Preached at River Bend Assisted Living on March 25, 2016
This afternoon, I am going to read from Matthew 27:45-54. Most likely this passage is very familiar to many of you, but the reason I have chosen it is because so many people miss the greatest reality of the sacrifice of Jesus, and it has everything to do with a piece of cloth.
What is this Curtain?
So what is this curtain? This curtain was perhaps the most famous curtain to have ever existed. It would have been a curtain that Matthew and all of the Jews during his time would have been very familiar with.
For the curtain that Matthew is referring to is the curtain that hung in the Temple. The Temple was a building in the heart of Israel, Jerusalem, and it represented the dwelling place of God, hear on Earth. The Temple was grand central, it was ground zero. Everything oriented around this building because it represented the presence of God.
The Temple was made up of three spaces: the court yards, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. The courtyard was the place that the common man could be in. It was open to the public. The Holy Place was designated for only the Priests. It was a sacred. It acted as a buffer between the people and God. Which leads us to the the third area of the temple, the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place contained what is called the Mercy Seat of God. This was the location that was designated for God alone. This was where God said he would meet with the people, above the mercy seat. Separating the Holy Place, which was designated for the Priests, and the Most Holy Place, which was designated for God, was a curtain.
According to Josephus, a Jewish Historian, the curtain was approximately 60 feet tall. Jewish tradition claims that the curtain itself was 4 inches thick. Therefore, this curtain was no shower curtain. It was substantial. It was significant. And its purpose was to create a symbolic separation between God and man.
Only one time a year could a person pass beyond the massive curtain and enter into the Most Holy Place. This occurred on the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was the pinnacle of the Jewish festivities. For on that one day the High Priest, the top dog of Priests, would cleanse himself and array himself in sacred attire and he would enter into the Most Holy Place and he would offer a sacrifice to God for himself and his house. After this sacrificial cleansing for himself, he would then be able to be a mediator to offer a sacrifice to God on behalf of Israel.
Therefore, no one was allowed beyond the curtain except one man, one time a year. No one else. Why was this?
Sins that Separate
I mentioned earlier that the curtain was a symbol of separation. But what separation did it symbolize? This separation symbolized the separation that exists between God, who is Holy, and man who is sinful.
When we say that God is a Holy God, we mean that God is other, he is not common, he is set apart. 1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” He is a God who has no sin. In addition to being perfect, Psalm 5:4 says, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” Therefore because of humanity's sin, we are separated from God. This is why Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and this is why God seems so distant in our lives, because he is. Isaiah 59:2 says, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.”
The curtain in the Temple symbolizes that separation, not just between Israel and the Most Holy Place, it symbolizes the separation between God and all men. You and I included. We are all sinners, just as I am. The Bible is explicitly clear on this. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned.” Because of your sins and because of my sins, we have been kept at an arm's distance from our Creator, the Giver of Life.
And this is a problem, for if we do not become reconciled to God before we die, we will be cast into eternal separation, Hell. This is a place that is described by Jesus himself as a place of weeping, the gnashing of teeth, outer darkness and a place of eternal torment. This is the ultimate separation from God. And this is terrible news, but make no mistake that it is true. It is true for all of humanity, you and I included.
The Current was Torn
But all of this changes at Calvary. All of this changes with the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs were open, but as it effects us, the most important event that displayed the good news of Jesus was the curtain being torn from top to bottom. For as the curtain symbolized a separation, the tearing of that current symbolized a reconciliation.
This truth is so important for people to understand. So many people have been told that they must do something to earn God's forgiveness. So many religions live just like they did in the times before Christ. So many people are trying to live their life as if the curtain still exists.
But the Gospel truth is that there is nothing you can add to the sacrifice of Christ to reconcile you to God. Jesus has done it all. Baptism does not add anything, Church attendance does not add anything, communion does not add anything. The curtain has already been torn. Eternal redemption has already been secured.
Full Assurance of Faith
So what is left? If Christ, on the cross, has entered into the presence of God and made a way for us to be reconciled to God, what are we to do?
If you have spent your life trying to tear down a curtain that has already been torn down, it is time to let go of your sacrifices and to cling to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He has done all the work for you, all you must do to receive the gift of his grace is to believe.
So this Easter, do not focus on the rituals, but instead let us “ behold, [that] the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” And let us worship Jesus Christ, our great High Priest who has made a way into the presence of God, therefore we have an secured and eternal redemption with our God. Praise be to God!