If the death of Jesus means something, then I think the doorway to a better understanding is one word. Spoken by Jesus with His last breath, just before He gave His Spirit to His Father. The mushroom cloud rising out of the kingdom of darkness was ignited by one word. Tetelestai—“It is finished” (John 19:30)—may be the most significant word ever uttered across the stratosphere. The single most important statement in all of human history. Spoken by the innocent and dying only begotten Son of God. Tetelestai is a stake driven into eternity, which stands there still, and the kingdom of darkness is powerless against it.
Let’s jump to the other side of the Cross. Twenty-three years later. To a day and time when people were still alive who had seen it. Eyewitnesses. In A.D. 56, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was a leading commercial city in its day, centered on the city’s chief deity, Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love, where over one thousand prostitutes served in the temple dedicated to her. So extensive was their service that “to Corinthianize” meant to practice prostitution. Given its access to trade and markets, the city was a leading influencer in philosophy and reason, with no shortage of stoic prognosticators. Twenty-three years after Jesus’ death, Paul told the church in Corinth, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 22-24)
Question: How is the Cross of JesusChrist, the merciless death of a Galilean carpenter, both the power and the wisdom of God? In the very next chapter, Paul doubled down, saying, “I decided to know nothing among you except JesusChrist and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) Why did the greatest theologian evangelist, and writer the world has ever known summarize his ministry in two words: “Christ crucified”? Why not Christ feeding the five thousand? Or Christ healing the paralytic? Or is Christ turning the tables over in the temple? Or Christ raising Lazarus?
Why focus on His crucifixion? His death?
Twenty years after Jesus’ death, Paul also wrote a letter to the church in Galatia, a church that we might describe as Spirit-filled, even charismatic, containing eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion. To those people, Paul said, “Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes JesusChrist was publicly portrayed as crucified?” (Galatians 3:1 NASB1995) Translation? “What happened to your focus? You stood there and watched this man bleed and die. You heard the word come out of His mouth. What has happened to you since? Why have you taken your eyes off this man and His cross?”
The Cross is the sole basis for God’s total provision for us. Period. Everything He did, does and will do for us and in us, He does through the Cross and the shed blood of His only Son. There is no path back to Him that does not go through the Cross. Paul told the Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) With and through Jesus, the Father grants us all things—and first on the list is a path back to Himself. Without Jesus, we receive nothing. And no way back.
How Do We Respond to Jesus’ Words?
While “it is finished,” He is not. His work on the Cross was perfect. Complete. Absolute. And because of it and through it, He continues working in and through us. The Cross is the singular basis of Christ’s total defeat of satan and his kingdom. satan had no response then and has none now. There’s nothing he can do about it. his defeat was complete, everlasting, and irrevocable. And while satan can’t change what happened on that Friday, he has been working ever since to hide what happened there. To obscure the work of the Cross. To avert our eyes. This is why Paul told the Galatians they’d been “bewitched.” Even though they were Spirit-filled eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus and even though God was actively doing miracles in their church, they’d taken their eyes off the Cross. Some power of darkness had obscured the work of the Cross, and they were focused on something else.
If Paul were alive today, I think he’d take one look around and say, “See my letter to the Galatians.” We are no different. We are too easily bewitched and routinely take our eyes off the Cross. Off JesusChrist crucified. God, in His mercy, has provided one path back to Himself, and that path is through the Cross. The Father delivered the Son to the Cross, and in return, the Cross became the symbol of our deliverance and the enemy’s defeat. Our job is to “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25 )
A third response is indifference, which is simply a variation on the first.
Let me pose a question. And in asking, I’m not poking you in the chest. I’m hoping to wrap an arm around your shoulder, come alongside, and walk with you. Pilgrims, headed in the same direction: What will you do with this man, Jesus? Shove a sponge in His mouth, or bow?
Adapted from It Is Finished: A 40-Day Pilgrimage Back to the Cross by Charles Martin. Click here to learn more about this book.
Across forty days of vivid storytelling, It Is Finished offers you a unique and vital roadmap to trace the power and necessity of the cross throughout the Bible, from the book of Genesis to your present-day reality.
Through forty slices of the story of Calvary, master storyteller, and vivid Bible teacher Charles Martin, will walk you back to the cross to look up at it from a different angle each day and ask the Father to reveal to you:
- What exactly did he mean when the dying Jesus said, “It is finished”—what was finished at the cross?
- When did what Jesus finished at the cross even begin?
- What does this man’s death 2,000 years ago have to do with me today?
- What is God offering at the cross that I so easily forget and take for granted?
- What do I not realize about myself that the Father God has never forgotten?
Whether it is your first, tenth, or ten thousandth time looking up at the cross of Christ, you can trust New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin, to wrap an arm around your shoulder, come alongside, and walk with you as a fellow pilgrim headed in the same direction and answering the same question: “What will I do with this man, Jesus?”
Before we can celebrate the resurrection, we need to backtrack to where Jesus has been, how He got there, and what His presence there accomplished. And while Satan can’t change what happened on that Friday, he has been working ever since to hide what happened there. To obscure the work of the Cross. To avert our eyes. But on this 40-day pilgrimage, your eyes will open wide and your heart will race as you discover the answer to the question that can change your life, Lord, why me? Why would you endure the cross and despise the shame, for me?
Charles Martin is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author. He and his wife, Christy, live in Jacksonville, Florida. Learn more at charlesmartinbooks.com; Instagram: @storiedcareer; Twitter: @storiedcareer; Facebook: @Author.Charles.Martin.