Sermon for 04-17-11: “Seven Last Words, Part 6”

April 19, 2011

Sermon Text: John 19:30; Luke 23:44-49

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The following is my original manuscript.

Poor Tiger Woods! I don’t say that often or easily. But I must admit, after last weekend, I felt bad for the guy. On Monday, there were exactly two questions asked on Atlanta sports-talk radio stations: The first question was “Who is Charl Schwartzel?”, the winner of this year’s Masters tournament. And the second question was “What’s Tiger Woods’s problem?” This second question was motivated by the terse press conference Woods gave after what was nearly an heroic comeback before falling short in the final round of the Masters. As it is, he missed a makable eagle on the 15th and a makable birdie on the 16th. So he fell short.

And when he gave his press conference after the round was over, he knew he had lost. So Woods wasn’t warm and friendly and talkative in the press conference that followed. But he wasn’t rude, either. He didn’t insult anyone! He didn’t use any profanity or anything! After all, Woods knew that he just missed a golden opportunity to rehabilitate his image and reestablish his dominance of the game and put to rest all questions about Tiger Woods the golfer, if not the person. I imagine he was incredibly disappointed. So who can blame him for not being all “chatty Kathy”? Not me!

He started his final round strong but didn’t finish strong. By contrast, Schwartzel, the winner of the Masters, started strong and finished even stronger, making birdies on his final four holes. When Tiger finished his round, he might have said, “It is finished”—as in, it’s over; I’m finished; I’ve lost. When Schwartzel finished his round, by contrast, he might have said, “It is finished” as in, “I have successfully completed the difficult task and won an improbable victory.”

I suppose if we didn’t know anything else about the cross of Christ, we could hear Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” as resignation and defeat. “It’s finished. I did the best I could, but this whole movement I started, which got off to a promising start, has ended in failure. If only I didn’t pick these weak, fickle, faithless disciples. If only I didn’t ride that donkey into Jerusalem and get the crowds all riled up. If only I didn’t drive out the money-changers from the Temple and anger the religious leaders.” If only, if only…

If any of the twelve disciples were around to hear Jesus speak these words—and they weren’t because they were too afraid to stick around—they would have heard Jesus’ words as those of resignation and defeat. Like it was finished in the Tiger Woods sense. No Easter in sight. Sure, Jesus spoke his death and resurrection, but he was vague and enigmatic. He spoke in parables and used figures of speech. Regardless, they obviously had no idea what he was talking about.

And we want to say, “Yes, but… After all the disciples saw and experienced living with and working alongside Jesus for three years—all the miracles and healings, all the great teaching, all the words of profound wisdom—why didn’t they have more faith that everything was going to turn out all right? We want to scold them. We want to be like Peter on the night that Jesus was arrested: “Even though it means my death, I will never betray or deny you!”1 “If I were a disciple back then, I wouldn’t have behaved like they did!” Yeah, right! Who are we more like? Jesus or the disciples?

Here’s some good news for these disciples and for us disciples: It didn’t matter—their lack of faith; their fear, their failure, their weakness; their lack of vision; their inability to see beyond the appearance of things; their inability to trust in God; their inability to understand what Jesus was telling them. None of these things ultimately mattered. None of these human failures prevented God from completing this good work of saving us, which he started so long ago when he called Abraham to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,”2 and which was now reaching its climax here at Calvary.

Back in Genesis, long after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery—an early attempt to derail God’s plan of salvation—Joseph could say to his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”3

The cross is the most extreme example of this contrast between human intentions and God’s intentions. We human beings, acting in concert with the “cosmic powers of this present darkness,”4 could not have worked harder to derail God’s plans than when we sent God’s son to the cross. The world has never seen a greater concentration of sin and evil than on the cross. These forces of sin and evil were aimed at squarely at at the One whose life’s mission was to defeat them. They had him pinned down—literally—on the cross, and they did their worst to deny God the victory that God sought. And guess what? They failed. They lost. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he knew that God had beaten them—on our behalf! And as it turns out—to borrow the title of a current bestseller—love did, in fact, win! The good news is that nothing in the long run is going to stop this God from doing what God intends to do—and what God intends to do is good beyond our most creative imagining, beyond our wildest dreams, beyond our best hope. The cross proves that, doesn’t it?

Just last week I heard Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic say that if the Magic are going to beat the Hawks and be successful in the playoffs, “it’s all going to fall on me.” It’s all going to fall on him. He’s going to have to do it all himself. Oh, please! If I were one of Howard’s teammates, I’d want to punch him in the face. Basketball is a team sport, after all. No one person can do it all! But I wonder how many of us hard-working, successful ambitious, type-A, driven-to-succeed kind of people in Alpharetta have that same attitude about our own life? If I’m going to succeed in my career, it’s all going to fall on me. If I’m going to succeed in school, it’s all going to fall on me. If I’m going to succeed in marriage, it’s all going to fall on me. If I’m going to succeed in ministry, it’s all going to fall on me. If I’m going to succeed in childrearing, it’s all going to fall on me. If it doesn’t fall on me, who is it going to fall on? Who’s got my back? Who’s looking out for me? Who’s going to make sure that whatever happens in the future is going to be O.K. for me and my family? Among many other things, the cross proves that it actually doesn’t all fall on me; and it doesn’t all fall on you. It all falls on God. Isn’t that good news? We can trust God with our lives and our future. Our future is resting safely in God’s hands.

In spite of what the world perceived as the biggest failure imaginable, Jesus could say, at the end of his life, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” What does that mean? It means this: “This life that I have is not my own. It doesn’t belong to me. It’s yours, God. My life is completely in your hands. I’ve done with it what you’ve called me to do. And now, having done so, having been faithful—now I’m offering it back to you. I’m not trusting in myself to make sure everything works out; I’m trusting in you. You’re in charge here.” We need to follow Jesus’ example while we still have plenty of life in front of us and say, “Father, into your hands I commend my career. Into your hands I commend my family. Into your hands I commend my marriage. Into your hands I commend my relationships. Into your hands I commend my church work. Into your hands I commend my finances.” It’s about letting go. Trusting. The cross teaches us to do that—that we can do that, just as Jesus did.

So from the perspective of the disciples, Jesus said, “It is finished,” in the Tiger Woods sense. But we who have the benefit of hindsight and who have read the gospel of John carefully, know that Jesus meant these words in the Charl Schartzel sense. This cross was always a part of God’s plan. As Jesus approached the events of his passion and death, he said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”5 Referring to his sacrifice, Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”6

When Jesus says, “It is finished,” he means, “Against all odds, despite how improbable it seems, despite Satan’s best efforts to derail me from my task, despite the fact that sin and evil have done their very worst to me on the cross, I have successfully completed the mission for which my Father sent me.” And what is this mission? It includes the following: To live the life of perfect and sinless obedience to the Father that no other human being could live. To fulfill Israel’s covenant with God, which Israel itself was incapable of fulfilling. To reveal to the world the full measure of God’s love for the world—by loving the world completely, even unto death. To take upon himself all the sin of the world—including your sin and my sin—remove its guilt from us, and bear its penalty for us. As John the Baptist said of Jesus at the beginning of this gospel, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”7 This cross is the very means by which this occurs.

I’m one of about three people in the world who never saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Didn’t see it when it came out several years ago. Haven’t seen it since. I haven’t seen it for the same reason that I haven’t seen any recent horror movies or slasher movies. From what I understand, the movie goes into grisly detail showing the violence done to our Lord in the events leading up to his death. It goes to great lengths to emphasize the punishment Jesus received on our behalf. But I want us to think about this, and what I’m about to say may sound inappropriate, but I mean this literally: The cross isn’t so much about us beating the hell out of Jesus as it is about Jesus beating the hell out of us. The cross means that Jesus dragged our sin down into hell so that we don’t have to go there!

Because of the cross, you never have to wonder whether or not God loves you and will forgive you. The debt that you owe on account of your sin is paid in full. “It is finished,” in Greek, is a single word that was often used in commercial transactions of Jesus’ day. A person would write it on a bill when your debt was paid. “It’s finished” meant “your debt is all paid up.” You are free from its obligation. You don’t owe anything else. Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone at the bank took your Visa bill and wrote “paid in full.” Or your mortgage and wrote “paid in full.” Or your student loan and wrote “paid in full. You don’t owe anything else.” Suppose some high official at the I.R.S. took your tax bill and wrote “paid in full; you’ll get a full refund”? How would that make you feel?

Because of the cross there is no longer any obstacle that need stand between you and God. All obstacles have been removed. All hurdles have been cleared. All barriers have been broken down. Because of the cross, this gift is fully paid for and wrapped and under the tree and—guess what? It’s Christmas morning and there’s nothing in the world stopping you from opening it if you want to. You don’t have to wait your turn or anything. Because of the cross, it’s there. Receive the gift! What’s stopping you? Receive the gift!

All our sin that keeps us separated from God… On the cross, God said, “It’s all going to fall on me.” All the obstacles that prevent us from being in relationship with God… On the cross, God said, “It’s all going to fall on me.” All the things that prevent us from being everything that we were created to be… On the cross, God said, “It’s all going to fall on me.” All the problems in this world of violence, injustice, poverty, warfare, and oppression… On the cross, God said, “It’s all going to fall on me.” Amen.


1. Mark 14:31, my paraphrase
2. Genesis 12:1
3. Genesis 50:20
4. Ephesians 6:12
5. John 12:27
6. John 10:18
7. John 1:29

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