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Anyone who has been on a domestic airline flight in recent years knows that our cash-strapped airlines rarely serve meals. These days, all you are likely to get is a small bag of peanuts.
The peanuts come in small plastic packets, which can be really hard to open. You can’t tear them and since you aren’t allowed to carry knives on board you can’t cut them either. Sometimes these bags have a little nick in the edge, which allows you to get a start.
But until you find that nick, it's as if those peanuts are locked up in Fort Knox…or for a biblical reference, as if they were behind the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ day.
The Temple was designed to remind people that their sins had cut them off from God. The part of the Temple called the Holy of Holies was a forbidden inner sanctum, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, representing the throne of God. The Holy of Holies was veiled from public view by a thick curtain that stretched from floor to ceiling.
Only once a year was anyone allowed behind that veil. Even then, only the High Priest was allowed to enter, in-order to perform a set of prescribed rituals. If the High Priest, or anyone else, went in for any other reason or at any other time, they were struck dead. It sounds harsh, but God was making a point in those Old Covenant days – sinners were personae non grata in the presence of the Holy One.
But the Gospels tell us that at the precise moment Jesus died, the veil in the Temple was miraculously torn apart, from top to bottom. The Holy of Holies then lay exposed with the Mercy Seat in full view. I‘m sure horrified priests rushed to repair the veil, but the point had been made -- Jesus Christ, the Son of God and great High Priest of our salvation, had sacrificed himself for humanity and thereby cleared the way for all to have access to the Mercy Seat of God.
We know that, but somehow we have a lot of trouble believing it. We still think we must try to be good enough, or must do something to earn God’s grace.
It is as if Jesus, through his death and resurrection, only put a nick in the edge of the curtain, to get us started, but we still have to go to the effort of pulling it apart. So we go through all sorts of spiritual calisthenics, hoping to build up the strength to rip open the curtain the rest of the way.
But we can’t. Nothing we can do will break down the spiritual barrier. Even the most noble among us are not good enough. But the good news is that there is nothing we have to do. When Jesus gave himself for us, everything that needed to be done – everything that could possibly be done – was done, was finished, to open up the throne of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. The curtain that separated the Mercy Seat from the people was not just nicked, or a corner lifted; it was ripped violently apart from top to bottom.
The priests of Jesus’ day, blind to the meaning behind what had happened, sealed off the Holy of Holies again. But they could not close off the permanent access given to the real throne of God. That’s why the epistle to the Hebrews reminds us in chapter 4, verse 16, “Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.”
Any other approach gets us precisely what a battle with a tough, little tear-resistant bag gets us: nothing but peanuts.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.