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The Rending of the Veil (Matthew 27:45-51)

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    It’s Sunday! We celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ, Jesus, this morning! I hope and have been praying that today is a day of jubilant celebration for us and for all believers. I know that many of us, myself included, are grieving the loss of being able to be gathered in person, but I read something encouraging over and over this week, that though our church buildings may be empty today…so is the tomb! And that is definitely something worth celebrating, even if it’s in our homes without one another.
    My message this morning is a simple one, but the simple truth of the good news needs no fancy words. I’ll be looking at Matthew 27:45-51 this morning, instead of the book of Judges that we’ve been looking at for the past few weeks. At the end of my message, I will invite all those who are watching to take communion, the Lord’s Supper with me.
    With that, let’s take a look at our passage for today. “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.”
    We’ve walked this whole week with Jesus, from the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, to the turning over of the temple merchants’ tables, to Mary anointing Jesus with perfume, to the Last Supper. We read about Jesus praying in the garden, so fervently that his sweat was like drops of blood. We read about his betrayal and arrest, and we grumble against Judas who made that betrayal. But we can go further back than just the events of holy week. We can go back to read about all of Jesus’ ministry, we can read about his birth. We can go back in fact, clear to the beginning of creation.
    Every single moment in history, from “In the beginning” to this moment when Christ is on the cross, all of history has been pointing to the cross. This was the most important moment in all of human history. The salvation of mankind depends on this moment. All of history hinges on this point in time, even secular history that denies its Creator. Just think, even though the secular calendar is divided into Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE), the moment that divides those two is dependent on the person of Christ! Hopefully, the point is clear. This is the most critical human event.
    Jesus hung on the cross. He had already been beaten almost to the point of death. He had been stripped, humiliated, mocked, betrayed, some of the most awful things a person can imagine being done. It’s midday, but the land is covered in darkness. There was no natural storm, there was no eclipse, there was God’s display of might and judgment as a heavy black cloud blocked out the light of the sun. It’s a fitting setting for what was happening. I’m reminded of John 1:4-5, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it.”
    But in that moment, when the Savior of the world He created hung on the cross, it seemed as if darkness had won, and all of creation recognized what was happening. I’m reminded as well of the opening words to one of my favorite Resurrection Sunday songs, “The moon and stars they wept, the morning sun was dead, the Savior of the world was fallen.”
    This darkness that covered the land, though quite physical and real, also symbolized the spiritual darkness of what was happening.
    After three hours of crucifixion, Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was quoting Psalm 22:1, and even while He was saying that in that moment, when He bore all the sins of the world, He was separated from the presence of the Father, even then, He trusted in the Father’s plan. He cried, my God, claiming the Father as His, the one He trusted and had faith in.
    The spiritual darkness taking place was the penalty for sin, which is separation from God. It’s the penalty that waits for all of us. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We have all sinned. We’ve all done what we know was wrong. Lied, cheated, hated, acted in wrath, adultery, lust, the list goes on. We are all guilty. Romans 6:23 says that the penalty for sin is death. Just like when you break a law, there is a penalty, a price to pay for breaking the law. The same is true for sin. When we sin, the price to pay for that sin is death.
    Not just physical death, that’s not ultimately the penalty. The penalty is spiritual death, separation from God forever. This is what waits every single person. But, listen to what Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that (and this is the important part!) by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
    Though each of us is guilty, He suffered death for each of us so we wouldn’t have to. He suffered the separation from the Father so we wouldn’t have to.
    As He cried out, some who were gathered there thought He was calling out for Elijah, the prophet, to save Him. When He did this, their response was to give Him wine vinegar to try to revive Him some, but also to try to help numb the pain of His suffering. But they didn’t know that He had gone to the cross to drink the cup of suffering. He said as much in Matthew 26:39. They didn’t know that He had come specifically to drink the cup of God’s wrath so we didn’t have to, so they didn’t have to!
    No matter the cost, Jesus, the Savior offered Himself. Not because He had to, but because He loves us.
    What happened next drives this point even more. It’s something that I had never considered until this week. Though I’ve read this story more times than I know, God’s Word continues to come alive to me, and He continues to bring new points of interest and new wonders to behold, even to a story so familiar.
    We’re told, in Matthew 27:50 says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” We don’t know what He said, but the point is that He gave up His own spirit. His death, and this is so very important, His death was voluntary. He gave Himself, willingly, to be the sacrifice for humanity’s sins.
    Matthew doesn’t give us any agonizing details about Jesus’ moment of death, but the fact that Jesus had enough in Him to cry out loud indicates that He could’ve hung on for some time longer. The way crucifixion works is that slowly your lungs fill with fluid and you drown. But Jesus cried out, which tells us that His lungs had not yet filled with fluid, He could still have lived longer. But He didn’t. He chose the moment, He voluntarily allowed Himself to pass into darkness, rather than hanging on until He was too weak to continue. He chose to give Himself into death’s hands…for us. He chose.
    Verse 51 is where we’re going to make our point. “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.”
    Maybe you know what this veil is, maybe you don’t, but I want to take the time to explain why this is such an important part of the story. The temple in Jerusalem was modeled from the tabernacle that the Israelites built as their center of worship, starting when they left slavery in Egypt until the temple was built several hundreds of years later. In the tabernacle and the temple, there was a room at the far end of the tent or temple, and it was called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was placed before it was lost. The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies was where God’s Presence would come and dwell in the midst of the people.
    He would come in a pillar of smoke, so the people could physically see when God’s Presence was in the tabernacle or not.
    The Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, was separated from the rest of the tabernacle or temple by a large curtain, or veil. Now, this veil was about 9 centimeters, or 3 1/2 inches thick. It was woven of 72 twisted braids, each braid had 24 threads. It was 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. This was not some dainty little curtain. This was a behemoth veil, meant to separate God’s Presence from anyone that wasn’t good enough, wasn’t righteous enough, wasn’t holy enough to be in the Presence of the Most Holy One.
    But at that moment when Jesus willingly gave up His life, His spirit, and allowed Himself to be cast into the darkness of death and separation from God, that veil, was torn from top to bottom. That thick, woven, and impossibly sturdy curtain was ripped like paper.
    This was an act of God.
    Perhaps, we can take this to mean that this symbolized God tearing His own garments as a sign of grief, much like the Jews at that time did when they were grieving. Maybe.
    Perhaps, we can take this to mean that at that moment, God’s Presence departed from the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, as a sign of His judgment for the death of His Son. Maybe.
    Or perhaps, and this is what I believe most likely, we take this to mean that when Christ willingly offered Himself to taste death so we wouldn’t have to, when He gave Himself over to be separated from the Father, it did away with the separation from the Father that was symbolized by the veil.
    No longer is our access to the Almighty God restricted. No longer do we have to go through a priest to forgive our sins before God. No longer do we have to sacrifice for our sins. No longer do we have to be separated from God.
    At the moment of the rending of the veil, just the same way Christ’s flesh was torn, the way was opened for anyone and everyone to come to God. The way was made for any person to come into God’s Presence, not just now, but for forever.
    Just 40 or so years after Christ was crucified, the temple was destroyed, but that was okay, because as 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” That’s what happened when the veil was torn. God came to dwell in temples of human hearts, no longer in a temple of stone.
    Three days later, He was resurrected. Once and for all defeating death, and defeating the power of sin over humans. He conquered the darkness, He conquered death, so we can conquer the darkness too.
    The veil was torn though, only because Christ was torn. Because He was sacrificed, willingly. Because He suffered and bled. Without His sacrifice, there is no victory. Without His sacrifice, the way to God remains…veiled.
    That’s the simple point this morning. None of us is good enough. Each of us is guilty. No one is worthy. But Jesus made a way. He tore the veil that separated us and God. Jesus is the way. I hope you see that apart from the veil being torn, that there is no other way to God. No other path, no other religion, no other savior. Jesus said as much. The book of Acts tells us that there is no other name given under heaven by which mankind can be saved. Jesus is the only way.

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