March 5: The First Sunday in Lent

March 3, 2017

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” –Mark 15:33-39  

Back in Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram in which animals are cut in two. This is followed by an unnatural and purposeful darkness. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” (v. 12) Then God swears an oath to Abraham while passing between the pieces of the animals. He is taking a covenant oath upon Himself that He may be cursed like those animals if He does keep His promise. We can truly say that no “god” in the history of the world has done anything like that. It is gracious indeed!

Let’s jump forward about 19 centuries to Jesus’ crucifixion. Again we find a dreadful and great darkness, which fell upon Him for three hours. He is receiving the curse of the covenant in order that His people will escape judgement for their covenant unfaithfulness. Still, there is a big difference here. You might expect that Jesus would be torn apart, but instead, it is the veil of the Temple “torn in two, from top to bottom”!

With that beautiful thought in mind, we can now read Hebrews 10 with new eyes:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (10:19-22)

The covenant curse does not destroy Jesus, but rather tears in half the barrier that separated the people from God because of their sins. Our hearts are now baptized clean from an evil conscience and our bodies baptized too. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Because Jesus was forsaken, nothing, nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.

Jesus came to Israel and fulfilled Israel’s vocation, thus opening the way into the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The curtain was the barrier between heaven and earth, but now there is no need for a priestly nation that differs from other nations. The dividing wall is broken down by the suffering and death of the Son of God and the dreadful and great darkness has become life-giving and wonderful light by our covenant-keeping God. Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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