How to Get an Appointment with God
Dr. Jim Denison
A few years ago our family went to Washington, D.C. on summer vacation. The highlight of the trip for me, I was sure, was going to be our visit to the White House. I’ve long been fascinated with presidential history, and have read with interest the stories of many of our presidents and the remarkable House they occupy. Now, at long last, I would see its storied rooms and historic halls for myself.
Not really, as it turned out. After waiting in the rain an hour the night before to buy tickets, and two hours the day of our tour, finally we entered the most visited site in America. And left nearly as quickly. Four rooms, and a souvenir shop at the end. That’s all the White House tour sees.
So we cannot see the office of our president—perhaps we can call him. Again, not really. The White House switchboard answers over 5,000 calls every day, and this number doubles in times of crisis. Not to mention the thousands of letters which are delivered each day, and the hundreds of people who try to get a personal appointment with the president. Of all these requests, the president personally sees only a small number, and of these he actually deals with only a few.
By comparison, our Father in heaven receives multiplied millions of prayers daily, millions at this very moment, in hundreds of languages. And yet he is able to hear and answer every one of them. Why? And why does this fact matter to your soul and mine?
In our series titled “These Things We Believe,” we’ve talked together about Bible freedom and church freedom. Today we’ll explore soul freedom and its enormous implications for every one of us.
How you became a priest
Our text describes the actual moment of Jesus’ death in remarkable detail. These few words are worthy of an entire series of study in themselves.
He “cried out again in a loud voice.” John tells us that his last word from the cross was “Tetelestai!” which means, “It is finished!” or “The victory is won!” The strength to make this “loud” cry (“mega” in the Greek) shows that Jesus still had energy and life at his command.
And so he “gave up his spirit.” This was his voluntary choice. Augustine said it well: “He gave up his life because he willed it, when he willed it, and as he willed it.”Where? Into his Father’s hands (Luke 23:46), into Paradise with the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), into the glory the Son had from eternity (John 17:5).
Now comes the miracle which is our focus today: “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (v. 51). I’ve never preached a message specifically on that event before today, and was fascinated with what I learned about it this week.
This curtain was the great veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jewish temple. A little background is essential here.
Abraham offered Isaac on the top of Mt. Moriah eighteen centuries earlier, making that rock a holy spot to the Jewish people. And so when Solomon built the first Jewish Temple in 1004 B.C., he located the Holy of Holies at the same spot.
This was a small room, thirty feet square, within the larger Temple. Here the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments was placed. Here the High Priest would come one day a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people. In the Jewish mind, the Shekinah glory and presence of Jehovah God dwelt here as in no other room on earth.
And this Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Temple, and the rest of humanity, by a magnificent veil. Sixty feet high, thirty feet wide, as thick as a man’s hand, the veil was so heavy the Jewish Talmud says 300 men were required to move it.
Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, describes it as “embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful” (Wars 5.5.4).
Now, in the moment of Jesus’ death at 3 o’clock that afternoon, as the priests were gathering in the Temple for the customary evening sacrifices, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
This was in every way a miracle. An earthquake would have shredded the veil, not torn it. Even if men could have torn the thick, heavy veil, they would have done so from bottom to top, not top to bottom,
This is a fact of history, not religious myth. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record it, writing at a time when the eyewitnesses to the torn curtain were still living and could easily have refuted them if they were wrong. And Tacitus the Roman historian, Josephus, and the Jewish Talmud all refer in various ways to the event as well.
Why did God do this? I admire Lenski’s comment: “Jesus is dead, his lips are silent; now God speaks in a language of his own.”Just as the Jewish people tore their garments in times of grief, so God the Father tears this, the “garment” veiling his Most Holy Place, in grief as well.
But there’s more. By tearing aside the veil separating humanity from the Holy of Holies, God gave access to his inner sanctuary to all of mankind. Now, for the first time in Jewish history, anyone could come to God. Anyone could see into his presence. Anyone could speak to him. Anyone.
Now for the first time, women could come into his presence. For the first time, Gentiles. For the first time, men besides the one High Priest chosen for each generation. For the first time, you and me.
Today the veil is gone, the Holy of Holies is gone, the very Temple itself is gone. Their purpose is done, their work completed. Now God’s word declares, “You yourselves are God’s Temple and God’s Spirit lives in you…. God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17).