It is Finished by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.
Having considered in general the particular glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we come now to the place where we must look a little more closely at one of the detailed statements which are made here in these five verses. We shall be considering especially the statement in the fourth verse, where our Lord, speaking to his Father, says, `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ The two parts of that statement, of course, are complementary. He had glorified his Father on the earth by finishing the work which the Father had given him to do. He came in order to glorify the Father, and all he did accorded with this, so we can concentrate in particular on the second statement, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ Let us therefore, look at this work about which he speaks.
It is of course one of the best ways of considering the Christian salvation; it is a glorious statement of what it all is, and of what it all involved and what it all cost. It is the way in which the Scripture constantly urges us to think about these things. Again, let me point out in passing that there is nothing that is so calculated to help us as to have a correct and large objective view of the way of salvation. It is always true that the direct road to peace, and joy and happiness, is never to start with, and concentrate upon, yourself. It is, as we have seen, to look, instead, at this great way of salvation, this amazing plan; and the people who are always at peace in this life and world are those who, to use the phrase of the hymn writer, are `lost in wonder, love and praise’. The happiest people the world has ever known have always been those who have had the glorious view of salvation, and who have seen that they are `in him’—that is the great New Testament phrase, `in Christ’—and that they are lost in him. And so they live as more than conquerors in this world and are immune to most of the things that are finally responsible for all our unhappinesses and our miseries.
So, then, we are going to look at salvation in terms of this comprehensive statement, `I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.’ Let us try to approach it in this way. The first thing we must notice is that this work which was given him to do is obviously something definite and special and concrete. There is nothing vague and indefinite about the New Testament teaching concerning Christian salvation. It is exactly, if one may use such a term, like someone who has been briefed to do a particular work. Now this word `briefed’ has become extended in its meaning in the last few years. We used to think of it in terms of barristers, but we became familiar with it during the war when men in the Air Force were `briefed’ to do a particular thing. The work is as definite, as concrete and as circumscribed as that; and that is the first thought which we must always hold very clearly ill our minds with regard to this Christian salvation.
It is not a bad thing, therefore, as we begin to think about it, to test ourselves. If someone came to me and asked me what Christian salvation is, would I be able to give an exact definition? According to this term, I should be. It is not some general inference, or vague impression, nor is it one of those things about which you can make a number of statements, and yet never quite describe it. No, it is a definite and particular work, and there are, of course, many definite statements with regard to what it is in the Scriptures themselves. The work that was given our Lord to do was that of saving mankind. You remember his own words: `The Son of man is come’—why?—because he has been given a particular assignment from the Father—‘to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10).
Then look at the way in which the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 4: `When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law’—that is the particular task for which he was briefed. Or, if you like it in a more general form, we can look at it like this: the work that our Lord was given to do was the work of restoring men to fellowship and communion with God. That is exactly why he came; he came all the way from heaven to earth, and did everything he did, in order that men and women like ourselves, who were out of relationship with God, might be restored to that relationship. He came to bring together man and God. He says here, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,’ and in these words he says he has given eternal life to as many as God has given him. The work is as definite as that: to reconcile men to God, to bring God and man into this particular relationship and fellowship with one another that had been lost and destroyed.
That leads me then to a second statement, which I put in this form: what was it that made this work necessary? If it had not been necessary the eternal Council would never have been held, God the Father would never have sent forth his Son into the world, and the Son would never have endured and suffered all that he did. So we see that there was some special and peculiar reason why this work was necessary. I emphasize this because I find there are so many people who never seem to have seen the necessity of this work. They say, `I have always believed in God, and in the love of God.’ But the whole of this work which Christ came to do is to them absolutely unnecessary. You ask them what they hope for and they say that they hope they will get to heaven. If you ask them how they are going to do so, they reply, `Well, I have always believed in God,’ and they talk about this and that, but they never mention the Lord Jesus Christ and his work at all. His work is unnecessary as far as they are concerned.
Yet, obviously, by definition, this is a work which was absolutely essential. The Son was sent, and given this assignment, because without this work man and God cannot be reconciled. And so here, you see, we are plunged immediately into the profundities of Christian theology. What made this work necessary was the problem raised by sin. You do not begin to understand the work that was given to the Lord Jesus Christ unless you are perfectly clear about the problem of sin. Of course, we now begin to understand why it is that there is so little said today about the plan of salvation, and why men and women think so infrequently about this magnificent scheme. It is because they do not like the doctrine of sin and dismiss it lightly, yet that, according to the Bible, is what made all this work necessary.
Have you ever wondered why the ceremonial regulations were given to the Children of Israel? I mean the ceremonial regulations about the burnt offerings and the sin offerings and the trespass offerings—all that long list of things that had to be done: the killing of animals, the shedding of blood and the presenting of it in the Temple. The reason for it all is the problem of sin and what made this work of Christ so essential was sin, and man’s condition in sin.
But that was not the only thing that made it necessary. There is something else which made it still more necessary and that is none other than the holy character of God himself. I have to put sin first because unless I do so we cannot see the problem that was, in a sense, raised even in the heart of the Eternal himself. For, before God and man could be reconciled, something had got to be done, both from the standpoint of God and of man. The problem from the Godward side I can put in this way—I use the terms used by the apostle Paul in Romans 3—how could God at one and the same time remain just and yet be the justifier of the ungodly? How could God remain holy, and unchangeable, and eternal, and righteous, true and just, and yet forgive sin and forgive the transgressions of man?
Let me put it in a simpler way. God, being God, cannot just forgive sin. Now the common idea about God, the one that we have instinctively, is that when we admit that we have sinned, all that is necessary is that we should come to God, say we are very sorry, and God will forgive us. But according to the Bible that is impossible, and I do not hesitate to use that word. As a preacher of the Christian gospel, I am compelled to say this and I say it with reverence: God, because he is God, cannot just forgive sin like that.
If you want me to prove what I am saying, this is how I do it. If God could have forgiven sin just by saying, `I forgive’, he would have done so, and Christ would never have been sent into this world. The work that was given to him to do, this work, this assignment, this task, was given to the Lord Jesus Christ because, I say again, without it, God cannot forgive sin. He must not only justify the ungodly, he must remain just. The way of salvation must be consistent with the character of God. He cannot deny himself, he cannot change himself, he is unchangeable. `God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’; (1 John 1:5); he is `the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17). He is eternally, everlastingly, the same, and he is absolutely righteous and holy and just. He cannot remain that and simply forgive sin and no more.
So you see this work of Christ was absolutely essential and I think we can see why it is that many people’s ideas of salvation are so terribly wrong. They really do not see the necessity for Christ himself and his work; they say, `God is love and because he is love, he will forgive me.’ My friend, he cannot, because he is God! The work of Christ was essential because of the character of God, and it was essential because of man in sin; something had to be done to render man fit for God. So there are two mighty reasons why this work was essential.
Let us go on to another problem. The work was something that Christ himself had to do, and he can therefore speak of it as being done. `I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.’ Now I want to put that in the form of a negative like this. The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into this world to tell us what we have to do. He came himself to do something for us which we could never do for ourselves. These negatives are all so essential, because there are people who believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but if you ask them what he came into this world to do, their answer will be that he came to tell us what we must do ourselves. Or they talk about good works and say that if we do this or that we will make ourselves Christian and make ourselves right with God. No! Our Lord says here, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’
I am sometimes afraid that we are all guilty of missing the wood because of the trees, and sometimes the people who are most guilty are those who delight to call themselves Bible students. They go through the gospels with their analyses and look at the Lord’s teaching, but they are so taken up with the details that they never see the whole grand plan itself. The truth which we have to take hold of is that which is emphasized here, and the best way to understand it is to consider what it was that he did, and, too, what he was doing beforehand. He came to do certain things himself, and we are saved by what Christ has done for us, and not by what he tells us to do. The work of salvation is his work and his doing, and he came specifically to do it, and here, in these words, he looks ahead, as it were, to the death on the cross, as well as back to what he has already done. Under the shadow of the cross, he reviews the whole work, and he is able to say, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ I have completed it. On the cross he said it again in the words, `It is finished.’ It is his work and not yours and mine. So a very good way of testing whether we have a right or wrong way of looking at salvation is to ask ourselves whether we see Christian salvation as something which is exclusively and entirely the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are his workmanship; it is all of God in Christ. He has completed the work, and we simply have to receive his salvation as a free gift.
That leads me to what is, of course, the most important thing of all, which is to look in detail at something of this work which he has done. Here again I want to emphasize that the work which Christ came to do was not simply to give us incomparable teaching about God, and about the love and the fatherhood of God. How often has that been put forward as the sole business of Christ in this world? He did that, of course, but that is not the specific purpose for which he came. That had already been revealed in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament you have some of the most glorious statements of the character and love of God, and of the fatherhood of God; you will find statements there that are in no sense inferior to the statements of the New Testament. God’s ancient people had been taught about him in his love, and in his fatherhood, and in his holy character; they knew them, in a sense, and Christ did not come only to tell us those things.
Or look at it like this. Whatever else Christ came to do, we must realize that it was something that necessitated the incarnation, the life, the death and the resurrection of the Son of God. So when I come to face this question of what this work was, I must be certain that my answer defines it in a way that makes the incarnation an absolute necessity, the death on the cross an absolute necessity, and the resurrection an absolute necessity. The teaching concerning the love and character and fatherhood of God, therefore, has to make the fact of these great truths inevitable.
But the same thing is true with regard to our teaching about his death upon the cross, we must so define the work, and all these events, as to make them absolute necessities. And the way to approach them is to understand that the problem was about how God and man could be reconciled. It was not merely that man might know certain things about God. Something had to be done to bring them into fellowship and communion with one another. If we remember that that is the controlling thought, I think we will begin to see exactly what the work was which the Lord was sent to do. He is the One who was sent in order to bring that to pass; he is the One who has come as the Messiah; he has come to seek and to save, to be the Mediator, between God and man.
`The work’, in other words, is that he was appointed as man’s representative. Man at the beginning had a representative called Adam. He was the entire human race in himself, and acted as its representative, so that when he sinned, we all sinned. What is the answer to this? It is that we need someone to represent us with God, someone who alone can lift us up again, someone who can set us free, and present and introduce us to God. That is the task and nothing less than that. What was necessary was a representative of mankind, or, to use the phrase in Hebrews 2, we need `a captain of our salvation’, a leader, someone who can speak for us. A new originator of a new race, corresponding to Adam, was essential, and it was in order to do this that the Son of God came into this world, and the special task that was given to him involved this.
First of all, of course, it involved the incarnation. A new humanity is necessary, a new man, if you like, who can stand before God on our behalf, and the Son of God came in order to start this new humanity. That is why he ever came into the world, that is why the miracle of the virgin birth ever took place, and that is why you have the mystery and the marvel of the God-Man—two natures in the one person. That is why, as Hebrews 2 puts it, he held out a helping hand and took on himself the seed of Abraham. He took humanity into his deity: that is the whole meaning of the incarnation, that is precisely what happened at Bethlehem. So the point I am emphasizing is that his task was not merely to tell us about God and his love. He could have done that in the form of a theophany—he could have made one of those appearances to mankind, and given certain revelations about God and his love. But that is not enough: he has to represent man, and he became man, hence the incarnation. Before he can represent us as High Priest he has to become one of us, so he takes unto himself human nature.
But it means even more than that, for having been born as man, in the likeness of sinful flesh, he then went to John the Baptist and asked John to baptize him. John stood back in amazement and said, `I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?’
No, said Christ, `Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’
What was happening there at that baptism? It is, again, one of those essential steps in this great work that he came to do. Being born a man was not enough in and of itself, he had to do this as well. He was absolutely sinless, why then did he need to be baptized? He was baptized because he identified himself with us in our sin. He was taking the responsibility for us and our sins, and taking our sinfulness upon himself.
Or you can look at it in another way: it was at his baptism that the Holy Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove, which means that not only was he being given strength, he was being anointed for his task. He was being set aside in a very special way as the Messiah, the Anointed One who was to deliver the people for whom he had come. Therefore, he had his ordination, the oil of the Spirit was poured upon him, and he was announced as the Messiah. So the baptism was essential; it was part of the work which he came to do, which was not only to take on our nature but to identify himself with us in sin.
Then we can go on and watch him and see his life of perfect, spotless obedience. Once again, he did not live a perfect life simply in order to show that he was the Son of God. No, something much more profound, and much more vital for you and for me, had to take place. It was that in living that perfect life of obedience to the law he was not only honouring the law as our head and representative, but also as the captain of our salvation, as the first born among many brethren. He was honouring the law for you and for me and for all who believe in him; he was not only gaining positive righteousness for himself, he was gaining it for us. He was keeping God’s law for us and it was part of the work he came to do.
Is it not true to say that far too often we tend, as we read the gospel, to admire his perfect life and say, `Yes, he is undoubtedly God as well as man’, and then to stop at that? But we should always look at him and see him honouring God’s law and keeping it perfectly, and we should see that he was doing it as your representative and mine. He was doing it for us: he came to do that, not merely to teach about God and the forgiveness and love of God. He had to honour God’s law before God could forgive us, and he did that.
But not only that, we behold him conquering Satan. In Hebrews 2, which is a great commentary upon this very verse we are considering together, we are told that he came into the world that `through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ (Hebrew 2:14-15). John in his first epistle says that Jesus came into the world to destroy the works of the devil. In other words, mankind in sin had become subject to Satan, and before we could be saved, and before we could be truly reconciled to God, Satan had to be conquered. We had to be emancipated and delivered out of the dominion of Satan and transferred to the kingdom of God, and it is only Christ who could do that. All who came before him and who tried to be emancipated from the thraldom of Satan, had been defeated and overcome by the devil. So before we could be redeemed the devil had to be conquered. Our Lord had to do it, and he had to do it as a man, before our freedom could take place—and he has done it.
And then, of course, he was confronted by the final task, which was to deliver us from the guilt of sin, and that is the whole meaning of his death upon the cross. There I see him allowing sin to be punished in his body and giving himself as a sin offering, for without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin (see Hebrews 9:22). That is true of God. God, because he is what he is, cannot forgive us sinners without the shedding of blood. Before God could forgive sin, it had to be punished, and by Christ’s death upon the cross your sins and mine have been dealt with. They have been punished, their guilt has been expiated—there on the cross he was made sin for us, `God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). So Christ has come to do this—this work of presenting himself as a man without spot and without blemish, and it could not have been done without his coming into this world and without his doing all he did. And so, by doing this, he has conquered death as well. He has taken the sting out of it because `the sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
I merely put these headings before you. I plead with you to consider them one by one at your leisure. That was the work which he came to do. He came in order to honour God’s law perfectly by keeping it, by living it. He came to satisfy it by bearing the punishment he pronounced upon sin and guilt and evil. He has done that, and thus the law is satisfied. Yes, but as I have reminded you, we need to be delivered from the power of the devil, we need death and the grave to be conquered, and he has done it all. And beyond all that, we need a new nature, because we need not only forgiveness of sins, but to be made fit to have communion and fellowship with God. We need to have a nature that can stand the sight of God, for `God is light and in him is no darkness at all’. And Christ has come and given us himself, his own nature, the eternal life of which he speaks in this very prayer that we are considering together.
So here, looking at it all, he can say, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ He has done everything that is necessary for man to be reconciled to God. Have you realized, my friends, that this work is finished? Have you realized that it is finished as far as you are concerned? Do you still think that you have to make yourself a Christian? You are asked whether you are a Christian, and you reply that you are hoping to be, but that you need to do this, that and that other . . . No! Christ says, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ The work has been done, and what proves whether we are truly Christians or not is the fact that we know and realize that the work has been done, and that we rest, and rest only, upon the finished work of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we see it all in him and the work done and completed in him, it means we are Christian; if in any sense we are uncertain or doubtful, or think we have to do something ourselves, it means we are not. The beginning of Christianity is the acceptance of this statement: `I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.’ The way for you to know God, and to be reconciled to him, is wide open in the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect work on your behalf. If you have never entered in before, enter in now, rest upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ and begin to rejoice, immediately, in your great salvation. (97-108)