Rolling Stones: Why The Torn Veil & Split Rocks Matter

It’s the most pivotal moment in history…

…Jesus…on the cross…

…a joy once set before him, now the weight of the world.

Battered and bruised, he waits; the darkness of sin in foreign space. The epitome of innocence now weeping for his father…

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

One can only imagine what it must have been like to be a bystander watching this wonder working power helpless on a tree…to stand amidst this moment in time as it became a moment for eternity.

2ywqod

Would you agree?

If not, permit me to explain through the lens of some rocks, a veil and why it tore immediately after Jesus’ last breath.

During Jesus’ ministry, the holy temple in Jerusalem was the hub of Jewish religious life, a place where animal sacrifices and scroll readings were carried out according to the Law of Moses. In this temple, a veil separated the Holy of Holies from the outer court for three reasons:

  1. The Holy of Holies was a landing spot for God’s presence
  2. The Holy of Holies was a place of consecrated communion between God and the high priest.
  3. The Holy of Holies signified man’s separation from God by sin foreshadowing sanctification through atonement.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (ESV) and Hebrews 9:6-9 (AMP) capture this in tandem:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

“…the priests continually enter the outer [or first section of the] tabernacle [that is, the Holy Place] performing [their ritual acts of] the divine worship, but into the second [inner tabernacle, the Holy of Holies], only the high priest enters [and then only] once a year, and never without [bringing a sacrifice of] blood, which he offers [as a substitutionary atonement] for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. By this the Holy Spirit signifies that the way into the Holy Place [the true Holy of Holies and the presence of God] has not yet been disclosed as long as the first or outer tabernacle is still standing [that is, as long as the Levitical system of worship remains a recognized institution], for this [first or outer tabernacle] is a symbol [that is, an archetype or paradigm] for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which are incapable of perfecting the conscience and renewing the [inner self of the] worshiper.”

To recap, that’s over a millennium of one high priest making one annual visit to encounter God under first covenant law. That’s intense. I can only imagine if memes existed back then, how many would hinge on ‘no pressure’ taglines.  Not to mention if John 3:16 was extrapolated back to Exodus:

Before God could send His one and only Son, He had one and only day to meet one and only mediator1, a high priest oblivious to how the blood of his lambs bode the blood of the Lamb.”

Of course, I’m being jocose in my paraphrasing. But perhaps you’re still wondering, ‘What does any of this have to do with Jesus dying on the cross?

To answer this, let’s compare Matthew 27:50-51, Mark 15:37-39, Luke 23:44-47 respectively:

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’”

Now, before we pursue our bottom line, let’s note some contrasts:

  1. In Matthew, we see the veil tearing and rocks splitting; no mention of the centurion.
  2. In Mark, we don’t have rocks splitting, but the centurion is introduced confessing Christ as the Son of God.
  3. In Luke, we have time stamps and are re-introduced to the centurion who this time confesses Christ as innocent. Unlike Matthew and Mark, the veil is said to have been torn prior to Jesus’ death.
  4. Interestingly, the common denominator in all accounts is the torn veil. While not mathematically confirmed by Scripture, Exodus suggests this veil was likely near 60 feet high and four inches thick meaning not even Samson could not tear this thing.

Merging the differences, the moment fleshes out…

 “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ Having breathed his last, the earth shook, the rocks were split, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was the Son of God!’”

From here, we can now grasp the magnitude of the moment.

Once Jesus surrenders his spirit, it’s at this point the veil tears; however, the orientation of the tear is significant as it didn’t occur randomly, but from top to bottom. The commentary on this can be simplified as follows:

  1. The significance of the torn veil was the consummation of Christ’s sacrifice and atonement.
  2. The significance of the torn veil splitting top to bottom was the Holy Holies now being open to all people for all times.

Put another way, the veil tearing top to bottom not only captured the movement of God’s holy temple from manmade structure to internal dwelling, but also foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  No longer was the Old Covenant relevant where high priests represented the masses; rather, Christ could now be both our High Priest and the way to get to Him.

Hebrews 8-10 breaks this down beautifully, specifically when 8:13, 9:8-9, and 10:19-20 (ESV) are linked together:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper. Therefore, brothers, since we have 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.” 2

To quote Michael Houdmann, “The things of the temple were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death the faithful now have free access to God.

As for the rocks splitting, though often lost in context, this, too, is a meaningful anecdote. While the torn veil signified the tearing of Jesus’ flesh, reconciliation between God and man, and Christ’s post-salvation residence, the split rocks captured the effects these had on the physical world. A preview of the tomb, the split rocks were more than a consequence of the earthquake following Jesus’ final breath, but rather a permanent reminder for humanity that death is the ground of resurrection…that what happens in the spiritual can’t be excluded from the physical.

The rocks, in a way, also signaled the resurrection of our earthly bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-54) and a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:18-29). Granted, theologies vary enough to warrant a second post for a different day; the bottom line is the rocks were both imagery and analogy to God’s sovereignty in creation, His power in death, and His intent for new life.

I love how John Piper paints this in Desiring God:  “The earth was shaken and rocks split by a sovereign earth-controller and a powerful rock-ruler. Human deaths don’t shake the earth and split rocks. God does. Rocks don’t have a mind of their own. They do what God bids them do. And they shook and split.”

Come to think of it, what a visual the rocks are to Christ’s identity as our everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-5), our fortress in whom we take refuge (Psalm 144:1-2). True, the veil reminds us the barriers once between God and man are now a pathway to walk in boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16), but the rocks remind us that pathway is also one we can walk in confidence.3

And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Easter: To commemorate Christ as our greatest anchor amidst a shaking world and our greatest security amidst a collapsing one. When life is unstable, He is able. How sweet it is to know the power of the Cross will always be enough to crack the rocks of life…

…that at the mention of His name, mountains bow down and the seas roar…

…the work of His hand having taken the nails for us

As we approach Easter, my prayer for you is that as you come into a fresh understanding not only of what Christ came to do, but what He longs to do in and through you in the days to come.

Until then, I wish you all a wonderful Easter full of peace and rest as you reflect on the ultimate sacrifice.

1-1-1-1-He-is-Risen

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Already the math gives me tingles
  2. Pretty remarkable how fluid those passages run when put together
  3. Courage is for today; boldness is courage matured; confidence is boldness matured. Shout-out to Benji Block for the breakdown. (Edited by Cameron Fry via Canva)
Cover photo creds: newagechristianity.org (Edited by Cameron Fry via Canva)

Nothin’ ‘Bout The Blood

So last week I’m on a Messenger Zoom call discussing Triune worldviews when a chilling question is raised:

Are we, as rising, maturing believers valuing the bloodand living in light of that ‘precious flow [making us] white as snow’?

Certainly, it’s easy to think we are given Christ’s death and resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity.

But what if I told you to the extent we detach God’s communal nature as a foundation of love from our corporate theological foundation, to that extent we reduce the blood as nothing more than a sacrament. Would you agree?

If not, permit me to connect some dots after laying some groundwork…

1. To construct a worldview from the core of God’s nature, we must accept the fact God is a Communion of Three Persons in perfect love.

2. From there, we can establish and grow Biblical community in the same way God does His work: by multiplying what He is as a communion of love.

3. Only then can we value the Gospel and consequentially, understand the destructiveness of sin.

Unfortunately, as we progress in this post-Millennial age, the more young believers are distancing themselves from the saviorhood of Jesus2. As a former student pastor, I can attest to this. For many youth, believing the universal lordship of Jesus having once saved is far less challenging than accepting their current need for a sovereign Redeemer who continues to save.

Granted, our culture’s emphasis of reason over revelation and self-autonomy allots sense to the trend. That said, one must wonder how a world system based on deficiency is affecting the church’s thirst for relevancy.

Take ‘mission’ for example. For most, mission is seen as a journey, an assignment or a means to an end; however, when we note the Godhead, we find ‘mission’ to be an overflow of an established nature.

You see, before love could be extended, there had to be an identity with the ability to love; hence, why so many feel the weight of performance given they’re trying to abide in love not knowing who they really are and as such, forget the key to anything starts and ends with being loved by God.

The question is…

Are we abiding in love…or are we searching in love to find ourselves? Are we trusting God to fill our needs or filling our needs to trust in God? Are we forgiving having received grace or seeking grace in order to forgive?

Either way, it’s worth reminding ourselves…

  1. There’s no depravity God can’t redeem.
  2. Abiding in who we are in Christ is the blueprint to Holy Spirit dependence.
  3. The bedrock of truth, especially as revealed in revelation, is cemented when we allow God to reveal Himself in all circumstances.

giphy-1.gif

As for the blood’s depreciation among ‘next gen’ believers, it’s important we, as the body, perceive the issue as a conflict between identity and performance. For as long as Western individualism exists, so will the temptation to approach mission as drive, fellowship as metric, sin as shame…and thus, the blood as obsolete.

Yet, when we remember we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), when we accept Christ’s atonement as the security of our freedom, only then will we understand the blood’s purpose in all things.

For instance…

The blood is central to our community:

Take care and be on guard for yourselves and for the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd (tend, feed, guide) the church of God which He bought with His own blood.” ~ Acts 20:28 (AMP)

The blood is central to reconciliation:

…and through [the intervention of] the Son to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven.” ~ Colossians 1:20 (AMP)

The blood is central to redemption:

In Him we have redemption [that is, our deliverance and salvation] through His blood, [which paid the penalty for our sin and resulted in] the forgiveness and complete pardon of our sin, in accordance with the riches of His grace.” ~ Ephesians 1:7 (AMP)

The blood is central to cleansing:

But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come…He went once for all into the Holy Place [the Holy of Holies of heaven, into the presence of God], not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, having obtained and secured eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer is sufficient for the cleansing of the body, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal [Holy] Spirit willingly offered Himself unblemished  to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works and lifeless observances to serve the ever living God?”~ Hebrews 9:11-14 (AMP)

Let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:22 (AMP)

Get the picture?

My final thoughts are:

1. To minimize the blood is to minimize our freedom in Christ as it stresses our fear of deficiency over God’s sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12:9).

2. Instead of wanting to be relevant, why make the Good Newsprevalent? After all, the presence of goodwillis a testament to the Good News of the Gospel – the fact Jesus continues to heal the oppressed and set captives free having reconciled us to God through…(wait for it)… His shed blood.

3. Accordingly, by downplaying Christ’s sacrifice, we risk performance systems bridging the gap not only between identity and sin, but also church and mission (more on this in a future post).

I don’t know about you, but give me Jesus and the power of the cross as the divide between those medians.

giphy.gif

Looking ahead, stay tuned for a sequel post where I’ll dive into more detail on how we can better educate young people on how to live in God’s present ministry of reconciliation5.

‘Til then, peace be the journey

~ Cameron

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Of Jesus
  2. This coming an observation from multiple pastoral colleagues across the country
  3. Which can’t be separated from Christ’s ultimate sacrifice
  4. And our call to extend it
  5. An active reality, not a past occurrence
Cover photo creds: Mudpreacher.org

Saturday Night Life

Imagine being Rabbi Schacter moments after Patton’s army had liberated Buchenwald.

The first Jewish chaplain surveying the horror where hundreds of starving men piled in bunks from floor to ceiling. Though they had been freed, they remained in their barracks, numb to the sight of another uniform.

After all, new suits just meant new oppression and new abuse. Why leave camp to be battered and beaten again?

Then suddenly the silence breaks.

“Shalom Aleichem, Yidden, Ihr zint frei!” – “Peace be upon you, Jews, you are free!”

Slowly but surely, reality sets in…those sweet words of freedom spoken by one they now knew to be their own…

…the only one who could convince them they were truly free.

World-Gates-of-the-camp-of-Buchenwald-78747408

For some of you reading this, like the prisoners, you’re desperate for release, you’re hungry for life, but past defeats and present turmoil have stalemated you. Like a car in neutral, you’re going somewhere, yet feel inert as life races on.

If you can relate, I want to encourage you to consider what today stands for.

For once upon a time, Jesus felt the same way you did…

…when nailed to a tree…

…he took every fear, hate, and dirty little secret upon himself…

 …and died for the redemption of man.

But that was ~2,000 years ago…yesterday.

As for today, its significance is often lost in the shadow of the cross. For while Jesus atoned our sins on Friday, it wasn’t until Saturday he ensured we could live free from them.

Granted, Jesus redeemed us from sin after judicially becoming it, but he knew sin had to go somewhere. Thus, with joy still set before him (Hebrews 12:2), he carried our sin to hell…so we could permanently be undefined by it.

Unfortunately, for many of us, like the Buchenwald captives, we base our identity in past and present circumstance. We know it’s for freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), but are still skeptical thinking it’s going to disappoint in the hell of the moment.

However, when we remember Saturday…the day Jesus ripped the gates off Hades’ hinges¹, deposited our sins (past, present, and future), and withdrew keys to our victory…we ultimately find freedom in full where sin is not only confessed and repented, but renounced so we can be free from its power.

For while we’re cleansed through confession and repositioned through repentance, it’s not until we renounce sin we begin walking in freedom’s direction.

Therefore, if you’re thirsty for breakthrough, remember Christ not only shed his blood² for you, but unlocked freedom’s door so your struggle, your shortcoming…would never define you. Yes, there may be times you feel like a hesitant hostage or a fighter with the wind knocked out; however, once you receive the power Christ bought you on Saturday, you’ll find the freedom and strength you need to renounce the bondage of sin’s baggage.

Regardless of where you’re at this Easter, remember freedom is more than cleansing term; it’s an identity term! Hence, why we have every reason to rest in Rabbi Schacter’s charge 73 years in the making…

   “Peace be upon you, all…you are free!

empty_tomb11

Cover photo creds: Peg Pondering Again

Footnotes

  1. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/he-descended-into-hell
  2. As the final scapegoat