Walter Henrichsen, in his book Disciples are Made, Not Born, tells the story of when Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519. He had eleven ships full of men who had forsaken all that was familiar to charge headstrong into uncharted regions of Mexico. Henrichsen explains the scene:
When Cortez landed . . . to begin his dramatic conquest of Mexico with a pocket-sized force of 700 men, he purposely set fire to his fleet of 11 ships. His men on the shore watched their only means of retreat sinking to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. With no means of retreat, there was only one direction in which to move, forward into the Mexican interior to meet whatever might come their way (Henrichsen, 40).
Henrichsen draws the analogy to discipleship by stating, “In paying the price for being Christ’s disciple, you too must purposefully destroy all avenues of retreat” (40). When it comes to being Christ’s disciple, there is only one direction to move–forward. Jesus made a strong statement about retreaters in Luke 9:62: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” The call to follow Jesus is a call to forward motion.
So, what does it look like to resolve to move forward with Jesus? What does it look like to burn the ships of retreat?
Luke 14 gives us some clues:
1. Love for everyone and everything must pale in comparison to loving Jesus. – (v. 26)
A buddy of mine whom I hadn’t talked to in quite awhile recently called me on the phone and the first words out of his mouth were, “How’s your heart?” He wasn’t asking how my blood-pumping muscle was doing. He was asking about the condition of my soul. He was asking if Jesus still sat on the throne of my life. I loved it. Now I’ve started asking it of myself and those that are close to me. It’s a question that really gets to the heart of discipleship. How’s your heart? Is it deeply in love with Jesus? Or are there competing loves warring inside you?
2. Carry your cross. – (vv. 27)
As a 20-year old college student sitting in the wet grass of Shelby Farms, Tennessee at Passion One Day, I remember John Piper, face ablaze with the power of God, preaching from Galatians 6 about boasting in the cross. Comparing the cross to a modern-day version of the electric chair, he stood up and challenged 100,000 college students to be willing to die for their faith in Jesus–to abandon the American dream to follow Jesus’ call of discipleship. That moment will forever be etched in my memory as a line-in-the-sand moment. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offering his own line-in-the-sand statement declared, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship).
3. Count the cost. – (28)
For Cortez, burning his eleven ships was actually far less costly than risking the retreat of 700 men. Though a significant monetary loss, the cost of setting his ships ablaze paled in comparison to the cost of failure should his pioneering efforts have ended on that Vera Cruz beachhead. The cost of following Jesus is significant. It requires careful contemplation and consideration. But it pales in comparison to the alternative. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mark 8:35–36)
Believer, burn your ships!