"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life" (John 3:14).
"Jesus therefore said, "When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am He" (John 8:28).
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself" (John 12:32).
When we think of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, we naturally and rightly associate with it the whole matter of sin; rightly, because the Scriptures say so much about His bearing our sin in His Body on the tree. But there are very many aspects of sin set before us in the Word of God. Sin is said to be many things, or, sin has many forms; it covers a lot of ground, it relates to a lot of matters, it has a lot of different effects. But there is one thing about every aspect of sin which they all have in common as to sin's nature and sin's effect. That common element or factor in all forms of sin is its disruptive effect, its divisive effect. It is divergent. It breaks up the unity of life. Every form of sin does that. Sin, however it is expressed, works out that way.
In the Bible, sin is regarded as spiritual disease. We know that the great, perhaps the chief illustration of sin in the Bible, is leprosy. And we know that the effect of leprosy is to disintegrate the body, to completely break down its unity; destroy its integration. And that is what God thinks about sin. Having chosen that as the chief illustration of sin in its effect, He has put His finger upon that deepest and universal element in sin.
And that shows to us very forcefully and clearly what a terrible thing in the sight of God divisiveness, disruption, disunity and disintegration really is, how contrary to the Divine nature, how abhorrent it is to the Divine nature. We have vivid pictures of the leper in the Bible; how the leper had to be put outside altogether and if ever coming into proximity to other people, the leper had to cover his mouth with the linen cloth, and go on his way crying in his hollow voice, Unclean, unclean, unclean! God laid hold of that as the great symbol of sin and sin's effect, to disintegrate the individual affected, and to disintegrate the society to which he belonged - to break up fellowship and relationship. We have no more terrible picture, perhaps, of God's thought about divisiveness, the effect of sin.
Well, that is the setting of the Cross. Here we have Jesus saying that the effect of His being lifted up, that is, of His Cross, would be to bring together - "I will draw all men unto myself". The Cross would destroy that factor in sin which scatters, divides and breaks up and counter it, reverse the process, and reunite. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself". The Cross would do that, because it would deal with the disease that disintegrates, the sin which divides.
Now, that statement that I have made is a very strong and very great statement, a very terrible statement. I have spoken like that because we treat this matter far too lightly. Oh, if I were to speak about sin and speak on and on about sin, of course, you would all thoroughly agree with me, and say: Oh, let us get as far away from that as we can, let us do everything possible to get rid of that - sin! Who wants to have to do with sin? Who wants sin? We would all say, No, while you use the word 'sin', but God calls division that, and are you quite sure that we are as desperate about this matter of division as we are about what we call 'sin'? Are we taking that as seriously as we do what we call 'sin'? If we mentioned some things that are called 'sin', we read the headlines of our papers and we will not read any further, because there is something in us that revolts against what is there that even the world calls 'sin'. We feel that we are touched with uncleanness; we do not want that. We are only too sorry that it is brought out like that, that it fills our papers, and that people want that sort of stuff. We hate it, we loathe it. But God says the common factor of sin in all its forms is this: it separates, it divides, it breaks up, it breaks down, it disintegrates; and it is the effect that God hates so much. We shall see why it is like that in a moment.
Coming back to the Cross of the Lord Jesus, there is one word that we always associate with the Cross and His work in the Cross, and that word is 'atonement'. We make His atoning work a fundamental of the Christian faith. We say it is one of the main planks in the platform in the Christian truth: His atoning death. We cannot make too much of that. I suppose we mean that He 'atoned' for man's sin. That would be quite true and right, but that is only a very small part of the meaning. The word itself gives us the full meaning: 'atonement' - 'at-one-ment', set at one. Atoned for sin - thank God for that, that our sin has been atoned for, that we have not got to 'atone' for our sin. That is very blessed, very precious. We will cling to that. But that may just take us so far, and put us in a certain position that we call justification, "righteousness by faith". But 'atonement' means more than that. It means that this common, universal factor of separation in all its directions and aspects, has been dealt with in the Cross and that the universal effect of the Cross is "setting at one", making 'at-one-ment'. The Cross is therefore the great reuniting, or uniting, power of God and not to recognise that, and certainly to violate it, is to render the whole meaning of Calvary in vain. That is a terrible thing! In God's sight that is what disunity means, what divisiveness means: making the Cross of our Lord Jesus of none effect. If it is true and it is His own words: "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself", then if we have not found our focus and unity in Christ, the Cross has not done its work!
The Cross, we have said, is the great power of unification. Now, this brings us back to all that has occupied us in these gatherings. One great thing that has been the fruit of sin in the universe, which has polluted, corrupted and defiled this whole universe: that disintegrating work of the evil power and powers from the beginning causing this, has become a universe shot through and through with conflict and strife, division, and all that belongs to that. It is a disintegrated and shattered creation, which, with every attempt of men through the ages can never be repaired. All men's greatest efforts, institutions and organisations to counter that, become perfectly laughable. A 'United' Nations - what a misnomer! A 'United Nations', the charter of which is for the protection of weak peoples! Today, Tibet... making the United Nations Charter a laughing stock, just as the old League of Nations was. I am not touching politics, I am only illustrating. Men's greatest - yes, best-meant institutions and organisations - they just become laughable in the end, in the face of the immense power in this universe of disintegration. The forces of evil laugh at everything that is done to undo their nature and their work! That came in at the beginning, and it has grown and become universal, so that today, more than ever, in spite of every effort men are finding that it is a hopeless thing to try to repair this damage. One after another leader and country goes down before this force, broken. It is too great.
There is only one thing that can meet it and solve it, and does when it gets a chance. That is the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
The first great schism that came in with that sin was between Heaven and earth. Heaven and earth became not only closed to one another, but in conflict with one another. There is no way through for man. Heaven is closed for man by nature. No correspondence, no fellowship, no communication, no open way from earth to Heaven, until the Cross comes in. And with the Lord Jesus "lifted up", the link is made again. To a man whose name was Nathaniel, He said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." More actually: "Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob." And you remember Jacob! And then He went on to Nathaniel: "Thou shalt afterward see the heavens open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." This is exactly the same title as He uses of Himself, 'If the Son of Man be lifted up...' The 'Jacob' has been dealt with - the 'supplanter', the 'trickster', the man who broke up the family, the man whose presence, wherever it was, was a disintegrating factor. He could not get on with anybody, and nobody could get on with him! He was that in the world, while he was Jacob. He was always a disturber, restless, dissatisfied, selfish, cunning. The Jacob is dealt with and the Israel appears; the dream that he had is now possible of realisation. Heaven can come down to him and bless him and take him on his way, and fulfil all the promise and covenant. He has come at length to know the meaning of communication between heaven and earth; the ladder set up. Now, Jesus took that right over to Himself and said to Nathaniel: The day is coming when you, a true Israelite, will come into all that; you will see the heavens opened, you will see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Only a figurative way of saying and meaning: The day is coming, Nathaniel when this closed way between Heaven arid earth, will be opened again; when this great schism and conflict between Heaven and earth will have been healed and they will be united by the Son of Man. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." Heaven is opened for all men again; the division has gone, the sin has been dealt with. That marvellous effect, that terrible effect of sin, in separating between Heaven and earth and closing each to the other, is remedied in the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
I need not remind you that, in the Bible, again and again we come upon a closed heaven. You only have to lift out one of those many occasions in the life of Elijah. Because of Israel's sin Elijah said to Ahab, "There shall not be rain on the earth but according to my word". And the heavens were closed! We read the story, and it is a very terrible story of that closed heaven, that withheld blessing, that no communication. A closed heaven, whether it was literal in the Old Testament or spiritual, is always the mark of judgment for sin; the division between heaven and earth. The Cross of the Lord Jesus sees that judgment taken on Himself, and Heaven and earth united again. We know in experience how true that is. When we received the Lord Jesus into our lives, into our hearts, Heaven is not so far away as we thought it was! Heaven is not closed as we knew it was! Put it as you like - heaven is opened! The experience of every truly newly born again child of God: 'Heaven has come down their soul to greet'! It is an opened heaven. The sin which separated these has been dealt with, and the at-one-ment of heaven and earth has been made.
But not only so. An 'at-one-ment' between man and man! We have seen earlier how, with the coming in of sin, man was set against man. It started in the family, and spread and spread. This schism, this strife, spread until it became universal. Man against man, in his heart; jealousies, envies, covetousness, pride, and all the unholy brood of this sin - divisiveness. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself": heal that between man and man and bring man and man together again. We have already referred to it in chapter four, but it will bear another reference. You remember the words of the Lord to Job, when Job had exhausted all that he could say - trying to justify himself, put himself right with God and men and the whole thing had collapsed and broken down. He was not getting very far with that; between himself and the other men there was no healing, no fellowship. Every effort to get fellowship, to get right, to get a ground of oneness, failed. They have all been trying, all these men, for all these weeks or months to find a common ground on which they will all agree, and it has all failed. And when they have all failed, and they have all come to the last word that they can say, the Lord steps in. The Lord says to Job: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel with words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world? The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy!" What a picture! What a description! 'Before all this came in, all this, Job, that you have been trying to get over, it was a state of beautiful harmony. The morning stars were singing in glee! Whether in unison or harmony, they were singing! There was no discordant note then! It was a unity of song! That is how it was before.'
From there we leaped to Revelation, chapter 7: "After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands. And they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb!" Here is, at the end as at the beginning, a great song; whether in unison or harmony it does not matter. There is no discordant note; that has gone. That strange note that came in and spoiled the harmony of the creation and of man's relationships has been eliminated, and things are now as they were - perhaps better than they were - before all this came in.
Now, here we have the two songs, the song of a creation in harmony without sin, and therefore without any division or discord, and a song of redemption with no strange note in it, all singing together! Why? Of course, the focal point is the Lamb! "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men" ... "out of every nation and tribe and tongue." But what was the discordant note? If we can just put our finger upon that, we have got the heart of the whole matter; if we can just see what that foreign, strange note was that came in.
As the Divine octave was being played, suddenly another sound came in that did not belong to it at all and threw it all out and spoiled the whole thing. What was it? We can put our finger upon that note. It is described for us: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, Daystar, Son of the Morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst lay low the nations! Thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of congregation in the uttermost part of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." What is the discordant note? Do you hear it? Once, twice, thrice... I will! I will... that is it! The heart of it all - I will, as over against the will of God. That always does the mischief; that always lies behind division, schism. Somewhere, somehow, if only we could probe to the heart, the root, of anything like that, we would find something like that - I, I, I... To that it is traced. The whole Bible shows that.
But this is the wonderful thing, that over against that "I will... I will... Thou saidst, I...", we have the Cross. And we have the wonderful description of the One who went to the Cross, "being equal with God, He thought it not something to be grasped, to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself...", and ultimately became "obedient unto death, yea, the death of the Cross". And as He came to it, the dark night before in the garden He said, "Not My will, but Thine be done." "Thou saidst, I will..."; He said, "Not My will". The Cross of the Lord Jesus was the elimination, the annihilation, of that strange note which brought all the discord in every relationship: I... I... I. That was slain in the Cross, in the Person of the Lord Jesus.
Oh, if we could get it out of ourselves and out of everybody, why, the song would start right away! We know we go about this world, we go into all the nations, and when we meet the children of God of any and every nation, or tongue, or people, the children of God, we all sing the same song. We have got something that finds us 'in tune' with one another; mark you, while we keep on the ground of the Cross! You get on to some other ground, and you find that that is spoiled. But while we keep on the ground of Christ together, we have a wonderful fellowship! It is proved! Not only have we the proof that the great schism between heaven and earth has been bridged or closed when we come to the Lord Jesus, but when we move about the world we know that the effect of the Cross is to have created a marvellous oneness between men out of every nation. Try it! Try it without the Cross, and see what you can do with it! Oh, governments have tried it with armies. Today we are smarting and stinging with the awful shame and reproach and the breakdown of trying to overcome some animosity by force. You cannot legislate this thing out of God's universe, and you cannot drive it out by force; you only deepen the malice, and strengthen the hatred, and make it of still longer duration. Those wounds last a long time. They have tried all through the centuries - it does not work! But take the Cross of the Lord Jesus in - it works! Basically, there is something that all believers have in common that makes them one, keeping on that ground. It is true, is it not? Well, this is elementary I know, but this is what He meant, "I, if I be lifted up, I will draw... I will draw..."; "I will not alienate, I will not scatter, I will not divide, I will draw all men unto Myself." There is, after all, a magnetism in the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
What I have been saying, of course, carries with it a big challenge to the self-life. The self-life lies behind our divisions. And oh, do take this to heart. You and I have to make a covenant with the Lord about this. We have got to set ourselves to fight this battle of oneness. We have got to set ourselves, that, by the grace and help of God, we will leave nothing unturned to give to the Cross, Christ crucified, His rights in this: in overcoming divisions when we find them between ourselves and others. It has got to be a desperate battle, for it is a desperate battle. But the Cross could win in this, if only it does its work in us, if only that 'I' thing in us would submit; so deceptive, for of course it is always the other person who is wrong! We are always right! And that is just where the 'I' has its greatest strength. If we would get down and say, 'Very likely, after all, I am the responsible one'; at least open the way for such conviction.
If all that I have said as to God's attitude, and God's interpretation of sin is true, it is a very terrible thing; but it is a very great thing that the Cross means! And if we are going to really be companions of the Cross of our Lord Jesus, we have got to give ourselves to this: that, by His help, we will not countenance any kind of division except the division between what is of God, and what is of the devil. "I will draw..." The Cross has an appeal has it not, because, you see, the Cross is the great revelation of Divine mercy, and all men need that, and most men know their need of it. If we could only present the Cross aright to them, it will make its appeal. All men need, and know that they need, the mercy of God. Let us present Christ crucified as the great revelation of Divine mercy, of Divine grace, and it will draw. It is the great revelation that God is not against men, but towards men, for men. It is the proof that God wants men; He is not against men! And is not this a universal need, of which most men are conscious? Oh, to really know and be able to believe that God is for us! God is on our side; God is not against us. You see, the devil's first insinuation in the garden was that God was not really for the man, He was really not for him in forbidding him to do this, He was really against his highest interests. It is an awful insinuation and you notice the effect of many of this world's strongest religions is to put men in fear and dread of God. They are always trying in some way, by some means, to get even with God, to overcome that something about God that is against them - appeasement! That is the word in that whole awful realm: appeasing God somehow, for God to be 'appeased'. Oh no! We have got a better Gospel than that. Our God has not got to be appeased; He is for men, He is towards men, He has demonstrated it in the Cross. His arms are stretched out wide towards men. His great word through those human lips is "Come unto Me!"
The Cross is the great revelation of the fact that God has taken responsibility for us, for our sin, and for everything. He had to do that. It is a deep wonder about the Cross that when God decided to make man, He took tremendous risks and He knew it because to have man according to His own will and mind, He had to give him a free will. Man could never be forced or coerced, or made to go one way like a machine - that man could choose. All the greatest things for God lie in the direction of man choosing, willing, desiring, preferring; and so God took the risk of giving him a free will knowing exactly how it would work out. But seeing all the terrible consequences of the responsibility that He Himself took in so creating man, the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. The Cross was not an afterthought, it is an eternal provision in the mind of God; something right back there before man sinned that, when man misused his great trust of choice and it would lead to all this, the remedy was on hand from eternity. The Cross is the great proof that God has taken responsibility not only for creating man, but for all the results of His so creating man! That is good you know! Of course, that is theology, but it is good gospel. Are you not glad that the Lord Himself has taken responsibility for you, for your sin, and for your make-up? If only you come to the Cross of the Lord Jesus, that is where you meet God taking over responsibility for you. The provision that we may have "the answer of a good conscience towards God" - is that not tremendous? What a lot men do to get that! You see, the whole Roman Catholic system is built upon that; the priest will be your conscience. But it just does not do it, it is something false. The tremendous success of that system, its sweep over the earth, is because men everywhere want a good conscience and want someone to take responsibility for their consciences and clear them of a guilty conscience, That is all a travesty - the truth is that at Calvary, in Christ, God took responsibility of everything for us. And it is there that we find the ground of a "good conscience towards God". The Apostle speaks of 'no more consciousness of sin', using that word 'consciousness' in this sense - 'no more evil conscience'! Wonderful! The Cross is just that!
All this is gathered into one thing - unity with God, fellowship with God. And the fellowship established between God and us, and between us and God, is to spread and spread through the family, through all our relationships, just as the opposite spread at the beginning. The disintegration started with one, and spread and spread, and grew and grew. The Cross reverses it, and puts it right in the individual, and then expects that the Cross will mean that it expands to all relationships. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself." Oh, how imperfectly I have tried to present this, but I do trust that through so many words, and impossible explanation, you will catch a glimpse of the great meaning of the Cross, and what it involves us in "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit". The fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all.