They could not hear the voices of the prophets because the prophets were talking about a suffering Messiah, and there was something inside the people which had closed the door; they were predisposed against anything like that, and so they could not hear. Even the disciples of the Lord Jesus were in that position. When He began to refer to His Cross they said, "Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall never be unto Thee" (Matthew 16:22). A suffering Messiah? Oh, no! But they did come to the place where the Cross had its very deep application, where it meant an end of everything for them. The Lord precipitated that whole question, and you see them after His crucifixion - they have lost their Messianic Kingdom, they have lost everything, they are stripped and emptied. And then what happened? They began then to KNOW, just began to KNOW, and their knowledge grew and grew; but it was of another order entirely. So you find, in the rest of the New Testament, that, in their own history and n their instruction of others, two things go together. They are like the negative and the positive in an electrical circuit - there can be no current without both. The negative is the application of the principle of the Cross, which says No, No, No: an end: death to yourself, death to the world, death to all your own natural life. But the positive is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, mightily present, but always hand in hand with the Cross. With those two acting always together, the negative and the positive - the Cross, and heavenly purpose and heavenly power and effectiveness - you find that there is movement and an ever-growing knowledge of the Lord.
We cannot have the knowledge of the Lord - the most important thing in the mind of God for us - except on the ground of the continuous application of the Cross, and that will go right on to the end. Do not imagine that there will come a day when you have done with the the Cross, when the principle of the Cross will no longer be necessary and when you have graduated from the school where the Cross is the instrument of the Lord. Such a day never will be! More and more you will come to recognize the necessity for that Cross. If you are going on into greater fullness of knowledge - I mean spiritual knowledge of the Lord - and therefore great fullness of usefulness to Him, you must take it as settled that that principle of the Cross is going to be applied more and more deeply as you go on.
Oh, God write that in our hearts! for surely we all know the need of the Cross; and those who have known most about it are conscious most of its need still. We have seen the terrible tragedy of people who knew the message of the Cross in fullness, and who after many years have been a positive contradiction to that very message - marked by self-assertiveness, self-importance, impatience, irritability, so that other people have been unable to live with them. Are you one of those habitually irritable people? I do not mean one of those persons who sometimes is overtaken in a fault. The Lord is patient with the upsets that come here and there along the way, but are we habitually irritable, short-tempered, difficult to live with? That is a denial of the Cross, and that has wrecked the life and work of many a missionary.
The Cross will be applied right on to the end, and, altogether apart from our faults and the things in our constitution and nature which have to be dealt with, in this coming to know the Lord for still greater usefulness we go from death to death on that side of things. We think of someone known to us. We marvel at the way the Lord has been able to use them, the large place into which He has put them, what riches He has given them; but of late they have been plunged into depths of death never known before. It is evidently unto something more, something greater still. It is like that; the knowledge of the Lord requires it in an ever-growing way.
Knowledge and Usefulness Safeguarded by the Cross
But furthermore, there is no safe place, apart from the constant application of the principle of the Cross. Safety absolutely demands it. Nothing is safe in our hands. The more the Lord blesses, the more peril there is. The greatest peril comes when the Lord begins to use us. You may say, "That does not say very much for our sanctification." It certainly does not say very much for "eradication"! Well, here is Paul. Did that man know anything about the Cross? Would you say he was a crucified man? If he was not, who was? Did he know the Lord? And with all that he knew of the Cross and the Lord, did he know that he needed the Cross to be applied right on to the end? He will definitely place it on record - "... that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of satan to buffet me." "That I should not be exalted overmuch"! (2 Corinthians 12:7). And mark you, he is saying that because of the great revelation that had been given him. He was caught up into heaven. It is a most perilous thing to be entrusted with Divine riches, so far as our flesh is concerned. The only safe place is where the Cross is still at work, touching all that is ourselves, touching all our independence of action.
Take all these Apostles - take Peter, a man who would act so independently, who like to do hings on his own and do what he wanted to do. We find it cropping up constantly. He is the man who acts without stopping to ask anybody. We have no hint that he ever got into fellowship with his brother disciples and said, 'I am thinking of doing so and so; I would very much like you to pray with me about it and to tell me what you think; I have no intention of going on unless there is one mind among us.' Peter never did that sort of thing. He got an idea, and off he went. The Lord summed him up very well when He said: "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walked whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18). That was Peter before the Cross was inwrought in him. But see him afterwards. Why, in those early chapters of Acts, do we read "Peter and John", "Peter and John". "Peter and John"? Well, they are moving together now, there is relatedness. Is it an acknowledgment that Peter felt his need of cooperation and fellowship, that he had seen the perils and disasters into which independent action led him, even when is intentions and motives were of the best? These are just glimpses of how the Cross touches us in our impulsive, independent nature, our self-will, our self-strength. The Cross has to deal with all that to make things safe for God, and to keep us moving in the way of increasing knowledge of the Lord, which, as we have said, lies behind all our value to the Lord, all our usefulness, all our service.
(continued with # 1 - "The Cross Opens the Way to Full Knowledge of the Lord")