Five million people. That is the largest human gathering in United States history and the seventh largest gathering of human beings in modern history. (http://www.fox32chicago.com/news/local/215601786-story) And how could it not be? Chicago Cubs fans waited 108 long, excruciatingly painful years to have their very own World Series victory parade.
That’s right: your team. Not you, but a team of which you are not a part. The Cubs eventually got back on the bus and drove off with their trophy and rings. Television cameras are gone from the square and now air different programs. Those millions have dispersed. The celebration is over. No matter how long you followed the team, your fingers will not hoist the World Series trophy. No one will put a team championship ring on your finger. Your name will not be immortalized on the championship roster. The team’s celebration is different from your celebration, their victory is not your victory, their rewards are not your rewards. They win and you do not even get the hardware they receive. Not much a victory, is it?
Victory might be difficult to grasp in our reading. Followers stand around the cross. Jesus shouts: “It is finished!” And just like that everything is over. Jesus leaves, crowds disperse, and you wonder what you gain now from following this man.
Jesus clears up any lingering confusion. On a platform for all the world to see and hear, he proclaims: “Victory is Yours!” It is won by Jesus and it is handed to you.
The disciple John writes: Later, knowing all was now completed, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”… When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. No longer does Jesus feel shoulder joints popping out of socket. No more do his hands and feet sting from the nails. No longer do those thorns dig into his head. His ears no longer pick up the taunting and the jeering. He does not have to hold back righteous anger against the religious leaders who verbally reject his claims as God’s Son. Jesus gives up his spirit, that is, he dies. He leaves this life.
Of course, you know that death is not the end for Jesus. He rises from the dead— body and soul reunited. He ascend into heaven and sits on his throne— able to command angels, order the universe, and manage his creation. Jesus defeats death!
He reveals the trophy of eternal life he has won— but it may feel like you do not get to hold it. After all, Jesus lives in heaven and you and I live in a world where friends get sick and loved ones struggle with cancer and you sit at the bedside of someone on hospice. Jesus dies and lives again, but death is still a very real part of your life.
Jesus holds out the championship rings, declaring him the leader of heavenly hosts— and still, you may feel that you only get to look at this token. Jesus feasts with believers who have gone before you. He looks around and sees angels upon angels. He lives in a place without tears and pain and death. Yet, you hurt sometimes. Your choices drive a wedge in relationships. Your words push people away. Your actions cannot be taken back. Life is by no means “perfect.”
The name of Jesus is worshipped in heaven, but it feels like your name is forgotten here on earth. That Jesus hopped on the team bus and drives off into heavenly bliss and all you get to do is wait for that bus to bring you to heaven one day. Jesus’ death can easily feel like a victory he enjoys— and a victory which we only get to enjoy at death.
Yet, focus on his words again: “It is finished.” “It” does not refer to death— like death is some sort of escape from life. “It” refers to God’s plan to save you.
Satan has been struck down. Do you know what the name “Satan” means? “Accuser”— as in, someone who points out your shortcomings. How he loves to stand next to you and point at all of your guilt. All those times you are well-aware that your words are not the words you would use with yourself. All those times your dirty, rotten thoughts could lump you into the same category as a hardened criminal. All those times your actions revealed just how selfish you truly are. Satan points at them all!
He knows what the Bible says: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He hops around like a little courtroom jester, telling Jesus: “Look, this is what you said. Carry it out! They deserve hell!”
You know what? He is right. If God were to open up your life-story, he would see crime after crime committed. He would have every right to slam his holy gavel and say: “Off to prison forever!”
Yet, he does not—not against you. Rather, the Father shackles Jesus to the cross and turns away from him. Jesus is left crying out, but the Father never returns to help. Jesus is left paying your wages of sin with his innocent blood. The moment his life covers over your very last blemish, he shouts: “It is finished!”
His death has paid for the sins of the world, from Adam to Christ to the last person who will ever be conceived, and your sins remain paid in full— no matter how long you have lived after the first Good Friday.
That is why he shouts it out! He could have kept these last words to himself, but he wants you to know Victory is Yours! Jesus lives the perfect life you (and I) cannot. Jesus meets God’s standard of perfection. With that standard met, Jesus wins forgiveness and he hands it to you.
At your baptism, he writes your name into the book of heaven. He puts a ring on your finger, marking you as someone who belongs in the family of God. He puts the guarantee of eternal life into your hands. Jesus has secured all these riches and he chooses to give them to you! Victory is Yours!
You live under the results of his victory. When that old evil foe rises in your life, when you stay awake at night wondering if you are really forgiven, point at the cross. Ask yourself: “What happened there?” Jesus died. Who did he die for? You. This is a fact, not a feeling. This one-time, completed action is done for your benefit—and this action will never be undone. It means “You are Victorious!”— or as you just sang: “Christ for me was wounded // That the tempter leave confounded” (Christian Worship Hymnal: 121:3)
The devil can no longer stand beside you, point at your guilt, and insist that you should be punished. Your debt of sin has been paid off! God flips open your life-history and sees Jesus’ life on every page. Your hurtful words have been covered with Jesus’ soothing words. Your foolish actions have been covered with his God-pleasing actions. Your wicked thoughts have been filled with the pure thoughts of Jesus. Satan cannot harm you; he cannot take away your victory Jesus wins for you!
If your debt to God is cancelled, then it means death cannot hold you down. The Bible so clearly teaches: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death is the punishment for sin. Yet, Jesus paid down the debt of sin. He rises to declare death defeated! Death now has become a doorway from this world to the next for every believer—your loved ones and you included!
If death is defeated, then it means the power of sin is broken. Sin has power because where there is sin, there is punishment. Yet, Jesus has removed sin’s burden. No longer does it condemn you. No longer does it need to keep you awake at night. It is gone— thrown into the deepest depths of the ocean!
Victory is Yours because Jesus has placed his victory into your hands. Now you get to live burden-free from sin. You can wake up certain that you belong to a heavenly team. You confidently hold up Jesus’ trophy in the devil’s face, telling him to depart from you—and watch him flee! Jesus wins and hands you the victory!
Unless you are on the winning team, every victory will be a little unsatisfying. No matter how long you followed the team, your fingers will not hoist the World Series trophy. No one will put a team championship ring on your finger. Your name will not be immortalized on the championship roster. The team’s celebration is different from your celebration, their victory is not your victory, their rewards are not your rewards. They win and you do not even get the hardware they receive.
Yet, Jesus wins and gives you the victory! Hoist the trophy of eternal life! Know your name is immortalized in the registers of heaven! Wear your baptism as a token of being in God’s family! Because Jesus completes the Father’s saving plan. It is finished! Your loan owed to God is gone! “Victory is Yours!” It is won by Jesus and it is handed to you.