Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
(Colossians 2. 16&17)
One of my favourite images in thinking about the work of Jesus on the cross, is of a timeline, with the cross at the centre, casting a double shadow, back towards Eden, and forwards to the new creation and final judgment. The shape of the backward shadow is the temple, with all its sacrifical systems, rituals of cleansing and rules of life. Those were designed to demonstrate that a holy God, loving and desiring to be with his people, was nonetheless separated from them by their sin.
Until the time was right for Jesus to come, God used the rituals, sacrifices and physical exclusion of people from the holiest place of the temple, to point forward to the day when a single perfect sacrifice would fully accomplish all that the blood of lambs and bulls could not. There would be a spotless lamb one day, who would put an end to, by fulfilling, all the sacrifical system had been designed to do – turning aside the wrath of a holy God against the unspeakable pollution of sin.
One day there would be a priest who could enter the holy place without shedding the blood of lambs, because he had shed his own blood. One day there would be a great priest who could enter that presence and remain for ever, bearing the people of God upon his heart just as the old priest bore twelve precious stones to represent the people of Israel upon his breastplate. Not only so, but the people themselves, because of the great priest’s sacrifice, would be in God’s presence, no longer waiting outside to know whether their offerings had been accepted. All barriers to fellowship would be removed, and the children welcomed home to their Father’s house.
On Good Friday, that day finally came, the perfect sacrifice was made, and the curtain in the temple ripped itself apart as the power of sin and death to bind us away from God were destroyed. From that day onward, there has been no need for ritual sacrifices or observances. In Christ, all the demands of the Law – for justice and purity – are met. We do not live under a shadowy promise of forgiveness to come, but under the glory of complete cleansing, the bright light of a fresh start in the love of God..
The ‘shadow’ which is cast forward into time by the cross is barely dark at all, except that it is pointing to a brighter and more glorious future than we can possibly imagine! The shape of this shadow is the table around which we – all who love and trust in Christ for salvation – remember and celebrate his death for us, and his resurrection guaranteeing our eternal future with him. This is not a ritual which we observe in order to avert punishment, or earn favour, but the very source of our lives, our true nourishment. If we neglect this, the feeding of our souls upon his body broken and blood shed for us, then we will perish indeed, our faith withering away under the slightest trial or choked by the pressures and pleasures of the world around us; or worse, poisoned by false pride in our own good deeds and upright attitudes!
Let us not neglect to meet together, to feed together upon the truth of the gospel – all must be done, and has been done by Christ – so that we might grow in love for him, for one another, and in courage to share that love with our wounded and wayward world. In Christ, we stand in radiant glory, utterly secure, let us be the means by which God sheds his light into the darkness.
Behold Him there! the risen Lamb! My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace!
One with Himself, I cannot die, my soul is purchased by His blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Saviour and my God.
(Charitie Lees De Chenez, 1841-1923)