With the Gospel by Mark chapter 15 fresh in our memories, I just want to place alongside of it some words from the Gospel by Matthew, chapter 12, at verse 38:
"Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him saying, Teacher, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
It does so happen that this evening, in memory, we are in that period, between the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus - a period of three days and three nights. And it is upon the significance of that that we are going to dwell a little while, in close contact with all that has gone before in the previous chapters.
And we note, in the first place, the symbolic number that is chosen here, the symbolic number 'three'. It was not just chance or hap, but by Divinely deliberate choice; by very much foreshadowing and forecasting, as is here intimated, that Jonah's experience was, in itself, a prophecy. Jonah did not understand why that particular period should be appointed for him to be where he was in the depths, in the darkness. But in that Divine ordering of things, all the way through, there is one mind, the mind of God, always having His Son in view. It was no mere chance that Jonah went into the fish, and stayed there for three days and three nights; the number itself right through the Scriptures, always carries with it a certain significance. It is the number of Divine completeness. When you come upon that number, that is what you find. It is the number of the very Godhead Itself, the Trinity; - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One, and complete. It is the number of man - spirit, soul and body. The Apostle says, your 'whole' spirit, soul and body, preserved blameless. Man as a whole is a trinity - three in one.
And so we could go on for a long time, through the Bible, and outside of the Bible, finding that this number comprehends a threefold realm of things which makes for completeness. But it is particularly related to the death of Christ. It is impressive to note this; we have read it: He was crucified at the "third hour"; "there was darkness over the whole earth from the sixth hour to the ninth hour" - three hours. There was an inscription nailed to His Cross in three languages, Latin and Greek and Hebrew. And then, He was "in the heart of the earth" as the description is, three days, three nights. What does it mean? Why, in the sovereignty of God, has this number been nailed to the death of the Lord Jesus, to govern it? Well, I think it is perfectly clear; it is the completeness of the work of His Cross; the completeness of His death, in all its significance. It is something that is full; something that is complete. It requires this number. If you take one, you have got to add something to it. If you take two, you cannot shut up anything in two lines, you have got to add a third to make a triangle, and that is your very first geometrical way of containing anything; it is enough to contain all that you want. The death of Christ, governed by this number, is something which is complete.
Now, we have been occupied entirely with the particular relationship of Christ to an eternal heavenly order, which obtained, and then which was destroyed, and which He came to recover. And the first thing that the death, or the Cross of the Lord Jesus says in the light of this number three which is so much in evidence, is that, in the Cross that old disorder is fully and finally finished. It is completed in Himself and in this universe, by His Cross; it is potentially brought to conclusion. The old disorder is finished. The death of Christ says emphatically: with God, with Heaven, all that belongs to that disruption in the universe, that dislocation, that upset which Satan has brought in, no longer obtains before God and before Heaven. He has put an end to it in His Cross. That is a statement of a fact; but it is a tremendous reality upon which God works continually in the life of every believer, and particularly, in the life of His Church.
It is a thing that we should continually remember, that God, from His side, is never working towards anything; from His side, He is always working backwards. He is working back to what was, both in His mind in times eternal, and which He had actually in His creative activity. There it was. He has never given it up. All the departure is away; God is always coming back. God is never saying to man: You must come onto Me; He is saying: You must come back to Me. It is only in us, where we are concerned, that we are moving towards a consummation; but God is always working backwards. The Cross is the ground towards which He is always working back, to bring us back. Every bit of His activity in our lives is to bring us back to what He meant in that Cross. And that Cross was full, complete, and final, as to an old disrupted system. God has said in the Cross: That is finished. Now, you cannot come back to that all at once, or there would be nothing of you left! But all through your life, I am bringing you back there; a bit more of that thing that the Cross cancelled out and finished has got to go - He is working back to that. God is always doing that. You see, it means that God, while He bears and forbears and is very patient and long-suffering with much that He will not have, He never will accept it. He may be patient, but He does not accept it. The Cross says about that which Satan brought into His universe: That is completed; nothing of that has any standing. We do understand the workings of God in our lives, and we say so much about the Cross at work in us. But what does it mean? Simply that. There is still a lot that God is not accepting; He has been very patient over it for a long time, but sooner or later, we have got to come to God's finality about the whole thing; completeness about the whole thing. And ultimate perfection, where we are concerned, is only the complete fulfilment of the work of the Cross in us: the making true in us of that which Calvary meant in itself. It is the old disorder that is fully dealt with.
That is the comprehensive thing. Within that compass there is, of course, very much that we shall not stay to even mention. But one thing can be mentioned. There was an old system in the Old Testament that was, in the type and symbol and figure, intended to point to this very fact of what the Cross means of an end of everything that is not of Heaven. That Jewish system was a system that, in every part, declared this truth of Calvary, that what is of Satan's doing has no place with God. Here is another order, a heavenly order, introduced in this system of types and figures - a heavenly order, another order - it all implied that, it all pointed to that, but it was a system that utterly failed. The whole Jewish system, with all its implication and meaning, from God's standpoint it failed completely; it never did bring in the heavenly order. And Calvary says: An end, then, to a system that fails; to every system that fails to produce what God wants even though that system may have been prescribed by God for a purpose. If it does not result in or lead to this heavenly order, out it must go - be it Christian or Jewish - if it does not produce the heavenly order, Calvary says: it is finished. There is an immense amount of Christianity that is going to go under Divine judgment; because it has the name of 'Christian' on it is no guarantee that it is going to stand. Christianity, as a mere system, will go the same way as Judaism. The Cross has said this one thing: Only that which really does put away all that is not of Heaven; only that which does bring in what is of Heaven has any standing with God now. The Cross makes that declaration.
You remember the parable of our Lord which is directed at Israel and Judaism - that tree and the looking and the expecting of fruit, and the verdict - listen: "These three years have I come seeking fruit..." (Luke 13:7) - these three years! Completeness of opportunity; the completeness of disappointment, in a system. That 'tree' was Israel. God said: I have given Israel a complete, perfect opportunity. And surely anybody who knows will agree; if ever a people had an opportunity with every provision to produce fruit, they did. God was complete in the provision that He made, in the patience that He showed. But, these three years... no fruit; therefore, cut it down, therefore wither it from the root! You see, that was a system; Israel, Judaism, was a system brought in by God, but it is not the thing, it is that for which the thing is intended. It is not the 'truth' that you and I have, not the teaching that we possess, not all that has come to us outwardly. The point is, does it produce what God intended? Does it bring us through to the heavenly thing actually? Does it lead us out of that confusion and disorder which contradicts the mind and will of God? The Cross, you see, is a very utter thing in that matter.
It speaks also of the completeness of God's abandonment of the world. That world is the world of a disrupted system and order; it lies "in the wicked one". If ever we wanted proof of this great truth, well, it is all around us today, our daily papers are full of it; column after column of this lawlessness, this anarchy, this disruption and disorder. It is just there, it is the problem of all countries today; it is everywhere and it is forcing its way into the very Church of God! The great trouble today is just this, is it not, that lawlessness, disorder, repudiation of authority, and control are becoming worse and worse. Now, in the Cross, because that whole thing is expressive and demonstrative of a broken-down Divine order, God said in the Cross: That world is cut off, is put away.
We have a great illustration of that in the Old Testament in Israel's coming out of Egypt. Do you remember the prescription for Pharaoh, from which neither God nor Moses would depart one hair's breadth: "three days' journey into the wilderness" - no less! Three days' journey in the wilderness. Pharaoh may bargain, but Moses is adamant. He may do everything to retain, to limit, but the number is Divinely fixed: 'three days' journey into the wilderness! Of course the Lord knew what that meant; perhaps Pharaoh had some idea that get that far, and they are gone; they are lost, they are beyond recovery. If they get that far! Well, that is God's meaning - the completeness of separation from this world - number three. That is God's thought in the Church. The Church is a long time coming to it, Christians are a long time coming to it - to see that what is called 'worldliness' was nailed to that Cross with the Lord Jesus, fully, and finally, and utterly. None of it stands with God. He will be patient and long-suffering, but sooner or later we shall be brought up against this fact that, to allow or condone anything that the Cross is set against, is to jeopardise, at least, our own spiritual life; to find us 'out' somewhere with God; out of favour with God.
And if we want still stronger proof of this, note that after this great double 'three' – "crucified the third hour"; "darkness over all the earth for three hours" - it was then that the cry went forth: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?" Abandoned by God! That is the end; a terrible and awful end; there is nothing beyond that, there is no hope at all when it is like that. It is darkness indeed for three hours, when it is like that! You see, a completeness of darkness when God turns away and forsakes. We know that it was because He, there, in His Cross, gathered to Himself all these evil forces, in the first place, that had brought this world's disruption; and to Himself, all the sin of this disrupted man. And God said: Finish with that, completely and forever... and turned away, and abandoned that One, in that capacity. The cry of forsakenness is the great cry of something which is forever finished, finished with by God!
Well, we see that for those three days, we just have a little glimpse of what happened with the twelve, and with the larger company; it was a scene of desolation, despair, and disappointment. The Cross has written that and registered that.
Now you and I, while it is very terrible, have got still to be impressed with the completeness and the utterness of the work of the Cross. Now that is one of the three great aspects of the Cross. It is the darkest; indeed it is the dark. There is a second, and upon this, of course, we believers dwell with that profoundest gratitude. Yes, the completeness of the removal of everything that comes between us and God! How complete was the work where our sin was concerned; nothing left to be done, judgment exhausted upon that One for us! That is the theme for eternity, what we refer to as the 'finished work' and we are always moved as we remember, or are reminded, that that word 'finished' does not mean that you have just reached the end; no, it means that it is 'complete'. There is nothing to be added, nothing more to be done, it is complete! It is whole! It is full! The Cross says that - we mention it.
To pass on to the next, the other side, you see the completeness and utterness of the New Order which is made possible by the Cross; the way to which is opened up by the Cross. I want to put emphasis upon the two words: the 'utterness' of the 'new' order that is brought in through the Cross of Christ. We have seen earlier that all the disruption and the disorder in this universe came by an attempt to put the Son of God out of His Divinely appointed place. That is what happened in the garden; man put himself in the place of the Son of God. The Son of God was displaced, and everything that we know of this anarchy, chaos and disruption has followed in the train of that, because "in Him all things consist", "all things hold together". Put Him out, and things fall to pieces. The Cross not only dealt with that, but made a way for this, and this is the glory of the New Order, that Christ is back in His place. That is the shout of triumph, is it not? That is the message of the evangel; that is what they are saying wherever they go: "...both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth" - "Jesus Christ is Lord"! He is back in His place. It is the beginning of the new creation; it is the beginning of the recovery of the lost order in this universe. He is the Head of the creation, He is the Head of everything, He is back in His place. It is only when He is back in His place that things begin to be set right. The Cross, you see, means this: everything has got to be displaced that gets in the place of the Lord Jesus. And so the new order was an utter thing, beginning with this completeness of His exaltation. "God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand, far above all rule and authority and principality and power." He is in His place again, back there! Now, from that, God says, we will get on with the work; we will reconstitute everything.
That is the beginning of everything for salvation, for every aspect of redemption, for the recovery of that lost Divine harmony in the universe - Jesus in His right place! But notice what happened next. What we said earlier was this, that it is all a matter of environment. We took an illustration from the human body, that these millions and millions of living cells, which constitute the very life and being of the human body, these living cells are all environed by something called lymph. And in that environment, in a healthy body, there are those things necessary to their very life and progress and reproduction. And there is, in the healthy body, the absence of all that that is detrimental to their life. Now we lifted that illustration out, and showed how God has written His spiritual laws in all His material creation, and in our bodies particularly. The life of every cell depends upon its environment, and you and I are cells in the great Body corporate! Disease and disorder, disruption and death, came in when man got out of his right environment, which is God. In God there is everything that is needed for the sustenance and the nourishment of the life of man; in God there is nothing poisonous to injure man's life. God is our environment! Man stepped out of his environment, and all this has resulted.
Now you notice what happens after the Cross, when man is brought back into God in Christ - in Christ... in Christ... in Christ... that is, back into God. He came to bring us back into God! When that happens, man is back in his environment in God, Christ becomes his new environment. And you see in the New Testament, what a living condition obtains, right there and then. These people, why, they are living in the Lord, are they not? Living in the Lord - difficult to put it, difficult to explain it, but this is what it amounted to: Christ was their whole sphere, their whole realm, their whole world, their 'environment'; and as they were drawing upon Him, you see a new order beginning to show itself. "They continued steadfastly in the teaching, in the breaking of bread, in fellowship, in prayer..." A new order is coming in, a new relationship, a new fellowship. It is very beautiful at the beginning, and it is all because they are back in their right environment.
We have a lot in the New Testament which speaks of the need of the meaning of the Cross in Christians in that very respect: how things break down when the Cross is not doing its work, or allowed to do its work as in Corinth. It is a very impressive thing, in the light of what we have been saying, that Paul said about the condition of things in Corinth that, "there were many sick among them, and some even died.' Why? They had got out of their environment of life and health, which was the Lord. In other words, they had not come into all that the Cross meant; they were not allowing the Cross to mean that to them which was even bodily life. The condition of things was a great declaration, testimony to the fact that, if you 'abide in Christ' it is a good thing for you, as a matter of life and not death, as a matter of strength and not weakness. So it was there. Well, this is what Paul saw at least, and others too, and continually used that little phrase, "in Christ..." We have not got that yet, you know, and all its profound depth of meaning: Christ as the living environment of the new creation. There it is, "If any man be in Christ there is a new creation; the old things have passed away" - all is new! It is a new way, it is called "a new and living way". Come back to the Cross in our chapter. What happened? At the end of the double three, when it is completed, and He cried with a loud voice, "the veil of the temple was rent... from the top to the bottom". That veil was typical or symbolic of the barrier between man and God, between earth and heaven; God is behind that, and the veil means: No entrance! No entrance, stay out!
Go back to the beginning, in the garden, and Satan has displaced God's Son in the heart of man, and the disruption has come in, and God "drove out the man from the garden". He drove him out from paradise, and closed the door, and set His cherubim with a flaming sword at the door, and said: You are outside! There is no way in! Listen to Jesus with His wonderful story of the king who made a supper for his son, invited the guests who spurned his offer and invitation. What does he say? To his servants he says: Go out into the highways and the byways, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full! What a reversing! Outside, no way in; the door is shut! Now, compel them to come in! Something has happened to open the door! The veil has been rent, from the top... from Heaven, in the Cross of the Lord Jesus. That which said: Outside! and No Entrance! has now been split asunder, and the way is wide open - an opened Heaven through the Cross. Is it not a change altogether in the Divine attitude, which once was no way in? The veil, while it hung through all the centuries, was just saying: No Way In! No way in to God! Now it is: Compel them to come in that My House may be full! The Way in is open by the Cross, it is split, it is open. The Cross of the Lord Jesus speaks of "a new and a living way", to quote from the Letter to the Hebrews. A new way. It never was before, since man sinned. It is a new life. It is a new position. He is in Heaven, and now we are regarded as "seated together with Him in the heavenlies". It is a new power, the power of the Spirit come down from Heaven. How powerless they were! Their leader, the chief among them, in speech and in action is powerless before a little serving maid in the Hall of Pilate. All courage, all boasting... just gone like a mist there. Listen to him now, before those self-same rulers in Israel: "Whether it be right for us to obey God or man, you judge"; 'we have not any question about this matter. Do as you like!' That is what it means. 'Do as you like with us; we stand here, true to that One whom you crucified.' A new power has come in.
And when we turn to the Letter to the Hebrews and we find ourselves at once in the presence of the 'new order'. It is a heavenly order now, not an earthly; it is not made with hands, to use the very phrase there, "not made with hands"; not something of man's creating; not something of man's ingenuity or organising ability whatever. This new order is something heavenly. It is something that is not of time, for anything that is of time grows old; it loses its vitality. That is true of a lot of Christianity - it becomes something made by man, organised by man, planned and run by man. It becomes a thing of time, and it only endures during man's time. It is of the earth. But this new order is something from heaven, and it is not of time, it is of eternity.
Take all that this implies if you can. I am making statements, but in the back of my mind, I am seeing so much more of what is implied. We have got to be very careful that we do not bring heavenly things down to earth, and make eternal things merely time things - that we do not take hold of heavenly things, and shape them into an earthly system - they are forever to be heavenly, living, eternal; vibrant with newness! There has got to be something of newness about everything all the way along. The Cross says that. There has got to be continuous newness. If we are in this new creation and walking according to this new life, we do not come to an end of anything; we are constantly coming to new beginnings, new releases, new openings up, new fulnesses. Newness is the hallmark! New because there is a 'new man', individual and corporate, 'a new man in Christ' who is the inclusive New Man, the Heavenly Man, the Man in whom life is.
I must leave it there, but the emphasis is here. The Cross of the Lord Jesus, those three days and three nights, do say so utterly: one whole order is finished or 'disorder' is finished, and another, which is so utterly, completely, different comes in on the other side of the Cross. It has all got to be like that, starting from zero. Completely, and at every stage and at every phase, something new. Oh, may we never get old in our spiritual life, never get old in our order of things so that it is set and fixed. I am not saying that we have got to try and be novel and original in our methods. I am saying this: that there has got to be something about it that is not just a dead custom, a repetition of things all the time, but there has got to be about it a freshness, a newness, a livingness. That is what it means that He completed the old and put it away, and by so doing, opened the way for all things to be made new.