The Result of An Imperfect Apprehension of the Cross
In saying that, one is touching a good deal of tragic history. There has been a great deal of teaching of the Cross, preaching of the Cross. It has been faithful, it has been sincere, but for want of seeing this very thing, namely, what the Cross is meant to lead to, the results have been very unsatisfactory. That is to say, vast numbers of those who have come into those elementary benefits (if I may call them so) of the Cross of the Lord Jesus have just remained there, elementary Christians all their lives, and there has been no touching, or very little touching, of the great situation on the earth which is such a terrible denial of God's thought about His people.
You look at the Christian world today, the people of God upon the earth, and what do you feel about the situation? The more you look, the more you know, the more your heart aches and the more you are driven to despair. The conflict between true children of God is the most terrible thing. They are all at variance with one another, they are suspecting one another; suspicion runs rife among the people of God. They even go as far as to pray hard against one another. This is not against the enemies of the Lord as pronouncedly so. One could say much, and not exaggerate, about the situation, for the more you know, I say, the more you feel what a situation of impossibility it is among Christians on the earth. Ought these things to be so, brethren? No, we cannot accept that situation as representing God's thought.
Then something is wrong. There is some explanation. It ought not to be so. Why is it? The answer is here. There has been a misapprehension or an imperfect apprehension of the Cross of the Lord Jesus, for the Cross of the Lord Jesus was intended to meet such a contingency and make it impossible; and yet all those concerned have accepted the Cross, that is, they have embraced those elementary values of the Cross, that Christ died for their sins, that by His precious Blood, by faith in His atoning work there is justification from all sin, acceptance with God, deliverance from judgment. Yes, they have accepted the Cross; but all that is but the beginning, the foundation. It is intended to lead to something very much more than that. The Cross is a means in God's thought to a great end, and none of us as the Lord's people must be satisfied with just the means. We must be supremely concerned with God's object through the means.
The Cross Effects A Clearing of the Way for God's End
As a foundation, as a basis, there are various directions in which the Cross has its meaning. We must recognize these because they represent the clearing of the way for this that God is going to bring in.
It is interesting that there in the case of Ezra and those with him, those who came back from the captivity, that they spontaneously, instinctively turned to the building of the house of the Lord, as though it was the accepted thing, the thing taken for granted. It was the thing that had to be done; they simply gave themselves to it. But in order to prepare the way they put the altar in its place, and you notice what is said about that - "for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the countries." This is setting up that which gives assurance, an assurance that they can go on, that they can be established, that they can accomplish the work, that they can build the house, and although the enemies prevailed for a time, it was never the Lord's thought that the work should cease. That altar had secured a way, had secured the accomplishment of the work. If only they had recognized and stood by all the significance of that altar, they would never have stopped building the house for those years, for you know that eventually when the work was resumed, it was because the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel and Joshua, and further exhorted the people through the prophet in the words, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6); meaning this - You may be weak, a mere remnant back from captivity, there may be enemies, the peoples of the countries round about all against you, but that altar has secured a way for the Holy Spirit, and in all your weakness you can go on. It is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."
That is exactly how it worked out in the New Testament. Here were these few poor people in Jerusalem who had proved themselves so weak and impotent, having failed at every point and broken down in all directions. Now the Cross is an accomplished fact, giving a way for the Holy Spirit, and that handful of weaklings, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, go right on in the building of the house against terrific odds; but the work goes on.
They put the altar in its place and instinctively turned to the building of the house. The altar cleared the way, and the Cross is just that by which a way is made, getting rid of things that hinder the realization of God's purpose.
The God-ward Aspect of the Cross
The Cross first of all has its God-ward aspect or direction; that is, the Cross secures God's rights in righteousness. There is no hope of any Divine purpose being realized, there is no hope for the Church to become an actuality according to God's mind until that has been dealt with; until God's rights in righteousness have been secured. The Lord Jesus, then, came, and coming to John at Jordan to be baptized of him, John would have refused: but Jesus said, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). In the same record later on He will say, "I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). But there is no hope for that until this has been settled; all righteousness, and that in His baptism, type and figure of His Cross, His burial, His resurrection, all righteousness settled. That is to say, God in the first instance has His place, has His rights secured.
(continued with # 3)