After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:28-30 (ESV)
“It is finished.” Three little words structured to make a complete thought. What difference or impact can a simple phrase make? I mean…it’s only three words, right? Each one on it’s own is pretty inconsequential, but when put together and put into the correct context, they can be mind-altering. Live-saving. World-changing. Hope-giving.
In the context of the human condition, there are actually quite a few such phrases that can have significant meaning and impact given the situation and the players involved. I love you. How are you? Please forgive me. Seize the day. Saying “I love you” can take a certain amount of vulnerability and commitment, while asking “please forgive me” requires humility and honesty. These are views into our humanity and the accompanying emotions, trials and interactions.
However, I propose that the most important phrase ever spoken was voiced by our Lord in John 19 as He hung dying on the cross. It is finished. In the Greek, the phrase is τετέλεσται (transliterated “tetelestai” in English). Such a simple sentence…such an elementary communication…yet this phrase, spoken by this particular person, at that particular place, at that particular time, changed the course of the universe.
Many of you know of the personal struggles and darkness I have gone through in the last couple of years. My lifetime demon of self-loathing finally apexed to the point that depression and anxiety set in for good. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but I learned through that experience that sometimes you have to go through the valley and face those demons before you can move on and live again. All my life, I had the inner struggle of insufficiency. I was never attractive enough. I was never disciplined enough. I never did what I “should” do, in regards to both life and especially my spirituality. No matter what the arena, I found myself always coming up short and viewing myself as a perpetual failure and disappointment.
However, sometimes all it takes is for God to reinforce a long-held belief in a very new way. That’s where I found myself a year ago. I had read the passage in John 19 literally hundreds of times, and while I had a superficial understanding of what Jesus was saying, I never internalized it and thought about what it meant for ME. Through the teaching and guidance of a good friend and clergyman, I was able to see that very monumental truth. IT. IS. FINISHED. While I’ve struggled all my life to please God and to “do the right things” so that He’ll love me and accept me, I found that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get there. I’ll never earn His favor. Neither will anyone else. But here’s the newsflash: HE’S ALREADY GIVEN IT.
Jesus, through His words on the cross, has taken the yoke and burden off of us all. The Greek word “tetelestai” was used in other parts of the new testament in the context of financial transactions, and more specifically forgiven debt. Did you hear that? Here it is again: FORGIVEN DEBT. It is absolutely no accident that Jesus used this phrase to set the eternal record straight.
That Greek phrase, “tetelestai”, has become monumental to me. When I feel the darkness creeping back in, I claim that phrase. When I feel like I’m failing at life, I claim that phrase. When I feel like God can’t possibly love me, I claim that phrase. I have internalized it. I have written it on notes and put them on my computer monitor…and two weeks ago, I went and had it tattooed on my forearm.
Why, you ask, would a 45 year-old, middle-aged man get something tattooed on his body?
Is it a mid-life crisis? Impulsiveness? Rebellion? I am here to answer…none of the above. My reasoning, both highly personal and carefully considered, has more to do with my propensity to forget. My memory fades and Post-It notes get thrown away. In the instances where I fixate on my own shortcomings and unworthiness, it’s easy to flood out any positive thoughts that can bring me out of it. “Tetelestai” is more than a word to me. It’s my ray of light in personal darkness. Those words of Christ are my lifeline. He lived that perfect life that I couldn’t live, He paid the price that I couldn’t pay, and through His dying proclamation, declared it so. I don’t have to earn God’s favor. In fact, I CAN’T earn God’s favor. But now every time I drive, every time I eat or drink, every time I take Communion…I am reminded anew that IT. IS. FINISHED.
Now I’m not saying that tattooing Greek on your arm is for everyone, but for me it was an act of love, devotion and gratitude. However, while ink may not be for everyone, God’s grace through Jesus Christ IS for everyone. I don’t know about you, but knowing that Jesus has already finished all that I find it impossible to accomplish is pretty darn liberating.
Blessings. – B