Robert Jeffress - Jesus' 4 Tips For Burning Your Ships
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress. Welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". In our culture when you say you're going to burn the ships it means that you're going all in. The application of course, is that you're cutting off any path of retreat as well. Last time on "Pathway to Victory", we learned that secret number four to Choosing the Extraordinary Life is deciding to burn the ships in order to be all in for God. And today we're going to learn four practical ways to implement that resolve. My message is titled, "Jesus' Four Tips for Burning Your Ships" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Last time we began looking at the fourth secret for success and significance, and that is, deciding to burn the ships. That phrase, if you're not familiar with it, burning the ships, comes from an incident in the life of the Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés. Remember when he landed in Mexico at Veracruz he had to face 200 miles of snake-infested, cactus-filled territory. He knew his men might be tempted to retreat. So he ordered that the ships they had arrived on be burned, meaning that retreat was completely impossible. The only direction they could go is forward.
There comes a time in our relationship with God when we have to burn the ships. When we have to decide whether or not we're all in, a time when we cut off any possibility for retreat. We saw that Elijah did that with the people of Israel. Last time, we looked at four possible responses to God's call to burn the ships. Today, we're going to look at the final response and that was of the people themselves. They were faithless, but they were also fearful. Elijah said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions"? That word, hesitate in Hebrews is a word that literally means to hop, to hop. It's a picture of a bird on the branch of a tree that comes to a fork and it decides to hop between one end of that fork and the other side of the fork it's going back and forth trying to decide which way it will go. Some translations actually translate this word, totter. How long will you totter between two opinions?
Well, that was the Israelites. They were tottering. They were hopping between trying to serve God Jehovah and trying to serve Baal. They thought you could have it both ways. They thought you could worship Jehovah on Saturday, the sabbath and on Sunday, offer your children as a sacrifice to Baal. That seems ludicrous, but that's exactly what they were doing. And so, the Israelites were hopping between both "gods" between God and Baal and their feet were firmly planted in midair. And so Elijah says, "You can't do this any longer. It's time to make up your mind. If Jehovah is God, serve him. If Baal is god, serve him". So how did the Israelites respond to Elijah's challenge? Look again at verse 21, "The people did not answer him with a word". Chuck Swindoll nails it, when he writes, "The easiest thing to do at the hour of decision is to remain uncommitted. Just linger in the neutral zone. And that's what they did".
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm convinced there are too many Christians in the neutral zone right now. They're like the drunk wandering down the middle of the street. Some days they're serving God, some days, they're serving the God of their imagination which means themselves, but they never quite decided who is really going to be their God. The real God or themselves? It's time to make up your mind whom you're going to serve. You know, Jesus said the very same thing. Jesus issued his own burn the ships challenge in the passage, we read a few moments ago. Turn over to Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus leaves no room for a half-hearted commitment. He requires those who are really his disciples to be all in. Look at what he said in verse 24.
"Jesus said to his disciples, 'if anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it'". This is the call for all-in discipleship. When God speaks, you better answer and answer completely to his call. God makes those calls to all of us from time to time of challenge to see if we are really all in or not. That's what Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 16. What does it mean to be all in? What does it mean to burn the ships in your commitment to following Christ?
I want you to notice that for a Christian burning the ships involves four aspects of our lives. First of all, to burn the ships means getting your priorities straight. Turn back to Matthew 8 Matthew 8 begin with verse 18. Jesus ministry was gaining more and more followers. Everybody wanted to get on the Jesus train, especially after he healed Peter's mother-in-law and look at verse 18. "Now, when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to depart to the other side. And a certain scribe came and said to him, 'teacher, I will follow you wherever you go'". That is, "Jesus, before you leave, I want to get on your bandwagon. I want to be a follower". But Jesus reply was very unusual. "He said to him, 'the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head'".
What? What does that have to do with my desire to follow you Jesus? What are you talking about? Notice Jesus neither encouraged or discouraged this man from following him. He simply said, "You've got to understand what it's going to mean to follow me". You know, today the American Dream is you're supposed to marry, and start a family, and get a home, and have a stable life. And that's well and good. But occasionally, Jesus disrupts our lives. He calls us to do something in order to follow him. To follow Christ means to go wherever he says to go. And notice to another man here what it involves. Verse 21, "And another one of the disciples said to him, 'Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father'. But Jesus said to him, 'follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead'". Whoa. All this guy wanted was a little time to go to his dad's funeral. Jesus said, "No you're going to follow me, the train is leaving right now. Get on board. Let the dead bury the dead".
Now, there's nothing wrong with attending father's funeral. But notice sometimes getting your priorities straight means not just choosing between good and evil, it's choosing between what's good and what's better. And to follow Christ sometimes means choosing what is better over what is good. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34. He said, "Don't think that I came to bring peace to the world, I did not come to bring peace but a sword to put and set a man against his father to set a woman against her mother". By the way, when's the last time you saw that verse on a Christmas card? And Jesus wasn't saying there's anything wrong with the family. But what he was saying is, if it ever comes down to choosing following God or your family, you choose God every time. That's what he's talking about here. If you're going to be a disciple, it needs following Jesus in your priorities, making him first in everything.
What does it mean to burn the ships? Hold onto your pews some of you are going to get upset in just a minute here. It also means getting rid of your prejudices. If you're going to be a follower of Christ it means laying aside your prejudices. You know the rap against Jesus by the pharisees. He hung out with sinners and tax gatherers. That was redundant in Jesus' day. There was nobody more simple than the tax gatherers. They were sellouts to the Roman government. People hated the tax gatherers. So what did Jesus do? Did he say, "I better clean up my reputation". No, he just doubled down. In fact, in Matthew 9:9 it says, "Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax collector's booth. And he said to him, 'follow me'. And Matthew got up and followed Jesus".
Some of the disciples had a problem with that. I mean, "Why would you choose a tax gatherer to be one of us"? You see, they had their own criteria in mind of who could be a follower of Jesus. I think Jesus did that to remind people that like Samuel the prophet says, "God does not see as man sees for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart". If we're going to be all in, in our commitment to Christ we can't limit other disciples by our own prejudices. And we do that today. We decide who can and cannot be a disciple along with us. We tend to limit people's service to God by their race or by their economic background, or yes, even by their politics.
Everybody doesn't have to believe like you believe to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Everybody doesn't have to believe like I believe to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free man. There is male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus". If we're going to be an all-in disciple for Christ, we've got to lay aside our prejudices.
Thirdly, following Christ with a full, not a divided heart means getting your pleasures aligned with God's will. Now God never condemns pleasure. In fact, he extols pleasure. In Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 Solomon says, "There is nothing better for a man than to eat and to drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This is also what I've seen, that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without him"? God wants us to experience pleasure. The problem is when pleasure becomes our overarching purpose in life. That's when it strangles out spiritual growth in our life. When we become absorbed with pleasure, we are really becoming absorbed with ourselves.
Jesus warned against that danger in Luke 8:14. The parable about the soil that fell on different kinds of ground. And of course, the seed was representative of the Word of God. The ground represented different kinds of responses for the Word of God. Remember his words in Luke 8:14. "And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and the pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity". Concentrating on pleasure, pleasing yourself can choke out spiritual growth in your life. In Matthew 16:24, the passage we're looking at, "Jesus said to his disciples, 'if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me'".
Now, sometimes Christians talk about self-denial in order to follow Christ. We come up with this superficial meaning of what it means to deny ourselves. You know, if only it were that easy pushing back an extra piece of dessert or turning off the television. What Jesus is talking about is much more difficult. Somebody once said, "Following Christ doesn't involve just a makeover of our lives, it involves a takeover of our lives". When we truly deny ourselves, we're saying, "God, whenever there is a conflict between your will and my will, your will is going to win, not just some of the time, but every time". That's what we mean when we say aligning our pleasures with God's will. Whenever there is a conflict between what we want to do and what God wants to do, as Jesus said, "Not my will, but your will be done".
Finally, at all-in commitment to Christ, burning the ships in our commitment to Christ means getting a handle on your possessions. If you make that all out decision to follow Christ don't be surprised if soon after you make that commitment, God doesn't send a test in your life to see if you're all in or not. Sometimes God sends those tests in our life to see if we really love Jesus. Remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, Matthew 19. He said, "Well master, what must I do to inherit eternal life"? He thought there was something you could do. And Jesus said, "You want to go by the work system, fine. If you want to inherit eternal life, just keep the commandments. Especially the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth ones. If you do those things, you'll go to heaven".
He said, "Well, I've kept all of those commandments since my youth". Jesus said, "Really"? "Really". "I didn't realize I was in the presence of such a holy man". Well, then there's only one little thing you need to do in order to inherit eternal life. Verse 21, "He said to him, 'if you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me'". For somebody who's holy as you are now, that's not a problem, is it? The Bible says, "The man said nothing and walked away". Jesus wasn't teaching that this man could buy his way into heaven. What he was saying was, how you hold your possessions is like an x-ray into the condition of your spiritual life, your heart. If you want to know if you're really following Jesus if you're really a believer, how do you respond when those occasional times come when God says, "Hey, I want some of what's in your hand. I want some of it".
You see, people who are trying to serve themselves hold onto their possessions tightly. But all-in disciples of Christ hold their possessions loosely so that when God occasionally says, "Hey, I want some of that". We're not trying to hang on to it. Those who want to be all-in disciples are people who get their possessions aligned with God's will for their life. Burning the ships and following Jesus is not easy. It's certainly not for cowards. It requires courage. For Elijah, that courage meant being willing to confront 850 sword-wielding prophets of Baal on the top of mount Carmel. For you, going all in in your commitment of Christ means deciding who is really in control of your life. Is it you or is it God?
A Zimbabwean pastor wrote about what it meant to be all in, to burn the ships to follow Jesus until the very end. Just before his martyrdom, this young man wrote his declaration of discipleship. Listen to it.
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit's power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of his, I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, side walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, world talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. My face is set. My gate is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow and my way rough. My companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted or delayed. I will not finish and flinch in the face of sacrifice. I will not hesitate in the presence of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won't give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up because of the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops me. And when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me. For my banner will be clear.
That is the cost. That is the requirement of those who would follow God completely. And those who want to live an extraordinary life.