First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

Growing in Grace and Knowledge

Every morning I read Spurgeon’s “Morning by Morning” devotional. All of them are great, but some are exceptional. Today was one of those, in which case I do not want to withold it from you.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18

Grow in grace – not in one grace only, but in all grace. Grow in that root-grace, faith. Believe the promises more firmly than you have done. Let faith increase in fullness, constancy, simplicity. Grow also in love. Ask that your love may become extended, more intense, more practical, influencing every thought, word, and deed. Grow likewise in humility. Seek to lie very low and know more of your own nothingness. As you grow downward in humility, seek also to grow upward – having nearer approaches to God in prayer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus. May God the Holy Spirit enable you to “grow in … the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.” He who grows not in the knowledge of Jesus, refuses to be blessed. To know Him is “life eternal,” and to advance in the knowledge of Him is to increase in happiness. He who does not long to know more of Christ, knows nothing of Him yet. Whoever has sipped this wine will thirst for more, for although Christ does satisfy, yet it is such a satisfaction that the appetite is not choked, but whetted. If you know the love of Jesus as the hart pants for the water-brooks, so will you pant after deeper draughts of His love. If you do not desire to know Him better, then you love Him not, for love always cries, “Nearer, nearer.” Absence from Christ is hell; but the presence of Jesus is heaven. Do not rest content without an increasing acquaintance with Jesus. Seek to know more of Him in His divine nature, in His human relationship, in His finished work, in His death, in His resurrection, in His present glorious intercession, and in His future royal advent. Live close to the Cross, and search the mystery of His wounds. An increase of love to Jesus and a more perfect apprehension of His love to us is one of the best tests of growth in grace.

Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just

Well, after filling Job with hope, Elihu in his second and third speech really starts rebuking Job “for Job has said, ‘I am in the right, and God has taken away my right’” (Job 34:5) and “he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God.’” (Job 34:9). Part of Job’s problem is that he sees God as unjust, unfair, and unwilling to explain what is going on.

And, again, don’t we do the same? Don’t we often demand an answer from God about why we suffer? And that we think it’s unfair and unjust of God not to answer us? Don’t we think that if we would just know why we suffer, it would make the suffering bearable? But you know what: explanation is a poor substitute for faith. Are we not commanded to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)?

Let’s hear what Elihu has to say: “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him. Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave him charge over the earth, and who laid on him the whole world? If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. […] In a moment they die; at midnight the people are shaken and pass away, and the mighty are taken away by no human hand. For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps. There is no gloom or deep darkness where evildoers may hide themselves. […] Thus, knowing their works, he overturns them in the night, and they are crushed.” (Job 34:10-15, 20-22, 25)

Elihu defend God’s character saying that God is righteous and just in all His dealings with man. God is the just and sovereign ruler, rewarder and judge. In other words, nothing man does is hidden from the eyes of God, and thus man gets exactly what he deserves according to his works. We are to trust in God in knowing what is best for us.

Elihu continues: “Look at the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds, which are higher than you. If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? […] Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out; they call for help because of the arm of the mighty. […] There they cry out, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it. How much less when you say that you do not see him, that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!” (Job 35:5-7, 9, 12-14)

Elihu tells Job that God is not under any obligation to answer man, or to give any reason for His actions. God is greater than man and so far beyond man that there is nothing man could do to God’s benefit. God is infinitely holy. Man is full of pride. God is righteous. Man is unrighteous. Thus since God is not dependent on human beings for anything, a person has no leverage with God. No amount of our good works benefits God or puts Him under obligation to anybody. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” It is only by our dependence on the gift righteousness in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we will ever be acceptable to Him.

Elihu counsels Job to be patient and wait for God’s justice, for Job has been speaking prematurely and foolishly.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Barnabas, A Great Example of Encouragement

The first time we read about Barnabas is in Acts 4:36-37, where we read that “Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” From the start, Barnabas is displayed as an example of his giving spirit (in comparison to Ananias and Sapphira talked about next), and is thereby encouraging the other believers.

The next time we read of Barnabas is in Acts 9:27 when Barnabas “took [Saul] and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” Again, Barnabas is encouraging the other believers by being an example of his loving spirit (in comparison to the other disciples who were afraid of Saul). Barnabas exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13:7 (“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.“)

Then we read about Barnabas in Acts 11:22-24 when the church in Jerusalem hears about the great things happening in Antioch, and they send Barnabas to check it out. “When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

After that, in Acts 11:25-30, Barnabas, seeing the advancement of the gospel, goes to Tarsus to get Saul and go back to Antioch to further instruct many people. And when prophets came to Antioch with news that a great famine would come, Barnabas (with Saul) is sent to the brothers in Judea to sent relief.

Then, Barnabas accompanies Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) to Cyprus (Barnabas’ home), Perga, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, and Derbe.

It is Barnabas (with Paul) who is appointed to go to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:2), and brought great joy to the brothers in Phoenicia and Samaria on his way (Acts 15:3). During the council, Barnabas (again with Paul) encourages the council by telling about all the great “signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (Acts 15:22). Barnabas gets to take the letter back to Antioch to encourage the believers there about the great news of the outcome, and “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” (Acts 15:35)

The last we hear from Barnabas is when he stood up for the young John Mark when Paul did not want to take him with him on the second missionary journey.

In summary, Barnabas is a great example of how, filled with the Holy Spirit, one can be a great example in giving, loving, teaching and preaching, exhorting, and defending other believers and the faith. He is truly a son of encouragement, and I feel greatly convicted (yet encouraged) by his example. But praise the LORD for Barnabas and the opportunity to always grow in walking in the Spirit. And what Paul said of himself, Barnabas can surely say about himself too, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Pick Up Your Weapons!

The weapons of our warfare are really important in our daily walk with God, especially if we are living in light of being in the world but not of the world. The apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 when he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Wow! Taking every thought captive. That’s a challenge! So many thoughts throughout the day. In order to do this constantly I think you have to become both very self-aware and very Spirit-aware, as to letting the Holy Spirit work on all of our thoughts. I think I still have lots to learn to really make effective use of these weapons.

The classic text on the weapons of warfare is Ephesians 6:14-18. They can be subdivided in three different sections. It is interesting to see that the order as they are listed is also the order in which the soldier puts on the armor.

The Spiritual Armor To Have
These pieces of the armor are the bare necessities. They are foundational, but they also always should be present. They all three indicate some sort of readiness to move forward.

1. Have Your Loins Girded With Truth (Eph. 6:14)
Technically speaking the belt of truth is not part of the armor, but is put on beforehand. When a man sat down and was relaxed, he took off his belt. Putting on the belt prepares you for action, it frees your movements, and it put him in a battle frame of mind. The belt of truth can be described as the whole of what you believe about Christ. It is a foundation you live upon all the time, your understanding of and confidence in the basic doctrines of the faith. In effect we should never take off the belt of truth. We should always be ready for action. The same idea is conveyed in Luke 12:35 (“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.“) and 1 Peter 1:13 (“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.“)

2. Have The Breastplate of Righteousness Put On (Eph. 6:14)
The breastplate provides protection for the vital organs. Important to here is to understand that it is Jesus’ righteousness (received by faith), not our own, that we have to put on. It is our defense against spiritual depression. It gives us a general sense of confidence, an awareness of our standing and position. Abraham believed in the LORD and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us” (Deu. 6:25). “How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!” (Ps. 106:3). We read in Proverbs 2:1-10 all the prerequisites to discern righteousness.

3. Have Your Feet Shod With the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace (Eph. 6:15)
The idea here is a readiness for action, to take the Gospel out to the world. They are combat boots, ready not only for action, but also for longevity it is good to have good shoes. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Is. 52:7). Although good news is brought, you have to stand firm in your shoes to withstand the opposition. It reminds me of Galatians 1:6-9 and Paul’s call to not let the Gospel get perverted. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” It is “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15)

The Spiritual Armor To Take
The next three pieces of armor, on top of those you always have on (truth, righteousness, gospel), depend on the situation for them to be used.

4. Take the Shield of Faith (Eph. 6:16)
Faith is represented as a shield, protecting us from the arrows of the devil. It makes me think of the movie “300” where the Spartan in close formation completely protect themselves from the enemy. No arrows come through. It is also interesting that Paul specifically talks about arrows. These are not weapons for close combat, and they were often used for surprise attacks from far off. The attacks which are less obvious. It is our faith that protects us here as a shield.

5. Take the Helmet of Salvation (Eph. 6:17)
The helmet of salvation protects us against discouragement, against the desire to give up, giving us hope not only in knowing that we are saved, but that we will be saved. It is the assurance that God will triumph. When we are properly equipped with the helmet of salvation, it’s hard to stay discouraged.

6. Take the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God (Eph. 6:17)
The Word of God is the only piece of armor used for attacking the enemy. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). I think that’s interesting. It reminds me of Jesus in the wilderness and how three times in a row he uses Scripture. It seems like he is defending Himself instead of attacking, but the devil did leave Him, like James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jam. 4:7). Think of a soldier or a gladiator in training, practicing sword thrusts and moves and positions. Now, he must practice them ahead of time, and if he is a superior fighter, and has a great fighting instinct, at the time of battle he will instantly recall which thrust, which position suits the precise moment. He will never be able to use the thrust in the fight if he has not first practiced it, but he still needs to make the move at the moment. Therefore, effectively using the sword takes practice. Lots of practice.

The Spiritual Strength
The whole armor comes together in one thing: prayer.

7. Pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18-20)
The weapons for warfare are spiritual because they are rooted in prayer, which is our most powerful resource. Prayer is to permeate believers’ lives as a universal practice. There are three aspects here: when (at all times), how (with all prayer, alertness and perseverance), and for whom (for all the saints). “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27). And prayer for what? To make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, that in proclaiming it I may be be spoken boldly, as it ought to be spoken!