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Life in Christ - under the Shadow of Calvary

By J.C.Metcalfe.

 

     It often amazes me when l think of the wonders that God is prepared to do for those who will learn of Him, and who readily accept the invitations He extends to them. In the story about the Marriage Supper in Luke 14, an invitation is given to feast with the King, and to enter into real fellowship with Him, but it is immediately followed by a host of excuses from those who were invited. Then the Lord Jesus lays down the conditions upon which entrance to His feast is granted, and brings us face to face with the simple basis of union with Christ at Calvary. It sounds a very terrifying thing that we have to be “crucified” and “reckon ourselves dead”. When I first heard it I could not understand it at all. It sounded to me rather as if some great force was going to take hold of me, to mould me into something which I did not understand and was not quite sure I wanted to be made into! It all seemed so impersonal until I began to see that behind everything that was taught there were the pierced hands of the Lord Jesus stretched out to me to make me conformable to His own image. Then I began to see things in a different way. The message of the Cross and the basis of union with Him finds its starting place in the words of Jesus. The Lord says perfectly plainly that if we are not prepared to take up our cross none of the joys and benefits of the Christian life can be ours. It is uncompromising. Jesus “knew what was in man”. There is no one else who knows fully what is in us, not even our nearest and dearest. But Jesus knew and He was not prepared to trust the extension of His Kingdom to ‘man’, or to let ‘man’ make Him a king.

          In my early Christian life I worked intensely for the Lord and often hurt myself and those about me. Then there came a time when I came to the end of my own capabilities and the Christian walk began to be very hard and difficult. It began to become a burden and a worry. I did not know what to do until the Lord began to show me this one thing, ‘If you will trust Me and take up your cross, I will work in you and show you a blessedness you did not know was possible’. There is no end to what God can do with those who will go out, not to work for the Lord but, to let the Lord make His own beauty part of their life, and work through them. There will be difficulties, but what is life without difficulties! God has planted in us one great desire, the ambition to accomplish something worth-while, but it makes all the difference whether that desire has as its objective the satisfying of the heart of Jesus, or whether it is just the exaltation of ourselves.

          Three Greek words are used by the Lord Jesus concerning the taking up of the cross.

(1) LAMBANO, meaning ‘to take’, or ‘receive’ is used in Matthew 10 v38. There is something very definite about this word. It is a personal transaction, the act of going to a person and receiving something from them. One of my boys once entered for his school sports and won one or two events. He was all right while the sports were going on, but he was really frightened when the time came for him to receive his prizes. Why? Because he had to make a definite move before other people, to go out from amongst the crowd, stand alone and receive his prizes from the hand of the one who was presenting them. This illustrates the force of ‘lambano’ - ‘to take or receive’. We are bidden to take up the cross, and receive it as our own, as the basis upon which we live.

          The Lord Jesus says to us, ‘I am going to give you a share in My Cross. It is My will for you that the shadow of My cross must fall upon your life. You can never bring forth fruit, or enter into joy, or be used of God without it’. Do you remember the young man who came to Jesus and said, “What good thing must I do?”, and there are many who are willing to go that far, but the Lord said, “I want you to leave everything and take up your cross and follow Me”, and the young man went away. Listen to Paul, “I have counted all things rubbish that I might win Christ”, he says again, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world”. It sounds hard, but it makes all the difference when you find that it is held out to you by those hands which were pierced for you. Then you will come and take from Him your new basis of life, founded on this one thing, ‘I do not count any more at all, I am crucified with Christ, it is Christ who lives in me. I resign into His hands absolutely the right to rule my life’.

          The life of the cross is the life where we DENY OUR RIGHT TO CONTROL OUR OWN LIFE, but where the Lord Jesus Christ takes the control into His own hands and guides as He wills. It is easy enough to believe such a life is the right course to take, but it is quite another thing to take, to embrace it for yourself. You say, ‘Lord, if such a life is necessary, I suppose I must take it’. Yes, but you must not do it grudgingly. Do you not see that you cannot do anything in Christian work, or in Christian life, apart from this one thing, the shadow of the Cross over your life? The mark of the Cross is the mark of the servant of the Lord. Do you find great difficulty in being impartial about the happenings of life? Can you say, ‘Lord, I want whatever You want with my life, I trust You to look after me. I will leave it to You’.

          People talk about being ‘guided by the Lord’ but we must be very careful how we use such expressions. Very often our hearts are so deceitful that we act according to our own inclination and then say, ‘The Lord is leading’ but sadly see no fruit from such ‘guidance’. When we say the way of the Cross is hard, surely we blacken our Lord’s character and unconsciously adopt the words of Peter, “Be it far from you, Lord”. The voice in which He says, “You must take up your cross”, is the voice of utter gentleness and perfect understanding.

          There must be the definite attitude on our part. We cannot say, ‘This life is mine’, without counting the cost. Sit down and count it all up. Is it worth it to let the Lord have His way utterly and completely? There is a great gulf between a life of usefulness and a life of barrenness. The way of the Cross is the life of usefulness, and the way of your own will is the life of utter barrenness.

 

(2) AIRO is the second word and occurs in Matthew 16 v24, Mark 8 v34, and Luke 9 v23. It means ‘to grasp’, ‘to win’, ‘to carry away’, but is also more intense, ‘to carry like a standard, lifting it up’. If you want to feel that you are safe and comfortable, if you do not want a life with any risk in it, a life at peace with all, never rubbing anybody up the wrong way, if your aim is a life with no cost in it, then you had better not study this word ‘airo’.

          The privilege of the life of the Cross is wonderful. All the greatest souls down the ages have borne the imprint of Calvary. To hear people talk about John Bunyan you would think he was the most popular man of his day when he was actually most unpopular. Where did Paul end? Very lonely in Rome, awaiting the headsman’s axe, yet he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”. What, in a life of labour and hardship? The other day I picked up my Bible and read what Paul endured and then knelt down and wept for shame. “Stripes”, “beaten with rods”, “stoned”, “shipwrecked”, “in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

          I said, ‘Lord, what do I know of this life?’ Paul’s life goes on to-day. “He being dead still speaks”. His testimony lives. He is gathering fruit to-day unto eternal life. We need to have the same vision to win this life. Paul counted everything else loss and launched out to win it. You may say, ‘Yes, Lord, I will give up my job’. Not so fast! Remain just where you are and count for God. Learn to co-operate with Him there in the salvation of souls. He will see to your leaving business in His own way, if that is His plan for you, when you have won your spurs just where you are. To be utterly His in the familiar setting of home, office, or wherever your normal life has placed you, will try the real temper of your Christian experience and form an ideal training ground for future service.

 

(3) BASTAZO - ‘to bear’ or ‘to carry’, in the sense that a porter carries a heavy burden, occurs in Luke 14 v27. It is used in the verse, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ”. The Lord says, ‘Unless you take up the Cross and bear it and take the whole weight of it, you cannot be My disciple’. That sounds very difficult, but He also says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” On those who will let Him He puts big burdens. Sometimes I have said, ‘Lord, I can’t carry any more’. Perhaps sickness or some other difficulty has come into your home circle, or perhaps you yourself have had to battle with illness and have said, ‘Lord I can’t carry any more’. Then, when your shoulders are bowed down under what seems an intolerable weight, can you say, ‘Lord, You carry this for me’? If you can, then before you know where you are, you will come into contact with some needy soul and be able to minister to their needs. The Cross woven into our inner life and experience inevitably brings forth fruit.

          If you want souls and by that I do not mean conversions as people talk about it to-day, nor do I mean do you want to be able to influence a meeting so that people come up and put their names on a card. I do not mean do you want to be able to use your personality to work on the emotions of a congregation, I mean, ‘Do you really desire to see souls BORN OF GOD?’ There is only one way if you want this, “Except a man take up his cross”. If you are prepared to do this there is fruit ahead. If you are prepared to take it, win it, bear it, what joy will be yours when the Lamb’s Marriage Supper is spread in Heaven.

          Remember, when the shadow of the Cross fell upon the Lord Jesus, we are told that “He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission”. Awe at being entrusted by His Father with the commission to taste death for us stilled the anguish of His humanity. What of us? Even if we are called to face suffering that seems to rob life of every bit of joy and colour, yet He whispers to us, ‘My child! I have been this way! Not only so, I have endured worse, far worse for you. Will you not trust Me? Will you not walk this way in fellowship with Me? I will never leave you. There are those I can reach only in this way who may perish eternally if you fail me. But if only you will leave all to Me you will find joy you never dreamed possible when you enter fully into My presence’. Tell me, what shall we answer?