Cross Words: A Staircase To Heaven
Nothing—not even Calvary—could conquer Jesus Christ!
They nailed a thief beside Him in order to sully His reputation. They put a centurion below Him in order to insure His suffering. They ringed Him about with persecutors in order to prolong His pain. They placed a joking motto above His head in order to mock His majesty. But Jesus turned the tables on them. For it was the thief who called Him “Lord.” It was the centurion who said, “This must be the Son of God.” It was the persecutors who accidentally admitted, “He saved others.” And the mocking motto has been transformed into a cry of adoration “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Yes, who won that day on Calvary was Jesus Christ—and He knew it. Therefore as the waves of death began to wash over Him, He reached down deep inside of Himself and proceeded to deliver up a single word in Greek, three words in English: “Tetelestai—it is finished!” According to all of the Gospel writers that word was uttered “with a loud voice.” It was a cry of triumph. It was an affirmation of victory, “Tetelestai! Mission accomplished! Victory won! It is finished!” Now please don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that this word from the cross was a word of flinching resignation. This was not some dying gasp. This was not simply a surrender to the inevitable. Jesus didn’t say, “I am finished.” No, He said, “It is finished.” The task He had been given was completed. The summit He had been asked to climb had been scaled. The mission for which He was sent had been accomplished. There was nothing left to do. Everything was done. “It is finished!” It was a cry of completion for His work. It was a cry of victory for His spirit. “Tetelestai! It is done! It is finished”
Jesus had finished His work for God with us.
Jesus had come to reveal to us the nature of God. Mind you, He did not come to point us to a revelation of God. He was Himself the revelation. He did not come to deliver a message. He was Himself the message. He did not come to teach us a lesson or to offer us a sermon. He was in and of Himself the lesson. He was the sermon. Paul writes, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In other words, Jesus is the best picture God ever had taken.
Of course, the problem is that we do not always see that. You see, the sinfulness, the gone-wrongness of humanity leads to guilt, and guilt almost invariably seeks to project blame onto others. As a result, we as human beings begin to see God as a cruel and heartless tyrant, as one who is unbending and unforgiving. You remember how sometimes it happens in school. Some student protests vigorously that the teacher is mean, cruel, and unfair. Now it is not the good student who says that—it’s not the student who is disciplined and dedicated, the student who fulfills assignments and responsibilities—no, no. Rather it is the poor student who says that—the undisciplined, undedicated, uncontrolled student. Think about it. The teacher is the same, but those who sin against the teacher are the most severe in their judgments about the teacher. Doesn’t that tell us something? It is because we sin against God that we then seek to excuse ourselves by accusing God of being cruel and unloving. Just as the bad student turns his guns on the teacher, so we, in our sinfulness, turn our guns on God. So what does God do in response? He sends His Son. He says, “In the tenderness of My Son, in the patience of My Son, in the forgiveness of My Son, in the love of My Son—in all of these things of My Son, see Me.” You see, God knows that we are made to love, and we love to be loved. That is only natural for we are made in the image of God, and God is love. So, God in His most perfect revelation of Himself did not come as a philosophy, or an argument, or a proposition. He came as a person. He came as the great beating heart of love in Jesus Christ, and the cross became the supreme expression of that divine love—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
Back in the fourteenth century, a German monk announced to his congregation that, on the following Sunday, he would preach the greatest sermon on love which had ever been preached. Well, the announcement attracted a great deal of attention and when the next Sunday morning came, the church was crowded to overflowing. The monk entered the church but he did not go to the pulpit. Instead, he went to a candelabra and he took a tall, lighted taper down from the candelabra. Then he slowly walked over to a large crucifix carefully, beautifully sculptured on the wall, and he held the taper up so that the light shone on one nailed hand. Then slowly he moved the taper so that the light shone upon another nailed hand. Next, he slowly lowered the light until the flame illuminated the wound in the side, and he held it there a while. Then he moved the light so that the glow would highlight the spiked feet. Then, turning to his congregation, the light now illuminating his face so that the people there could see his gentle tears, he said, “This is the greatest sermon on love which has ever been preached.” How does Paul put it, “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
So Jesus came to do a work for God with us on Calvary. That work was completed. Jesus then cried out with a loud voice, “Tetelestai! It is finished!”
But Jesus also had finished His work for us with God.
Jesus not only brought God to us, Jesus also made it possible for us to go to God. He came to give us access to the Almighty.
During the Civil War, it was still possible for those, who were willing to wait long enough, to meet the President of the United States and to bring business before him. Once a young soldier came to see President Lincoln. The soldier had lost an arm in battle; his father was deceased; his mother was trying to run the farm; and he had a brother in prison. His request was to have his brother released early from prison so that he could help with the work at the farm. He wanted to make his request of the President because he knew that no one else would be able to help him. So he tried to get in to see the President but there was always some secretary, or some sentry, or some senator before him. One day, after repeated tries and failures, he was sitting down on the lawn at the White House in deep despair. The President’s son, Tad, happened to walk by and noticed that the soldier was weeping. With that curiosity which is so natural to children, Tad Lincoln went over and asked the young soldier what was the matter. The soldier proceeded to pour out his story. Whereupon the little boy reached out, took him by the hand, led him up the steps past the secretaries, past the sentries, past the senators, right through the door and right into the presence of the President. What nobody else could do, the son could do. Just so, Jesus Christ takes us by the hand, and leads us, forgiven and cleansed, into the presence of God. Yes, what nobody else could do, the Son can do.
If you go to Santa Fe, New Mexico at the corner of Water Street and the old Santa Fe Trail, there is a little chapel there. The Sisters of Loretta came to Santa Fe in 1852, and twenty years later they built that chapel. In the building of it, however, a mistake was made. There was not room in the building to put a staircase from the ground floor of the sanctuary up to the choir loft. They called in people to ask them to try to do it, but no one could figure how to put a staircase in the small space available. The only answer they had was to tear the whole structure down and start all over again. Then one day an old man leading a donkey came to the convent of the Sisters of Loretta and said that he had heard of the problem and he wanted permission to try to solve it. Permission was granted. With his crude tools, which he carried in his own toolbox on the back of that donkey, he worked solidly for eight months. Then one morning he was gone. He left no name, no bill, no forwarding address. When they went into the chapel, they found there a perfect staircase of thirty-three steps in a double spiral—two 360-degree revolutions. There was no banister; no central support; no nails; only wooden pegs to hold it together. It was highly polished and beautiful to look upon. It was amazing then; it is just as amazing now. Architectural experts and engineers from all over the world have studied it and none of them can understand why it does not fall. Yet, it has been used now everyday for more than a hundred years and has never shaken. One other mystery: the wood from which that staircase is made—and remember that it was constructed on the spot—the wood has never been identified as growing anywhere in or around New Mexico. Who built the staircase and how it was done, to this day, no one knows.
However, you and I do know of a Carpenter who revealed God’s grace to us, who showed God’s love to us in such a way that with His own body and blood, He built a staircase to Heaven for us. And when it was completed, He crowned His efforts with a great triumphant cry, “Tetelestai! It is finished!”
That’s the Gospel. That’s the old, old story I love to tell. It’s the story of Jesus and His love. Of course, you expect me to tell it. That’s what you pay me to do, isn’t it—to stand up here and tell that old, old story? That, at one and the same time, is my greatest challenge and my greatest frustration. For how can I tell the story so that it will be heard by those who have never really heard it before and so that it will be heard by those who have heard it so many times before that they no longer really hear it at all? You see, I’m trying to reach right into your heart now. I’m trying to get you to hear the greatest news the world has ever heard. I’m trying to force you to do something more than just sit there and say, “Look at the passion he brings to the pulpit.” I’m trying to persuade you to make the most significant decision you will ever make in life. I’m trying for all I am worth to tell you that Jesus Christ is the way God chose to come to us, and Jesus Christ is the way we come to God. Jesus Christ is the only way. Yield to Him. Offer yourself to Him. Surrender your life to Him. Accept the new life He offers to you. Accept the life-changing love He has for you. For the work which no one else could do, the work which no group of us could ever do, the work which not all of us together could ever do, Jesus Christ has done. The victory is assured!
It is finished!”
Amen and Amen