Centuries ago, it was customary for a person to become the bond servant of another if they had wronged that person or owed them a debt for some reason. The person would literally work off their debt or punishment until it was paid in full. When the debt had been paid in full, the former bond servant was freed. To let everyone in the community know that they had paid their debt in full and that they were now free, they would carry a receipt or wear a wooden plaque around their neck with the Greek word ‘tetelestai’ written on it. Everyone knew what the word meant.
John 19:30 tell us:
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
The key word in the Greek text is ‘tetelestai’, which in most English Bibles is translated ‘it is finished.’ One of the implications of the word is that everyone present knew that Jesus meant a debt had been paid in full and the debtor was now free.
But who was the debtor Jesus was referring to?
Jesus was sinless. He had no debts to pay.
But every one of us has more debts to pay than we can count or care to think about. We are all born sinners and no matter how good of a life we think we’ve lived, we all fall short of perfection and commit a multitude of sins, whether we want to admit it or not.
Our sins separate us from God. Just one sin is enough to prevent us from spending eternity with Him. There is absolutely nothing we could have done under our own accord to pay for our sin(s) and open the pathway to heaven. Instead, as sinful humans we are all condemned to spend eternity in Hell, separated from God.
God took it upon Himself to make the ultimate sacrifice to pay for all of our sins. His Son, Jesus Christ, Creator of the heavens and earth, humiliated Himself by coming to earth as a mortal human for the single purpose of living a sinless life and then taking the role of the unblemished lamb to be sacrificed for our sins. His shed blood paid the price for our redemption.
When Jesus spoke His last words on the Cross, He was telling not only those present but all of us that He paid the debt for our sins in full and that through His redemptive blood we are now free from the bondage of sin. Paul describes the sacrificial gift that Christ made on our behalf in his letter to the Ephesians where he wrote:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
As you celebrate Christ’s crucifixion this weekend, I pray you think of what Jesus said just before giving up His spirit. He said ‘tetelestai;’ telling all who believe in Him that our debts have been paid in full and His work here on earth was complete. Through our belief in Him, we have the assurance that when we leave this earth that we will stand before our Holy and Righteous God and be declared welcome.