Access Granted!

Hebrews 10

19And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.

21And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, 22let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

23Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. 25And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In my daily DAVEotional entry yesterday from Hebrews 9, I showed how Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrificial system for 3 reasons.

In the next chapter, the author of the letter to the Hebrews shares the practical implications of Jesus’s better sacrifice.

You might remember that when Jesus was crucified, immediately after he breathed his last breath, the Scriptures tell us that the veil that separated the most holy place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. I wrote about the significance of that event here.

The author of Hebrews picks up on that theme in verse 20, sharing that this new life Jesus gives us, because of his shed blood, grants us access to the very presence of God. This was a radical shift for the Jewish person of Jesus’s day.

To the Jewish person from the Old Testament through the time of Jesus, God was seen as holy and unapproachable. Coming near to God might result in death. In theological terms, we call this the doctrine of transcendence. The idea is that God is so much higher than us, so much greater than us, so much more righteous than we are, that it is impossible for us to enter His presence.

This idea that God is transcendent is, in fact, the view that many major religions have regarding the nature of God, even today. As an example, one of the reasons Islam rejects the deity of Christ is because it is unthinkable that God could stoop himself to take on human flesh and become a man.

But Jesus flips the doctrine of transcendence on its head, according to the author of Hebrews. Because of His death, and particularly His shed blood, we can now approach God with confidence. We don’t have to be afraid of Him and we have free access without having to jump through any religious hoops.

Theologically, we call this the doctrine of immanence. Whereas most Jews, and other religions for that matter, see God as wholly transcendent and distant, one of the hallmarks of Christianity is the truth that God is not only transcendent, but He is also immanent – he is near and accessible.

This is incredibly good news for those who trust and follow Jesus. God is not the cosmic killjoy that some presume Him to be. He is near. He is accessible. He is compassionate. He is a FATHER and we are His children. And it’s the blood of Jesus that makes it all possible!

Reflection

When you think about God, which of His qualities do you tend to emphasize…the doctrine of transcendence – that He’s holy, righteous, immense and so far beyond us? Or do you tend to emphasize His immanence – the fact that He is near, accessible, approachable, loving and gracious? 

What experiences and factors have influenced your current view of God?

What do you think would be the downsides of emphasizing one of those doctrines too much over the other?

What about this passage do you find most encouraging and what do you find most challenging as it relates to  your view of God?

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Significance of the Torn Veil

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:33-41, NIV)


Mark 15 documents the climactic struggle of Jesus on the cross. Jesus shouts out something in Hebrew and those who are watching assume that He’s appealing to Elijah to save Him.

Jesus breathes His last breath before succumbing to the brutal effects of crucifixion, a torturous method of execution that is designed to slowly suffocate its victims.

And then comes verse 38. It’s so easy to gloss over because before this verse you have people standing around wondering if Jesus is appealing to Elijah and then immediately after this verse the focus shifts back to a centurion who had witnessed Jesus’s ordeal and who concludes that, “surely this man was the Son of God!”

So what’s the deal with verse 38? It seems so out of place to mention that the veil in the temple was torn in two right in the midst of describing Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s almost like the subliminal message that briefly interrupts the flow of the video you’re watching. If you’re not paying attention, you hardly notice it.

Yet this verse is extremely significant. If you’re familiar with the importance of the temple to Jewish religious life, the significance of this verse is probably evident. But if you’re not familiar with the role the temple played in the lives of the Israelites, let me give you some information that may shed new light on this passage.

The temple was THE center of religious life for the Israelites because it represented the very dwelling place of God. The temple was where Jews brought their sacrifices as an act of worship to God.

Inside the temple was a section called the Holy Place, which was separated by another room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies contained only one item, the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was a room that could only be entered once per year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest, who would enter the room and sprinkle the blood of a unblemished sacrifice on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in order to atone for the sins of the people.

The Holy of Holies was separated by a large thick veil, a curtain that created a barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The significance of this veil cannot be underscored. It represented the idea that God is holy and man is not and therefore, God is not accessible to man because of his sin.

Yet immediately upon Jesus’s death on the cross, this tiny, easy to overlook verse says that this veil was torn in two, giving access to the very presence of God. The text specifically says the veil was torn from top to bottom, which is no accident. The symbolism is clear – the veil was torn by God Himself, giving access to His presence that was previously unavailable.

The heart of the gospel message is this: Jesus died on a cross, atoning for the sins of the world and giving sinful humanity access to Holy God. We no longer need to make yearly sacrifices because of the sacrifice Jesus has already made on our behalf.

We have two possible responses. We can respond like the centurion, who recognized Jesus is the Son of God, or we can respond like the religious leaders, who took the torn veil, sewed it up and reattached it, thus ignoring the sacrifice that Jesus had made.

Reflection

What is your response to the death of Jesus and the tearing of the veil? Are you more like the centurion, who recognized Jesus as the Son of God? Or are you more like the Jewish religious leaders who preferred to dismiss Jesus’s sacrifice in favor of their former way of life?

What are the veils (barriers) that you put up in your life that keep you from entering into the presence of God? 

For more details about the layout of the temple click here.

 

Photo by Nikola Bikar on Unsplash