(Taken from The Guts of Grace)
When the temple made of stones still stood during Jesus’ earthly ministry, someone entering the temple would go through a gate in a large wall to reach the Court of the Gentiles. Here, anyone who wanted to come and worship the Lord could come. If this person were Jewish, he or she could pass through the beautiful gate and enter the Women’s Court. All Jewish people, both male and female, could enter this area. Through one more gate was the Court of Israel, where all Jewish men were allowed to go. This is where the Brazen Altar was, and where the priests would perform sacrifices. Through another large gate, the men of Israel, who were also of the tribe of Levi, who were also descended from Aaron, and whose lots had been cast that day could enter. This was the Holy Place. But still, even these could not go past the three‑inch (7.5cm) thick, intricately woven fabric that set the Holy of Holies apart.
The Holy of Holies was where God’s Shekinah glory was manifested. God resided above the Mercy Seat (Heb 9:5). In the Holy of Holies, between the wings of the large angelic images, the Ark of the Covenant sat. The Ark of the Covenant was an ornate box which contained the golden pot full of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments (Heb 9:4).
There was one person who could go into the Holy of Holies. The High Priest could enter once per year on the Day of Atonement, but not without blood to sprinkle onto the Mercy Seat, and before he entered he had to fill the Holy of Holies with the smoke of incense so that he could not see the Shekinah glory undimmed. The Mercy Seat was the top of the Ark, where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of an unblemished lamb. So, between the Ten Commandments, which were constantly broken, and the Shekinah glory of God, was the atoning blood. There was no provision in the Bible for cleaning the Ark, so year after year, the Ark would have been covered with more and more blood.
If the High Priest did anything incorrectly as he went in on this one day, he would be struck dead. If he died, the other priests would not be able to go in to retrieve his body or they too would be struck dead. So, the High Priest would wear a rope with bells so that people could periodically make sure he was still alive and pull him out if not.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple closing off the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom (Matt 27:51). The way inside was now open to all. The author of Hebrews wrote:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 6:19‑20)
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19‑21)
Wall after wall after wall, and then a thick veil and the fear of death separated the people from God—but no more. Because Jesus died for us, He has opened the way to freely enter into God’s presence any time we need His help with anything: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). In fact, His temple now is our very body and His glory resides in our own spirit (1 Cor 6:17‑19), so nothing separates us from Him. Because of His abundant grace toward us, there are no walls or gates or veils, just full and free access into His presence (Rom 5:2).
Knowing that this access we have is based upon what Christ has done, not what we have done should impact our prayers. Sometimes it feels like we cannot approach God when we are very aware of our sins, or that when we have had a good day, spiritually, we have more confidence in prayer. But this misunderstands both the value of Christ’s blood and the purpose of prayer. Our ability to come boldly to the throne of grace isn’t based upon our merits and we cannot demerit our way out of that access. Prayer is part of the process of cleansing the sin out of our lives, and we cannot wait until we clean ourselves up to approach God. He has removed all barriers, we should not reconstruct them.
What does this mean, practically? People have always been able to pray to God. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the distance created by sin is gone. Know confidently that you are welcome in the Lord’s presence, not because of anything you have done, but because of what Jesus has done. And know that He delights in giving you every truly good thing.