Into the Shadows
This world is real enough. There are both pleasures and pain from birth to death. We experience things in real time. Sometimes the pains and troubles seem too real. It is as if we live under a shadow of impending problems. Like David, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We can enjoy the sunshine for a time, and then often unexpectedly be plunged into a dark shadow. Illness strikes, family fractures, friends depart, money fails, death comes. We live in, to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis, the shadowlands.
There is another reality. It is a reality without shadows. There is no pain or death. All is light. It is in another dimension. Yet we on this earth have been visited by beings from that other place. There is always something almost magical about those visitations.
Think of the Virgin Mary. Suddenly an angel appeared to her. He spoke her language and gave her a message about a baby she would birth. Then disappeared.
Or think about Joseph. In his sleep, he was visited by an angel who told him about Mary’s baby. When he awoke, what did he think? The visit was real enough that Joseph believed and carried out the instructions for his marriage and also for naming the baby.
Shepherds were visited by angels from that other place. They were told that a savior was born. They could find Him in a stable. When the angels disappeared, the shepherds went to the town and found the baby. Lying in that manger was the Light of Heaven. The Son of God. Immanuel. As Lewis phrased it, God had landed on our shores. Jesus entered the shadows.
Other angels have appeared in these shadowlands in past times. Lot was delivered from Sodom by angels. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham’s hand from plunging a dagger into his son who was lying on an altar of sacrifice. An angel visited Samson’s parents and gave them instructions for raising him.
Heavenly objects have also appeared on earth. Our first parents were driven from the Garden of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword. The Israelites survived on manna, angel’s food which appeared on the ground in the mornings during their decades of wandering in the wilderness. A heavenly cloud by day and pillar of fire by night guided them in their journey.
A star was seen by the magi in the east. Not any star. “For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him,” they said. It was His star, and it led them directly to the exact place where He was and stood over the house.
We worship Him, too, but our worship is from the shadows. The sacrificial offerings of the priests were but an “example and shadow of heavenly things (Heb. 7:5a). Religious eating and drinking and celebrating holy days “are a shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:17). And yet, the other dimension sometimes reveals its reality to us.
Thirty years after that bright star disappeared into the heavens, Jesus began his ministry. He ate what we eat. He drank what we drink. He slept on our ground. He felt what we feel. He “was tempted in all points” like we are, yet without sin. He healed the sick, made the lame walk, and raised the dead. He was working in the shadows of human suffering. Despite all this, the people wanted a sign. Three decades earlier there had been an angelic host in the night sky. A heavenly star led wise men to the Christ. Yet these people wanted their own sign.
God was revealing Himself in His Son. The people who sat in darkness had seen a great light. The prophets foretold His coming, yet many refused to accept it. They arrested Him and charged Him with blasphemy. False witnesses accused Him. He was sentenced to die by crucifixion. So they nailed His hands and His feet to the cross. He hung between heaven and earth. Here was God in the flesh in the shadows.
At noon the sun refused to shine. On that dark day Jesus brought the light of heaven. “Father, forgive them…” Finally, He said, “It is finished.” At that moment, invisible hands took the veil of the temple and tore it in two, from the top to the bottom. The way into the holiest was made available to “whosoever will take the water of life freely.” They took His body and placed it in a tomb.
On the third day, those who asked Jesus for a sign were given the one sign they did not want. He had said that if they destroyed the temple, in three days He would raise it up. They thought He meant the building, but He meant His body. On the third day, He conquered the worst of the shadows. He arose from death!
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus is where light comes into our shadows. He came down from heaven, down from His glory, to bring us light.
It may not be by a sight of angels or a bowl of manna, but we at times are visited by the other world. The world that is more enduring than this world. The world that is light with no shadows. Sometimes it visits us.
It was very early in the morning and my daughter and I were driving to meet our boat captain for a day of fishing. I took a wrong turn and found myself needing to use the turnpike. The sign gave the price and also the warning that failing to pay resulted in a $100 fine. I searched the car and came up just twenty five cents short.
I would have gladly traded a five-dollar bill for a quarter. But somehow I sensed I should proceed to the automatic pay booth. At 5 AM there was little hope of finding someone else there to help. There was no change machine. I drove up to the pay basket. My eyes were directed to the ground. There lay a quarter. In one sense, I had expected to find it. I had had that urge to drive to the kiosk. After I put the correct change into the machine, I drove on. That’s when I felt that awesome sense that the Lord was watching over me. I looked at the stars and felt exceptionally small. And greatly blessed.
But that blessing pales in comparison to the wonder at realizing that by believing in this wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ, I have hope of eternal life. It is His promise, and it is His gift to us who live in these shadowlands.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).