The Veil is Torn in Two!

Note: I was asked to write an article for our Bull’s Eye publication on the theme of The God of Relationship.  I thought I would post it here as well.  As if the Apostle John was the correspondent!
I will never forget the day and that history confirms, it was the “day that changed the world!”  I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the events that occurred that day, and I realize that words are almost inadequate to describe them all.   I’ve already told you that “we beheld his glory, the glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  What I do know is that it was an extremely long and grueling day.  In fact, the day really started the night before, and events just kept on building and propelling us into the following day.
It all began at the Passover meal the night before.  I’d observed our sacred Passover celebration every year.  I knew this would be like no other when I heard Jesus say, “You've no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering.  It's the last one I'll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”  In spite of the arguments that erupted among us about who was the greatest (looking back, I’m ashamed to have to admit that’s what we were doing) it was still wonderful to spend such intimate time with the One I had come to know and love as the Christ, the Son of the living God!  I’m not sure how I managed to weather the shock of hearing Jesus say that night, “one of you shall betray me!”  You’ve got to be kidding, that’s impossible!  How could that be, or more importantly, who could do such a thing?  That’s why in the end I had to be honest enough to ask, “Lord, is it I?”  The words almost stuck in my throat.  While I didn’t get a direct answer there was some kind of exchange that Jesus had with Judas.  I was the one lying closest to Jesus at the table and Peter (who always wanted to be in the know) kept nudging me to ask “Lord, who is it?”  I still wasn’t sure who or what he meant completely, even though Judas at that time said he had to leave early to take care of some urgent business.
I forgot all about it though, when Jesus changed the conversation by talking to us about the “new covenant” in his body and his blood!  Wow!  Who could forget the promise we’d held to for centuries of a new covenant that God would make with his people!  I had almost memorized Jeremiah’s words, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel .... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest....for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”   Then Jesus took the bread and blessed it, breaking it and giving it to each of us, and he did the same with the cup after supper, telling all of us “do this in remembrance of me.”   All this seemed to seal the almost sacred atmosphere we were experiencing that night.  I hated to see it all end, but we eventually sang a hymn of praise together, and then went out with the Master into that fateful night.
You talk about feeling special!  I was stunned and honored when Jesus asked me and my brother James, and of course Peter, to accompany him to a place which he frequented for prayer, a place called Gethsemane.   He asked us to “watch with him” as he was obviously troubled over all of these converging events.  Jesus had always been a rock-like personality to me, always concerned for others more than himself and willing to help bear their burdens.  That night he seemed to be carrying some burdens none of us could fully grasp or comprehend.  I wish I could give you a more detailed account of that precious moment but, well, to be honest...I kept falling asleep.  I know it disappointed the Lord, but after that long day I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Even with my acknowledged drowsiness I did sense that something pretty momentous was taking place.  I’m sure I heard him pray, “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done!”  If you saw his demeanor the way I did, you too would’ve known that he definitely meant it!  There was no wavering about him when we departed from that garden.
The rest of the night dissolved into pretty much of a blur because things started happening so fast.  The night was suddenly interrupted by the noise and the torches of a large group of men approaching us.  We noticed that there were also soldiers among them, along with officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.  They were asking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” which seemed odd to me since they’d seen him at the temple all during this week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Now you may not believe me, but I was there and saw it with my own eyes.  When Jesus said to them, “I am (he)” they were all like bowling pins that had been knocked down by a perfect strike!  They all drew back and fell to the ground.  It was pretty awesome to see!  I didn’t know it, but Peter was “carrying”...he had his sword with him.  He drew it and attempted to lop off the head of one of the intruders.  Thankfully, he missed, but the guy’s ear was missing and was a bloody mess.  Jesus instantly took command and told Peter to put away his weapon, and then, amazingly, he healed the man’s ear!  In the end, we were greatly outnumbered and overpowered and felt pretty helpless, as they took Jesus into custody and led him away.  The rest of us were left standing there bewildered and asking, “What’s going on?  Where are they taking Jesus?  What had he done wrong to be arrested and treated that way?”  In the end, to our shame, we all just turned away and tried to distance ourselves as much as possible from this chaos and the threats it carried. It was not our finest hour.
Because of my family connections I discovered that they had taken Jesus in the middle of the night to the house of Annas who was the High Priest’s father-in-law.  I can’t even begin to describe the mockery of justice that followed!   This wasn’t a legal trial by any stretch of the imagination.  It was more like a “kangaroo court” as they shuffled Jesus about from the High Priest, then over to Pilate, the Roman governor.  I even heard that they made a quick trip over to the palace of Herod of all people!  When the verdict came back “crucify him,” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Death by execution, for what?  What crime had he committed?  Was it loving the unlovely, or healing the sick, or giving people hope?  Was it because he kept choosing to operate outside of the establishment’s accepted guidelines?  I have to tell you, my head was swirling with all the things that seemed to be snow-balling out of control.
Things really started to turn ugly.  The degree of hatred and animosity fueled by obvious envy was beyond belief.  The only way to describe it was there was something downright demonic about it.  Pilate issued the order to have Jesus scourged!  That meant 39 lashes that tore at a man’s flesh.  While scourging doesn’t always kill the prisoner, for the one under-going this brutal suffering, they almost wished it had!  The Roman soldiers had a field day as they put a robe of purple on his battered body, and a reed-scepter in his hand, as they proceeded to hit him and spit on him while taunting him to prophesy the one doing it, if he really was the “king of the Jews.”  Before I knew it, the night’s rush to justice ended as they were leading Jesus away to be crucified that day.  Rome had this practically down to a science.  They made the prisoner carry his own cross, or at least the upright beam, as they paraded him through the streets.  This was purposefully designed for two things: first, to further humiliate the prisoner, but also, to send a message of fear to the gawking crowds, “You don’t ever want to oppose or stand up against Rome!”  To me, the saddest part is that no one came to Jesus’s defense.  Where were all the people he had healed?  What about those who had been so amazed at the divine authority evident whenever he spoke?  Even I was silent because, after all, who’s going to listen to a simple ex-fisherman anyway?
The gruesome procession finally ended at Golgotha, a favorite execution spot outside the city.  Here they nailed Jesus to the cross and hung him between two thieves.  It seemed as if time stood still, almost like heaven was holding its breath.  Plus, the ominous darkness that settled on the land added to the somber quality of these unparalleled events.  In my mind I kept thinking back to when John the Baptist first saw Jesus in his public ministry, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  The only interruption was the hateful insults that continued to be hurled at Jesus.  Everyone in that crowd joined in: the two thieves, the Pharisees who were sent to witness the execution, and of course, the soldiers themselves.  No one cared or had the decency to realize that his own mother was standing in that horrific place in the midst of that crowd, along with myself and a few of the other women.  Besides us, I think the only one who got it that day was the Roman soldier in charge who later exclaimed, “Truly this was the son of God!”  In the end, I can still hear it today: Jesus’s final cry from the cross.  In the midst of his horrible agony and incredible suffering came the unmistakable note of triumph and victory, “it is finished!”
I’ve recounted all this because one thing stands out in my mind; the reason is because nothing like this had ever happened.  At that specific and fateful moment when Jesus died, the veil of the temple, the veil that separates the holy place, that veil was torn in two, “ripped” from the top to the bottom.  There is no question that this was supernatural!  This veil was up to 4" thick, and God himself tore that veil in two like you would a piece of paper!  Do you know what that means?  It’s almost too good to be true.  Yes, relationship with God was now made possible!  My sin that had separated me from God, like that veil separated people from the holy place, had now been paid for, and, there is access into the presence of God for everyone!  I can now come with boldness to my king’s wonderful throne of grace!
Did you hear me?  Relationship with God is now a glorious reality and a precious privilege!  Salvation has been made available to all who would come to my Jesus! I don’t have any problem saying “my Jesus” because, praise be to God, he had died for me that day. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Eternal life isn’t just living a really, really long time.  Eternal life is relationship with God!  That’s why I’m writing and had to tell you my story, because it’s such good news!  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ!” That’s why I’m waiting now for the day when I shall see him uninterrupted for eternity!  OH HAPPY DAY WHEN JESUS WASHED MY SINS AWAY!!