I want to read to you from Matthew the twenty-seventh chapter, the description of the final moments of the life of the Lord, beginning with the thirty-fifth verse: “And they crucified Him,” just to show you how contrary the world is from the Kingdom of God. If the world ever had so noble and mighty a theme as is expressed in these four words, they would have had sufficient inspiration for an extravaganza that cannot be imagined. But God… contrary to every human reckoning, expresses the same mighty and epochal theme in four simple words: “And they crucified Him.” There is not much that is given to description or to drama or to milking the event sentimentally or emotionally.
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; and set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. (Matt. 27:35-54).
My subject tonight is the Crucifixion of Jesus. More accurately: the Cross of the Crucified Christ, maybe I’m quick to add, ‘of the Crucified Christ,’ lest you think I am referring to the thing that is stuck on the dashboards of cars with suction cups, or hangs around idol necks, or decorates church architecture or many homes. I am not speaking of that cross; I am speaking of the Cross of the Crucified Christ.
Paul said, ‘I am determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.’ I think that that was a wise determination and it probably cost him much, being Jewish, because there is something about Jewish intellect that just likes to know for its own sake, many things. It probably took a supreme act of will and discipline, determination, not to know the things that were extraneous, though interesting. How many are hearing me now whose minds are either a battlefield or a playground for all kinds of things. And I will tell you that if you have graduated from Playboy and Sports Illustrated and other kinds of worldly things that our minds love to fasten upon, they will, if you’ll give them no other alternative, even fasten upon things spiritual and religious; so long as they can be occupied.
If we knew the importance of Christ and Him crucified, we would clear the deck and not allow our minds to be a mishmash of all kinds of things until God has Himself established an understanding that is utterly fundamental to our faith and to our walk. ‘Christ and Him Crucified’. I think that it is the answer to the kinds of vagaries and self-imaginings to which we are prone. I am becoming conscious that, far from God making us in His image, we are most of us guilty of making Him in our image.
There is a kind of fancy and fantasy and projection that takes place in the minds of many saints, and though we use the name ‘Jesus,’ probably every one of us has another variation on the same theme. Without exception if our ‘Jesus’ is one other than that which was crucified, it is a self-serving Jesus which we have projected out of the fancies of our own mind – its inspiration is taken by any of the number of present portraits which are available in this generation as posters, every one of them impressive and heads and shoulders above the hokey and corny kinds of depictions of Jesus that might have been painted a generation ago. These Jesuses are manful and attractive and beguiling, but I will tell you that however great the artistry and however great the imagination, they fall short of the Jesus, crucified.
We need desperately and urgently to know Him, exactly as He is – radically and utterly. And I have a suspicion that He is nowhere presented as the reflection and the image of God more accurately than in His suffering and death.
You are going to have to think about what I am saying tonight. And this is not going to be a ‘rah-rah-rah’ night. This is thoughtful, and deliberate, and important. I want to say that before I go further, it is my opinion that there has been no theme more grossly neglected in modern Christendom than the Cross of Christ Jesus. I think that we have suffered enormously for the avoidance of the subject, because the Cross itself is ruthless and absolute. It is, if you can understand it, a plumb line from God. It is an unswerving standard by which everything should be conformed and measured. And if it is absent, if it has been neglected, if some other hokey substitute has been put in its place, though we allude to it as ‘the Cross,’ if it be not the Cross of the crucified Christ, everything is going to be out of variance and out of whack, which I believe is the case and the condition of modern Christianity tonight.
Is not the root of all of our ills, our strifes, our divisions, our fears, our jealousies, our ambitions, the kinds of things that lead to the rupture and the fragmentation of the Body of Christ, in the last analysis the failure to radically apprehend God as He is? A lot of us would be shocked if we could see our hearts and know ourselves and realize that when our voices are ecstatic and when our emotions are titillated and we are mentioning the name of Jesus, to what degree are we celebrating the crucified and risen Christ, and to what degree are we just singing a song to a kind of a blurred image of our own making that serves our own vested self-interest.
I get the impression many times, hearing what we call “worship”, that the Jesus that is being celebrated is some kind of a buddy-buddy. One of the guys. One with whom we have an unspoken understanding – He knows us and we know Him and everything is just dandy. He is the one who provides health instead of sickness, prosperity instead of poverty, and will see to every material need that assures our well-being. If there is any false image which will redound to things false in our own life, it can only be corrected by knowing God as He is, where He has presented Himself unsparingly and accurately and which I believe is done nowhere else better than in the suffering and death of Jesus.
Can you picture that dumb centurion and those that were with him at the base of the Cross that day? The densest of men; a professional soldier and a hack whose work it is to hang men on crosses. Sick, insensitive, soulish, carnal. A Roman. He has seen Caesars deified as gods. He has celebrated all the wrong values. So why should he have even so much as a modicum of respect for the pathetic Jew who is hanging on the Cross? And what a shambles that Jesus was. Maybe we need even to have our image of the crucifixion corrected which has become sentimentalized through the generations. Just today we picked up out of a Bible dictionary this description:
“The cross was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death. Among the Romans, the degradation was also a part of the infliction, and the punishment, if applied to freemen, was only used in the case of the vilest criminals. The one to be crucified was stripped naked of all his clothes, and then followed the most awful moment of all. He was laid upon the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the crossbeams, and at the center of the open palms the point of a huge iron nail was placed which by the blow of a mallet was driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately or possibly together, as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore its way through the quivering flesh.
“Whether the sufferer was also bound to the cross we do not know, but to prevent the hands and feet being torn away by the weight of the body which could not rest upon anything but four great wounds, there was about the center of the cross a wooden projection strong enough to support at least in part a human body which soon became a weight of agony. Then the accursed tree with its living human burden was slowly heaved up and the end fixed firmly in a hole in the ground. The feet were but a little raised above the earth. The victim was in full reach of every hand that might choose to strike.
“A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly: dizziness, cramps, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds – all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness.
“The unnatural position made every movement painful. The lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish. The wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened. The arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood. And while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed.”
We had the occasion just a few days ago to visit a Catholic shrine – probably the most humanly impressive grounds that I have ever visited. The grounds were absolutely manicured, and it had the most resplendent fountains and amphitheater and supreme architecture and the stations of the cross were enclosed in glass and you need not even get out of your car; there was a road and you could ride from station to station.
But I’ll tell you that it didn’t do a thing for me spiritually. If it did anything, it knotted something in my gut, because the figures depicted in the stations of the Cross were so saccharine, so sugary, so antiseptic, so bloodless, so clean, so smooth. It was sentimental rather than horrible, for which reason I would prefer no depictions, rather than the clumsy or the sentimental attempts of men which, in the end, result in having our knowledge of God distorted.
This Roman centurion who didn’t have a spiritual iota to his makeup, “…seeing these things and those that were with him cried out, Truly, this is the Son of God!” How many countless thousands of religionists are there occupying pews on Sunday who have yet to come to that cry and to that revelation? Singing hymns, quoting Scripture, reading catechisms, but have not had the revelation of Who and what that hacked piece of flesh on the Cross was.
There is something about suffering that reveals truth. Excuse me for speaking the nasty word; I know we are not supposed to. I think that the word “suffering” is as much neglected as the word “Cross,” and exactly for the same reasons. We live in a generation and a civilization that has no tolerance for pain. We think that ‘suffering’ is a sick subject, and anyone who introduces it must himself be, if not masochistic, a little psychologically bent. And yet, despite that, I have a strange sense that there is something about the nature of suffering that is what the Cross is all about – and that, unlike anything else, has the capacity to reveal truth in its starkest, deepest meaning. ‘Truly, this was the Son of God.’
The many “Jesus”es of today are soppy, sentimental and self-serving, and a complete contradiction to the Christ Who suffered and died. And if God is to correct our image of Him – which means also the correction of our image of ourselves – it is my conviction tonight that the only place where it can be done is at the Cross of Christ Jesus. Have you been there?
Here is Truth suffering ultimately, and therefore the profoundest capacity to reveal Truth and set free. ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ The real and pathetic condition of the lives of many Christians, and the woeful condition of the church, the enormous fascination of the world and its powerful influence on God’s people all testify to the fact that we have tragically avoided the Cross of Jesus.
If I make extreme statements tonight, I think that they are absolutely true, though there may be an occasional exception. Paul said he gloried ‘only in the Cross of Christ Jesus, by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.’ The single greatest factor that explains this fascination with the world and that it has compromised us all, that we reflect its fashions and its style, that its promotional spirit has come into our Christendom, that we have adopted its hairstyles and its trends, that it has all made a groovy accommodation with that which is called ‘Christianity’ even to the employment of its rock music and its amplifiers – and I can go on down the list – it is all to be laid to one single factor: the absence of the Cross in the experience of the lives of God’s people.
Only the Cross can effectually crucify the world from us and we from it. The world is too much with us, because the Cross has been neglected in our understanding and in our experience. Nothing less than the Cross can separate us from a world that is powerfully seductive, at enmity with God, and lying in the Wicked One. How many of you believe me even as I say these things? I don’t mean ‘acknowledge’; I mean ‘believe’ – to the point where your heart winces, where if you touch any aspect of the world a shudder runs up your spine; that the world is as abominable to you as it is to God. And I am not just speaking about its ugliest vices; I am speaking also about those things that are equally of the world which are applauded as virtue and as good.
You know the Scripture in Luke that says, ‘That which is esteemed of men is abomination in God’s sight’? Do you treat the world as if it is under the judgment of God? Do you see it in all of its aspects, including its culture, the things that are imposing and elegant and honorific, as also having its origin in Hell and being ruled over by the Prince of Darkness? Is your distaste for the world such that you can’t wait to get out of it and you are really here against your own will, waiting for God to call you to Himself? Do you see yourself as a pilgrim and a stranger and confess that you are such, ‘looking for a city not made with hands’? The answer to every question is ‘Frankly, no.’
I know that I have not yet recovered from a recent overseas trip which continues now traveling through the States in the homes not only of Christians, but ministers, to learn that the basis by which their important decisions are made is not the Gospel but the values of the world. You parents that are sitting in this auditorium tonight – on what basis have you determined that your kids, when they graduate high school, shall go on to college or university? What is the basis by which you decided to enter the business or the vocation that you are in? Have any of the real decisions of your life – though you may speak generally about ‘the Lord’s will’ – how much more true is it that the decision is predicated on the values of the world that have to do with comfort, convenience, security and the like?
Now, more than any previous time, because the world is increasing in the power of its seduction, the issue of God is the issue of Jesus. And the issue of Jesus is the issue of Him crucified and risen again. The Cross is the test of everything that deserves to be called ‘Christian.’ Why are so many Christians fixated at the salvational level and have not progressed beyond ‘first principles’? Why is it that the Cross is only acknowledged as the place where the Blood was shed that relieves us from the weight and the guilt of sin? We hardly ever hear any allusion to the Cross beyond that which pertains to salvation and for which reason we have fallen short of the glory of God.
There is another dimension to the Cross that enters the realm of glory called resurrection for those who have received the Cross as death. Why the painful disparity between our verbal professions and what is the actual condition of our lives? Why our powerlessness to affect the world? I think every one of us ought to be humiliated or humbled every time we pick up the Book of Acts and read the glory that attended the life of that first church.
By contrast, the most successful kind of Christianity that we know, the most charismatic, the most to be lauded and applauded, is utterly anemic and does not bear comparison. How is it that these rude men, fishermen and louts who had no advantage of the kind that we have enjoyed, were able to turn cities upside down and shake the earth? Why is it we have not had a corresponding effect in our own generation?
The answer, in my opinion, is that in missing the Cross we have missed the power of the resurrection. We have sidestepped the Cross as a subject, let alone as experience, because we have no tolerance or sympathy for suffering. Our ears have been stuffed full; our eyes enjoy a continual orgy of sense-experience. It is painful to deny ourselves anything that bears upon our body. That even if somebody walks into this auditorium, as happened tonight, heads automatically turned to see; you have got to see; you have got to hear; the silence has got to be filled; your mind has got to be occupied; your fingers have got to be occupied.
The denial of self in any form is suffering. And we have not been encouraged to that. We are unable and unwilling to face the issue of pain. We have overindulged and spoiled our youth, compromised truth in our marriages, suffered casualties and losses among our ministers, and given ground to the spirit of independence and rebellion in the churches; all because we cannot stand pain. We parents who indulge our kids rather than chasten them, are we being loving or self-indulgent? We pastors who condescend to placate men rather than speak the truth to them in love, why are we so sparing? We saints who see the defects and the things that need to be corrected in each other, why are we silent?
Where are the Pauls of our generation who will confront the Peters who have compromised the Gospel by being one thing with one group and another thing with another? Paul said he would not entertain that situation to go on beyond the moment for the purity of the Gospel’s sake, and publicly confronted Peter who was a pillar of the church. I call that love. But you know that that kind of love as an act is painful, and it is humiliating. It is easy to be misunderstood; for which reason we prefer to keep quiet; for which reason the world is running amok with us, and for which reason we move into increasing carnality, not being corrected by one another.
The avoidance of pain is a costly avoidance, and the symbol of the Cross at the heart of the faith is an invitation to share in His sufferings.
In a word, our Christianity is degenerating into a middle-class culture, a sanctifying cover-up for the status quo, a vacuous praise club, an equating of ‘gain as godliness’, a comfortable religiosity that leaves our real interests unchallenged and undisturbed in the avoidance of the Cross of Christ Jesus. How many professing Christians live effectually as atheists, having no substantial difference in their lives from those in the world anywhere about them? Somehow am I naive to think that we ought to look different, think differently, act differently; that there ought to be such a savor and fragrance about us of Christ that it’s a savor of death unto death to some and life unto life to others?
The fact that the world can so easily tolerate us, the fact of the almost complete absence of reproach (let alone of persecution) is itself a shameful testimony that we are so like the world that we cannot be distinguished from it, and that despite the things that we verbally profess, our lives are lived hardly any differently from those that are effectual atheists. We ought rather to be citizens of another Kingdom, citizens of Heaven, but there is just simply no way to get there except through the Cross.
We have lost even difference, the sense of the difference, between that which is sacred and that which is profane. And we whom God called to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people that we should show forth the praises of Him who has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, have simply failed to do it. And I’m fond now of quoting a theologian who rightly prophesied some years ago that if God’s people will not be radically sacred the world will become radically profane.
I believe that God could lay at the door of the church the full responsibility for the present condition of the world. And the things over which we cluck our tongues and point our fingers and look disdainfully down our noses about, are the things which can be attributed to us, for we have not established in the earth a standard and an alternative to which a dying world might have turned. They simply did not know that there’s such a thing as that which is holy and that which is sacred. For we ourselves are wallowing in the things that are earthly, common, unclean and profane. The only alternative to that which is earthly, carnal, sensual and devilish is that which is heavenly. And there is no way to attain to that which is heavenly independent of the Cross of Christ Jesus.
In the religious unreality that pervades our church services, we are unconsciously yielding more and more to a spirit of manipulation to produce some semblance of life against the deadness and grayness of unresolved conflict, unconfessed sin, nurtured resentment and inability to forgive, which are the evidence of the Cross neglected. What are you going to do with a carnal congregation who brings in their dead weight and their grayness?
You’re compelled, if you’re going to have anything that is called quote: “a successful service” unquote, to condescend to manipulations. Manipulation is the antithesis of faith. It is a scandal and a shame that many of our services, particularly in the Pentecostal realm, look more like high school football rallies – an attempt to pump up flesh in the guise of spirit – because of the avoidance of the Cross. People simply insist on clinging to their resentments, their bitterness, their unconfessed sins. And because we have cowards in the pulpit, and because we don’t want to be shaken or disturbed, we put a thin gloss over that whole mess and try and pump up some measure of successful religion that will bring a flush to our cheeks and give us a Sunday hour.
Have you not read the final verse of the second chapter of the book of Ephesians? ‘To God be glory in the church’. It is an unspeakable scandal that of all of the institutions to be found on the earth in this hour the church is the deadest. Our religion becomes increasingly a performance, monotonous and predictable, rather than a lively and Life-giving communion of the saints. There is nothing you can predict with greater regularity than what is going to happen in church on Sunday.
Waiting on God in silence that would reveal our spiritual bankruptcy is drowned out by our amplifiers and ceaseless activity, lest we acknowledge our condition. There is a reason why we are uncomfortable with silence. There is a tacit and unspoken agreement between clergy and congregation by which ‘the show goes on’ for the preservation of a safe status quo while carnality and sin abound unchecked and unaddressed in the lives both of the congregants and the ministers. In the name of being defenders of the faith, stodgy and fearful men are to be found actually opposing it, not having the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. Thus those who consider themselves the most vigilant guardians of the faith do violence to the faith and smother it.
In Evangelical churches therefore, one is likely to find (I am quoting now another writer) ‘Biblicism without liberating preaching.’ Correct texts and doctrinally sound sermons, that simply do not liberate or convict. In the Pentecostal churches, nostalgia for the days of former glory, sentimental and teary, in a salty marsh long since separated from the River of Life that has left it behind, proclaiming Holy Ghost distinctives long-ago abandoned in actual experience.
It has been my unhappy experience, again and again, to note that no church is more ‘doubly dead’ than that which has once known the Holy Spirit. The condition of Pentecostal churches in the world is unbelievable. In the Charismatic realm, sing-song superficiality, the hardening of the spontaneity of the Spirit into a fixed liturgy of choruses, pregnant pauses, pontifical prophecies that are mere truisms and which are ignored as quickly as they are spoken.
Haven’t you noticed that? You can almost count on it now: the regularity of the number of songs that we will sing, and then by some kind of unspoken agreement a certain momentary silence that will allow someone to come forth with a tongue, an interpretation or a prophecy of the most general kind that you would hardly think God would bother to speak (and which likely He is not) and which is accepted for the nothing that it is because we go right on with business as usual, not at all touched. It has become performance.
Dear children, there is a God who is very grieved. If that utterance is holy utterance, we ought so to be mindful of it and to respond appropriately, but our disregard of it and our nonchalance itself is the proof of what our real attitude about such kinds of “Holy Spirit” quote and unquote, activity is.
Altogether there is an inexorable tendency to brainwash and conform men till we are all persuaded that we are seeing The Emperor’s New Clothes while he is yet pathetically naked. Do you know this story? Of how two shifty tailors came to town, a couple of hucksters who told the king that they had certain golden thread and they would weave him a gorgeous wardrobe, unlike anything that any king had ever worn. And so when the poor man came to be fitted he saw nothing, but he heard the ecstatic ooh’s and aah’s of these tailors and their henchmen and thought, “Well maybe there is something wrong with me. I guess it is beautiful, but I do not see it.” How many times have you sat leaden in a congregation and thought, ‘I guess there is something wrong with me’ when the truth of the matter is there was something right with you, which you should not have squelched and swallowed down. If you did it, it was to the detriment of your spirit and made your discernment dull.
How much of our modern religion is The Emperor’s New Clothes? Everybody’s ooh’ing and aah’ing. Lots of “Amen’s” and “Hallelujah’s” and loud choruses and exclamations and ecstatic references until you feel, ‘Gee, maybe there is something wrong with me! I’d better enter into this,’ and you do – by the flesh. But the pathetic thing is the Emperor is yet naked.
Until we come to the nakedness of the Cross, we will not have the garment of His righteousness. At the time when the church should be preparing herself to be a visible place of refuge in a coming age of disaster, as an island of sanity and reality in a sick world, she herself is declining into pusillanimous faith and superstition. She is producing a new breed of super-executives, slick promoters, computer centers and multi-million dollar facilities that have elicited even the admiration of the world, but has no message for it. I am amazed, depression babe that I am, at what we are producing or what is being produced in this generation – in slick, religious executives, promoters of which the world might well be proud, who build their little petty kingdoms of multi-million dollar kinds with hundreds upon hundreds sitting in their pews looking upon the Emperor’s new clothes. Weary millions tramp about in a no-man’s land of religious frustration and defeat, professing for doctrines realities which they never have experienced, while legalisms abound in the very name of grace.
I came back with such a cry from a recent overseas trip that the Gospel, the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed, not so much to the world as, first, to the church. It is amazing how few Christians know it; how few understand it; how few have been affected by it; how few are living in it; how many who call themselves “Christians” enjoying the benefits, so-called, of the New Covenant are living essential Old Covenant lives: bound and under the law, thinking that by their deeds they can somehow buy themselves something that could be called redemptive! Do you think only the Jews know the Law? Law is any attempt by men, through human effort, to earn for themselves a modicum of religious satisfaction and acceptance with God. God gave His only-begotten Son, full of grace, and how many of us have yet to taste that grace! Legalism abounds in a no-man’s land of religious frustration and defeat where weary millions profess for doctrines realities which they never have experienced.
You have to excuse me for being a simple believer and a naive man, but I just have a respect for words, and had it even as an atheist. How much more then as a believer, that the things that we speak ought to be true or we ought not to say them. I tell you that every glib and facile easy kind of speaking is going to cost us plenty in our own spirit and life, for the Spirit of God is first and pre-eminently the Spirit of Truth before He is any other thing.
There are probably more millions today bound under the law in this dispensation of Grace than all the generations of Israel who awaited a new covenant. Only His Cross distinguishes belief from unbelief and even more from superstition. Are we willing to bring to the Cross, the plumb line of God from heaven, our wish-dreams and subjective fantasies, our total life for His total correction? I’ll tell you that if you have not the Cross as a standard, as a plumb line, and as that thing by which our own life should be squared, how then are you assured of being built straight in Him?
Are we not rather a people like those of old who desire a king who would ‘come down from the Cross and we will believe Him’ rather than be required, or invited, to join Him on it? What is our real spirit, and with whom would we agree, if we would be standing at the base of the Cross two thousand years ago? It is not that they were Jews that they cried out, ‘Come down from the Cross and we will believe you and you will be our king.’ It is that they were men who have no stomach for a King Who is impaled on a Crossand certainly no desire to be joined in union with Him there. How many of us who talk about the Cross really in our hearts desire that He come down from it?
Our attitude about prosperity as being the measure of our spirituality, our unwillingness to consider that the sacrosanct ‘rapture’ theory is really only a theory only a century or so old, and that it may well be wrong; and if so, it would leave us grievously unprepared for soon-coming eventualities and realities for which we have been too soft and too spoiled and too undisciplined to face. We still want a king who will come down! One can well ask whether the veil of unreality that keeps us from the glories of God and His Kingdom shall ever be rent until we give up the ghost and cry with a loud voice…
Have you ever given up the Ghost? The fifteenth chapter of Mark, a description of the same event with a slightly different emphasis: ‘And Jesus cried with a loud voice,’ in the thirty seventh verse, ‘and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and when the centurion which stood over against Him saw that, He said “Truly, this man was the Son of God”.’
Do you know what I have a feeling about? That the final revelation of the mystery of God-in-flesh, which Jesus demonstrated in His own Body, is to be reserved for us at the end of the age. And despite the tens of thousands of bumper stickers, rallies, campaigns and other no fuss, no stoop, no bother kinds of evangelism, which have not saved the world, that the final witness for which God is reserving and indeed preparing us, is another Body, impaled on a Cross in ultimate suffering for the ultimate revelation of the Truth of God-in-flesh. That may be not an unbelieving Roman, but unbelieving Jews and those who share that spirit of that Jewish life-style, seeing these things will cry out, ‘truly this is the Son of God.’
Nothing reveals like suffering. The whole unbelieving mankind, which has deified man and is becoming brutalized and sensual, waits the revealing of the mystery of God indwelt in men, when it shall be compelled to crucify us for the same reasons that it crucified Him. It may be that ultimate Truth will again be revealed in ultimate suffering to the only cry that will save: ‘Truly, this is the Son of God.’ You say, “What do you mean, Art?” That they are going to be compelled to crucify us for the same reasons for which they crucified Him.
I think it has something to do with this: that a writer has said that Jesus suffered and died, not by happenstance, nor only for the fulfillment of the Father’s plan for atonement, but that He brought it upon Himself by His own character, by His own life and by His message. What then shall be brought upon us if we adopt His character, move in His Life and proclaim His message? I wonder if God is not preparing a Body again for burial, but a Body that will, in the final and ultimate moment of dying, be able to yield up the ghost. ‘When he saw this…’ How are you doing in yielding up… now?
It’s been our experience in our little community situation in Minnesota, having people come to us who are ardent in their belief in discipleship and commitment and submission – really believed it – that we have heard a screech and a holler and a copping out and a flight when it was actually required for the rubber to hit the road. And that we have seen a depth of revelation of the independency of spirit and self-willedness and rebellion in God’s people, when a yielding is required, that is shocking. When He gave up the ghost, when He yielded up the ghost, in ultimate suffering for the Truth’s sake, one whom we would never expect to be able to sense or see anything spiritually, cried out with the cry that saves, ‘Truly this, this Man, was the Son of God.’
I believe with all my heart that God is seeking again and preparing again for the end of the age such a man. He will not be one who is accustomed to conventional preliminaries and likes rip-roaring religious times and a lot of excitement and emotion and going home happy, but I think that that son and that man will be drafted from among those who could come to a strange situation, as for example like tonight, in the foolishness of an almost empty auditorium, without the advantage of the accustomed preliminaries of service, with not so much as a note sung or played, to hear rather unusual words spoken or even read, without any of the histrionic and glamorous means of projecting messages through personality, and know that God is speaking something solemn, something needful which has been grievously left unspoken in our entire generation. The spirit that clamors for prosperity, for “blessings” quote and unquote, and the rapture is not the spirit that’s going to appreciate a message on suffering and the Cross.
We know that the spirit of Antichrist is already in the world, and ‘anti’ not only means ‘opposed’, but seeking to be something like Him, yet not Him. How shocked and stunned might we be to realize to what degree we ourselves have submitted and may actually be operating in that spirit, if our Christ is not the Christ Who suffered, died and rose again – not just as doctrine – but in the actuality of our own knowledge and experience.
The issue of the Cross is the issue of death. Suffering is dying, and we have not been prepared either by our churches, let alone in the world, to be disposed to consider it or to do it. The way of the Cross is the way of abandonment. A great darkness came over the earth while Jesus was impaled on the Cross. How many of us would be willing for a great darkness, a great nothingness, to come upon us? Even to the point that those things that we thought that we understood, the little notions that we have, the doctrines of which we are so assured, should also be brought to the nothingness of that darkness.
There is a veil that needs to be rent, torn… perhaps this time not from the top to the bottom, but from the bottom to the top, as we give up the ghost with a loud cry, that those who are seeing us might cry out, ‘Truly this man is a son of God.’ The darkness that covered Jesus on the Cross must come upon you also, as a negation of all things, even that which we think we have understood about the Cross itself.
The Cross is the most unreligious symbol that could ever be imagined. The crucifixion of Jesus, that pathetic thing that words cannot describe nor comprehend, the ending of a life in nakedness that began in nakedness, is the complete negation of every kind of conventional wisdom and religious notion that men could conjure. There is no way to come to it by your reasoning. The fact that we think we have, is contradicted by our lives. You can only come to it in darkness and repentance and in no other way, because it is perverse, it is ugly, it is unappealing and unattractive, for which reason only perverse, ugly, unappealing and unattractive people have never had difficulty in coming to the Cross.
To see Him as He is, means also to see ourselves as we are. And to have a distorted notion of Him, is also to have a distorted and self-exalting notion of ourselves. If the prophet Isaiah, seeing the Lord high and lifted up, cried out, “Woe is me. I am undone. I’m a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” what then shall we say who are not prophets and oracles of God? We need to have our vision and our sight corrected; we need to address our lives to the plumb line of God, the standard of God: the Cross of Christ Jesus. Not academically, religiously or superficially, but in the actual experience of our lives as those who have come, willing to abandon everything – to enter into a darkness; to rend every veil that keeps us from coming into that inner sanctuary that was described tonight; a willingness even to yield up the ghost with a loud voice.
To the Romans the Cross was always perverse, unrespectable, unaesthetic, totally inappropriate to God; a scandal. Have you made peace with that scandal? Would you be willing to suffer expulsion and death in identification with it? Only one who is himself perverse and unrespectable can suffer the scandal of the Cross. How many of us secretly believe that we are doing God a favor? Others needed to be saved out of their sin, and though we technically acknowledge, ‘well, maybe that was true,’ our deepest heart believes that God saw in us some virtue, and some ability that He needs to employ for His Kingdom, and we have somehow a special basis for our relationship which is different from that of others. The Cross is the only basis – the Cross in Truth – for those who can receive its scandal.
A writer says that ‘The Cross is the utterly incommensurable factor in the revelation of God, and that we have become far too used to it.’ We have made a theory of salvation out of it, but that is not the Cross. We have sentimentalized and distorted and taken the sting out of it; we have negated its death and suffering. It needs to be recalled as an event, and we need to make it for ourselves an event; the central, pivotal event of all our faith and life. All must go dark for us, become as night, in the daytime of our comfortable religious understanding.
The veil was rent; the rocks were rent; the graves were opened, and the dead came forth into the Holy City. It needs to happen again. And the only place that it can happen, in a true coming, is to this scandalous union in suffering and death with Him.
Now I’ve spoken what God has given me.
It’s been my experience in fourteen years as a believer and about eleven years in full-time service, that there’s no message more difficult to proclaim than the Cross. There’s nothing more difficult to press on the true consciousness of God’s saints than the glory of this Cross. We have become too used to it. We have made of it only a theory for salvation. We have come to altar-call after altar-call, and invitation after invitation; we have laid our lives down before Christ again and again and again, and yet somehow we are still very much alive. The veil of selfishness and self-interest and vanity and pride is still not rent. The rocks of our heart are still not split. We still remain dead, and in our tombs.
Few of us have entered the Holy City, let alone the sanctuary and the Holy Place. So I am just going to invite you to come to this Cross. It needs to become an event. How many of you will do it if you realize that you are opening yourself up for suffering that God in His wisdom will be pleased to inflict? How many of us will choose to walk in the Way of the Cross; and not having walked in the Way, we have not graduated to the Truth; and not loving the Truth, we have not tasted of the Life. It begins with the Way and it ends with the Life.
There is only one way to enter it. It is at the Cross of Christ Jesus; the total negation of all of your life; the doing away with yourself in the yielding up of the ghost. If His glory is going to be made manifest in the earth, it shall be only through His resurrection Life to those who have been joined with Him in death and in burial and have been raised with Him into that newness. How many are sitting here tonight who have only been dunked and made wet but not buried? Because God will only bury that which is dead. Are you willing for the lights to go out? Willing for the hours of darkness? Willing to suffer the reproach, the scandal and the shame? Willing to cease from your Self in the yielding up of your ghost? That is the only basis for the Cross in the true Christianity of God.
So let us bow our heads before Him… Precious Holy God, and we can say, grieving God, the God of Truth Who sees all things actually as they really are, Who has winced and groaned over what You have seen in the face of the earth on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings… You have seen the sham, the superficiality, the play-acting. You’ve seen that we’ve not wanted anything more than a little Sunday aspect to our life that would not imperil or jeopardize our true interests. You’ve seen how we have compromised with a world that hates You. You’ve seen how much the Cross is despised even among Your people, who, if their true hearts could be made known would cry, even now, ‘Come down from the Cross, and we’ll believe You and make You king’. If this has been Your arrangement tonight and the speaking that You’ve chosen, stand with Your nail-pierced hands stretched, to receive as many as will come out to meet You in that total place – the place of death – that they might also be joined with You in a newness of life.
Transcribed from a spoken message given by Art Katz.