Two Veils, One Hope, Three Responses Part 1

Two Veils, One Hope, Three Responses Part 1
A post by Keith Phillips
March 10, 2020
Luke 23:44-46

Jesus has already endured a mockery for a trial. He has been slapped in the face, spat upon, falsely accused, jeered at, ridiculed, beaten, flogged by Roman soldiers, paraded before Herod and Pontius Pilate and even before the Jewish mob who feverishly cheered, “give us Barabbas” and “crucify Him…let Jesus’ blood be on our hands and the hands of our children.”

A crown of thorns has been placed upon His head, a cross has been secured. Christ has been led down the Via Dolorosa, translated the ‘Road of Sorrows’. Too weak to even carry His own cross, Simon of Cyrene has had to be employed to carry it with him the remainder of the journey until they reach that point just outside the city of Jerusalem, that place of great shame and reproach (Heb. 13:12-13). Luke identifies this location simply by its translation, the Skull. Matthew and Mark identify it by its Aramaic name, Golgotha. In the Latin, it is called Calvary.

And I’m struck by the brevity of the Gospel writers in their descriptions of what occurred next. Luke succinctly states, “they crucified Him” (Luke 23:33). This brutal form of execution was so commonplace in biblical times that no further detail was warranted. The readers in this day would have likely known all the horrific and gory details that accompanied crucifixion without them having to be recounted.

Here, at Calvary, Jesus is stripped of all his clothes, except maybe a loin clothe for a covering; nails are driven through His hands and feet; and the cross is hoisted up by his executioners until it falls into position with a jarring effect on our Savior’s body. It is 9 a.m. on this first Good Friday.

Fast forward three hours and at noon, darkness covered all the land. And previously, we considered the significance of this cosmic sign, for it was during this window of time that the sins of all who would by faith believe in Jesus, were singularly focused, concentrated on our Lord as He hung upon the cross. At this moment, Jesus was suffering the fiery wrath of God, becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The stroke of God’s justice fell upon our Christ.

And astonishingly, we read of another curtain in this same account in Luke’s Gospel.  

     “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:44-45, emphasis added).

Like the cosmic veil that shrouded the land in darkness, there was an earthly veil, a curtain hanging in the temple. This curtain, the grandest of thirteen in the temple, was a magnificent and massive piece of fabric, some 30 ft. wide and 30 ft. high. In all it comprised some 100 square yards of material, one inch thick, and was richly embroidered, woven with the finest yarns of white, reds, blues, and purple threads, even containing inlaid cherubim. Functionally, it separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, that is, the Holy of Holies. Inside the Most Holy Place stood the ark of the covenant where the mercy seat was sprinkled with the blood of an unblemished sacrifice annually to make atonement for the sins of the people.

More significantly, this immense curtain formed a barrier. This veil signified that an infinite chasm separates Holy God from sinful humanity. Simply put, it blocked or restricted access to God. Since the time of Moses, the people had been denied direct access to the divine presence. Only one man, once a year, was permitted inside, behind the curtain.  

But now, Jesus is making a better way. In these three hours that we have been considering (noon-3 p.m.), Jesus has been functioning as both High Priest and Sacrifice while hanging on the cross. As the spotless Lamb of God, Christ sprinkled His own unblemished blood upon the mercy seat of the ark in the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9:11-12) and in so doing brought a dramatic fulfillment and end to the Old Testament sacrificial system. No more bulls and goats were needed year after year. No more blood needed to be sprinkled by the priest upon the mercy seat because the Son of God has given Himself as a once and for all time sacrifice to make complete atonement for sin (Heb. 9:26).

The tearing of the temple veil signifies for us that through Jesus’s finished work upon the cross, the way into God’s presence has now been opened wide. We now have a hope “that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). We have a “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20). You see, the old temple curtain blocked access to God, but through His atoning work on the cross, Jesus has torn down the veil and opened the way back into the blessed arena of God’s presence.

     “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46)

By this verse, we listen to the voice of Jesus and hear His final and triumphant declaration from the cross. These are the dying words of our Lord, a man forsaken by God, yet they are words of great trust and confidence. Before the darkness is even lifted from the earth, Jesus recognizes the never-ending presence of the Father to whom He now commits His life in death.

For Jesus, the darkness of the cross meant distance, separation from God the Father. Still, in this prayer, we learn that the power of darkness does not nullify the presence of God. Through all of His suffering, Jesus never lost hope in the promises of God’s Word. Quoting from Psalm 31:5, Jesus manifests His own faith in the sovereign God who will preserve His soul.

Remarkably, even in His death, Jesus provides us with a sure model for how we are to live. His intercession is an example to us, especially in times of great hardship and difficulty, perhaps when we ourselves feel forsaken by God. In the darkest of hours, Jesus resolved that His heart would trust in the Father, and so should we. When even our prayers seem like nothing more than a cry in the dark, trust as Jesus did. We need only look to the empty tomb as evidence that Jesus’s confidence was certainly well placed.

To the very end of His life on this earth, Jesus never wavered in His confidence in the Father. With a singular and fixed hope, Jesus died a voluntary death on our behalf and for our benefit. You see, Jesus was not a victim on the cross, but a Victor. Christ was not defeated; he was dominant in His death. These final words were not some wishful whimpering from our Lord’s lips, but a loud, confident cry from a triumphant, trusting Savior. Having experienced the fullness of God’s wrath against sin and the divine justice of the sinners’ separation from God, Jesus now lays down His life by His own power and authority.

Keith Phillips - Elder
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