Invited into God's Presence
How could we be granted an audience with God? What happened? In a word, someone opened the curtain. Someone tore down the veil. Something happened in the death of Christ that opened the door for you and me. And that something is described by the writer of Hebrews.
So, brothers and sisters, we are completely free to enter the Most Holy Place without fear because of the blood of Jesus’ death. We can enter through a new and living way that Jesus opened for us. It leads through the curtain—Christ’s body. (Heb. 10: 19–20)
To the original readers, those last four words were explosive: “the curtain—Christ’s body.” According to the writer, the curtain equals Jesus. Hence, whatever happened to the flesh of Jesus happened to the curtain. What happened to his flesh? It was torn. Torn by the whips, torn by the thorns. Torn by the weight of the cross and the point of the nails. But in the horror of his torn flesh, we find the splendor of the open door. “But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice and died. Then the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces, from the top to the bottom” (Matt. 27: 50–51).
The curtain is nothing short of the curtain of the Temple. The veil that hung before the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies, you’ll remember, was a part of the Temple no one could enter. Jewish worshipers could enter the outer court, but only the priests could enter the Holy Place. And no one, except the high priest on one day a year, entered the Holy of Holies. No one. Why? Because the Shekinah glory—the glory of God—was present there. If you were told you were free to enter the Oval Office of the White House, you would likely shake your head and chuckle, “You’re one brick short of a load, buddy.” Multiply your disbelief by a thousand, and you’ll have an idea how a Jew would feel if someone told him he could enter the Holy of Holies.
“Yeah, right. You’re one bagel short of a dozen.” No one but the high priest entered the Holy of Holies. No one. To do so meant death. Two of Aaron’s sons died when they entered the Holy of Holies in order to offer sacrifices to the Lord (Lev. 16: 1–2). In no uncertain terms, the curtain declared: “This far and no farther!” What did fifteen hundred years of a curtain-draped Holy of Holies communicate? Simple. God is holy . . . separate from us and unapproachable. Even Moses was told, “You cannot see my face, because no one can see me and live” (Exod. 33: 20).
God is holy, and we are sinners, and there is a distance between us. Isn’t this our problem? We know God is good. We know we are not, and we feel far from God. The ancient words of Job are ours, “If only there were a mediator who could bring us together” (Job 9: 33 NLT). Oh, but there is! Jesus hasn’t left us with an unapproachable God. Yes, God is holy. Yes, we are sinful. But, yes, yes, yes, Jesus is our mediator. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2: 5 NIV). Is not a mediator one who “goes between”? Wasn’t Jesus the curtain between us and God? And wasn’t his flesh torn? What appeared to be the cruelty of man was actually the sovereignty of God. Matthew tells us: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (27: 50–51 NIV, italics mine). It’s as if the hands of heaven had been gripping the veil, waiting for this moment. Keep in mind the size of the curtain—sixty feet tall and thirty feet wide.
One instant it was whole; the next it was ripped in two from top to bottom. No delay. No hesitation. What did the torn curtain mean? For the Jews it meant no more barrier between them and the Holy of Holies. No more priests to go between them and God. No more animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. And for us? What did the torn curtain signify for us? We are welcome to enter into God’s presence—any day, any time. God has removed the barrier that separates us from him. The barrier of sin? Down. He has removed the curtain. But we have a tendency to put the barrier back up. Though there is no curtain in a temple, there is a curtain in the heart. Like the ticks on the clock are the mistakes of the heart. And sometimes, no, oftentimes, we allow those mistakes to keep us from God. Our guilty conscience becomes a curtain that separates us from God. As a result we hide from our Master.
That’s exactly what my dog, Salty, does. He knows he isn’t supposed to get into the trash. But let the house be human free, and the dark side of Salty takes over. If there is food in a trash can, the temptation is too great. He will find it and feast. That’s what he had done the other day. When I came home, he was nowhere to be found. I saw the toppled trash, but I didn’t see Salty. At first I got mad, but I got over it. If I were cooped up all day with only dog food to eat, I might rummage a bit myself. I cleaned up the mess and went about the day and forgot about it. Salty didn’t. He kept his distance. When I finally saw him, his tail was between his legs, and his ears were drooping. Then I realized, “He thinks I’m mad at him. He doesn’t know I’ve already dealt with his mistake.” May I state the obvious application? God isn’t angry with you. He has already dealt with your mistake.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow you got tangled up in garbage, and you’ve been avoiding God. You’ve allowed a veil of guilt to come between you and your Father. You wonder if you could ever feel close to God again. The message of the torn flesh is you can. God welcomes you. God is not avoiding you. God is not resisting you. The curtain is down, the door is open, and God invites you in. Don’t trust your conscience. Trust the cross. The blood has been spilt and the veil has been split. You are welcome in the presence of God’s.
Excerpt from Max Lucado’s “He Chose the Nails”