Final Words: “It is Finished”

Final Words: “It is Finished” March 29, 2024

Today, I will be continuing my Holy Week series on Jesus’ Final Words. Today, we will study The Victorious Life marked by Jesus’s final words, “It is finished.” Jesus won us our victory.

If you have missed the previous entries in this series, click the links below:

“The Forgiving Life.”

“The Merciful Life.”

“The Gentle Life.”

“The Humble Life.”

“The Enduring Life.”

Now, on to today’s post.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

It was February 22, 1980. The site was Lake Placid, New York, home of the 1980 Winter Olympic games. Cold War rivals, the United States of America and the Soviet Union were about to play some hockey.

To most, this game was mere formality. The Soviet Union hadn’t lost a game in the Olympics since 1968 and had won four consecutive gold medals and five of the last six. In their previous 29 Olympic hockey games, the Soviets were 27-1-1 and had outscored their opponents 175-44. While all competitors in the Olympics were supposed to be amateurs, the USSR got around this by employing their hockey players in industrial or military jobs and telling them their only work was to play hockey. They were professional in all but name, and they were the best hockey team on earth.

In contrast to this, the American squad had been assembled the previous summer and comprised college hockey players, mostly from Boston University or the University of Minnesota, where the national team’s coach, Herb Brooks, was head coach. The Americans had the youngest team in the Olympics that year with an average age of 21. And they had lost an exhibition against the Soviets just days prior to the Olympics by a score of 10-3.

The Americans were a surprise entry into the medal round, having gone undefeated in group play. The Soviets had not lost in group play, outscoring its five opponents 51-11. On this day in late February, the Americans and the Soviets would face-off in the semifinals, the winner earning a chance to win the Gold medal.

Surprisingly, after one period of play, the Americans and the Soviets were tied at 2. In a shocking move, the Soviet coach replaced his starting goalie, who was widely considered the best netminder in the world. The Americans couldn’t do much offensively in the second period and entered the final period down 3-2.

But then with 14 minutes left in the game they tied the score on a power play goal by Mark Johnson and then 4 minutes later, team captain Mike Eruzione scored to give the US a 4-3 lead with exactly ten minutes remaining. The Americans would say that the remainder of the game was the longest ten minutes of their lives. The Soviets unleashed an unrelenting attack, desperate to tie the game, but US netminder Jim Craig turned them aside every time.

By the time there was a minute remaining, the crowd in Lake Placid was in an absolute frenzy. Then, a young broadcaster named Al Michaels, who only got the job because he was the only person employed by ABC at the time who had ever called a hockey game, permanently entered the lexicon of sport. Here is his call of the final seconds of the game:

“11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

These were the perfect words to capture the American victory. Nobody expected the Americans to win. Nobody expected this rag tag crew of college students to go up against the best hockey team in the world and beat them. All their hard work, their training, their practice paid off by accomplishing the goal they set before the Olympics: to beat the Soviets. It was truly a sports miracle, and Al Michaels’ words were the perfect encapsulation of their accomplishment and of that moment. They became the words forever associated with a momentous American victory.

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

It is Finished

In a similar fashion, Jesus uttered words on the cross that serve as the words of his final victory. Knowing that he had endured all the he must endure, Jesus’ penultimate words on the cross were not a shout of defeat but a cry of victory. He had done what he had come to do. And now he could claim victory by shouting, “It is finished.”

“Do you believe in miracles?” was a victory cry for a shocking win by the US hockey team. “It is finished “was a victory cry for a shocking win by Jesus, shocking not so much in that he won but in how he won. When all looked lost, when it looked like sin and evil and death would continue to reign, Jesus snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Because of Jesus’ victory on the cross, we, who participate in his victory through faith in him, can now live the Victorious Life. Knowing that we have already won is a game-changer in our lives and can shape the way we live as we follow the victorious Jesus.

Jesus has Fulfilled His Purpose

We are back in John’s Gospel today, looking at the last words he recorded Jesus saying. Jesus has just been given some sour wine to drink and now John tell us that Jesus said, “It is finished.” In Greek this is one word: tetelestai. This word comes from the root word telos, which means “reaching the end.” But end here is not referring to an end in time or space. It does not mean “at the end of the day” or the “end of the street.” Rather, it is referring to an aim or a goal; it is referring to purpose. Telos means that something has fulfilled or completed its purpose, it has reached its aim, it has achieved its goal. The telos of the 1980 American Olympic hockey team was to finally beat the Soviets and win the gold medal. The telos for most sports teams is to win the championship. The telos for most high school students is to graduate and go to college. When Jesus spoke the words, “it is finished” he means that his goal has been met, his purpose has been fulfilled, and his aim has been accomplished.

So, then, what was Jesus’ telos? What was the mission Jesus accomplished? What was the goal Jesus met? What work did Jesus satisfactorily complete? Over what or whom did Jesus achieve victory?

Just as U.S. hockey had a long-time rivalry with a seemingly unbeatable opponent in the Soviet Union, the human race faced a seemingly unbeatable rival. We were pitted against the forces of evil and death. We were ensnared and enslaved by sin and subject to its ultimate weapon, death itself. Against this foe we had no chance of victory. We needed a champion to wage this battle for us.

Jesus, Our Champion Against Evil

Enter Jesus. Jesus was our champion and took up the battle against the forces of evil and death. The aim of Jesus’ life, the purpose of his coming to this world, his telos, was to achieve victory over evil and death. His purpose was to overthrow them as the rulers of this world and set people free from sin and its deadly consequences.

We see this purpose throughout his life. Whenever we see Jesus exorcise demons from a person, he is pushing back against evil. He is scoring points against the powers of sin and death. When he makes the blind see and the lame walk, when he cures the leper and raises the dead, Jesus is driving back the darkness and telling it that they are no longer unopposed. There is someone here who can actually play at their level, and he is not going to let them win anymore. Their time is up.

In the Miracle on Ice game, the Soviets were stunned that they were tied with the Americans at the end of the first period. They had not expected much resistance. They had just beaten this team 10-3 a few weeks ago. What was going on?

They panicked. Their coach, unaccustomed to close games, panicked and pulled his goalie and put in his backup. As Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, the Americans punched the Soviets in the mouth and for the rest of the game they were unsure of themselves. At the end of the game, when the Soviets were desperately trying to tie the game, they should have pulled their goalie to create a six-on-five skater advantage. But they didn’t. They didn’t know what to do in a close game like this. They panicked and the Americans took advantage of it.

Evil Panics

Likewise, evil did not know what to do with Jesus. No person had ever stood up to it like he had. He was incorruptible and could not be made to sin. He could undo the curse and heal the broken places in this world. Jesus punched evil in the mouth and evil no longer had a plan. Evil panicked, and Jesus laid a trap for it. And evil fell for it.

The forces of evil conspired with the Pharisees and the Romans and the priesthood and even one of Jesus’ disciples to create a situation where Jesus would be crucified. The Pharisees were so blinded by their own plan for Israel’s purification that they could not see Jesus for who he was and were threatened by his popularity. The Romans were just hellbent on keeping the peace no matter the cost. The priesthood’s power lay in the Temple, and Jesus had threatened their power by threatening the Temple. They had to do something. Evil preyed on their fears and their prejudices and used them to get Jesus on the cross. Jesus can’t hurt them if he’s dead, right?

Not only does evil conspire with human agents to crucify Christ, it throws everything it’s got at him. It is an unrelenting assault. It keeps coming and keeps coming after Jesus, but he can take more. Finally all of evil, every sin, all of death’s power has attacked Jesus. And at this moment, when Jesus has absorbed everything sin and evil and death could throw at him, he cries out “It is finished.”

This is Victory?

Now, this doesn’t look like a victory. Far from it. You can’t look at a guy, beaten and bloodied, nailed to a cross and say, “That guy’s a winner.” Jesus’ death looks an awful lot like defeat. But that’s exactly what Jesus wanted his enemies to think.

After the Miracle on Ice game, when the Soviet players discussed it, they referenced the fact that beating the Americans 10-3 a few weeks prior had been a curse in disguise. It made them overconfident against the Americans when they played again in the semifinals, and the US took advantage of their overconfidence.

Satan must have felt pretty good about himself as Jesus died on the cross. He must have felt like his victory was secured. But the game wasn’t over yet. Jesus was taking this game into overtime.

When Jesus died, he brought all the power of evil and sin with him, and remember, evil had thrown ALL of its power at Jesus. Jesus had completely exhausted evil. And so when Jesus died, all of evil’s power died with him. It had nothing else to throw at him. It had no more cards to play.

Jesus Plays His Trump Card

But Jesus still had one card to play and it was the Ace of Spades. Jesus knew that it would take all of sin’s power to defeat him and that it would all die with him. But he also knew that while death would be the end of sin’s power to ensnare and enslave, it would not be the end for him. He knew his death, while real, was only temporary, that he would be raised from the dead. And so, knowing what was to come, Jesus absorbed all of death and took it to the grave with him.

We can see from what happens next that despite all the agony Jesus is in, despite having absorbed all of evil’s power, he is still very much in control. John tells us that Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

It doesn’t simply say, Jesus died. Jesus is still the subject and death only comes for him when he allows it to. Jesus gives up his life, knowing that he has accomplished his mission, knowing that he has defeated sin and evil and death. Then, and only then, does Jesus let death take him. Jesus is still very much in control of his situation. Despite all appearances, Jesus is the conquering hero.

And so we can take the words, “it is finished” as a victory cry. It belongs right up there with “do you believe in miracles? Yes!” If the American victory was a shock in that it happened, Jesus’ victory is a shock in the way it happened. Imagine Satan’s surprise when he realized that not even death could beat Jesus, that, in fact, death was the means by which Jesus defeated Satan. Jesus did not win in spite of the cross, he won because of the cross. He didn’t win despite dying, he won by dying. Jesus died, and took death with him, defeating sin and releasing us from captivity to sin’s power. Jesus was victorious. And because of his victory over sin, we can now live the Victorious Life.

The Victorious Life

What does it mean for us as Christians to live in victory?

One of the 20 players on Team USA for the Miracle on Ice was Jack O’Callahan. Huh. Wonder if he’s Irish? Anyway, O’Callahan pulled a ligament in one of his knees in the exhibition match against the Soviet Union before the Olympics. Despite this, Coach Herb Brooks kept him on the roster. O’Callahan did not play at all in the group stage and only played sparingly in the medal rounds. He barely played. Yet, he got the same gold medal as Jim Craig, the goalie and arguably the MVP for the Americans. He got the same gold medal as the captain, Mike Eruzione. Why? Because he was on the team. He contributed essentially nothing to the victory of the team, but because he was still on it, he got to enjoy in the spoils of victory just as much as everyone else.

We must remember that we as Christians only have victory because of Jesus. He did all the work. When we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we join his team and we get to participate in the victory that Jesus has already won. We do not do anything to contribute to the victory; Jesus has done it all for us. But because we are united with him by faith, we participate in that victory just the same. We can claim the forgiveness from sin that Jesus secured, we can claim the life everlasting that Jesus earned, and we can claim the freedom from sin and evil that Jesus gained for us.

Learning to Live Like a Victor

Much of the Christian life is learning to live like a victor. You might be saying to yourself right now, am I really a winner? I don’t feel like it. I still struggle with sin. I still struggle with addictions and bad habits. I still don’t always control my emotions or speak kindly to people or think pure thoughts. In the battle against sin and temptation, I still feel like I’m losing. What gives?

Well, like I said, much of the Christian life is learning to act like a winner. Just because Jesus has defeated sin’s power does not mean we are completely free from its impact. We may not be slaves to sin anymore, but we are still tempted to choose it. We still live in a broken, fallen world that still sees evil score its share of points. We have to learn to not live as slaves to sin anymore. We have to learn to choose what is right and what is good. We are set free from sin’s consequences, and we are set free from sin’s power over us. We have to learn to live into this new reality, a reality in which we can choose Jesus over temptation to sin. We are winners, now we just need to learn to live like one.

My favorite band is U2 and my favorite of their songs is “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” It’s not exactly peppy; after all it is about Ireland’s bloody Sunday. It is indeed a song of lament at the cruel condition of this world. But the last line is one full of hope, even in the midst of darkness: “Now the battle’s just begun/ to claim the victory Jesus won.” That’s the life of a Christian: to claim Jesus’ victory, to participate in that victory by learning to let the Holy Spirit empower us to overcome temptation and participating in the healing of this broken world.

Knowing the Final Score

We can do this because we know the outcome of this contest called life. We know Jesus wins. We know we will one day be completely free of the effects of sin. We will be completely restored to our original, created beings. We know what the final score is. And we can live confidently in the fact that Jesus wins and we are on his team.

The Miracle on Ice game happened 3.5 years before I was born. I obviously did not watch it live. I knew the result before I saw a replay of the game. I can only imagine the absolute frenzy of that last ten minutes while the US tried to protect its lead. I can only imagine the way everyone’s chest must have been pounding as they worried whether the US would hold on to win. This had to have been sit-on-the-edge-of-your-eat-I-can’t-watch intense.

Yet when I watched it, I experienced none of that intensity. I knew who won. I didn’t have to worry about whether the Americans would hold on. I already knew they did; the game happened over three years before I was born. We don’t have to worry about the outcome of life. We know who wins. And we know we are on his side.

Play Like a Champion Today

Because of Jesus’ Victory, we can play like champions every day.

As some of you know, I am a lifelong Notre Dame football fan. One of the great traditions associated with Fighting Irish football happens between the players’ locker room and the field. As they come down the stairs to enter the field of play, there is a sign that every player taps. It says, “Play like a champion today.” We can tap that sign and play like a champion every day because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus took on and defeated death by dying on the cross. Jesus robbed sin and evil of its power over us and set us free from their grip. We are victors because Jesus has won the victory. And now, set free from sin, given the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to live the Victorious Life. We are free to reject temptation, we are given power over it. We are free from worry about our eternal destinies because we are on Team Jesus. We know who wins. We are winners. Let’s live like it. Play like a champion today, and every day.

Browse Our Archives