This past Sunday during our time together we studied Colossians 1:19-22. The passage is a snapshot of the Gospel. We were separated from God because of sin. But while we were alienated from God and continuing in sin and hostility, God, through Christ, reconciled us to himself.
But passages like these lead to lots of questions. And questions are good. Questions cause us to dig deep into the Word of God to find answers. And digging deep into the Word of God to find answers is REALLY good. So what are some of the questions that this passage leads us naturally to ask?
- What on earth happened? How did mankind find itself in such a disparaging condition? How is it that we became separated from God? Why do we need reconciliation?
Okay, I realize that is not one question. But they all deal with the same thing. What happened? How did we get here? That is a very important question to ask. That question (and our answer to it) will shape how we view ourselves and the world around us. And to answer that question we don't need a degree in Old Testament. We just need to follow the Cherub, or Cherubim if we are being technical.
Follow the Cherubim
Cherubim are angelic beings that serve different roles throughout the Scriptures. But there is one place and one specific role in which we always see them. They are guardians of the presence of God. Now, admittedly, saying that God needs a guardian is like saying that a lion needs a bodyguard. But Cherubim are more like the guys in red coats and funky hats that stand at Buckingham Palace. They represent a reality. The guys in funky hats represent your inability to enter the presence of the Queen of England. Cherubim represent something much more troubling. They represent mankind's inability to enter the presence of God. Let's follow the Cherubim for just a moment.
In Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are removed from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, what is placed at the entrance of the garden to guard it? "He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way (Genesis 3:24)." The Garden of Eden was the place of unhindered fellowship and communion with God. Now, because of sin, there was a separation.
Later, in Exodus, when the tabernacle is being constructed, we see the cherubim again. They are affixed to the Mercy Seat, in the Most Holy Place, the new place of God's presence (Exodus 25:19-20). They are also worked into the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31-35). In both places, they would symbolize that the separation between God and man still existed.
In 2 Chronicles, when the Temple is constructed, the cherubim are only made bigger and more prominent. They are worked into the walls and tapestries, and two massive Cherubim with wingspans of thirty feet are placed in the Most Holy Place over the Mercy Seat (2 Chronicles 3:10-14). These were a constant reminder of the separation that existed between God and man.
This was a separation that we inherited. We inherited a broken relationship and a sinful nature. But we did and could do nothing to repair what was broken. We only made the problem worse. Our sin further drove the wedge between us and God (Isaiah 59:2). The situation was severe. We could not save ourselves. We were alienated, hostile to God. How then could we be reconciled?
Reconciled through Christ
So we have answered the first question: What happened? We followed the Cherubim. We have seen the deep divide that existed between man and God because of sin. But Paul tells us in Colossians that it was through Christ that God reconciled us to himself. So that leads us to the second question:
2. What has Christ done to reconcile us to God?
In order for mankind to be reconciled to God we needed someone capable of going into the presence of God on our behalf. But no ordinary priest would do. We needed someone capable of entering the presence of God once and for all. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as that someone:
"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20)
But Jesus did not enter behind the curtain with the blood of sacrificial animals. That would have never been enough. If we are to be eternally and truly reconciled we will need something more.
"But when Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that have come... He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12)."
Jesus was righteous and holy. He was divine. He was worthy of entering behind the curtain on our behalf. But that still doesnt fix our problem. WE need to go behind the curtain, and WE are NOT worthy. But Paul tells us in our passage that Christ reconciled us by his body of flesh in his death (Colossians 1:21). How does this happen?
"We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have such a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22)."
The way back into the presence of God was opened through the substitutionary death of Christ. That is the message of reconcilliation. That is the message of the Gospel. When Christ took his last breath on the cross the curtain in the Temple, the curtain covered in Cherubim, the curtain that for years had symbolized the separation between God and man, was torn in two from top to bottom.
Christ's work of reconciliation was and will forever be sufficient and complete. No other sacrifice, no other work will ever be needed to reconcile God to His people.
In the words of the great hymn by Philip Bliss,
Guilty, vile, and helpless we,
Perfect son of God was he,
"Full atonement!" can it be?
Hallelujah, What a Savior!