Miracles of Lent
A sermon based on Matthew 27:51a
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 – Midweek Lent 2
In the days before mass communications—when all long distance messages were sent by hand—a king would place his seal on his message. This seal would be a sign to the recipient of the message that the message was authentic—that it really came from the king and not a forgery from someone posing as the king.
In a similar way, when we read our Bibles we find that whenever God was doing something big in his plan of salvation, he would also send big miracles. These special acts that interrupted the normal course of events were God's seal to authenticate that what was going on was really from him.
On Wednesday evenings this Lenten season, we're going to take a look at a few of those miracles that demonstrate that God was doing something big—something really big. He was rewriting history, erasing all of our sin, bringing us back to him.
Tonight, we look at the miracle of the torn temple curtain as it's recorded for us in Matthew 27:51. We add verse 50 for the context where Matthew simply reports…
50 When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
By today's standards, the temple wasn't a huge building. It was about the size of this building, actually—about 90 feet long and about 45 feet wide. But even thought it wasn't big, it's religious significance certainly was.
Ironically the focal point of the whole place was a room that only one man got to see. It was the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies where the living God himself dwelled with all of his holiness. And it was separated from the main chamber of the temple by a thick curtain.
This curtain was 60 feet high and 6 inches thick! Look at the width of your bulletin. The curtain was thicker than that by another half inch! And it was that thick for a reason. It was meant to keep sinners out.
And it stood as a thick reminder of the separation between sinful mankind and a holy God and the disastrous consequences for the one who entered his holy presence in their sinful state.
It reminded the people of Isaiah 59:2, which reads: "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."
And it reminds us of the barrier between us and God that we've woven our entire lives: the web of lies, the yards of unloving deeds, the stained and filthy rags of our impure thoughts, all sewn together with the threads of selfishness woven through it all.
We have no right to approach a holy God on our own. We have to power to approach a holy God on our own. We have made too thick a barrier between us and him. And how disastrous the consequences still are for the one who enters his holy presence in their sinful state.
We deserve separation from God and all of his blessings in this life. We deserve separation from God for all of eternity in hell.
Thankfully God's less interested in what we deserve than he is in how he can bring us into his presence. So he came up with a plan—a plan that he foreshadowed in the tabernacle and the temple. He would allow a substitute to take the blame for mankind's sin. The priests would symbolically place their hands on the sacrifices as they laid the sins of the people on those animals. Several were slaughtered and their blood was caught in bowls then splashed against the altar and against the Ark of the Covenant. And one goat—the scapegoat—was led into the wilderness to die with sins of the people on his head. (cf. The Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16)
And, of course, you know that these sacrifices all pointed ahead to the once-for-all sacrifice (once for all people and once for all time) that took place in Jesus. Jesus came to be our perfect scapegoat.
God the Father laid on him the thick and heavy curtain of our sin, which was far too heavy for us to bear. And the weight of that curtain crushed him. Far worse than the physical pain of the tortured he endured, Jesus suffered hell when was separated from God the Father on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)
And that sacrifice was complete when Jesus gave up his life. "When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit."
And when he did something miraculous happened! "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."
At six inches thick, you know that it was no light breeze that blew into the temple and tore the curtain. You know that this wasn't some equipment malfunction or some joke played by an irreverent priest. No. This curtain was torn by God himself—through all 6 inches of thickness through all 60 feet in length from top to bottom.
But this miracle was really just the king's seal on the greater miracle that took place: When Jesus died, he tore down the separation between us and God. He removed the sin that separated us from him. "It is finished!"
That's why in our church, there's no curtain that keeps you from the altar. You can approach it on Sunday morning and be in God's very presence as you take and eat his body and drink his blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins. You have been brought near to God! The curtain has come down!
Bob had been working at the company for almost a decade when he finally got his promotion. And with the promotion came a pay raise, a new office, and a new key card. He now had access to parts the building he could never go in before.
Well, dear friends, you now have access, not just to the inner sanctuary of the building, but to God himself.
The writer to the Hebrews explained what that means for us every day in what I call "the lettuce verses" because he says "Let us" so many times:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Let's be at peace knowing that our sins have been forgiven, our guilty consciences cleansed. Let's take advantage of the access to the Father that's now ours. Let's come to him in prayer, asking boldly, even insisting that he give us the things he's promised. Let's come to this holy place often to sing his praise and study his Word! The author to the Hebrews goes on…
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
On November 9, 1989 there was dancing in the streets of Berlin when the wall that separated East and West Germany for almost 30 years started coming down.