Texts: John 18:28 – 19:30;
“IT IS FULFILLED”
I’d like to begin by inviting you to shift your focus with me for a moment to the cross. Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to have been that Beloved Disciple of Jesus standing at the foot of his cross. Can you imagine it?
You’ve given up everything following this man for the past three years. You’ve given up your job, given up being at home every night with your wife and children, given up everything, all because you believed him. His strength of character and conviction, his incredible authority in making the Holy Scriptures come alive, his seemingly limitless compassion for everyone, even the untouchables like lepers and tax collectors. He had an awesome power of healing, and he could spare with the brightest and best of the Temple scribes and Pharisees. You really thought he was the Messiah! The One God had sent to save God’s people!
But look at him now. Mocked, beaten, bloodied, hanging on this cross, gasping for breath, grasping for life. Oh, Jesus! Why? Isn’t there one last miracle to save yourself from all this? Why has God forsaken you if you are God’s chosen one? Why must suffer like this? It’s more than a person can bear to stand watching!
It’s almost over, I think. His breaths are very shallow. He’s shouting out something. That’s it. He’s taken his last breath. He’s dead! I can’t believe! Jesus is dead!
But what was that he shouted at the end? “It is fulfilled,” I think he said. Fulfilled? Finished, I could maybe understand. Yes, everything we’ve worked for these past three years is finished, all right. But fulfilled?? How could what we’ve worked for these past years possibly be fulfilled by dying? Death finishes it, all right, but fulfills it? I just can’t see how!
Can we see? After 2000 years, can we see how this death fulfills anything, accomplishes anything?
I should at least make a confession. I have changed the usual word in the English translations. It does say, in most translations, “It is finished!” But that’s not what Jesus said. The original word doesn’t simply mean finished, done for, all over. It means finished with a big climax that brings everything to a meaningful finish. In other words, it means fulfilled. Just before Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross, he said, “It is fulfilled!” It is accomplished!
But what possibly is accomplished by Jesus’ death? What’s fulfilled? Jesus’ work? Yes, we know that now after 2000 years. Jesus finished his work of salvation on the cross, fulfilling God’s unconditional love for us, offering us a forgiveness that gives us a new start on things, new life.
But do you know what? I don’t think that’s all Jesus accomplished. There’s something even more amazing. In John’s Gospel, there’s a couple places where Jesus explicitly tells us what work he has come to do. So if he cries out, “It is fulfilled!” at the end, doesn’t it make sense that Jesus would have that work in mind that he mentioned earlier? Maybe we’d better take a quick look at those two places, where Jesus tells us what work he is doing that, the work that is apparently accomplished when he breathes his last on the cross.
Both of these other two stories are familiar kinds of stories to us about Jesus. In John 5, he heals a lame man. In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. Both times John is very deliberate to tell us that Jesus did this on the sabbath. And what was the sabbath to the Jesus’ people, the Jews? It is the day that God rested from creation and did no work. So we aren’t supposed to work either.
In fact, this idea that God rested on the Sabbath and did no further work seems to go beyond that. We seem to have this idea that God was completely finished with creation after only six days. But listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees after healing the lame man. They are challenging him about working on the Sabbath. And this is what Jesus says, (John 5:17) “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”
My Father is still working. What work could the Father still be doing that Jesus is helping him with? Could it be that God is still creating? Isn’t that God’s basic work?
And then there’s the story in John 9, which begins this way:
(John 9:1-3) As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Again, God’s work is the reason. We are the one’s, like the disciples, who think about sin, who jump to conclusion about sin, most often other people’s sin. Jesus talks again about showing forth God’s work, doing God’s work. And then how does Jesus heal this blind man? … Remind you of anything? …
Could it be that the work which Jesus is doing is the work of helping God to continue creating? It’s almost like creation isn’t finished yet, and so Jesus is healing these people, on the Sabbath no less, in order to continue helping bring creation to fulfillment. In other words, the goal of God’s work and Jesus’ work is not just our salvation. The goal is bringing the whole creation to fulfillment! Could Jesus have meant that when he said with his dying breath on the cross, “It is fulfilled”? That this death was somehow the fulfillment of creation? How could that be? How could such a horrible death be the crowning event of all life? Of all creation?
Listen to St. Paul put the matter on this cosmic level.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24)
The old poster: “God ain’t finished with me yet.” [extemporaneous comments]
This service is one of growing darkness. … But in three days, we’ll hear:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. (John 20:1)
And what happened next isn’t just the dawning of a new day. It’s not even simply the beginning of salvation for you and me. It’s nothing less than the dawning of a new creation! It is fulfilled!
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, April 21, 2000