Shadow vs Substance
There have been many ways that man has tried to relate to God throughout the centuries. Even though the Jewish people were given God’s law, over time they added layers of additional rules to “help” their people know exactly how to (and how not to) interact with God.
However, these “helps” did not rescue the people from their sins. They could not rescue themselves. They needed a Savior. Talking about Jesus, Paul told the believers in Colossae:
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
Now that Jesus has made you alive, how should we worship God?
The trouble with all these additional, specific rules was that they had become the measuring stick of how “godly” a person was. The Israelites compared themselves with each other and judged one another’s “spirituality” by how well the 600+ rules were maintained.
They were getting hung up on the ritual – the action that was supposed to help them look forward to the Messiah – rather than using the ritual to help them recognize the Messiah when He arrived. Ritual observance and proficiency had become their focus. It had been that way in Jewish communities for hundreds of years before Jesus came.
However, now that the Colossians believed on Jesus for eternal life, they needed to know that their previous ritual activities no longer held the same level of importance.
Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.
A shadow can give us an idea of what an object is like, by revealing the outline of the object. However, a shadow can never tell us the true value of an object. A ball made of styrofoam and a ball made of gold will cast the same shadow. Therefore, a shadow is ultimately just a representation of the object, and the only value a shadow has is in how well it represents the substance. Even then, the true value is found in the object itself.
All the historical rules about food and drink, the yearly festivals and feasts, and special days had come to a close. Their purpose was fulfilled in Christ’s work on the cross. It was time for the people to stop staring at the shadow because the substance responsible for the shadow had come into view.
Going forward, everything they would do to worship God would be Jesus-focused, not activity focused. They needed to look to the person, not the ritual.
Rituals can be helpful, but only as long as they point us toward Jesus. We would be wise to do an inventory of our lives and worship service preferences to make sure that we’re keeping our focus on the substance of the Messiah and not getting hung up in the shadows.