Week 20 (May)
For nearly a decade I lived in a country in which 90% of the population claims to be Roman Catholic. Because of that, there is one phrase in the Crucifixion narrative that has come to have rich meaning for me.
It's only one phrase and it comes immediately before the death of Jesus: ". . . and the veil of the temple was torn in two" (Luke 23:45, NASB). That's all. Neither Luke, Matthew, nor Mark give any further explanation.
With rich symbolism, the new order of grace is ushered in with the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God.
Every detail was complete, down to the divine ripping apart of the veil in front of the holy of holies. This veil hung as a curtain between sinful humanity and the presence of the Creator. Only a special priesthood could pass through that opening into the presence of God.
But now, with the death of Jesus, the way was opened into the presence of God for every person. The priesthood became universal with Jesus as the High Priest.
Unfortunately, Christendom hasn't always appreciated the full meaning of that curtain-tearing. I'm reminded of that fact every time I visit a Roman Catholic basilica or cathedral in Italy.
Along the side wall somewhere will always be the elaborate box-like confessionals. These confessional booths are there because of the Roman Catholic doctrine of auricular confession.
Developed about a thousand years after the death of Christ, this dogma says that a person's every sin must be confessed to a priest who will then absolve that person of that sin as well as assigning "penance" to be done. This penance normally involves a certain number of prayers or prayerful acts that must be done to signify genuine sorrow and resolution to do better.
In the light of the Crucifixion story, this doctrine seems a throwback to Old Testament times. It's as though the curtain in the Temple has been sewn back together to once more separate ordinary human beings from the presence of God.
This phrase in Matthew, Mark, and Luke about the Temple veil or curtain indicates clearly that there is no need for human mediators to pronounce words of absolution or assign penance. Such mediators are unnecessary.
Why did God choose to do all of this for us? Well, as John writes in his letter: "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us . . ." (1 John 4:10, NASB). Because of His love, God went to incredible lengths to save us. I'm afraid that far too often we don't fully appreciate what Christ did in order to save us from our sins.
Maybe it's because we've heard the story so often that we are in danger of becoming "inoculated" against fully realizing what it meant for Christ to die in our stead.
My friend Antonio Capannoli lives in Siena, an old city about 50 miles south of Florence. A few years ago I had the privilege of helping introduce Antonio to the Lord Jesus Christ in his own living room.
Sometime later he told me of being at his mother's home and watching a film portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus on television. Antonio's mother, who is not an evangelical, walked out of the room, saying it was too awful to watch.
Antonio, on the other hand, sat there, transfixed, tears streaming down his face as he came to realize the awful price Jesus paid for his salvation.
May it ever be so with all of us whenever we contemplate Christ's death.
The author wrote these devotional thoughts while serving as a missionary in Italy. They originally appeared in Standard a take-home curriculum piece correlated with the Enduring Word Bible studies series published by The Foundry.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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