Tearing up the contract

Torn paper

Just the thought of ripping a binding document to shreds, because you’ve earned the right, sends chills down my body.  A friend of mine once told me about paying off his mortgage early.  He and his family had a burning party.  That wouldn’t entirely work for me because I love the physical act of destroying something which has been held over me.  I would want the pleasure of pulling apart each page, feeling the ripping sensation and hearing the cutting sound.  Only then could I burn it. 

So why talk about torn documents?  One often overlooked part of the Easter story involves something very similar.  The Bible shares with us the suffering Jesus experienced and takes time to mention his compassion in the midst of pain, but then it quickly jumps over the tearing of a curtain.  Here, read it:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  Matthew 27:50, 51

If we don’t know the history or meaning of that curtain, we might scoot by it without much thought. But, if we do understand it’s meaning, the thought of it ripping in two from top to bottom is pretty amazing and rewarding. 

What’s so important about the curtain?

As early as Exodus, God sets some boundaries for the Israelite people.  He establishes Himself as the One true and holy God who is capable of releasing an entire people group from captivity, leading them, and establishing them in a new country.  He shows His power to them in profound ways.  He was seen as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud.  At one point they actually heard His audible voice and it so overwhelmed them that they asked Moses to make Him stop.  They got the idea the there is something special and unique about God. 

Then, he had them build a tabernacle for Him.  It was the first temple or church, if you will.  There are incredible details found within Exodus describing what the tabernacle should look like and how it should be made.  Ultimately this becomes the roadmap for how to make a solid stone temple many years later.  The temple and tabernacle contained something we don’t think about much today, the Holy of  Holies.  This was a place where God was set apart, He was untouchable.  Only the Chief Priest, appointed by God, could enter.  This was a fearsome thing.  He would enter with a rope tied around his waist because if something happened and he fell dead or hurt, no one else was permitted to enter.  The other priests could pull him out by the rope.  Clearly, the boundary in this relationship was set.

Inside the Holy of Holies originally sat the ark of the covenant, you know the thing Indiana Jones went hunting for in his first movie.  It represented God.  In the Holy of Holies, the Chief Priest could receive direction from God to guide the people of Israel.  He, alone, talked with God.  He, alone, entered into God’s presence.  That was the contract. 

God would guide the people, He would live among them in this secluded space, if they followed His rules.  The Israelites received over 500 rules.  They covered everything from where a woman should sit during menstruation to speaking in public and running away from a trumped-up murder charge.  In the book of Leviticus, we find the details of the contract, with God’s expectations and how to please him. 

With Jesus’ death, the contract became null and void.  God literally ripped up the symbol of the contract, the curtain leading to the Holy of Holies.  He was saying, we no longer need to follow all those rules to please Him.  He simplified things.  Now, instead of all those details, we just need to recognize how incapable we really are.  In the process, we believe and accept how completely capable He is.  We ask for forgiveness.  We follow Jesus. 

In  the same way shredding the mortgage would bring me relief, having the curtain tear let the people of Israel know there’s a new contract.  In Bible language, it’s called a new covenant.  The debt we owe and expectations leveled on us have been paid by Jesus when He died for us.  We can breathe easy. 

Jesus made reference to this at His last supper.  “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'”  (Luke 22:20)


How does it make you feel to realize He stuck the old contract in the shredder and produced a newer, easier one?


2 thoughts on “Tearing up the contract

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