A priest’s work was extremely hard and demanding. Imagine helping with sacrifices all day long. And you never stopped. As soon as one worshipper had finished another was waiting. It was your job to keep the fire burning, to dispose of the animal carcasses, to handle the blood and guts all day long. The filth, the smell, the heat, the toil. It was unbelievably hard work. How much fun can it be dealing with people’s sin all day long?
How every priest must have longed for a break, to wash their hands and clean their clothes. How they must have longed to sit down. They believed in the sacrifice. They believed in the power of the blood. But they must have longed for a different way, “Will this work ever end? Could there just be one sacrifice?”
Each day the priests would work from early morning going through the five sacrifices of the first chapters of Leviticus. Then at 3 o clock in the afternoon, Jewish tradition says that the priest would come to the front of the altar and exhaustedly cry out: “It is finished!” But it wasn’t finished. He knew that as the sun rose the next day he would be back to repeat it all again. So the longing grew for a sacrifice that would end all sacrifices, for a perfect life, a perfect death. Could they have imagined that one day at 3 o clock in the afternoon an exhausted cry would ring out from a criminals cross “It is finished!”
John 19:30 (NIV)
30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The tense is a completed action, the effect of which continues on. A sacrifice had been made once and for all, not an animal but the perfect sacrifice of God’s own Son.
And then I love what the Bible says. Think of those priests who day after day were on their feet, their job never done, never finished, never over, and then read these words:
Hebrews 10:11-12 (NIV)
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
He sat down, His work done, finished, over, sitting in heaven forever because it was forever finished.