It's that time of year again. When a lot of us are feeling - well, religious.
You've got Lent. And Good Friday services. And Easter services. And if you're Jewish, the millennia-old observance of Passover.
And that's all good. In fact, social researchers tell us that religious folks are generally happier and more satisfied, less likely to get divorced, more likely to volunteer - lots of positive effects.
Being religious is clearly a good thing. But not good enough.
There's this one big problem with religion.
According to the Bible, it won't get you to heaven. Which, for a lot of people, is like saying to passengers on a plane ready to take off, "This isn't going to the destination you had in mind." What's the point of the ride if it doesn't get you where you want to go?
The problem with religion actually goes all the way back to that first Good Friday. And three words Jesus managed to get out just before He took His last breath on that cross.
"It is finished."
But what had Jesus "finished"?
The folks who were there that dark day would have heard just one word - "Tetelestai!" Or basically, "paid in full."
I saw those words on a bill of mine once. From our orthodontist. After the tons of engineering he had done in the mouths of our three kids. One day the dreaded bill came. With three stunning words stamped on it - "Paid in full." Not by me. The man I owed the debt, in essence, paid the debt.
That's the loving transaction that was completed on that hill outside of Jerusalem on the day we call Good Friday.
The moral debt I owed God for hijacking my life from Him was impossible for me to pay. Basically, I've told the God who governs trillions of galaxies that I would be "God" for my personal universe. He could run the cosmos. I would run me. The penalty for hijacking - death. As in separation. From God. Forever.
It's a bill I couldn't pay with all the baptizing, ritualizing, confirming, and good deeds in the world. Because you can't pay a death penalty by being good. Somebody has to die.
Somebody did. In the words of the Bible, "God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him...He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).
Because of this greatest act of love in human history, my bill is "finished." Paid in full.
If religion - any religion - could have paid off our sin, Jesus would never have suffered the agony of that cross.
Religion is a great way to express our relationship with God - but not to possess it. Everything that needed to be done for me to have my sin erased and eternity in heaven was done by Jesus.
Thus, three other words that are some of the most shocking in the Bible. In describing how we are rescued from the guilt and penalty for our sin, it says - "Not by works" (Ephesians 2:9). Those three words shatter what may be the most eternally dangerous misconception on earth. That being good is how we'll get to heaven. Not according to God.
He says "the gift of God is eternal life" (Ephesians 2:8). Gift. Not reward. "Gift" means I didn't pay for it. Someone else paid for it. Jesus did. With His life. I can't possibly add anything to what He did with all the religion in the world. It is finished.
"Gift" also means it's not mine unless and until I take it. I remember the day I did. Simply telling Jesus, "What You did for me on the cross is my only hope. I'm Yours, Jesus."
That's the day the One who walked out of His grave on Easter walked into my life.
The day He did, He said to my guilt and the darkness inside...He said to my past...He said to the hole in my heart...
It. Is. Finished.