If there is one thing I hate to do, it’s pay taxes. Every year, I have to go down to the tax office to declare my income, and then a month later, I collect my refund…only to have to give all of that refund back and more to pay my property taxes as well as my city and prefectural taxes.
Nowadays, I tend to pay these taxes all at once. We have the option to pay in installments, but it’s nice to get it all over with. And when I pay, my tax bill is stamped, to show that my tax debt is paid in full.
And that is exactly the picture Jesus invoked when saying his final words at the cross.
At around 3:00 p.m., the gospels tell us that it became dark, and that the sun did not shine its light. I doubt that it was an eclipse because those last only a few minutes, and this darkness lasted 3 hours. But however God did it, a darkness fell on the land. And my guess is it was a picture of God placing all of our sin upon Jesus. That all the darkness in this world that comes from sin, was put on Jesus during that time. Then at around 6 p.m. Jesus cried out,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
At that moment, I believe that God the Father turned his face aside from Jesus because of the sin that had been placed upon him; if so, it was the first time ever that the relationship between the two had ever been broken, and Jesus suffered what all of us deserve: separation from the Father. Separation from he who is love. Separation from he who is joy. Separation from he who is life. That’s what hell is. And so in that sense (and that sense alone), Jesus suffered hell. He took upon himself the punishment that we deserved.
And having suffered that, he looked up for the last time, and said,
“It is finished. Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46, John 19:30)
It is finished.
Those were the words that were often printed on the bill of those who paid their taxes in Jesus’ day. And they literally meant, “paid in full.”
And by Jesus’ death on the cross, he paid in full the debt we owed because of our sin.
What’s the result? We can have a new relationship with God. God tore the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Mark 15:38) and by doing so, he was telling us, “The barrier that stood between me and you is gone. You have now free access to me through my Son.”
We no longer have to stay at a distance from God as the Israelites once did (Exodus 20:18-21).
We can draw near. So let us draw near.
As the writer of Hebrews exhorts us,
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living was opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)