It is Finished

“It is finished!”

Human history pivoted with the uttering of those words from the mouth of God, Who robed Himself in flesh and shed His own blood for our sins. The closing of one Testament and the opening of another was occurring before the bewildered eyes of His followers and the blinded eyes of those who too soon rejoiced over His apparent demise.

Without taking away from where those words were spoken and by Whom, I’d like to focus on what they may mean to us beyond what they signified on that Day of days. For they will be expressed in some sense by all who have faithfully run our race for God. Paul said, “I have fought a food fight, I have finished my course…” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Here are some thoughts about weighty matters we tend to forget in the daily grind.

During a Sunday service awhile back I was worshiping God to the strains of “Soon and Very Soon”, rejoicing over the promise of “going to see the King”. “No more crying there…” brought such a sweet picture of Jesus physicially touching each face of those who hear Him say,”Well done, thou good and faithful servant” to “wipe away all tears from their eyes”.  

Beyond that image, though, I was struck by the thought that tears won’t follow us into Heaven, not only because Jesus went to prepare a place of rest for the faithful, but also because on the way to the Promised Land, we who serve Him in Spirit and in truth will have finished crying. Scripture teaches that crying itself has a purpose. It is part of faithfully running our race.

Let that sink in.

Saints of God are doing something when we cry — something for the Kingdom. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” (Isaiah 66:8)

Children are not born into God’s church by good advertising and wonderful programs. New saints are added because true saints of God wept and travailed and labored in an altar of prayer until a fellow human being was ready to repent and obey the Gospel (Acts 2:38). Sheep beget sheep, and anyone who has given birth or known anything about the process knows children don’t just appear in your arms. There’s sacrifice that accompanies bringing newborns into the world.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted…” (Matthew 5:4) and “Blessed are ye that weep now…” (Luke 6:21) James admonished, “Be afflicted, and mourn and weep…” (James 4:9)

Surely there is joy unspeakable in living for God. But as Pastor John Bowen, Jr. preached in that service, “It’s not always harvest time – there is famine, too, and there is a time for sowing…” The Psalmist said, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

Are we to try to have all the good here, avoiding the pain? The Apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name when they had been beaten. Where are they now? Rejoicing and enjoying their eternal reward.

The next verse of the song was “No more dying there, we are going to see the King.” See, the dying has a purpose as well. We are not meant to be here always, although we are natured to linger as long as possible, and fight to do so. That instinct is God-given, but it’s not all there is. Reality is on the other side of death. The “life forever”, and the eternal damnation, are past the river Jordan. We are living on this side only to prepare for that life or death.

We seem to treat that other realm as the surreal — somehow beyond reality. In the eternal scheme of things, this life is actually the surreal. “…For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away,” (James 4:14)

Even this earth is only here by His Word: “…by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth…” and “…by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto…the day of judgment…” (2 Peter 3:5,7) The earth, which seems firm and solid beneath our feet, is only temporary and one day it is going to “… melt away with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10).

The world that is to come after, where the soul of man will live or die with absolutely no time constraints, and no hint of an endpoint to the joy or to the indescribable torment, is the ultimate reality.

How should we then live? To prepare for the other side, the reality of eternity that we were made for. We get a choice — only on this side of Jordan — what we will be on that side.

“It is finished” only applies to what we are living here and now. On that side, we will never be finished worshiping and praising and enjoying the beautiful presence of the Lord, or else weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth, remembering every instance we were stirred to go beyond what we knew and had in God, to be sure we were obeying what He intended for us to obey and to be faithful to what we had already obeyed.

Jesus will wipe tears from the eyes of those to whom He says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…”, which is worth shouting and weeping and rejoicing over.

Will you finish well? Beginning today taking steps today do so.

WHEN A COAT IS ALL YOU HAVE

This isn’t a post about being without earthly possessions, though it wouldn’t be a bad thing to call attention to — there are certainly people in that situation.

Instead it’s a reference to a message Bro. Aaron Dutton preached recently, and its after-affects in my heart. I’ll try not to ruin the message for any who might have the chance to hear him preach it elsewhere, but its effect was profound.

Jacob, the son of Isaac and father of the twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel, had spent many years in the certainty that the coat he had been given one terrible day was evidence that he would never see his beloved son Joseph alive again. Joseph was Jacob’s obvious favorite, the first son of the wife he most loved, and the jealous older brothers had chosen to finally remedy themselves of this thorn in their sides by selling him to a band of traders — making him a slave — when Joseph had been sent by Jacob to see how they were doing with the sheep they were tending. For a cover once they’d done the deed, Joseph’s beautiful coat, the very symbol of his father’s favor, was dipped in animal blood and taken home for whatever conclusions his father would draw from seeing it. The evidence was strong enough to convince the heartbroken jury of one that it was over. Joseph was never coming back.

We spend a lot of time sure of some “never’s” in our lives, as well.
But there would come a day when Jacob was told that the “dead” son was in fact very much alive and was sending for Jacob to come to where he was. He looked up and saw the evidence with his own eyes: a stream of wagons Joseph had sent for him, loaded with provisions for the journey to Egypt, where Joseph was now second ruler over all the kingdom, with enough corn for their starving family to survive the rest of the famine.

O, joyous day when that “evidence” he’d clung to in sorrow was proven to have been a lie! He would never have to wonder again, never have to listen to the false testimony of that coat again! His eyes had seen the proof.

There have been times in a period of prolonged difficulty that I’ve felt joy, I’ve seen my faith rise, and known God was telling me that He would in fact have His way in the end of my difficult situation. He would answer. He would work. I’ve even seen times where there were results, breakthroughs, that seemed as though the end of the long dark period was at hand. But I’ve seen things appear to slip through my fingers, again. A new layer at times added to complicate the situation.

And when I looked down, it appeared what I had left … was still that coat.

You see, the only thing Jacob had for years and years was the coat. Joseph was out there somewhere. But Jacob had no idea; he only had Joseph’s bloody coat. What could Jacob have done? We only read about his decision to grieve until he died, refusing all comfort. The sons who had so cleverly ridded themselves of a troublesome brother had also lost their father in the process. He was never the same again, and they were no more in his favor than when Joseph was among them.

Great loss, and great trouble, can bring great burdens. Jacob had those things to deal with. But would he have had a choice in his response? Consider the situation that came upon Job. Could Job have also said, “I will go to my grave grieving for my sons and daughters?” Of course he could have, and all the world would have said that was appropriate. But we are forever inspired by Job’s responses: “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

I know that I serve the God who made Heaven and Earth, who robed Himself in flesh so that He could come and shed His own blood for my sinful soul, the God who found a way to reach fallen man, and fill us with His Spirit, and walk with us daily, to shed His love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Is anything too hard for God?

Does it matter if I’m looking at the wagons or the coat today? Can I be like the widow before the unjust judge who just kept showing up at the place where her help was coming from? Can I be like the Syrophonecian woman who turned the refusal of Jesus to heal her daughter into her miracle, by simply saying “Yes, Lord…”, and that hour received what she was so desperate to have?

I know that my Redeemer liveth. If things are to be fixed, they will be fixed by His power, His hand, His Spirit, His Word, and in His way and His time. His question was, “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the the Earth?”

From Jacob’s story, I can conclude that when all I have is a coat, I can know that my God is still working on my behalf. I don’t know when the wagons are going to come. But I believe there’re dust and rattling wheels in the distance. As Job also said, “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him.” God loves me, and He will not fail, and I can choose to worship and praise Him when I cannot see. The coat does not have to steal my joy.

There may be more days with no good news, days that continue to come for weeks or months or even years after the message we’ve heard preached that inspired us to high hopes.

Yes, there will be days when all we have in our hands is a coat. How do we walk through those days? As though in our hearts, we can see the wagons that are on the way.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

So, what gets you?

You’re strong, successful in your sphere of influence, important to people close to you — perhaps even to some you’ll never meet in person.  That didn’t happen by accident.

To accomplish what you have, you’ve chosen carefully the paths you’ve taken, rejecting what wasn’t compatible.  To maintain what you’ve achieved, you’ve guarded your perimeter:  you’ve set and kept boundaries, the realm of safety that only admits the influences you choose.  You continue to protect yourself and those closest to you — the ones you’re responsible for.

But I submit to you that there’s a flaw in your plan, a weak place in the field of well-thought protections with which you’ve surrounded your family, business, and career.  You may somehow realize that is the case, or you may be oblivious to the fact that anything is wrong.

Nature has a parallel

Removing brush that was previously cut but left in place at the edge of my yard a few days ago, I found most of the bushes light from drying and easy to handle. When one branch unexpectedly tugged back as I tried to pull it out of the surrounding growth, I looked more closely to determine why. My examination showed an attachment that had formed to the bush well before it had been cut. Something the size of a few strands of human hair had wrapped slowly and quietly around that branch while it was in the process of growing to its present size.  A thorny vine, which eventually made my handling of the brush a bit more uncomfortable, had proceeded to make itself at home in an otherwise healthy, strong plant.

I thought how quickly, subtly, and painlessly the direction we have chosen can be affected by something we hardly notice until its effects have forever changed the outcome of our plans, goals, and dreams.

The danger of safety

The great story of Samson (the closest thing I find in the Bible to our modern concept of a super-hero), is that of a man whose incredible strength came from his separation to God. Before Samson was even conceived, an angel of the Lord had directed his parents in how to raise him as dedicated to the service of the Lord – what to do, and what not to do.

Samson was not, in himself, a strong man, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him when it was needful to do so, and by that strength, he took out thousands of enemy warriors in a day, single-handed, with the jawbone of a donkey for a weapon. He once pulled up entire set of city gates and carried them on his shoulders, and he continued to outsmart his enemies, while taunting them with his strength.

But over time, Samson took for granted this power (there is no recorded time when he prayed, built an altar, or worshiped God as his forefathers had done).  A woman he loved, Delilah, was approached by the enemies Samson was to deliver his people from, and offered wealth to sell him out. There is no record that she even argued with the people who asked her to betray him.  The woman he loved repeatedly prevailed on Samson to tell her the source of his strength, and though each time he offered her only some ruse in reply, she immediately acted on whatever he had said would work to quell his power, even inviting the enemy to apprehend him once she rendered him powerless.

Somehow, in the midst of this obvious effort to do him in, Samson managed to hold tight to his sense of security, and as Delilah pressed him over and over with her “if you really loved me, you’d…” ploys, he finally broke and “told her all his heart”.  He gave away the secret of the one thing that God had given him as the source of his strength, knowing it was something that she could easily take away from him.

Did he remember that everything he’d told her so far, she had tried? What did he do after disclosing to her the real truth of how to disable him?  Run?  That would have been a sensible plan, but no, he didn’t.  Did he at least ask her to promise not to use the information against him?  No record of that.  What did he do?  He put his head in her lap and went to sleep.  In the place where he was in the most grave danger he’d ever faced, he behaved as one who felt perfectly safe.  If you’re not familiar with how the story turns out, I encourage you  to read it for yourself, (Judges 13-16), but suffice it to say that, after that night, he was never able to feel safe again.

The chink in your armor?

Your flaw may very well be simply feeling you are safe in your own strength and ability.  You’ve done all you can to help your family be financially stable, functional in society, and happy with one another.  Those things are all good. Who gets the credit?

The Apostle Paul, one of the greatest figures in history, leader of the early church, and author of  at least half of the New Testament, summed up his abilities this way: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).  Was that some notable false humility from a super-spiritual leader? If you read the context of that chapter, he acknowledged the struggles (really failing to get it right sometimes) that he faced with doing the right thing, then asked, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  He answered his own question with, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Paul couldn’t do it, but he knew who could.

In the “Never let ’em see you sweat!” society in which we live, confessing that we are not the ones to bring and to hold our own personal world together seems like the weakness that would get one eaten alive.  But that is just what we must do to have real security: trust in the one who made us, and who came to live among us and to redeem us.

Hey, last week even the government recognized that it isn’t totally in control of things that matter, as evidenced by NASA’s advice  to Congress on the best course of action, should a large asteroid be found hurtling toward Earth: “Pray”!

Calling out to the One who alone can add the extra layer of security we could never attain, is the only true way to have security. Jesus is the only one who is powerful enough to safely hold you and your personal world. He’s also the one who holds all the world (and that includes all the asteroids) in his hand.

What’s your earliest faith memory?

They say a two year-old wouldn’t be able remember much. I remember the barn burning. Not from what I was told, but the vivid picture of where I was sitting on the bed in the bedroom that doubled as a den and looking out the window.  And the flames. I don’t remember much else from being two, but those yellow flames against the black sky have never faded in my mind.

I remember being in a baby bed in the corner of that room near the empty fireplace, and waking up from a nap with the babysitter still asleep. I remember so clearly the image of the baby aspirin on the mantel, just out of reach, and my hands on the mantel tugging, and the bed rolling closer. I remember the last tiny orange treasure slobbered onto the bottom of the bottle, and my frustration at not being able to get it out. I remember throwing up in a bright room, and people talking about getting my ‘stomach pumped’. I think I remember giving up baby aspirin.

I remember, not  many years after,  the powerful feeling that I had to have Jesus and had to have him right then, and not knowing what to do except to cry out and call his name, “Jesus”, and I remember the sweet, tender pain of knowing he was real, if I could just get to him. I remember those people who were still in the sanctuary after service telling me it was going to be alright and they’d send the preacher by the next day to tell me how to me pray to be saved. I remember him telling me a prayer to repeat to know God, and doing what he told me, and trying to believe that was right, but missing the sweet reaching for Jesus I’d felt the night before.

I remember the off-and-on journey of years believing that the one prayer repeated in faith with the preacher (or one of several others when I’d decided I must not have done that first one right), had saved me forever, and no matter what I felt or didn’t feel, nor what I did or didn’t do, nothing could ever change that.

I remember, over twenty years later, the accumulation of a gut-wrenching gnawing in my heart that said my sin was not OK, that there had to be more to being a child of God than what I’d known thus far. I remember the growing desperation to find, at all costs, the way to know him as his word said he could be known. And I remember once again reaching the point of breaking, as with strong, tender crying, I called on the name of Jesus with everything inside me, but this time in an altar where everyone who was hungry prayed that way, and where men preached that repenting of my sins and washing them away in the name of Jesus, and calling on him in fervent prayer was how God could come inside us to give us life through the power of the Holy Ghost.

I remember the sweet, strong power of God when the Holy Ghost came in to shed his love abroad in my heart, and how I spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance, and with that he gave me evidence that he’d come in, and no one could refute it. I remember the joy of understanding that it wasn’t a one-time prayer or a one-time repentance, but something that came fresh every time I sought it. In fact, I remember feeling it again this morning.

What’s your earliest faith memory?

Jesus said,”All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
John 6:37 KJV

I’d love to hear your comments.