It was a red-letter day. Twenty-eight years before, in the old gym of a small school in a one-stoplight town, I asked a 14-year-old girl to “go steady” with me.
That young lady would eventually lead me to the Lord and later become my wife. I wanted to do something special to commemorate the anniversary, but we didn’t have any wiggle room in our budget to do so. I tried to shrug off my disappointment by moving on to the next task: cleaning out my office.
I soon came across a binder of encouraging notes from former students. When I opened it, I saw an envelope from 2004 in the pocket. Peeking inside, I couldn’t believe it. I dumped it out to find $200—CASH! I had flipped through that binder many times over the years, never noticing it held a surprise from God.
Similarly, there are times when the Lord surprises me by revealing an insight within a familiar passage. For instance, the other day I was studying Mark 15:37–38: "Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." (NRSV)
I have often flipped through those verses and understood that the rending of the curtain was to signify that Christ’s death opened the way to God’s presence. This time, I was astonished to learn about other implications of the rip. In The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays points out that Mark’s Gospel itself does not clearly interpret the torn curtain in terms of access to God. It appears that Mark had something more in mind.
In the biblical world, the rending of garments signified mourning and sorrow. Perhaps, then, with the rip, Mark is showing God’s response to his Son’s death. If so, after Jesus cries out in anguish before his Father, the Father responds by tearing the curtain—his veritable garment—as an outcry of his own grief. What’s more, the rending of the veil could stand for divine judgment, especially in light of the role the temple priesthood played in Christ’s execution. Since Jesus was convicted for speaking against the temple, the rip foreshadows its destruction as God’s righteous vindication.
To be sure, all three interpretations are viable, and each one highlights a different divine attribute. First, the rip reminds us that God gave his only Son, so that—through Christ’s death and resurrection—we could have permanent access to his presence. While this is a precious promise in and of itself, there are more invaluable treasures hidden in the “pocket” of this passage.
The rip also demonstrates that our God not only comforts his children in their misery, but also grieves with them. In response to the hurt and injustice in this world, Jesus weeps (John 11), the Spirit groans (Rom 8), and the Father rends his garments in mourning.
Finally, the rip reassures us that the Lord promises justice for those who suffer. One day God will respond. The self-righteous leaders who ignore the poor and the wicked tyrants who oppress the godly will face his judgment.
In response to the priceless insights hidden in that decisive rip, may we draw near today and worship the God of justice who both suffers and saves.