Acts 13:27, 15; 2 Corinthians 3:14-18; Isaiah 53:1
The prophets were read, as Paul points out here, every Sabbath. It was the fixed custom to read the law and the prophets every Sabbath, and it may be pointed out that it was not just at one particular time in the day that this was done, but all through the Sabbath day the law and the prophets were being read in the synagogues. And yet it says that although the very rulers themselves, as well as the dwellers in Jerusalem who attended the temple, heard that reading of the prophets so continuously, they never heard the voices of the prophets. And because they failed to hear that inner something, which was more than just the audible reading of what the prophets had said, they lost everything that was intended for them, as this thirteenth chapter of Acts shows. The Apostles left them and turned to the Gentiles, who had an ear ready to hear.
That is a matter of no small consequence and seriousness. It is evident that it behoves us to seek to hear the voices of the prophets were saying. Let us again look at the statesmen: "...because they knew Him not, nor the voices of the prophets." Why did they not know? Why did they not hear? There is one basic answer to that inquiry which is going to occupy us just now, and which brings us down to foundations, really to the root of things.
The Offence of the Cross
(a) A Suffering Messiah
The answer to that inquiry is this - because they were not willing to accept the Cross. That is what went to the root of the whole matter. Firstly, they were not willing to admit of a suffering Messiah. They had their own minds well made up, both as to what kind of Messiah their Messiah would be, and as to what He would do, and as to the results of His advent; and anything that ran counter to that fixed mentality was not only not accepted - it was an offence. They could not admit into the realm of their suffering Messiah. Yet the prophets were always speaking about the suffering Messiah. Isaiah, at that point in his prophecies which we know as chapter 53, presents the classic on the suffering Messiah, and yet he opens by saying: "Who hath believed our message?"
I think we need not stay to gather further evidence that that was their attitude. Right the way through it was just that. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, was dealing with that very thing. Towards the end of the letter he spoke about the offense of the Cross, and he set that over against the Judaizers, who were dogging his steps everywhere and seeking to prejudice his ministry, and at whose hands he was suffering. He "bore branded on his body the marks of the Lord Jesus' (Galatians 6:17). Why? Because of his message of the Cross. He said, 'If I were willing to drop that, I could escape all this suffering; it is the offense of the Cross which is the cause of all the trouble' (Galatians 5:11). And all the way through we see the Jews' unwillingness to admit of a suffering Messiah.
(b) The Way of Self-Emptying
But then it went further than that. It became not only a national issue but a personal one. They would not accept the principle of the Cross in themselves. You find that representative individuals of the nation, who came to the Lord Jesus from time to time, were presented with the offense of the Cross - and off they went again, not prepared to accept it. Nicodemus was very interested in the kingdom which the Messiah was going to set up, which he was expecting and anticipating, but it became a personal matter of the Cross. Before the Lord was through with Nicodemus, He had brought into his full view the serpent lifted up in the wilderness. That was an offense. Another man, who has become known to us as the rich young ruler, went away very sorrowful because of the offense of the Cross. It was no use for the Lord, at that time, before the Cross had actually taken place, to speak in precise terms about it to other than His disciples, but He applied the principle, which is the same thing. He applied the principle to this young man. 'If, as you say, you are interested in the Kingdom and in eternal life, this is the way: the way of emptying - utter self emptying.' "He went away sorrowful: for he was one that had great possessions" (Matthew 19:22). The Lord said, "How hardly (with that difficulty) shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24). The offense of the Cross finds them out.
Now here, with the Jews as a whole, they were making the kingdom of God an earthly thing on the principles of this world - and do not let us blame them without blaming ourselves! This is our battle right up to date. It is a matter that finds us all out at heart. Oh, you may not be expecting that through your preaching of Christ a temporal kingdom will be set up and you will get a literal crown to wear and a throne to sit upon - that may not be your outlook or mentality; but are we not, almost every day of our lives, in trouble because the Lord hides from us everything that He is doing and starves our souls of their ambition to see things, to have things? Is that not the basis of a great deal of our trouble? We want to see, we want to have, we want the proofs and the evidences. We do really, after all, want a kingdom that can be appraised by our senses of sight, and hearing and feeling - a palpable kingdom, the answer in tangible form to all our efforts and labors; and the opposite of that is a tremendous strain upon faith, and sometimes even brings us to a serious crisis.
Why does not the Lord do this and that, which we think He ought to do? It is simply this soul-craving to have proof and demonstration; and this is why, if there is anything built up in Christian work which is obvious, big, impressive, where there is a great thing being organized and a great movement on foot and all is in the realm of something that can be seen, crowds of Christians flock after it; or if there are manifestations, things that seem to be clear proofs, the crowds will be found there. The enemy can carry away multitudes by imitation works of the Holy Spirit in the realm of demonstrations and proofs. We are so impressionable, we must possess; and that is exactly the same principle as that which governed the rulers. They were not prepared for the principle of the Cross to be applied in this way - an utter self-emptying, being brought to an end of everything but the Lord Himself.
(continued with # 1 - "The Prophets' Theme - Knowing the Lord")