50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split
Dear Friends in Christ,
How many of you here today have ever had the privilege of visiting the White House in Washington, D.C.? Please raise your hand. And how many of you who visited the White House also had the privilege of visiting with the President while you were there? That’s what I figured. None of you. Neither did I. I was given a tour of the White House back in 1997 along with a few other fellows from our congregation while attending the Promise Keepers “Stand in the Gap” gathering that was held in our nation’s capital that year. And while we saw a lot of the White House, we never did see the main occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
But for just a moment, I want you to imagine that you are standing in front of the White House. Yes, that’s you on the sidewalk, peering through the fence, across the meticulously manicured lawn, at the residence of the President. Your shoes are shined, your hair is combed, your teeth are brushed, and your mind is on one thing. You want to see the President because you have some important matters to discuss with him.
First of all, there’s the problem you’ve been having with your noisy neighbors playing that loud rock music all hours of the night. And then there’s your child’s college tuition. You’re hoping that the President might call the admissions office at your child’s school and ask them to lighten up a bit and give you a break. And finally, there’s the whole issue of your job. You haven’t been happy there for a long time, you don’t get along with your employer, you feel you’re underpaid and under-appreciated, so you’re hoping that the President might be able to do something about that.
All worthy issues, right? Wouldn’t take more than a few minutes of the President’s time. And just so it doesn’t appear as though you’re trying to take advantage of him, you even brought him some home-made cookies that he can share with the first lady and the first kids and the first dogs. So with bag in hand and smile on your face, you step up to the gate and announce to the guard in as pleasant a voice as you can muster, “Good morning! I’m here to see the President please.”
Now what do you think are the odds of that guard saying, “Oh, sure, come right on in. Just excuse me for a moment though while I notify the President that you are here to see him.” Fat chance, right? Because for one thing you didn’t even have an appointment. Then there’s the whole issue of security. No one can get to see the President without first of all being checked out ever-so-carefully by the Secret Service. And what about what we might call the invisible barriers? The barrier of time (The President’s an awfully busy man, you know). The barrier of status (You’re just a common ordinary citizen from Salem, IL who has no clout). The barrier of protocol (All that red tape and all the right channels you have to go through before you could ever think of meeting with the President).
So the chances of you seeing the President and actually getting to talk to him and visit with him are slim to none, right? UNLESS – unless he takes the initiative. Unless he spots you talking to the guard at the gate, takes pity on you, and says to his chief of staff, “See that person with the sack of cookies? I think he wants to talk to me. Would you invite him in to the Oval Office, please?”
Now if the President actually said that, what would happen? All the barriers would immediately come down, wouldn’t they? The guard outside the Oval Office would call the head of security. The head of security would call the guard at the gate. And the guard at the gate would call your name and say, “Guess what? I can’t explain it, but the door to the oval office is wide open and the President wants to see you.”
All of a sudden, you would now be able to go where you were not permitted to go before. In addition to that, don’t you think you’d feel just a little special too, being able to have access to the most powerful man in the world? Of course you would! And it only happened because the man up there in the Oval Office saw you down here and made it possible for you to come in.
Now I know that’s a fanciful story that isn’t about to happen to any of us here today. But there’s a story even more fanciful than that that has happened to all of us here today. For you see, God, the Creator and Ruler of this universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has spotted us and has invited us to come into his presence, even before we asked for permission to do so. He has removed all the barriers so that the only thing that remains between him and us is an open door. The Apostle Paul put it this way in our Epistle reading before from Eph. 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Now how can this be? If we can’t get in to see the President, then how in the world could we ever be granted an audience with God? What happened to make that possible? Well, in a word, someone opened the curtain. Someone removed the barrier. And that someone was Jesus. That’s what our text for today is talking about when it says in Matt. 27 that the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus died.
Now what exactly was this curtain? Well, here we need to understand that in the temple in Jerusalem there were 2 very special and important rooms. The 1st one was called the Holy Place. That was the room where the priests carried out most of their duties and functions. The 2nd room, which was connected to the Holy Place, was called the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. Only one person was allowed to enter that room and that was the high priest. And he could enter it on only one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement. On that day he would go into the Most Holy Place carrying a bowl of blood that came from a goat that he had sacrificed and he would sprinkle that blood on what was called the mercy seat, which was the top of the Ark of the Covenant – the primary symbol of God’s presence among his people. He would do that to atone for the sins of the people for the entire year.
Just a little side note here that I think you’ll find interesting. As we learned in my Sunday morning Bible Class a few weeks ago when we actually studied the Day of Atonement, when the high priest went into that room, he would have bells attached to the bottom of his robe so that his fellow priests could hear him walking around in there because it was such a fearful and awesome experience to go into the presence of God which filled that room and one never knew what might happen in there. If the bells all of a sudden fell silent and there was no sign of life from the high priest, then the assistants outside would have to make use of a contingency plan that involved a rope that was attached to the ankle of the high priest before entering that room. That rope would then be used to pull him out since nobody else was permitted inside.
Well, separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was a curtain, but not just any old curtain like we have hanging in our homes. No, this curtain was 30 ft. long, 60 ft. high, and according to a 1st century Jewish historian named Josephus, it was a hand-breadth thick, or about 3-4 inches thick. According to some sources I looked at, this massive curtain weighed anywhere from 4-6 tons and took 300 priests to carry it.
Now what did that curtain symbolize? Well, it conveyed in a very visible and tangible way the fact that God is holy. That means he’s separate from us and basically unapproachable by sinful and unholy human beings. But when Jesus died, what happened to that curtain? It was torn in two from top to bottom. Notice the emphasis that our text places on the words “from top to bottom.” No mere human being could have done that, could they? For remember, I said this curtain was 60 ft. high and 3-4 inches thick. Only God could have torn that curtain. And when he did, it had tremendous meaning, first for the Jews of Jesus’ day, but also for us.
For the Jews it meant that there was no more barrier between them and the Most Holy Place in the temple. No more high priests were needed to mediate between them and God. No more Days of Atonement were necessary. No more blood needed to be shed. No more animals needed to be sacrificed because the ultimate sacrifice had just taken place on the cross.
But what about us? What does the torn curtain signify for us? Well, it means that we are now welcome to enter God’s presence – any day, any time, about anything. He has removed the barrier the separates us from him and that is the barrier of sin. It’s gone! It’s washed away in the flood of Christ’s blood that flows from Calvary’s cross.
Now as wonderful a truth as that is, sometimes we have a tendency to put that barrier back up again, don’t we? We do that when we allow guilt over our sinful past to overwhelm us, to come between us and our Lord. We do that when we refuse to believe that God could ever love or forgive a sinner like me. And when we do that, it’s like we’re putting that curtain back up again. And I guarantee you God does not want that curtain up anymore.
Kind of reminds me of something that our former dachshund Kibbles used to do. Kibbles had a bad habit of getting into wastebaskets whenever we were gone. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, but it was like she just couldn’t help herself. She just couldn’t resist the temptation. And sometimes she made some monumental messes for which she was duly punished. Most of the time though the messes were not that big and I would just clean them up when I got home. But Kibbles knew she’d done wrong, and when she’d see me, her tail would go between her legs, her ears would droop, she’d get this very guilty look on her face, and she might even go into another room to hide from me. And the thought would strike me: “She thinks I’m mad at her. She doesn’t know that I’ve already dealt with her mistake and cleaned up her mess.”
May I state the obvious application here? Somewhere, somehow, sometime you got tangled up in the garbage of this world. You did things that to this day you are ashamed of, things that you know God would have never approved of. And it’s quite possible that you’ve been avoiding him ever since then because you can’t imagine that he could ever forgive you. You’re sorry for what you’ve done. You’ve repented of it and given it up. You’ve even asked his forgiveness. But you haven’t felt that forgiveness deep down in your heart, probably because you feel so unworthy of it. In essence, you’ve allowed a veil, a curtain, a barrier to come between you and your Heavenly Father.
If that describes you, my friends, let the message of the torn curtain speak to your heart today. For that message is that God has already dealt with your mistakes and cleaned up your mess, just like I did with my dog, Kibbles. He did that at the cross. And because of that, he now invites you into his presence. He longs for you to be in his presence. He welcomes you into you his presence. The curtain is down and the door is open.
So I’ve got a suggestion for you. Those times when you just don’t feel God’s love and forgiveness, don’t trust your feelings because they can be so fickle and they can so easily deceive us and delude us. Rather, just trust the cross. Trust what Jesus did for you there for the blood that he spilt made it possible for the curtain to be split. And though you still may not have access to the oval office of the President of the United States, that’s ok for you can rest assured that you always have access to the throne room of God, no questions asked and no appointment needed.