I wrote a sermon last fall on what Christianity is all about. I used 1 Corinthians 2:2 where Paul says he came preaching only Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In that sermon, I talked about both of these two components, but I didn’t say why Christianity boiled down to these two. The answer comes today through looking at my favorite verse in the Bible.
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” Luke 23:45
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:38
“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:51
It is this small act, recorded in three gospels, which sums up the whole Bible and is packing with meaning and understanding. However, this verse is not often referenced for this purpose because in order to grasp all it offers, you have to have an precursory knowledge of the old testament. That’s why I write this.
Let’s start with the temple. This was the temple/ tabernacle that God commanded the Israelites to build in the wilderness. Well, not the same exact one, but the blueprint and purpose are way back in Exodus. Solomon puts it all so well when he finishes building the more permanent temple in the Promised Land. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! “ (1 Kings 8:27) The temple was not so that God could have a place to live. “Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (1 Kings 8:28-30) This temple is for our good, so that God can be near us. And when we turn toward the temple we would remember God is with us and listens to us and forgives.
The temple was about us having a good relationship with God.
Next we have the veil, or curtain. This curtain was made to look just like the others that made up the temple, with blue and scarlet and purple fine yarns and “with cherubim skillfully worked into it.” (Exodus 26:31) But there was something special about this curtain; not how it looked but the purpose it served. “The veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” (Exodus 26:33) Why was the separation needed? Because in that place God came to meet with His people and accept their sacrifices. You remember the the whole purpose for the temple? The Most Holy place is where God would come to fill this purpose.
But why the curtain? Here are just a few examples of people who got a little too close to God and His holiness.
- Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says He’ll show Moses His back, not His face. Otherwise he would die. (Exodus 33:17-23)
- Moses comes down from the mountain after talking with God and his face is shining. Not like a light around his face, but the skin on his face shone, so bad that Moses had to veil his face so he could interact with the Israelites. (Exodus 34:29-35)
- Little background- the ark of God was housed in the Most Holy place, unless it was in transit. Once while in transit, the oxen carrying the ark stumble and good little Uzzah tries to keep the holy ark from touching the ground. But God gets angry because he touched what was holy without being clean. Uzzah died on the spot. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)
Here are just a few examples of what happens when we humans get near God. The curtain was for our protection and safety. If we get too close to God, we will die.
The curtain was to keep us from death.
The only time that anyone would enter into the Most Holy Place was once a year and only if he made a sacrifice for himself ad the people (Hebrews 9:7). God considered those sacrifices to count for the sins committed and allowed the priest to enter into His presence. But this wasn’t an everyday thing; it was a life and death act which had to be done correctly.
In the Old Testament, God was near to His people by way of the temple and we were kept from death due to His glory by the curtain. With this curtain torn, we are all going to die because there is nothing to separate us from the overwhelming presence and holiness of God. But that is not what happened; see there is more to the story. I told you it needed a lot of explaining. The best part of the story comes from the fact that even though the curtain is torn and we all now have access to God and His killer glory (sorry, couldn’t pass it up), we won’t die!! Why?
This is where Jesus and His death come in. God had promised that He would change the way things were done in regards to our relationship to Him. The old way was sacrifices and laws and a God who dwelled in a temple. The new way promised an internal law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), forgiveness for all our sins without constant sacrifices (Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 53:6,12), and a personal relationship with God (Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus Christ was the means to this new way of doing things. His death replaced the need for constant sacrifices. God accepted the blood of goats and other animals as a sacrifice worthy of making us clean. Then He provided the perfect sacrifice- the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:13-14). At the moment of his death, all our sins were forgiven and we were made clean. There was no need for the curtain anymore as separation from God and His glory. So God got rid of it, hence the tearing from top to bottom.
Jesus Christ and Him crucified- see why that is so important and all that need to be taught?! God wants to be near to His people to have a close relationship (temple). But we would all die if we had unrestricted access to His glory (curtain). Jesus’ death cleanses us all from all sin that requires the curtain (top to bottom). Now we can come to God freely (torn in two)!!
It’s the story of the Bible packed into one little phrase, one little act on God’s part to be close to us. That is why Jesus Christ and Him crucified are the keys to Christianity. And that is why today is truly “Good Friday”!