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The Torn Curtain

There is an odd detail in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all draw attention to the fact that, at the moment Jesus breathed His last, a curtain in the temple – which was a pretty good distance from where He was crucified - tore in two from top to bottom. At a moment as dramatic as the death of Jesus, a set of ruined drapes in another location hardly seems to matter!

You have to go way back into the Old Testament to find out why this was such a big deal. At the heart of the Israelites’ house of worship – designed by God – was an empty room. It was called the “Holy of Holies,” and contained only one piece of furniture – the Ark of the Covenant - a hollow, 4’ x 2’ rectangular box. The Ark was overlaid in gold, including the lid called the “Mercy Seat.” The entrance to the Holy of Holies was completely blocked off by a floor-to-ceiling heavy curtain. The curtain was there to prevent anyone from wandering into the Holy of Holies – and dropping dead on the spot! You see, God filled that room with His presence, and sinful people (which are all of us!) can’t be in the same room as Holy God. Think of God’s holiness as a blazing, purifying fire – and we’re the gasoline. When the two come into contact, the gasoline is utterly consumed. Every time.

There was a single exception to the “No One Allowed in the Holy of Holies” rule. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest was allowed to go behind the curtain, bringing with him the blood of a spotless lamb. That innocent blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark, to provide forgiveness for the sins of God’s people.

Which brings us to the moment of Jesus’ death. Do you get it now? That curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, as if God Himself reached down to rip it in half – which is exactly what He did! He didn’t want us to miss the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross. The separation between Holy God and sinful man has been removed for good. The Spotless Lamb was sacrificed for every last sinner. His innocent blood washes away our sin. We don’t have to be afraid to come into the presence of God anymore. We also don’t have to pretend we’re not sinners – or at least not as bad as other sinners. And we don’t have to wonder if we’ve done enough to make up for our shortcomings. All we need do is come before God with faith that trusts that He – not us – has done enough to take care of our sin, once and for all. As one of the New Testament writers put it, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened through the curtain … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:19-22).

Who knew there could be so much meaning – and hope – in a torn curtain! Makes me want to go out this Good Friday and tear up some drapery somewhere - just for the joy of it!

God bless you with sure faith and eternal confidence through the blood of Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed for you.