John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
These are Jesus’ final words in John’s gospel. He is ready to die as the final sacrifice, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
The first sacrifice happened in the Garden of Eden. The Lord, the Creator God, had given Adam and Eve clear instructions about how to honour Him. “Eat of all the fruit in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16) Adam and Eve chose death. They chose to live their own way. They chose sin. They chose to reject God.
The logical consequence of rejecting the Creator God, the life giver and sustainer, is death. If God is life than everything that opposes Him brings death. But, in His kindness, God spared Adam and Eve from the death they deserved and an innocent animal died in their place. God clothed them in the skin of the sacrificed animal, hiding their shame, clothing them with His love.
Stained by sin through our ancestral ties, we have all followed Adam and Eve’s pattern of rejecting God. We have all chosen sin. We have all rejected the life giver and sustainer, and so we have all chosen death.
We cannot come before the holy and righteous God, stained by sin. But God wanted us to be able to come to Him, so He continued the provision of animal sacrifice for sin. An animal cannot choose to sin against God, it cannot choose sin. It is innocent. But it’s sacrifice was imperfect, only temporary – it could only cover previous sins. So animals were slaughtered again and again and again, imperfectly make atonement for sin, so God’s people could approach Him. Whether a family was approaching the Temple for redemption of the firstborn Son, or a person was coming to the Temple to make a vow before God, they needed to perform sacrifices in order to be cleansed of any sins they had committed since the last time an animal had been sacrificed to atone their sin.
Just imagine the process. Before praying to God, an animal must be sacrificed. After childbirth, an animal must be sacrificed. To celebrate a religious festival in the temple, an animal must be sacrificed. Imagine the blood. Imagine the stench. Imagine the fatigue of the priests in the temple, who on days like Passover would sacrifice over 18,000 lambs in the space of just 2 hours.
From the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus is earmarked as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus, who is both God and man, chose not to sin. He overcame temptation. In his short life on earth, he always perfectly loved God and his neighbour. And so he was the perfect sacrifice – both God and man, innocent and righteous. The final sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
You see, when Jesus said, “it is finished,” he still had more work to do here on earth. You know the story – this isn’t a spoiler – Jesus came back to life after death. In a couple of days he’d be walking out of the grave, in his resurrected, glorified body. For 40 days, He would walk on earth. He would still teach his disciples, and reconcile those who had denied and doubted him. He would reveal his resurrection to 500 others. He would commission his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” before ascending to heaven. His work on earth still wasn’t finished.
But the sacrifices – the sacrifices were finished. Hebrews 10 tells us that day after day, the Jewish priests performed their religious duties, again and again and again, offering the same sacrifices, which could only atone for past sins – not take them away. But when Jesus offered himself as the once and for all sacrifice for sin, he sat down. (Heb 10:11-12) His work was done. The sacrificial system was finished. He finished it for us.
The implications are obvious. If we trust in Jesus, all our past, present and future sins are not just atoned for, but they are removed from us, as far as the east is from the west. Through Jesus we have access to God, we can speak to God at any time, without having our hands bloodied or soiled. Through Jesus, the separation between us and God is now healed. Through Jesus, our shame is taken away and we are clothed in his righteousness. Through Jesus, we can know God. We can speak to God. We can listen to God. We have access to God. We can come, just as we are.
This article is available as a podcast on More Than a Cake Stall.