We began our Lenten journey this year by going straight to the end, where Jesus, in his dying moments on the cross, uttered a single word “Tetelestai” (no idea if that is the correct spelling but that will have to do). This word translates into English as “It is finished”.
But what is finished? Several things, which we have been in the process of unpacking. This is by no means an exhaustive listing; I am only hitting on a few. If you’ve just joined us this week, you’re coming in at the end of the movie. I won’t try to catch you up on all of the earlier posts in the series now; they are in the archives and will be there for ever and ever, or at least as long as there is an internet, so you can do that for yourselves.
Last week we talked about how the world’s way of doing things is finished. The world’s way of doing things is all about power, all about trying to get ahead and stay ahead, all about trying to project a big image of yourself so that others see you as important, all about impressing others and chasing extraordinary. But when your king is a wandering rabbi who got himself killed in the most violent and horrific way imaginable, all of that goes out the window.
Within the past week we have seen a prime example of this. The state of Indiana has just passed a Religious Freedom bill, which basically prohibits government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to their religious beliefs. A similar measure failed in Arizona last year; you may have heard about that in the news.
Conservative evangelicals are all geeked up about this. Why? Because it is clear, to them at least, that they are losing the culture war, especially on the issue of gay marriage. With so many states now legalizing gay marriage, the Religious Freedom bill in Indiana guards against the nightmare scenario that a Christian photographer might be forced to photograph a gay wedding, or that a Christian caterer might be forced to serve at a gay wedding. (What ever happened to the idea of serving in love and keeping one’s political opinions to oneself?) It reassures conservative evangelicals that all is still well in their world, to a certain extent at least.
Why? Because the supporters of this measure are about transforming the culture through legislation and the political process. As if we can seize control of the political and cultural apparatus of our nation and force things into effect which are pleasing to God, or at least in accord with the parts of God’s agenda that we like the best, and in that way build the kingdom of God and move the Gospel forward.
When your king is a crucified Messiah, a wandering rabbi who got himself killed in the most violent and horrific way imaginable, all of that goes flying out the window.
Now we conclude our Lenten journey by looking at one more thing: Satan is finished.
We go to Hebrews 10. Now Hebrews is written primarily for a Jewish audience, or at least for an audience of believers who had come from a Jewish background, and it makes the case that Jesus is the reality toward which the Temple, the sacrifices, and many other aspects of Jewish tradition and practice pointed. The author of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Jewish high priest who year after year must make the same sacrifices, which are a reminder of sin but are powerless to actually take it away–if they could take away sin then there would be no need for the same sacrifices to be made year after year–but Christ as high priest made his sacrifice and then sat down, because his sacrifice had done what it was supposed to do and there was no need for any further sacrifices. Tucked away in the middle of this passage we find verse 13-14:
Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
There it is. Satan’s destiny in life is to be made a footstool for Christ, and we are on a countdown to the day when that happens.
When Jesus spoke the word “Tetelestai” on the cross, all the forces of hell were circling. This was the moment they were waiting for, when the Son of God would breathe his last. They were cueing the music in 3…2…1…but when it got to 0 they learned the horrible truth: that in killing the Son of God they had sealed their own fate, that in what they thought was Christ’s defeat they had guaranteed their own ultimate defeat.
In the book of Revelation John has a vision of the resurrected Jesus which overwhelms him so profoundly that he falls down as if he were dead. Jesus encourages him as follows: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 2:17-18)
Satan had his keys, the keys to death and hell, taken away from him in the moment that Jesus died. Jesus now has the keys to let us into heaven and out of hell.
The Eastern Orthodox tradition does Lent a little differently from the rest of Christianity. One of the things they do differently is Holy Saturday, the day between Jesus’ death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter. In the Orthodox tradition, Holy Saturday takes on something of a celebratory tone. They call it the “Harrowing of Hell”: Jesus, having won the victory over death and hell by his death on the cross, now descends to hell, busts it open, and leads out all those whom Satan had held captive.
And when darkness fell on Saturday night (in the Jewish way of reckoning such things, a day does not begin in the morning, it begins at sunset of the previous day), Jesus rose from the dead and liberated all of us. Because God can die, but he won’t stay dead.