Burn the Ships
Luke 9:51-10:3 – I’d love for you to open your copy of scripture to Luke 9.
This past week, I attended a track and field event at Mid-Prairie. My son Jackson is a senior at Pathway, but he runs track for MP, and Tuesday was senior night. So, he was running the 4x200 and I’m standing with two friends talking, and they say is Jackson in this race – I said yeah, and so we’re watching for him to run.
This was my first time at one of his meets this year, so I know there are different heats in all of these races and I don’t know which one he’s in, but I do know he wears pink shoes. I knew he would be running soon, I looked across the infield and I saw pink shoes. I go, Oh, there he is.
The starting gun goes off, first runner takes off hands the baton to him, he takes off running, and I thought, man, I’ve never seen him run like that – he is running sort of wildly and although Jackson is normally very fast, right now he looks like he’s running underwater. So I figured he needed some encouragement to start running better, so I yell “Go Jackson! Come on!” And I’m thinking, man, unhitch the plow, son. Did you give up already? Then he hands off to the next guy, and starts jogging back to the finish line to meet the rest of his team and that’s when I realized, yeah that wasn’t Jackson. No wonder his running looked unfamiliar.
My two friends are standing there behind me while I’m yelling, going, yeah I’m pretty sure that’s not him. I was just looking at the pink shoes. So I feel pretty dumb. The next heat lined up, I saw the pink shoes – ah, there he is. This time I didn’t yell out any encouragement, but it was still the wrong guy. Finally in the last heat, I got it right. This time he ran right past me, so I knew it was him.
So either I need glasses or a lesson on how to attend a track meet. Or both. Or get him a different pair of shoes. Something where I can properly identify him at a distance.
Who Do People Say That I Am?
When it came to identifying Jesus, a few weeks ago, in Luke 9:18, Jesus asked his disciples “who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples had been sent out in verse 1 with power and authority over demons and diseases to proclaim the good news and heal the sick, and Jesus wanted to know what they heard people saying about him while they were out and about.
The disciples answered his question by saying the conclusion of the crowds is that they think you are John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets. They think you’re unique, but they aren’t sure who you really are.
Luke helps us cross those out one by one with how he organized his letter. In 9:7-9, the news of Jesus reached even to the palace of the king and Herod was asking questions about Jesus’ identity. Herod was a bit more perplexed though. He said, well, it can’t be John – I took off his head.
What about Elijah? Now, we’ve read the rest of the story and we know how it works out, but imagine yourself as an Israelite in Jesus’ day trying to figure this all out. Elijah was a very real possibility, so Luke needs to address this. Here’s why:
Must Be Elijah
Elijah was a prophet during the time of Israel’s kings. You can read most of his story in 1 Kings, but he did some incredible miracles during his time on earth. So why would people think Jesus was Elijah? 1) Elijah never died. He wasn’t killed, he wasn’t buried – the last time he was seen, he was ascending to heaven in a whirlwind and 2) The prophet Malachi wrote that Elijah would return one day to prepare the way for the Messiah.
Crowds are following Jesus everywhere he goes, because, hey, he’s got the “pink shoes” on. Jesus is doing miracles, raising the dead, multiplying food, now he is predicting he’ll face opposition – all things that Elijah did as well. There are just a couple more boxes to check (calling fire from heaven would be a classic Elijah move) and we can confirm that he is Elijah, and the redemption of Israel isn’t far off, which to them meant the corrupt and pagan Roman government will soon be embarrassed by the Messiah and his army; they would be run out of town, and Israel will be a great nation on earth. That’s how the crowds are thinking.
Fire From Heaven
So, Luke begins to address this in 51, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and  He sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him.  But they did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this (rejection), they said, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Instead  … he turned and rebuked them,  and they went to another village.
Luke helps his readers understand a) The disciples don’t fully understand Jesus yet and b) Jesus is someone different than Elijah. He doesn’t call fire from heaven on his enemies. He actually rebukes his disciples, instead of rebuking the Samaritans. Jesus has said multiple times that today is not the day of judgment.
Again, we have the advantage of reading the rest of the story before today, so I’m fairly confident that no one here today was wondering if Jesus was really Elijah. But the people Luke is writing about would have had legitimate questions about Jesus’ identity.
And I’m sure as the disciples are thinking about this while they are on the way to the next village, one of them made a public profession of faith:
Follow Me Into Rejection
-  As they were traveling on the road (To another village) someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."  Jesus told him, "Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
This verse is often used to conclude that Jesus must have been homeless. He says foxes and birds have homes, but I don’t. You will be homeless if you want to follow me, which will be true. We will depend on other people’s hospitality when we travel. But remember what has just happened in Samaria. Look backward just a few verses to 52 and 53. Jesus sent disciples ahead to make preparations, aka, to find a place to lay his head for a night, and they were rejected because of their purpose and mission of getting to Jerusalem.
This eager follower of Jesus is making an enthusiastic commitment to follow him. I’m with you, no matter what. I’ll travel near or far, here or there; I’ve got your back. Jesus’ reply to this particular follower is, well, thanks that’s great. Sure, you’ll follow me to different geographical locations, but will you follow me into rejection? Will you be this eager to follow me when the religious leaders of the day kick you out of the temple, or threaten your life? Are you willing to have friends turn on you because you follow me? Because what just happened in Samaria is only the tip of the iceberg.
He’s Not Dead Yet!
-  Then he said to another, "Follow me." "Lord," he said, "first let me go bury my father."  But he told him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God."
This seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Attend the funeral of his own father? In Judaism, that was one of the highest responsibilities of children. Giving your father a proper burial. Now, commentators argue about whether this father was dead already, or was nearing death, but either way, the son was saying let me take care of some family obligations first, then I’ll follow you and Jesus’ reply is shocking.
His reply is, I’m calling you to something more important than family. Let the people who don’t have kingdom priorities bury your father. Your primary calling, your kingdom priority, is to talk about what God is doing in the world (Bock, 984).
Another disciple seems to pick up on that, and says…
-  … "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house."
Can I at least go say goodbye to them?
-  Another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house."
Here’s one more comparison to Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, God had appointed Elijah’s successor, the one who would be a prophet after him. So, in verse 19, Elijah went on a road trip and found the guy God told him about out plowing in a field behind twelve teams of oxen. It’s confusing, but his name was Elisha.
Elijah walked up to him, took the large piece of cloth middle-easterners would have worn over their shoulders or their head to protect themselves from the elements, and threw it over Elisha. Elisha figured out immediately what was happening, parked the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me go tell my father and mother goodbye, and then I will be right back to follow you.”
It’s pretty much the exact same scenario as what is happening in Luke 9! Elijah agreed, so Elisha ran home and not only did he say goodbye to his family, he slaughtered his team of oxen and held a huge barbecue for the whole neighborhood. When the party was over, he got up and followed Elijah.
This disciple on the road in Luke 9 with Jesus wants to do the same thing; to go home to say goodbye to his family, but Jesus brings up the scene from 1 Kings 19, and basically asks the man, “sure I’ll let you say goodbye, but are you going to cut up your plow and oxen too?”
-  But Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
The modern day translation of this verse is: No one who puts their hand to the steering wheel and turns around to look at the people in the backseat is fit to be an Uber driver.
In other words, Jesus is saying when you follow me, there is no looking back. You don’t keep the plow and the oxen in the barn just in case this doesn’t work out. Eyes ahead. You’re committed. You’re all in, or you’re all out.
Burn the Ships
A story came to mind as I was studying this. You may have heard this story before, especially if you are a history buff or teach history, but in 1519, a Spanish conquistador named Hernan Cortez was commissioned by the governor of Cuba to explore the coastline of Mexico. He wasn’t supposed to settle there or do any sort of conquest because the governor wanted to do that himself. So Cortez was sort of the scout.
But Cortez wasn’t content to just explore. When he got to shore in Mexico, he decided to break his agreement and all ties to the Cuban governor, and do some conquering himself. During the capture of the first city in this campaign, some of the soldiers under his lead who were still loyal to the governor of Cuba planned to grab one of the ships and sail back to Cuba.
Cortez caught wind of the plan and burned his own ships in the harbor. The message was clear: We’re not going back to Cuba. You can’t have two allegiances. You’re with me or against me.
That’s the message Jesus is sending to these three men on the road with him, except he’s asking you to burn the ships yourself. He’s not going to do it for you. If you’re going to follow Jesus, he is now the only compass of your life (Bock,982–983).
How did these three disciples respond to Jesus? Luke implies that they couldn’t swing it in 10:1, where he continues:  After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others, and he sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself was about to go.  He told them, "The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.  Now go; I'm sending you out like lambs among wolves.
The work of Jesus continues through his followers.
If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, you are a “sent” one. That looks different for each person, for sure.
- Some are called to go across the world, like our missionary friends Alex and Trish Ludvicek who you’ve seen here a few times, who have been called to Papua, Indonesia for the sake of Christ.
- Others are called to stay, and minister to people across the street, people in their own neighborhoods, the people who sit next to them at work, or school. That’s what the Neighborhood 360 is all about. How do we reach people right here that live next door to us?
- Others still are called to go across the state or across the country, pick up their life and move it for the sake of the gospel through church planting. Regardless of where God has you, the work of Jesus continues through you.
Jesus sends ordinary people
So far in 9 chapters of Luke, we’ve watched him choose twelve disciples out of the larger group following him, and give the power and authority. Then we’ve seen him pull 3 out of that group of 12 and give them special revelation of who he is in his transfiguration. And yet now, he is sending out 72 ordinary people to go ahead of him. It isn’t about how much they know. It’s not because they’ve read enough books or taken enough classes… It’s about obedience.
I still believe God calls ordinary people to carry the message of Jesus. I still think of myself sometimes as the scrawny farm kid from Pennsylvania. I never dreamed of being a pastor. I would shoot basketball in the driveway for hours a day hoping an NBA scout would drive by and say “you’ve got potential, kid.”
But as a senior in high school, I sensed God telling me the same thing Jesus told these disciples – you’re either with me or against me. This is all or nothing. No more having one foot in the Jesus camp, one over here. God didn’t see potential in me – he saw Christ in me. I don’t have a degree in anything except sinning. I didn’t understand what all following Jesus would even mean. But I had heard the gospel – I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. I said Jesus, I’ll follow you.
It’s been a couple months now that someone approached me after a Sunday gathering and they said, you know how I don’t really like getting in groups to pray out loud, right? Well this week at work, a co-worker asked me to pray for them and because we’ve been doing it on Sunday mornings, I knew what to do, and I prayed with them.
That’s exactly what is supposed to happen! That right there is how you know River City Church is growing. Sure it’s great if we get more people in this building, or we need to build a bigger one, whatever. But what tells me River City is growing is when people who didn’t used to want to pray with people are now praying with people. That is the kind of church growth that actually matters, because it’s ordinary people following Jesus.
He will not send you somewhere he does not also go with you.
He will not ask you to go through something he doesn’t also go through with you. He will not send you somewhere where he won’t fill you and strengthen you and help you. He will not put you in a position where you are helpless. If you are in Christ, you are actually in a better position than these 72 disciples were when Jesus sent them out. Why? Because Jesus couldn’t go with them. He was limited to time and space. But today, after his resurrection and ascension, if you are in Christ, his Holy Spirit is in you, with you, filling you, giving you courage, giving you the words to pray, reminding you of scripture verses that can help people in need, giving you compassion and empathy for them. You don’t have to be a hero – you just have to talk about the hero!
Don’t expect it to always go well. He is sending us out like lambs among wolves.
- First – we are gentle. My family had a couple sheep when I was a kid, and while I had a couple run-ins with the full-grown ram from time to time, lambs are not vicious. They are meek. Vulnerable. Unable to defend themselves. Lambs are not calling fire from heaven on other people. We don’t only carry the message of Jesus, we carry his heart as well! His love for sinners, his welcome to those who are outside our tribe, his compassion and forgiveness and mercy to those in need. We avoid calling for fire from heaven on sinners, because we realize we deserve it just as much if not more.
- Second – we are dependant on the Shepherd’s presence. If he is not with us, we will not last a day. We have to trust his protection, his provision, his understanding and care for us. This is where we claim his promises, like: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “Be strong and courageous, for I THE LORD YOUR GOD am with you wherever you go.”
- Third – we can expect a hostile environment as we look to carry the gospel. Lambs are not surprised when wolves start chasing them. That’s what wolves do. Not everyone will ask you to pray for them. Some will mock you. Even today as we go to doors in Riverside, as nice as people might be across the fence, some may not welcome a conversation with us. There may come a time in our country when we are physically assaulted or arrested. In fact, we should be more surprised when we don’t get pushback than when we do.
- Fourth – death isn’t the end of our story. It’s not even the thing we fear the most. It’s expected. But because death wasn’t the end for Jesus, it’s not the end for us either.
- Prayer is non-negotiable. Look at this – he is sending 72 people out, and he tells them this still isn’t enough to get the job done. As you go and do the very assignment he’s given you, be in prayer the whole time that God would raise up others to go to the places you can’t go, and help the people you can’t help. Prayer is our connection to the shepherd.
Today I believe Jesus is asking someone in this room the same thing he asked these disciples on the road, the same thing he asked me as a senior in high school: He’s asking you to burn the ships. BBQ the oxen. Ditch the safety net. Believe the message of Jesus. Don’t look back. Go all in. I don’t pretend to even know what all that means for you – but if God is calling you right now, you probably know exactly what he means.
If you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Burn the ships and follow him.
Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984)
Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)