April 10, 2020
“The Fulfilled Word”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The last word from the cross is a word of fulfillment, announcing the fulfillment of all things. “It is finished.” Completed. Perfected. Mission accomplished. It is done literally to the death. There are no loose ends for us to tie, no missing pieces for us to puzzle over, nothing to be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. “It is finished.” The redemption price is paid. The world’s sin is atoned for. The work of reconciliation, peacemaking, is accomplished. The Law is fulfilled. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). It is finished.
Jesus came not to abolish the Torah and Prophets but to fulfill them. His entire life from the womb to the grave is one of fulfillment. Every word and work of His happened in order to fulfill the Scriptures. He came as the ransom, redeeming us from slavery to sin and death, held captive by the Law that declared “the soul that sins must die.” He came as the substitute sacrifice, the Passover by whose blood came freedom, the sin offering by whose blood poured out came atonement and by whose death came life. He came as King and Priest and Victim, fulfilling every picture-type of the Old Testament.
“It is finished.” At the moment these words were spoken, the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. It signified the end of the old covenant and temple, the end of the sacrifices and cults, the end of gradations of holiness that kept God and man apart. The gap of holiness had been bridged; God and man were brought together and reconciled once and for all. The barriers put in place to protect us from a holy God were now torn in two, ripped open by the death of the Son of God and His cleansing blood.
Hebrews says, “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (2:10). His suffering is our perfection. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), Jesus said in His exposition of the Law. But how can sinful man be perfect? How can you and I, steeped in Adam’s sin and our own sin, ever claim that sort of heavenly perfection? How dare we? How can we, who are inclined to sin each and every moment of our lives, whether awake or asleep, be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect?
Here, with this simple word of fulfillment from the cross, Jesus declares the perfection that perfects us. Here is where you must look. Not to yourselves. He is not yet finished with you, at least as you are in yourself. You must look solely to Jesus Christ, to this dying Man on the cross who is your perfection. He kept the Law perfectly for you, in your place, down to the least stroke of the Law’s pen, down to the tiniest nuance of its commandments. In thought, in word, in deed, in intent. He perfectly loved God with His whole heart, soul, and strength. He perfectly loved His neighbor, and that included you and all people. He did all these things in order that He might give His perfection to you freely as a gift, so that you might be perfected in Him. Jesus is your perfection.
This was the joy set before Jesus, the reason He endured the cross and scorned its shame. He can declare before heaven and earth that His mission is accomplished, that the plan from all eternity to undo the deceits of the devil and the death of Adam is now finished. As far as the sin and death of the first Adam went to corrupt all of humanity and throw the entire cosmos into disarray, so far the death of Jesus, the Second Adam, goes to bring justification and life. It is truly finished.
We dare not add anything to this word of fulfillment. Not with our prayers, our pieties, our religious sentiments. These add nothing to what He alone has finished. Yet we are ever prone to do that. The world of religion is built on this sinking quicksand—the notion that God has not done enough and that we must add to and finish what Jesus only started. Or more insidious: God has done His part, and now you must do your part to seal the deal. Faith and works. Christ plus something more. These are all recipes for heresy and disaster. What God in the flesh has finished, let not man add to it. All we can do is trust, receive, delight, enjoy this gift, freely given.
In one sense, “it is finished” with you. You, as you are in Christ, united with Jesus through Baptism into His death and life, you also are finished. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You were crucified with Christ; you were raised to life in Christ; you are seated at the right hand of God in Christ. In Christ it is finished also for you.
But in another sense, it is not yet finished, not as your eyes can see, not as your senses can feel. You remain in this mortal body. You are part of this old, fallen creation. You are still a natural-born child of Adam. The things you want to do, you don’t do; the things you don’t want to do, those wind up being the very things you do. When you try to do good, evil seems to lie just around every corner. We would cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24), and we would be correct.
We are caught in the paradoxical tension of the now and the now yet, of being sinners in ourselves and yet fully perfected saints in Christ. Simul justus et peccator goes the familiar Lutheran formula. There is a tension, and also a daily repentance. A daily dying to the old self in Adam, and a daily rising to new self in Christ.
“It is finished.” Jesus says it over you in the death of your Baptism, where you died to sin to arise to life in Jesus. “It is finished.” He says it to you again, the words of absolution that recall you to that Baptism and cover you anew. “It is finished.” He says it to you with His body and blood, confirming once again His completed work of your salvation.
Remember this Word of fulfillment in the hour when you are tempted to add to Christ’s completed work, when you doubt in your salvation or are beset by your sins. Remember this word as you gaze into the mirror of the Law reflecting back your sin, and when you face the hour of your death. Recall this word on this Good Friday, man’s creation day and his redemption day. It is finished, and it is very good.
For Your work of salvation, for Your perfection under the Law, for Your perfect suffering and death, for the perfection that comes to us through faith in You, we give You thanks and praise, most holy Jesus. Amen.