******************* This article is based on the first chapter of my book, More Than Songs. *******************
By Mike Mattice
It’s quiet this afternoon in the Temple, a sharp contrast to the riotous mob in the streets a few hours ago. You had struggled to pass through the crowd on your way here to pray. The Romans were parading the Nazarene called Jesus through the streets, to the garbage dump outside the city gates to be crucified. The march to execution is a commonplace event; yet you were sickened to see the condemned man’s condition. He had been beaten so badly he barely appeared human; and although he could barely stand, Jesus was being made to carry his cross.
You remember, as you admire the splendor of the Temple around you, when Jesus tore through the courts of this blessed place in a destructive rampage, only a few days ago. You heard this foolish man say that if the Temple were destroyed, he could rebuild it by himself in three days. Now, a few hours before the Sabbath of Passover everything was back to normal in the Temple. The ranting of a lunatic could not stop the work of God. With the bloody image of the man fresh in your mind, you pray that death will come swiftly for the Nazarene, and that God will forgive his madness.
You marvel over the extreme reactions of the crowd following the procession. Some wept as though they were losing beloved kin. You’d heard that some of his followers claimed Jesus was God, and there were rumors of miracles. A people so desperate for a Messiah could easily be deceived. You must remember to pray for those poor misguided souls, that they would see the truth.
But most of the mob screamed obscenities and struck the condemned man with their hands or kicked him, throwing rocks if they couldn’t reach him. As you passed through the violent scene, you were aghast to see the faces of neighbors you knew to be godly people, contorted with demonic hatred. How could this fool incite such powerful emotion?
In prayer, you raise your eyes to the heavens and cry out to God for the salvation of His people. Suddenly, the midday sun is snuffed out and the sky turns pitch black. In that moment, the ground rumbles and quakes. People are screaming and running from the Temple. Too terrified to move, you call out to God to save you from this judgment.
Then, the unthinkable happens…
The great veil that for centuries has enclosed the Most Holy Place is torn, from top to bottom, completely in two! Beyond the veil is the Ark of the Covenant, where the Lord God has dwelt amidst His people since the days of Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness. It was a place where no man, except the high priest, could ever go. The massive veil was a single fabric with no seam, about sixty feet high and one foot thick. Surely, only the hand of Yahweh could have rent the veil!
As a good, God-fearing Jew, you are terrified. What would you do?
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As modern Christians, sacrifices and the work of the high priest and the veil may seem strange to us. It was all established centuries before Christ, to illustrate how the Messiah would fulfill these things.
Although the man in our scenario didn’t understand, these events occurred simultaneously with and because of the death of Jesus. He didn’t see the torn veil as an invitation to come into the presence of God, but rather as terrible judgment and wrath. He would not have entered the Holy of Holies (the Most Holy Place), nor even looked inside, for fear of being struck dead. He would have fled and hid.
We often try to keep God at a little distance (not so far that we can’t call on Him when we need Him, yet not so close as to interfere with our lives), and we avoid true communion with Him. We fear that when we are in His presence, His perfect light will illuminate our iniquities. We will be convicted of our need for change. We also tend to fear we will lose our individuality by submitting our strong will. Like Moses hiding in the cleft of the rock, we want to see the glory of the Lord without being consumed or challenged.
Jesus fulfilled all of God’s sacrificial law, so there is no longer a need for animal sacrifices that He never desired anyway. However, our faith still requires an even more personal and costly sacrifice of our will, our lives, and the things of this world. He became the High Priest forever, interceding on our behalf to the Father and giving us His blood covering to protect us from the judgment of the law. The law still applies to us, but Jesus’ perfect blood shelters us from the penalty we deserve, which is death. And our High Priest, Jesus, has removed the barrier (the veil) that prevented our intimate fellowship with God: Now whosoever will receive the blood covering can enter into God’s holy, holy, holy presence.
As I studied and wrote my book, More Than Songs, God showed me the significance of the torn veil. I had known for some time about the contents and layout of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the symbolic meaning of it all. I knew about the veil, and what was within the Holy of Holies. But then the Lord opened my eyes to see that this single event, the tearing of the veil, is THE foundation of Christian worship.
When the hand of God that had written the Ten Commandments tore the fabric, all of humanity inherited the ability to dwell with the Lord. Not since the Garden of Eden had God been so accessible. By the time of Jesus, the Jewish religious system had enlarged this separation with many laws, accomplishing two things:
1) People were constantly breaking these laws, then turning to the priests to attain God’s forgiveness.
2) The people felt keenly alienated from God. The core of Jesus’ ministry was to reveal again how God didn’t want to be separated from humanity. Everything Jesus said and did as a man pointed to the veil. He showed the Father’s disdain for these barriers and His life was testimony of God’s desire that they be torn down.
Worship is living with God. Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect relationship with Him. That same intimacy is available for those who trust the blood of God’s Lamb (Jesus) to cleanse them. When God the Father looks at the blood-washed redeemed, He sees the precious blood of His Son, and is reminded of the great price He paid so we could be with Him.
However, not everyone can enter God’s presence. It is a very dangerous presumption to attempt it without the blood covering He says is mandatory. God is gracious, but He is also completely holy. Sin cannot remain close to Him.
When we come before our Most Holy God, it must be on His terms, and can only be done His Way. We become His children. He walks and talks with us. He listens to us. He is completely available to us, because He tore the veil..