The finished work of Christ
While walking home late at night recently, I passed a shopkeeper shutting up his store for the night. His body language suggested he was relieved that his day’s work was over.
Daily work is both a blessing and a bane. We are grateful for it as it enables us to pay the bills. Yet work, when it involves people, machines or computers, always has its pressures and stresses.
This being said, there is a great satisfaction from seeing a job through to the end. We can all relate to the feeling of ‘a job well done’. Think how a novelist must feel when he or she types the final full-stop after thousands and thousands of words.
What of an artist when he or she does the final stroke on a painting and puts down the brush? Then there are thousands of others of us who know the minor joy of clocking off at the end of the day, having played our minor ‘bit part’ for our nation’s economy and welfare. There is a great satisfaction in ‘a job well done’.
At the very heart of the Christian faith there also lies ‘a job well done’. We are referring to the finished work of Christ at Calvary. In John 17:4, the Lord Jesus said to his Father in heaven, ‘I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do’.
And then John goes on to record that, when Christ died at Calvary, ‘he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30).
‘It is finished’. These three words are just one word in the original Greek, the word tetelestai. And this word tetelestai actually encapsulates the whole faith of the Bible. We could translate the word as ‘it is completed’, ‘it has been done’ or ‘it stands for ever accomplished’.
The tense which the Holy Spirit employs is the perfect tense. It is a fitting tense to describe a perfect, faultless work. In Greek, this tense refers to an action in the past which has continuing and abiding consequences in the present.
Christ’s cry of ‘It is finished’, therefore, was not a cry of defeat but a shout of triumph. We could paraphrase it as: ‘It is finished! — I have fully atoned for my people’s sins’; ‘It is finished! — I have paid in full the debt of sin which my people owe’.
‘It is finished! — I have wrought the forgiveness of my people, so that they will remain eternally forgiven’; ‘It is finished! — I have procured the eternal salvation of my people’; ‘It is finished! — my sacrifice, on my people’s behalf, has now made all sacrifice eternally redundant’.
So then, at the heart of the Christian gospel lies the finished work of Christ at Calvary. ‘He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’; ‘When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God’ (Hebrews 9:26; 10:12).
On the cross Christ ‘made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’ (Book of Common Prayer). By its very nature, perfection can neither be improved upon nor diminished:
Once, only once, and once for all
His precious life he gave
Before the cross in faith we fall
And own him strong to save.
‘One offering, single and complete’
With lips and hearts we say
And what he never can repeat
He shows forth day by day.
What then is the answer to the crucial question: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:30)? The answer is actually, ‘Nothing!’
We do not have to do anything, because Christ has already done everything for us. According to the Bible, salvation is by divine grace, not by human works; it is by divine mercy, not human merit.
Salvation is a result of what Christ has done, and not what we do. It is due to Christ’s perfect, finished work, and not our imperfect, ongoing, unfinished works. Salvation is gained solely by availing ourselves of what Christ did for us at Calvary.
If you are anything like me, you do not like any ‘unfinished business’, those jobs which are still to be done. When it comes to our eternal salvation, however, if our faith is in the crucified and risen Christ, all is well with our souls. The job is fully done.
The Lord Jesus — the very Son of God — has already done it for us. When he died on the cross, he proclaimed: ‘It is finished!’ His perfect work of redemption saves undeserving, ill-deserving and hell-deserving sinners. This is the gospel we proclaim.