Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Sometimes the best sermons have few, if any, words. Years ago I used to preach children’s sermons that were few words. They were actually object lessons. Adults often told me they liked the children’s sermons more than the adult ones. We like visuals. We like object lessons. They often communicate at a deeper level. That’s why Jesus often gave object lessons.
Perhaps the most dramatic and expressive object lesson ever given was the one that God gave on Good Friday. It happened as Jesus gave a shout of victory, breathed his last, and the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom.
Jesus had hung suspended from the cross since nine in the morning. Then, right at noon, just as the Judean sun was overhead, an awful darkness settled over the earth for the next three hours. At three in the afternoon, the hour of prayer, the hour of the afternoon sacrifice, Jesus cried out “It is finished”, breathed His last, and the curtain in the Temple was torn in two! God opened wide the way into the very Holy of Holies in which He manifested His presence on earth.
To better understand the significance of the tearing of the curtain, it is helpful to know that everything about the design of the Temple shouted: “Danger! Keep your distance!” Look at the Temple complex and you will see that it was constructed as one large obstacle course. The Temple was spread out over 40 acres to guard the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The outer court was designated as the Court of the Gentiles, with a warning that Gentiles could proceed no farther towards the Temple. Next was the Court of Women for the women of Israel, with the warning they could proceed no farther. Beyond this was the Court of Israelites into which men could enter. If a man were a priest he could then enter the Court of Priests to do priestly ministry, and then quickly leave. Priests would climb up massive steps into the Temple that was divided into two separating sections: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
Only on one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one man, the High Priest, could enter the innermost Holy of Holies. He would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice and then leave. The large curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place represented the final boundary separating a good and holy God from sinful humanity.
The Mishnah (sayings of the rabbis from the time of Jesus) says that the curtain was a beautiful, 60 feet high tapestry of blue, scarlet and purple. The Mishnah also says the separating curtain was the thickness of the breadth of a man’s hand; it had required 300 priests to lift it in place.
At the very moment Jesus declared His redemptive work completed, then died, the curtain separating God’s holy presence from sinful humanity was taken down! Top to bottom! This was God’s work! This was God’s object lesson to the world!
A few years later the apostle Paul added words to God’s object lesson, declaring:
In Christ God reconciled the world to himself, not counting their sins against them. For Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:19-21).
That’s what the torn curtain is about! In Christ, God put the world right with Himself; He forgives all our sins! God now invites anyone and everyone to come to Him!
A fellow traveler,
P.S. I invite all who live in the Phoenix area to join us in worship at our Water from Rock’s annual Good Friday worship service for the community. The service is April 19, 7:30 a.m. – 8:15 a.m., at the Franciscan Renewal Center, 5802 E. Lincoln Dr. Scottsdale, AZ 85253.