I so pray that as you went through the Bible study assignments this week you saw something new from Scripture as you read. I’ll tell you this, I probably could have recited the story of Christ’s birth and his life and his death for many years, but it wasn’t until I was moved to tears did I finally understood it. When I read my Bible, and I want to encourage you to do this too, I put myself in the scenes – I try to imagine every detail around me. I want to know what it might have smelled like. I want to know what it might have tasted like. What it sounded like to be in every single moment. I want to just feel those words come alive in my soul … And sometimes that means trying to erase other people’s interpretation of different events in Scripture. Sometimes it means trying to erase the temptation to just see them as stories. And sometimes … it means recognizing the places I tried to erase reality for the sake of avoiding true comprehension and the acknowledgement of what happened on Calvary. Because the truth of the matter was that it was a real crown of thorns that pierced his head and they were real nails that drove through his flesh with the brute force of human hatred. And I understand that we would be crazy not to try and look away from something that horrific but the truth of it is that we would be crazier to actually do so. And so I know it’s tempting to avert your eyes, but in doing so I think you might avert your heart. And that’s more than we can afford to do. As the breath of life left Jesus’ body for the very last time,the Scripture says in Matthew 27:51 ESV … Maybe before now you didn’t have the context to appreciate that. But it changed everything. Everything. The torn curtain changes everything.
All of our lives, people give us their interpretation of different events in Scripture. From the pastors we grow up listening to, the televangelists we watch, the celebrity pastors we stream from the internet, to the books we read – everywhere we look people are interpreting Scripture for us. More than that, what we have come to understand is the result of hundreds of years of interpretation from historical greats, the pastors of the Great Awakening, the Reformers before that, and the Church Fathers before them. The very words on the pages of the Bible are the the result of the translators interpretation of the original language into modern English. Even this Bible Study happens to be it’s authors interpretation of different events in Scripture. I don’t think we could erase all our past influences if we tried. The trick is weigh them all and ask ourselves: “What fits best with what we know about the cultures in the Bible back in the day?” It just doesn’t do to put ourselves into the Bible as a bystanders, dressed in American clothing, speaking English, and wondering why everything is so different from what we expect.
One question that I’ve been think about lately is whether or not it’s okay to look at God. I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – an episode where Kai Winn talks about how she would do anything to look at the faces of her gods, the prophets. Her thirst for acknowledgement drove her to ultimately reject them when she went unfulfilled. Kira, on the other hand, tends to look away and this is interpreted as true humility, that she gets that she’s not worthy to look and that’s exactly what makes her worthy to look. In the Bible, there have been instances of both, where people could not look at God and people could look at God – it just depended on the context and the person’s heart. It seems that one’s own motives go a long way to deciding on whether we’re doing the right thing or not. The point is, looking away doesn’t prove that our heart is in the wrong place any more than looking toward something prove that it is in the right place.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of wearing a veil and being a bride … I always wanted to have a veil. For me that was the moment that kind of make it feel like a wedding… The veil has always been this beautiful symbol of separation and purity …
I remember reading the other day that because of Jacob’s marriage to Leah, a new custom was made so that before the wedding, it was the groom who covered his bride’s face with her veil so that he could make sure he was about to marry the right woman. Roman brides even wore bright orange veils on their wedding days to protect them from evil Spirits. The world over, veils have different meanings to different cultures: modesty, immodesty, purity/virginity, protection from evil spirits, the groom taking possession of his bride as his property and/or lover or the revelation of the bride to the groom for his approval, symbol of what was about to happen during the wedding night, for use in belly-dancing, etc. I just wanted to say that the continued use marriage-metaphor language is extremely annoying. How much do you want to bet that a men’s study wouldn’t go there? If men can find a way to relate to God outside of a marriage context, then why not women?
We know from our study of the Old Testament that a blood sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sin. And here we learn about the coming of Christ and His eventual death on the cross. His spotless life kept a law that we never could and his blood poured out for all of our sin it reconciled us with a perfect God whom we had been separated from since Eden. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and what he did for us on Calvary shattered the need for any other type of sacrifice. He was our atonement, he is our high priest and now there’s no more need for an earthly mediator.
Here I thought it would be a good point to consider that when it comes to any theological point, we have a number of different positions that could be considered valid interpretations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity – They’re a result of all those different interpretations of events that people have had over the last few millennia. Sometimes the best thing to do is to consider other perspectives, to see where the weaknesses in our own positions are and what the strengths of other teachings are.
So when you think about what it is that we learned in the Old Testament about the temple you can imagine the role of the curtain. This veil that separated the people from God. Only the high priest could enter once a year to present offerings in order to cover the sins of the people and if he did the slightest thing wrong, he would be put to death. This veil was no delicate thing either, it was probably about twenty feet high and thirty feet wide. It was this thick costly piece of fabric, purple and gold, in-wrought with figures of cherubim and as we read in the Gospel of Matthew 27:51 ESV Does it matter that it was torn from top to bottom? It does, actually. Because it signifies that only God could have done that, not human hands. And so this tearing it, it indicates something far more precious than fabric being destroyed. It’s the institution of the new covenant that God has made with his people and in effect it destroys the old one. Where the old covenant – promise – was based on law and condition, the new law is not. Hebrews 10:1, 19-22 ESV, The new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, the old standard is gone the conditional if/then way of thinking is history and now for the sake of the glory of his father, Christ came to do away with the former ways. And so now we see the new standard it’s faith, it’s belief, it’s not action, it’s not behavior, it’s not anything we can do at all. It’s a radical shift in thinking and so you can see why people revolted and maybe you can understand why they still do because up until now, they had something to do in order to get to God and now it’s just Him. It’s only him, it’s completely utterly unmistakably Him.
It was inevitable that talking about wedding veils would lead directly to the Holy of Holies, the curtain that served as God’s veil for the purpose of separation. One interesting point to consider: Herod’s Temple was a segregated one. Gentiles could only go so far as the court of the Gentiles. Women could meet at the Court of the Women, but couldn’t go further up or further in than that. Not everybody would have been able to see the torn curtain for themselves. God might have destroyed the separation between him and his priests – but in a big way, women and gentiles were on the fringes and still separated from God by the men. That has not changed even to this day. Women don’t have direct access, they must be covered by and therefore go through men to get to God. Only with the covering of her husband’s authority, can she be properly submitted to her husband, and therefore, to God as well. Such a teaching obviously leaves out anyone who isn’t married. Which is why it’s stretched to say that unmarried women are under the spiritual authority of her father. Some women even choose to wear a physical covering to remind themselves of their spiritual covering. They remain veiled, wearing a veil that God never chose to tear in two.
For all of our human efforts, we cannot even begin to come close to the holiness that He demands, so he sent his son to take our place and close the gap we can never close … Now we as Gentiles are allowed into the family of God. It’s no longer only for the Jew, but for anyone who believes. Is there a part of you that struggles with that, that’s all there is to it? … Here’s the deal, faith is the lamp that makes the rest of the world dim. The problem is that we’re so used to holding onto our own candles that we don’t even know how to live in the light that he’s given us. It seems too easy. I mean believe, that’s it? Anyone can do that. And that’s exactly the point. It is only because of the groom who loved his bride and came to reconcile her … The veil is torn beloved, your groom has come for you and nothing – nothing will ever be the same.
The remarkable thing about the Gospels is the high value it places on women. Women are at the foot of the cross, the first to the tomb, the first to deliver the news. And yet, they’re also not allowed to see the torn curtain of the temple with their own eyes. They were last in the temple and last in the world. There’s some debate about the meaning of the Holy of Holies having been torn, but all other curtains in the temple being intact. In a significant way – nothing will ever be the same and yet nothing has changed at all.