For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Hebrews 9, verse 24.
There is a line from “The Shack” that I continue to ponder. When Mack (the protagonist) is talking with “Papa” (the Father character), they talk about Jesus and how He died on the cross. Mack says he doesn’t understand how the Father could abandon the Son. Papa reveals to Mack that he (Mack) truly doesn’t understand, but not how he thinks. “I was with him there all along,” says Papa. On its face, that statement seems to be contrary to much Christian doctrine which states that Jesus died a full and human death and that God the Father turned His holy face from His Son. Who knows if the statement is true, either that the Father abandoned the Son, or that the Father was with the Son even through death. Only they know, and we are only left to believe.
But think about that for a second, then consider verse 24. When Jesus died, He did something that nobody else could do; this you know. Jesus, being fully God and holy and having lived a life without sin, took ALL sin on Himself and wiped it out. He erased the consequences of it from ever touching sinners who believe in Him. When He did that, He took on that sin yet remained holy and perfect. It’s a mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery of all time. How could God actually do this? When you figure that out, call me. Better yet, call me, Franklin Graham, the Pope, and the Dalai Lama. Come to Paris and I’ll buy you all dinner. Invite Bill Young, the author of “The Shack,” too.
Yet there’s something undeniable about it all. Jesus died the death we deserve and then entered God’s holy presence again. He who had given up being in His Father’s presence for a time re-entered it fully, righteously, and having made all things new again. He didn’t need to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice for sins: He had been the sacrifice. That Temple, and before it the desert tabernacle, had been made to represent the Holy Temple in heaven where God resides in person. Now came back Jesus to the original Temple – the presence of God – and He had been made all sin yet made all pure on our behalf to stand in His Father’s presence again and proclaim “Abba, we did it!”
I don’t know if the Father abandoned the Son during the time He forsook Him. I don’t know (and neither does your pastor) whether or not the Father was there in Spirit or in person, and I don’t know exactly how the miracle was fully completed. Like the transaction of actually requiring blood, I don’t fully understand the mystery. In the end, I also don’t know if that really even matters. To me, it seems like a fine point of theology ripe for navel gazing.
Bill Young is on to something, namely that it doesn’t matter how God accomplished our redemption. Yes, I said that. It doesn’t matter how God did it, but it does matter THAT He did it. It isn’t for us to fully understand the mechanism through which God made right what we could not. It doesn’t matter whether the Father was present throughout the Son’s passion or whether He turned His holy face away. What matters is that, however it happened, God accomplished our salvation. We know it required blood – meaning it required submitting life to God – and we know that it required the full submission of a sacrifice. And we know that Jesus gave both of those, taking all our filth onto His pristine Spirit to make us righteous again. He did this for our benefit, and He then ascended back into heaven to regain His place at the Father’s side.
When He did that, Jesus re-entered the heaven to which we aspire. It was the same place He had left years before when He became incarnate here on the Third Rock…and yet it wasn’t. Something had changed. It wasn’t less perfect; it wasn’t even more perfect, as if that were possible. Instead, the fact of man’s condition had changed because of what He Himself had done. When that happened, the representation of heaven was no longer needed because He who would live through each of us could fully reside once again in the true heaven where perfection remained perfect. And He did it for us, to intercede for us when we couldn’t.
For further reading: Hebrews 8:2, Hebrews 4:14, Romans 8:34.
Lord, You are magnificent, worthy of all praise, and fully perfect in every way. Thank You for all You have done!