Chapter 37 The Cross, The Church, And Conflict

[They] builded the altar of the God of Israel… And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD… Now when the adversaries…heard…they came” (Ezra 3:2, 11; 4:1-2).

There is a matter of great weight in these verses. In both the Old and New Testaments it is very clear that from the cross of Christ there was to come forth the Church, and that, when the cross and the Church come into view, a state of very great conflict arises.

In the book of Ezra we see this in type. When the remnant came back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, they built the altar and set it in its place. The altar is a figure of the cross. Then they built the house of the Lord, which is a figure of the Church. As soon as the adversaries saw the altar raised and the house being built, they came nearer. Then began intense conflict.

In Matthew 16:18-21, the Lord spoke of building His Church. In order to do that, it was necessary for Him to go to the cross. From the time He showed His disciples this, there was intense opposition from the elders, chief priests, and scribes. They took counsel together to make Him suffer many things and finally to crucify Him.

The Cross

There can be no Church without the cross. “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). In the thought of God, the cross was to produce the Church, as, in the deep sleep of Adam, God was to break his body and take out of him the material for building his bride (Genesis 2:21-23). This is the Holy Spirit’s first emblem of Christ and His Church and it is one of choicest delight.

The mystery of how the woman was taken out of the man and builded to fullness is very deep. A greater than Adam is foreshadowed, and the deep sleep of the first Adam but points to the deeper sleep of death of the Lord Jesus. The Lord slept that sleep of death, not in Eden’s beauteous garden but on the hard altar of the ignominious cross. It was there His side was pierced. There flowed the blood which was to expiate sin, and water to wash its every stain.

The same truth is found in Exodus 12. This book is a presentation of the sons of Jacob, who was called “a prince with God.” But they were in bondage and needed to be emancipated. So the cross comes into view again in the lamb slain and its blood used. When we pass into the New Testament, we see the cross in reality, and the Lord on that cross laying down His life, giving Himself a ransom, offering Himself a sacrifice for the sins of His people, loving them and dying for them, and shedding His precious blood, to bring about what God had in view from time eternal.

The Church

The Church is not a man-made organization nor something like a respectable society club which one may join. It is that which is born out of the sufferings and death of God’s beloved Son—the fruit of His passion. The cross brings the Church into being and reality. All men do not belong to the Church of Christ, nor do all who attend a local gathering belong to what is of God.

The Church is that company of people who have been “joined to the Lord in one Spirit,” who have been called by Him in love, who have been changed by His Spirit, who have received a new nature, and whose every pulse is in unison with the Lord Himself. By nature the heart of man is a hotbed of evil, a cage of evil birds. It is only through the cross that there could come forth this beautiful new creation—the company of people called the Church. Happy the souls who are part of God’s Church!

The Conflict

The conflict began before man was created. Its origin lies in one who is spoken of in Scripture as “that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9). The moving cause of the conflict against all that is of God is the devil. He is no figment of a preacher’s imagination, but a mighty and malignant power. Being “the god of this age,” his sway is world-wide.

All through human history, this evil one has sought to oppose the bringing in of God’s eternal thought—the Church, which is the elect Bride of His Son. Defeated and rendered forever powerless against our blessed Lord, he has turned with fury upon His Church. If he cannot overthrow the Church by the frontal assault of persecution, he will put the Lord’s people at variance with one another, so that, not only do we find them suspicious of one another, but actually praying against one another.

How far, beloved, is this from God’s thought! Maybe much of our weakness lies in our limited views of what our Lord wrought on the cross. We think only in terms of its elementary values to the individual—the forgiveness of sins and deliverance from judgment. Such blessings do flow from the cross of our Lord. But God’s thought is the whole Church. Our individual salvation is only the means to a glorious end, and the end is a whole thing—“A glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

The Lord of Glory! Who is He?
Who is this King of Glory?
Only the Son of God can be
The Christ, the King of Glory:
Consider all His wounds, and see
How Jesus’ death upon the tree
Proclaims Him King of Glory!

Death and the grave confess the Lamb
To be the King of Glory;
The powers of darkness dread His Name,
Creation shows His glory:
He said, “E’er Abraham was I AM”;
Jesus is evermore the same
The almighty King of Glory.

Thrice happy who in Him believe,
They soon shall share His glory;
Born of His Spirit, they receive
His secret pledge of glory;
Taught by His cross, for sin they grieve,
He calls them brethren, and they cleave
To Him, their hope of glory.

Robert C. Chapman