The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was used when I was a child and still is to help children understand that words should be ignored because, in theory, words do not do lasting harm. It’s sad to say that this is not the case. For many, words that they have been subjected to have crippled them emotionally and psychologically. Labels that were put on them or words that they have heard such as loser, slut, retard, and the like have done lasting harm.
In the book of James, the author addresses the struggle we all have with taming our tongues. James 3 speaks about how the tongue at one moment can be used to praise our God and the other be used to accident. For us humans, taming the way we use our words will be a life long struggle that only God Himself can help us through. I’ve heard and read stories of people who have had their lives destroyed by poorly used words. A single moment in time is relived time and time again as they struggle to live their lives. This post is not a how to bridle or tame our tongue, but to show that where a word or a moment in time can harm people there is a word and moment in time that we (all of mankind) have been set free from the bondage of sin.
We are fast approaching Easter. It’s late this year, almost landing in May. Easter Sunday sermons, in my opinion, should focus on the day Christ defeated death and hell by resurrecting from the dead. Because He beat Satan and took the keys of death and hell, we can be free from the bondage of sin and have a positive future looking forward to an eternality with Him in heaven. The moment of time I speak of is what we call Good Friday. The location is the hill we know as Calvary or Golgotha. At this moment in history, the God-Man Jesus Christ is hanging on a cross with His skin shredded from the cat-of-nine tails whip used on Him. His face covered in blood from the crown of thorns on His head. This Man struggles with every breath His breaths. He was enduring the curse of sin in our place. He is paying the sin-debt for all of humanity. In that moment He says His last word. Jesus Christ- the God-Man, the perfect Lamb of God, the Son of Man, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords-yells out “tetelestai!” and dies.
This Greek word in English is the phrase, “IT IS FINISHED!” The book of John records this; John writes in John 19:28-30;
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
Just as a single word can destroy, this single word from Jesus changed eternity. This single word saved me at the young age of 7 and this single word has given me purpose. This single word can save you. In my study of the Greek language, I’ve learned that a single Greek word will have different meanings. The word Jesus used (tetelestai) in John 19:30 has 5 meanings. I will share each to help us understand how powerful Jesus’ last word is to us and why we should care.
The first meaning is Mission Accomplished; Jesus was saying that He completed the job His Father gave Him to do. A servant used the word tetelestai to communicate that a task was completed. Slavery was common in those days. It was different from early US slavery. Many were in debt, and indentured as servants to masters to whom they owed money. They would be assigned a task, and when completed, they would return to their master and say tetelestai, the task is completed. “I did what you told me to do, in the way you told me to do it.” In John 17:4, [Jesus prayed to His Father…] “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” We should aspire to someday be able to say mission accomplished to the Father.
The second meaning is Perfect Sacrifice. Tetelestai was a priestly word meaning a Perfect Sacrifice. This word was taken right out of Old Testament worship. It involved the ritual system of animal sacrifices. God gave Israel the animal sacrifice system for a time. The priest would examine the lambs brought for sacrifice, for they had to be without spot or blemish, so as to be a good picture of Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God Who was to come. First, the priest would look in the lamb’s mouth for anything wrong there. He would next examine the eyelids, and the ears, the hooves, and so on until the whole body was looked over. He was looking for imperfections. He would then run his hands through the wool, looking for any dark hair. The wool had to be pristine white to qualify. Once a lamb was qualified, the priest would hold it up and say [what would be translated in the Greek] tetelestai; this is a perfect sacrifice! It is finished. This is an acceptable sacrifice! And when Jesus uttered tetelestai on the cross, He was qualified to do so as the perfect Lamb of God!
The third meaning is Masterpiece. I’m not painter in an artist sense, but I can paint a wall. I used to be a professional painter and even sold paint for a living when Teresa and I were first married. The Greek artisans were masters and led their world in creativity. And when the last stroke of paint was applied to the canvas, or the last piece of marble was chiseled away, he would stand back and say tetelestai. In other words, he was saying, “Now this is a masterpiece!” When I was younger, I would watch Bob Ross on PBS. I’ve actually see these old episodes are on Netflix now. As he painted he would say “Let’s put a happy little tree over here. And a pretty little bird in this tree.” It was amazing how he could complete a painting in 30 minutes. And the first time you see him do it there’s a surreal moment you witness, because though you’ve been watching him delicately work creative magic, he would now and then reach over and grab a big glob of paint and slop it on the canvas. “Oh no, he just ruined it!” you’d think. But no, he would skillfully manipulate that glob in beautiful strokes.
When Jesus died on the cross, it didn’t fit in at all with what the disciples had pictured. His crucifixion was a big glob of paint slopped onto what was, up to that time, a work of art that they thought was coming together so well. It was ruined! But God was working on His masterpiece! We try to paint a rosy picture of our lives, and just when it looks like things are coming together a big glob of dark colors comes splashing down; the blues of depression; the grays of confusion; the black of grief; and suddenly it’s all your eye can see. Then enters God working it all together for good. And you step back and watch Him work, and you realize that the dark colors are just as important as the bright pastels! One day it will all come into focus. Maybe here on earth or maybe not until heaven. But God Himself will say, tetelestai, my masterpiece is completed!
The fourth meaning is Fully in Paid. The word tetelestai is a merchant’s word meaning paid in full. In business transactions, a man who owed his creditor would pay his bill. And the merchant would write across the bill tetelestai; paid in full. Jesus took our sin debt and wrote ‘paid in full!’ on our bill of sale for our souls. We’re not going to heaven because God has overlooked our sins, turned a blind eye, or swept them under the rug. The sin debt must be paid, and Jesus paid for our sin so we won’t have to! [All bold this so you can see it] Your sin will either be pardoned in Christ or punished in hell! Why choose to continue on the path to hell, where you’ll have to pay for your sins, when Jesus paid it all? Romans 6:23 says; “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What Jesus did on the cross, by shedding His blood, we are all able to receive this gift. Question; how to you receive a gift? By accepting it; by taking it. It’s that simple. For some, it’s too simple. They feel they have to do something to earn it but we cannot. Just accept this gift that Jesus paid for.
The fifth and final meaning is A Victory Cry. This word was used in battle. When the battle was over, the soldier would report to the general that the victory was won by saying, “tetelestai.” This just gets better and better. Jesus went head to head with the devil in his own backyard. Satan has many names and one of them is the “god of this world;” the earth is his domain. Jesus faced Satan, not in the form of God, but as a man, and He turned the tables on that slimy serpent, crushing his head with the very heel he had nailed to the cross. He did that on the cross when He said tetelestai, the battle is over, and the victory has been won! Jesus won the victory over death, hell, and the grave – and then He gives that victory to us. This is good because without this victory, natural man faces death, the grave takes the body, and hell awaits the soul. Jesus fought this battle for you, and it’s already over. Now, we only face the shadow of death as Christians, for the battle is already finished, and the war has been won!
Just as a single bad moment or bad word could affect how a person feels or waste affect the rest of their lives, a positive moment or word will do something amazing. People need encouragement throughout their day and lives. What better moment in history or better word to share with others. Two thousand years ago on Good Friday, the God-Man took our sins on Himself so we can have a relationship with the God of the universe. And with one word, He changed eternity for all of us. Now that is a powerful word.