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The Miracle of the Tearing of the Temple Curtain

March 16th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Our Lenten series continues as we ponder the miracle of the tearing of the temple curtain. Following Jesus death, Sripture tells us taht the curtain in the temple which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. We now through the broken body of Jesus have access to God. Read or listen to find out more...

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Lenten Midweek 2 – “The Miraculous Tearing of the Temple Curtain” – Matthew 27:51a – March 16, 2011

Our Lenten series ponders some of the miracles surrounding the passion of Jesus – several of which are no more than mere passing phrases in the texts of Holy Scripture – miracles whose meanings often go unnoticed as we read or hear the passion story. This evening we ponder the miracle of the Tearing of the Temple Curtain. At the moment of Jesus’ death, St. Matthew writes: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51a)

Ok…. What exactly is this curtain in the temple? The curtain, which was torn in two from top to bottom the moment Christ died, formed a separation between the two main rooms in the temple. The room that was by far the one with the greatest significance was the Most Holy Place, sometimes called the Holy of Holies. This room was regarded as the very dwelling place of the true and living God in all of His holiness. We read in 1 Kings 8 how the glory of God filled the original temple at the time of its dedication. It was a sign that God was dwelling among His people.

On the other side of the curtain was the Holy Place. It was the room, along with the Court of the Priests outside the temple, where the priests carried out their priestly functions. The priests were the go-betweens between mankind and God. The men of the family would bring an animal for sacrifice to the Court of the Priests. There the priests would lay their hands on the animal symbolically transferring the family’s sins to the animal, which was then sacrificed. As the Lord had instructed, His priests would then bless the people who stood forgiven before Him.

Now why did the people need a go between? Well, because of sin. When Adam fell into sin, taking the whole human race with him, one of the consequences was separation from God. Adam and Eve could no longer walk and talk in the garden like you walk and talk with your spouse or friend. Sin separates us from God. Isaiah writes: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you” (59:2).

That temple curtain was a symbol of this separation caused by sin. The curtain was 6 inches thick. It stood 60 feet high and was the width of the interior of the temple – about 30 feet. Mankind did not have access to God because of sin. However, because God did not want us to be eternally separated from Him, He promised Adam and Eve a Savior/ Redeemer who would reconcile us to God – restore the relationship broken by sin.

In the meantime, God provided the priesthood to work as go-betweens between man and God. Only the priests could enter God’s presence in the temple and only one day per year, on the Day of Atonement, could the high priest enter the Most Holy Place to pour the blood of the sacrifice on the Mercy Seat.

All of this was a part of the Old Testament Ceremonial Law which God established and gave to Moses on Mount Sinai after the Israelites had left Egypt. And it all (the temple, the curtain, priests, sacrifice, festivals, etc.) foreshadowed the role and purpose of the Messiah – Jesus. Jesus had come to serve as the ultimate go-between between man and God and to offer His body as the sacrifice for sin. He took all our sin upon Himself and suffered total separation from God in our place… “My God , My God, why have you forsaken me” Jesus cries out from the cross.

Last week, the miracle of darkness was a pronouncement of Law – of God’s judgment for sin. But, the miracle of the tearing of the Temple curtain is a Gospel proclamation – Its Good News for repentant sinners! Christ died for the sins of the world and the separation our sin causes between us and God. The moment Christ died, all separation came to an end. Through Jesus blood and sacrifice, we now have access to the Father.

In Hebrews 10:19–23 we read: “Brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened up for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

In Romans 5:1–2 we read: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

And in 1 Peter 3:18 we read: “Christ also suffered, once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”

We are reminded of this access, of our reconciliation to God, every time we come to church. There is not a Court of the Priests to go through before we get to the church building. When we get to the door, we don’t have a priest telling us that we are not allowed to enter. Nor do we have a curtain separating the chancel, which symbolizes the Holy of Holies from the nave of the church, which symbolizes the Holy Place.

The tearing of the curtain in the temple is a miraculous sign of the heavenly Father’s welcome. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, who shed His blood for us on Calvary has reconciled us to God. And so He calls us and gathers us here, where He has promised to be physically present for us in Word and Water, and Bread, and Wine, with His good gifts of Forgiveness, life and salvation. Be glad. Rejoice. Amen.

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