The Apostle John records (John 19:30):
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished’, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Prior to the intrusion of sin into the world, God had walked in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and gave them a way to respond to His love through worship. For He gave Adam and Eve dominion over all the earth and allowed them to eat of the fruit of the tree of life in the midst of the garden, but instructed them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Through their respect for, and obedience to, God’s Word and will, they worshipped Him as their Creator and as the source of everything. God looked upon them as righteous because of His mercy. We can even say that they were counted as righteous before God by His grace through faith.
However, Adam and Eve were not content to dwell in God’s presence and to receive all good things from Him; and Satan was not content to let that happen either. So Satan enticed Adam and Eve into thinking that God was hiding something from them; Satan offered them the chance to gain knowledge and “freedom” apart from God. And this is what they got, for by disobeying God’s revealed will and neglecting God’s revealed Word, they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and now knew evil, whereas before they had known only the good that God had revealed to them. They gained for themselves the knowledge of evil and the death that came with it.
And we are all partakers in this sin; even when we are first born we are in bondage to sin, unable to choose the good and forsake the evil. We have to be taught and admonished to do good, but the evil comes easy. As children, as soon as our parents weren’t looking, we went astray and “got away” with something. As adults out on our own, we do things that we would be ashamed of if our parents knew. How often do we forget, though, that our heavenly Father knows what we do? He is always watching.
Have you ever seen a little child try to hide? They’ll cover their faces with their hands, thinking that since they can’t see you, then you can’t see them. We oftentimes do the same with God, but He always sees us. In fact, Adam and Eve tried to do this after they sinned. Yet God knows what we’re made of, what evils we’re capable of, and what evils we have, in fact, done. He knows that we don’t love Him with our whole heart or our neighbors as ourselves. He knows that we fashion other gods for ourselves who don’t confront us with our sins, as God does with His Law – gods in the form of images, money, sports, pleasure, people – gods who allow us to worship ourselves and cater to our desires. He knows that rather than protect and uphold our neighbor, we use him to our advantage – we take his money, his good name, his spouse – whatever makes us feel happy.
And what does our quest to be true to ourselves and make ourselves happy bring us? Momentary happiness? Maybe, but more often than not it brings us strife. We wrestle at night with the knowledge of our sins, our family life is a wreck, and our relationships with other people are a mess. And we still have the hammer of God’s Law hanging over our heads – even if we don’t acknowledge it, we instinctively know God’s judgement is at hand, because He has written His Law on our hearts. This manifests itself in the form of our consciences and our fear of death. We instinctively know that one day we will be called to account.
Yet, God had planned for the taking away of the reproach of our sins from us. He had planned to undo the fall and restore His creation.
Due to the sin of Adam and Eve, God could no longer commune with His people as He once did, since He is holy. But He still loved them and provided for them. He clothed them with the skins of the first sacrifice and then drove them from the garden so that they could not eat of the tree of life and live forever in sin, forever estranged from Him. God also promised to undo the consequence of death that sin brought into the world. To Satan, that old serpent, the one who had lured Adam and Even into sin, God said:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
God promised one who would come from the seed of the woman to defeat sin, death, and the devil. This is the promised Savior, the Christ.
Now, Adam and Eve thought that their first son, Cain, was the promised one; but he was not. Cain became jealous of his younger brother Abel, because when they both brought offerings to the Lord, He accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Cain was haughty and arrogant and became angry, and the Lord told him:
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Well, Cain was unable to rule over sin and was instead overtaken by it; and he killed his brother Abel out of jealousy.
Here you have Adam and Eve, God’s handiwork who walked with Him in the garden, sinning against Him, and their oldest son killing their younger, upright son. Truly a family of sinners. And yet God continued His plan of salvation. He chose Adam and Eve’s next son Seth as the one through whom His promise would continue. But mankind continued to sin, and the line of Seth began to intermarry with the line of Cain; the true church of promise mixed with the false church of rebellion and committed adultery with her false gods of idolatry. Rather than God’s people being a witness for Him on the face of the earth, proclaiming His promise of salvation, they allowed themselves to be co-opted by those who saw no need for God or His forgiveness.
So things continued to disintegrate on the earth until finally, as it says in Genesis, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).
God decided to destroy His creation, but graciously continued to carry along his promise of salvation through Noah. He saved Noah and his family, instructing Noah to build an ark to survive the flood that God would send on the earth. God poured out His wrath and gave mankind what our sins deserved – death – but, He graciously preserved a remnant through whom He would continue His promise of salvation.
Following the flood, Noah and his family left the ark, having just seen both the wrath and mercy of God. But sin was still in the world and mankind soon began to wallow further and further in it. However, God continued to be gracious by continuing his promise of salvation, through Noah’s son Shem, and through his descendants up to Abram.
God promised Abram that He would bless him and make him the father of many nations, renaming him Abraham, a name that reflects that promise.
God promised him, “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” and sealed this promise with a covenant ceremony (Genesis 12:3).
In the ancient Near East, people would “cut a covenant” by slaughtering animals, laying each half of the animals on opposite sides of a path, and then walking together through the path – with the animals on either side – reciting the terms of the covenant. This ceremony “cut” the covenant and made it binding through the blood of the sacrifice. However, when God cut His covenant with Abraham, only God passed through the path of animals. Genesis 15 tells us: “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Genesis 15:17). This was the glory of the Lord passing through and sealing the covenant; it was unconditional, because the vow rested on God’s grace and not on Abraham’s actions or works; God would send the “seed of the woman,” the Savior, through Abraham’s descendants.
And God continued to keep His promise alive through Abraham’s son Isaac and through Isaac’s son Jacob, later named Israel by God, because He had “contended with God,” wrestling with Him. Jacob, like us, wrestled with God, and yet God bestowed His grace upon him nonetheless, because our God is merciful. Through Jacob, through Judah, and up to king David and his descendants, the promise lived on. Despite their many sins and unfaithfulness, God was faithful to His promise.
God carried His promise through the patriarchs of the Old Testament up to the time of Christ, where it finds its fulfillment in Him. The Old Testament prophets foresaw and foretold this. Isaiah saw it in particular clarity as we see in Isaiah chapter 52 and 53. Isaiah foretold the Messiah, the Christ, who would take mankind’s sins upon himself, die for our suns, and yet “he shall see his offspring,” because he will live again. And the offspring of Christ are those whom his bride, the Church, give him – children of faith.
Thus it is that after many thousands of years, the promised salvation of God is fulfilled in Jesus, “the seed of the woman,” the Christ. Born of the virgin Mary and of the Holy Spirit, descended from King David, Abraham, and Adam, Christ is both true God and true man. The one foretold and promised by God so long ago and to so many generations of the Old Testament Church.
Christ did not come as a conquering king or in glory on the clouds. He came as a lowly baby in a manger, God incarnate, born of the virgin Mary. And through his life and death he fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf (Matthew 3:15). He was perfectly obedient to the will of his Father. Then, drinking the full cup of suffering given to him by His Father, he suffered and died on our behalf.
All history led up to this point. The Old Testament prophets pointed to it, and they continued to point to it through thousands of years of human history, until finally in “the fullness of time,” Christ came to “fulfill all righteousness” and to adopt us as God’s children (cf. Galatians 4:4-5). God planned this from the beginning and He saw to it that His plan was accomplished.
The New Testament points to the completion of God’s plan for our salvation, just as the Old Testament points to its coming. The cross of Christ is the focal point of the entire scriptures. The Old Testament prophets told us, “Christ is coming, God is sending one to save you from your sins;” the New Testament Church shouts, “Here he is, Christ has come!”
On the cross on that good Friday afternoon, Jesus accomplished everything needful for our salvation. “It is finished!” But, God doesn’t just leave it at that. He sends us this Good News through His Word and Sacraments to bring us to faith in Christ, and his work on the cross, for our salvation. Jesus’ cry on the cross – “It is finished” – reflects the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation; God cut a covenant with us using the blood of his Son. This is the new testament in his blood, a testament of which we are heirs due to the death of the one testifying; we have been willed eternal salvation due to the death of Christ. And it’s a living will, because Christ rose again on Easter morning.
So, on the last day, when Christ returns for the resurrection of the dead, his words on the cross will ascend to their final, ultimate conclusion, for on that day we will be joined together with all believers of all times and all places and rejoice that “it is finished” as God’s will is completed when He gathers us to Him for eternity in the restored creation.
Lord have mercy upon us. Amen.
(Image: The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, 19th century. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1898293 )