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April 9, 2017

 

  

4.9.17                                 Palm Sunday                    - John 19:17-30ESV

 

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,“They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 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. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

 

 

REPENT: TURN TO JESUS, HE FINISHED YOUR SALVATION

 

Crossing the finish line – life’s a lot like that. Jesus was reaching a finish line on the day we call Palm Sunday.  Entering Jerusalem as the promised Messiah, the King of Israel, crowds shouting Hosanna – “Lord, save us” – what a climax to His ministry!  Finally the people recognized who He was.  But He wasn’t finished.  Not yet.  This is the beginning of Holy Week.  We know there are several important days to go before Jesus was finished with His mission.

 

We yearn for finishes in our lives.  Growing up we can’t wait to get a driver’s license.  Then reality strikes: car payments, insurance, repairs (perhaps some fender benders), and we want to junk the clunker.  We look forward to purchasing our first home and soon find ourselves longing for the final mortgage payment, hoping for some equity.  We pack up the kids to drive to Disney Land or Disney World.  After a few days in the car, the Magic Kingdom isn’t so magical with fussy brats picking on each other, making us look forward to the finish of our vacation. 

 

Sports teams may have a great first half of a game, or two periods or eight innings, but the coach yells at them “you’ve got to finish” if you’re going to win.  You attend a concert.  The audience may give polite applause during the program, but the standing ovation comes after the grand finale.  You get an A on a semester exam.  Excellent!  But school is not finished until you open your diploma on graduation day and find it signed. 

 

“It is finished!”  These are words Jesus spoke from the cross that we remember so well.  But what was finished?  His suffering?  His life?  No, much more.  We’ll find today as the season of Lent comes to a close, that Jesus finished something absolutely essential for us.  In this series on repentance, the first of Luther’s 95 Theses, this sermon will urge you to TURN TO JESUS, because HE FINISHED YOUR SALVATION.

 

It seemed like Pontius Pilate was finished.  Not a good day for him.  Angry religious leaders of the Jews came bright and early, demanding to have a rabbi condemned by the Roman governor.  He interrogated him and found no guilt in him.  He wanted to set him free, but they would hear of it.  So he gave them a choice to see a real criminal punished and an innocent man released.  They chose poorly: Release Barabbas!  Crucify Jesus!  Pilate provided the mob with a gruesome flogging, hoping to satiate their bloodlust.  But 40 minus 1 lashes weren’t enough to satisfy their hatred.  Pilate was tired of debating philosophy with the prisoner and arguing politics with the priests, so he washed his hands of the mess.  He caved to the crowd’s cries for crucifixion and sent Jesus away carrying the crossbeam to the Place of the Skull near a city gate.  Perhaps as a final poke in the eye of his tormentors, Pilate wrote an inscription for the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  In three languages so everyone could read it, which outraged the leaders who requested he change the wording to “This man said, I am the King of the Jews.”  They certainly didn’t believe Jesus was their king, nor did Pilate, but he insisted, “What I have written, I have written.”  He was finished.  Finished with Jesus.  Finished with them.  Finished with the whole debacle. 

 

It looked like Jesus was finished too.  Nailed hand and foot to the wooden cross and hung out to die.  Finito!  But not yet.  He had some unfinished business to take care of, really a few acts of loving kindness.  Asking forgiveness for his enemies.  Assuring a dying criminal next to Him that he would be in Paradise with Him that day.  (We’ll talk more about that on Good Friday.)  But Jesus looked down from the cross and saw His mother and her sister, and a couple of other women named, Mary.  As a loving son, Jesus entrusted His widowed mother’s care to His beloved disciple, John. 

 

We sometimes forget that Jesus had a real family: His mother Mary, of course, His foster father Joseph.  He had brothers and sisters, too, although they appear to be AWOL at this point (a couple of brothers show up later on in the New Testament).  But let’s focus on His mother.  Imagine what she was feeling.  Over 30 years earlier in the temple, Simeon had told her: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel . . and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”  That sword was sharpened by her people’s rejection of her son.  That sword was thrust into her heart as the nails were driven into His body.  She wanted to help, fix things like only mom can, but she felt helpless – watching Him suffer, unable to relieve it – bleeding, can’t make it stop – thirsty, can’t even give him a drink of water. 

 

Jesus knew how she felt.  And He loved His mom.  In fact, it was love that brought Him from heaven to her womb, love that moved Him to be obedient as a child, respectful as an adult, and now love that motivated Him to provide for her in His absence.  Perfect love is what Jesus expressed throughout His life for everyone.  For only then could He offer the world an innocent substitute, a complete sacrifice, a holy Savior.  In showing His love for His mother, He was showing His love for us.  “Oh, perfect love, all human thought transcending” – a hymn puts it.

 

But Jesus still was not finished.  He needed to make some things happen to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture that identified Him as the Christ so that we can be sure that He is indeed our Savior. 

 

The first fulfillment of Scripture was done to Jesus by the soldiers.  This was just another day’s work for them – execution squad, not pleasant duty, but part of the job.  So they took the opportunity to make a little profit from it.  They divided His belongings into four shares, one for each.  But the “tunic” was a seamless undergarment . .  they didn’t want to tear it into four pieces, so they decided to roll dice for it.  Little did they know that this could be a special paycheck for them and for anyone who knows the Bible.  Psalm 22:18 written by David 1000 years before had mentioned mysteriously that “they would cast lots for his clothing.”  What did that mean?  Now we know.  Jesus was identified by this tiny tidbit of information as the promised Savior.

 

The second fulfillment of Scripture in this text was done by Jesus with the soldiers’ help.  As the day wore on, he got dehydrated. So He said, “I thirst.”  That’s normal, but there’s a short parenthetical comment here: “to fulfill the Scripture.”  Psalm 69:21 prophesied: “They gave me vinegar for my thirst.”  That’s what the soldiers did, lifting a sponge with some sour wine to His lips.  Again, down to the last little detail, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture so that we could know that He is the promised Savior.  He did all this with 100 percent certainty so that we might have zero percent doubt that our salvation has been finished. 

 

Which brings us bacl to this phrase: “It is finished.”  Jesus wasn’t finished until it was finished.  What was finished?  The payment for our sins.  “It is finished” is called a final word because it’s the last word on the fact of your forgiveness.  It’s only one word in the Greek:  tetelesthai.  You might find it interesting to know that shopkeepers in those days would write that word on the bottom of bills, once they had been paid in full.  What a deal!  Our debt of sin was paid in full when Jesus died on the cross.  We were hopelessly in debt.  There’s nothing we can give or say or do to pay off our sins even if we could calculate a lifetime full of them.  There’s no pay-as-you-go installment plan.  No superfluous merits of some saints can be dispensed for you in exchange for some penance you do.  How much is enough?  Who decides?  That’s why Jesus paid it all.  Only He could.

 

Yeah, but – if I just feel really bad about my sin and try to do better next time.  No, your resolutions to improve don’t finish your salvation.  Jesus did.  Yeah, but – if I just decide to follow Jesus and pray real hard, then I can be saved, right?  No, good intentions don’t finish your salvation.  Jesus finished your salvation. 

 

Dear ones, there are no “ifs, ands, or buts” – Jesus paid it all.  There’s nothing more to pay.  So when you repent of sin, turn to Jesus knowing, believing, trusting He finished your salvation.   He said so as He crossed the finish line on the cross - “It is finished” – so that when we cross the finish line, we don’t have to worry about.  Thank you, Jesus, Amen.