When Joe Namath famously guaranteed that the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, no one could believe it. After all, the Jets were eighteen point underdogs. Yet, as he predicted, the Jets did win leading to one of the most iconic moments in football history. As Namath ran off the field, he raised his right arm and waved one finger celebrating the fact that he had won. That single picture proclaimed victory and triumph.
On the cross, Jesus had come to the end. His death was seconds away. But before He breathed His last, he managed to proclaim a word of triumph – tetelestai. This one word announced His victory. In English, we translate it as “It is finished” and it announced the work of redemption was done and Jesus had triumphed.
God’s plan of redemption didn’t begin at the cross. It didn’t begin in Pilate’s court or in Bethlehem. It didn’t begin in Babylon or Egypt or in the Garden of Eden. The Scriptures tell us that God’s plan of redemption began in eternity past (Ephesians 1).
Now, with that said, God’s plan did unfold throughout history. God moved through the events of history, calling Abraham, delivering the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt, providing a king, preserving a remnant, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, living, dying, and rising again. But, let’s focus on the provision of the sacrifice and the role it played throughout that history.
We see the first sacrifice in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). But, just a few verses before that, there is a promise of One who will come and put an end to Satan, sin, and death (Genesis 3:15). As we move forward, the children of Israel have been relocated to Egypt, eventually enslaved, and then delivered under the leadership of Moses. During the Exodus, God comes to them and gives them the instructions for how they are to live. And, in doing so, He gives them instructions on a variety of sacrifices (Leviticus). These sacrifices were largely to be offered as a way to deal with the sins of God’s people. These sins had to be covered. God’s perfect righteousness…His holiness abhors sin. He cannot tolerate it. So, it must be atoned for…paid for through sacrifice. For hundreds of years, the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats brought temporary covering.
But in the fullness of time…at just the right moment, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4). And that brings us to the cross. Jesus is minutes from dying and He proclaims “It is finished.” Upon the cross, Jesus completes the work of redemption. The Scripture had been fulfilled (John 19:28). The sacrifices were now complete. Jesus had fulfilled the law and born the curse. The work of redemption was done. There is nothing left for us to give. No other sacrifice can be offered. As a result, the power of Satan, sin, and death are defeated. Thus, Jesus cries out “It is finished.”
It is said that Buddha’s dying words were “strive without ceasing.” What a striking contrast with “It is finished.” These phrases clearly define for us the difference between religion and its endeavors to make oneself right with God and with Christianity. Simply stated, the difference between the two is two simple letters. The difference between religion and Christianity is the difference between do and done.