Study Guide: God’s Shadow Activity

Sunday July 15, 2012 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

When people read the Old Testament, it can be a bit confusing to those that know Jesus and his ministry. In this sermon, Greg talks about how the Law in the Old Testament was simply a shadow of the cross, and that the ugliness in the Old Testament simply shows how far humanity was separated from God.

Extended Summary:

In the book of Colossians, Paul implores the readers to see the Law in the Old Testament as a shadow of the Cross. His readers were being told that they needed to follow the Old Testament rules and religious festivals. Paul disagreed with this thinking. He saw the Old Testament law, rules, and religious festivals as the shadow of the cross and that turning back towards the shadow was the wrong thing to do.

A shadow is merely an image of a reality. That is to say, it is the negative outline of something. When a person is standing outside, a black silhouette of that person will be cast on the ground. This shadow does not show the face of the person, the smell, or the texture of their skin. It only shows a part of the reality. For Paul, the shadow of the crucified Christ on the cross was the law in the Old Testament.

This is tricky territory to talk about. We see the Bible as divinely inspired. We believe it’s true. But we don’t believe we hold all of it with the same weight. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, the messiah the law pointed towards, and he is the Son of God who is greater than all the other prophets before him. Why, then, would people hold the law as equivalent to the message of Jesus? The law is still a part of the story of the cross and resembled the cross, but it is not the cross and pales in comparison. The cross determines who God is and what he is trying to accomplish. So why did God even use the law?

God is like a missionary. There is a story of some missionaries that went to a village in Africa that practiced female circumcision. The missionaries knew that this practice was wrong, but they couldn’t just walk into the village and tell the people to stop it because it was a centuries old practice. They bit their tongue and slowly invested themselves into the culture. After teaching for a long time, the village eventually turned to Jesus and began to live according to the Kingdom. At that point, the village realized that female circumcision was wrong. Looking back in time, the missionaries could be seen as endorsing the practice. However, they had to slowly reveal their true nature to the village in order to be accepted.

God works in a similar way. When humanity rejected God, they chose to go their own way. This way led to terrible ugliness in the world. This ugliness is reflected in a lot of the stories of the Old Testament. God stepped into this world to influence people back to him, but he didn’t coerce humans to follow him. Instead, he used influence and persuasion to try and get people back to him. It may look like God is endorsing the practices of humanity, but God was slowly revealing his true nature to humanity. And that true nature was revealed on the cross. And the cross is very different than three aspects of the Old Testament law.

The first aspect is the law. When Jesus came to this Earth, he became the ultimate sacrifice so that no more sacrifices were needed. Jesus did away with the economy of sin and humanity’s indebtedness to Satan. No longer was the law to be followed because it is a shadow of the cross.

The second aspect is the nationalism of the Old Testament. The Jewish people were looking for a messiah that would come and restore the glory of Israel. They wanted a nation-state where they could have a king. They didn’t realize that God was instituting his Kingdom among all of the nations. Jesus didn’t come to reform Israel and release it from captivity. He came to free the people from their sin and reconcile them to God the Father.

The third aspect is the violence in the Old Testament. A lot of violent things happened in the name of God. This violence was not the character of God though. Rather, it was the character of a fallen humanity. God came alongside the people and allowed them to be autonomous beings that lived life without being forced to live like God wanted them to. In the end, Jesus shows us that violence is never the answer because living by the sword means dying by the sword. Jesus chose a different path of non-violence, and violence lives in the shadow of the cross.

Understanding this shadow terminology gives us a new way of viewing the Old Testament. We begin to see God as a missionary to this Earth, where he is slowly influencing and preparing people for the revelation of Jesus on the cross. The cross and the love of God shown on the cross are the true character of God, and that image holds more weight than any other part of the Bible.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What surprised you during this sermon? Why?
  3. Do you agree or disagree with Greg’s view on the Old Testament and its weightiness? Why or why not?
  4. How do you view the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice? Why do you think Jesus didn’t become a king of a nation or use violent means to bring about the Kingdom?
  5. How have you seen God be a missionary in your life? What things do you think he is slowly revealing to you?