–April 0f 1998
The Rent Veil
It had been hanging there for years. It looked as if it might hang there forever. Beautifully embroidered in blue, purple and scarlet, this massive curtain hanging in front of the Mercy Seat, had guarded its secret well. It was there to fulfill a double function. On the one hand, it was there to keep men out. Sinful humanity had to keep a respectful distance. On the other hand, it was there to shut God in. For behind that hanging veil there was silence as deep as death and darkness as black as night. A darkness that not even the Judean sun blazing down at noonday could penetrate. For centuries this veil had symbolized the separation between a holy God and sinful man, and it looked as if it would hang forever.
The gospel writer tells us, however, that at the very moment Jesus died, a pair of unseen hands tore the veil from top to bottom. This, of course, was no mere coincidence. When Christ died outside the walls of the city the veil inside the walls of the temple was rent in twain. The obvious question is “why?”
The verdict of all Christendom is that in the deepest sense, that rent veil before the Mercy Seat stands for three fundamental things. First of all, the rent veil means the disclosure of a secret. A secret that revealed the inmost heart of the Eternal Father. It was characteristic and symbolic of temple religion that as you passed from the outer court through the inner court toward the center, the lights were progressively dimmed until you reached the veil hanging before the Most Holy Place. Behind the veil the ark of God sat in perpetual darkness. It had been that way for centuries. But when Jesus died and the veil was rent, the sunshine came streaming in! The whole world would now know that a holy and just God was also a God of love, and this God of love was making a way into His very presence.
Someone has said that you can’t prove love by words. Even God couldn’t prove it with just words. Once and again God had said, “Come now, let us reason together,” but that couldn’t prove love. Once and again God sent His prophets to be His voice to men, but not even the word of God, blazing through the lips of faithful prophets, could do it. Furthermore, God sent His only Son, preaching, challenging, and healing; but not even that could do it. Then when it seemed that the last word had been said, and God Himself could do no more, suddenly from top to bottom the veil was rent. The heart of God lay bare. The rending of the veil was symbolic at best. But the rending of the flesh of Christ in His death on the cross gives me the very heart of the eternal God, because it isn’t words at all. It is a deed against which I can batter all my doubts to pieces and rise in faith, trusting the atoning work of that cross and knowing that God truly loves me.
But the rent veil stands for something more. It stands for the opening up of a road—the offer of a right-a-way. As you study the symbolism of temple worship, it wasn’t only the progressive lowering of the lights as you neared the center that was characteristic of the temple. It was also the progressive heightening of the barriers. There was a carefully graded system of exclusion. First you had the outer court where anyone might come. Then there was the inner court, which was reserved for true born Jews. Beyond that was the holy place, where only the ministering priest might enter, and finally came the holiest of all, where only one man on one day of the year was allowed to enter. There was no access to the Mercy Seat for the common man. No grasp of this great hand of the eternal God. There was only the barrier of that relentless veil that meant death and sacrilege to touch. But the cross of Christ changed everything forever. When the Friend of sinners gave His life, the veil was rent; and a road of access was opened for all. It was a road so wide that the Holy Scripture tells us, “whosoever will may come.” It was a virtual “sinner’s highway.”
There is a story told about John Duncan, a professor who taught Hebrew at Edinburgh many years ago. He was sitting one day at communion at a Highland church, and he was feeling so personally unworthy that when the elements came around he felt he couldn’t take them. He allowed the bread and wine to pass. As he was sitting there, feeling absolutely miserable, he noticed a girl in the congregation who, when the bread and wine came around, also allowed them to pass, and then she broke down into tears. That sight seemed to bring back to the old saint the truth he had forgotten. In the caring whisper that could be heard all across the church, he was heard to say, “Take it, Lassie, take it! It is meant for sinners!” Then he himself partook.
The rent veil stood for the disclosure of a secret and the opening of a road; and finally it stood for the confirming of a hope. Can you hear the magnificent words of the apostle when he said that we should “lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus made an high priest forever.” Jesus has opened the way to God and given us hope beyond the grave. In the words of Bunyan, “death’s flood hath lost its chill since Jesus crossed the river.”
The saints of yesteryear have gone through the river and come out shouting. Many of our own dear loved ones have gone, and the trumpets have sounded for them also on the other side. We remain standing on the banks of this present world, looking over with the eye of faith. Jesus has taken the sting out of death and the grave. He has removed the darkness and opened the way to eternal life. The songwriter said it well, “See He is the mighty Conqueror, since He rent the veil in two.”