By J.R. Miller
The three hours of darkness was ending. The light was breaking. The Scripture tells us that Jesus then cried out in a loud, strong voice. It was not the cry of exhaustion and faintness; it was the shout of a victor. The cross seemed like defeat. Those who understood nothing of the meaning of the life and death of Christ, would think of Him as a man who had failed, all of whose dreams and hopes had perished. But we who understand something at least of the meaning of His mission and of the great purpose of His life, know that nothing failed. "It is finished," was the shout of a victor in the hour of His glorious success. It told of the completion of His work. All had been accomplished that He set out to do. His work was done. He had nothing more to do. There was no reason why He should live an hour longer, for the last task had now been done. A little while before, He said in His prayer in the upper room, "I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do." When He said in dying, "It is finished!" He meant that there was nothing whatever left now for Him to do.
His friends did not think so. They thought His work was only beginning. He was but thirty-three years old, and at thirty-three we regard life as no more than just begun. He had been only three years in His public ministry. Think, too, what years these had been, how full of blessing to those whom He had touched with His life. We can imagine Joseph and Nicodemus as they reverently took His body down from the cross and prepared it for burial, lamenting His early death, talking of what He might have done if only He had been spared longer. His disciples, too, in their anguish and their loss would speak together of the terrible bereavement they had suffered. He had just begun to live. He had gone about through the towns and villages, doing good for three years, healing, comforting, helping, blessing. What would fifty years of such ministry have meant to the world!
We talk the same way of our human friends who are taken away in early years. Their lives were full of promise. They had just begun to do beautiful things. They had shown a little of the power that was in them, to be a strength to others, to be a comfort to those who were in sorrow, to be inspirers of noble things. Our dreams for them were just beginning to be realized. Then, suddenly, they slipped away--and all was ended. We say that they could not be spared, that the world needed them longer. Over their graves we set up the broken shaft, symbol of incompleteness. It is a great comfort, then, to remember that life is not counted by the number of its years--but by what it puts into the years, few or many, that are lived.
We live in thoughts--not breaths.
We live in deeds--not years.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives--who thinks most, feels the noblest, and acts the best.
A millionaire recently, when dying, sent for a clergyman and said to him, "Doctor, I have failed, for I have groveled." He had not lived dishonestly; he had not made his money by unjust treatment of others, by the oppression of the poor, or in any way that men called wrong. Men said he had lived well. He had failed, according to his own thought, because he had groveled, lived as if he were a worm. Eighty years of such life, with God and heaven and love left out, however stupendous the earthly success, will not count so much in eternity--as much as one day of self-denying life of love, such as Jesus lived. Jesus, dying at thirty-three, had lived longer than any man who had reached fourscore years of selfishness, of groveling, of fame-seeking. When a friend dies early, with only a few years of life--but with those years filled with usefulness, helpfulness, unselfishness, and faithful doing of duty--do not say he had not done his work.
Another comforting truth started by the dying words of Jesus, is that God allots to us our work, little or much, and the time in which it must be done. Jesus spoke often of His hour. Again and again we read that His hour had not yet come, meaning the hour when His work would be finished, His earthly life ended. "His hour was not yet come." Then, at last, He said His hour had come. The time of His death was not accidental. Then He spoke also of His work as what His Father had given Him to do. It was not a haphazard matter how much work He should do, or what particular work it should be. It was all given Him by His Father. When He said in His last moments, "It is finished!" He meant that everything He had come into the world to do, all that the Father had given Him to do--He had done, and that now He had only to yield up His life into the hands of Him who gave it.
What was true of Him--is true also of us. There is an appointed time to man on earth, and each one has his mission, his work to do. Whether it is a brief time or many years, it matters not; our only care should be to do what has been given us to do, and to fill our appointed days, short or long, with duty well done. We need not fret, then, if our time is short, if we have only a few years given us to work. Faithfulness while the day lasts--is all that we need to concern ourselves with. The things we wanted to do and longed to do--but could not do, were not part of our work at all; they belonged to some other one coming after us.
"It is finished!" He meant fully accomplished, done perfectly. Not a word was unspoken which it was His to speak. Nothing, however small, was left undone which the Father had given Him to do. This never can be true of us. We do nothing perfectly. Our best work is marred and flawed by imperfections. We get the white pages from God day by day--and return them blotted and stained. Our lives are full of blanks, neglects, duties not performed, things left undone--which we ought to have done. But all Christ's work was complete. He never omitted a kindness that was His to do, never passed by on the other side, to escape doing a service of love. We are never quite sure of the purity of our motives, even for the most sacred and worthy deeds we do. "Who of you convicts Me of sin?" Jesus could say as He looked into men's faces. But can we always say it? Why do we do our good things, our holy things? Is it really from love to God, and so for love to men, or is it sometimes from desire for praise? Everything in our lives is flecked and imperfect. We have to ask divine forgiveness on our best acts and words and thoughts.
But when Jesus said, "It is finished!" He looked back upon a life work without a flaw, without an omission, without the slightest failure in thought or motive or deed. His life was brought under most searching light by the rulers in their eagerness to find something to accuse Him of when they sought justification for crucifying Him. But with all efforts to find a flaw, in the blaze of the most dazzling light--they found nothing! Herod sent Him back to Pilate with the testimony that he had found no fault in Him. Pilate declared the same of Him when he had examined Him. Then we have the witness of the Father, as He looked down upon Him and said out of the clouds of glory, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Christ's work was not merely ended when He bowed His head on the cross and said, "It is finished!" it was completed. His life was perfect.
"It is finished!" In a sense nothing He had done was finished; all His work was only begun. Luke spoke of the treatise he had made--as narrating only "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach." All would go on forever. This is true of everything we ourselves do. They tell us that every word spoken into the air goes quivering on through time forever; that if you throw a pebble into the sea it starts wavelets which will ripple on and on until they break on every shore. Thus it is with every word we speak, with everything we do, with every influence that goes forth from our lives. We are starting things each day--which will continue into eternity. Nothing we do--is ever finished. We cannot know the end of any act, of any word.
The same was true of the life and work of Christ. He only began the world's redemption. He ever lives at God's right hand, interceding for His church, blessing and saving man. His life seemed a failure the day He said this word. He had made but a slight impression upon the great world. He had gathered only a few friends, and they were men of no distinction, of no power or rank among men. He had been teaching for three years, speaking words of divine wisdom--but they had not been written down, and seemed now to be utterly lost. There were thousands of beginnings of blessing--but they were only merest beginnings, like seeds dropped into the soil.
We know what Christianity is today. The words Jesus spoke, which seemed altogether lost the day He died, have been filling the world with their blessings. The influence of His life, which then had touched only a few lowly lives, has since touched nations and generations, and has changed all the world, has transformed millions of lives, and is bringing the nations up out of heathenism into holiness and happiness! The beginnings of the first Good Friday, have developed into a glorious kingdom of light and love!
"It is finished!" When Jesus said this, He had reached the end of His sufferings. All His life He had been a sufferer. He came into the world to redeem the world, by pain and suffering. He was the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Perhaps we are in danger these days of losing sight of the place of the wounding of Christ in the redemption of the world. In G. Campbell Morgan's book, 'The Crises of the Christ,' there is a chapter called "The Wounded God." The title is startling. Dr. Morgan reminds us that it is impossible to omit from the ascended and reigning One, the wounds He bears. They are part of His personality. In glory He appears as a lamb that has been slain. He was our suffering Savior.
You remember how vividly this is pictured even in the Old Testament. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. When He said, "It is finished!" He had just passed through the three awful hours of darkness. What took place in His experience during those hours--no mortal can ever know. We know only this, that in the mysterious depths of those hours, human redemption was accomplished. It was then, that He redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. It was then that He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
As we hear His word of relief, "It is finished!" we know that the work of redeeming love had been accomplished. The infinite meaning of the sufferings He endured in those hours--we cannot fathom; earth has no line long enough to sound those holy depths; but we know that out of what was done on Calvary those hours--come all the hopes of our lives. Every one of us had a share in those pains of His. In some mysterious way--our sins were imputed to Him, part of the awful blackness that obscured the sun, and also for a time hid the Father's face from the holy Sufferer. In some way, what took place there--set us free from the curse of sin.
"It is finished!" was the first announcement of the completion of redemption. It was the first proclamation of the gospel after the price had been paid. The Redeemer Himself made the announcement. Let us hear it today. Redemption is finished. We can be sure of eternal life if we receive this Savior--as our Savior. There was nothing left undone in those hours, that needed to be done to open the way for us to God, to put away sin, to provide eternal salvation for everyone who will accept it.
"It is finished!" Think of the words a moment--as words that we ourselves must speak, each of us. We are always finishing something. One by one duties come to us, and we must finish them quickly and leave them. How are we finishing them? Are we doing them as well as we can, or negligently? One by one the days come to us, white and beautiful, from God. What are we doing with them? What are we writing on the fair pages? One by one, in quick succession, opportunities come to us, opportunities to be kind, to be patient, to be forgiving, to help others, to honor Christ, to witness for Him, to plant a seed of truth in a heart--and we must meet them promptly, for a moment later they will be gone. What are we doing with our opportunities?
We are finishing a hundred things every day. What are we finishing? How are we finishing the things we do? Soon we shall come to the end of all our living, doing our last task, saying our last word. When we come to the end of all our living and doing--what will be finished? What will we leave behind? Will it be something that will make the world forever better, purer, holier? When you and I say, "It is finished," what will be finished?