“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. … And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open… When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54
All of history hinges on this three hour span. A cosmic war is waged with our souls and the fate of all creation in the balance. To understand the drama of the moments described here, we have to go back in time to gain some perspective on the temple, because that is key to today’s discussion and is a continuation of yesterday’s post. When Moses received the law, He also was given instructions on building a tabernacle, which would
serve as the dwelling place of God while He journeyed with the Israelites. Every detail was painstakingly described and each part of the tabernacle was a symbolic representation of an aspect of God’s character, which the Israelites would remember when they came to worship God. Briefly, the tabernacle consisted of a courtyard where sacrifices were offered, an outer room where tables and lamps were kept and incense was burned, and an inner room that housed the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was called “the Mercy Seat” and we are told that God’s glory filled this room. Inside the ark were the tablets of the law. (I’ve written a previous post on this which you can find here for further reading if you’re interested). This inner room was blocked from all access by heavy curtains and only one time a year would a priest enter this room to offer a sacrifice acknowledging the sins of the nation. The temple replaced the tabernacle as the permanent dwelling place of God when the Israelites reached their homeland. Just as when Moses received God’s law and covered his face with a veil, God’s glory remained concealed and inaccessible behind the curtain in the temple. Every day when the Israelites would come to worship at the temple, they were faced with this corporeal reminder that their sin physically separated them from God’s glory.
Jesus was crucified on Passover, which was the one day a year that a priest would enter God’s presence with the symbolic annual sacrifice for sin. As we’ve talked about earlier, when Jesus hung on the cross He was actively taking on Himself the guilt and payment of all sin. The passage above captures the climatic moment when Jesus is acutely aware of His total forsakenness by the Godhead as He wrestles with sin. The very entity of God, which had enjoyed eternal bliss and communion, was fractured at this moment when His Holiness takes on our sin. And the earth itself was rocked with the cosmic implications. At 3pm, the very moment when the sacrifice was being offered in the Temple, the Lamb of God was sacrificed on a cross for the whole world. And when the sacrifice was paid in full the temple veil that hid the presence of God was ripped open. God’s glory and presence was no longer unapproachable – God was with us now in an intimate and eternal way.
Since the first sin people had been estranged from God, turning their backs on Him to pursue a separate life, which invariably led to death. On the cross, Jesus endured the forsakeness and death of sin as the Godhead turned against Him. Out of His separation, He brought about complete restoration of our relationship with God. God could have left it at that and we would have reason enough to be eternally grateful, but He did so much more. He doesn’t just rip apart the veil and open the door, He runs out to meet us. In one of the most touching parables Jesus told to describe God the Father’s love, he tells of a son who hurt, betrayed, and abandoned his father. When things got bad and the son had no food or bed, he realized how foolish he was to have despised his home and father and decides to return to ask for a servant’s position. So he sets off and while he is still a long way off, the father sees him and runs to greet him. The son can’t even speak his rehearsed apology for all the jubilant affection of the father. His father gives him his ring, puts his best robe on him, and cooks him a feast to celebrate his return. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s love for us – God isn’t eager to punish or berate us, instead He’s ardently waiting and watching for us. When we are still far off He runs to us, joyfully welcoming us, clothing us in His righteousness, and bringing us to His Table. This isn’t just restoration – it is sonship.
Blessings to you,