Somewhere outside my home study window a male cardinal is holding forth mightily—robustly advertising his availability and suitability as a husband and baby-daddy.
I vaguely recall being in my early twenties and doing pretty much the same thing. Like my cardinal friend, I strategically deployed the color red and music. I bought a red Corvette I couldn’t afford, and was in a band.
I also recall using the color white—in the form of an unconstructed, Don-Johnson-on-Miami-Vice-style jacket.
Fortunately for me, all these efforts failed spectacularly. And five years later God brought me the perfect life companion as I was deploying the counter-intuitive mating strategy of simply not looking like a complete douche all the time.
I’m so grateful for the gift that is my bride. And for so many other things. Which brings me to my thoughts here on Good Friday . . .
The cross changed everything.
I know we all nod and give mental assent to that assertion. But I’m pretty sure we don’t know the half of the vast work of restoration and restitution that was embedded in the “It” of Jesus’ “It is finished.”
The cross is the hinge upon which all of human history turns. Everything before was one way—dating back to the Fall of Man. Everything after it has been different. More different than we know, in fact, because our perspectives are too limited and our vantage point to occluded.
The necessity of the cross testifies that God built this universe on a legal/judicial framework. Just rules, laws, systems and processes were woven in the very fabric of Creation itself. God’s grant to Man of dominion stewardship over planet Earth was a part of this judicial framework. It was a legal grant.
And these principles were so inviolable, that even God Himself could not trespass them and remain His holy Self. When Man’s Fall unleashed evil upon this world and made God’s outlaw enemy the legal “god of this world” God could not simply turn the Etch-a-Sketch of creation up side down, give it a good shake, and start again.
God is not free to cheat. Not and remain Who He is.
So when things went wrong, God set out to make them right again. But to do so legally and justly would require a plan which would be thousands of years in the unfolding.
The culmination of that plan took place roughly 1,985 years ago at this time of year . . . at the cross. Let’s look with fresh eyes at what transpired there.
At the foot of His cross the spirit realm is invisible to our natural eyes. We see a man suffering. What we do not see is what is transpiring in the unseen realm.
If we could, we would see hordes of gleeful, and giddy demons who have finally seen the lowering of the hedge of protection that always surrounded the Son of Man. He was finally vulnerable to torment and attack.
It’s been eerily dark and quiet on Golgotha. It would be easy to assume that nothing of significance has transpired. But in that same span, the great court of Heaven has been the scene of a remarkable flurry of activity.
Legal processes have been executed . . . accounting has been done . . . business has been transacted. . . . a kinsman redeemer has stepped forward to pay the necessary price to redeem an enslaved relative—Adam—and his every willing descendant.
A long-open set of accounting books has been reconciled and closed. A cosmic stamp pounds an ancient page leaving behind a blood-red message across the writing there. “Paid in Full.”
A corner has been turned.
The suffocating blanket of darkness that covered the last half of these proceedings begins to lift. Now that the sun can once again be discerned, we realize it has already begun it’s fiery plunge into the Mediterranean to be extinguished for another night. The Jewish Sabbath rest begins at sundown and it is rapidly approaching.
The few remaining observers on Golgotha heard the man on the center cross shout something about His God having abandoned Him. A little later He’d whispered a request for water—one that was answered, not with a ladle of cooling water but with a vinegar-filled sponge. Now we see the expiring Prince of Heaven summoning His last remnants of physical and mental strength . . . rising to speak once more.
Just one word this time. He cries out:
It is a Greek accounting term. Future English translations of John’s gospel will render that term in a way that tends to strip it of the legal and financial connotations. They translate it, “It is finished” (three words for one). But tetelestai does not mean merely that a thing has ended.
It has a far greater implication than merely a clock has run out and the game has concluded. It is a declaration that all has been accomplished. All that was lacking has now been supplied. The breech has been healed. The debt has been fully satisfied.
Shalom—nothing broken, nothing missing.
Charles Spurgeon called this declaration, “Christ’s dying word to the Church.” But our King’s proclamation carries even more dimensions of meaning than this. He means that all the types, shadows, and symbols of the Old Testament have now been fully manifested in Him.
He decrees that the prophecies that pointed to a future Deliverer King have been fulfilled. John the Baptist had asked, “Are you the One or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer at that time was suggestive but indirect. Now He speaks plainly. His tetelestai! emphatically shouts, “You can stop looking! The promised One has appeared and accomplished the prophesied task. Dominion of planet earth has been restored to its rightful steward.”
Finally, in that cry of consummation, Jesus declared an end to separated man’s religious striving to build a ladder back to God.
How did this happen?
God Himself became flesh and bone and blood. Walked among fallen men. And willingly laid down on a cross.
We receive and are grateful.