When Jesus Had Finished
It is a good feeling to finish something important: building a house, writing a book, planting a garden, putting a kid through college! Or maybe it is something you have put off for a long time, like writing a letter, cleaning out the attic, filing your taxes, or selling a car. It is a good feeling to finish, to check something off the list.
Jesus must have felt that way when he finished. The writer puts it this way, “When the Lord had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.”
The Lord spoke to me in this phrase, “When the Lord had finished.”
I hope the Lord speaks to you through my words this morning. God help us to understand what is finished and what remains to be done. I want to know what Jesus has completed and what Jesus left for us to do. I want to look around me and ask, “What is it that is yet unfinished? What is it that still needs to be done? What is it that I can do, must do, will do for the glory of God and the common good?”
Are you ready to ask that question, “Lord, what is it that you want me to do?” Are you ready to say, “Yes, Lord, I see you have finished what you came to do. But what have you sent me to do? Am I ready to take up the work you called me to do?
You are finished, O Lord, but what about me?
Many things in the economy of God are finished.
Genesis tells the story of creation. In six days, whatever that means, God created the heavens and the earth. He finished, and on the seventh day, God rested. Exodus tells the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt. Moses guided the people to pack their bags, paint the blood on the doorposts, eat one last meal, and walk their way to freedom. They crossed the Red Sea, and they were finished with Egypt.
Joshua and Judges describes how those people and their descendants migrated into Canaan and settled into what they called the Promise Land. Kings and Chronicles recount how David and Solomon built the palace and the temple. The Bible reads like this, “Solomon finished building everything he wanted to build.”
Jesus also finished some things. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He challenged the scribes and pharisees. He launched a movement of religious fervor that carried him and his people all the way into the Holy City. Jesus surrendered himself to the evil schemes of the religious and political authorities. He prayed his prayer in the garden, “Not my will but yours be done, O Lord.”
Jesus hung on the cross, cried out to God, comforted others beside him, forgave the soldiers, and gave up his spirit, but not before saying, “It is finished.”
Jesus finished dying for you and for me. Jesus finished offering his life in our place, for our sin. Jesus finished the work of teaching, helping, and loving in the spirit of God. Jesus finished living, working, and dying, and he said, “It is finished.”
But that is not all.
Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to you about another great task. Jesus appeared to his disciples: to Mary of Magdala, to the two on the road to Emmaus, to the Eleven minus Thomas, then to the Eleven including Thomas, and to all of the disciples gathered in Galilee, on the sea and by the sea. Jesus finished by giving his disciples what we call the Great Commission. “Go, and start your work. I have finished my work. It is time for you to start your work. I will be with you to guide you, empower you, and sustain you. I have finished. It is time for you to start.”
This text I am reading is complicated and confusing. I am sure you noticed!
This text in the gospel of Mark is also problematic. In my Bible, I read these words at the end of verse eight: “The most ancient manuscripts of Mark conclude with verse 8. Later manuscripts add one or both of the following endings. First, “Then the disciples briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.”
Not a bad way to finish the first and most influential gospel account of Jesus. They should have left well enough alone, John Prine sings in his song “Egg and Daughter Night.”
Here is another ending printed in most Bibles:
“After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.
Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them. Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.
And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
What I left out is what we often leave out of our religion: These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
Maybe we need to schedule a 1618 worship service, a reference to this verse. Maybe we need to schedule a gathering where we cast out the demons, pick up the snakes, drink down the poison, and lay hands on the sick.
I saw this week that some of you are getting ready for that service. I saw the pictures of you picking up the snakes. Lord, have mercy!
You did that, not because it was a gospel command, but because it was a curiosity.
We don’t know where this ending to this gospel came from. Was it from Jesus, or the apostles, or some itinerant faith healer who exerted great influence on those first Christian communities? Is this part of the gospel? Casting out demons, picking up snakes, drinking down the poison, and laying hands on the sick?
When Jesus finished his work, is this the work he gave us to do? When he had finished, is this what he expected his disciples to do?
There has always been a fascination with the miraculous, the inexplicable, the sensational. People are drawn to this type of demonstration. This is the appeal of the magician, the trickster, even the freak—people will go to see it and often leave wondering how all that happened. However: will handling snakes convert people to a life of Jesus and Justice? Will drinking the poison demonstrate the faith and practice of Jesus? Will these religious slights of hands feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, and visit the prisoner?
This narrative cord at the end of Mark’s gospel is all wrapped up and we have to untangle all of it. Here is the cord of speaking in tongues; let’s hand that to someone else in the room. Here is the cord of casting out demons; let’s lay that over the trash can for a moment. Here is the cord of picking up snakes; let’s bury that in the back yard ASAP. Here is the cord of laying hands on the sick; let’s toss that over the shoulder. Here is the cord of drinking the poison; let’s take that out to the trash tote. Our hesitation to hang onto the tongues cord, the demon cord, the snake cord, and the poison cord leaves us with all we can use.
This is the only place in the Christian literature that these things are mentioned; but I will tell you what is mentioned everywhere: go into all the world and preach the gospel, teach the Christian way, baptize those who present themselves, serve those in need, welcome others as if they were angels, and pray without ceasing. We can sum up all of that with this simple phrase: sing for joy and live with hope.
When he had finished, Jesus the Lord left us with something to do. We are to take up the work of Jesus, the work that occupied him, the work that filled his days, the gospel work that calls us today. “Come, follow Jesus, and seek first the kingdom of God.”
When Jesus had finished, we took up the work!
I don’t mean church work, primarily, with committees and councils and organizational things; but sometimes yes—I mean organizing ourselves for the good work of the gospel. I call you to that today.
Yes, I know, many of us want to follow Jesus in this regard, and say, “I have finished the work. I have run the race. I have kept the faith. I am tired. I am weary. I am worn. I am finished. I know that temptation. I retired to St. Simons Island. It is a short bike ride to the Atlantic Ocean.
But here is the good word: there is a gospel work for every season of life. There is a calling for every stage of life. Gospel work is not just for the young, the healthy, and the idealistic. When Jesus had finished, he set before us—all of us—a vision for the common good, the gospel good, the Carolina good. I want to be a part of that.
Once again, as I have several times in my life, I want to consecrate my life to the call of the God and the good of all. When Jesus had finished, he turned to me and said, “You—you take care of this.” And I said, “OK, I will. I will do my best. And while I am at it—whatever it is—I will be singing for joy and living with hope.”