"And when He cried, 'It's finished' He gave Himself to die;
Salvation's wondrous plan was done."
- Ray Overholt
Finished. Done. Mission accomplished.
Few words are sweeter than these. The task on which we labored, agonized or spent so much time and energy is over. The house is clean, the children asleep; the report is in, the test taken. We cheer, celebrate - or go to bed for a well-earned rest.
"It is finished!" Jesus cried (John 19:30), as the end of his experience on the cross drew near. There was nothing more for Him to do, no more pain to endure, no further sacrifice to make.
"Father," He said at last, "into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23-46).
It sounds too poetic, improbable. Why didn't He just say, "I'm coming home?" Because there is a message not only in the life Jesus lived, but also in each of His final words.
We understand "hands." A leading insurance company claims, "You're in good hands with (us)," and we long for a similar recommendation when searching for someone to service our car, guide us to an unfamiliar destination, or tend the needs of our child.
Jesus knew where His tested "hands" were, and He knew the religious leaders standing at the cross would also understand the symbolism. Just as they were familiar with His earlier saying, "Why have you forsaken me?" they would know these final words were from the Old Testament, too. The Psalmist had uttered both cries: the anguished, forsaken words in Psalm 22:1, and this hopeful benediction in Psalm 31:5.
Even Jewish children knew this second verse. Just as we teach our children to say, "Now I lay me down to sleep...," this was the prayer Jewish mothers taught their children to say at bedtime. Though darkness came, the children knew they were safe because they were in God's hands.
Jesus knew no other love like that of His father. Throughout His ministry the people He came to love, teach and die for behaved like fickle suitors. Their reaction to Him could change from heady exhilaration to murderous rejection overnight.
The same crowd that roared their approval on Palm Sunday called for His death five days later, and many of whose stomachs were filled with the bread and fish He miraculously supplied turned away because they didn't like the lessons He taught.
The Apostle John records just such a plaintive moment: "From that time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him." As He watched them go, Jesus turned to his closest 12 and asked, "Will you also go away?" Peter was the first to respond: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:66-68)
At that moment Peter realized there was no one else who held the keys to forgiveness and eternal life, except the man he had followed for the past three years. But not long after that passionate declaration, intended perhaps to convey the sentiments of them all, one of the 12 betrayed Jesus with a bribe and a kiss, and fearless Peter himself shook in his shoes and ran away. In the end, the man-child whom wise men had crossed a continent to worship at the beginning of His life died like a common criminal - not, it seemed, as the angels sang at his birth, "Christ, the Lord!"
To whom could Jesus go? Into whose hands could He commit His spirit and know He would never be betrayed again? Only to the trusted hands and loving arms of His father.
For 40 days and seven Sundays, Christians have contemplated the death of Jesus. Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate what happened after that. Good Friday meant only that the cross experience was finished. The resurrection would be the finishing act of His life on earth. Jesus had come to die, because that was the only effective punishment for the sins of mankind.
But it was His victory over death that gives us the promise that, when our earthly life - our cross experience - is over, we can confidently commit our spirits into the hands and arms of the loving Father, too.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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