It is Finished

11 04 2009


James Ryan arrives at a headstone, and falls to his knees, tears in his eyes. On the headstone is the name “John Miller”.   Ryan looks up to his wife by his side and asks, “Have I been a good man? Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” His wife looks down and assures him that he has. However, the tears continue because James Ryan does not seem to be able to believe that he has been good enough.

Many immediately recognize this scene from the movie  Saving Private Ryan by Steven Speilberg.  The movie is well written. John Miller is portrayed by Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks who is tasked with taking a squad of men to find James Ryan. Ryan is the fourth son of a woman who has lost three son already  in World War II.  Military commanders have decided that Mrs. Ryan will not lose her last remaining son. Miller’s squad eventually loses 8 men so that it can save this one.

Miller dies in battle with Ryan by his side side. With his last breath, he looks at Private Ryan and whispers, “Earn this.”   Back at  Miller’s headstone, Ryan has clearly lived his entire life with a tremendous weight on his shoulders. Has he earned the sacrifice of John  Miller and his men? Miller himself, earlier in the film, says, “He better be worth it. He’d better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.” 

Christians too often hear these words, “Earn this,” coming from Jesus’ lips as he dies on the cross. We live our lives trying to earn it, to become someone for whom such a sacrifice isn’t so incredibly incomprehensible. We turn into James Ryans, questioning if anything we do could ever be quite enough. 

“It is Finished” is in the Gospel text the single word tetelestai.  Being in the perfect greek tense, it means literally, “it has been and will for ever remain accomplished, completed, finished.”  

Christ’s salvation is a free gift.  He purchased it for us at the high price of his own blood.  There is nothing left for us to pay.    IT IS FINISHED.  There is nothing left to contribute.  Not that we now have a license to sin.  On the contrary, the same cross of Christ is the most powerful incentive to a holy life.  But this life follows the cross, it does not purchase it.  First, we must humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgement, that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness.  

But Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn this” from the cross. He says, “It is finished.”  The message of the Gospel is diametrically opposed to John Miller’s “Earn this.” Miller applies the law to Ryan’s future in a way that Ryan can never escape. No matter what Ryan may ever do or who he may ever become, Miller’s words will never allow Ryan to live in peace, or safe from Miller’s judgment-from-beyond-the-grave. One word of law destroys the grace Miller shows in giving his life for Ryan. 

No word of law escapes Christ’s lips from the cross. Incredibly, the word of law is applied to Christ (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). We are freed, and safe. Don’t allow your ingrained pride to rebel against God’s grace.  Instead of stumbling on the cross because you insist on trying to earn God’s favor, bow at the cross and receive his gift.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn this.” He says, “It is finished.”

*Some of the information used within this post originated from the Christianity Explored DVD Series by Rico Tice.  Rico is a personal friend of mine and has preached at my church.  Christianity Explored is a wonderful evangelism tool of which I serve as a North American Advocate. 


Freedom is Scary

29 04 2008

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, actor Morgan Freeman portrays a character by the name of Ellis “Red” Redding.  Red sits a prison cell for 40 years longing for freedom and mourning the thoughtless act of violence he committed as a teenager which landed him there.  Finally, after 40 years, Red is set free!  FREE!  However, Red, learns what we all discover sooner or later.  The greatest prison is the one we place ourselves into.  Red finds that too much freedom is scary.  You see, rules, regulations, structure, law all create a false sense of safety which too often we will gladly sell our freedom cheap to attain.

“It’s a terrible thing to live in fear,” Red says as he reflects upon his new found freedom.  He even confesses that he thinks about various ways he can break his parole and return to the prison he so longed to escape from.  Freedom can be scary. 

I wish Red was the exception of how we look at freedom but it seems to me to more often be the rule.  I have discovered that, while Christians talk about freedom in Christ and sing about His grace, we are allot more like Red than we would like to admit.  It never ceases to surprise me at how angry people can get over the issue of grace once you pass the point of meaningless sentimentality and cross the line into the reality of what it means.  I have come to the belief that their anger comes from fear.  Freedom can be scary and grace brings freedom.  It is so easy and safe to retreat into a prison of dos and don’ts.  There is a dishonest sense of calm we feel sitting in our prison cells erected by overly simplistic black and white walls.

The church of Christ should never profess to free people from sin only to turn around and enslave them by erecting legalistic walls which proclaim righteousness but produce another fallen form of idolatry.  Anything which turns our eyes upon self rather than to the cross is sin no matter how safe it appears or righteous it claims to be.  We must continually and intentionally focus our gaze upon the cross of Christ, upon the renewal found in His grace, upon the freedom found in His love.  YES – freedom can be scary but His grace is sufficient.  Embrace it today!

Sonny Comes Home

25 03 2008

There are many reasons I believe Robert Duvall’s 1997 film, The Apostle, is a must see.  Duvall’s portrayal is one of the best performances of his career and considering he is one of the best actors of his generation that is no small task.  However, Duvall’s acting is not THE reason this film is so powerful.

Second, the movie is notably one of the only films to come out of Hollywood with a realistic portrayal of “Bible Belt Christianity” (albeit a particular flavor).  You find no cruel Scripture spouting warden as is portrayed in Shawshank Redemption, no apocalyptic fanatic as is displayed in Contact, there is no warped “Christian” psycho-path as in Cape Fear, and there is not even a faith healing con-man as seen in Leap of Faith.  This film genuinely attempts to give an honest glimpse at a true believer, warts and all.  Most evangelicals are not accustomed to receiving that level of respect by Hollywood and this is reason enough to watch this film but it is not THE reason.

There are multiple reasons one should see the film but what is THE reason you should watch this movie?  Well, The Apostle deserves to be taken seriously because the conflict between sin and grace lies at the heart of the plot and its portrayal of undeserved grace is both powerfully moving and disturbing.  The plot is a modern day parable about sin and grace told through the story of a southern Pentecostal preacher.  The first biblical reference invokes the story of the thief on the cross next to Christ who asks for and receives grace from our suffering servant Lord.  The reference foreshadows the story of Eulis “Sonny” Dewey.  Like the thief, Sonny is a deeply fallen sinner who desires salvation and longs for grace.

Sonny is a true believer, a fact which is powerfully revealed in the first minutes of the movie when he and his mother, played by the late June Carter Cash, encounter a roadside accident.  Sonny leaves the car and finds the injured, prays with them to receive Christ before returning to his car to tell his mother that news was “made in heaven today”.   Religious charlatans do not take time to pray with the dying unless they smell a buck in it.  However, though Sonny is a true believer, he is also a deeply flawed sinful believer.  The film alludes to infidelity and abuse towards his wife and, when she leaves him for the youth minister of his church, Sonny kills the young man at a ball field in a fit of rage.

When the film was initially released it was not received warmly by many evangelical Christians.  I believe many simply could not deal with Sonny’s flawed character and that speaks more to our inability to fully understand God’s grace than the films portrayal of it.  There is no doubt that this man is a sinner.  That is the point being made.  His actions are disturbing, even horrendous, but never unforgivable.  One cannot deny that Sonny is a true believer.  He is painfully aware of his humanity yet dedicated to God.  He seeks redemption for his sin through prayer and fasting and symbolizes his new start with a baptism in a roadside river.

Following the baptism we view a journey of redemption.  Sonny begins again and brings Christ to others in genuine ways through word and deed.  “The emergence of new life is neither sudden, dramatic, nor sensational.  It comes in slow, incremental gestures.  By the end, something profound, loving and final has taken over Sonny; he knows it and we know it too.”1  Sonny eventually is arrested and faces justice, in this life, for his actions but viewers have a sense that he really does not mind because he has found grace from God’s justice.  In the end Sonny comes home and finds grace there and that is THE reason people need to see this film.

1. The quote is taken from Books and Culture (published by Christianity Today, 1997).