The Day God Tore His Clothes

Among the many remarkable events surrounding the death of Christ is the temple curtain being torn in two. The interpretation of this divine act has as many strands as the curtain itself. It has been said that the tear signifies: (1) God’s judgment against unbelieving Israel, who did not recognize their day of visitation; (2) God’s termination of temple worship, as Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfills all to which the temple pointed; (3) God’s termination of the old covenant upon the finished work of Christ; (4) God’s accessibility to all people through the priestly ministry of Jesus; (5) God’s mission to fill the whole earth with his glory. None of these explanations is mutually exclusive. I believe there is truth in all five.

I would like to suggest another interpretation—not in place of the more traditional interpretations, but in addition to them. (One more interpretation can’t hurt, right?) Here’s my suggestion:

The torn curtain might very well signify God’s sorrow over the death of his Son. The tearing of the curtain is the Father rending his garment in grief. 


Take three steps with me, step one being to understand the darkness that covered the land at noon on the day Jesus was crucified. The darkness seems to have some bearing on the tearing of the curtain, as Luke pairs the two:

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44-45)

What is the connection between these two phenomena? The connection, if indeed there is one, can be made along the lines of the darkness. In what appears to be a clear foreshadowing of Christ’s death, the prophet Amos associates the darkness with mourning:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:9-10)

The meaning of the darkness is mourning. The death of “an only son” is the cause for turning out the lights, for putting on sackcloth, for shaving one’s head. It is a day of bitter lament. The prophetic imagery here, in its fulfillment, is of God grieving over his only Son as he dies on the cross.


Small step two: if the darkness is a sign of mourning, it’s no big stretch to understand the tearing of the curtain as a rending of one’s garment. It was customary among the Hebrews to tear one’s robe in a time of grief. We’re told, for example, that King Hezekiah “tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord” (Isa. 37:1). In the Greek Old Testament, the word used for “tear” in reference to Hezekiah’s clothing is the same word Luke uses for “tear” in reference to the temple curtain.

The context of mourning, therefore, offers a ready explanation for Luke’s pairing of the darkness and the torn curtain. The temple curtain functioned as God’s garment, so to speak, hiding his presence from the people. In sorrow over the death of his only Son, the Father sends darkness over the land and tears his garment in grief.


Step three: Jesus explicitly relates to God as his Father, which further strengthens the idea that God, as Father, was grieving over the crucifixion of Jesus as for “an only son” (cf. Amos 8:9-10). Immediately after reporting the darkness and the torn curtain, Luke writes that Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Jesus dies not only as the Prophet, the Priest, and the King—he dies as the Son, entrusting his spirit to the Father.


One objection to this interpretation of the torn curtain is that it is somewhat speculative, hanging mainly on the prophetic background of Amos 8:9-10. I concede to speculating. However, it must be acknowledged that no other interpretation of the torn curtain is free from speculation. Luke doesn’t spell out the meaning. Since we must speculate, what is wrong with doing so within the context of Amos’s prophecy? Indeed, if Amos’s prophecy finds fulfillment in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, then our understanding of the cross will be impoverished if we fail to consider it.

Another objection is that the Father was doing anything but grieve as Jesus died. For example, we are told that it was the will of God to crush Jesus (Isa. 53:10); that Jesus was cursed in crucifixion (Gal. 3:13); that Jesus was forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46). But surely it is not difficult to imagine that God is capable of feeling multiple emotions at once. Even earthly fathers know what it means to willingly discipline their sons while at the same time grieving over the pain caused by the discipline. There is no necessary contradiction between God’s willing that his Son die and God’s grieving over his death.*


So what if this interpretation is true? Then the darkness and the torn curtain give us a moving glimpse into the Father’s love for his Son. God is not dispassionate, aloof, unfeeling. No! The Father grieves to see his beloved Son suffer. Jesus has been betrayed, mocked, spit upon, scourged, and nailed to a tree. The Father’s response to such torture isn’t to cross his arms in detached resignation. Sovereignty isn’t stoicism. Rather, God blocks out the sun and tears his holy garment. Both the cosmos and its holy place reflect the sorrow of the heavenly Father.

Not only does this interpretation deepen our wonder in God, it grounds our comfort in God. Few things should be more comforting to the Christian than the Father’s love for the Son. For the way the Father loves the Son is the way the Father loves all who are in the Son. God is no less concerned about our suffering than he was for Christ’s. God keeps count of our tossings and tears (Ps. 56:8); he cares for us in the midst of anxiety (1 Pet. 5:7); he draws close to us in our pain (Ps. 34:18; John 16:32); he strengthens us in our trials (2 Tim. 4:17). We would have little affection for a taciturn god, but the Father of Jesus loves us in a way that draws forth our adoration: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4a).

The psalmist once promised that “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy” (126:5). The day of shouting is coming. But until that day, we take comfort in another day—the day God turned off the light and tore his clothes in grief. What love the Father has for his Son … and for those who are in his Son!


* The doctrine of the impassibility of God, i.e., that God has no passions and feels no emotions, is true insofar as God has no sinful passions or emotions. But as Wayne Grudem observes, “God, who is the origin of our emotions and who created our emotions, certainly does feel emotions: God rejoices (Isa. 62:5). He is grieved (Ps. 78:40;  Eph. 4:30). His wrath burns hot against his enemies (Ex. 32:10). He pities his children (Ps. 103:13). He loves with everlasting love (Isa. 54:8; Ps. 103:17).” (Systematic Theology, 165-66)

Christmas Can’t Be Spoiled

Horrific headline news doesn’t ruin Christmas. It reminds us why we need it. “ For every boot of tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is...

Corrupt politics, debauched leaders, racial strife, myopic media, broken families, entrenched poverty, personal heartaches—Christmastime isn’t holly jolly for everyone. We need some good news that transcends mere tinsel and lights and warm sentiment.

The good news is that bad news can’t spoil Christmas. Rather, the bad news reminds us why we need Christmas. Christmas is about hope. We have been given hope in the Christ of Isaiah’s prophecy, whose kingdom of peace will one day fill the earth.

For every boot of tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

— Isaiah 9:5-7

Bethlehem was the kindling of a cosmic bonfire. The Prince bids you come and throw in your battle garments. He will prevail. No amount of bad news can stop him.

And so we celebrate.

Hope is in the Middle


“’The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” — Lamentations 3:24-26

Jesus read these verses of Scripture. Can you see him standing at the desk in the synagogue, calloused hands resting on the scroll, poring over the poetic anguish of Lamentations in light of his future suffering?

He would not have failed to see God’s judgment against Israel. The edges of Lamentations—large edges that we call chapters 1-2 and chapters 4-5—are full of the judgments of the Lord. God has torn apart his disobedient people like a bear lying in wait and a lion in hiding. Perhaps Jesus pondered how he himself, the true Israel, would one day be torn to pieces. Had he not come for this very purpose: to bear judgment, to drink the cup of God’s wrath, to become a curse for us? Yes, he would be torn to pieces. Israel’s judgment was but a foreshadowing of what he would soon face.

Judgment is all around the edges of Lamentations. It encircles the sufferer, taking away every place to stand, until the only ground remaining is a tiny island in the middle. But, oh, the ground in the middle is good! It is solid ground. The middle of Lamentations—what we call chapter 3—is a place of hope, like a roaring campfire on an icy evening. Yahweh is there, blazing in goodness.

How encouraged Jesus must have been by Lamentations 3:24-26! It’s easy to imagine him taking these words upon his lips, speaking them out loud to himself. They were his Scriptures before they were ours. (Indeed, they are now ours only because they were first his.) With the devastation of the cross looming in his future, Jesus would take his stand on the middle ground of the lament. He would remember, when everything else is taken away, that his Father is portion enough. He would hope in the goodness of his Father. He would seek his Father quietly, believing that the Lord would save him from death.

And now, dear Christian, behold the risen Christ! Jesus was no fool to have made the Lord his portion. His hope did not disappoint, and neither will yours. Just as surely as Yahweh raised his Son from the dead, so in him you too will be raised. You will see the salvation of the Lord.

Inscribed on the coins of Geneva, Switzerland, and on the wall of the city are the words post tenebras lux: “After darkness, light.” This phrase is the motto of the Reformation, yet it captures the hope of Lamentations. No matter how deep the darkness encompassing your life, light is coming. If your feelings tell you otherwise, just look at the empty tomb. Jesus is alive, and he will lose none of those whom the Father has given him. So stand with Jesus on the middle ground of Lamentations. Seek the Father in him. Wait quietly on his salvation.

You will see the light.

Combustible Preachers

Jeremiah saw a lot of this coming. All he had to do was lighten up a bit:
“ Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah…. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words. (18:18)
Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the...

Jeremiah saw a lot of this coming. All he had to do was lighten up a bit, and some of his trouble could be avoided:

Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah…. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words. (18:18)

Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks. (20:2)

When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord commanded him to speak…, all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (26:8)

The officials were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him. (37:15)

They took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern…. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. (38:6)

The prophet’s description of persecution includes verbal abuse, death threats, physical assault, and imprisonment. What compelled Jeremiah to keep preaching in the face of such severe backlash? How did he resist softening his message about the Lord?

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (20:9)

The word burned like a fire in Jeremiah’s bones. He was combustible with the glory of God. He felt as if he would explode if he didn’t speak in the name of the Lord.

O, for more preachers like this! For more Christians like this! May Almighty God set us on fire in the grace and truth of Christ Jesus, no matter the cost.


Evangelistic Prayer

It is no small thing that the apostle Paul, uber church planter, would ask the churches to pray for his effectiveness in spreading the gospel. I never had a course in logic, but I figure if Paul needed the Spirit’s help, then we do too.

Below are Paul’s evangelistic requests, summarized in four key words. We can’t go wrong adopting his requests as our own. We should pray for:


“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” (Col 4:3)


“[Pray] that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col 4:4)


“[Pray] that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph 6:19)


“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” (2 Thess 3:1)

Father, please open a door for me to speak of Christ crucified and risen. And when that door opens, give me the boldness to walk through it and the ability to make the good news of salvation clear. Finally, grant a receptive heart in the hearer so that your word may be honored through repentance and faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Quick 3-2-1 on #MeToo


The #MeToo movement is a horrific revelation about the prevalence of sexual abuse. As a pastor, it makes me wonder how many dark secrets are tucked away within my own church. For my own benefit, and hopefully for your benefit as well, here’s a quick 3-2-1 for consideration: 3 questions, 2 books, 1 prayer.


(1) “Where do I have power?”

Sexual abuse cannot succeed apart from power. The victimizer must possess, even momentarily, some measure of authority or control or influence or strength over the victim. Exhibit A: Harvey Weinstein. Exhibit B: anyone with power, which includes every one of us, at least in some of our relationships. It would serve us well to be aware of the power we hold in various contexts. Whether through the position we occupy, our credentials or reputation, our gender, age, physical size, bank account, or intellect, we need to steward the power we have over others for their good rather than for their exploitation. In what relationships do you have power? How do you wish to use your power?

(2) “What perceived gain would entice me to turn a blind eye toward sexual abuse?”

Honoring a friendship? Protecting authority? Keeping my job? Maintaining my income? Advancing the greater good? Of all I’ve read to-date, Joe Carter hits the hardest on this point. The whole article is worth reading. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Would you be willing to turn a blind eye to accusations of sexual assault and abuse if it might benefit you in some way, either directly or indirectly?

Of course not. Unlike the denizens of Hollywood, we Christians have stringent moral standards. As servants of Christ we recognize it is our duty to protect the powerless and vulnerable from harm.

And yet . . . in the last election we had a choice between two candidates who have both contributed to the systemic abuse of women. One major party candidate had more than a dozen credible accusations of sexual misconduct against him, and had even been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. The other candidate had spent years aggressively covering up credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment against her husband, a former U.S. president. In both cases, the candidates attempted to shame the alleged victim into silence. Despite these actions, millions of Christians were willing to not only overlook the misdeeds of these politicians but were even willing to reward them by giving them the most powerful job in the world.

But that’s different, right? We had no choice but to cast a vote to support our preferred candidate, because otherwise our political enemies would have gained power. We had Supreme Court nominations on the line. We had important political concerns that could be set back for decades if the other party won. And, after all, the other side was as complicit in sexual abuse as our candidate was. We therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for making the best of a bad situation.

(3) “What steps might the church take to prevent abuse?”

From a satellite view, this question is relatively easy to answer: the church needs to speak up. It is good that we have child protection policies in place, but we also need to talk about sexual abuse, and not just on social media. We need to talk about it:

FROM OUR PULPITS — teaching the need to have new hearts in Christ; to fear the Lord; to value the image of God in others; to appropriate the promises of God in faith; to love the light more than the darkness; to bear the fruit of self-control; to love our neighbors as we love ourselves;

AROUND THE TABLE — among a band of brothers or a small group of sisters, engaging in down-to-earth, nitty-gritty, rubber-meets-the-road conversation in which we help each other keep in step with the gospel;

IN OUR HOMES — equipping our children to protect themselves and to be protectors of others;

ON OUR KNEES — asking the Father to uncover abusive situations in our church; to agitate the consciences of the guilty; to bring healing and restoration to the wounded; and to purify the hearts of us all;

WITH THE AUTHORITIES — reporting abusive situations to law enforcement without hesitation.

Admittedly, this list is pitched at a satellite view. It needs to be zoomed in and explored at the street level. Which is to say, it needs much more detail. But I believe it’s a good start at prevention.


One book I would recommend is Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually BrokenDavid Powlinson’s counsel extends not only to those who are broken due to their own sins but to those who have been broken by the sins of others. His book is uniquely beautiful in applying the gospel to both people: “Jesus, the merciful, steadily intervenes. To the indulgent, he brings forgiveness, covering perverse pleasures with new innocence. To the frightened, he brings refuge, the name that calms our fears and bids our sorrows cease. There is pleasure and protection in Christ, God’s inexpressible gift.”

Another book I would recommend is Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. This book is most helpful for the abused and those who care for them.


Heavenly Father, our shameful record of sexual abuse shows our desperate need for you. Please bring it about that your name is honored as holy, that your kingdom in Christ explodes into our mess, and that your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Do this especially in your church, Father. Expose our hidden sins, bring us into your light, wound us that we might be healed.

Give us today all the resources we need to live sexually faithful lives unto you.

Forgive us for our lusts, for our sinful sexual advances toward others, and for those times that we have exploited others for our own physical gratification. And, Father, with all the empowering grace of your resurrected Son and indwelling Spirit, enable us to forgive those who have harmed us sexually. Whether victims or victimizers — or both — we want to be made whole in you.

You are powerful, Father. Please use your power to keep us out of any situation in which we will be sexually tempted. Deliver us from the Evil One, who would love to see our lives ruined as sexual abusers.

Thank you for the hope you’ve given us in the gospel. We can’t wait to be in your presence, completely and gloriously renewed in your image. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. In the name of Jesus, Amen.