It Is Finished
The Story Behind the Song
by Gloria Gaither
Bill and I love to hear great orators as much as we love great literature. It has been our privilege to hear, in person or through the media, many great speakers. We’ll never forget the milestone moment in our nation’s history, for example, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the now famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
To teach English students the principle of communication, we used the eulogy delivered by Senator Mike Mansfield, of Montana, after Kennedy was assassinated, “And she took a ring and placed it on his finger. . . .”
And who could forget ten thousand voices at the Praise Gathering for Believers in Indianapolis affirming in one great voice the truth Tony Campolo had drilled into our very souls: “It’s Friday . . . but Sunday’s coming!”
Because we had learned to recognize and appreciate such moments, Bill and I knew that it was a timeless honor to sing at the same service in which nationally known radio orator B. R. Lakin was to deliver a sermon on Jesus’ last words from the cross: “It is finished!”
It was hard to forget the way Dr. Lakin ended his message.
And the drops of blood from His precious hands seeped into the sand below the old rugged cross and said to the sand, “It is finished.” The grains of sand whispered their message to the blades of grass, “It is finished!” A little bird swooped down and plucked a blade of grass and flew to the top of the pine tree and carried the message to the uppermost branch, “It is finished!” The pine standing like a sentinel raised its branches to the sky and repeated to the forests around and the clouds above, “It is finished!” The heavens echoed the wondrous liberating news, “It is finished!” until the winds blew across the sea and the waves lapping on the shore repeated the message to the farthest oceans, “It is finished!”
Bill and I were overwhelmed with the beauty and grandeur of this picture. Afterward, I wasn’t surprised that Bill said, “We’ve got to write a song about that, honey. ‘It Is Finished’—what a great title!”
Even then my mind was exploding, stretching, asking, searching. What was finished? I couldn’t escape the question. How could I ever hope to comprehend the scope of redemption and capture it in a song?
For a year I struggled. Bill kept saying, “Honey, we need to write that song.”
I said, “Yes, we must. But I’m not ready. I can’t distill this truth into four verses and a chorus. Let me live with it a while longer.”
I read and reread the crucifixion story. Insight by insight I made the truths my own. The drink from the Messiah’s cup on the Passover night in the Upper Room; the prayer Jesus prayed for His friends there and for us here. The betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter. The inquisition, trial, and execution. The amazing last words of Jesus.
I considered the implications of the troubling of the forces of nature: the earthquakes, the unnatural darkness, the strange storm. And I worked to comprehend how these chaotic eruptions in the natural realm were used to issue new proclamations in the spiritual realm: a torn barrier to the Holy of Holies, an opening of access to the mercy seat and the awesome presence of God, a redefining of the terms royalty, priesthood, sacrifice, intermediary.
At that time our nation was involved in the long and seemingly pointless Vietnam War. When “the conflict” was finally ended, a generation of America’s young had been riddled. This was the only war I had known well. I was born after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and I barely remembered the Korean War. Vietnam was my generation’s war—the first war to pull the nation apart rather than unite it. It left both those who served in it and those who refused to serve confused and bewildered and at odds with one another. It was an ambiguous war.
I well remember the night Bill and I sat and wept in our living room as we watched on television the return home of prisoners of war from Vietnam. Some fell to the ground and kissed American soil. Others threw themselves into the arms of waiting parents, wives, and sweethearts who had lived in the fear that these soldiers would never come back. Some hugged their two-, three-, and four-year-old children whom they had never seen. The relief on the faces—the tears, the joy, the hope, the pain—was almost too much to bear.
About that same time Bill and I picked up a major news magazine that carried the story of another American soldier. This man had wandered out of the forest on some secluded island in the South Pacific. He was carrying a rusty weapon and was dressed in what remained of a tattered American uniform. He was suspicious and frightened as authorities took him into custody. The article explained that this was a World War II soldier who had been lost from his company and left behind. No one had ever told him that the Allies had won the war, that he was free to go home, that victory had been declared long ago. All those years he had remained at war in his mind, fighting a battle that had already been won.
The song Bill wanted us to write was falling into place for me.
War—the cross of Jesus was about war, a war of cosmic proportions, the war of the ages. This was a war with a clear objective: freedom for every soul since Eden. It was a war fought on earth where mankind could see it, and a war fought in the unseen world, from the heavens to the very pit of hell. What was finished? I’d asked the question for a year. Bill had the music; now the words would come.
I saw the crack in the earth—caused by the quake that shook Golgotha—as a cosmic split in the universe, a line that divided all history and all time into bc and ad. I began to write:
There’s a line that’s been drawn through the ages;
On that line stands an old rugged cross.
On that cross a battle is raging
For the gain of man’s soul or its loss.
The sides and powers of the conflict were clearly defined. If there ever was a holy war, a righteous cause, this was it. And each of us had major stakes in this war’s outcome.
On one side march the forces of evil,
All the demons and devils of hell;
On the other the angels of glory,
And they meet on Golgotha’s hill.
There were disturbances of nature—much more than a simple storm or earthquake. This earthquake shook the very foundations of the firmament and reverberated into eternity.
The earth shakes with the force of the conflict;
The sun refuses to shine,
For there hangs God’s Son in the balance,
And then through the darkness He cries—
It is finished!The battle is over.
It is finished!There’ll be no more war.
It is finished!The end of the conflict.
It is finished!And Jesus is Lord.
A defeated enemy is impotent. Every battle-weary soldier must be told: the war is over!
I thought of that poor, bedraggled man peering suspiciously out from the dark forest, afraid to come out into the sunlight, guarding his little island. I saw myself, and I suddenly realized that this is a picture of us all. Because of Jesus, Satan has no power over us unless he can keep us from hearing the news of the victory, unless he can convince us that the war has never been won.
Of all the declarations of freedom—the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights—none has been written so eloquently or at such great cost in bloodshed as the one spoken in three words from an old rugged cross: It is finished! Every isolated soldier of life’s battle must hear it.
Yet in my heart the battle was raging;
Not all prisoners of war have come home.
These were battlefields of my own making;
I didn’t know that the war had been won.
Then I heard that the King of the Ages
Had fought all my battles for me.
And the victory was mine for the claiming,
And now, praise His name, I am free!
It is finished!
Bill sat down at the piano, played his tune, and sang through the words on the yellow tablet in front of him. Tears ran down our faces as we embraced anew the truth that had set us free. We were coming to know at a sweeter, deeper level what was meant by the words the blade of grass whispered to the bird that day on Golgotha: It is finished!
Taken from Something Beautiful book by Gloria Gaither
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