But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”
The simple spiritual truth of the tearing of the temple curtain (which by the way I recently learned was 60 feet high and FOUR INCHES THICK) always recaptures my attention and awe. Whereas I was once separated from The Most High God because of my filthy sin nature, at the atoning death of Jesus I can freely come to God. God’s dwelling in The Most Holy Place is now available to little ole’ me.
For the folks living in the first century at this time, that simple spiritual truth also impacted them in varying ways.
Whereas we see this as really good news, I’m not so sure the religious leaders would agree. Although the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Chief Priests and the Elders differ in their beliefs and roles, generally speaking these guys and their lives and livelihoods were built upon drawing lines, keeping lines, and just in general determining who was in and who was out, who was right, who was wrong.
So with every word and miracle it seemed like Jesus was pulling a little bit more of the rug of power out from under them. This was a driving force in how they felt about Jesus, which started off as curiosity and interest, but which quickly turned to annoyance and then anger… and so they crucified him. They did not foresee what would happen next.
At the moment of tearing, that beloved authority and control was completely stripped from their hands. If God is so available now, who can they keep out and keep down?
There were some other implications for people at the other end of the power spectrum, namely women and gentiles. Both groups were designated to ‘special courts’ in the temple that were tiered below the priest, and below the court for Jewish males. While a court just for ladies doesn’t sound too bad in theory, as I imagine cry rooms for babies, comfy nursing chairs and a special restroom with nice hand lotions, special treatment was simply not the motivation here. The sole reason for a separate court was due to the fact that they were not allowed any closer to the alter or the Holy Place because of their status as gentiles and women.
It must have been hard to get over that inferiority complex and feel equal to the Jewish male population. Was it hard for them to believe they could really be brothers and sisters ? Was it hard to believe they were part of God’s family to the same degree? Was it hard for them to freely participate, having always been forced to be so many steps away from the inner courts of the Temple?
I think so.
So Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church encourages the Gentile population,
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Now this is the kind of temple I want to belong to!
At the moment of tearing, God was available for them, too. In the same amount of intimacy and frequency and quantity as everyone else.
For the Pharisees, authority was stripped and I can just imagine them LOSING THEIR MINDS over it all.
For non-Jewish people and for women, authority and permission were granted in a way that was not available before.
And for all, we have been invited to approach the Throne of Grace, with no need for a priest over us, a bloodied animal sacrifice before us, or walls of division between us.
But there is someone else we are missing. A Major Player in the story, and we haven’t talked about some of the implications for Him, yet.
More than what it meant for humanity, be it Jew or Gentile, Pharisee or Slave, Male or Female, it meant something for God.
At the moment of tearing, our Creator’s original and best plan for humanity is reactivated.
And here my imagination runs wild.
Did God experience relief? Freedom? (Is it heretical to suggest these things??!!)
Did God experience great pleasure as his Plan and Purpose to dwell among us is finally redeemed? Did He give a shout of triumph and shed tears of joy as the curtain was ripped victoriously from top to bottom?
I guess I’m not enough of a theologian to answer these, but I do know that the original vision at the creation of humankind did not involve a four inch thick curtain, because God’s heart was for intimacy and partnership with us. We think it was a big day for us, but it was a beautiful day for God.
Shortly after the crucifixion and curtain tearing came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – so not only are we free to come to God, but he actually takes up residence in us. My husband likened this to God moving into the slums. The slums of course being us.
This feels like pretty risky business to me, to take the Most Holy Place from behind that beautiful purple and blue veil and put it in me and you, yet God wills it and ordains it and wants it.
What kind of God is this!?!? What kind of God is this, who creates us for such intimacy? Who desires a dwelling place with us? Who asks us to abide in Him? Who suffers crucifixion and living in the slums so that this might happen?
Creation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.
Incarnation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.
Forgiveness means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.
Redemption means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1 (Message)