The Rending of the Veil

March 20, 2005 / No. 3246

Dear radio friends,

          All who know something of the holiness of God and the vileness of their own sin ask the question:  How can I look up to God?  Everyone in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up His gracious residence is troubled with the question:  How can I make my way to the living God?

          The message of the Word of God that we proclaim today is the clearest and simplest answer to that question that you can hear.  The way is open through the blood of Jesus Christ.  We read in Romans 5:2, “By whom [that is, by Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.”  Ephesians 3:12, “In whom [in Christ] we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.”  If the Holy Spirit works within your heart, then sin’s burden and debt hangs heavy upon you.  Perhaps difficulty and trial are also your lot today.  Very often, perhaps, you believe that you are alone and abandoned.

          The gospel declares that the way for the child of God is open, open to God.  For there was a loud rip that echoed in the temple when the veil of the temple was torn in two the moment Jesus Christ died upon the cross.

          That is the theme of our message:  the rending of the veil.

          The thick, midnight darkness from high noon until 3 P.M. has been removed.  Jesus has been crucified.  The sun now shines again upon the gruesome scene on Golgotha, that skull-shaped mound outside of Jerusalem.  All eyes are upon three men undergoing the unspeakable agony of crucifixion.  The one in the middle, the central figure, has just pierced the end of three hours of silence and darkness with the cry:  “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  The light returns and He says:  “I thirst.”  They run and offer Him vinegar on a sponge.  And no sooner has He sucked the vinegar out of the sponge than again He shouts in triumph, “It is finished!”  Then, in confident serenity, He gives up His life:  “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”  At that point His head drops, falls either to the right or the left, and He hangs in the limpness of death.  Jesus of Nazareth is now dead.  His lips are silent.  There is no pulse or heartbeat or respiration.  He is dead.

          But then God came to speak.  His Son, His obedient Son, was silent in death.  But God spoke in a language all of His own.  It was a language that everyone heard.  It was eloquent.  It was forceful.  And it was glorious.  It was the language of miracle.

          The gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the rending of the veil.  We want to hear what God says in that miracle of the rending of the veil.  Do you know what God was saying?  He was saying that the way to His presence is open through the blood of His Son.

          We read in Mark 15:38, “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”  Those are straightforward words.  That is exactly what happened the moment Jesus gave up His life.  The gospel according to Luke adds one detail.  We read there, “The veil of the temple was rent in the midst,” that is, it was not torn off to the side, but smack dab in the middle — from the top down to the bottom.

          What was this veil?  It was the veil that hung in the temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as God had commanded Moses.  In Exodus 26:31-33 we read that that veil was made of blue, purple, and scarlet with the figure of cherubims upon it.  It was a massive and thick veil.  Do not think of a sheet or a film or even a towel.  It was a thick veil, as thick as a man’s hand.  And it was heavy.  Rabbinical tradition reports that it took three hundred men to hang it.  It separated the daily work of the priests in the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies on the other side, where the Ark of the Covenant of Jehovah rested.  Only the high priest himself could go behind that veil once a year on the Day of Atonement.  He had to go through an elaborate ritual of cleansing of himself and of his garments and bring with him the blood of the lamb to sprinkle over the mercy seat upon the Ark.  No one dared pass through any other way.  They would be struck dead.  The high priest had to prepare and if he did not prepare, he would be struck dead.  There was a thick veil that separated the intimate presence of God from the people.

          What did that veil say?  It said that the way to God was not yet open.  As long as that veil hung, it declared that the free and unfettered access to God was not yet.  That is not my deduction.  That is what we read in Hebrews 9:6-8, where the apostle speaks of the Old Testament tabernacle and the pieces of furniture.  He says this:  “Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle [that is, the Holy Place that I was speaking about], accomplishing the service of God.  But into the second [and that is the Holy of Holies that I was talking about] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:  the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.”  Scripture tells us that as long as the veil hung, God was saying that the way into His presence was not yet open.  It could be opened only by a full and a perfect sacrifice for sin.

          Now transport yourself back to the scene that is being described by Mark and the other gospel narratives the moment Jesus died.  Scripture says that at the end of the three hours of darkness upon the cross and when Christ had uttered His voice in the loud cry, “It is finished,” and when He had commended His spirit into the hands of the Father, that the veil of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, smack dab in the middle.  The priests must have been working at that time in the Holy Place, for it was the time of the Passover.  They were preparing the evening sacrifices.  The temple was busy.  Suddenly, without warning, there was a loud crack.  A rip echoed throughout the chambers of the temple.  The veil was torn through as a clap of thunder from the top to the bottom.  And it lay bare the whole inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies.  You could look into the place where they were told that they dare not enter or they would be struck dead.

          What was the meaning?  The meaning is this.  The way is open into the presence of God through the Savior’s blood, for all for whom He suffered and in their place.  God speaks in a way that no one can misunderstand.  He says “You may gaze in; you may come into the Holiest; you may enjoy intimate fellowship with Me; you need no more a priest; you need no more a sacrifice.  It is accomplished.”

          Remember what has happened.  In Gethsemane the hands of the heavenly Father have held out to His Son the cup of imputed sin.  The Lord laid on Him, on Christ, the iniquity of us all (Is. 53).  During the three hours of darkness on the cross, while loving His Son, He held that cup to His lips.  And the Son drank down that wrath of God until His soul burst and He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  Then, to show that He has emptied our punishment and endured our curse, He drank the vinegar offered on a sponge and He cried out, “It is finished!”  He commends His soul into Father’s hands.  And the Father throws away the cup, and with one hand took hold of the veil on the right and the other on the left, and He tore it from the top to the bottom, proclaiming that in the blood of Jesus we are pardoned, we are cleansed, we are righteous in the work of Jesus, we have the right to enter into the Holiest and to stand before God.

          Again, this is not my deduction.  This is Scripture:  Hebrews 10:19ff.  We read, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”  Jesus has borne our sins in His body on the tree.  He has made Himself a sacrifice in place of all appointed of Him of the Father.  They are pardoned.  The way is opened!  The rending of the veil is the Father’s answer to His Son’s shout of triumph:  “It is finished!”  The Father responds, “Yes, it is finished.  The salvation and redemption of My people is accomplished.”  So God tore the veil in two.  It is accomplished.

          The way into the presence of God is now opened through the blood of Jesus Christ.  That means there is an urgent call, Hebrews 10:19, “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”  Come before Him, enter into His gates with thanksgiving (Ps. 100).

          What do we need in order to be received of God?  I do not ask that question in the context of much of modern Christianity, which tells us, they say, that in reality there is but a step between you and God and God is so desperate to be liked that He is willing to change His commandments to suit you and He will accommodate Himself to you.  No!  I do not ask the question in the context of modern Christianity.  But I ask the question in the light of who God is as Jesus has just revealed Him in His cross — the God who is holy, the God who is just and righteous and pure.

          What is necessary for us to come and to stand before Him?  I ask the question in the light of what Jesus taught you and me:  we are sinners who have broken the commandments of God.  And the Holy Spirit works the conviction of sin; broken-hearted, bowed in contrition.  We say, “Against Thee, against Thee only have I sinned.”  What do we need to be received of God?  Nothing but the blood of Christ.  God says that, by virtue of His death, entrance is made into the holiest by His blood and through faith in His name.  The vilest of the vile, the worst of the sinners — the way is open.  Believe in Him alone as your acceptance with God.  Weak and needy and sorrowful and sick sinners, through the blood of Jesus Christ alone we come before the Father.  God has rent the veil because of what His Son has done upon the cross.  In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 

          It is not the magnitude of one’s sins which bars the way.  It is unbelief.  It is the rejection of Jesus Christ.  It is the proud refusal to acknowledge one’s utter sin and inability.  It is not true that the sins of God’s people are so great that they exceed the merits of Jesus Christ.  You say, “My sin is vile.  You don’t know what I’ve done.  My life is ruined.  It can’t ever be the same.  I’m going to go to my grave in sorrow.  And God has revealed to me the workings of my heart and I find within my heart vile sins.  They’re sins, sins that are painful for me to remember.”  This is the word now.  It is not my word, this is God’s Word:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Grace working faith in the beloved Jesus Christ.  And in His words “It is finished,” the veil is opened.  We may draw near to the Father.  Draw near boldly!  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by faith in the blood of Jesus.  How can we have boldness?  Because God tore the veil.

          So, in prayer, we may come in confidence.  We do not come to the door of a stranger when we bow down in prayer, but to Father’s house.  In prayer we visualize God’s hand rending the veil.  No high priest in the Old Testament could enter into the Holy of Holies with boldness.  But we may enter with boldness.  That is not to mean that we pray irreverently or flippantly to God without due respect for His majesty and in awe of His wonders.  But boldness, because Christ has done all.

          We read in Hebrews 4:14-16:  Having a high priest touched with the feelings of our infirmities, let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

          But, perhaps, you say again, “I have sinned.  I am not worthy.”  That is very, very true.  Listen to the word, in I John 1:  “If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves; if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

          Do your prayers make little use of the rent veil?  Or do your prayers magnify the rent veil?  God says, “Approach before Me boldly in faith in the death of Jesus Christ.”

          But if there is an urgent call, there is also a solemn warning in the rending of the veil.  Beware of any stitching of that veil together.  You say, “What do you mean?”  Well, Caiphas the high priest, who had torn his robe in mock abhorence that Jesus had blasphemed when He confessed that He was God’s Son, this high priest heard that the thick veil was torn in two, in the middle, from the top to the bottom.  And he ordered it sewed.  He said, “Get a needle.  Stitch it up in a hurry.”  And they repaired the veil.  That thick heavy veil still hangs in many a temple.

          Reject the Christ, reject the full and complete work of Christ as the only ground of the sinner’s acceptance, and you stitch up the veil.  Then you say, “There is still something that needs to be done to attain the favor of God.  Perhaps God started to rend the veil (Jesus opened it partially), but we have to do more before we can be assured that we will be received of God.”  Whenever one makes works the basis, the reason for salvation, they foolishly stitch the veil.

          How do they do this?  There are some in the church world today who say, “Yes, that veil was rent by God, but that rending of the veil was something like what you do with a razor-blade knife when you cut through cardboard.  You first cut a line, and you need to finish the job, you need to come back and cut it again to make the blade to go all the way through.”  So, in the early church, during the time of the apostles, there was the cry that the Gentile converts must be circumcised.  They said, “Oh, yes, Jesus has done much.  And faith in Jesus is a very good idea.  But you need a knife, you need to have the Rabbi do his work.”  You know what Paul said about that?  He said this, “Though we or an angel preach any other gospel unto you than what we have preached, let him be accursed!”  Do not stitch up the veil.

          Then, throughout the Middle Ages, there was the teaching that the veil was half cut down.  The hardest part, perhaps, was done.  God got it started, but it is not all the way open.  So they told the people that they had to grab hold of one side of the tear, while the saints in heaven and the virgin Mary get a hold of the other side of the tear, and pull.  You need works.  You need the intercession of the virgin Mary as the Mediatrix.  You need the water and the wafer and the sacrifice and the confessional.  The Reformation gospel rang out, and may it ring out throughout the ages:  “Jesus Christ said, ‘It is finished.’  He did not say it with a whisper.  He said it with a loud shout.”  Let your soul hear that!  The work of Jesus alone has opened the veil.

          But by nature, you know, we all stitch the veil.  We think that a few threads are yet holding it together and we must take the scissors of our tears and works and prayers to cut through them.  If I do this well enough, then I’ll be assured.  No!  The veil is torn.  The way is open.  Oh, yes.  Every child of God, by virtue of the power of Jesus’ blood, repents and cries and prays and loves and wants his life to be just so for the Lord.  No one goes through the veil with a tearless eye.  You go through the veil with eyes moist with repentance.  But hear the truth:  No work that you do gains your entrance into the Father’s presence.  No work even cuts so much as a thread of that veil.  God’s mighty hand tore the veil.

          Pray for Protestantism today.  There are subtle forms of work-righteousness being taught in Protestant churches.  There is the teaching again that our works add to the righteousness of Jesus Christ and form the ground of our acceptance with the Father.  Away with it!  Behold, the veil is rent.  Will we now go to God and tell Him that it is notfinished?  That there are still threads barring the way!  That God needs our works before those threads can be cut and we really know that we are saved?  Are you going to do that?  Then you cannot know for one moment rest.  You cannot know for one moment peace.  Here is the gospel.  We are justified in the blood of Jesus.  The veil of the temple is torn in twain.  The way into the presence of God is open.  The way into the holiest is open in the blood of Jesus Christ.  He cried, “It is finished!”  Enter by faith!  Believe on Him.  Embrace by grace His righteousness as the ground of your full and your everlasting acceptance with God.

          And God’s people enter in.  For the blood of Jesus Christ draws them in in full assurance of life.  God does not lie.  We are received of God in mercy.  The way is open into the place of life, the Holy Place, the place of God’s precious presence and awesome glory.  But it is open only and it is opened surely through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Believe the gospel.  Christ’s work is the only resting place for your soul.

          Let us pray.

          Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word.  And we pray that it may be inscribed now upon the tables of our hearts through Jesus’ name, Amen.