophets, being God’s promised Servant Messiah, in whom all the Mosaic sacrifices and types found their fulfilment. Under the ever present ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus grew in self-conscious awareness of all this.
His life was a beautiful life, driven by the purest of motives: love. A love that found its supreme expression in delighting to do his Father’s will (Ps. 40:8). Even in the moment of his greatest weakness and fear in Gethsemane’s garden Jesus would say to his Father, ‘Not my will but yours be done.’
In a nutshell, Jesus lived the flawless life that we could never live and became the righteousness of God for us. God is love (1 John 4:8) and Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of divine love given for us.
A death we deserved to die
As his perfect life expired in the slow suffocation of crucifixion, Jesus was dying the death we deserved to die. Paul writes that it was the ‘appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death’ (2 Tim. 1:10). A death, the details of which, were explicitly foretold long before Jesus’ birth (Isaiah 53); a death that Jesus predicted would occur (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33); a death like none other as Jesus’ life was not snatched from him but rather he ‘gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30), choosing to lay down his life that he might take it up again (John 10:17-18).
By laying down his innocent life on behalf of others, Jesus broke death’s stranglehold over humanity. He died to ‘deliver those who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage’ (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus ‘appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.’ ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:5, 8).
God is not willing that any should perish and so in love he sent forth his Son to die the death we all deserve because of our sin. He paid the wages of sin’s debt that we could never pay, because he ‘by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone’ (Heb. 2:9). As John Owen said, it was the ‘death of death in the death of Christ.’ Or as Casting Crowns sing, it was the ‘Son who killed the grave for you.’ A perfect death which was proclaimed when Jesus rose victorious from the grave!
A sacrifice we could not make
In laying down his perfect life in death for others, Jesus offered up to God the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer. ‘He appeared once for all at the end of this age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb. 9:26). Jesus spoke of his death as a ‘life given as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). A sacrifice, offered once only, to God to atone for and cover the sins of all who would trust him.
In the hours of physical darkness that surrounded Jesus on the cross, he endured an intolerable spiritual darkness. One so terrible that Jesus cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:33-34). A cry that conveyed the deepest of all mysteries. Jesus, the eternal Son of God experienced separation from the Father, as he propitiated God’s wrath on behalf of sinners. The wrath of an offended God was being expunged as he laid it upon his Son! The darkness of the day hid the divine incongruity of the eternal Son being forsaken by his Father, as he bore sin. The hymn captures it thus: ‘How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns his face away.’
Jesus descended into the depths of a hell-like experience, bearing sin’s hideous burden, as he brought the enmity between God and humanity to an end. What love is this that God should send ‘his own Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).
A victory we can share
Jesus’ words were a victory cry that we can share. We see this as the pathetic thief dying on the cross beside Jesus asks to be remembered! How could a dying Jesus help him? Yet, Jesus’ reply was, ‘Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’
A hopeless, helpless vagabond of a man puts his faith in Jesus, hanging in agony upon the cross and receives the promise of salvation. Jesus’ words flung open the gates of God’s paradise for all who believe. He finished the work of bridging the gap between God and humanity. Christianity offers salvation to all, built upon God’s promises, which are offered to all by faith in Christ. ‘For all the promises of God are yes and Amen! In him (Jesus) to the glory of God’ (2 Cor. 1:20).
Is it finished for you?
A life we cannot live, a death we deserve to die, a sacrifice that appeases God’s wrath and secures salvation. Friend, at Easter 2021, is it finished for you? Are you still trying to build your own Pont d’ Avignon to God? Come by faith, come to Christ who said, ‘It is finished!’