What Really Happened at the Cross—and What Difference Does It Make This Easter?

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Rev. Dr. Bill Senyard is a biblical scholar and lead pastor for over thirty years.

Dr. Bill Senyard here with Gospel App Ministries (www.gospel-app.com). What really happened at the Cross—and what difference does it make this Easter?

First, the problem today from The Chaos Machine by Max Fisher. Today, “when people feel destabilized, they often reach for a strong group identity to regain a sense of control. It can be as broad as nationality or narrow as a church group. Identities that promise to recontextualize individual hardships into a wider conflict hold special appeal. You’re not unhappy because of your struggle to contend with personal circumstances; you’re unhappy because of Them and their persecution of Us. It makes those hardships feel comprehensible and, because you’re no longer facing them alone, a lot less scary…If that sense of conflict escalates too far, it can reach the point of radicalization, in which you see the out-group as an immutable threat over which only total victory is acceptable. “The scale of the crisis becomes more extreme, and the prescribed solution becomes more violent,” J.M. Berger wrote, until destroying the out-group becomes the core of the in-group’s shared identity. “The current generation of social media platforms,” he added, “accelerates polarization and extremism for a significant minority,” enabling and encouraging exactly this cycle.”

Does Easter offer us something different? Yes, you may be surprised.

The Jerusalem temple was designed with levels of restricted access. Furthest away from God’s earthly presence were the Gentiles. They could only watch from a distance. Then women, just a little closer to God. True closeness to God was only allowed for the few Jews who were of the Tribe of Aaron. Very narrow. And even then, it was after a great deal of washing and bloody sacrifices.

Even more so, the central Holy of Holies, where the presence of God dwelt (signified by the Ark of the Covenant), was accessible only once a year by only one man, the High Priest.

But then, at one Passover, something changed all of that, and it should be very good news to our polarized and polarizing society. Here’s how Matthew puts it.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matt 27:46-51)

If you ask, why the Holy of Holies curtain was torn in two, nine out of ten Christians will say that God did it to give everyone access to his presence. That false narrative is as old as the Easter Bunny and about as helpful. Truth be told, it didn’t give any more access than they had before. Don’t imagine a rush of Levitical priests, or women or Gentiles rushing the fences just to take a look.

A far better thing occurred. Did you know that since the great Exile at least, the Holy of Holies had been empty. No Ark of the Covenant. No ‘presence of God’s glory.’ It is not clear how widespread the secret was. The upper temple echelon knew it. Later scribal writings instructed the High Priest to complete his ritual tasks as if the Ark was still there.

So why was the Holy of Holies curtain torn in two?

First, it exposed the guarded secret that the presence of God wasn’t in the temple anymore and hadn’t been for over 500 years.

Second, now if anyone wants to come into the presence of God, they can. Don’t go to the Temple. He’s not there. No, he is outside the gates of the city hanging on a crucifix, and he has opened up his arms to officially receive all who come as they are.

God’s audience that day included thieves, insurrectionists, Roman soldiers, Gentiles, and women. They no longer needed to cleanse themselves ritually, get circumcised, or even bring a sacrifice in order to have an audience with God. God provided all of that for them. Just come as you are and you will be received. No more Us versus Them. This is the heart of Christianity.

Ultimately, Easter/Passsover and Christianity are about the beginning of the end of polarization that we are seeing in our world. The end of Us versus Them mentality, and the end of violent extremism. Look, I am not saying that Christianity has lived up to that hope. We haven’t. But that is our calling and in Christ, empowered by His Spirit, we can once again lean into becoming a beacon for acceptance and hope for any and all—the end of tribalism.

Today, if you want to experience this love of God, there is nothing to keep you away. Come.

He is risen indeed!



Proclaiming the love of God for the unlovable, the unloved, and the unlovely.
Dr. Senyard and the team at Gospel App Ministries have created a number of dynamic and helpful tools and resources to help professionals help their clients flourish. These tools include The Forgiving Path (www.forgivingpath.com), Good Enough Parent (www.goodenoughparent.online), Gospel App, Engage small group resources, and Take Heart YZ discipleship materials for young adults (www.gospel-app.com).Our passion at Gospel App Ministries is to help Christians thrive by developing tools and resources that help all of us better apply the Gospel to the real lives of real people in the real world.

Dr. Bill Senyard


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