Lord this is the day! The day in which all the hopes of the saints from ages past were waiting for, the first fruits of resurrection life coming to pass. And yet this was the moment that people at that time didn’t see coming: that the crucified Messiah, who suffered and died in such a horrible manner, would rise in glorious triumph by the power of the Spirit over all His enemies: Satan, death, sin and hell. This is the moment, the great day in which Your glory burst forth to show in no uncertain terms, that You have won the victory, defeated death, defeated the work of Satan that began in the garden ages ago; that You in fact did conquer our sin, absorbing in Yourself our due penalty, taking it with You to the grave; It is Finished! This is the day that You did indeed crush Satan’s head along with all his works; and this is the moment that all of Your promises of resurrection life and new creation began. Lord because of our union with You by faith, we see in Your resurrection, our resurrection. Because we’re united to You, everything that is true of You is ours, and in this moment in particular we are raised with You both now and will be raised in fullness and completion on the Last Day. Your resurrection life is also our power over sin at the present time, in the already and the not yet in which we live. Through Your resurrection is also our justification, just as Your glory and righteousness and justice was vindicated and You were displayed to be the righteous King over all. Lord we worship You not just as a crucified King, but also as the great conquering, victorious, warrior, Savior, King who will rule the nations with an iron scepter at His second coming, who we will get to spend eternity with and even get to share in Your glory forever! You have risen indeed King Jesus!
The whole point of worship is looking outside ourselves to another, namely Christ. When you’re caught up in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, you’re caught up to something outside yourself, its particular heights and depths, its colors, its sheer size. You’re not thinking about yourself or what you’re going to get out of it as a means to an end, emotionally speaking. You’re simply caught up in that object in itself. Now the effect of being caught up to an object so beautiful is emotion. Standing on the top of Long’s Peak causes me to weep, not because I went there for the emotional high, so to speak, but because it is awesome in itself. Emotion and the experience of it is the result though, not the end. Emotion happens naturally because the object of your focus is so incredible.
So it is with worship of God, particularly in a worship service, but even more generally in our daily lives. To the degree we’re enraptured by, or caught up in, the truth (doctrine) of who Christ is and what He’s done on our behalf, and to the extent we encounter Jesus himself in prayer in our daily lives is the extent to which we’ll be rightly emotive in our response at our worship services, I’m convinced. Music aids in that, but it is not an end unto itself (as most of us know), nor is it primary in kindling those emotions. Now music can be extremely encouraging of that goal when good or distracting if it’s bad and therefore should be done with excellence, absolutely. But my concern for the church is larger than the production of things: people can seem unresponsive in worship services because we’re not caught up in the excitement of the truth of the drama of the gospel and encountering the person of Christ in our lives. When we sing “God is good,” yes that’s absolutely true. But how is God good? What is it that makes Him so amazing and good? The job of the pastor and worship leader is to create these categories of thought as it pertains to the gospel. Being caught up in who He is and what He’s done, explained in a literary manner, with awesome music and a sermon centered on the Person of Christ? That’s a recipe for worship that’s honoring to the Lord, that looks outside ourselves to Another. There’s joy there, there’s excellence in music, which translates into some form of a response, which could be sitting down and weeping, or standing with arms lifted, or in some cases not showing emotion and yet exploding with joy inwardly.
This is where the hymns come in, as an example, particularly the more theological hymns. Sure, there are some dreadfully bad hymns, both musically and lyrically. But why are the hymns so great? Let’s take In Christ Alone, a modern hymn. The whole song, verse by verse, is a progressive explanation of the gospel, with a final crescendo of exuberance in our hearts at what God has done. That sings, that produces joy. Love Constrained to Obedience is about Christ fulfilling the law on our behalf, turning our duty into joyful choice now, something we desire to do out of love for the One who saved us. How Deep the Father’s Love is about the depth of His love, literally the theological nature of it, what composes it, its characteristics, its properties. Revelation Song is deeply theological and really just quoting Scripture to a great degree. Before the Throne of God is all about imputed righteousness, how Christ is our advocate, our high priest, how the Father sees us as He sees His own Son! When we think on these things in depth and combine that with the experience of prayer in our lives, it produces a something that wells up within us of love to God and sets our hearts ablaze with joy … and thus a response.
What I desire to see more of in my own life, as well as the larger church, is that we’re all becoming more gospel-centric, meaning marinading ourselves, our teaching and our music in these truths. Let every sermon point there as an application for the motivation unto obedience and worship, as opposed to being motivated by law. Let every song drip it. How does Christ fulfill the law for us? How is His obedience transferred to our account? Why is that amazing? How does that truth apply Wednesday afternoon? How can we take that application into our music? How does Jesus’s blood appease God’s wrath? Resurrection? On and on. These are themes that cause us to well up with joy. And joy is the end goal of the gospel. Joy in the face of Christ, seen in Scripture, experienced through the Spirit.
“I would say, as a Christian and as a historian: the stories of Easter are really true, even though I’m skeptical myself that the tomb was empty, even though I’m skeptical myself that anything happened to the corpse of Jesus. I would say the stories of Easter are really true even though they may not be literally true.” – Marcus Borg
This jello is laced with poison and can’t be nailed to the wall. Go ahead, try.
To counter, Albert Mohler:
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” – Romans 8:33
Recently, I have been in great need of repeating Gospel promises to myself, almost continually, otherwise my heart has seemed to slip very quickly into bitterness, misery, spiritual depression, anger, and the like. I’m not sure why, but it has been so. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Not me. Knowing Romans 8 to be chock full of promises from God, fulfilled in Christ, I read it and came across this one headline truth that I need pounded into my head and my heart. Romans 8:33 above.
This one statement sums up what the Gospel is about, namely it is God who justifies. The whole Bible itself can be summed up in that one central truth. I don’t justify my existence, or my works, or my interactions with others; God does, more precisely Christ does, and even more precisely in the cross and resurrection. Of course the Bible goes much further than just this simple statement that it is God who justifies. But if you could sum it up, I don’t know how much better you can get. This is what distinguishes the Gospel from all other truth claims of various religions, for each one is all about justifying yourself through what you do. And it is the one central truth I need headlined in my heart when the weight of sin and my own unbelief clouds my vision.
Next follows the resurrection from the dead, without which all that has hitherto been said would be defective. For seeing that in the cross, death, and burial of Christ, nothing but weakness appears, faith must go beyond all these, in order that it may be provided with full strength. Hence, although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid; still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection, that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope, (1 Pet. 1: 3;) because, as he, by rising again, became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection.
The nature of it is better expressed in the words of Paul, “Who (Christ) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4: 25;) as if he had said, By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored. For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? how could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30
These are some of the most hope-filled, joy-inflicting, theologically deep words ever spoken by our Savior, for the edification of His people. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” we who love Christ have much reason to rejoice. Paul expounded upon this joy in Romans 5:6-11, amongst other places. With such force, Jesus makes a proclamation about eternally deep things that have just occurred upon the cross. What are these things? What is it that had been accomplished?
1. The wrath of God was satisfied.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). God is holy. In American evangelicalism, it seems we have largely forgotten this aspect of God’s character, yet it pervades everything He does. Sermons are not preached on it though. Why? Because it is highly uncomfortable. We are a comfortable nation. We like things in bite-size chunks of information. We like positive, life-affirming messages, not dark, gloomy, terrifying messages. Yet as Tim Keller has said, “If we play down harsh doctrines, we will gut our pleasant and comfortable beliefs too.” God’s holiness makes us squirm, as it should. But we must not play it down, but proclaim it. The whole Gospel only makes sense when we see what it is we are being saved from. Merely preaching “God loves you” does no justice to the entirety of the Gospel we proclaim. The question is, “How has God loved us?” The Scriptures present all of this very clearly.
When seeing the holiness of God, Isaiah, one of the holiest men in Israel himself (who, if anyone had reason to stand because of righteousness, it was him), was shaken to the core of his being, riddled with fear, totally undone because of his own uncleanness in the presence of this holy, majestic, spiritually terrifying God who has always existed and full of infinite power that cannot be measured by any man. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Isaiah, despite his holiness, was a sinner in the presence of the God of the universe that could crush him with a thought. This is the God we serve and should serve with a good level of reverential fear.
What does His holiness entail? Justice and righteous. It entails His Creator rights, to do whatever He wants with His own creation. God owes no one mercy. Isaiah got it. He knew he had no right to demand anything of God whatsoever. All he could do was fall on his face and beg for mercy because of His justice that should have squashed him. No one can tell God what He should or should not do. Job got it. At the end of the book, he put his hand over his mouth and said he had uttered things he did not understand against God. We throw the terms justice and righteousness around a lot in songs and in conversation, but what does it mean that God is just and righteous in relation to sinners, like us? It means that because of our sin, we should be thrown into the Lake of Fire described in detail in Revelation and spoken by Jesus in the Gospels more than any other person. These are not my words, they are Scripture and we must speak what it says boldly, without fear, yet do so in love.
Do we feel the weight of that in our souls, even as believers? Do you feel that bad off because of your sin? Consider how your sin has offended an infinitely holy God. Well we all should feel it, because the degree to which we feel our sinfulness and how much it has offended God on this infinite level, is the degree to which we will appreciate the work of the Gospel for us and specifically the words, “It is finished,” knowing that should have been us on that cross, for all eternity. Yet Christ, in His willing, submissive love, substituted Himself for those the Father had given Him before the world was made (John 6:37, Ephesians 1:3-6). Jesus drank the full cup of God’s just anger and wrath that had to be satisfied. And He did this in our place. So even as believers, though we have confident access to the throne of God through the blood of Christ, even when we sin, we should stand in awe and wonder that we have been spared an eternity of torment, knowing that by God’s choice alone and His doing in you (bringing you to faith by His power), we were spared by the work of Christ, not because of anything we’ve done past, present, or future, but simply because of God’s good pleasure to save us. Christ took God’s wrath in Himself upon the cross for us who believe. And after it was completed, He proclaimed these words, “It is finished.”
2. God’s name had been vindicated for having passed over former sins.
In Romans 3:25 we are told that, “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God�s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Because God is holy, as discussed in the last point, he must damn sinners who come into His presence. He cannot just sweep our sins under the rug as many suppose. “Oh come on in you rascal sinner you.” No. The person who has offended an infinitely holy God must pay the penalty of eternal death. This is justice. Yet, how was God to maintain the honor of His name while forgiving sinners? How in the world is that possible? Only in the cross was this possible.
For God to let sinners pass into His presence without them being judged shows no regard for the most exalted, most valuable thing in all the universe: Himself, His name, His being. Therefore something had to be done. And that thing was the sacrifice of His own Son in our place, as our substitute. Only in the sacrifice of His own Son could God vindicate the justice and honor of His name for having passed over sins previously committed that had not been dealt with, while at the same forgiving sinners who through faith are declared righteous. So the cross was 1) for God, and then 2) for us. When Christ spoke those three words, God’s name, the highest value in the universe, had been preserved from being unjust, while at the same time, we sinners who slapped God in the face with our wickedness, were forgiven and declared righteous in His presence by the blood of Christ. Stand in wonder at such infinite power and yet infinite love displayed in the cross!
3. God’s people were justified.
Not only had God vindicated his own name and honor, declaring Himself to be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus … and not only had Jesus taken the wrath of God in Himself on the tree, taking the sins of all who would believe and willingly had them placed upon His own head, sins that were made His very own … but He also gave us His perfect record in exchange. When Jesus uttered those three words, we had been declared righteous in the presence of this just and holy God who should have destroyed us for all eternity. That was what we were owed. We earned wrath, it was the wage for our deeds. Yet we received mercy because of God’s great love for us from all eternity in declaring us pure and spotless, without blemish, because of Christ’s accomplishments and record before the Father.
When Christ said, “It is finished,” the Father now saw His people whom He foreknew (fore-loved) in relation to His own Son. The righteous standing He possessed before the Father is now our righteous standing forever. The emptying of Himself on the cross and the justification of our souls by His blood, making us to stand upright in the presence of God was now finally completed. No more would God be separated from His people. The work of Christ had finally been completed.
All of this together means that, as believers, on our worst day of Gospel-abuse (abuse of grace by sinning and taking advantage of God’s forgiveness) and God-dishonoring behavior, we are never so bad off that God’s eternal declaration that we are righteous will become null and void. Would you exalt your sin to the level of God by making the supposition that it is too bad for Him, in His infinite power, to forgive? We are His! Our fate was sealed in the cross before we were born, and in time He brought it to pass that we should be born again by His Holy Spirit and thus granted the gifts of faith and repentance. We should then mourn for the sin in our lives and how it grieves the Holy Spirit within us. Yet at the same time we should rejoice that our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ, and when He said, “It is finished,” it was really done with! What hope!
But all of this also means that on what we perceive to be our best day, we have never arrived to a point where we do not need this Gospel grace. Isaiah 64:6 says that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags, tainted with impure motives, though we do not realize it. We have competing affections in our hearts that moves us to idolatry even in those good works, whether idolatry of the approval of others or idolatry of how good we think we are now. As David Phillips used to say, we need to repent of our repentance, because many times even that is tainted with sin. On our best day, we should be very cautious that we pursue the mercy of God all the more in reverential fear, knowing that though God should have rightfully crushed us, yet He spared us. So do not become arrogant because of the grace you have received, as if you are a more righteous person over others, but stand in fear that the mercy of God did not pass you over and leave you in your sin, in order that you may be humbled in His presence and serve Him with a right heart.
4. The evil works of Satan and his angels was totally undone.
At the cross there were three points at which suffering was coming upon Him: by 1) the wrath of man, 2) the wrath of Satan, and 3) the worst, the wrath of God. But on this point in particular, the greatest Satanic attack ever devised and carried out was directed at Christ. Satan knew that if Jesus could be made to come down off the cross and disobey the Father, the divine plan would have been undone and Satan would have succeeded in his devious plans to thwart God. Yet Christ obeyed to the point of death, even death on a cross. He willingly submitted to the infinitely humbling terms of what Calvary meant for Him. And in doing so, Jesus triumphed over all the forces of darkness and made them a footstool for His feet. Just as Genesis 3:15 prophesied at the very beginning of man’s fall into sin, so it came to pass, that Satan bruised Christ’s heal on the cross, but Christ crushed Satan’s head by the cross, and sealed it in the resurrection. All the forces of wickedness could not hold down the Prince of Glory.
Satan has been defeated and he knows his time is short before the Day of the Lord comes and he is cast into the Lake of Fire. In the mean time, he seeks to devour and take out as many as he can by blinding the minds of unbelievers, keeping them in darkness, and keeping them from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. May we pray for God to remove their blindness (whatever unbelievers are in your lives) and give them eyes to see Christ in all His magnificence, that they may be saved through God-granted, supernatural faith.
But for the believer, what eternal harm can be done to us by Satan? Paul said, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). When Jesus said, “It is finished,” Satan was undone and no longer could he hold the children of God in darkness by his evil works. All the frightening demonic possessions, influence of those in power over others, influence in destroying the church from within through destructive, heretical doctrines, and the torment inflicted by these workers of evil cannot keep God from saving His people. It has already been accomplished through the blood of Christ and nothing can stop Him from saving sinners. What a hope in evangelism!
“It is finished.”
What magnificent words coming from our Savior! Volumes and volumes could be written going into detail about all of the aspects of what was accomplished in the cross and in the resurrection, in the entirety of the Gospel itself even. At the end of John’s Gospel in the last verse of the last chapter, he says, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The same can be said of what was accomplished for us at Calvary. The depths of God’s justice and power are clearly seen. So also His love and infinite mercy are perceived, that He would save anyone at all. We see how awful we are sinners that it would take the sacrifice of the Son of God to save us, and yet we see how much we are loved at the same time. And wow, the number of books that have been written over the course of church history concerning the work of Christ in His life, death, and resurrection is staggering. What amazing resources at our disposal! www.monergismbooks.com … get to reading! 🙂
May we all revel in the Gospel and what was accomplished in it for us, meditate on its implications for our lives, and because of it, be enabled and moved to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love all those in our lives just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. Jesus said these things were the summing up of the whole law in the Old Testament, that is, loving God with every facet of your being and loving your neighbor as yourself. But we as sinners are incapable of doing this in ourselves. And so Christ Himself came and fulfilled the law on our behalf so that we can now do it to His glory, by His power working in us! Only the Gospel’s power enables us to do that which God commands of us.
John Owen said, “To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” We are dependent upon Him not only for every breath, but to do anything to His glory and honor. We are dependent upon Him even for our faith, from beginning to end. As broken sinners, how desperate are we for Him? Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I pray we would believe and feel that. Fall on your face and rejoice for the mercy provided and completed for us through Christ! It is done! What freedom!