The cross stands high on churches and reminds us of Jesus' last words, "It is finished."

Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” are a three-word sermon that invites us into a life of peace, community, and connection. It is a call to lay down our arms and to find last peace.

It is Finished? Really?

In 1958 Momofuku Ando revolutionized instant ramen. The iconic bullet train showcased Japan’s advanced transportation infrastructure in 1964. Japan launched its first satellite into space, in 1970.

In 1974, a young Japanese officer named Hiroo Onoda and his men were on Lubang Island in the Philippines still fighting a battle started in World War 2. In 1945 they received the order, “Defend the island and never surrender.”

Onoda and his men continued their guerilla warfare for three decades. They dismissed leaflets dropped by airplanes as Allied propaganda. They dismissed news from Filipino locals as well. Onoda continued fighting and killed or injured hundreds of locals after the war was over. 

He and his soldiers were unpersuadable. Authorities knew the soldiers would not quit unless a commanding officer relieved them of duty. In 1974 his former commanding officer traveled to the remote island to find him. The commanding officer dressed in civilian clothes, found Onoda and convinced him to lay down his arms 29 years after the war had ended.

Twenty-nine years at war. Twenty-nine years that could have been peace. Imagine thinking that every day is war. Hurt or be hurt. Us versus them. There is no such thing as good news. Resources are scarce and you take. Strangers will never become friends. No place feels like home.

You can see the importance of someone telling them the war is over.

The gospels testify Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished.”

The greatest preacher the world ever knew took one last breath to preach a three-word sermon to a world at war. It is finished.

Why is Life So Difficult?

A good preacher knows these three things: Scripture, the world, and people.

Jesus knew the one question plaguing the Bible’s first 10 chapters. You’ve probably asked this question: why is life so difficult?

The Scripture starts with a profound story of God creating from chaos order, beauty, and connection. Humans had a place of no suffering – paradise. No natural disasters. No illnesses, sudden deaths, or short lives. Resources were plentiful. They enjoyed a sense of connectedness with themselves, creation, and their Creator. 

They made a series of bad decisions, and it all fell apart. I’m sure, like us, after the mistake they realized they took a lot for granted and blew apart a blessing. You can’t un-shoot a bullet. They are escorted out of paradise and are told, “You can’t live here anymore, and you can never come back.” 

The writer of Genesis explains that is why life is so difficult. We experience distress, estrangement, disconnection, and we wonder how we are going to live in a dangerous world that feels like war.

The Many Answers to the One Big Question

Jesus knew Scripture and he knew the world and the people.

As Jesus walked the countryside and city streets, he knew he wasn’t engaging with just a person. He was engaging with an answer.

Each person was answering the question – how do I manage the difficulty of life? 

Domination

Some people answered it the same way people do now – with domination. I will remove all threats even if that means dominating or eliminating other people, other countries, or other ideas.

People do that and countries do that as well.

Jesus' last words "It is finished" offers us a different way to live other than domination, which is what we see on this chessboard, with all pieces toppled except for the one remaining Queen.
Domination always creates winners and losers.

Rome did that as it occupied Jesus’ homeland. Rome called it “peace” (Pax Romana), but it was war for everyone else. The Roman domination was good for some and horrible for others.

Over 90% of the people in the Gospels live in subsistence because Rome extracted wealth from the people through heavy taxation. The people were always on the verge of starvation. 

Meanwhile, the Roman dominators benefited. Legendary banquets filled their schedules. Guests wore jewelry made of gold, silver, pearls, and gemstones. They enjoyed exotic foods, expensive wines, and spices imported from thousands of miles away due to Rome’s massive slave ownership network. Domination says you are here for me. My needs are more important than yours.

Jesus lived under that oppression and said at one point that he didn’t even have a stone to use as a pillow for his head. He was acquainted with oppression and saw its many forms: intimidation, extreme jealousy, and constant criticism. Domination limits the freedom of the oppressed while expanding the freedom of the dominator.

People see domination as a tool for peace, but once you use domination to get control, you must use it to stay in control. Over time, domination not only harms the victim but also harms and distorts the soul of the dominator.

Jesus asked dominators, “What exactly would you gain if you gained the whole world, but forfeited your soul in the process?” Point blank Jesus said, you can get everything you ever wanted, and lose every single bit of who you are. 

Why do we dominate? We dominate and control others because we feel like life is dangerous and out of control. Yet, Jesus’ teachings show us that we can become the monster we are trying to defeat. By taming chaos, we can create chaos. By fearing being hurt, we can be the one who hurts others.

Jesus taught a way opposite of domination – sacrifice and service. “Greater love has no one than this, that they would lay down their life for someone else.” 

Domination turns you into a monster, but Jesus’ way turns you into a human capable of seeing other’s needs as legitimate as your own. Instead of seeing life as a competition, there can be cooperation. Instead of only seeing yourself, you see the image of God in everyone. 

The good news is that we don’t have to war with others as dominators. 

Good news. It is finished.

Revolution

Jesus met others who were tired of being dominated and they wanted to respond with revolution. They said, “You made us miserable and now it is our turn.” That’s what revolution means, after all – to take a turn. Revolve. It just puts another dominator in control. 

The revolution tries to turn the close back to Eden. “If not for these dominators, we’d have paradise on earth!” they say.  

After his resurrection, the disciples ask Jesus, “So, now you’re going to restore the kingdom, right?” Meaning – you’re going to do the revolution thing now, right, Jesus?! Are you going to turn the clocks back to a time before the Romans got here? 

Jesus rejected outright the idea of establishing a religious nation multiple times. The leader of Christianity rejected the idea of a Christian nation. 

He insisted that the kingdom of God was the influence of God in the hearts of people, changing them from the inside out. That is where the subversion happens – the citadel of the soul.

If you want to change the nation, then you teach people to act justly, love mercy, show kindness to the stranger, and walk humbly with God. Revolution may seem like a solution, but it often just puts another dominator in control. Jesus calls us to a different kind of revolution.  Rebel against your instinct; love your enemy.

The dominator and revolutionary essentials say, “If you didn’t exist, we would have paradise.” Both lead to estrangement and more warring.

We don’t have to use violence. 

Good news. It is finished.

Isolation

Some see the dominators and agitators and say, “Forget them. Let’s build paradise ourselves.” They go off, live in a bubble, and think they don’t have to worry about the “stuff out there.”

This is the answer of isolation. This answer is seductive because it makes life simple. Build a wall between us and the outside world. Life’s answers are black and white. It reduces life to simple categories: you are for us or against us. You are good or evil. You are with us or against us. You are in or out. 

Eventually, though, they learn that the problem out there is “in here.” The problem is not a world problem; it is a “heart” problem. 

Unlike his contemporaries, Jesus was not an isolationist or purist. He met with every kind of person. Even in our passage, he said, “You can stay in Jerusalem just the right amount of time, but then you have to go into the world that scares the pants off of you.” You will not be allowed to isolate.

We don’t have to be suspicious. God’s grace abounds and can be found in all of creation. God’s image is in all people. 

True, Jesus taught that the world can be dark. He also taught that God sends us into the world to be agents of change as lights of the world. 

Isolation may simplify life, but it ultimately leads to disconnections and despair. Jesus invites us into community and connection.

We can enjoy the people and the world around us. 

It is finished.

A man feverishly accounts for money using chart after chart. Jesus' last words, "It is finished," invites us to a life of plenty.
A man feverishly accounts for money using chart after chart.

Accumulation

Jesus talked with others who tried to live with a fourth answer. They didn’t want to dominate, revolt, or isolate. They were satisfied with the status quo because they could accumulate. They could build a little bit of Eden with their possessions. 

When Jesus talked to them, he noticed something peculiar. Even when they accumulated more than enough, they still acted like they were at war and not at peace.

They used to worry about not having enough and now they have more money than they used to dream about having and they STILL worry about not having enough. 

Like a loyal soldier, they stand guard over the island of their wealth and say, “I will protect this and I will not surrender.” What surprises, or concerns them, is the very thing they thought would bring them security makes them nervous.

Jesus taught them that God holds our days in his hands. It’s sad, like the flood in Genesis, the unthinkable can happen. We are all vulnerable. 

Jesus taught the worried accumulators about noticing how God cares for creation. God showers the earth with rain, clothes the fields with beauty, and holds each life as precious. God holds us securely and is trustworthy.

Jesus taught that we can live with wisdom, discretion, and caution all the while trusting that God’s will can be done. God can make us content with enough. 

We don’t have to go to war with our blessings. Accumulation may offer temporary security, but enduring peace comes from trusting God’s provision and sharing with others.

It is finished. 

Victimization/Powerlessness

The next answer Jesus met is often the hardest because a person usually arrives at this answer after the answers have failed: what can you do? 

Feeling powerless is difficult because life can be overwhelming. However, remaining in a stage of powerlessness will cause even more harm. Your hurt will devolve into anger and resentment. Your mental health and self-esteem will drop. It will impede your growth and you will not go for opportunities you are well suited for. 

A woman was brought before Jesus for doing something scandalous. She could have blamed the religious dominators for their unfairness. Jesus stood and spoke in her defense. Afterward, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.”  In other words, you made mistakes and on top of that, they victimized you. I believe you have the strength to improve yourself and your situation. I believe in you.

Jesus believed in empowerment and resilience. God can empower you to forgive others as God has forgiven you. You can do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. You may not have a lot of possessions, but you can be thankful for daily bread. He shifted our focus from problem-noticing to problem-solving. He always put the onus on us for action.

To those who believed that the most defining thing about them was the worst thing that happened to them, he gave them hope and purpose.  

Jesus is our example. Notice! He speaks very little of his crucifixion. After the resurrection, he talks continuously about the mission and what’s next. Okay, I want you to go and tell others about my love and grace. The world needs you and needs to hear that the war is over. Peter, I know you made mistakes, but you are still the foundation of the Church, so get ready to lead. Chop-chop!

It is finished.

Our Default AnswersJesus’ Counter Teaching1
DominationSacrifice, Service, Influence not Coercion
RevolutionLove your enemies
IsolationGo into all the world as the light of the world
AccumulationTrust in God’s providential care, share, don’t hoard, be generous
VictiminationResilience and empowerment with prayer and action
Jesus’ last words, “It is Finished,” counter our incomplete answers and welcome us into community and connection. The answers on the left leave us to war against ourselves or others – even God. Read or listen to more here.

Why, “It is Finished,” is good news

Jesus’ three-word sermon is good news because every other answer leaves us at war with others or ourselves. All of Jesus’ teachings and sermons counter our answers by showing us the way to a life that does not war.

We don’t have to hurt others when we are scared or angry. We can share even when we have anxiety about having enough. We can be assured that God’s justice will prevail. God can empower us to make necessary changes in our lives. We don’t have to withdraw from the world to keep our faith. Our suffering doesn’t have to define us.

Read More!

It’s so hard not to fight like this. It’s natural. It’s easy. It’s instinctive. It’s as if God knew we’d not give up the warring mindset so easily.

The good news is we are not alone on this island. God sent someone like us to find us. He found us and said in a thousand different ways, “You can lay down your arms. The warring can be over.”

In what way are you at war and where do you need God to bring peace?

He knew people and he knew the world, so he said, “So it was written that the Messiah is to suffer and rise on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed to all islands all around the world starting right where you are.”

In other words, there’s a world at war, and I’m giving you a message of peace. Believe it right where you are and then spread the good news as you go.

Go tell them what you believe, “It is finished.”

If only you’d tell them. It is finished.

  1. To learn more, see Brian McClaren’s Learning to See, Season 5 ↩︎

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