The last word that Jesus spoke before dying on the cross means, “It is finished.” The atoning work of Christ is complete. Our immense debt to God is paid in full.
While Jesus was hanging on a cross outside Jerusalem, a thick curtain was hanging inside the Jewish temple. This ornate veil marked a solemn boundary: the curtain was a physical barrier representing the spiritual separation between God and people. Some claimed that this curtain was so thick—maybe four inches thick—that horses could not have torn it apart.
But when Christ died, God tore that veil apart from top to bottom. Through His own torn body, Jesus opened the way to God. He made Himself the door into the heart of God.
When God tore the curtain, He was throwing open the entrance into His presence, inviting us all to rich relationship with Him: “Come in, come in!”
Tetelestai. The old covenant is finished.
The old covenant is the system in which we must earn our acceptance. We must prove ourselves. In the old system, there are rewards and relationship for those who keep the rules, and there are punishments and separation for those fail.
But Christ said, “Tetelestai.” The old covenant is finished. We have a new way now, a way of receiving instead of earning.
God gives us relationship. He gives us acceptance. He gives us warm welcome. He gives us honor. He gives us unfailing love.
God says to us, “Tetelestai. No more earning. Come in, come in!” What a fantastic thing to hear!
Tetelestai transforms our lives, entirely.
And tetelestai can transform our marriages—entirely.
Very often, we put our spouse in the defendant’s seat while we climb to the judge’s bench. We stay busy and vigilant as both judge and prosecutor. Has my spouse earned my kindness? Has she earned my attention? Has he earned my respect? Has he earned my acceptance?
We feel compelled to oversee justice before providing relationship, so we continually monitor our spouse’s behavior, measure our approval or displeasure, and mete out the consequences. All of these relational transactions drain our energy and dampen our enjoyment. Our marriages begin to carry more duty than delight.
But there is a better way! We can say to our spouse, “Tetelestai! No more earning my love. I give you acceptance. I give you my commitment.”
We are no longer in the courtroom with God. Let’s not live in the courtroom with our spouse.
We can tear that thick curtain of rejection and separation, and say, “Come into relationship with me. I give you unconditional love. I give you unconditional respect.”
In the new covenant, love and respect are gifts, not wages. When we are in a covenant of grace with a husband or wife, these gifts are not for earning; they are for giving and for receiving.
Of course, this does not mean enabling sin or condoning abuse. That would violate both love and respect. Often, there are harmful behaviors which a couple must address. But even difficult confrontation is best motivated by love, and healthy boundaries are best implemented with respect.
Here’s the thing: God lets us choose our covenant, old or new.
When we demand that others earn our love, our respect, and our forgiveness, then we are choosing to live in old covenant ways of earning. Those who refuse to forgive others may find that they are also refusing the forgiveness of God for themselves—because God lets us choose the covenant that we want to live in and that we want to govern our lives.
But if we give love, respect, and forgiveness without demanding that others earn it, then we can join God in offering the new covenant of grace. “Come in, come in!”
For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two [of us into] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one [flesh] out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of [us] to God through the cross, by which he put to death [our] hostility.
Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV