Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19.28-30)
Le mot juste
After several trips to Paris, Walt and I decided it was time to stick with French and fall back on English only when absolutely necessary. We’d settled into a groove—same hotel, restaurants, shops, etc.—and become familiar faces. Expecting desk staff, waiters, and merchants we knew by name to speak our language felt less polite with each return. Having dinner one night at a favorite brasserie, Gérard, who’d waited on us a least a dozen times, dropped off the dessert carte. I groaned, “Merci, mais non. Je suis fini.” (“Thank you, but no. I’m finished.”) Gérard smiled and said, “Non, non, mon ami. Vous n’êtes pas fini. Vous avez terminé.” (“No, no, my friend. You aren’t finished. You have ended.”) Unsure I gathered the difference, he explained it in English. “You are at the end of dinner, not life.” That’s when I learned the chief difference between the languages. English, the offspring of Germanic Anglo-Saxon and Romantic Norman French, has at least two words for everything. French, having a single parent (Latin), is more precise. Closer attention is paid to exact meaning; hence le mot juste, the perfect word.
I’ve been mulling my tabletop French lesson in light of Jesus’s last words, “It is finished.” Today, six English-speaking people may very well sit side-by-side in a Good Friday service, hear the phrase (arguably the most important Christ spoke), and infer six entirely different things: “It’s finished… done… over… ended… completed… concluded.” The nuances will be lost, however, because we tend to lump synonyms together to mean the same thing. But which is le mot juste? I opened my French Bible to Jean 19.30: “Quand Jésus eut pris le vinaigre, il dit: Tout est accompli.” (“When Jesus had taken the vinegar, He said: “All is accomplished.”) Accomplished—not just “it,” meaning the ordeal of the cross, but all of it. The mission is completed, prophecy fulfilled, and objective realized.
Four Acts, Four Principles
Matthew, Mark, and Luke honor their task as biographers by documenting the crucifixion in detail. But John approaches the story from a unique angle, condensing the Life to distill its Essence. He declares his findings at the outset: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1.1)—logos, i.e., the creative Command, the kept Promise, and the articulated Ideal. Consequently, John presents the crucified Word in four acts. First, he focuses on the title, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Pilate hand-writes this in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, and orders it to be affixed to the cross. Second, he notes soldiers charged with Jesus’s execution strip Him and gamble for His clothes. Third, Jesus makes sure His mother will be properly cared for by “the disciple whom He loved” (i.e., John). Lastly, He records Christ’s only request for comfort while on the cross, “I’m thirsty,” which is answered with a vinegar-soaked sponge laced with hyssop, a purgative. On completion of these four acts, Jesus says, “All is accomplished.” His spirit departs His body. The Word made flesh will dwell in human form no more.
John concentrates on these four acts to convey four principles, all of them directly linked to Christ the Word more so than Jesus the Christ. In terms of Pilate’s inscription, it’s significant that John alone refers to it as a “title.” (Mark and Luke use “inscription,” while Matthew chooses “accusation.”) For John, this is a worthy acclimation, even if its pen is dipped in sarcasm aimed at Messianic promises. Its trilingual translation confirms Christ’s complete sacrifice for all, Jew and Gentile, in writing. The Word is given for everyone.
Next—despite reverent artists, who modestly cover Jesus with a loincloth—John implies He’s forced to hang fully unclothed expressly to humiliate Him. Once again, this inadvertently confirms completion of Christ’s mission by exposing Him as the articulated Ideal, Adam as God made him to be, unashamed, without sin. Creation comes full circle. While both gestures ultimately display God’s universal acceptance and forgiveness, the gamblers’ obliviousness signifies humanity’s preoccupation with worthless pursuits at the expense of invaluable grace. John views this not only as a literal fulfillment of Psalm 22.18—“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing”—but also prophetic foreshadowing of our materialistic blindness to the power of the cross.
The third and fourth acts also fulfill prophecy while ratifying the Word. Jesus hangs between an all-powerful Father Who won’t respond and a mother without power to intervene. As she watches her Son’s anguish, no doubt Mary’s thoughts return to Simeon’s prediction when she and Joseph present the Christ Child at the Temple: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2.34-35) For all His agony, Jesus identifies with Mary’s piercing pain. At the height of His rejection, He speaks His concern that Mary not be cast aside. The Word exemplifies His command to love others as we love ourselves—even when we’ve never felt more unloved.
Finally, Christ’s excruciating, emotional isolation forms the bridge to Act Four, as foretold in Psalm 19.20-21: “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” John suggests Jesus is conscious this prophecy must be realized, as though it were the last on a very long list: “So that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (John 19.28) Thus the Word speaks, less on His own behalf than ours, seeing that no unturned prophetic stone remains as a stumbling block to our faith. Rather than the salutary sip of wine commonly offered to expiring criminals, Jesus accepts a wicked concoction that drains His last ounce of strength and sends Him from the world with bitterness in His mouth. After this last scornful affront, there’s nothing else to be done, no prophecies left to fulfill, nothing more to say. The Word departs for the grave, leaving the flesh riveted to the cross. All is accomplished.
Alive to the Cross
On this most holy day that brings us to Calvary, we grieve in knowing the disobedience and selfishness that drives us so far from God drove Him to suffer agonizing humiliation in our flesh. But as we look at our crucified Savior through tear-clouded eyes, it’s essential we remain alive to the cross and all Christ accomplished there.
The lifted Word forever struck down any standing prohibitions to God’s love and acceptance. He calls to each of us, in every language, drawing us out of every corner and closet. The Promise Incarnate assures us His promises are true—including John 6.37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” This He accomplished.
We gaze upon the stripped Christ, yet find no disgrace. Instead, we see the Ideal, the fully exposed, perfect image and likeness of God. And the Word speaks to our hearts, inviting us to see ourselves the same way, innocent and unashamed, radiantly clothed in invaluable grace. This He accomplished.
His care and concern for Mary stuns us. Even though political and religious enemies torment Him, friends betray and deny Him, and His Father turns away from Him, He loves exactly as He taught us to love. He proves the power of His commandment. This He accomplished.
His thirsty cry only brings bitterness. Yet He drinks it anyway, removing every doubt He is the Word—the creative Command, the kept Promise, the articulated Ideal. He takes the foul drink, swallows its poison, and endures the lacerating sting as it spills over his chapped lips and open wounds for our sake. This He accomplished.
The mission is complete. The prophecy is fulfilled. The objective is realized.
All is accomplished.
Postscript: Who Am I?
This superb juxtaposition of Casting Crown’s “Who Am I?” with clips from The Passion of the Christ (minus a few confusing moments from Left Behind) is exactly what I mean by remaining “alive to the cross.” I pray Calvary’s accomplishments will be more vividly real than ever to all of us.