The Cross and God's Eternal Purpose

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Realisation of God's Plan

Readings: Hebrews 8. Ezekiel 40-47.

Let us - before we continue - just say a word about the purpose of these messages. They are intended to serve this end: to "present every man perfect in Christ." The deepest desire, the earnest prayer behind the giving of them is that all who read may be led into the fulness of the glory of God in Christ.

This is not to criticise the Church. It is not intended to uncover faults. Whoever desires to accuse the Bride of the Lamb? Who wants, in the joyful knowledge that the Lord sees His work as finished, to reprove the poor earthly form of His Church? But because the glory of the Bride is so unspeakably beautiful, because the calling of the Church is beyond all expectation so mighty, because the Lord is waiting and longing for the growth and the completion of His Body, therefore, and therefore only, do we speak, with the earnest prayer that it may please the Holy Spirit to raise up this testimony in the hearts of all who read it, that it may be realised and carried forward, and serve in the accomplishment of the eternal purposes of our heavenly Father.

The typology; that is, the symbolic meaning, of the Old Testament, is known. On the pages of the Old Testament the Holy Spirit speaks of things which should have their fulfilment only in our time. But everything is gathered up in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who said Himself that the Old Testament was pointing to Him, and represented Him.

If we keep that in view, then chapters 40-47 of the prophecy of Ezekiel will get a new meaning for us; we shall recognise that these are not merely things which were intended to serve the Jewish nation, but their deep meaning is to show to the Church of God in a clear way that everything in her midst has to be according to the measure of Christ, Who alone is the foundation, content and accomplishment of His Church. That is why everything in the Church has to be brought back to the measure of Christ. And every individual member of the Church should fulfil their measure according to the measure of Christ.

It is remarkable that Ezekiel gives us exactly the day in which the Lord brought him in spirit to Jerusalem in order to show him there the Temple. It was in the tenth day of the first month.

This statement is very significant, because it calls to our remembrance the day when the history of salvation for Israel began. And as the vision of the Temple is bound up with the memory of the slaying of the Passover lamb in Egypt, there is shown to us how everything is turning around our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One Who works for His people's salvation by His Blood. He is the Temple in which everything must serve His revelation. We are, therefore, each time we come to an important fragment in the history of Israel, brought back to the day in which the Passover lamb was slain, in which an epoch in history of slavery was brought to an end, and an age of liberty began.

The forty years of wandering in the wilderness was a sad time. We see Israel in weakness. Outwardly it is separated from Egypt, but Egypt is in its heart. The people murmur against God, quarrel with their leaders, until judgment upon the fleshly minded generation is inevitable, and all who once had gone out die in the wilderness, except two.

With the passage through the Jordan a new section begins. In the tenth day of the first month the people celebrate the Passover of the Lord, after having received the circumcision, and by it confirmed that they belonged to God, Who had delivered them out of Egypt, and brought them into the land of promise.

In Nehemiah also the work of the building of the Temple begins in the tenth day of the first month. So, in the book of Esther, where the deliverance of the people out of the cunningness of Haman takes place. And again in Ezekiel. Although the Gospel according to Mark (Chapter 11:14) does not mention the specific day, nevertheless everything which happens in these chapters is closely related to the tenth day of the first month. In the cursing of the fig tree the Lord is anticipating the judgment over unfruitful Israel. The magnificent Temple which the Jews had before their eyes, stood in contradistinction to the thoughts of God. The outward Temple was not counting before God. Jesus was the Temple of God in this earth. With His resurrection appears the new House, the spiritual House, of which Peter speaks; the new Temple, about which Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians. But this Temple could only come into being after Jesus Christ, as our Passover, had been slain; after that which once had happened in the tenth day of the first month had found its highest fulfilment in the death on the Cross of the Lamb of God. A whole system of symbolic foreshadowings is come to an end. A new world of spiritual realities is here. The history of the Church which is seated with Christ in the heavenlies has now begun.

We see what a fulness of the thoughts of God is bound up with the tenth day of the first month. And if we will become co-workers with God, if we desire to be in fellowship with God's eternal purpose and work in bearing fruit, then that which happened on the tenth day of the first month must become the foundation of our life. We must recognise our being crucified with Christ in His death. We must go through the Jordan and enter into a life of victory which stands under the direct leading of the Spirit. We must and we will seek to know the thoughts of God which have found their expression in Christ Jesus; because God's purpose and aim is set upon His House, a spiritual Temple, His Church. It is that which is no longer linked with this world, just as the Risen One does not belong to this earth. The only relation the Church has to the world is by her testimony that Jesus Christ is Lord. Thereupon God works. To bring that into view is the concern of the Holy Spirit.

Much weakness comes from not having recognised that. Men have brought their own ideas into that which is God's. That is why He leaves the burden upon their shoulders. He lets them feel the responsibility of such an action. He lets them find the means to do what God alone can do. But the moment we set aside all that which is of man, making room again that God alone can work, God comes in and takes care of His work; but we have the wonderful and blessed assurance that we are co-workers with God, His instruments, nothing less nor more.

But that means that we have to be ready to go the way of the Cross. We must have arrived there, where the natural history of man ceases to be; in the tenth day of the first month, when the Lamb was set apart, and from that time on, all salvation was found in His Blood alone. When the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has become our Cross, where we have been crucified with Him, a new thing can begin. The Cross is the foundation for everything. Therefore Paul says: "We preach Christ crucified... the power of God and the wisdom of God."

Readings: Matthew 21:33-40. 1 Peter 2:1-9.

Three things we have already seen:

1. God has a definite plan.
2. That plan is a mystery, hidden from ages.
3. That plan and purpose of God is gathered up in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Now we come to the fourth thing:

4. The realisation of His plan in His Church.

Jesus had said: "I will build My church." And from that time on He began to tell His disciples that He must suffer the Cross. That shows us that the Church stands in closest relation to the Cross. The Church has been actually the purpose and aim of the coming of Jesus; but the Cross was the way to call her into being.

Nobody has such a right to interpret the word given to him as Peter himself: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church." The interpretation Peter gives of this word shows clearly and unmistakably that it never came into his mind to regard himself as the rock upon which the Lord wanted to build His Church. Firstly Peter had not seen further than the Cross, and he shrank before the thought that his Master should be treated in the same way as the prophets of Israel had been treated before. He could not know that the Cross was inevitable and necessary if, beyond the Cross, on the ground of resurrection, established on "the living stone" the Church, should come into being, made of living stones. But after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter apprehended that inherence in a wonderful way, and made it clear in these words: "To whom coming as unto a living stone..."

Jesus as the Risen One is the Living Stone, the Foundation which has been laid! That which is going to be built on that Foundation, as the Temple of God must be according to its Foundation or, in other words, only as we are risen with Christ can we constitute the spiritual House of which Peter speaks. Only as separated from the world, by being crucified thereto, can His Church be that Holy Nation, the people of His own possession.

In order to understand that expression "holy nation" we must turn to the parable which Jesus tells in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 21. The husbandmen to whom the Lord had entrusted His vineyard did not only rob Him of its fruit, not only beat and mock His messengers, but they seized the Heir Himself and killed Him. The vineyard is the Kingdom of God. It is taken from those who have showed themselves unworthy of it, and is given to "a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." That nation is the Church. She has taken the place of Israel, and is commissioned to reveal in her nature that which Israel had not been.

Balaam's prophecies in Numbers 21 and 24 reveal to us the special nature of the Church as typified by Israel. The Church is a nation outside all the nations. She is, although in the world, yet not of the world. The New Testament does not know anything of a national Church. The Church is supernational. She also is not an organisation which would be subject to human opinions. She is His Church in which the Lord reveals Himself as King. The shout of victory is in her midst. She is a testimony to the power and glory of the resurrection of her Lord. So it was as seen of God according to Balaam's prophecies. Israel was in the eyes of God the most royal nation. In the place of death in the midst of the wilderness it was full of life, and was victorious because of the Lord.

Now the Church, which has taken the place of Israel, must be a testimony to His life. But that she only can be if, separated by the Cross from the world and gathered around the Cross and the Risen One, she fulfils her testimony in His power. Wherever the Church has sought to link herself with the world, when she forgot her unique importance, when uncrucified flesh and unsanctified human ways rose up in her, her power was gone, her testimony was lost. The purpose of the Church is to "show forth his praises." The fruit of the Spirit must be found in her. That which Israel refused the Lord, His Church must give Him, in richest fulness, in willing obedience; and doing this, she realises the plan of God, and becomes the instrument according to His will through which she reveals Jesus Christ to the visible and the invisible world.

Reading: Ezekiel 40

If we would rightly understand the description of the temple in Ezekiel, we must keep in view that it was the ministry of the prophets to continually direct and lead back the people of Israel to that which God, from the beginning, had in mind for His people. The urge: "show the house to the house of Israel" has that purpose, to direct the people through the image of the temple to that One Who is the temple - Christ. It was to show the people again the measure of God, and to help them to grow into the full purpose of God for His people.

The purpose of God for His people, and that is now the Church of Jesus Christ, is to lead them into the full measure of the stature of Christ. For the whole Church, as well as the individual, everything depends on our recognising and taking our place "in Christ." We cannot emphasise enough that all our believing, all the light and all the knowledge, are in the end, not only valueless, but they increase the judgment for all those who are not really "in Christ." For those who are in Christ Jesus, faith is life, and all the light and all the knowledge serve now to the furtherance and manifestation of that life. Our time is rich in theological knowledge, but poor in resurrection life, without which there can be neither testimony nor fruit for Jesus Christ.

Over ten times we find the expression "chamber" in chapter 40. All the chambers are measured, and have their order and appointment through God Himself. So there is brought before our eyes in an image the purpose we have mentioned above, that we are appointed to be "in Christ." Yes, when we look closer, that whole vision of the temple is in the end nothing other than an unveiling of what it means to be in Christ, because all these chambers speak of our abiding in Christ, and of our ministry in Him. Levites and priests are appointed to dwell in these chambers, and because the Church of the New Testament is a priestly people, it is her destination and her privilege to dwell in Christ. But each one has to take the place appointed unto them. We all know that tendency to take the place of another. The place and the position of another seems to us so often much better than the corner in which we are called to work. If we do not remain where the ministry is given us, if the flesh is rising up in order to seek one's own satisfaction in another place, it brings disorder into the House of God; and the testimony which should have been raised through the oneness of the Spirit is destroyed.

Beloved, let us enter into rest in recognising and taking our place in Christ. Let us be entirely surrendered to the Lord, that we may know that the Lord Himself is working everything in us and through us; then the peace of God will come into our hearts, with abiding joy.

Abiding in Christ gives power to our lives. Our Lord could say of Himself that He was abiding in the Father. He abode in the Father because He did nothing out from Himself, because His whole life was a life out from God. Therefore there was no unfruitful hour in His life; therefore everything was so marvellously ordered and fulfilled.

In that picture of the temple we further see how the priests and the Levites received their portion in the temple. In the language of the letter to the Ephesians this means: "God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ." And in the letter to the Philippians: "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."

Not only our position and our ministry, but all our needs also are supplied in Christ. To abide in Him does not only mean to take our appointed place in order to work in rest, but also to live out of the fulness, in order to accomplish all the duties of the daily life in that capacity which is given us in Christ.

Beloved, Christ is not only the object of our thoughts, not only the living contemplation of our hearts, Christ is our world. It is, as it were, through the Cross of Calvary that we have gone out of the world of things, and entered into the world of God, where that which is Divine is drawing and filling us; where we walk in Christ and live unto Him Who encompasses us on every side; so that we meet all the temptations of this earthly side of things in His power and stand against every opposition in His victory. That is the experience of the Apostle, who exclaims: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me."

Of all that which we have worked and done on this earth there remains only that which is according to the Lord, that which we have done in His power, according to His measure and in His time, according to His commission and His will. And our place in the glory ends on the measure in which we have grown into Christ, and He has become manifest in us.

Another thing. The chambers of the temple remind us not only of our position in Christ, the provision made for the priests in the temple, of our fulness given us in Christ to meet every demand; there is yet another factor which is significant. Let us take note that the chambers in the temple are connected with each other. In Christ Jesus we are closely united together. In Him there cannot and must not exist any separation. It is the devil's purpose to destroy this oneness of the Body of Jesus Christ. The testimony of Jesus rests upon that, that we recognise our oneness in Him. "For by one spirit we are baptised into one body." Jesus Christ as the Head has received the anointing for all His members. In the anointing of the one Holy Spirit we stand in one testimony for the truth of the one Body and the one ministry, which can be no other than the glorification of our Lord, Who wants to become everything in us, that we too reveal His fulness in every part by mutual love and fellowship.

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