Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
The substance belongs to Christ. What a great motto for Advent! I thought I would spend some time in the run up to Christmas this year reflecting on what it would have been like to live under the old covenant, looking forward to Messiah. I hadn't really got going with that before my reading this morning gave me the verses above. And they encapsulate exactly what I wanted to be thinking about.
The old covenant was all in shadow. The food laws were just a shadow of the radical holiness of Christ, who was separate from sinners. The festivals were just a shadow of the joy of the salvation won in Christ - his joy first, and then by faith also ours. The Sabbath was merely a shadow of Christ's rest, seated at the right hand of God, and our rest in him. All shadows. The history of Israel was lived out in shadow, and was therefore a dark history - a groping in the dark, a stumbling in the dark. Even the glories were shadows. The history of Israel would be of no consequence except as a tragic tale apart from the fact that the shadow under which that history took place was the shadow of Christ.
An image impresses itself upon the mind; I'm not sure how right or helpful it is but I can't shake it. Look at history from the end point - imagine yourself standing at the end of the timeline, the point where history as we know it gives way to new history and new creation. Eschatological glory shines back from the point where you are standing, along the timeline, back through the centuries. And at the meeting of two ages, it illumines the face of a towering figure: Jesus of Nazareth, our Emmanuel. His face is lit with the light of the glory of God, and anyone in the centuries after him who glanced back would see him - dazzling, radiant. But behind he casts a shadow, and under that shadow Israel lived out its whole life, always looking forward, always hoping against hope, apparently suffering more than all the nations, but trusting that the future was glorious despite the present shadow.
"You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live... You shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen".
"God...has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"