Matthew 27:50-51

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

            Dear fellow redeemed,

            All throughout this Lenten season, we have been examining how Jesus is our great High Priest. We have examined how Jesus intercedes before the Father for us and we have foreshadowed how Jesus makes the perfect sacrifice for us. Today, Good Friday, this theme reaches its height. Today, we hear again of how Christ sacrificed Himself on behalf of us. Today we see that the High Priest gives us access to God.

            God’s presence was a terrifying thing. The Tabernacle and then the Temple was a place of God’s glory. No one was allowed in unless God designated them. Moses erected the Tabernacle at God’s command and yet we read in Exodus 40 of that event, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”

Even stricter were the requirements for a certain section of the Tabernacle and Temple: the holy of holies. This was a particular place of God’s presence and only the appointed High Priest could enter, and he only once a year with the blood from sacrifice. No one else dared enter and the High Priest dared not enter without the sacrifice.

All of this because of sin. God’s glorious presence would consume sinners. God’s holiness would consume us. God’s righteousness would cast us out of His loving presence into His condemning presence in hell. Sinners by nature have no access to God’s loving presence.

The Israelites had very graphic reminders of all this in the sacrifices and rituals of the Tabernacle and Temple. Yet, they still often fell into sin. We have the completed Word of God on all these matters, and yet we still often fall into sin. By nature we want nothing to do with God and in life we have often broken His Commandments in our thoughts, words, and deeds. At times, we have taken our sin lightly – passing over it as if it were no big deal. Then, God’s Word, and events like Good Friday, hit us square in the face and our guilt is clear.

            Therefore, see what is happening in our text. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” Christ Jesus, the Son of God, true God and true man, has died. He entered into death, His human soul being torn asunder from His human body. Why does He have to die? Because this is what was required for us to be forgiven. The author of Hebrews has written, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:27).

            Our sin has earned death. Our sin has earned physical death and eternal death in hell. So, Christ would sacrifice Himself to suffer in place of us. Upon the cross Jesus experienced hell, for in hell one experiences the full wrath of the Father and that is what Jesus experienced. The Father’s love was turned away from the Son and His anger turned toward Him. This is why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) And, Christ would enter into physical death, being put to death on account of our sins.

            Jesus “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” wrote the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:12). This is why the Church no longer offers the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Christ has come and fulfilled all that. Those sacrifices pointed ahead; they were a reminder of His coming sacrifice. Jesus has made the sacrifice for your sin. In Jesus, you are forgiven.

            What does this mean for us? That’s the second part of our text today. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Remember the holy of holies? The curtain is what separated the holy of holies. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter and only once per year with the blood of sacrifice.

            But, through Christ we have access to God’s presence. Christ Jesus is the perfect High Priest who made the perfect sacrifice which reconciles us to God. On the basis of His work, we can enter into God’s presence unafraid.

            The blessedness of heaven is the very seeing of God. Johann Gerhard, one of the truly great Lutheran theologians, wrote, “The essence of blessedness is the very seeing of God and, arising from that sight, the glory of soul and body and therefore the eternal happiness of the blessed.”[1] You will be perfectly and eternally happy in heaven for you will be in your loving God’s presence.

            Dear friends, today is a solemn day, yes, but it is not a depressing day. Christ Jesus died, yes, but He died so that you should live. You need not fear that time when you will stand before God. You are forgiven. The sacrifice has been made. Therefore, through faith in Christ Jesus the Great High Priest you will be welcomed into God’s loving and blissful presence for all of eternity. Your High Priest has given you access to God. Amen.

[1] Johann Gerhard, cited from Adolf Hoenecke, Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics: Volume IV (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1999), 330.