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Friday, March 27, 2015

Lenten Series: The Sixth Word of Jesus

I wrote this a year ago, and was ready to follow it as my template for my next YouTube recording about the last words of Jesus on the cross. But as I prepared myself for the recording, I felt led to say something much different than you will read here. If you have the time, some time log onto the recording at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KDgUE5vMKs&feature=youtu.be

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the sixth of the seven:

“It is finished”
(John 19:30)

Perhaps no other statement of Jesus on Golgotha’s hill mean so much to me as “It is finished.” I spent weeks contemplating why that is true, and decided the answer is best illustrated by an incident that happened to me 55 years ago. 

My friend Steve and I were eight years old. When my family visited his we often explored the undeveloped land near his new home. During one visit, as we played in and around houses in varying degrees of construction, we spotted a field of cattails. “Let’s play hide and seek” he challenged. In a moment he was racing through the cattails while I counted to 100.

The cattails swayed gracefully in the autumn breeze as I chased after him, pushing farther into the midst of the field. They were tall cattails . . . taller than I, and so thick I could push through them only with great effort. But soon they were no longer my concern. The darkening sky caught my attention and I stopped to scan in all directions. It was a futile effort. I couldn't see anything except the thin pale stalks around me.

"Hey, Steve!" I called aloud.

No answer.

"Steve!" I shouted against the rustling grasses. “Where are you? I'm not playing anymore." My stomach churned.

Then I heard him in the distance, "Riiiiichard!"

"Here! Over here," I shouted back. Breathing faster, I pushed into the wall of weeds. "Steeeeevennnnn! Where are you?"

"Over here!" He sounded closer.

At last, I heard him crunch‑crunching nearby. In a moment we faced each other. Sweat beaded on our flushed faces.

"Where were you?" I accused. "It got dark pretty quick and I figure we'd better be gettin' home."

"I was looking for you," he defended himself.

"Well, come on," I urged, not wanting to waste any more time, "let's get outta here."

"Which way is out?" he asked.

I stared at him. "Don't you know?"

He shook his head.

"But . . . but you live here."

"Yeah," he started, "But I've never been here before. Especially not in the dark."

We stared at each other a moment longer.

"Well," I said finally. "Let's go this way," I pointed to the left. Without speaking, we lunged against the weeds. It was a long time before either of us spoke.

"I think we're lost," I said softly.

Steve didn't answer.

"What do you think?"

He ignored me.

"What are we gonna do?" I stopped. Fear gnawed at me.

"I don't know," he shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He’d been crying. "Maybe if we called out for help?" he whimpered.

"Hellllllp!" we chorused together. "Hellllllp!"

We listened . . . . And we tried again. And again. And again.

"Maybe we should pray," Steve said.

Wiping the sweat from my face, I nodded agreement. Neither of us was being raised in religious homes. In the years our families had known each other, the only time we ever heard God’s name mentioned was as a swear word or a casual exclamation of surprise. But now, lost in a tangle of fear and desperation, we both knew this situation called for help far beyond our capabilities. We closed our eyes and begged God to help us find our way home.

After a time, the ground grew soggy beneath our muddied shoes and we broke through to a clearing. The calm bay waters lapped the shore at our feet. We could see the lights of homes across the water.

"Doesn't look very far away," Steve suggested.

I shook my head. "No, it doesn't," I answered, lost in thought. "D'ya think we could swim it?"

We stared across the water. Finally, I sighed in resignation. "Maybe not." And so we once again turned back to the weeds, sobbing freely as we trudged on. Every now and then we prayed aloud, "God, please help us. God, please help us."

Then suddenly, it happened. Just like that. We broke through to a clearing. Wood framed houses rose before us . . . the same ones we played in earlier that day.

"We made it!" Steve shouted, his eyes dancing. "We made it, Oh thank you, God! We made it!"

As the years passed, life took me through many twists and turns. Memories of how God answered our desperate childhood prayer drifted into the forgotten recesses of my mind. I was too busy with life to think of such long-forgotten terrors.

But those twists and turns more often than not brought me into other fields of weeds, weeds so tall I no longer knew which way was out. The sun hardly filtered through the unyielding stalks of lust, envy, arrogance, pride, and greed. And every now and then, when I broke through to a clearing, I discovered disaster awaiting my next move.

I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized I needed help beyond my own ability. I had come to the end of my hope, my strength, my intellect, my understanding. So once again I prayed to the One I had for so long ignored. I asked first for forgiveness of my many sins, and then asked for help in finding my way out of the moral darkness enveloping me.

And that’s when it happened. Suddenly. Just like that, I broke through to the clearing. God opened my eyes to His Son’s sacrificial death, a death I so very much deserved, but a death Christ paid for me. I needed God’s forgiveness. In return He not only forgave me – but He showed me His love that was greater than all my rebellion. And I knew I was home.


Just like when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Because of the years I lived in rebellion, I didn’t know Scripture called me a child of the devil.* But when Jesus finished His work on Golgotha He gave me the right to become a child of God.** Oh, I love to remember it! To me – the one who repeatedly spit in God’s face, who led others into mortal sin, who even killed his child in an abortion clinic – Jesus offered my penitent soul the right to be called a child of almighty God.

“It is finished.”

Struggling as often as I did to turn my life around, I didn’t know Scripture declared me a captive of Satan.*** But when Jesus declared, “It is finished”, His blood ransomed me from the devil’s grip and set me free.

“It is finished.”

My sins earned me God’s wrath.**** Like the sword of Damocles, it hung over my head. But, oh, when Jesus said, “It is finished” God directed His wrath, wrath I so worthily deserved, onto Jesus’ body.*****

“It is finished.”

Yes, no longer lost. No longer a prisoner. No longer a child of darkness. When Jesus spilled His blood on Golgotha and said, “It is finished” He meant it. His work of salvation was finished. And no power on earth or in hell could – or can – change it.

It is finished.

*For example, 1 John 3:8
**For example, John 1:10-13
***For example, 2 Timothy 2:25-26
****For example, Ephesians 5:5-7
*****For example, Isaiah 53:5-6


Barb Schoeneberger said...

Those moments of enlightenment God gives us when we turn to Him are such a relief and so joyful. Living in darkness is a terrible burden. We don't even notice what we're doing to ourselves until we are nearly crushed by our pride. It is really interesting that you children immediately turned to God for help even though you weren't raised that way. It just shows how His grace is always there for us to receive if only we would stop a minute and reach for Him.

Rich Maffeo said...

You wrote: ". . . if only we would stop a minute and reach for Him."

That is the key element -- STOP, and reach for Him. But we are so conditioned by our culture to do everything EXCEPT stop. I am reminded of what Blessed Mother Theresa once said: "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence."