Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lenten Midweek 1

Lenten Midweek 1: The Miraculous Tearing of the Temple Curtain[1]

March 16, 2011

Text: Matt. 27:51a: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (ESV).

To understand the miraculous tearing of the Temple curtain, you have to understand something about the architecture and layout of the Temple itself, and the theological purpose for that layout. For God’s Old Testament people, the Temple was God’s house, the dwelling place of God with man. And yet, man cannot see God and live, because man is sinful, and God is holy, and whenever the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God come into contact, there is disaster. The LORD says through the prophet Isaiah: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (59:2). Thus the Temple curtain. The Temple curtain separates the Holy of Holies (or the Most Holy Place) where God dwells, from the Holy Place where the priests do their work. The curtain is the physical manifestation of the spiritual reality that sin separates man from God. But it is also a protection. It protects the priests from coming into contact with God’s holiness and being obliterated by His wrath. Others are even further distanced from the Holy of Holies for their protection. The men of Israel could come into the Court of the Priests, just outside of the Holy Place, which is just outside the Holy of Holies, but only with their sacrifices. The women could not even come that far, but were confined to the Court of the Women in the Temple precincts. Gentiles (non-Jews) were even further removed, being confined to the Court of the Gentiles. The priests were the go-betweens, the mediators. The priests made sacrifices in the Court of the Priests and the Holy Place for the sins of the people. And only one priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, having ceremonially bathed his body, being clothed in holy vestments, carrying incense, and most-importantly, the sacrificial blood of a bull or goat for his sins, entered the Holy of Holies. For in the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. And on the Ark of the Covenant was the mercy seat. And the mercy seat is the throne of the holy and living God.

The curtain, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was about 6 inches wide, 60 feet high, and spanned the whole width of the Temple. It separated God’s people from certain doom by coming into contact with their holy God. It simply was not possible for them to have direct access to God because of their sins. They had to have mediators, the priests, the sacrifices, the blood. And now you can surmise what it means that upon the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, our once for all sacrifice for sin to which all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed, the blood that covers our sins as the blood of bulls and goats never could, in the very moment He breathed His last, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. For in the death of Jesus Christ the sins of all men are forgiven. The sins that separate us from God are covered. There is no longer a division between God and man. Jesus is THE faithful High Priest who has made atonement for our sins, and the sacrifice He offers is Himself. His death is for the life of the world. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). In the person of Jesus, the sin of man and the holiness of God came into contact, and the result was disastrous. The result was the death of the Son of God for sinful mankind. The result was the tearing of the curtain of Jesus' flesh. But in this way His flesh becomes the new and living way to God (Heb. 10:20). His death is our life. His life is our righteousness. Covered in His blood, we now have direct access to God. There is no need for any other mediator, save Jesus Christ. There is no need anymore for a special class of priests. God has made us all priests. And He comes to us directly, immediately, with no separation, in the flesh of Jesus Christ His Son.

And now just as the architecture of the Temple was the physical expression of the theological reality, so the architecture of our church building confesses this new reality that we have direct access to God. For all of you, men and women and children, Jews and Gentiles, whoever you are, come to church and march right into the nave, the Holy Place, if you will. And as God’s dear redeemed people, bought by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, you then march right up to the chancel, the Holy of Holies if you will, wherein is the mercy seat, the altar of God, where God dwells really and substantially in flesh and blood. You come at the LORD’s bidding. There is no more division. There is no more curtain. The communion rail represents where the curtain used to be. But you come right up to that rail and kneel and God comes right through the rail, as you receive in your mouths the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, the very body and blood of God. Because Jesus Himself is the Temple. Jesus, the God-Man, is the dwelling place of God with man. Jesus is the dwelling place of God with you. The Temple of His flesh being destroyed by our sins, He raised it up in three days. He covers us by His blood in His Word and Baptism and the Supper. The sacrifices are over. The curtain is torn. Now nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts contained in this sermon come from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

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