AND THE VEIL OF THE TEMPLE WAS TORN
Mark 15: 38
A Good Friday sermon by:
Rev. H.A. Bergsma
Psalter 114: 1, 2, 9, 10
Scripture Reading: Mark 15: 20 – 41
Text: Mark 15: 38
Psalter 47: 1, 4, 8, 9
Doxology: Psalter 430: 1
Congregation of the Lord,
Eternity will not erase what happened on that Good Friday when Jesus Christ was crucified and died.
According to the Book of Revelation, He will always be known as “The Lamb that was slain” as we can read for instance in Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”
In other word, Jesus Christ will be honored for the sacrifice He once made on the cross and be worshipped for it to all eternity.
This should tell us already that the crucifixion and death of Christ had a tremendous impact upon the world, and more particularly upon the Church.
The cross of Christ has furnished the Church with many benefits, not in the least, salvation from sin, and victory over Satan.
Each believer will be eternally grateful for such a salvation and victory … his or her gratitude will already come to expression in this life, and will certainly come to its fullest and perfect expression in the life to come.
But there is one benefit furnished by the cross of Christ that is not spelled out in words, but rather, is symbolized by a highly unusual phenomenon, namely by a torn veil in the temple.
It is obviously important enough to know about this matter because no less then three of the Gospel writers mention it in connection with the crucifixion as it is articulated in our text, Mark 15:38, “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”
Another Bible version renders it in up-to-date language, “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (NKJV)
Let us hear something about this phenomenon, attending the crucifixion and death of Christ, simply by this title …
AND THE VEIL IN THE TEMPLE WAS TORN
It was a grim day for Jesus Christ that Good Friday.
Humanly speaking, everything was against Him.
His arrest in the dark early hours of that day did not bode well for Him … all His disciples fled from Him.
Not a single one stuck around to give Him moral support.
His trial did not go well for Him; not the one conducted by Annas the high priest, neither the one conducted by Herod the King, nor the one conducted by Pontius Pilate the judge.
It seemed that everything was destined to go against, Him so to speak.
His accusers were determined to see Him sentenced and executed as quickly as possible.
The main trial conducted by Pontius Pilate was in itself a gross miscarriage of justice, because, although this judge initially pronounced Him innocent, and stated officially “I find no fault in Him” this same judge ended up having Him scourged and beaten and humiliated unmercifully, and finally handing Him over to be executed.
No last minute courtroom leniencies were forthcoming for Jesus, as it seems that there was no reducing of the sentence contemplated by anyone.
Then also the choice-means of execution was by no means mild and tempered, because the crowd that gathered around demanded nothing less then crucifixion, a sentence the sound of which sent chills of horror through anyone about to be executed in that way.
Imagine! The crowd that once loved listening to His preaching and once benefited greatly from His miraculous power screamed uncontrollably for His blood … “Away with this Man!” “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
And then, going out to the very place of execution did not go well for Jesus either.
He had to walk from the city of Jerusalem out beyond the gates of Jerusalem, down through a valley and up a hill called “Golgotha”, all the while dragging the heavy beams of a cross on His lacerated back.
Somewhere halfway between as He walked that road from Jerusalem to Golgotha, which is now popularly called the “Via Dolorosa” Jesus collapsed under the weight of the cross, and someone else had to carry the cross, else He would never even have made it to Golgotha.
Finally, after a grueling trip up and down and up the “Via Dolorosa” He arrived at Golgotha, literally known as “Skull-Hill.”
And there, on a hill, a bit off the main road, Jesus was crucified.
The cross that accompanied Him from the city was laid on the ground, and after first being stripped of His clothing, He was stretched out on the cross and nailed to the wood by spikes through His hands and feet.
Then the cross, with Him hanging on it, was stood up straight and “planted” in a hole dug into “Skull-Hill.”
And Jesus was crucified.
I cannot adequately describe for you the agony that Jesus went through while He hung there at first under the burning Middle East sun and later in the afternoon in the haunting, oppressive humidity of a sudden and solid, thick darkness.
I cannot adequately describe for you the physical pain that Jesus endured, as the weight of His body pulled on the wounds of the nail-holes in his hands and feet, and as the wounds of His lacerated back and face and brow enflamed his body with fever.
I am told that the way He was fastened on the cross severely restricted His breathing, as it squeezed His chest-bones hard onto His lungs, and with every labored breath, a violent pain shot forth from nail-pierced hands and feet.
I cannot adequately describe for you the emotional pain that He experienced, as the people around Him howled at Him, scorned Him, and mocked with Him.
We are told in Matthew 27:39 “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads …”
He had become the laughing-stock of the people.
Imagine hanging there, enduring such agony and then having some “wise-cracks” yelling at you “… save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
I cannot adequately describe for you the spiritual pain Jesus went through, when in the darkness His Father in Heaven abandoned Him and forced the cry from His lips, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) … while at the same time He found Himself descending into hell to suffer hellish torments.
Our Heidelberg Catechism has made an attempt to describe what this must have been for Jesus when it asks in Lord’s Day 16…
“Why is there added, ‘He descended into hell’?” and then answers, …
“That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which He was plunged during all his sufferings, but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.”
But when it comes right down to it I do not have to describe in detail what Jesus went through, even if I could.
What would it do for you if I could show you all the violence and the blood and gore that accompanied the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus?
What would it do for you if I could more vividly portray for you the agony of Jesus?
What would it do for you if I could more graphically set before you the Satanic presence and assaults to Jesus that made what was done to Jesus nothing less than demonic?
It would perhaps stir your emotions to the point that you will break down and cry; it would perhaps raise your level of pity for Jesus.
But this is not what God wants of us.
In fact, we are told in the Gospels that at a certain moment, somewhere along the Via Dolorosa, some women did break down as Jesus passed by.
Their emotions were stirred to profound pity for Jesus, seeing Him the way He was … but Jesus must have stopped for a few moments and turned to them and addressed them, no doubt lovingly
and kindly … but He said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” (Luke 23:28)
Jesus does not want us to pity Him … He does not want us to feel sorry for Him … rather, He wants us to repent of our sins and believe on Him.
This is why I do not feel so bad about not being able to describe adequately what Jesus endured … and really there is nothing and no one in this world that can adequately describe it or portray it, because it is far beyond human imagination!
But what Jesus does want of us … you and me, is, that we bow for Him in faith and worship, and learn to say with a saint of old times …
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior,
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace. (Bernard of Clairvaux)
It is not that things did not go well for Jesus on Good Friday; in fact, it can be said that things went precisely according to plans … even according to the plans of God.
God the Father ordained that these things should be done to His Son.
The Apostle Peter says as much to the people on the day of Pentecost, as is recorded for us in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
And why was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, delivered up and by wicked hands crucified and slain?
Was it to arouse pity in us for “Poor, Innocent, Jesus”?
No, to the contrary; it was to arouse pity in ourselves for poor, guilty us!
Dear people! Jesus Christ was crucified and slain as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus Christ was crucified and slain to be a sacrifice for the sins that you and I have committed.
Jesus Christ was crucified and slain so that you and I would not have to be crucified and slain eternally in hell.
Jesus Christ was crucified and slain so that sinners such as you and I could have access with God – peaceful, blessed access with God – through faith in Jesus Christ.
This is one of the big reasons why Jesus Christ had to endure all the pain and suffering and humiliation.
This is one of the big reasons why Jesus Christ was crucified.
How do we know this?
We know this by way of a symbolic event that happened in the temple of Jerusalem, right about the same time that Jesus Christ cried with a loud voice “It is finished” committed His spirit into the hands of His Father, and breathed His last.
This symbolic event is announced in our text, Mark 15:38, “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
As I said already before, three of the Gospel writers draw our attention to this event, and should therefore have some profound significance for us, if we want to have the right view on Christ’s crucifixion and death.
About the time that Jesus Christ died, something very dramatic happened in the temple of Jerusalem.
As you know, there was sacred section in the temple that no man was allowed to enter, except for the High priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
This sacred section of the temple was called the Most Holy Place, and was the place where God was pleased to dwell.
However, the entrance to this Most Holy Place was closed off by a veil or curtain.
This was a very thick and ornate curtain made of blue and purple and scarlet, decorated with figures of cherubim.
You can read of its details of how it was made and what it was made of, in Exodus 26:31-37.
This curtain was originally fitted for the tabernacle, but a similar curtain was also fitted for the temple to close off the entrance to the Most Holy Place.
This curtain or veil had, as I mentioned already, figures of cherubim decorated on it, which meant that access into the Most Holy Place was not permitted and out of bounds.
Much like when the Garden of Eden was put out of bounds for Adam and Eve by two cherubim who stood at the entrance of the Garden.
The only one who could enter behind the veil and into the Most Holy Place was the High priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, but only after having made the appropriate sacrifices and prayers.
Well now, during Jesus lifetime on earth, the temple in Jerusalem also still had such a veil or curtain covering the entrance to that sacred place of the temple, the Most Holy Place.
And it meant limited … very limited access to God.
But what happened the very hour that Jesus Christ died on the cross?
Our text tells us …“Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Now this is not the only dramatic thing that happened at Christ’s death; we also read about an earthquake and of many graves opening up and of many dead in the graves coming to life.
But what happened in the temple is certainly the most significant … this thick colorful cherubim-embroidered veil or curtain was torn in two … and notice well! … from top to bottom.
As if two divine hands reached down, and tore this curtain apart.
“Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
What is the meaning of this?
I believe it sets forth one of the great reasons for the crucifixion and death of Christ … it provided access to God again.
Now, none of the Gospel writers go into detail as to why this has happened.
They have simply related to us this dramatic event in tight connection with the death of Christ …
Matthew 27:50-51, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.”
Luke 23:45-46, “And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
And our text, Mark 15:38, after Jesus had cried with a loud voice, and had breathed His last … “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”
But even though the Gospel writers did not go into detail as to why this dramatic event happened, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews does, because he speaks of it in several chapters, chapters 7 and 8 and 9, and then he adds this in chapter 10:19-20, “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.”
The crucifixion and death of Christ has provided unrestricted access to God for those who have come to faith in Christ.
God wants to let us know about this access by having torn the veil in the temple from top to bottom.
Our text is just a small one, and somewhat inconspicuous amongst the details of Christ’s crucifixion and death.
But our text contains a powerful, and at the same time a wonderful message … there is free, unrestricted access to God again.
“Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Through Christ, the Crucified One we may enter into the presence of God and be at peace with Him and enjoy blessed communion with Him and His Son and His Holy Spirit.
Through Christ, the Crucified One we may enter within the veil and into the Most Holy Place.
This will come to perfect fulfillment once we are with Christ in eternity.
Then we will have entered into the Heavenly Most Holy Place, and enjoy all the blessings of spiritual communion, and we will not grow tired of worshipping and singing the praises of the Lamb that was slain, Christ Jesus, the Crucified One.
And so, dear people! Jesus is not looking for anyone to pity Him for having to suffer so much and being so humiliated at the hands of sinners.
Jesus is not looking for anyone to weep for Him because of what He had to endure.
But He does look for you who will confess that His crucifixion and death was necessary, as a sacrifice for your sin.
If there is weeping to be done, do so for your sin.
If Jesus finds anyone amongst us with a sense of pity, may it be the pity for a sinner who hasn’t yet found the Savior.
My fellow believers!
The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ was a horrible ordeal for Him.
I could not adequately describe it, and I trust you will excuse me for it.
But remember this!
He endured it willingly, without any resistance, and without any complaint.
He endured the sacrifice … like a Lamb to the slaughter … silently.
And He endured it for the likes of you and for me.
This makes it such a treasure and a privilege to be able to confess …
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Because of it, “ the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” and we, who have believed in the Savior, may have free, unrestricted access into the Most Holy Place.
There is an eternity prepared for us during when we will be worshipping “The Lamb that was slain.”
We will be given the time and the energy and the desire to sing it out loud, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”
But in the meantime, while we are still on this earth, let us worship and praise Him with our faithfulness and with our love.
Let us serve Him with our sacrifice of thanks for His sacrifice of love.
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