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)

Resurrected Community: A SOAP Study on John 13

ScriptureJohn 13:1-9

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!

Observation:

While much attention in this passage is given to the washing of feet, it’s interesting to note the towel’s contextual significance in the moment and beyond. With His hour rapidly approaching, Jesus knew now was the time to prepare His disciples for life post-resurrection; however, He also knew ‘now’ was not yet the time to commission them for evangelism. Accordingly, Jesus, through the towel, opted to preview the next ~40 days, a stretch during which He wouldn’t evangelize, but strengthen His community as a future colony of heaven (i.e. Kingdom community)12.

Having said that, before we can dive further into “towel theology” (i.e. the towel as a communal template to daily rising with Christ), we must first talk about what Christ sought to model through it.

Consider this: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most powerful event that this planet has ever witnessed. Yet, as for who actually ‘saw’ the resurrection? Nobody but a couple of awe-struck Roman soldiers who in a matter of hours would go from literally trembling in fear to lying about what they had seen. One would think the lives of these guards would instantaneously change à la Paul’s conversion, but truth is the power of the resurrection didn’t change them at all.

Of course, none of this was a surprise to God given He knew what the soldiers denied would be what many believed as they experienced His transformational love working through human hearts3; still, the takeaway here is while Christ’s resurrection was certainly a powerful moment in history, it wasn’t the greatest demonstration of divine power. Rather, as we’ll soon see, the cross,  paved the way for the greatest force of divine power – sustainable agape love.

walter-rane

Application:

The application is simple: To be raised with Christ is to build His community as Jesus did after His resurrection.

“If then you have been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead, walk in newness of life and seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” ~ Colossians 2:12, Colossians 3:1, Romans 6:4 (Blended ESV)

Again, we may think the key to being on mission with God is effective evangelism, but when we consider how Paul and early church perceived being raised with Christ, we find the critical priority to be the community of Jesus serving one another in love with evangelism as the overflow. For when a genuine Christ community exists that’s all the Holy Spirit needs to impact the cultural community it exists in.

Therefore, we must be careful we don’t abuse evangelism as a promotional means to add to ‘our’ number, but rather allow the Spirit to awaken eyes to see the love we have for one another. This, I suggest, was the center of Paul’s approach to mission – we don’t build a colony of heaven through forced rhythms of effort, but instead build Christ’s community through unforced rhythms of service laden with love, kindness, and compassion. Doing this, as Paul saw it, was the way a local church could reflect heaven on earth and the way the Spirit could spread this light into new places.

As for the body of Christ, the recipe for cultural transformation is straightforward: To build communities of agape love and to let the Spirit establish them as colonies of heaven. For as we know, in this life we are plagued by worldly structures bent on dominating, manipulating, and controlling through destructive systems of independence yielding cultures of anxiety, fear, hatred, and pride. However, by living confidently in the assurance of our guaranteed future (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 4:16, Hebrews 11:1), we can be free to accept a Kingdom, ‘crucified and raised in Christ’ structure as the framework by which we love and serve – a structure that proclaims the good news in this way: We are free because we’re helpless, free because we’re confident, free because we’re crucified in Christ, and free because we’ve been raised with Christ, the foundation to being a Jesus community4. Once we accept our helplessness, then we can better depend on the Holy Spirit, rest in our future completion, and serve in present love.

Paul describes this endgame in Galatians 5:13 and 6:2:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” ~ Galatians 5:13

If you bear one another’s burdens, if you love by serving each other, you’ll stay in the Spirit and remain in alignment with Christ and so fulfill the law of Christ.” ~ Galatians 6:2 (paraphrased)

With Christ’s resurrection in mind, the core of being a community of Christ is experiencing the law of Christ as loving one another by serving one another…

…which brings us to why Jesus took the towel in John 13. 

While many are quick to emphasize Jesus’ humility and modeling of submissive service, what’s often missed is how the washing of His disciples’ feet clinched the founding of His community. Backtrack to v. 3 and we find our first sign of evidence: Jesus knew the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God. This is the real reason why Jesus took the towel5 – to not only achieve a timely metaphor, but to unveil a central commandment (i.e. ‘love one another’) that would soon become the cornerstone of Christianity.

basin-towel1

Remember up until their feet were washed, the disciples were followers, but not a following of disciple-makers. When Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash His feet, Jesus said, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with me‘. Why? Because love through serving was the foundation Jesus was laying. In other words, Jesus knew convicting Peter to helplessness would open him up to radical dependence. We see this instantly when Peter replies, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head‘. Yet, even at the utter of this imperative, little did Peter realize this act of total dependence would result in radical freedom, a newness of life where he could experience life as a new human serving and loving.

As Peter discovered, the implications of this reality, specifically how we do church, is huge. In a world screaming ‘make your life count’, it’s worth noting the early church would not have understood such dogma. To them, one didn’t try to make a difference, but rather let their love through service be the difference. As such, having embraced their identity as a resurrection community – a community who loves and serves in the moment – their operation as the new humanity would ultimately revolutionize arguably the world’s greatest superpower in history.

Bottom line: What Jesus did in John 13 went far beyond washing a few stinky feet.

Rather by exchanging outer garment for towel…

  1. He revealed what resurrection community would soon look like – a ‘walk in the Spirit’, ‘serve your spouse, forgive your brother, love your enemy’ way of living far contrary to the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ lifestyle we know today.
  2. He connected repentance to not only being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2), but also celebrating our helplessness, dependence, and freedom to be a John 13:35 community so, “by this all people will know that [we are His] disciples, [by our] love for one another.”
  3. He redefined church as a body of believers becoming the colony of heaven on earth by living in the Spirit (i.e. daily dying and rising with Christ).

Selah.

Prayer:

Footnotes

  1. As would soon emerge through the Holy Spirit
  2. Not to suggest we don’t prioritize evangelism; after all, the Holy Spirit’s coming was so we could be empowered to be Christ’s witnesses.
  3. Remember after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus not only prepared a community the Holy Spirit would eventually come upon in Acts 2, but also a unified body transformed by Christ’s love as a testament to God’s existence.
  4. Inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ‘Being the Community of Jesus’ module.
  5. Side note: I love how this moment captures Christ’s baptism and brings it full circle (more on this in a future post).
Photo creds: Highland Park United Methodist Church
*Content inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ordination course*

 

 

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