PAUL SAYS in his first letter to the "Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ"; "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). The preaching of the cross is far more extensive than proclaiming that Christ was crucified on the cross on Golgotha Hill almost two thousand years ago. May God reveal unto us and inspire us to grasp a little of the "greatness" of the subject of the cross.
The construction of two pieces of timber so that one crosses another results in a cross. Two lines drawn so that one crosses another is said to be a cross. Figures of the cross both in nature and craftsmanship are too numerous for you to count, even from where you are now sitting. One principle contradicting another principle creates a cross. Trials and tribulations are crosses because they are the result of conflicting principles. When life comes into contact with death there is suffering which manifests a cross.
Proclaiming the contrasting characteristics of Christ would be preaching the cross of Christ. The subject of the cross of Christ would necessarily embrace all His life from the time He was born as Son of man until the time He was resurrected from the tomb. Paul was inspired to write in Ephesians 2:15,16, "For to make in himself twain one new man, so making peace: and that he might reconcile both unto God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." It was befitting that the final climax of Christ's sufferings be on a cross. He took up His cross when He was made lower than the angels. When the Son of God took upon Himself the character of the Son of Man the cross was made manifest. The new man was the cross-breeding of God and man. We must proclaim the dual characteristics of Christ to preach the cross. When we preach Him as God-man, Divine-human, King-priest, Master-servant, abased-exalted, and crucified-resurrected, we preach the cross. When we declare Him to be possessed of both strength and weakness; flesh and Spirit; us and Him, and, the Creator and creature we are preaching the cross.
He being both divine and human, He was possessed with the cross of wills. The human will prayed, "If it be possible let this cup pass"; yet the divine will said, "Not my will but Thine be done." Jehovah was the Father of Jesus and Mary was His mother. As the Son of God, He lives eternally; as the Son of man He had a timely existence which began to be made manifest when He was born of the virgin, Mary, and ended when He died on the cross. Did the body of Jesus come to an end when it was placed in the tomb? No! No! No!
There was a dissolution of His body and Spirit on the day of crucifixion. His Spirit was commended unto His Father; the body was laid in the tomb. This same Spirit raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. He became the "firstfruits." His body was the first human body to be clothed with immorality. The Man, Christ Jesus, was raised from the dead! This was accomplished in His resurrection. He being a cross of Himself and us, we being in Him, He being raised from the dead, gives us the basis of our hope of the resurrection of our bodies by the same Spirit. (See Romans 8:11).
Jesus Christ was King-priest. He was ruler over His own body. He was the first and only one born of woman who was able to keep His body under subjection to such extent that He did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. His composition being such, His body was an acceptable sacrifice and gift to the Father for His people. We find in Hebrews 5:1 that the duties of a high priest were to "offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins."
This High Priest forever perfected His people in the sight of God by offering His own blood as a sacrifice and His body, the life He lived here, as the acceptable gift unto His Father. He is our King-priest. He is the sole head and governor of the church, those who are called out by Him.. His divine generation, His royal descent, His perfect nature, His wonderful offering, all this well qualifies as the perfect King and Priest to illuminate His people of grace and peace. He blesses them with that consoling people to walk in paths of righteousness. He leads them and holds them steady with His hand. When they falter and fall by the wayside, His eye is ever on them and His encourages them with the wonders of His power and grace. He purifies their souls with the washing of regeneration for them to the Father within the Holiest of Holies. Priests before Him to offer sacrifices daily, He offered Himself once. They offered for their own sins as well as the sins of the people; He being without sin, could offer Himself for the sins of His people only. He entered once into the Holy Place and obtained eternal redemption for us by His own blood which could take away sin; they could only enter into the shadow of the Holy Place in the worldly sanctuary by blood of goats and calves which could not take away sin. The maneuvers of the high priests of the Levitical Priesthood were only shadows and types; His was the real and true.
We must preach Him as being both Master and servant if we preach the cross. As master His demands were that the law be kept to a jot and tittle; as servant, He perfectly fulfilled the law. As master, He demanded that the sinner be punished, as servant, He took upon Himself this punishment in behalf of His people. As master, He instructs His people; as servant, He comes into their hearts and enables them to carry out His instructions. He orders them to perform and performs for them that which He orders.
He is great and small. He is so great that all His people are in Him. He is small enough to dwell in the heart of one of His little ones. He is strong enough to have power over all flesh, yet weak enough that He said while upon earth, "The Son of Himself can do nothing." "The Father worketh hitherto, and I work." He was rich and poor. He was so rich that He owns all things; so poor that He said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20). He experienced all the crosses of opposing characteristics and experiences. We must preach this in order to preach the cross.
Dear ones, is it not a comfort to you to realize that your Savior knows how to sympathize with your cross? You have never felt grief more than He. Your temptations have never been greater than His temptations. You have never experienced being forsaken to a greater extent than He experienced. Is He not a wonderful sympathizing Savior? We must preach this in order to preach the cross.
Preaching the cross includes not only the Cross of Jesus Christ but also the cross of His people. We read in Matt. 16:24, "Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. The cross of two opposing characteristics consisting of the flesh and the Spirit must have been the cross under consideration. Each child of God "takes up his cross" when he is born of the Spirit. He is not familiar with the cross before this time because all he knows is his carnal natural desires, thus he is in fellowship with this miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit takes up its abode in the soul of an individual he begins to experience the cross the world knows nothing about. A child of God soon learns, "That which is born of Spirit" (John 3:6). We learn by sad experience that we cannot spiritualize the flesh nor "fleshilize" the Spirit. (Pardon the newly coined word, but this is the only way I know to make it plain.) There is no blending the two together in this world, thus, the cross. The flesh shall be spiritualized in the resurrection. The soul is spiritualized nor renovate the flesh so that it can agree with the spiritual, neither can we bring the Spirit, down so that it can agree with the flesh. Paul said in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: [the cross] so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Those born of the Spirit are possessed with dual contrary characteristics and experiences. No wonder we are strangers to ourselves!
The Spirit is spiritual and the flesh is natural. The flesh is carnal and the Spirit is holy. The Spirit is immortal and the flesh is mortal. The Spirit is righteous and the flesh sinful. The Spirit is living and the flesh is dying. The regenerated mind serves the law of God but the flesh serves the law of sin. We experience the cross of life and death, joys and sorrows, good and evil, abased and exalted, humility and pride, forsaken and owned, and many, many other conflicts too numerous to mention.
Hart was inspired to write many hymns in harmony with the strange conflicting crosses of a child of God. He wrote:
"How strange is the course that a Christian must steer,
How perplexed is the path he must tread!
The hope of his happiness rises from fear,
And his life he receives from the dead.
His fairest pretensions must wholly be waived,
And his best resolutions be crossed;
Nor can he expect to be perfectly saved,
'Til he fins himself utterly lost.
When all this is done, and his heart is assured
Of the total remission of sins,
When his pardon is signed and his peace is procured,
From that moment his conflict begins."
(Beebe's Collection, 1037)
How strange that one must lose his own life to find it! He must feel himself to be lost before he can be saved. He must die in order to live. He must fear before he hopes. The righteous views himself as sinful and the greatest is made to feel "less than the least." The way up is down.
The text says, "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness." It has a reverse effect upon those who perish. Those who are not born of God cannot receive the things of the Spirit. Preaching the cross "cuts them to the heart" while it "pricks us in the heart." It antagonizes them and comforts us. It drives them away while it draws us. It edifies us and confuses them. It is to us, "the power of God"; to them, "foolishness."
It is foolishness to them because they feel capable of performing righteousness, atoning for their little mistakes, reforming and renovating themselves, dedicating their lives to God, and making heaven their home; so, why the cross? Why was it necessary for Christ to perform righteousness and it be imputed to them? Why was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross considering they are able to take of themselves?
Why is it necessary for the Spirit of God to directly work in their hearts when they feel capable of performing the work required with the spirit they naturally possess? Why is the Spirit of God a cross to the spirit of the carnal or natural mind when the natural mind itself seems to them to be sufficient to choose God and work righteousness? Why are they not in strict agreement?
The aforestated questions above I know to be in harmony with the thoughts of the unregenerated mind. Preaching the cross was to me foolishness for years after I was ordained by man to preach! I religiously preached the power of man and the wisdom of man and to make heaven his home! I have no stones to throw at them because I was as conscientious and honest in my convictions as anyone could be. I had not experienced the cross; therefore, I could not preach it. I know that something occurred to me one night as I closed a discourse on the subject, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." This mighty something that took hold of me crossed everything I had ever known and brought to nought all I had thought myself to be. I trust this was the Holy Spirit that manifested my righteousness as filthy rags in His sight. I trust that I was given the Holy Ghost conscience which was a cross to my natural conscience. My life since that time has been full of conflicts and crosses. I have been convinced that it is through hell we enter heaven, and by the cross we obtain the crown.
"But unto us, which are saved, it is the power of God. " God's power caused us to look to the cross of Christ for remission of sins. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin. It is through the power of God that our sins are remitted because it required the blood of His own Son shed on the cross to justify the remission of our sins. It is through the power of God that we are given His Spirit which is so contradictory to our natural carnal spirit that it is neither desired nor can be obtained by our power. The things we naturally consider wisdom the cross manifests as foolishness. What a cross between the natural and the spiritual mind! What a rugged cross experienced by those upon whom the power of God hath wrought a work!
Sometime ago at a funeral the choir sang, "The Old Rugged Cross." As they sang the words, "I'll exchange it some day for a crown," my mind was deeply impressed upon that grand exchange. A crown of immortality awaits the enlivened sinner. A crown of glory is laid up for those who feel so low and insignificant. A crown of eternal life will swallow up those who die in the Lord. The incorruptible crown shall clothe the corruptible body. We experience the cross here, but beyond this sphere of time we shall realize the crown.
It was said of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." We are to follow Him. Because of His accomplishments, that joy is set before us. We press towards the mark of the prize of the high calling when we shall be called upon high to sit with Him. Should we not be emboldened to endure the cross and be encouraged to run the race that is set before us seeing that such a crown is our reward and prize at the end of the race. May God give you strength and courage to endure the cross with patience and persevere in the race with faith. May He fight as a good soldier the foes that dwell within. May you be supplied with all your need so that at the end of the way you may say with Paul, "For I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of the my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: not to me only, but unto them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 6:6-8). May God bless these thoughts to your comfort and edification.
Elder E.J. Lambert
"Tried in the Furnace" Pgs 223 - 231