The Cross Today
T. Stephen, Peterhead, Scotland
1. Standing by the Cross.—(John 12. 26 ; 19. 25, 26).
These Scriptures would indicate to us that to follow Christ and to identify ourselves with His Cross and all that it means, we need to be moved in our spiritual affections for Him. The little company of women and the disciple whom Jesus loved, formed an illustrious group that day as they stood by the Cross : when others had fled, the devoted affections of these disciples held them fast by His Cross. The supreme hour had come and with it rejection, reproach, and shame. How precious that company must have been in the sight of God as they stood by the Cross of their Lord, with their love for Him rising above all the hatred and scorn of men I
Beloved reader, do you subscribe to His Cross only in its historical sense, or has it entered into your life as a spiritual power ? Is your heart so filled with love for Him who hung there, that you are presently prepared to ' Stand by His Cross' and all that that means to you in its moral implications, and to apply to your life the doctrines of the epistles built upon the Cross ? May our hearts be kept tender so that the Holy Spirit can impress them by the wondrous love of Him who filled that Cross for us.
2. On the Cross with Christ.—(Rom. 6. 1-10).
Here, we have the ordinance of baptism associated with the Cross. Whilst it is the will of God for every believer to be baptized, acknowledging the authority of His Holy Word, it is more blessed if its real meaning has entered into our experience. Romans undoubtedly gives us that experimental aspect of this truth. What does it mean ? The cross, or crucifixion, was the form of capital punishment adopted by the judiciary of Imperial Rome : to be crucified was to be doomed to die, there being no hope for such a person, for their life was going to be ended. And God has incorporated this system of judgment into the understanding of spiritual truth. He has sentenced our ' old man ' (i.e. our evil sinful nature or the evil principle that operates in our ruined nature—' the flesh ') to death in its capital sense. Therefore, in the Cross we must learn that God has no intention of reforming or repairing our old nature, but that He has condemned it absolutely as something that is unfit to live. In the Cross we learn that God has brought our sinful nature to a moral terminus. Its practical issues are resolved in this that, if I allow sin to operate in my life, I allow something to act that the Lord died to put away. What a serious reflection on our baptism if this is the case ! May we ever live in the light of our baptism and, in doing so, we'll never go wrong. Burial is what follows death, its first mention in Scripture being when Abraham bought the sepulchre from the sons of Ephron to bury his dead ' out of his sight.' This is where God would have the ' old man,' dead and buried out of sight. In rising out of the waters of baptism we are brought into the light of resurrection and under moral obligation to live unto God and to walk in newness of life. God delights in living things and in this way we can minister pleasure to Him in our lives : we live unto God.
3. The Death of the Cross.—(Phil. 2. 1-8).
This aspect of the Cross has nothing to do with sin— something which is never mentioned in this epistle. This should not startle the believer, but should make him endeavour to know and learn the will of God in this particular presentation of His Cross. The Cross in the Phil, epistle is to teach the believer how to behave in the local assembly, especially in regard to its service and how that should be carried on. Thus, the injunction that nothing should be done through strife or vainglory would indicate, that in this otherwise good and happy assembly there was an element which caused some disturbance in the service of God. In fact, at the time of writing it amounted to something of the nature of a crisis. Because of the appeal in ch. 4. 2, to these two sisters, Euodias and Syntychc, it can be safely assumed that they had made a definite contribution to the lack of peace in the assembly and were exposing its very existence to vital danger. It was this that caused the apostle to write these words contained in the second chapter, and never have words like them come from an inspired writer's pen. They stand unequalled, unique, profound as they describe the humiliation of Christ from His Godhead glory right to the death of the Cross. Paul prefaced these words by this request, " Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." The mind of Christ was to come down, as can be seen from our passage. Beloved, if pride of place in the assembly has been allowed to grip our hearts, we need to learn the meaning of His Cross afresh. And how can this be done ? Most of us have, in our assembly experience, been faced with situations whose solutions have meant the renunciation of our personal rights (not of divine principle), our complete humiliation being involved and not a shred of dignity left in us. How can we descend to such a level ? Remember, however far we come down in this way, beloved child of God, we shall always find One who has come down farther. He in His obedience and service came down to the death of the Cross. Can pride really exist in our hearts ; can strife and vainglory influence ; can murmurings and disputings mark us in our assembly life as we learn the meaning of His Cross ? How far is it true of us when we sing those well-known, yet profound words,
" When I survey the wondrous Cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride "i
What a test the Cross is to us as to our spiritual development ! The Cross then in the Phil, aspect is to teach us the mind of Christ. And having learned this lesson, we arrive at the apostle's exhortation to work out our own salvation (i.e. the salvation of the assembly in its local testimony) with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
4. Enmity Slain by the Cross.—(Eph. 2. 15, 16).
The context of the passage helps us to understand yet another aspect of the Cross. The mystery, hid from all ages, has now been revealed to us by the apostle, i.e. the Jew and Gentile have now been brought together in one body. That which formerly separated them was the enmity caused by the law, and this has now been abolished. The law gave the Jew his standing above the other nations, and he was such an elevated person with respect to the old Covenant that other nations and people are called Gentile dogs ! This law made him a proud aristocrat amongst other peoples but, in the light of the new revelation, national distinctions were levelled at the Cross : the privileged Jew, as well as the alienated Gentile, required to be reconciled to God. The dividing wall—pride of place, race, and privilege—was broken down completely at the Cross.
The truth thus given us, would teach us that in the church, the new creation, there is no place for national distinction but one body, making of the twain one new man. Whilst the politicians of this world find the problem of racial discrimination insoluble, let us who, in this present dispensation have been called by His grace, rejoice in that we form part of that glorious body, that heavenly corporation where nothing exists which distinguishes men from men. And should this fundamental principle, which has its universal bearing in Ephesians, be lost to us locally ? No ! For everything that would separate believers from each other—the distinctions which men love to make and which obtain in this world, racial, social, etc.- has been removed by the Cross. Oh, may our hearts respond in a practical way so that we may endeavour to give the necessary expression of our love to those of other nations in the body of Christ and in our local churches. Let us refuse to recognize the distance that men create between men, embracing all in our love and affection as being in the body of Christ, ' the Cross having slain the enmity thereby.'
5. The Offence of the Cross.—(Gal. 5. 11 ; 6. 12).
The epistle to the Galatians is not in its primary sense direct revelation, but is rather one of recovery, written to recapture the. ground lost by the Galatian error. For they had gone back on the basic doctrines of the faith. They were guilty of submitting to the Judaizers who taught them that it was necessary to keep the law for their justification. The exacting nature of the law had destroyed their Christian character. Chapter 2. 16 teaches us that works of the law will never justify the believer; ch. 4. 19, that legality will take every mark of Christ out of our characters ; ch. 5. 15, that it will destroy our relationships with our brethren, until nothing is left. Let us beware of all these dangers! In chs. 5. 11 ; 6. 12, we are directly referred to the rite of circumcision and the Cross as that which is radically opposed to such a practice. This is probably referred to by the apostle as that which represented or betokened the whole system of rites and ceremonies. It left its mark in men's flesh, and provided something in which they could glory. In ch. 1. 4, the Lord gave Himself to deliver us from this present evil world, and in ch. 6. 14 the apostle speaks of himself as being crucified unto the world. Now to give these passages their contextual value, ' the world ' must of necessity incorporate into its meaning that part which the obsolete Judaistic system gave to it, and, although other features are certainly there, this is its primary connection in ch. 6.
Has it not its counterpart in the often worldly-religious systems existing in Christendom today ? Many believers are there and we love them for Christ's sake, but we often have to repudiate the unholy systems with which they are associated. May the offence of the Cross never cease in this sense with us! And, if we feel that our present association with the people of God, gathered to His Name, be characterized by outward insignificance, may we find our compensation in this, saying with the apostle, " God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
6. The Preaching of the Cross.—(1 Cor. 1. 18).
The Cross to the unbelieving Jew, was a stumbling block ; to the educated Greek, foolishness. Seeing it is the preaching of the Cross, would it not have a strong bearing on our evangelical service, in our gospel-meetings, both inside and out ? To preach the Cross is to make nothing at all of man, whether he be religious or educated, its preaching coming as a fresh challenge to all. To preach the Cross with such effect needs much of God's presence and power. The Cross will be forever isolated in all its solitary grandeur from the cheap accompaniments that are found in modern methods of preaching. No one in the will of God can glamorize the Cross or make it appeal to natural man, for it reduces him to the very dust. Although the preaching may be regarded as foolishness, and the preacher very often a fool, to the saved it is the power of God. Thus, God in His infallible Word has linked the Cross and salvation together. May the message of the Cross lie at the heart of all our spiritual exercises in evangelical labours. Whilst it exposes man and all that he is in the sight of God, it also accomplishes salvation to those who believe.
" So while the Cross my sin displays,
In all its blackest hue,
Oh wondrous mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too."