I have wanted to get a tattoo for a long time – but if I was going to get one, I wanted to be sure of it, and I wanted to get something that was significant enough that I would want to have it etched on my body for the rest of my life.
Over the past 10 years i have been discovering reformed theology. It started with TULIP, and then Calvinism. Then it was Luther and the reformation, the five Solas, saying goodbye to pietism and now fully embracing a confessional Christianity through the 1689 baptist confession of faith… the theology of the reformation has become foundational to my understanding of who God is, and what the gospel really means! But as great as Calvin and Luther and these great fathers of the reformation were; as clear and clarifying as these creeds and confessions had become – it wasn’t them that thrilled me – it is the Jesus they proclaim!
There was one phrase that had become a distillation of gospel truth for me – Jesus’ words from the cross “it is finished”. They are words that I have known since I was a child. From as far back as I can remember, my parents had always included this detail when telling me and my brother the easter story – but it is not until recently those words have taken on their full meaning in my mind.
This is what I wanted tattooed on my body! It is finished! These words incorporated into the shape of the cross. I really wanted to get it done on the 31st of October 2017 – the 500th anniversary of the reformation… but Brent’s book was full… so November 1st it was – a wednesday!
Sure it may not be the most sophisticated design – it may not rival some of the beautiful and detailed tattoos that there are in the world, but the truth it proclaims is greater than anything else in the world!
It is Finished
Jesus spoke these words from the cross in John 19:30, moments before he died. But it wasn’t a cry of resignation, defeat, or even relief… – it was a cry of victory! It was Jesus telling us that he had accomplished what he had come to do – but what had he come to do? What was it that Jesus proclaimed as finished that afternoon on the cross…? Quite simply, the work of salvation!
Under the old covenant the work of salvation was never going to be finished. There was the need for regular, daily, sacrifices at the temple – day in day out, year after year – offerings were made, sacrifices given, but all the blood of bulls and goats could never deal with the problem of sin (Heb 10:4). So why do it? What was the purpose of the old sacrificial system? Answer: the sacrificial system was not given to deal with Israel’s sin – but to point to it… a constant reminder of sin (Heb 10:3)!
The Old Covenant could never actually deal with our sin! Instead it was a never ending parade of sacrifices, each one designed to remind the person of their sin.
It was a nightmare from which there was no escape! Every time someone went to the temple with their sacrifice it would come to their mind, that it really wasn’t that long ago they were last here – the sacrifice didn’t work last time! It didn’t do away with their sin, it wasn’t the final solution, they’ve had to come back again! And they would know full well that it wouldn’t be that long before they would be back again!…because they kept on sinning, they kept on screwing up…
They repeatedly had to bring animals for slaughter – each and every time being reminded that the only reason that innocent lamb had to die, was because they couldn’t stop screwing up. They couldn’t stop breaking God’s law! They were repeatedly reminded that it should be them… The work of dealing with their sin was never finished.
The priest’s work was never done! Their work was never complete, they were always on their feet, always doing the same thing – repeatedly offering the same sacrifices that would never actually take away sins (Heb 10:11). But… contrast this with Jesus work…
‘…when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God’
it continues in Heb 10:14
‘For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.’
Jesus – by way of a single sacrifice… his death on the cross; has perfected for all time… forever, never to have to be repeated; those who are being sanctified… his people, the church; and is now sitting down in heaven… resting because his work of salvation is done!
It is finished. Salvation is complete! There is nothing left to do! Jesus has done it all – which means there is nothing left for me to do…
I wonder if you ever fall into the same error as I do… “if I just do this thing, I will be more acceptable to God…I better go to church this week, so that God will accept me… I better read my bible more so that God will be more pleased with me… I’ll try and keep the rules better this week so that God will be more kind to me…”
Whenever we think that way we show that we haven’t understood what Jesus said on the cross… we haven’t yet understood what is so Good, about Good Friday…
Because, If we think we can add one thing to that sacrifice… if we think there is anything extra we can to do to please God, whether it be the clothes we wear, the words we use, or the things we do… if we believe, or act as though we can add a single thing to His sacrifice…then we are saying the cross was insufficient. We are saying it wasn’t enough… and in fact we call Jesus a liar…
We are saying that it wasn’t actually finished on that day at calvary. We are saying that salvation only became complete when we had done our bit. We only become finally acceptable to God once we had done something.
But that’s not what Jesus said on the cross… he said – it is finished – now! “It is done – I have done it all, I am now going to return to my father, and sit down, there is nothing left to do! I have perfected for all time those who are being sanctified!”
That means if you are a christian you experience sanctification as a process, but in God’s eyes – you are sanctified! You are righteous in his sight, your record is perfect because it isn’t your record he sees – but Jesus’!
It is finished…
And that is something I want to have etched onto my body for the rest of my life! That is something I want to be reminded of daily, because that is something I am so regularly tempted to forget!
In fact, my decision to get a tattoo is an outworking of this very theology. The thing that had put me off getting one up until recently was that I didn’t think it was something a Christian should do. Initially I thought it was something a Christian can’t do because it was disobedient to Jesus. But as my understanding of the laws and the covenants developed – and as I began to understand the difference between, moral, ceremonial and civil laws, and what Jesus meant when he said ‘I have not come to abolish [the law] but to fulfil them‘ – i then understood that having a tattoo is not disobedient.*
But even when I was convinced that there was no biblical prohibition I still held off, because ‘christians just don’t get tattoos’… But what was I saying? Jesus lays no prohibition, but I can? We can add a restriction on a Christian that Christ does not lay on us? In believing this, I had added a restriction; I was adhering to a rule that we didn’t need to any more.It had become a man made law – one that I had to break – because…
Jesus said “IT IS FINISHED!”
For a fuller treatment of the meaning of these words and Hebrews 10 watch the sermon below from Good Friday 2018.
*I initially was going to write a post about how and why I came to this view, as I know a lot of Christian friends in my circle may disagree with me – but that is perhaps for another time.