By Ross Engel –
When my family and I moved here about six years ago, the main road that we took to get to our neighborhood was a small two-lane road that wove through miles of trees and swampland. Even the turn into our subdivision had nearly half of a mile of trees before you got to the first houses.
All of that has changed.
It wasn’t long after we unpacked boxes and had gotten used to the way things were around here that we suddenly found ourselves living on the edge of a construction zone. The trees have been knocked down, the little two-lane road was taken away, and in its place there now stands two lanes of northbound and two lanes of southbound frontage road, complete with bridges and overpasses. My six-mile roundtrip commute from home to church has turned into a grueling eight miles!
All this work is being done in preparation for a new toll road. This new toll road will split the northbound and southbound frontage roads, meaning that sometime in the foreseeable future, people will be spending money to get from point A to point B a bit faster. I’m told it will be a great time saver and will help lessen the congestion on the surrounding roads. I’m just thankful that our house is still about a mile into the subdivision, and the fabulous forest preserve in our backyard will continue to remain untouched.
Truth be told, I am more than ready for the construction to be finished. My two daughters often ask me, “When will the new road ever be done?” To which I can only reply, “They get closer to being finished every day.” As fun as it is to watch the daily changes and all the heavy machinery in action, I look forward to being able to tell the girls, “It is finally finished!” Because once it is finished, there is nothing left to be done.
When Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross, the Gospel of John records Jesus’ last words: “It is finished.” Three words in English and one word in Greek: Tetelestai – “It is finished!” A word often used when dealing with transactions or payment, Tetelestai carries with it the completeness of a debt being paid in full. There is nothing left to be done to satisfy the debt. It has been wiped away. Everything is complete. Finished! Game over! There is nothing at all left to be done.
When it comes to faith and our salvation, it can be quite easy to fall into a construction-zone mindset. Even though everything is already finished, people somehow get the foolish notion stuck in their heads that Jesus and their faith in Him is ultimately about helping them make some sort of moral or spiritual progress. As though Jesus died so that you could do ten simple things to become a better spouse, or that Jesus rose from the dead so that you could figure out the secret to building a bigger church or have a greater influence on others.
And just like a toll road, it is easy to think that with a little effort on our part or maybe sacrificing a bit of our time, talent, or treasure, we can fast track our way to a righteous standing before God. Throw a few coins or some hours of our time helping our neighbor and maybe then we can show how worthy we are and be on the fast track to God’s favor. It is so easy to consider salvation as if it were a wage that we must strive to earn rather than acknowledge the truth: it is a gift from God.
So often, the temptation arises for people either to see Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as a sort of blueprint to some sort of self-improvement or personal motivator to prove to God that they deserved to be forgiven by Him. To them, Jesus’ sacrifice, and even His own words, “It is finished,” really need just a little something more. People have to do their part too (so they think)! And they’ll say things like, “Yes, of course Jesus died for your sins, but have you made Him Lord and King of your life yet?” Or, as I once heard preached, “What you do in Sunday worship means nothing unless you take that message out to your community.”
As people prone to chase after some sort of measurable improvement, we can be quick to forget that Jesus’ work on the cross fulfilled the debt that our sins owed. And since the price has been paid in full, there is nothing we can add to what He has already accomplished for us. The forgiveness, life, and salvation that He has purchased and won for us on the cross is delivered to us through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the proclaimed Word. It is delivered freely. It is received by faith—a faith that is a gift from God! And so there is nothing left for us to do. We receive this priceless gift and rejoice in what Christ has accomplished for us and our salvation.
It is with much joy that we confess that Jesus accomplished salvation for us. It truly is finished! In a world filled with messages of “try harder,” “do more,” “be better,” and “prove yourself to others,” it is so very comforting to boldly confess that, when it comes to forgiveness, life, and salvation, it is finished. It remains finished forevermore. So put away the orange construction barrels. The work is over.