WE are drawing towards the end of the story of the Cross. When our Saviour had received from the Roman soldier the sip of wine, He said, "It is finished." In a moment more He had entered the gates of Paradise.
"It is finished," we repeat. What did He mean? Certainly He did not mean merely that the pain was finished. It was not the cry of the weary sufferer welcoming rest. It was not the declaration that life had been wretched and hard, and He was relieved to have it over at last. Possibly the words were said in only a broken whisper, so that the nearest by-stander scarcely heard them; but the wide sky must have resounded with the joy of that whisper. It was not the cry of exhaustion, but the cry of triumph.
"It is finished," said the King upon his throne. If it was not the pain, what, then, was finished? First of all, His life was finished, the only complete life ever lived. We cannot separate the days of Christ one from another. They belong together in one grand succession towards the perfect victory of the Cross. Each event, each word, is a step by which He did ascend to the majesty of His throne. There on His throne, Crucified, He gathered together all the days of His life and interpreted their meaning. We think of the radiant Boy of twelve as He said to His Mother, "I must be about my Father's business." We think of the day when John Baptist pointed to Him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" We think of all the fierce temptations which He hurled away from Him as He strode forward to the Victory. We remember the invariable purpose of all His deeds; His friendships in Galilee and at Bethany; the Transfiguration. In it all, His face was set to go up to Jerusalem. There was at the end of the long, beautiful Way--a way so full of joy, that it reached the very end of grief, and then found the perfect joy--at the end was the Cross.
You cannot understand the Victory of Christ if you do not grasp the assured fact that it was difficult even for Him. "He was tempted as we are tempted." Never once did He flinch or fail. But the hot tears burned His cheek in Gethsemane. The taunts which were cast up at Him as He hung on the Cross found a real echo in His own heart. Dare to think how you would have been tempted had you been Son of God and Son of Man, had you held in your hand the powers of heaven and earth, had you seen men grovelling in sin, quite blind to the love of the Cross. How certainly would you have yielded to turn aside from your sacrifice! Would you not have called the twelve legions of angels? Would you not have performed for yourself one of the miracles which the divine power had been working for others' help? Would you not at the last moment have said, "O, man, you have seen the depth of my Love by my willing suffering--I have saved others--now behold, I save myself." Then with a burst of glory, the nails would have dropped from the hands and feet, the wounds would have been healed, the stains of blood would have become rays of light, the thorns would have changed to precious stones, and men would have seen the King!
Just how the appeal came to Jesus, no one can be bold enough to say. But, if He was tempted in all points like as we are, then, in some form, that temptation came to Him. We may believe that it came in its most exalted form, in His thought for others rather than for Himself. Such a demonstration would more immediately have caught the popular imagination. His love would have been demonstrated side by side with His power. Men would have understood more easily. But there was no wavering. Straight on moved the last bitter moments of the Cross, and there was no sign of relief. On the Throne was Jesus the King, and though He never once, so far as we know, said the word love as He reigned there, the one proclamation which that enthronement has had for all the centuries, is this: "Jesus the King loves the world. In Him God is showing that He loves mankind to the uttermost. Jesus the King, Son of God, loves the world not only by His care for all who suffer and die, but He loves the world to the last moment of His life, to the last drop of His blood." No other quality is permitted for one moment to intervene. Every quality of the Godhead is absorbed and transfigured by this one quality. In the Life of Jesus we see the divine triumph, against every possible invitation to defeat, we see the divine triumph of Love. God is Love, all love, complete love, love to the very last.
The Father, in our Saviour's own words, had given Him a cup of bitter woe to drink for Love of the world. It was a cup so hard to taste that as Jesus touched it to His lips, even His hitherto indomitable will held back, and He prayed that the Father would take the cup away. But instantly He steadied Himself. "Not my will," He said, "but thine." So He took the cup into His hands, and put it to His lips. Sip by sip He drank the deadly potion. It was love--love for God, love for man--that made Him drink it.
It was drawing towards three o'clock of the dark Friday. There was only a drop more to drink. He drank it. The cup was empty! He had done it. Possibility of failure besieged Him. Against this possibility He had fought with all the clearness and strength of His purpose. One sees a new reason why He would not, before the crucifixion, taste the mixture, mercifully prepared to deaden the pain: He dared not do anything which would so far weaken His consciousness that He would not have every energy to resist. He had not failed! The cup was empty! His love had lasted till the last minute. So He cried--with what exultation and joy the world never can know--"It is finished!"
There is another thought in these words which is inevitable. Te remember all the unfinished lives which had gone before our Saviour's time. Moses, David, Isaiah, John Baptist, and myriads of others, had walked in the light of God's commandments. The greatest of all, our Saviour said, was John Baptist. Yet John Baptist, just as all who had gone before him, felt the incompleteness of life. As he looked at Christ he knew that Christ was to complete what he could not finish: "I must decrease," he said, "he must increase ... I indeed baptize you with water; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." All these great men, feeling impulsion from God, had done what God told them to do. It was the merest fragment, without beginning or ending, which they could contribute by their arduous lives. They looked forward to the fulfilment of what was to come, but all died without seeing the promise. All had contributed towards it: none saw the completed work. In this light think again of our Saviour's cry, "It is finished." What was finished? The work of all previous humanity was finished. Christ, the head and King of humanity, gathered up into His dying all the conquests of the heroes and saints of old. All their fragmentary victories found in His Cross their complete Victory. They had not lived in vain. Everything that they had done had counted. Each, in his office, had done an essential share in making the Victory of the Cross possible.
We must never forget that in the Cross not only was God giving love to man, but, equally and exactly, man was giving a perfect love to Gods The offering of joy through pain in obedience to duty was man's supreme gift. Jesus the King was altogether human, just as He was altogether divine. So, as Man, by the Cross He drew together all the joyful obedience of mankind to God. Into His supreme task, He fused all the little triumphs of the obscure good people, whether they had lived in heathen Greece, in heathen Persia, or among the elect of Mount Sion. Not one element in the gradually ascending scale was lost. Every man's conquest was to count, because Christ, the King of all, completed it. How far, then, is that cry of the Cross from pathos! It is the exultant cry of a completed humanity speaking through the lips of Christ. "It is finished, it is finished!" Every feeble duty well performed; every daring hope honestly pursued; every life laid down for God and country; everything has counted--"It is finished!" One man, at length, has been able to do the last hard deed. The work is crowned and made perfect. Man has done the impossible. "It is finished!"
In that moment the world was redeemed.. Henceforth Redemption was in every man's possession: all a man needed to do was to appropriate it. But here we find a very sober difficulty. Some men do not understand Christ's love, some men never have heard of it. Since that triumphant moment on the Cross it has been the task of those who understand Christ to persuade all men what it is to love and serve Him. Once again, men are living fragmentary lives. Each, so far as he sees, so far as he has caught the fire of Christ's love, so far as he is able, is trying to bring the world to the feet of Christ. Christ is waiting. God is waiting. But mankind is not forced to love God. Mankind must of its own will decide to give a love to God which shall in some sense match God's love for man. A man here, a man there, is giving his life to persuade all men to rise to their privilege, to give love for love. Each prophet, poet, missionary, gives all, and sees no perceptible advance towards his dream. But there is advance. The dream is, fragment by fragment, coming true. The great task was done once for all on Calvary. We who live today on the earth need only to enter into the fruits of it. The day is surely coming when every man shall have heard, when every man's heart shall have been touched, when every man's mind shall have been convinced, when every man's will shall have caught fire from on high. Then shall be the new ending. All earth and heaven shall be caught up in the glory of it. Then again from the imperishable throne of His Cross, Christ the King shall cry, over land and sea, "It is finished,--the Kingdom is complete!" And all the redeemed shall echo back, "It is finished,--the whole world has come to Christ." And the angelic choirs of all heaven shall cry, "It is finished!"