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.

Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu succeeded in preparing Job for what is to come, as we will see next week. Because of Elihu’s words, Job’s heart is softened and ready to receive God’s words. You see, effectually all that Elihu was saying to Job: “Your God is too small, Job. Let me make it bigger for you.” We need a big God. We need to see our God as big as He really is, because we will suffer. Being declared right before God on the basis of Jesus’ work does not exempt us from suffering. Maybe even on the contrary! And when we do, how we view God is crucial. Our God is gracious, just, and great.

By His sovereign grace, God chose us from before the foundation of the world. By His sovereign grace, God justified us freely through the gift of saving faith. And by His sovereign grace, God is sanctifying us through suffering according to His infinite wisdom. We should not “… despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Pro. 3:11-12). And, as John Piper beautifully says, “its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”

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

Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline

Let’s take a step back and look at the situation from a wider angle. Like I said in the beginning, Elihu not so much addresses why Job suffers, but is more concerned with how Job suffers. Elihu is exhorting Job to suffer well. So then the question is: how do we suffer well?

Let me draw four principles out of these chapters which Elihu addresses:

We have to rightly assess our righteousness
Elihu talks about God’s righteousness for nearly three chapters (Job 34:1 – 36:23). Righteousness comes from God alone (Ps. 11:7). And Romans 10:3-4 says, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” On the cross, Jesus gifted His righteousness to us who are unrighteous. It is given to us by Jesus is we believe, or have faith, in Him and His work alone. (2 Cor. 5:21). Rightly assessing the source of our righteousness helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering it is not because of something we have done, nor does it change our standing before Him.

We have to rightly assess our treasure
What the three friends fail to see is that Job’s greatest agony came from the fact that he thought that God abandoned him. Job’s greatest treasure was God, and the thought of losing God brought greater agony than the loss of worldly possessions. You see, in one sense, suffering happens when our treasure is taken away (or threatened to be taken away) from you. We should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather in heaven. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Rightly assessing where our treasure is helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering to hold on to everything else but God with loose hands.

We have to rightly assess our knowledge
Elihu says, “Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge, you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” (Job 37:15-18) We have to come to the conclusion that God knows more than us. Rightly assessing our knowledge helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering we do not have to question God about the reason, but remember and trust in God’s words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Pro. 3:5)

We have to rightly assess our words
Elihu says as his closing words, “The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (Job 37:23-24). Elihu confronted what he believed to be Job’s arrogance in saying that man deserved an audience or a justification from God. Rightly assessing our words helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering we do not need to engage in an argument or debate with God, but we should simply fear Him “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Pro. 3:7-8).

Suffering will come, and it won’t be easy when it does. But I pray these four principles may help.

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

Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great

In his final speech, Elihu seeks to persuade Job to focus on God’s character in two ways, preparing him to fully open his heart for when God speaks:

He first proclaims God’s greatness in His dealings with humans: “Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding. He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted. And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (Job 36:5-12)

Elihu felt that Job needed a better theology on how compassionately God treats the righteous, never withdrawing His eyes from them but continually protecting and blessing them, and that if they do stray that He does everything to draw them back to faithfully serve him. The implication was that the unrepentant Job should welcome God’s discipline for He loves those He reproves and disciplines.

He then proclaims God’s greatness in His dealings with nature: “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?” (Job 36:26-29) “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” (Job 37:5-10)

Elihu wanted Job to not only appreciate the greatness of God, but also the submission of creation. The implication was that unrepentant Job should submit to God the way His creation does.

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

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction

Have you ever been in a situation where you have either been part of (or witnessed) a heated discussion, and after a while there is just this awkward silence because there is nothing more to say although there is no resolution? And that in that silence, all of a sudden, someone starts speaking. Someone who is usually quiet. But as that person speaks you are absolutely stunned by the wisdom with which that person speaks? Have you ever been in a situation like that?

Job and his three friends will experience such a situation. We have seen in the dialogues that his friends’ speeches became increasingly repetitive, hostile, and shorter. We have seen that Job’s friends continually argued that suffering is basically a punishment for sin and that prosperity is a reward for righteousness, and thus because Job suffers he must have sinned. We have seen Job defending himself against all their accusations, saying that based on his experience they are wrong. The righteous, the innocent, suffer too, and also the wicked prosper. And the more the friends persisted in saying that Job must have sinned to bring about all this calamity, the more Job persisted in claiming his innocence say that God was not punishing him for some committed sin. And after three rounds of brutal dialogues between Job and his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, it is Job who delivers such a powerful closing statement, declaring himself innocent, that there is just silence. After Job’s final speech, the friends are all out of words, and also Job stops speaking to await an answer from God.

Job had won the argument, but has still found no answer for his suffering. And that’s how most of us go through life. Like Job we believe that God is good, that God is sovereign, that God is just, and that since His ways are not our ways, we simply cannot know the reason for our suffering. And that is not a bad way to live. But the writer doesn’t leave it at that. The writer wants us to know that God reveals more of His purpose in suffering than we might think.

Well, in this silence, there is a young man by the name of Elihu who starts to speak. And in Job 32:2 – 33:7 he introduces himself. We read that Elihu is compelled to defend God’s honor. He is angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God, and he is angry at the three friends because they provided no real answer to his suffering yet condemned Job. He had witnessed all of the dialogues, he had listened well, and he had not spoken because of his youth. But now, since it is clear to him that being older doesn’t necessarily means being wiser, he will declare his opinion. Compelled by their silence, a desire to be objective, and the spirit within him, he speaks, believing that he can help Job, even though the others have failed, because he says to speaks pure knowledge from an upright heart.

Is he just an arrogant foolish young man, who just wants to speak his mind? Or will Elihu actually make a difference? I think the latter. I think Elihu is a key figure in this whole story. Look at it from this perspective: We just went through 28 chapters of dialogues on why Job suffered, without a conclusion. And now Elihu will give a six chapter monologue to basically say the same? I don’t think so! No, Elihu is not just an arrogant foolish young man who just wants to speak his mind. The next two weeks we will hear what God has to say about all of this, and it is interesting to note that God does not rebuke Elihu as he does the three friends. This implies that his words are true.

OK, so Elihu is different. But how? Well, Elihu disagrees with both sides of the argument, and has no intention of trying to settle the matter the way the three friends did, but focuses more on how Job is responding to his current suffering rather than on any sins that may have led to his suffering. Elihu addresses the issue that Job is so stubbornly resisting God’s discipline and that if he does not repent of his pride more suffering will come. And through that Elihu really does offer a new understanding of the suffering of the righteous that Job and his three friends had not perceived. Overall, we could say that Elihu’s goal is to prepare Job for what’s to come, namely God will speak to Job soon. He perceives that Job in his current state will not be able to receive the words of God, and so he wants to soften Job’s heart to receive what God has to say to him, and so be restored.

Next time we will look at Elihu’s first speech in the remainder of Job 33.

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