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!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:44-49 ESV)
It’s Friday, and so much has happened since we talked about the donkey on Palm Sunday. In fact, many things have happened that we don’t always think of as being associated with Holy Week.
But Holy Week is the theme of Gospels. It is in fact the theme of the New Testament and the Old Testament as well. But the writers of the Gospels talk about it a great deal. Matthews gives this last week 8 chapters, Mark gives it 6 chapters, Luke gives it 6 chapters and John gives it 10 chapters. All together this week is given a third of all the gospel accounts put together, 30 of 89 chapters.
So let’s review. On Sunday He enters the city on a donkey to the adoring cries of His disciples, weeps over the city, foretells its destruction, and goes to the Temple.
Monday He cursed the fig tree and cleansed the Temple of the money changers. He received a delegation of Gentiles and rebuked the faithlessness of those who have heard His words and seen His works.
On Tuesday He explains the fig tree to his disciples, responds to questions from the Jewish leaders about His authority, about the resurrection, and about paying taxes. He also tells the parables of the two sons, the vinedressers and the wedding feast. He answers a question about the great commandment and asks how the Messiah can be David’s Lord.
He then pronounces woes on the Pharisees, expounds on the widow’s mite and prophecies the destruction of the Temple again. Then He tells three more parables, about the ten virgins, the talents and the sheep and the goats.
Wednesday He rests in Bethany, the so called silent day, but it is a day filled with political machinations and conspiracies as Judas makes a deal with the high priests and the leaders continue to plot His death.
On Thursday He gathers with his disciples for the Passover and, after they argue about who is the greatest in the kingdom, He washes their feet. He identifies His betrayer and institutes the Lord’s Supper. He predicts Peter’s denial and delivers the Upper Room discourse. They sing a hymn and go out.
When Friday begins, around midnight, He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples where he is arrested. He is brought before Annas and then Caiaphas and then the Sanhedrin, and denied by His friend Peter. He is beaten and spit on and mocked. All this happens before the sun rises.
Then he is brought before Pilate, then Herod, and then Pilate again. He is scourged and mocked by Roman soldiers and marched to Golgotha, too weak to carry His own cross, and by 9 in the morning He is nailed to it.
These are the darkest moments in history, as God turns His back on His Son, as They had agreed together before the world began. All the ugliness of the human heart is on display. All the righteousness of a Holy God is satisfied. Mercy and truth have kissed each other, but this reconciliation is savage and brutal and sad. The angel of death has appeared to claim the firstborn. The Lamb of God is slaughtered before a mocking crowd.
By 3 in the afternoon Jesus is dead, having spoken only seven times as far as we know. The sky turns black, there is an earthquake, rocks split into, dead people come out of their graves, only to die once more.
And we call this Good Friday.
Not everyone calls it this. It is also called, in different parts of the world, Black Friday, Great Friday and Holy Friday. But it is Good Friday, as long as you remember that good doesn’t mean happy. This was not a happy day, but good things happened.
One happy moment though, one good thing, is that at the moment of his death the Veil in the Temple was torn in two. We find the Veil and its purpose explained in Hebrews 9, which describes the Tabernacle of Moses, the pattern for the Temple in Jerusalem:
For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. (Hebrews 9:2-7 ESV)
It is this Veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, that is torn in two. And it is no ordinary Veil.
The historian Josephus tells us the doors in Herod’s Temple were 60 feet high, and about 30 feet wide. He writes, “before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.”
According to the some Talmudic sources, the Veil was made by 82 young women and it took 300 priests to move it or wash it. It was as thick as the breadth of a man’ hand, about 4 inches, and by some calculations may have weighed as much as 3 tons. Now the Talmud is not Scripture, and this description may be somewhat fanciful. But a 60-foot curtain designed to cover the dwelling place of God Himself was no small thing, no sheer curtain fluttering in the breeze. And it being ripped by anything other than the hand of God is not only unlikely but impossible.
But what does it mean?
If you break down a barrier, whether it is a thick curtain or a thick door, two things can happen. One is that whoever is on the inside can get out. And the other is that whoever is on the outside can get in.
Of course God was never trapped inside the Holy of Holies, and in fact there is no evidence that the Shekinah glory had ever settled over Herod’s Temple. But there is a symbolic sense in which God is no longer hidden behind the curtain, the exclusive provenance of Israel. He is set loose in the world, and His Spirit reaches out to every people and every corner of the world. He is King over all the earth.
This is what the Apostle declares to the Greeks in Athens:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.”
This is good news indeed. “He is actually not far from each one of us.” The veil has been torn in two and God dwells now in our hearts. The prophecy of both Jeremiah and Isaiah is fulfilled. The New Covenant has begun. God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. I will forgive their sins and remember them no more.”
The torn veil signifies this. We do not have to go to Him. He is coming to us.
But the torn Veil also let’s someone inside the Holy of Holies. And that someone is Jesus. Hebrews 4 tells us:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
This confidence. This mercy. This grace. All of this begins when the offices of the Levites end and the ministry of Christ begins. Again, in Hebrews 5:7:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:6-10 ESV)
No longer does a priest enter the Holy of Holies once a year. Jesus has entered that place beside his Father of which the Temple was a mere shadow, and He remains there, with perfect understanding, interceding for us every day. We can come to Him in any moment of need.
There is no veil. It has been torn in two. Listen to Hebrews 9: 11-12:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come….He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV)
Note He is high priest “of the good things that have come.”
It is Good Friday.