Sermon: It Is Finished: John 19:16b-30

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 22:1–18

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:1–18, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 19:16-30

“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:16–30, ESV)


I would like to begin our time together today by envisioning the shape of a cross. In once sense, the image of the cross is complex. It is complex if we think of all that it symbolizes, or the variety ways in which that image has been used, for good or evil, throughout the ages. But it in another sense, the image of the cross is utterly simple. It consists of one horizontal line bisected by a vertical line. And it is this simple shape – the shape of a cross – that I wish for us to think upon this morning.

I’d like to use the shape of the cross as an illustration. And in this illustration the horizontal line represents the timeline of human history. Picture it in your minds eye. To the very left is the creation event. And to the very right is the consummation (how far that is in our future, only God knows). And so we have before us a horizontal line representing human history.

The vertical line, on the other hand, represents God’s intrusion into human history – his divine acts – his various comings, if you will. I have in mind here the creation event itself, and then God coming to Adam and Eve after the fall to bring that word of judgment, but also to clothe them, and to speak a word of promise. I think also of the flood. God came in judgment, and that judgment was but a foretaste of the final judgment to come. God’s grace was present there too, wasn’t it? Noah and his family were preserved in the ark, which is a type of Christ. I also think of God’s calling of Abraham, and his deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage to the Egyptians. These are all significant examples of intrusion – God acting powerfully and significantly in human history.

You say,  but isn’t God always involved in the affairs of man? Isn’t he always sovereign? Always immanent, always near? Why speak of intrusion, as if God were off somewhere and then near? 

You are right. It is indeed true that God is always near to us! He is, on the one had, transcendent, meaning that he is far above us – altogether of a different kind than us. He is God, and we the creature. But in the moment we say he transcendent, we must also confess that he is immanent, meaning that he near to us. Indeed, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, NIV84)

So, I am not, in this illustration, suggesting that God is, for the most part, distant from us – uninvolved, transcendent, and aloof – and that he, from time to time, breaks into the course of history to do his thing, only to retreat again to his monastery in the sky. That is not the point. God is indeed always with us. He is imminent. He is active within his creation, bringing his purposes to their desired end.

What the illustration of the cross is meant to communicate is that as we consider human history we must recognize that God, from time to time, has indeed interrupted the natural order of things in order to accomplish great acts in association with his redemptive purposes. Notice how I emphasized the words interrupted, accomplished, and act. The reason for the emphasis on these words is to communicate clearly that the Christian faith is not one that is based upon words or ideas only, but upon the acts of God in human history. It is these acts upon which the words and idea of scripture are based.

All of this is so fundamental and so important to understand. The Bible – the Christian faith itself – does not come to us because some religious guru walked to the top of a mountain somewhere and came up with some brilliant ideas. Instead, our faith is founded upon that which God has accomplished for us in human history – in reality. The scriptures are the divinely inspired record of those activities. And they are the divinely inspired interpretation and application of all that God has done for us in creation and in redemption. The pattern is this: God acts, and then the scriptures are written as a record, interpretation, and application of that act.

And brothers and sisters, what is the most significant of all of God’s acts in human history? After creation itself, is in not the cross of Christ? There is no event more significant that this one. The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ is of supreme importance. It is the granddaddy of all of God’s acts of redemption. For it was there on the cross that victory was won. It was there on the cross that sin, Satan, and death were overcome. It was there on the cross that God’s plan of redemption was accomplished, or fulfilled.

And so when I look upon the image of the cross I cannot help but see these truths illustrated there. Our God is a God who acts in human history. He has accomplished redemption for us. He has intruded in judgment (and will again), but thanks be to God, he has also intruded in mercy and grace. And who does it all center upon? Who is at the crux of it? It is Christ Jesus our Lord!

So why this introduction to John 19:16-30? Why the emphasis upon the horizontal and vertical, time and intrusion, history and redemptive event?

The simple reason is that this is John’s emphasis. He wants us to see Jesus as the man. He wants us to view the event of the crucifixion as the apex event – the crucial event – the decisive event, in the history of redemption.

John presents Jesus as the man in three ways. First of all, he again emphasizes Jesus’ kingship. He is lifted up from the earth (exalted and enthroned) as the King of the Jews. Secondly, John is concerned that we see Jesus as the one who has fulfilled Old Testament prophesy concerning the coming of the Messiah. Thirdly, Jesus is presented to us as the one who has accomplished the work of redemption, given to him by the Father.

So, why are we to view Jesus as the man, and his crucifixion as the apex event in human history?

Jesus Is The King Of The Jews

First of all, because he is the King of the Jews.

This is indeed the point that is emphasized in this passage, as it was in the previous passage. Jesus is the King of the Jews.

Now before I say a word about the significance of Jesus as the King of the Jews, let me explain what I mean when I say that this is the emphasis of the passage. When a writer writes, he has certain tools at his disposal to make certain aspects of that story background and to bring other aspect of the story to the foreground. The structure of the text might be used to make something pop. Rhythm or rhyme might be employed. It is common for repetition to be used – a word, or phrase, or idea will be used throughout the text in order to alert the reader to the point of the passage. Sometimes the author will simply spend more time on one thing than another, and that clues us in to the main idea of the text.

It is tempting, I think, whenever we speak of the crucifixion of Christ, to emphasize the physical suffering that Jesus endured. It is common, I think, to spend a great deal of time meditating upon the brutality of the event. I think sometimes this is done in order to stir up emotion. Pastors and authors will sometimes describe, in great detail, the brutality of the flogging that Jesus endured, and the physical effects that it had on his body. It is common for the crucifixion itself to be described in vivid detail – in full color and high definition. That all preaches very well, doesn’t it. It is not hard to move people to an emotional response – a sympathetic response – by describing in vivid detail the scourging, the long walk to Golgotha, and the horrors of crucifixion.

Please hear me. I am not saying that it is wrong to consider in detail all of the suffering that Christ endured for us. Though it can be abused, there is value in it indeed. What I am saying is that John is not interested in stirring us up emotionally by graphically describing to us the crucifixion itself. Look at his description of the crucifixion. What does he say? Simply, “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” (John 19:18, ESV) The crucifixion is described in three words: “they crucified him”.

This is the point: the thing we so often emphasize about the crucifixion – namely, the brutality and extreme physical suffering – is backgrounded in John. The thing brought to the foreground is the significance of Jesus and the crucifixion event.

John isn’t trying to move you sentimentally. He’s seeking to persuade you intellectually. His desire is not that you would cry, but that you think. And if though thinking you also cry, then praise be to God! But to cry over the crucifixion without understanding it’s significance is useless.

Remember that John’s purpose in writing is not hidden, but is stated expressly at the end of the gospel. Listen to his own words: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV) That is his desire. To demonstrate to you that Jesus is the man, and that there is life in his name.

And this is why John takes something that you assume would be background and tangential information and brings to the forefront. He zooms in upon a little sign that the Romans placed over Jesus’ head as he hung on the cross. And he tells us that on that sign a phrase was written which simply read, “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”

This was a common Roman practice. Criminals condemned to death by crucifixion would often carry their own cross to the place of execution. And around their neck would hang a sign which communicated the crime for which they were condemned, be it murder, or insurrection, or whatever. After the criminal was lifted up on the cross, the sign would be placed above their heads for everyone to see. The purpose is obvious. The Romans wanted to communicate to the public what it was the person was being punished for.

In Jesus’ case the sign read, “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews”. The wording of it irritated the Jewish authorities. Pilate knew what he was doing when he crafted the statement in this way. He phrased it as if it were true that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jew. He did not believe it to be true. But he was interested in sticking it to the Jews who had been so effective in pushing him around. Notice that this phrase was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, so that everyone who passed by could read it. And many would have passed by, given that it was near the city and during the Passover. “So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Evidently Pilate was tired of being pushed around and manipulated, so he responded, saying, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:21–22, ESV)

Again, there is irony here. This scene is ironic in that when Pilate and the Jewish authorities read the sign, neither believed it to be true.

When Pilate and other Romans looked upon Jesus on the cross with that sign above his head saying, “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews”, they laughed. To them it was a foolish thing; a silly thing; a reason to mock.

When the non-believing Jews looked upon Jesus crucified and read the sign, to them it was offensive.  It was not foolish or funny; to them it was repulsive to have this crucified one portrayed as their king.

But when John looked up at Jesus and read the sign – when Mary the mother of Jesus, along with the two other Marys, looked upon Jesus and read the sign – what did they think? Did they scoff with the Romans? Were they offended with the Jews? No! They observed that scene and thought to themselves, isn’t it ironic? Here he is, truly the King of the Jews, enthroned before us. 

By the way, notice how Paul picks up on all of this in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24, ESV) Paul picks this theme up and he observes that a crucified Christ, a crucified Messiah, is a stumbling block to the Jews. They get all tripped up over the thought of a Messiah who suffers and dies. And to the Gentiles (non-Jews/Romans) it is folly. But to those called by God – clearly, this being a reference to the effectual and inward calling or wooing of the Spirit – Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. What Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 1 is indeed portrayed here in the narrative of John 19.

Last Sunday I made much of the irony in John 19:1-16. And I tried to demonstrate that what we are being exposed to is a kind of ironic coronation ceremony for king Jesus. He was robed, but mockingly. Solders bowed the knee to him, but insincerely. They approached him one by one, not to kiss but to strike. He was crowned, not with gold, but with thorns. And when he was presented to the people they cried out, not long live the king, but “crucify him”! Now what is left to be done in this coronation ceremony except for the king to take his seat on the throne? And that is what Jesus does! His arms were  stretched out and were nailed to the cross, and then a bench of sorts was placed beneath his feet so that he would be able to press down upon it to relive the pressure from his arms and breath (this was not a merciful thing, but torturous – it was meant to delay death, and to increase the agony). Then they nailed his feet to the cross and lifted him up.

When the non-believing Jew looks upon this they are offended. When the non-believing Gentile looks, they scoff. But when the one called of God looks upon Christ lifted up they see “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” They see the King of the Jews, enthroned before them.

This is what Jesus was referring to when he said in John 12:31, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31–33, ESV)

I wish that I had more time to set before you all of the promises contained in the Old Testament concerning the arrival of the great king from amongst the Jews – a king who would come from David’s loins (2 Samuel 7) – a king who would rule in righteousness and establish an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7). I am assuming that you have some knowledge about that and know that in the days of Jesus the Jews were (and some still are) waiting in anticipation for the arrival that great king. What is obvious is that John (along with the rest of the New Testament) wants to understand that Jesus of Nazareth was and is that great king. He is the fulfillment to those promises of old.

Jesus Has Fulfilled The Messianic Prophesies Of The Old Testament 

So the first thing to notice in answer to the question, why are we to see Jesus as the man, and his crucifixion the crucial event in human history? is that he was and is the King of the Jews. The next two points will come quickly because the stage has now been adequately set.

The second thing to notice is that Jesus has fulfilled the messianic prophesies contained within the Old Testament.

When I refer to messianic prophesies I am talking about those portions in the Old Testament which make mention of the future (future from their vantage point) coming of the Messiah, which means Anointed One. The Old Testament contains many such promises. What is clear is that that the Old Testament anticipated the arrival of an Anointed One who would one day provide salvation for his people. The description of this Anointed One is varied and complex. Sometimes he described as glorious and powerful; sometimes as lowly and humble. Sometimes he is described as a king; at other times he is portrayed as a prophet or priest. The clear teaching of the New Testament is that all of these prophesies land on Jesus. Paul puts it this way: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)

Notice that John mentions the fulfillment of two of these prophesies in the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ (Mathew, Mark, and Luke provide you with many more). And again, notice that John brings details that we might consider background or tangential to the foreground.

He first of all tells us of the Roman soldiers dividing Jesus’ clothing and gambling over his tunic and says, ” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ So the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:24, ESV) This is a quotation from Psalm 22:18, which we read earlier. It is such a small detail – the diving up of Jesus’ belongings amongst the four Romans who carried out the crucifixion, and the gambling for the one piece tunic. But does this not demonstrate that God is sovereign over the smallest details of our lives? Also, John hones in upon this small and seemingly insignificant detail in order to “hyperlink” to the all that Psalm 22 has to say. I’m sure you agree that that passages if far from insignificant. It describes in great detail what the Christ would experience in his crucifixion. John wants us to see all of that.

He next zooms in upon the words “I thirst” which Jesus uttered near the end. Verse 28: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” (John 19:28–29, ESV) This is a reference to Psalm 69:21, which says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21, ESV) Again, Johns desire is that we would read, not just verse 21 of Psalm 69, but all of it, and see that Jesus fulfilled what is said there.

The point is this: Jesus fulfilled the scriptures. He fulfilled the prophesies which pointed forward to him. Just as he was the fulfillment of the promises concerning the coming king, so too he fulfilled all of the promises and predictions concerning the coming Messiah. We might ask the question, why was John so interested in “hyperlinking” to Psalm 22 and 69? Could he have not emphasized some other event which linked back to other Old Testament texts? He could of! But he emphasized these, I think, in order to demonstrate that the Old Testaments does indeed teach that the Christ would suffer – that the coming king would be a suffering king – abandoned, despised and betrayed – and that through suffering he would earn the victory.

Jesus Has Accomplished The Work Of Redemption 

Lastly, let us see that Jesus is the man, and his crucifixion the crucial event of human history, because it was by him, and through the cross, that the work of redemption was finally accomplished.

Notice Jesus’ final words: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ’it is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30, ESV)

What did Jesus mean when he said, “it is finished”? Was he simply indicating that the end had come? Was he saying, “it is over?” No. The greek word is τετέλεσται, meaning “to bring an activity to a successful finish—‘to complete, to finish, to end, to accomplish.’” The idea is not, it is over, but it is done, finished, accomplished, or completed. What is completed? I suppose it would be a mystery if we only had verse 30 to consider. But we have the rest of the Gospel of John. More than that, we have the rest of scripture. And when these things are considered it is clear what Jesus finished. He finished the work the Father gave him to do. He accomplished redemption. He atoned for the sins of those given to him by the Father. He earned salvation for them though his obedient life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. It was through the cross that Christ won the victory over sin, Satan, and death.


The point of John 19:16-30 is this: Jesus is the man. His death on the cross was the most significant event in human history. It was there in the crucifixion event that God intruded in the most significant of ways, breaking the power of sin and death, and opening up through Christ’s shed blood the way to life eternal. Christ is the long awaited and victors King of the Jews. He is the fulminate of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the coming Messiah, who is prophet, priest, and king. And he has finished the work of redemption decreed by the Father from eternity past.


Gracious Father, thank you for your indescribable love. Thank you for sending the Son to pay for our sins. Jesus, thank you for your obedience to the Father in life and in death. Holy Spirit, help us to now live according to the resurrection power available in Christ Jesus, to the glory of you, the Triune God. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

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