19th November 2020
Over the next couple of weeks, Andrew Wilson, our Teaching Pastor, will be posting a series of guest posts on this page while Steve takes a short break from blogging.
One of the most famous lines in Scripture is also one of the most puzzling. We all know that Jesus, as he was dying, uttered the triumphant words, “It is finished.” We quote it all the time. We celebrate it in our songs and our sermons. Some of us have the original Greek word, tetelestai, tattooed on our bodies. Yet if someone was to ask us exactly what it means—what exactly is the “it” which is “finished”?—we might have to stop and think for a while. Is Jesus saying that his life and mission is over? The power of sin is broken? The reign of death is ended? All of the above?
Theologically speaking, we could defend all of those interpretations. But it is interesting that John, the only evangelist who records the phrase, does not mention any of them. Instead, he connects it to several other themes by using a flurry of similar terms in one paragraph. In just three verses, he uses five words which mean either “fulfil” or “full,” of which Jesus’s dying cry is the climactic one. If we overtranslated it, we would get something like this: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was fulfilled, said in order to fulfil the Scripture: ‘I’m thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is fulfilled,’ and bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30). John, it seems, wants us to see the death of Christ not merely as a conclusion, but as a culmination.
Each of these five words is worth reflecting on, to make the same connections John does. The first one refers back to the previous paragraph: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was fulfilled …” (28). Clauses like that should always make us ask: after what? In this case, the answer is: after ensuring that his mother was taken into the home of his friend (26-27). This is probably not where I would have focused my attention as Jesus was dying! For John, however, it is a critical moment. There are five people at the foot of the cross, and they include the mother of Christ (Mary), the first witness of the resurrection (Mary Magdalene), and the writer of this Gospel (John). Jesus’s death joins them together, uniting people from different families into one household. In some ways, this text marks the start of the church, in all her Gospel-writing, resurrection-witnessing splendour. With that achieved, it is mission accomplished.
The next word comes immediately afterwards: “Jesus said, in order to fulfil the Scripture: ‘I’m thirsty.’” (The passage referred to here is probably Psalm 69:21: “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”) Read in this light, Jesus’s cry of triumph does not just mean that the debt of sin is cancelled: “It is paid!” It means that the story of Scripture has reached its climax in the cross, just as God always said it would: “It is fulfilled!” All the promises that God made to the prophets have come to pass and become Yes and Amen in Christ.
The next two examples look more obscure, because they relate to a sponge. “A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch” (29). What possible connection is there between a jar or a sponge “full” of wine, and the “fulfilment” of the Lord’s death? It sounds odd, until we remember that the story of the cross began with Jesus’s insistence that he would “drink the cup that the Father has given me” (18:11). John has set us up: he has framed the entire cross story as one in which Jesus drains the winecup of God’s judgment to the dregs, like Dumbledore in the Horcrux cave, and now he ends with Jesus drinking a full jar of wine via a full sponge. The sacramental overtones of the wine, and the hyssop branch (Exodus 12:22), make it even more emphatic.
So when we finally hear that famous word tetelestai, we make at least three connections. Jesus has “completed” the foundation of the church. He has “fulfilled” the promises of Scripture. He has “finished” the winecup of God’s judgment against sin. Now there is nothing left for him to do except bow his head and, in a final twist, “hand over the Spirit” whom he has been promising throughout John’s Gospel (19:30).
Last words are famous for a reason. The Buddha’s dying words, for example, summed up his teaching: “Work hard to gain your own salvation.” In Christ’s dying words, we have the exact opposite: the claim that the salvation of the world is achieved not by our work, but by his. God’s church is founded. God’s promises are fulfilled. God’s judgment is finished. God’s people are free.
Posted by Andrew Wilson
12th November 2020
Over the next few weeks, Andrew Wilson, our Teaching Pastor, will be posting a series of guest posts on this page while Steve takes a short break from blogging.
There are two pairs of twins in Genesis, but most of us only notice one of them. Jacob and Esau get the headlines: the smooth wheeler-dealer who becomes the father of the Israelites, and his hairy oafish twin who gets tricked out of his birthright for a bowl of soup. Perez and Zerah, by contrast, fly under the radar. They don’t appear in kids Bibles, or even sermons. Yet in many ways they summarise the biblical story more crisply than any other siblings in Scripture.
The twins are born to Judah and Tamar, the product of an incestuous relationship between a father and his daughter-in-law, whom he thinks is a prostitute. (This is another story that gets omitted from kids Bibles, although for different reasons.) Judah will become the tribe of kings, so it matters a great deal which twin will get the inheritance. During childbirth, one brother’s hand emerges first, and he has a scarlet thread tied round his wrist to confirm that he is the heir. But then he withdraws his hand, and his brother barges past him and is born first. The queue-jumper is named Perez, which means “breach” or “breakthrough.” The one with the scarlet cord is called Zerah, which means “dawn” or “rising.” In those two names is found the heart of the gospel.
The world looks for a Zerah. We want a king who will rise up and shine like the dawn. We want the firstborn, with a mark of royalty on his fist. But God chooses a Perez, the boy of the breach, the child of breakthrough. He wants a king whom we would never choose – a younger, weaker boy without the obvious signs of kingship – but who triumphs anyway as God breaks through on his behalf.
This is the plotline of Genesis. Again and again, the “rising” which looks impressive loses out to the “breakthrough” which doesn’t. Human power rises up like the tower of Babel, and comes to nothing; meanwhile God makes a breach using an elderly couple in a tent. Older brothers (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben) come unstuck; younger brothers (Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) receive an inheritance. Natural fertility, based on the “rising” of human flesh, leads nowhere in particular. The promises come through the women who wait for a breakthrough: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Tamar herself.
The life of David, likewise, is a Perez versus Zerah story. There are Zerahs everywhere: the seven older sons of Jesse who look impressive; King Saul, who rises head and shoulders above everyone else; Goliath, who rises to nine feet tall and grasps the obvious symbol of victory in his fist. (Interestingly, the largest army that ever fights against Israel is led by an Ethiopian named Zerah.) But they are each overcome by the last-born, harp-playing, stone-throwing shepherd boy, as he trusts the God of Perez to break through for him. It is a lesson David remembers when he ascends to the throne. He defeats the Philistines and names the place Baal-Perazim: “the LORD has burst through my enemies like a bursting flood” (2 Sam 5:20). Soon afterwards he finds himself on the other side of the God of breakthrough, as one of his men touches the ark of the covenant and is immediately struck dead. The fear of God falls on David, and the place is named Perez-Uzzah: “the breaking out against Uzzah” (2 Sam 6:5-10).
All of this helps to explain why, when Matthew opens his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, he only names one person who is not an ancestor of Jesus, and that person is Zerah. It would seem like a strange move if it were not, by now, such a common pattern. There is no Ishmael in the genealogy, no Esau, no Reuben or Levi or Ephraim. Family trees do not usually include people from whom you are not descended. But Matthew feels compelled to tell us that Judah was “the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (1:3). Jesus is a Perez as opposed to a Zerah. He does not have the obvious sign of royalty on his fist. He does not rise to a foot taller than everyone else. He wasn’t even conceived through the ordinary rising of human flesh. As Mary and Joseph knew very well, his conception was entirely down to Baal-Perazim, the Lord who bursts forth, the God of breakthrough.
Ultimately, in one of those beautiful ironies that only a sovereign God could orchestrate, Jesus is worshipped around the world for his rising, and the dawn of the new world that it began. His fist now holds the symbols of royalty. But even his zerah is a perez. His rising is a breakthrough, a breach in the walls of death and hell, a bursting forth of the LORD against his enemies. Praise be to the boy of the breach.
Posted by Andrew Wilson
5th November 2020
Events move quickly these days, don't they? Just last week I was telling you all on this blog about our plan to open up for in-person services again. Sadly, before we’d even had our first meeting last Sunday, the government announced that we would be going into another national lockdown. So, even though the in-person services last week went well, and were enjoyed by all who attended, we will not be able to open up on Sundays for now. But of course, our online services will be continuing, and I encourage you to keep on joining us each week.
Though it is frustrating to be in lockdown again, I believe it is the right decision. Here is a brief video message from me as we go into our second lockdown of the year.
As we enter this second lockdown, I want to encourage you to keep looking up – keep looking to God and drawing near to Him. Let’s keep looking out for one another – making phonecalls, sending texts and emails, particularly to those who are alone. And let’s also look ahead – to Christmas and the hope of better times as spring approaches. Even though Christmas may look a little different this year, the truths we celebrate during this season remain the same. Plans for our online carol services are already taking shape, and I look forward to telling you more about these in the weeks to come.
Posted by Steve Tibbert
29th October 2020
From this Sunday, 1st November, King’s will be holding in-person Sunday services for the first time since March.
While we are naturally excited about meeting face-to-face again, it is worth noting that the majority of the church will still be meeting online each week. Covid restrictions mean that there is a limit on how many people can be accommodated in our buildings (you will need to book a place in advance in order to attend) and we are also aware that gathering in person is not suitable for everyone. In fact, if you have underlying health conditions or are over the age of 70, we encourage you to stay at home and continue to join us online.
Please take a look at the video below, where Joe Macnamara will talk you through everything you need to know about starting to meet in our buildings again. You can also find more information on the King's website.
This is an exciting step, but let’s remember that wherever we are this Sunday, whether we are in one of our buildings or worshipping at home, God is with us, for us and working to fulfil His purposes.
Posted by Steve Tibbert
Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham, Lee and Beckenham. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.