At this time, we are living with a lot of restrictions on our lives. These restrictions are affecting almost every aspect of our lives. They include the places we can go, the people we can see, the way we shop, the way we work, even if we are able to work or not. Most of us haven’t experienced and probably never even imagined that we would be living with these restrictions. However, every day it seems like we are living with more and more ways in which our lives are restricted.
Have you given any thought to what life will be like when these restrictions are lifted? Some people I’ve spoken to think that life will never go back to the way it was and that this is our ‘new normal’. I wonder, though, what will happen when the danger of the virus has passed and is no longer a serious threat. Assuming that one day these restrictions will be lifted, how will we live our lives then? Will we continue to live as though the restrictions are still in place, not shaking hands, not hugging, keeping 1.5 metres away from others, and so on? Or will we live in the freedom that will come when the restrictions are removed?
Of course, we are not the only people in the history of the world to live with restrictions. One group of people who lived with a lot of restrictions were the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. They had rules, requirements and commands which placed restrictions on just about every aspect of their lives – who they could meet, what they could eat, when they could work, what work they could do, and so on.
The greatest restriction they lived with was around the presence of God. They believed that God’s presence lived in a room in the temple in their capital city of Jerusalem. This room was known as the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place. This was a restricted space that only one person, the High Priest, was able to enter on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. What separated this restricted space from the rest of the Temple and the world surrounding it was a thick curtain. This was the barrier that divided the Holy of Holies from everything around it.
When we come to Good Friday, the day on which Jesus was crucified and died, we read in Matthew 27:50-51,
Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (NLT)
When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain which separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the world was torn into two pieces from top to bottom. What this meant was that the restrictions around the presence of God were lifted. All people now had access to the presence of the living God because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews talks about this event in the following words:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22 NLT)
This is saying that the restrictions around the presence of God have been lifted and, because Jesus’ death makes our hearts and bodies, in other words our whole selves, clean, we can go right into the presence of almighty God. What amazes me is that Hebrews doesn’t tell us to go into God’s presence timidly or cautiously, but boldly and in faith. Jesus has opened up for us a new way into God’s presence so we can talk with him, listen to him, be with him in a new relationship as his cleansed and purified people.
The question I asked before also applies to when the restrictions around the presence of God are lifted: how will we live our lives? Will we continue to live as though the restrictions are still in place? Will we continue to live as though God’s presence is a restricted space where only a few are good enough to enter? Or will we live in the freedom that comes with full access to the presence of God being granted to all who trust in Jesus?
Hebrews goes on to show us what a life lived in God’s presence looks like in the following verses. It is a life that hangs on to hope in the faith that God’s promises can be trusted and he will do what he says he will (v23). It is a life in which we ‘motivate one another to acts of love and good works’ as we follow the example Jesus gave when he washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:12-17). In this life, we will continue to meet together, either physically or in other ways as current restrictions allow us, in order to encourage each other (v25) that Jesus will get us through this. A life lived in God’s presence is also lived in the presence of his people as we are united in faith through the Holy Spirit. As each of us enter into the presence of God through the saving work of Jesus on the cross, we find each other there as well so we can share in the unrestricted presence of God together.
I don’t know how long we will need to live with the restrictions placed on us because of the COVID-19 virus. I understand that these restrictions are for our own good and to keep other people safe. However, they aren’t making life easy for us, and so when they are lifted I’m looking forward to living in the freedom we will have again.
In the same way, the restrictions around God’s presence were lifted when Jesus died on the cross and the curtain was torn in two. There are now no restrictions to being in God’s presence and living in relationship with him through faith. So how are we going to live our lives – as though God still restricts the people who are able or good enough to come to him? Or do we live every day in the presence of our God who loves us enough to send us his Son for us, and who gives us unrestricted access into his presence by dying for us and making us clean?
More to think about & discuss:
- Where are some places you might see a ‘Keep Out’ sign? What do you think it would it be like to have a ‘Keep Out’ sign on a church – would that be good or bad? Why?
- For a long time, people had to keep out of God’s presence because of sin. Would that make you happy or sad? Why might it make you feel that way?
- In Hebrews 10:19-20, what takes away the ‘Keep Out’ sign and makes it possible for us to go into God’s presence? How did that happen?
- Hebrews 10:22-25 describes some of the things we can do now that we have access into God’s presence. What are they?
- What are some practical ways you can do these things now, even though we are separated from each other because of the COVID-19 virus?
- What other questions do you have about Jesus’ suffering and death for us?