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The Curtain is Torn

I’m several weeks into my one-year-through-the-Bible reading, though I confess that I’m not quite caught up to April 2 just yet. Having a new baby in the house (hence my sabbatical from this blog for the last two months) has cast my waking hours into a fog. I am emerging from the fog, thankfully, but I’m still stuck in Deuteronomy instead of Joshua. (I use the chronological one-year Bible, so it’s all Old Testament right now.) I say “stuck” because reading the Law again (and again) resembles slogging through mud at times.

Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are particularly full of instructions on holy living. The first seven chapters of Leviticus spell out in excruciating detail how each sacrifice–sin, grain, burnt, peace–was to be prepared and offered. And while the people brought many of these offerings, the priests performed the actual sacrifice (and a bloody mess it was), because the people were not allowed into God’s presence. God’s standards were high.

In the traveling tabernacle, and later in the Temple, God’s presence resided in a special way in the inner sanctorum, known as the “Holy of Holies.” Exodus 26:31-33 describes the special, ornate curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the tabernacle. In 2 Chronicles 3:14 we see the curtain that Solomon had made for the temple’s Holy Place. “He made the curtain out of violet, purple, crimson, and white fabrics, and embroidered on it decorative cherubim.”
Only the High Priest was allowed inside the curtain–and only once a year, to offer atonement for the nation. God’s holiness did not allow for common sinful company.

Then Jesus came, and on what we call Good Friday he acted in his divine role of ultimate High Priest to become also the sacrifice, the atonement for the sins of all humanity. Hebrews 7:27 says, “He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”

When Jesus breathed his last, the Gospels tell us, a great earthquake shook the land. Graves were opened and dead people were alive again. The temple stones were shaken, and the temple curtain was ripped in two (see Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). Access to God was no longer denied–He had opened the way Himself, allowing all who accepted Jesus’ sacrifice to come into His presence without the need of a mediator. Jesus Himself would be our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)

A friend of mine has long been fascinated with the curtain, the veil, that tore apart at the moment of Christ’s death. It does offer a dramatic picture of our new reality. He likes to carry a simple white handkerchief on Good Friday, contemplating it throughout the day, until around 3 pm (the time of day at which Jesus died), he then tears it in two. A visual, tangible symbol to help him remember what Jesus did for him.

Our feeble minds need help remembering. Do something tangible today to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice Jesus offered for you. If the curtain illustration interests you, see www.thecurtain.org for more information. Set your watch/cell phone clock for 3 pm so you can stop to thank God for saving you. Find a chapel or quiet place to pray. Do something to acknowledge the gift that God gave us that day–access into His presence.

Kelley Mathews (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) has written and edited for the Christian market for more than 20 years. Currently a writer for RightNow Media, she lives in North Texas with her husband and their four children. She has partnered with Sue Edwards to coauthor Mixed Ministry, Women’s Retreats, Leading Women Who Woundand Organic Ministry to Women. Find her books and blog at KelleyMathews.com.

One Comment

  • Sandi Glahn

    Ramifications of the veil for women
    Thank you for this post, Kelley. I was thinking about the veil when I awoke this morning. One of the things I love best about this part of the redemption story is that Jesus not only obliterates the outer wall separating Jew and Gentile; he also provides access into the Holy of Holies for all people, men and women. Instead of being kept in a separate outer area (presumably because of potential issues with bodily discharges) according to the Law, women enter along with men into the era of “the priesthood of all believers,” which includes women. Radical change. Open access. Daughters welcome. Hallelujah!