Tag Archives: presence of God

Beyond the Veil

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During the school year, I enjoy being part of a wonderful church family near my college.  I choose to go there not only because of their solid Biblical teaching but also because of their commitment to and open practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy, healing, and words of knowledge – something I am passionate about.  Now, I share all that to preface a brief story: someone shared a word of encouragement during a church service a few weeks ago.  This person shared several things about God’s love, yet it was the final thing that was said that caught my full attention: “Jesus is ready and waiting to go through the veil for us.”  (Don’t quote me on the precise wording, but that was the gist of it).  Essentially, this person said that Jesus is going to go beyond the veil for us, in our place.  Please understand that I am not criticizing, and I am not saying that this was not a word from the Lord.  The wording of it, however, caused me to think.  There is a concept in this that must be scrutinized, for even as this word was shared, my mind shouted, “But the veil was torn when Jesus died on the cross!”

“And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.  Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” – Mark 15:37-38 (also Matt. 27:50-51 and Lk. 23:45)

The truth is that Jesus already went beyond the veil for us: “the forerunner has entered for us” (Heb. 6:19).  Great – Jesus went beyond the veil for us.  That’s dandy, but what does it mean for us now?  What is this veil-thing about anyway?  To answer those questions, we need a little bit of background knowledge, so indulge me for a few moments as I get a little nerdy with Biblical history….

Here’s the (very brief) version of what “the veil” is and represents in Scripture: in the Old Testament, the Lord instituted the Law for His people to follow.  He commanded that a dwelling place be built for Him and that a heavy veil be hung in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies).

I know you were longing for a diagram...

I know you were longing for a diagram…

It was in the Most Holy Place that the presence of the Lord dwelt between the carved cherubim that topped the Ark of the Covenant.  Only the high priest of Israel could pass beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place – and that could be done only once a year and with the blood of a sacrifice for the sins of the Israelites (this was known as the Day of Atonement).  This particular veil was in place to restrict access to the fullness of the Lord’s presence – His holy glory – because, since the days of Adam and Eve, sin has separated us from full relationship with God.  (It would be fascinating to discuss all the uses of veils, including those to cover women, in Scripture, but I digress.)

The veil was torn.

The veil was torn.

Fast forward many hundreds of years: Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, took on flesh and became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:17), dying a horrific death on a cross and rising again in victory to release us from the power of sin (Rom. 8:2) and reconcile us to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:10-11) by fulfilling the whole Law (Matt. 5:17).  As He died, the veil – the one that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place – was torn in half from top to bottom.  God the Father reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son Jesus because it pleased Him to do so; no longer are we enemies but rather are now holy, blameless children of the King of Kings.  Our peace was bought in Blood that we might have relationship with Him (Col. 1:19-22).  That’s what the tearing of the veil was about on the day Jesus died: access to the Holy of Holies, the living Presence of God, through relationship with Him.

God made a shocking and powerful statement in tearing the veil in the Temple, but what does that truly mean for us?  What place does the veil hold in our lives?

We know that Jesus has already gone beyond the veil for us, but He didn’t stop in merely “going beyond.”  In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul asserts that “the veil is taken away in Christ….when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (v. 14, 16).  This imagery of the veil being removed indicates the inauguration of the New Covenant, bought with Christ’s blood, which demolishes the Law of the old covenant and its fading glory.  Interestingly, even before the days of the Tabernacle, God’s first dwelling place among the Israelites, Moses spoke face to face with God on a mountain top.  When Moses came back down to the Israelite camp, he veiled his face to hide the radiance of God’s glory that clung to him – and that was merely a fading glory from being in the presence of God Most High.  But now, we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18, emphasis mine; check out all of chapter 3 to really dig into this subject).  This is how the veil relates to our daily lives.

We are reflect God's glory.

We all reflect God’s glory.

Jesus didn’t die so we could remain on the far side of the veil, restricted from the presence of the Father; we are called to a life beyond the veil.

We are invited to “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) because Jesus has become our High Priest, our Mediator before God the Father, and the Atonement for our sin.  In this same vein, Ephesians 3:12 tells us that we have “boldness and access with confidence through faith in [Jesus]” (emphasis mine) to all the mysteries of fellowship with the Father (check out Unveiled for a more in-depth look at this Ephesians passage).

And so I must ask: is there anything – works, effort, rules, sin – that we are allowing to separate us from the Presence of God?  My dear friends, are we unintentionally reconstructing the veil of separation that Jesus’ sacrifice tore down?  Are we putting up barriers where our Savior already made a way?  Because the Father is not restricting access to Himself.  The old veil of separation is gone; Jesus has made a new way for us:

“We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus.  He opened for us a new way, a living way, through the curtain [veil] – that is, through his own body.  We have a great priest in charge of the house of God.  So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water.”
– Hebrews 10:19-22 GNT, emphasis mine

Father, forgive us our ignorant efforts to hide from Your Presence, to separate ourselves again from You.  Show us how to fully honor the Gift that Jesus gave us through His sacrifice.  We want to live the full story of grace!  May we learn to dwell freely in the Holy of Holies, basking in the radiant light of Your Presence.  Amen.

Will you accept the Father’s invitation to live beyond the veil?

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Practice the Presence

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I was laughing in church this morning as the service closed – I kept it to myself since the reason behind it was completely irrelevant to the sermon (which was awesome, in case anyone wondered).  So often we talk about God’s presence – being in the presence of the Lord, feeling His presence – in everyday life.  At least, the “spiritual” people do.  The rest of us are left to wonder what the “presence of the Lord” is and why we aren’t experiencing what other people seem to be experiencing.

Yoda using the ForceLet’s be real: what does “being in God’s presence” mean?  What even is God’s presence?  Here’s the problem: when we talk about God’s “presence,” we think of something intangible and transcendent, like the Force – something that can’t be seen or touched – you either have it or you don’t.  But that is not at all what God’s presence is.  It is so, so much simpler than that.

Imagine that you are alone in a room, back to the door, working on something.  Eventually you sense that someone is behind you.  There was not a sound, but you can sense that someone else is presentThat is, very simply, what presence is: the sense that someone or something is present and near.

Imagine with me again.  When you turn around, you see that the person behind you is an acquaintance.  You sensed that someone was there, but you didn’t necessarily know who it was.  That is how it is with God sometimes – we sense something, something wonderful and comforting and powerful and full of peace, but we don’t always recognize it as His presence.

Let’s take this a different direction.  Instead of an acquaintance, you turn around to find your best friend.  You knew it was your best friend before a word was uttered, before you turned, because you have spent so much time with your friend that you just knew.  You knew, very distinctly, that it was your best friend and no other behind you.  There was no question in your mind.  This is how it is when we build a personal relationship with God.  We recognize His presence immediately.  The most wonderful part about it, though, is that He is always present, which means that we can always enjoy His presence.

I grew up sensing God’s presence, but it isn’t because I am super spiritual or because my family is just so “in” with God that we have something special.  Sensing the Lord’s presence is something that I had to learn.  I may have learned it at a young age, but I had to learn it nonetheless.  We have to practice the presence of God, or we will never get better at sensing it.  We are all created in God’s image, so we all have a longing for His presence, but we will never sense His presence if we don’t practice it.  A true understanding of presence is built on the foundation of relationship.  Just as you knew it was your friend behind you and not another and just as you sensed but did not recognize the presence of your acquaintance, so it is with God.  If we do not truly know who He is, we will always be uncertain as to whether we are experiencing His presence, and we will always uncertain of whether He is really here.

We can’t be attuned to the presence of someone we don’t know.  To build our sensitivity to God’s presence we must get to know Him – digging into His Word and spending time in conversation with Him (i.e. prayer).  Relationship doesn’t just happen; it has to grow over time and with diligent effort.  If you want to get to know someone, you have to spend time with that person.  It is the same in our relationship with God.  As our relationship with Him deepens, we will become increasingly sensitive to His continual presence in our lives.