It Is Finished

Today I’m participating in a Good Friday service that focuses on the seven statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross. The statement I was asked to speak on is “It is finished.” Here’s an excerpt from my homily. I hope it ministers to you.

What does that short declaration, “It is finished,” really mean? What’s behind that statement?

Philippians, chapter 2, contains one of the most astounding and wonderful passages in the entire Bible. In it, we glimpse the heart and attitude of Jesus in his voluntariness to lay aside all the privileges of His Godhood to take on human form. “And being found in appearance as a man,” we’re told, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

That passage deserves extended meditation. He didn’t have to do this. He chose to do it, despite what He would have to endure. He was looking to the end, to the finished task.

At the start of His earthly ministry, he went into the desert. He had nothing to eat for 40 days. Satan came to Him and offered him food, then power, then tempted Him to show off by throwing Himself down from the highest point of the temple and letting angels rescue Him. He resisted all those temptations by quoting the truths of Scripture.

The book of Hebrews informs us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.”

Jesus knew that He had to complete the ministry of reconciliation—the weakness of His human body didn’t keep Him from fulfilling His purpose.

The Garden of Gethsemane—the last opportunity to change His mind. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He told His disciples. Then He prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The ultimate submission. He was close now to the end. He would see it through.

The scourging—the crown of thorns—the beatings—the carrying of the cross—the spikes through His hands and feet—the slow suffocation.

The Father turned His face away, leaving Jesus to go through the worst agony of all—a separation from the One with whom He had been united throughout all eternity. That separation meant that He now suffered what each human being would suffer if cast away from the presence of God. He literally experienced what hell would be like.

And then the words—“It is finished.”

Jesus had done all He could do to heal the breach between God and man. He successfully completed the task. Nothing more was needed on His end. God’s part in offering us salvation was done, but the work is not truly finished until we respond to what He did for us.

It’s not finished until we see the awfulness of our sins and understand that we, through our rebellion, put Jesus on that cross.

It’s not finished until we come to Him in abject repentance, sorrowful over our selfish, unloving ways.

It’s not finished until we receive by faith what He has accomplished on that cross. When we do all of these things, forgiveness from the heart of a loving God then flows into our lives.

That’s when it will truly be finished.

A Stunning “Paul, Apostle of Christ”

The apostle Paul has come alive to me now in a way he never did before. Yesterday, I saw the new film Paul, Apostle of Christ, and left the theater stunned at the power of cinema when used for God’s glory.

How do I begin to describe what I witnessed? I’ve seen many powerful films with messages from the heart of God, but none I’ve ever seen made me consider so deeply what it was really like for Christians facing intense persecution and the testing of their faith unto death.

Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, takes on the role of Luke, companion of Paul, who risks his own life to visit him in prison as he awaits execution. The Emperor Nero, to cover his own sin of setting fire to Rome, has accused the Christians of the act, and fingered Paul as the chief instigator.

James Faulkner, an actor I thought I’d never seen before, but have since discovered appeared in such dramas as Downton Abbey, is absolutely gripping as Paul. From now on, whenever I’m reading one of Paul’s letters, I will have the image of the Paul offered in this movie.

At the end, as Paul was beheaded and then awoke in eternal life to see all those he had persecuted before his salvation come to greet him, I couldn’t hold back tears. There are no over-the-top performances throughout this film; all are real and genuine.

Combined with an excellent supporting cast, superb cinematography, the truth of key Biblical passages, and a clear explanation of the Gospel, this film is of the highest quality.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, in an earlier time in American history, would be a candidate for many awards. Sadly, I believe the era of Ben Hur and Chariots of Fire may now be ended. Hollywood won’t want to reward, or even acknowledge, this positive portrayal of genuine Christianity.

But that’s okay. I’m convinced that Paul, Apostle of Christ, will be used by God for the ultimate reward—that of leading many people into relationship with Him. Helping sinners recognize their sin, showing them the meaning of repentance, and how the love of God has overcome the breach between God and man is a far greater accomplishment.

While a Best Film Oscar would be nice, faithfully proclaiming God’s truth is the ultimate reward.

False Assurances of Eternity

I’ve never read George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold, Curate, but in the anthology C. S. Lewis put together of MacDonald’s writings, one selection from that book stood out to me this morning. I think the nugget in this excerpt is worth noting.

It begins with MacDonald quoting someone who says, “I cannot see what harm would come of letting us know a little—as much at least as might serve to assure us that there was more of something on the other side.”

Don’t we hear that quite often today? People just want some kind of assurance that death isn’t final, that there is something that awaits hereafter. The problem is that they almost don’t care what that something is as long as it isn’t too bad.

MacDonald explains that “their fears allayed, their hopes encouraged from any lower quarter, men would (as usual) turn away from the Fountain, to the cistern of life.”

Mankind will accept any explanation of the afterlife that provides some assurance, yet they stubbornly resist the only Source of knowledge of what actually transpires upon death; they don’t turn to the “Fountain” where eternal life is found.

He then hits home with this insight:

That there are thousands who would forget God if they could but be assured of such a tolerable state of things beyond the grave as even this wherein we now live, is plainly to be anticipated from the fact that the doubts of so many in respect of religion concentrate themselves nowadays upon the question whether there is any life beyond the grave; a question which . . . does not immediately belong to religion at all.

What does he mean? People don’t really want to know the God who offers life beyond the grave; they simply want to know there is something. God is an afterthought.

Satisfy such people, if you can, that they shall live, and what have they gained? A little comfort perhaps—but a comfort not from the highest source, and possibly gained too soon for their well-being.

Does it bring them any nearer to God than they were before? Is He filling one cranny more of their hearts in consequence?

Simply coming to some kind of assurance that life goes on after one dies is not only insufficient—it is a delusion by itself. It ignores the stark Scriptural reality that there are two destinations after death, and only one is a state of eternal joy. Further, there is only one path to that joy:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Hell is just as real as heaven, but most people don’t want to believe that. They want the assurance that all will go to the same blissful eternity. Yet, as Jesus warns,

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:14

That’s not a popular message. It refuses to agree with the culture that assumes all roads lead to the same place.

Unfortunately, the message is not popular in many churches either. How many pastors teach this truth? How many are providing false assurances?

If we truly love others, we will want them to know the truth and not be misled. Warnings are essential in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Good News must be preceded by the bad news. That’s what makes the Good News good.

Lewis Found Treasures There . . . & So Do I

C. S. Lewis, as a young man, and before he was a Christian, read the novel Phantastes, written by a minister named George MacDonald. He was so taken by the novel that eventually, after his conversion, he delved into MacDonald’s sermons also. He found treasures there, so many that he edited them into an anthology for which he wrote an endearing preface.

I’ve recently begun working my way through this anthology—indeed, it’s now part of my morning devotions—and have found treasures as well. Just this morning, on pages facing one another, three separate pearls stood out to me, and I sensed that God wanted me to ponder them seriously.

Under the title “First Things First,” I was cautioned, as someone who seeks to explain who God is, that something else is even more important in my life:

Oh the folly of any mind that would explain God before obeying Him! That would map out the character of God instead of crying, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?

While the Lord does want me to explain Him to others, that explanation would be hollow if my life doesn’t match up to what I’m saying.

Another one, titled “The Author’s Fear,” mirrors my own concern as I attempt to write these blog posts and publish books:

If I mistake, He will forgive me. I do not fear Him: I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing and myself be, after all, a castaway—no king but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with Him to the death, but an arguer about the truth.

The possibility of being a castaway after all I’ve written over the years is a horror to my soul. I don’t want to be merely a talker/writer. I don’t wish to be only an arguer about the truth. I earnestly seek to be a real disciple of Jesus.

Then MacDonald truly hit home with this entry that Lewis called simply “Salvation”:

The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. . . . Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; He was called Jesus because He should save His people from their sins.

Some people just want to escape the consequences of their sins, in this life and the next, rather than wanting to stop sinning entirely. That’s not real salvation. Only when we desire to cast all sin out of our lives are we at one with God.

We should abhor the sins themselves, not just seek to have sins forgiven and then continue in them. That is a false concept of salvation because it is not based on genuine repentance and a heart that wants a relationship with the One who made heaven and earth and our own souls.

I appreciate those reminders this morning. I needed all three.

The Hallmark of Humility

Ronald Reagan, on his desk in the Oval Office, kept a small plaque with the following words:

“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

The first time I read those words, they struck a chord in me—not because I naturally lived those words, but because it was a striking reminder that too often I didn’t.

On one of my visits to the Reagan Library, I bought a paperweight with those very words. It’s now on my office desk. I find that I need such a reminder at critical times.

Reagan exemplified humility in his high station, something that is rare indeed. Yet it is a requirement from God that we live in humility and that it be a hallmark of our character. After all, it’s what Jesus exhibited when He voluntarily set aside all of His divine prerogatives and chose to suffer and die for us.

One of the most poignant Scriptural passages for me is found in Philippians, chapter 2:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

May that example be what inspires us today.

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

What Christmas Is All About

There’s one passage of Scripture not in the Gospels themselves that is a crystal-clear Christmas message. It doesn’t mention a manger, shepherds, or a sign in the heavens, yet it communicates what Christmas is all about regardless. It’s found in Philippians 2: 5-11:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Not only does that capture the true reason for Christmas, but it also applies to Easter/Resurrection Day, and the Final Judgment. All of that is wrapped up in this one passage.

May this Christmas be wrapped up in Him rather than presents and all the other trappings of secular celebration. Be a light shining in a very dark world.

I’m taking a Pondering Principles break now. I’ll be back in the new year.