1st Sunday in Lent Sounds of the Passion, Part 1 “Ripping Cloth”
February 26, 2023 Joel 2:13
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Our text for this morning is from Joel 2:13, which says, “Rend you heart and not your garments, for [the Lord your God] is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love.”
During our Wednesday evening devotion times, we are looking at the lives of people we know from the Bible, and recalling how God’s ‘amazing grace’ was upon them. One of the reasons we know about those people is so that our Heavenly Father can open our eyes to see His amazing grace for US, which is promised in His Son, Jesus ~the Messiah.
During our Sundays in Lent, we’re going to ponder something else: the sounds of the passion. What sounds could we associate with the work of Jesus as He suffered the penalty of the Law for us – to save us? One the the noises presented for our ears in Scripture is the sound of – Ripping Cloth.
Do you know that sound ?== the tearing of fiber-from-fiber. Cloth is made to stay together; so tearing is a hurtful sound, a sound of despair (rip), & anguish (rip), & distruction (rip). And so, for centuries, the ripping of clothing had a purpose: it was a sign of grief, repentance, or outrage among the Jewish people. Whenever the people of Israel were in great emotional pain, they ripped their clothes as a sign of mourning.
And so we find that during the passion of our Lord Jesus, men & women ripped their clothes in emotional pain. Whether a Pharisee-leader, or the regular person in the crowd == there is pain & distress at the passion of Jesus. That means that the sound of ripping cloth (Rip) is connected to the message of God’s love for us in the cross.
We can begin in Matt.26. It’s the wee hours of Friday morning. In the hall of the Sanhedrin, which is the offical council of the 70 elders, Jesus’ trial is taking place. It’s really not much of a trial, because they were not supposed to meet at such an early time, and the leaders had already decided what the verdict would be. They just were not sure yet how they would convince all 70 members, and what the particular evidence would be. Yes, Jesus was ‘guilty’ …guilty of causing them angst & headaches.
But how do you convict a man who was going around being kind, preaching about the Kingdom of God, and doing miracles? They peppered Him with questions, & tried to get Him to incriminate Himself; but Jesus remained quiet. He was not afraid to talk, but just chose not to. They tried bringing in some people to lie about what Jesus had said, but they couldn’t get their stories straight.
Have you wondered about those false witnesses? Who would do that? Would you?
Let me put it another way: under what conditions might you consider lying about an innocent person? OR, could you be persuaded to just pass along some secondhand information about a person you don’t know, & that person is harmed by it? What did the Pharisees promise these witnesses = money, or food for their family? Or maybe they were threatened to be put out of the temple so they couldn’t worship God, or give their important sacrifices & offerings; or even threatened with jail —then who would take care of their wife & family?
It is said that ‘we all have our price’; the price at which we will close our eyes to what is wrong, play ignorant, avoid trouble, and just go along with whoever has power over us. Like the movie character ‘Dirty Harry’ said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” When we know our limitations, then we can ask our Lord for help and stand firm against sinful temptations, like ‘bearing false witness’ against our neighbor = because it benefits us, or we avoid trouble.
Well, finally, the high priest had had enough of getting nowwhere. If they couldn’t make any of the charges stick, they’d just have to force Jesus to admit His guilt. Standing up, Caiaphas pointed at Jesus and bellowed, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt 26:63). And so Jesus replied: ‘Yes, it is as you say. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Whoa! What a confession! Not only did Jesus claim to be the Son of God, the Messiah, but He also claimed to be equal to God; that all the power & majesty of the Almighty belonged to Him.
Ooh, The high priest could barely contain his rage. (Rip!) The ornate & expensive robes he wore were the symbol of his important office; he was so angry, he reached down & tore them open. “You have heard the blasphemy!” he roared. “What do you say?” Suddenly, the room echoed with the sound of ripping cloth as the members of the Sanhedrin shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!”
So, at last their goal had been reached, & the decision had been made; but it was still early morning, & they had to wait for the Roman governor to get out of bed. Finally, the morning dawned, Friday morning, and the council took Jesus to Pontius Pilate. Even tho the governor would have been regularly updated on what was going on among the Jews, & probably had heard about that Rabbi from Galilee who was upsetting them, I wonder if he was surprized when the council showed up with ripped-up clothing?
Pilate saw that they had brought a man with them, escorted by their temple guards. Was this the one so many in Jerusalem had been talking about = he didn’t look like much. But the Jewish leaders push the man in front of Pilate, and they declare: “This man deserves to die.”
Why? “He tells the people they shouldn’t pay their taxes, and he claims to be Christ – a king!” Now, if the stakes hadn’t been life & death, maybe Pilate would have laughed & told them they were full of boloney. He knew the priests didn’t care about taxes to Rome; and their religion didn’t hold Caesar in the proper high regard = like the Romans did. He knew what kind of men they were. The only thing they cared about was keeping their positions of power & the matching benefits of prestige & money. But, Pilate was now curious of how this Jesus had gotten under their skin.
And the charge of treason was a serious one, and Pilate couldn’t let that news get to his superiors – unanswered. He could’ve done what they wanted, & no one important would’ve questioned that decision. But these Jews were a particular people; so it would be better to do things ‘by the book’. Besides, he didn’t want it to look like these Jews could just tell him what to do. Pilate decided to interrogate Jesus – just to be sure. Taking Jesus into his palace, Pilate asked Him an easy question: ‘are you a king?’ No true king would lie about that.
Jesus answered him by saying that His kingdom was not of this world; and those who listened to the truth would listen to Him. Pilate wasn’t sure what that meant, but it was clear that this man was no threat, just delusional. To him, all those Jews were ‘crazy’. Why were they so emotional & upset with this one guy? He could just declare this Jesus innocent & set Him free; and that would be that. So, Pilate went outside to announce that verdict.
Oh! But things had changed while Pilate was inside. Now there was no longer a small group of the Jewish council; now there was a huge mob, & they were out for blood.
Now it would not be enough to say Jesus was innocent, & set him free. No, the blood-thirst of the crowd would have to be dealt with. So Pilate decided to have Jesus flogged, which would cause more blood than most could handle. He was betting that that would be enough.
Once again, the sound of ripping cloth was heard as the clothes were torn off of Jesus. (Rip) Then there was the crack of the whip, and Jesus flesh was tearing from His back. The practice was 39 lashes; any more, and most men died from it. His skin was slashed to ribbons, and blood poured from the wounds into the cloth that hung around His waist.
Unfortunately, all that whipping & bleeding didn’t satisfy the crowd, or the pharisees who were stirring them up. In fact, it only seemed to increase their bloodlust. People in the crowd began to tear their clothes (Rip); they threw dirt in the air, & they cried out for Jesus’ death.
They didn’t want a whipping; they wanted a crucifixion. Pilate was supposed to be a fair judge of the law, but he must also keep the peace, and a riot would make things get out-of-hand. So, better that one man die than for his soldiers to hurt & kill many people in a riot. Pilate signs the order for Jesus to be taken outside the city gate, to Skull Hill, to be crucified.
The Roman soldiers take charge, & they get Jesus’ clothing back on Him. They place on His shoulders the cross, or more likely, the heavy cross-bar of the cross. And they march Him from the governor’s stone pavement court toward Golgotha. All thru Jerusalem was the sound of ripping cloth, as Jesus’ followers mourned & wailed. (rip) +They tore their clothes in anger at the injustice of it all; +they tore their clothes in sadness at the abuse & pain their innocent Rabbi was put thru; +they tore their clothes in frustration that this miracle-worker had no miracles left for Himself;
+they ripped their clothes in shame because they had no courage to speak out against this wrong; they were afraid that the crowd or their leaders would punish them, too. Even tho it is not OUR custom to rip our clothing, at times we understand those deep emotions, because we live in the same, unfair & wicked world. At times, there is nothing else to do but to tear our clothes, and cry out to God.
The Roman soldiers did their job with brutal efficiency; they had done it many times before. They nailed our Lord to ‘the cursed tree’, as noted in Deut.21. To make sure all the Jews knew that their leaders had caused this thing to happen, Pilate had the soldiers hang a sign above Jesus’ head, which read: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’ The last thing to do was to wait.
What a day! Never before, in the history of the world, had anything like this happened. The Lord of creation was being killed by His creatures. The sky reacted to that. It was the middle of the day, but the sky darkened. Was it from thick clouds? The Scripture uses a curious phrase: ‘the sun’s light failed,’ it says. There was a heavy muffling darkness over the whole land as creation was in dispair.
Then there was another sound; it was Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mt 27:46b). The Messiah of God was abandoned for each sinner, for you & for me. The crowd stands in silence, and they begin to filter away. After just a little while more, Jesus cries out again, and then He dies. It’s done; finished. Jesus’ followers mourn; their tears are all cried-out, and their clothes have long-before been torn. They beat their chests in sorrow, and they walk away.
But listen! It’s the sound of tearing cloth again. (Rip) But not a ripped shirt or robe; it’s a long, noisy tear coming from the temple. Hanging in the temple, from floor to ceiling, is that thick, heavy curtain that separates the Holy Place, where the priests ministered, from the Most Holy Place, where God promised to be present. At the moment Jesus dies, that curtain is torn in two, from top to bottom, in one long, continuous rip.
Was God angry, or does it mean something more? More! The tearing of cloth, which usually meant anger & mourning, now meant accomplishment. What was once a holy separation by the Law, now is a holy reunification by the Gospel. What sin broke apart, God’s grace in the cross has now brought back together. Jesus’ death did not mean defeat, but the victory of God for us. His death tore apart the curtain of sin that hung between us and our God. In Jesus’ death, the powers of sin were torn asunder, and a new life with God was made ready for each soul. Jesus is not just the promised ‘king of the Jews,’ He is the Lord of all. And in Him is freedom from sin, and a new life to all who believe & are baptized in Him.
The sound of ripping cloth is an important sound of Jesus’ Passion. It has a long history of being very meaningful to God’s people. There might be times when you may feel that the only thing you can do in this fallen world is to tear your clothing in anger or sorrow. You can go ahead, if you want.
However, we don’t need to restore this custom; and ripping our clothes won’t impress God. Even 800 yrs before Jesus, thru the prophet Joel, God said, ‘rend your hearts and not your garments.’ (Joel 2)
Our Lord Jesus DOES want to hear the sound of tearing = a ripping of our rebel heart & mind in humility & repentance. He wants us to come before Him admiting our sins, and confessing them. He wants to hear from us that we know of those times when we disobey His teaching, & the times we neglect to do a kindness or service to those in need.
At the sound of that ripping-repentance, He quickly brings to us the benefits of His cross. He forgives our sins, He tears that guilt from our lives, and He restores us to peace with God. That is the sound of tearing that is pleasing to Him. That is what He promised in Joel 2:
“Rend you heart and not your garments, because in Jesus [the Lord your God]
is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”