If you attend worship on Good Friday, you’ll no doubt hear Jesus’ dying words in John’s Gospel: “It is finished.” So much was finished there on the cross. It was the end of Jesus’ career, the end of His ministry, the end of His breathing, the end of His life, the end of Jesus Himself. It was an ignominious and tortured death, but we might have expected it, knowing how things began. John says the Lord came to His own, but they didn’t recognize Him.
It’s not an entrance I would either want or expect from God as He comes to walk this rocky soil. Believe me, I could design something much more worthy of a savior or king: Angels would do an air ballet in perfect formation on the wings of a jet. A hundred harpists would pluck and strum. As great saviors and kings are wont to do, Jesus would lay out His strategy for fixing what’s broken, saying, “Here’s my plan, kiddos: Be good. Remember everything you learned in kindergarten. Don’t hurt anybody. Stick it out when you’re hurt. Put up with disasters. Obey the Ten Commandments. Or else.” Now that’s an entrance and a plan good enough for God-With-Us, one that should endure to the end of His mission.
But for some strange reason, God didn’t ask my advice. He goes His own way and inserts Himself in the world in an everyday, ordinary, mundane way. And in His big finish, He fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s words about the uncomely suffering servant. He shuns all pomp and glory, beauty and success. He doesn’t ascend to heaven in a chariot of fire but is lifted up on a cross. He dies, beaten bloody and hanging between two thieves. He dies, as each of us must do, alone. He dies as many do, in agony. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Certainly, God knows how much His creation needs His power to save. God must look at us and see the contentiousness and pride, the laziness and greed, the hunger for power and control, the pain and suffering all around. Hasn’t God heard the cry of the psalmist whose words Jesus echoes? We want to say to God, “Point a finger, Lord, and speak a word, and make it right. Make it well and good. Erase the sufferings of all who journey here.” Surely the almighty God would find it quick work to use His power to fix it all up. Yet such power is not God’s way, for God chooses the path He laid out to Isaiah. God chooses the way of the cross.
It’s impossible to solve the problem of sin and suffering with power. Power may make a contentious child behave, but it won’t make her love you. Power won’t bring your addicted loved one to reject the chemical or turn from the path of destruction left in the wake of substance abuse. Power can keep a ventilator humming in the ICU, but it can’t keep a brain clicking that has been sheared by a drunk driver — much less raise the dead.
It’s impossible to solve the problem of sin and suffering with power.
Power can’t do anything at all when it comes up against sin and its destructive power. What sort of power will make you ever truly repent? What power is there that can force you to forgive fully? What power can make you welcome those who stand outside the circle of your love and respect?
In the give and take inherent in relationships, in the ordinary commerce of daily life, when power is used, something has to give. The object of power must lose something. Power either kills or breaks the object it’s used on: the other person’s reputation, the other person’s pride, his freedom, her sinews and skin, breath and bones.
God answers the call of the broken and suffering in this way: God becomes a human being in ancient Judea. He stands in a river, goes under the water, and is baptized with sinners. He walks the earth with us, pointing to signs of another kind of kingdom. He cries from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And with His last breath, He says, “It is finished.”
God will not save you with sheer power and might or kingly glory, much less with religious fanaticism and ruthless judgment. He comes after you by humbling Himself to death, even death on a cross. The only answer God can give, the only path God can take is the one that leads to Jesus’ death on the cross. This is a wholly different kind of power. It stems from love, a might born of weakness, a saving event that arises by diving into the murk and mire – including your own sin and death.
Do you stand with the psalmist and cry out, “O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer, and by night but I find no rest”? If so, the only option is to turn to Golgotha, the center of everything on Good Friday. We can only look to the one whose exit actually matches His hubris-free entrance: Jesus, who knows the agony of crucifixion, who is scorned, bruised for your iniquity, wounded for your transgression, despised by the people who wag their heads and tsk-tsk their tongues, saying “He committed his cause to the Lord: let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:8, RSV). Illness and affliction are well known to a God whose very hands, feet and side are pierced.
We are sojourners, every day traveling alone from life through death. It’s a lonely path, and our Lord has both walked it and been killed on it, crying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And when He says, “It is finished,” He doesn’t just mean His life and ministry. He means you, your sin, your brokenness, and ultimately your death. They’re all finished. Kaput. Over and done. With this end comes your beginning and new life. The curtain in the Temple has been torn in two, and God’s love and forgiveness are loosed on you.
And when He says, “It is finished,” He doesn’t just mean His life and ministry. He means you, your sin, your brokenness, and ultimately your death.
God has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and He has not hidden His face from them, but has heard, when they cried out to Him. So that your striving, struggling and self-continuity are not the end of your story, God has taken into Himself all the power, all the sin and brokenness the world can offer up and becomes Himself one of the despised and abhorred, the afflicted and the dead.
He-Who-Knew-No-Sin became sin itself in the eyes of the world. In this powerful weakness, all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. With a look at His torn flesh and bloodied brow, all the proud of the earth will bow down. And at His parched and withered cry of forsakenness, all the families of the nations shall worship before Him and cry, “It is finished. I am finished. Let His life begin in me.”