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The Rending of the Veil

Mark 15:37-39

37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 

39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.


We had a good service this morning. We had four people join our fellowship. Two men in their late fifties or early sixties made professions of faith, and that was a great experience. Last week I looked out across the congregation and made a mental note that I needed to see one of them this week and talk to him about the Lord. Then, at invitation time, he and his wife came forward to join our fellowship and he by profession of faith. 

Another one of the men I had lunch with this week. At lunch as we talked, I shared the Lord with him and he made his profession of faith. His wife told me a little bit later, “I came by early to try to tell you not to ask my husband any of those questions because I thought it would make him mad.” But lo and behold, the Spirit of God had prepared his heart so he was ready and immediately he made a profession of faith. I said to her, “Aren’t you glad God is in control of this situation and not you and me? Surely you and I would mess the thing up altogether.” 

I’m trusting that even now there are some who are here that are not right with God, but want to be. You are looking for a way of life and salvation and forgiveness, and I want you to know that through the Lord Jesus, those things have already been provided for you, and we are trusting that even today you will trust him as Savior.

This past week I was thumbing through some files and I ran across a very old newspaper clipping of the death of Dr. Emil Grubbe. I doubt if anyone here knows who Emil Grubbe is. He was a pioneer in the use of x-ray technology for the treatment of cancer patients. In fact in 1896 he was the first physician ever to use an x-ray beam in the treatment of a cancer patient. Because of Emil Grubbe, even though you may have never heard of him, many of you have found hope for a new life and an extended life because of what x-ray technology has been able to do for cancer. 

What he did in helping to save and extend the lives of millions of people did not come at an easy price. In his lifetime, Emil Grubbe had 93 operations himself. He lost most of both hands as well as several sections of his face due to radiation burns. As he was trying to discover how to use x-ray methods effectively, he suffered enormously because of it. He continued to suffer that way until just one year before he died. The history books are full of accounts of people like Emil Grubbe who have made great sacrifices for the benefit of others. In some ways they have almost given their lives for the lives of others. What then makes the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross different from the sacrifice of Emil Grubbe or the thousands of others just like him down through the pages of history? How is the death of Jesus on the cross different from the sacrifices that other men have made on behalf of others? 

The significance of the death of Jesus is found in who he was and is and in why he died. It is in the fact that Jesus was and is the Son of God. He was not just another human being; he was God’s only begotten Son. His death upon the cross was for the sins of all humanity.

Mark tells us the story of the crucifixion in stark simplicity. He tells us that once Pilate had sentenced Jesus to death, he then had him scourged. Scourging was a cruel and inhumane type of punishment. In scourging, the victim had his hands tied to a pole, his clothing was stripped down to his waist, and he was beaten with a whip. The whip had a handle and leather straps. In those leather straps were woven sharpened bits of lead and pieces of bone to give weight to the straps. Then the man was beaten with that whip, with those bones, and with that lead. His back was literally cut to ribbons. Sometimes because of the carelessness of the man administering the punishment, eyes would be knocked out and teeth would be broken. Sometimes men died under the pain of scourging. Sometimes they went raving mad. Very few maintained consciousness through that kind of treatment. 

After Jesus had been scourged, he was turned over to the Roman soldiers who mocked him and made sport of him. They put a robe on his shoulders and a crown on his head. They put a reed in his hand and they began to bow down and say mockingly to him, “Hail Jesus, King of the Jews!” They spit upon him and they slapped him on the head. It was a sinister kind of humor that was utterly humiliating to the Son of God.

When they were through, and when the cross was ready, they put it on his back and compelled him to carry it to the place of execution. The procedure for crucifixion did not alter. The victims carried their cross to the place of execution, and they were always forced to take the longest route possible. The authorities wanted as many people as possible to see what was happening. It would be a warning to them, as if to say, “This is what will happen to you if you violate the law of Rome.” 

It became evident that Jesus was not going to make it to the top of the hill with the cross. He had suffered so much from the beating that he could not carry the cross by himself. The soldiers reached out and compelled a bystander to carry the cross of Jesus. He took it to the “place of the skull,” called Golgotha.  

They stretched him out on the cross, and they put nails through his hands and then through his feet. Someone came out of mercy and tried to give him a drink of wine mixed with myrrh, which was a narcotic that would dull his senses and his suffering. But Jesus wouldn’t drink it. He was determined that he would suffer to the fullest for the sins of the world. 

And then, in the simplest kind of statement, Mark tells us that there they crucified him. No elaboration. No details. It was just a simple statement in verse 25: “There they crucified him.” 

The mocking did not stop. The leaders around the cross began to taunt him. “You said to destroy the Temple and you will rebuild it in three days. If you are the Son of God, why don’t you come down from the cross? Then we will believe in you.” They wagged their heads in open contempt of him and said, “He saved others, but himself he cannot save.” 

And then in verse 37, Mark says, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” That statement, “He gave up the ghost,” means that he breathed out his last breath.  

There were two miraculous events that took place at the crucifixion of Jesus. Mark tells us about one of them in verse 33: “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” The sixth hour would be noon. As Jesus hung on the cross at high noon, something miraculous happened. Darkness came over the face of the earth, and it remained dark for three hours.

Then Mark notes another miraculous event in verse 38: “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” These two miraculous events intertwine in the common procedure of executing a criminal. They are given to us with no word of explanation as to why they happened or what they meant. Obviously Mark assumed that the people of his day would understand the significance of that darkness. They would understand the meaning of the veil of the Temple being torn in two from top to bottom. He didn’t need to explain it; he just needed to state that it happened and they would understand. It was obviously a sign from God that would be meaningful to them.

But what exactly did those two things mean? The darkness means that God turned out the lights in heaven. He did not want to look upon the suffering and the humiliation of his Son as he died. In the darkness the angels must have wept. 

The rending of the veil of the Temple has an even deeper meaning to us. The veil was the curtain that separated two rooms in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. The Temple was a series of courtyards. There was an outer courtyard for the Gentiles. Then inside that, there was another courtyard for the women, and inside of that another courtyard for the men. Inside of that courtyard was one for the priest.

The people did not worship in a sanctuary in a building like this. They worshipped out in an open courtyard. And at the heart and the center of the Temple was the inner sanctuary. It was one great big room, divided into two parts. 

The first part was the Holy Place; the second part was the Holy of Holies. These two parts were divided by a veil, which was a huge curtain. In that day, if you wanted to worship God, you didn’t bring a sacrifice directly to God; instead you brought it to the priest who would offer it unto God in your behalf. He did his work in that courtyard of the priest and in the Holy Place. But once a year the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. He would go behind the curtain (or veil) and would offer up the blood of a pure unblemished male lamb as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole nation. Only once a year did anyone go into the Holy of Holies, for that part symbolized the very presence of God. If you would ask a person on the streets of Jerusalem in that day and time, “Where is God?” they would have said, “God dwells in his holy Temple, and in particular, God dwells in the Holy of Holies.” The rest of the world was shut out from the Holy of Holies. They were shut out by that veil—by that huge curtain between those two parts of that room. It was as if the veil was saying, “You can come this far and no farther. You cannot go immediately and directly into the presence of God.” 

But when Jesus died the veil that separated the average person from the direct, immediate presence of God was ripped asunder from top to bottom. There is very deep significance in this act. It signifies three life-changing things that you need to remember. The first one is this: It signifies that the old sacrificial system has passed away. The priest, the blood of the lamb, the altar, and all of that old Levitical priestly system has passed away. It is finished. It is done with. It is to be no more. That’s what it means. God ripped the curtain apart.

Second, it means that the way to God is now open to all people. Everybody and anybody can now have direct access to the living God. You do not have to go to the priesthood. You do not have to go to the high priest. 

The third truth is that it has all been accomplished by grace. The veil was rent from top to bottom—not from bottom to top—signifying that it was the work of God who reached down and ripped it apart, and not the work of man who reached up and ripped it apart.

So the Old Testament sacrificial system is done with. Through what Jesus Christ did upon the cross, the way to God is now open for all. And it was all accomplished by God, who reached down through his Son, Jesus Christ, and did it for us.

1. The old sacrificial system has passed away.

What does it mean to you and me today? First of all, it means that the Old Testament sacrificial system has passed away. All of the teaching concerning priests and altars and sacrifices and blood that is mentioned in the Old Testament—particularly in the book of Leviticus—is no more. It is passed away. It has served its purpose. It has been fulfilled and the new and living way to God has been prepared and made open, in and through Jesus Christ.

God was saying in essence to the priest, “You are now out of work. You need to find new employment or you need to apply for unemployment compensation. There is no more need for the role you play.” Likewise, just as there was no need for a priest, there would be no need for a sacrifice. No longer would men need to bring the blood of bulls and goats and offer them as a sacrifice upon the altar to God, because the final and ultimate sacrifice had been offered in and through Jesus Christ the Son of God.  

It is the same thing that John the Baptist spoke of. One day he saw Jesus walking by and he said to those who stood around him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He recognized that Jesus was the sinless Son of God to be offered, not upon the altar of the Temple, but upon the cross of Calvary for the sins of the whole world. He recognized that so effective would be the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross that never ever again would people have to offer up the blood of bulls and goats as an atonement for their sin. The atonement had been made, the priesthood was abolished, and the sacrificial system was needed no more. God had done it all.

2. The way to God is freely open to all through Christ.

Not only has the old sacrificial system passed away, but now the way to God has been opened to all. The very purpose of the veil in the inner sanctuary was to shut people out from the Holy of Holies. It was to keep them from seeing and from going into the presence of God. In fact, for a person other than the high priest to go behind the veil on the Day of Atonement would mean certain death for him. But now the way into the presence of God has been open for all men, the barriers have been torn down, the curtain has been split, and the wall has been removed so that everyone can come into the presence of God for himself.

We are masters at building walls to shut people out. Charles Drew was one of the great black American surgeons and scientists. He made a principal contribution to the American Red Cross blood program in learning and discovering that blood plasma, as opposed to whole blood, was not only acceptable but preferable in blood transfusions. Up until his time, if you wanted a blood transfusion, you could use only whole blood. Whole blood could not be stockpiled. It had to be refrigerated. It would spoil after a brief period of time. It required that you type and cross-match the blood. There were all kinds of complications in giving a person a blood transfusion. But Charles Drew discovered that blood plasma not only contained all of the life-giving ingredients that were necessary but also could be stockpiled for months without refrigeration. He found that you didn’t have to worry about blood types or cross-matching; you could give the blood plasma to people and it could save lives anywhere and everywhere. 

Not only did he help to discover that, he inaugurated a program of establishing blood banks all across America where blood could be collected and then sent to places where it was needed. As a result of the work of Charles Drew, blood plasma was stockpiled at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese, and plenty of it was on hand to treat the wounded. Ninety-three out of every 100 wounded men treated and given blood transfusions with blood plasma survived. The ironic thing is that two months short of his 47th birthday, Charles Drew was involved in an automobile accident and his arteries were severely damaged. Because he was black he was refused admission to a hospital, and Charles Drew died for lack of blood. But none need die for lack of Christ’s blood. “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  

We are wonderful at shutting people out because of the color of their skin, because of their economic status, or because of their social standing. We build all kinds of walls and oftentimes do so in the name of religion or in the name of God. The message we communicate is, “You don’t belong here. You can’t come. You are not wanted here.” 

Years ago in a church I pastored, we had a faithful member. She was there every time the doors were opened. In a previous church she had been the president of the Women’s Missionary Union. As the leader of that ministry she had often led that church to pray for missions—for the conversion of the heathen and for the church to send missionaries to distant lands. One day a black family joined our church. And she and her husband walked out and never came back again. Can you believe that a lady would pray for the conversion of the people in Africa, but then a person of African descent joining our church would cause her to walk out and never come back again? Can you believe that she would give money and raise money to give to missionaries to preach to them, but didn’t want them to sit in her church? 

We are masters at building walls that shut people out, and I tell you that such attitudes and behavior have no place in the kingdom of God. Our Lord Jesus did not come to build walls; he came to tear them down. 

That’s what Jesus did when he died on the cross. That “wall” that shut people out from the living presence of God was ripped asunder and the Lord symbolically said to us, “The way into my presence is open to all people; you don’t have to come through a priest; you don’t have to be a Jew; you can speak any language; you can be from any nation under the sun, from any culture, any background, or any color. It matters not! The way has been opened. The veil has been torn asunder. Welcome to the whole new world.” 

Listen to Paul as he talks about that in Ephesians 2:14, “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Latch on to that phrase, “He hath broken down the middle wall of partition.” The wall that divided man from God was knocked down by Jesus when he died on the cross. The way to God was opened for every one of us. If there is a person here today in this sanctuary, or watching on television, or listening on the radio who wants to find God, the way to God has been opened and he will welcome you and he will receive you. If you want him, you can find him. Nobody is shut out for any reason. That’s why John closes the book of Revelation with a great invitation. In Revelation 22:17 he says, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” The way to God has been opened up by the Lord Jesus. And what he did on the cross makes it possible for everyone and anyone to come to him.

3. It is all by grace.

The old system passed away, and now the door to the presence of God has been opened wide and everyone is invited to come. All of it is by grace. You see the veil of the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom. That veil was a huge thing. It was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and three inches thick. It wasn’t a little flimsy curtain that flapped around in the breeze. It was a massive thing placed there to shut people out from the direct presence of God. It was there to separate and divide, but when Jesus died, it was ripped asunder from top to bottom, saying to us that it is something God did from above. It is not something that man had done on his own from beneath. It is another way of saying that when Jesus died on that cross, whatever happened there was by the grace of God and not the works of man. 

I like the story about the fellow who died and appeared before St. Peter at the gates of heaven. He said, “I’ve come to get in.” And St. Peter said, “You can only get in here by the point system, and it takes a thousand points to get in.” Well, that’s no hill for a stepper, so he said, “I think I can make it. I was active in my church. I taught a Sunday school class. I sang in the choir. I served on the deacon body. I did everything a person could do in the church. I was as active in the church as a person could be, and that ought to score a lot of points.” 

And St. Peter said, “That’s good. That’s wonderful. That’s one half of a point.” 

The man thought, “Oh my soul! After all that I did, I only get a half of a point—and it takes a thousand to get in?” He said, “Well, let me tell you about my civic life. I served on the Board of Stewart Blood Center, and I was active in the Chamber of Commerce. I fought against pornography and I was in the Lion’s Club. I was active in every phase of my community life. I was a civic leader. That ought to count for something.” 

St. Peter said, “That’s good. That’s commendable. That’s another half of a point.”  

The man thought, “Oh, no! All I’ve done in the church and all that I’ve done in the community counts for so little. It takes a thousand points to get in.” Finally in despair, he said to St. Peter, “Man, if I get into this place it will be by the grace of God.”  

And St. Peter said, “That’s 999 points.”

Let me tell you, if you get in, it will be by the grace of God. It will not be by what you did in or through the church, or by your fine civic community service. It will be because one day Jesus died on the old rugged cross. It will be because the hands of the unseen God reached down and tore that veil in the Temple. From top to bottom he ripped it open and said, “Now it is finished. The sacrifice has been made. The way is open. Welcome in.” 

Whenever and wherever there is a person who will hear and answer that invitation, there is life and salvation and forgiveness and hope. It is a simple verse, but it is full of meaning. “And the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”

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