Robert Jeffress - Deciding To Burn The Ships
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress. And welcome again to Pathway to Victory. If there's one thing God can't stand it's a Lukewarm Christian. Jesus used several colorful metaphors to describe this kind of apathy, water that's neither cold nor hot, salt that has lost its saltiness, a man trying to serve two masters. The point is this, when it comes to serving God you're either in or you're out. And today I want to suggest that Choosing the Extraordinary Life begins with choosing to be all in for God. My message is titled "Deciding to Burn the Ships" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
On April the 22nd, 1519, a good Friday. The Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz, Mexico in order to claim the land for God and to claim a little gold for himself. But Cortés and his men faced a daunting challenge. They would have to travel 200 cactus filled snake infested miles to take them from Veracruz to the capital city of the Aztec Empire where Moctezuma reigned you know, Chitlin. And it was in that capital city that hopefully Cortés would defeat Moctezuma. But in order to get there they would have to perverse some very dangerous territory. There were no supply lines, scarce water and food. The fact is success was very sketchy for the mission failure was likely. Cortés knew that he knew the risk and realizing that some of his men might be tempted to abandon the mission and retreat, Cortés did the unthinkable. He ordered the master of his ships to take nine of the 12 sailing vessels and to sail them onto the beach at Veracruz and to set them on fire, making retreat impossible.
Cortés later wrote about that decision. The expedition from that point on had nothing to rely on apart from their own hands and the assurance that they would either conquer and win the land or die in their attempt to do so. People have used that experience as a common phrase in our culture today. We use the phrase "Burn the ships" to refer to that decision we make at some point in our life where retreat is no longer an option. To burn the ships means to decide that you are all in in whatever commitment that you're considering. These kinds of decisions don't come every day. But occasionally in life, we have to make a burn the ships decision.
Are we gonna stay in a difficult marriage or bail while there's still an opportunity to do so? Do we continue this immoral but fulfilling relationship or risk a life of loneliness? Do we accept this risky job offer or stay where we are in a comfortable setting? Do we decide that we're going to obey God unconditionally regardless of the circumstances or stay in our lukewarm commitment to Christ? All of these decisions are important but it's that last decision that has an impact not only on this life but in the life beyond. Are we going to burn the ships and be all in in our commitment to God? And today we're going to see in Elijah story a fourth secret for a successful and significant life and that is the decision to burn the ships.
To burn the ships, now let's face it. When it comes to our relationship to God burning the ships is not a popular idea in our culture. In our culture of globalization and multiculturalism, we've actually come to believe that we don't even have to make a burn the ships decision. Have you noticed today how many people treat faith like a spiritual buffet? They take all of the world religions all of the different life philosophies like they're out on a buffet table and they pick and choose the ones that they like and find tasteful to their particular lifestyle. And that's how people decide their belief system. They pick and choose, you know scratch the surface of most Christians faith today and you'll discover it may be one part biblical Christianity, two parts New Age theology, mysticism one part positive thinking pinched with a little sprinkle of American patriotism and that's how people manufacture their own faith.
It's very hard to look at biblical Christianity and not be all in that's exactly what was going on with the Israelites during Elijah's time. They were trying to blend their faith in God with a belief and a worship of Bale and because of that, God had turned his back from Israel. God demands a total commitment to him not just a partial commitment. Jesus would say it this way in Mark 12:29-30, "The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength". 800 years before Jesus said that Elijah said the same thing turn in your Bibles to 1 Kings 18 as we look at Elijah's burn the ships challenge to the Israelites. As he stood on mount Carmel where many of us have stood before, Elijah addressed the false prophets of Bale, he addressed the Israelites with this challenge, look at verse 21 "And Elijah came near to all of the people and said how long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him but if Bale, follow him but the people did not answer him with a word".
Elijah said to the Israelites were at that fork in the road. It's time for you to decide for three and a half years God has been punishing you because you've tried to serve God and Bale. You can't hesitate any longer. It's time to make up your mind. If Jehovah is who he really says he is, serve him. If you're convinced that Bale is who he says he is serve him but don't try to serve both. Either way it is time to make up your mind. That is the challenge that Elijah made to the Israelites. How did the Israelites respond to Elijah's burn the ships challenge? Interestingly, there were four distinct responses among the people to that challenge to decide whether or not they were all in. And they're all contained in 1 Kings 18. And they both all four illustrate how different people today respond to that challenge to be all in.
First of all, Elijah himself models faithful and fearless commitment to God. Some people decide yes, I'm all in, I'm gonna be faithful and fearless, that was Elijah. Now let's rewind the tape in just a moment and figure out how Elijah got from Zarephath where the widow was to standing on top of mount Carmel before Ahab, Jezebel and all of the Israelites. How did he get there? Remember three and a half years earlier God said to Elijah in chapter 17, "Go to Ahab and say it's not gonna rain for the next three years because of your unfaithfulness". Then Elijah hid as God told him to for three and a half years. Now God is saying, okay Elijah, it's time to go to Ahab and say that I'm about to send rain on the face of the earth. So verse 2, "Elijah went to show himself to Ahab now the famine was severe in Samaria".
I want you to notice two things about Elijah. First of all, Elijah followed God faithfully by that I'm talking about his steely resolve to transform his world instead of conform to the world. That was Elijah's resolve. He was a perfect model of Romans 12 verses one and two when Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world but transform yourself by the renewing of your mind". I love the way the JB Phillips paraphrase says it, "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold". That was Elijah. Elijah followed God faithfully but secondly Elijah obeyed God fearlessly. Once God had spoken, Elijah never hesitated. When people are all in to their commitment to God they obey God faithfully and fearlessly that was Elijah. But not everybody in Israel had that same response not even the God followers.
There's a second response to God's all-in challenge. And it's illustrated by a man named Obadiah. Obadiah was faithful but he was also fearful. Now Obadiah don't confuse him with the Old Testament prophet Obadiah who has his own book in the Old Testament. This is a different Obadiah. Obadiah represents God followers who try to keep their commitment secret. They have found a reason not to be outspoken about their faith in their school, at their jobs even in their own families. They have rationalized their fear of speaking out by saying "I could be more effective as a secret disciple". Do you know people like that? That's exactly Obadiah. Let's look at his story beginning in verse 3 of 1 Kings 18. Remember God has told Elijah, go from Zarephath back to Samaria and present yourself to Ahab. At the same time verse 3 says "And Ahab called Obadiah who was over the household".
Obadiah was in charge of the palace under king Ahab. But notice what it says the last phrase of verse 3. "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly". He was a worshiper of Jehovah. In fact his name Obadiah literally means the servant of Jehovah. In fact, if you want to know how faithful he was look at verse 4 "For it came about when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the Lord that Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and provided them with bread and water". When Jezebel was so infuriated by Elijah's pronouncement three years earlier that there would be a drought in the land. Jezebel said I'm gonna kill every prophet of Jehovah. Obadiah the secret follower of Jehovah said, I'm gonna spare the prophets of God. Verse 5, "Then Ahab said to Obadiah 'go through the land, all the springs of water and all the valleys, perhaps we will find grass and keep the horses and mules alive and not have to kill some of the cattle'".
By this time, the famine had gone on for three and a half years. It was especially desperate. The Bible tells us and Samaria the capital of Israel where Ahab was, animals were dying, people were dying. Now what's ironic is the god that Ahab worshiped, Bale was supposed to be the god of weather. But every day that passed showed what an impotent god Bale was. And so he says to his servant Obadiah we're losing our livestock go and see if you can find any water, any grass to keep them fed. So Elijah's on his way to see Ahab, Ahab sends Obadiah out to find water and grass and they meet one another, Elijah and Obadiah. Look at verse 7, "Now as Obadiah was on the way behold Elijah met him and he recognized him and he fell on his face and said 'is this you Elijah my master'? And he said to him 'it is I, go say to your master Ahab, behold Elijah is here'". Go tell him I'm on my way to see him.
Now, instead of running and doing what Elijah said Obadiah shook in his sandals with fear, why? Look at verses nine to 12 I'm gonna read them from the paraphrase, the message. Look at this. "And Obadiah said, what have I done to deserve this? Ahab will kill me. As surely as your God lives there isn't a country or kingdom where my master hasn't sent out a search party, looking for you. The minute I leave you, the Spirit of God will whisk you away to who knows where. Then when I report to Ahab you'll have disappeared and Ahab will kill me".
Why didn't he want to deliver the message to Ahab? He was fearful, for a stated reason and for an unstated reason. The stated reason was he said, "Elijah as sure as I go and tell him you're on the way you're gonna disappear again and Ahab's gonna kill me". That's what he was fearful of. That was the stated reason. But I think there's an unstated reason here as well. Obadiah knew that if he told Ahab about his meeting with Elijah it would blow his cover as a secret follower of God. He's like many Christians today. They want to follow God but they want to keep it private. That was Obadiah, he was faithful but he was also fearful.
There's a third response to the challenge to be all in in your commitment to God. And interestingly it's demonstrated by Ahab to be both faithless and fearless. Faithless and fearless in your faithlessness. Oh, notice that Ahab was in Samaria that's where the famine was especially severe because it was the center of Baal worship. And so you had people dying, animals dying but interestingly Ahab was more interested in the animals than he was the people. Notice in what he said in verse 5 he says, "Obadiah I want you to go out and find some food and water because my livestock are dying". Well people were dying, children were dying in Israel as well, but you don't find Ahab expressing any remorse about that. He was concerned about his own possessions he's a personification of Proverbs 29:2 that says, "When a wicked man rules, the people groan".
But I want you to notice something else about Ahab here as the drought got worse and worse Ahab doubled down on his disobedience and his idolatry. That was Ahab. When he sees Elijah, he says, "Is this you, you troubler of Israel"? You troubler of Israel that word troubler, troubler literally means snake. Is that you, you snake in the grass? It's easy to see why he was so disturbed by Elijah. He blamed Elijah for everything that was happening in the land. And Elijah comes right back at him and he says in verse 18 "It is not I who have troubled Israel but you and your father's house because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord. And you have followed the Baals".
Ahab and all of Israel needed a reminder that there was only one God. And they would get that reminder as we'll see in a couple of weeks, in the contest on mount Carmel. But I want you to stop here for a moment and consider the different possible responses you can make to God's challenge to you this morning to decide whether you're all in or not in your commitment to God. You can be like Elijah who is both faithful and fearless in his commitment. You can be like Obadiah, who was faithful but he was also fearful he was hesitant. You can be like Ahab, who completely turns his back on God he's faithless and fearless in his faithlessness. Or you can be like the Israelites we'll see next week who were faithless and also fearful. But Elijah would not allow them to try to serve God and Bale. It was time for them to make up their mind.
You know, when I think about somebody who demonstrates what it really means to burn the ships in his commitment to God I think about the true story of William Borden. William Borden was born in 1887 to a very wealthy family. The Borden family had made their wealth in the silver mines in Colorado. And then they had moved to Chicago where they set up their empire. Everybody imagined that William Borden the heir to the Borden fortune would continue in his father's footsteps. But after he graduated from high school on a round the world graduation gift changed his perspective forever. As he was exposed to different countries and the great needs in those countries he began to develop a heart for becoming a missionary and thought perhaps God was leading him in that direction. His best friend from high school told him he was an absolute fool to pursue that when he had such a great future in front of him.
William Borden went from high school to Yale University. He excelled in academics there, he was known for his evangelistic work and leading other students to Christ, he worked with the poor in New Haven, Connecticut, he went from Yale to Princeton seminary and while he was in seminary God spoke to him specifically about going to reach the Mansur Muslims in northwestern, China. That's where God wanted him. When he told his dad what he felt like God was leading him to do William's father told him, "if you do this I will disinherit you and you'll never have a place in my company". But William Borden knew God had spoken to him. He boarded a ship sailing to China.
On the way to China he stopped off in Egypt in order to learn Arabic so he could minister more effectively to the Muslims in China. He spent a couple of months in Egypt and while there he contracted cerebral meningitis and he died in an Egyptian hospital at the age of 25. Newspapers all over America had this their headlines, the death of the heir to the Borden fortune, William Borden. What a tragedy, a man cut down at age 25 before he ever had a chance to begin his career or even follow God's calling in his life.
What a tragedy the world said. But the story is that years after his death his Bible was discovered. And in the back of his Bible he had written three phrases and dated them at significant milestones in his life. When his high school friend told him he was a fool for pursuing missions he wrote the words, no reserves, no reserves in his Bible. Later when his father said he was going to disinherit him for following God's direction in his life Borden wrote a second phrase in his Bible under no reserves he wrote the words, no retreat, no retreat. And as he laid dying in that Egyptian hospital he wrote one final phrase in his Bible, no regrets, no regrets. William Borden made the decision to burn the ships, to give up his future, to give up his fortune, to give up his safety in order to follow God faithfully and fearlessly.