Location: Severna Park, MD
Hebrews 10:1–4 (NKJV)
10 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
The beauty of the coneflowers has long passed, at least for this year. Now they are only wrinkled reminders of the beauty they had when this image was taken. Interestingly enough though, it is now that the seeds are matured that the family of goldfinches are making daily trips to visit and grab some lunch. When you arrive in the driveway, the stalks will be shaking and flashes of yellow gold can be seen darting to and fro. If you look closely at the image you can see there was some kind of fly taking advantage of it even during the period of full bloom along with myriads of bees and butterflies later on. They are neat plants and there is much to commend them.
The passing beauty and usefulness of coneflowers might illustrate for us, if we stretch it a bit, how we ought to view the Old Testament "Law" or more precisely, the Old Covenant Administration.
Too often we modern Christians think of "Law" and in our minds we immediately narrow it down to moral restrictions. We think in terms of the Ten Commandments and that's about it. But such a narrowly restricted view of what is meant in passages such as above or in Paul's writings, actually perverts the truth that is being taught and, what is worse, may divert us into serious error.
What we must remember is that for the Jews of Jesus' day, such as the writer of Hebrews and Paul himself, "Law" stood for the entire edifice of Old Covenant administration that was the fullness of revelation that had been given by God before the advent of Jesus Christ. It was a beatiful thing in its day. When Paul said that the "law" is "holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12) he was not simply talking about the commandments "not to covet" but rather the entire edifice of instructions ("precepts, statutes and laws", Neh. 9:14) that showed forth the righteousness of God and the pathway of "faith" as it was revealed in that time. It revealed not only the form and nature of love for God and for man but also how God's grace was to be sought through the sacraments (circumcision, sacraments, etc.) that had been given. It was a "way of life" that was governed by the Covenant of Grace as had been progressively revealed.
And it was truly a gracious covenant, a beautiful covenant. The promises of God were true. Those who were humbled by God's grace and sought to walk before Him in conformity with His instructions ("Law") were truly righteous in His sight as is evidenced by the many examples in Scripture where God has so declared them as such (e.g. Job, Abraham, and specifically Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1).
But, as the writer of Hebrews clearly teaches us, the "Law" which promised "atonement of sins" could not, of its own, produce that atonement. It only promised the "way" of forgiveness... it only promised that the faithful servant would receive "forgiveness" now through the application of a better sacrifice that was yet to come. A sacrifice that would atone for all his or her sins at once... but which the multiple sacrifices they offered in their time would all anticipate. Their trust was not in the blood of bulls and goats but the blood of that perfect sacrifice which, once offered, would in fact cleanse their consciences and fully wash them white as snow.
During its day this "Old" covenant administration fed the hungry who flocked to it and its beauty shone forth for all the world to see.
But that day is past as the writer here says. The Old Covenant is just a shell of its former self and its time is accomplished. It has produced its "seed" although here that word is to be taken as singular, a single seed. But that seed is sufficient for all the world to be fed. The Old Covenant "Law" (as administration) has been replaced by an New Covenant "Law" - the Law of the Gospel. The administration of this Law is "faith", a "faith" which is the same as the "faith" of Abraham and which registers in righteousness for us even as it did for him. It is an administration that sees the new sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) as commands of faith, to be observed in faith, with the same promise of faith in it. The difference is the fulfillment. The sacrifice has been offered. It is no longer to be offered. The Lord's Supper does not sacrifice the Lamb over and over again, as some would think, but rather, in a manner analogous to the OT sacrifices, points to the true atonement that is a finished work. The grace it offers is so much "better" because it is the assurance that all our sins have been covered and that there is no sacrifice that must yet be offered.
What a glorious thing was that "flower" in its day. How blessed were those who found peace for their souls under its wings. But how much greater... how far more glorious... is the New Covenant and its Administration (and its Law) that is in place now. How far more comforting is our peace knowing the extent of God's love for us as was evidenced in the sacrifice of His Own Beloved Son. How much more is our hope seeing that the New Covenant in His Blood will sustain us "until He comes again" and hence guarantees that "He will come" and that we will be preserved until that day.
We are the flashing birds that come to that "Seed" and are nourished time and time again. It may be a stretch, and I won't debate the accusation, but it seems to fit broadly considered.
But if granted, what a lovely thought it is.