Tearing the Veil
When one studies the Old Testament forms of worship that God gave to Israel, one is struck with the very mediated nature of it. God is presented as very holy, and given the sinfulness of the people, a very dangerous presence. The people insist that Moses put a veil over his face, for even the reflected glory of God is too much for them. They say, “Who can stand before this God?” and turn instead to the worship of the golden calf, a worship they can control. But the presence of God in their midst requires the constant offering of sacrifices, the observance of a great many rituals of purification and cleansing, and the utmost care over all the details. Only certain people were permitted to enter into the temple, and only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was most manifest.
This is one major reason to be so thankful for the incarnation of Christ. In His person He joins together God and man, and through His work of redemption, His death on the cross, the relationship between God and man is reconciled. The book of Matthew tells us that the veil in the temple was torn when Christ died. That was the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Hebrews tells us in chapter 10 that His ministry opens the way between us and God, making an analogy between the tearing of the veil and the tearing of His flesh. Because of the death of Christ and the covering of our sin with His blood, the presence of God is no longer a terrifying threat, but a great joy and comfort. This is not because He is less holy, but because our sins are taken away and covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness.
This was of course true in the Old Testament as well. God’s saints in the Old Testament also talk about the joy of fellowship with God. But this was not seen or experienced to anywhere near the same degree as the New Testament believer experiences it, and this is because of the coming of Christ into the world.
The Old Testament believer’s worship had a strong emphasis on guilt and condemnation, and looking forward to the promised Messiah. Our worship today focuses much more strongly on the grace and forgiveness of God, and the accomplishment of our salvation by Christ, and for that we have much cause to be thankful! To the Judaizers insisting on a return to the Old Testament ceremonies, Peter said, “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Sometimes Old Testament worship will seem very dramatic and powerful to the New Testament believer, but Peter here describes it as an intolerable burden.
Because Christ came, the veil is torn, and God’s presence can be a comforting joy in worship instead of a fearful thing. But how much more fearful our judgment will be then if we neglect this great mercy and grace! The way is clear to God, and all who come to Him through faith in His Son are received in forgiveness of sins. And all of this is true because Christ came, because He who was God was born as a man, uniting and reconciling God and man in His own flesh.