The last words that Jesus cried out before he took his last breath were, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
He had spent the last three years of his life teaching his disciples and the crowds that gathered around him about who he was and why he came. He taught them that he is the true source of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, and the resurrection and the life. He demonstrated his power by performing miracles, casting out demons, and revealing the innermost thoughts and deception of the Pharisees before a word was spoken out loud. Jesus took extra time with his close group of 12, teaching them these truths on a deeper level so that they would be equipped to also go out and continue to spread the message of the Messiah. Then Jesus willingly allowed himself to be captured, tried and sentenced to death. All this to fulfill what the Scriptures had said would happen.
When the final moment of death came following Jesus’ cry, “It is finished,” we read that the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was the veil that separated everyone, with the exception of the high priest, from entering. Only the high priest was permitted to enter to offer the sacrifices required to pay for their sins. Having the veil torn was a physical sign that it was no longer needed. No further sacrifice would ever be required. The sacrifice that Jesus made with his own body was perfect, holy and complete. This sacrifice was made for all and all are given the opportunity to choose to receive that gift of forgiveness and life.
The truth of that message has been spread from generation to generation. The Scriptures have remained preserved and true, and they teach us how and what to pass along to our children. How often have we recited, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)? We believe this truth. We received this truth and we teach this truth.
And yet, how often has the enemy crept in and changed that truth? How often has that final cry of “It is finished” changed to “Is it really finished?” This isn’t the first time that Satan has done this. He planted the lie in the Garden of Eden and he continues to try to plant that lie today.
How do we see it? I would like to suggest that we may at times see it manifested in how we serve.
We see it when our desire to serve from a heart of love turns to an overdriven need to do more, help more, fix more. When our calling to minister to others turns into never being able to pause and rest. When we look at our human limitations as a curse and push ourselves beyond what God has asked us to. When we stop resting in the truth that God will continue to build his Church and we start believing the lie that keeping the Church going is up to us. When we believe the lie that it is not really finished, we allow unrealistic expectations to take hold of us, and we begin to strive harder and harder to satisfy that expectation.
This article is not intended to discourage us but to liberate us. Remember the message of what Jesus proclaimed when he cried out, “It is finished”! He paid the complete price necessary for me to receive salvation. I can do nothing more to deserve it. I can find rest and peace. I can make space to be with him and learn from him what small part he is asking me to join him in. God loves me and nothing I do will increase that love nor will anything I fail to do decrease that love.
I am pretty sure that many of you reading this so far have a statement mulling around in your mind along the lines of, “Yes, that it true, but we are called to serve, to be faithful. We want to be obedient, to take up the cross and follow him.”
Of course we do! We want to respond to this incredible gift of redemption with acts of love and service. We want others to experience this same gift of life. We want to take our responsibilities seriously and to serve well. We are deeply grateful and humbled that God has called us to serve in a leadership role. We know our strengths and we wrestle with our weaknesses.
But somehow, along the way, there have been times that Satan has been able to subtly sneak in that lie in the form of the question, “Is it really finished?” and our service has taken on the approach that screams, “It isn’t finished yet; it’s up to me to make sure that it gets finished properly.”
Of course, we would never say that out loud. That would be flat out heresy! Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, I wonder how often we have been pushing and striving with that lie driving us. It is in that raw place of honesty that we are reminded again of the profound truth that yes, it is finished, and we are forever grateful for that.
As you prepare to lead this Easter season, take a couple of hours, grab a cup of coffee and read through the entire book of John. Read it out loud if you can. Put aside all your resources and study guides and just read the text. Read the story of Jesus’ life as a narrative with fresh eyes and an open heart to see the fullness of all that Jesus accomplished on your behalf. And may that truth show up in how you continue to serve.
Pauline Doerksen and her husband, Sam, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.