The Cross of Calvary # 4
Isaiah the prophet had been chosen and fitted by God to foreshadow the wondrous story of the Cross, and portray in tender language the characteristics of the Lamb of God. Even so was Paul chosen by the Lord to receive and proclaim the message of the Cross.
Isaiah and Paul were each prepared for their special service by a personal meeting with God - a meeting which aroused in each such self-abhorrence that Isaiah could but cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone", and the Apostle say, "In me ... dwelleth no good thing". Each also came to the same entire surrender to God, Isaiah saying, "Here I am, send me", and Paul, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do".
"Isaiah's bitter weeping over his people," and Paul's agony of soul over the blindness of Israel, also show that both were men capable of deep suffering, and of utter abandonment to the service of God; and that both had largeness of spirit to receive and communicate the teachings of the Spirit of God. Each was given the theme of Calvary, the one in its germ, and the other in its full fruition. Each was inspired by the Spirit of Christ Himself; in the one testifying beforehand His sufferings, and in the other interpreting the glorious results of His death.
We are not surprised, therefore, to find Paul declaring emphatically that the Gospel which he preached, was not "after man" nor did he "receive it from man" - not even from one who had been an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ; that he was not taught it by anyone, but that it had been given to him by direct "revelation of Jesus Christ"; and so he wrote to the Galatians, "The message you have heard from me was out and out Divine, authentic from the throne. ...The Risen Lord personally unveiled it to me".
We have then, this pathetic and solemn fact, that the Risen and Ascended Lord, with the marks of His passion upon the sacred body He carried into heaven, Himself interpreted to Paul the object of His death. If we keep this in mind as we meditate upon the message of Calvary as expressed in the writings of Paul, the "word of the Cross" will in truth be unto us the "energy of God".
That the gospel of the Cross as preached by Paul was given him directly by the Lord Himself, is also proved by the results of his visit to the leading apostles of Christ in Jerusalem. "By revelation" Paul is bidden to lay before the apostles the gospel by was preaching among the Gentiles, and when he did this he found that he had been taught so fully by the Risen Lord Himself, that they who had seen Christ die,had held converse with Him after He was risen from the dead, and had been filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; had nothing to impart to the one chosen of the Lord to proclaim the message of His love.
Not only had they nothing to impart, but they "perceived the grace given unto him", and acknowledged that this man had in truth been "entrusted with the Gospel". Accordingly they gave unto him the "right hand of fellowship", proving for all time that the gospel preached by him was in full harmony with the gospel proclaimed by all the apostles - the gospel doubtless given to them by Christ Himself, when after His passion He appeared unto them "by the space of forty days", "speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God".
Since the message of Calvary was therefore given to Paul by direct revelation of the Lord, we do not marvel that it dominated his life, and was woven into the very texture of all his writings. Burnt into his heart, he who had not seen the God-Man actually die, preached His Cross and passion with such intensity, and with such manifest illumination of the Holy Spirit, that he could declare to the Galatians that "Jesus Christ had been painted large upon His Cross to their very eyes."
May God the Holy Spirit bear witness again to the gospel of the Cross through Paul, as we reverently listen to the Lord Himself, through messenger, interpreting His death.
The Cross to the Natural Man
"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit ... they are foolishness unto him." (1 Corinthians 2:14).
"The word of the Cross is to them that are perishing foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
"Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Although Paul received his gospel by direct revelation of Jesus Christ, he was under no delusion as to its reception by the natural man. Like Isaiah he knew that the Cross as the "arm of the Lord" must be revealed by the Holy Spirit, for to the darkened intellect and rebellious will of the children of unbelief, the whole message would appear but folly.
Salvation through the death of Another! It is "contrary to all justice!" Man unable to save himself! Nay, it is all folly!
To the Jews the word of the Cross would be a still greater stumbling-block. Was it not written in their Scriptures, "He that is handed is accursed in the sight of God"?
Again and again Paul must have had the words cast in his teeth, "accursed of God", or an "insult to God", as he preached to the Jews a crucified Messiah, for in speaking of the Lord Jesus they often called Him by the name, "the gibbetted (hung on a tree) one", which they found in the original Hebrew of Deuteronomy 21, 23).
Apart from the illumination of the Spirit, the Jews could not see that the very words in Deuteronomy interpreted the Cross of Christ, Who became a "curse for us" on the tree of Calvary.
But the Jews were looking for a Messiah who would reign as a King on earth, and in reading the prophecy of Isaiah they had only seen foreshadowings of glory, and kingship in the Coming One. With preconceived ideas, as to the tokens of authority which would make known unto them their looked-for Messiah, the Jews had demanded of the Lord Jesus again and again, to "show them a sign from heaven", and with pain the Lord replied, "There shall no sign be given" but "the sign of Jonah". "For as Jonah ...so shall the Son of Man be ... in the heart of the earth."
Calvary and the grave, foretold by the prophet Isaiah,and pictured again in the mysterious experience of Jonah the prophet, was the special "sign" promised of God to make known the Messiah, but Isaiah had written of Israel, "their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed", and his prophecy concerning the blinded people was fulfilled.
"The Jews ask for signs," writes Paul, but have not eyes to see the signs foretold of God; the "Greeks seek after wisdom", and fail to perceive that "Christ crucified" is the power and wisdom of God.
(continued with # 5)