With the arrival of COVID-19, and the resulting disruption it has caused in our families, careers, and plans for the future, we hope this article will provide inspiration as we put the pandemic behind us and walk the path that God has set before us.—Editors

In 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World with 600 men and, upon arrival, made history by destroying his ships. This sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back.1

There are other phrases for the same idea, such as “crossing the Rubicon,” “the die is cast,” or “burning one’s bridges.” The message of all these idioms is that we must forget the past and move into the future. “Burn the Ships,” performed by Australian duo For King & Country, is a song about moving into the future. The lyrics ask,

“How did we get here?”

“All castaway on a lonely shore?”

And then draws on sentiment made famous by Hernán Cortés: “Burn the ships. . . . Step into a new day.”2

Getting the Best Start

Often enough, the best start to a new venture, a new school year, a new marriage, a new career, a new journey of any kind, requires burning the ships. The apostle Paul knew the importance of burning the ships and forgetting the past. I’m sure he had a lot of things he was happy to forget. Paul has three things in Philippians 3 to remember as we “step into a new day.”

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).

Bitterness and unhappiness are often the result of an unwillingness to forget and forgive. People who don’t “burn the ships” carry the wound of bitterness that will destroy their joy of living. British statesman John Morley said, “The proper memory . . . is one that knows what to remember and what to forget.”3

A soldier captured at Wake Island during World War II was confined for years in a prison in China. He was left partially paralyzed when an enemy soldier struck him with a rifle butt. I met him 13 years after the war, living in San Francisco. He told one story after another about how barbarically he had been treated. With vile language and intense emotion, he spoke of the tortures he endured and of his utter hatred for the Japanese.

He had been horribly wronged, no question about it. His misery and pain could hardly be measured. But the greatest tragedy was that he was a bitter man. He had been released from the prison camp. But he was still bound in the prison camp of bitterness, fighting a battle that should have ended years before.

There is no torment like inner torment. There is no life as miserable as one that is miserable from the inside. The New Testament has this counsel: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15).

We don’t always have a choice about all that we will experience, but we can choose which memories we will put on the mantelpieces of our minds to be looked at every day and which memories will be placed on a high shelf in the bookcase to collect the dust of time.

The greatest victims of the bitter memories we carry in our hearts are not those who receive our ire, but we ourselves. When we don’t experience the grace of God in our own lives, we are not able to extend God’s grace to others; we are not able to truly forgive others. The antidote for this poison of bitterness is forgiveness, not just for those who ask, not just for those who are sorry, but for everyone all the time. We give grace even when it’s not sought. We must be forgiving, not just for the benefit of the other person—it is a requirement for our own peace of mind.

Paul was not forgetful, but he intentionally put some things out of his mind. Some memories he chose to neglect. God’s grace enables us to heal some of those wounding experiences in our past.

Getting the Best Future

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (verses 13, 14).

When Cortés arrived in the New World, major problems confronted him. He was committed to the goal of visiting what is now Mexico City, and he made his commitment clear by destroying “all of his ships but one, which he sent back to Spain for King Charles. The fear of his men returning to Cuba, rather than embarking on the journey to the Aztec Empire, made him decide to demolish his ships. They no longer had any option but to accompany him on this journey.”4

There is work to do; lives to live; people to serve; God to worship. There is a new journey for all of us. Look to tomorrow, not to yesterday. Have you ever noticed how small children look ahead? They are eager to be older. If you say to a child, “I’m guessing you are 4 years old,” they would likely respond indignantly, “No! I’m 4½.” They can’t wait to be older, old enough to go to school, then old enough to drive, then old enough to go to college, then old enough to get married. The young are excited for the future. Christians should be ever young.

We don’t always have a choice about all that we will experience, but we can choose the memories we put on the coffee tables of our minds.

Ask an older person how old they are, and you might get the response “None of your business!” More than likely they are looking back, back to the “good old days,” and thinking about the past rather than being excited about what lies ahead. We don’t lose our excitement for tomorrow because we grow old. We grow old because we are no longer excited about tomorrow.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).

Nothing can compare with the prize we seek. Our little injuries of the past pale into insignificance as we look at the Lord. Our injuries look like nothing when compared with the injuries that the Lord incurred. There is much we can forget for the sake of the prize.

In the poem “The Land of Beginning Again,” Louisa Fletcher longs for

“some wonderful place . . .

Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches

And all of our poor selfish grief

Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door,

And never be put on again.”5

In Christ we have a land of beginning again. Every day is a new day; every moment is the first moment of the rest of our lives. When we live in the grace of Jesus our past is past and our future is new with opportunities and possibilities.

We are on a journey, and our journey is to our heavenly home. The prize we seek is not to conquer a new land but to receive a new land prepared for us (see John 14:1-3). Heaven is our home; we are just passing through; anything that is an obstacle should be burned, freeing us to “[s]tep into a new day,” inspiring us to “rise up from the dust and walk away.”6

Blooming Where You’re Planted

Once upon a time deep in Fenton Forest, so deep in the dark part of the woods that Freddy the Fox rarely went, and Lightfoot the Deer never darkened the forest floor, deep in the forest past Ivy Lane and Pine Nut Street, there were no forest paths and no homes of any Fenton Forest folk. Deep in the dark part of the forest by some moss-covered stones was a seed.

It was a flower seed buried in the dirt and forest refuse at the foot of the old gnarled oak. It decided that it was no use to bloom there in the dark part of Fenton Forest, for no one would see it there, no one would notice, and it was no use to waste its energy by blooming. Who cared about it? So it withdrew into its shell.

But one day a big drop of dew fell from the limb of the old oak, and water tickled the shell of the flower seed, causing a stirring deep within the seed. A beam of sunlight broke through the forest canopy, warming the soil all around the little seed. Try as it might, the little seed couldn’t resist the call of life hidden deep within its hard-shell exterior. The shell broke open, and the little seed burst from its hard shell and broke through the forest floor.

The green shoot shot upward, and a flower opened. It was a pretty flower, with waxy yellow pedals and a pale-green stem. It lifted its head above the dark, dank forest floor and opened wide its pedals to the scarce light that filtered down through the trees to its place at the base of the old oak tree.

There it stood, a solitary spot of yellow, like a splash of paint, on the dark landscape of the primeval forest floor. It sent out its perfumed flower fragrance on light breezes, hoping for some bee that might have strayed from its flight path and followed the scent to its side.

There it grew, droplets of dew glistening from its canary-colored pedals. Day after day it was there in the deepest, darkest part of Fenton Forest. Week after week it was there in the obscure recesses of the forest. During the entire season of its life it was there—blooming.

But no errant bee found its delightful nectar there by the big oak; no passing bird saw its splash of yellow; and no meandering forest inhabitant observed the glory it brought to its little dark glen.

The season of its life came to an end as its golden saffron petals faded onto the colorless mat of the forest floor to provide nutrients for a future flower generation.

The old oak said to it as it faded its last, “It was hardly worth it, was it? Such color wasted in the deep darkness of the forest.”

Its reply as it died there by the roots of the ancient oak was, “I just bloom where I am planted, and God sees.”

Or as Paul would say, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Phil. 3;13, 14, Message).7

  1. For historical accuracy: the ships were not actually burned but scuttled. But the point is important: there was no turning back. www.success.com/to-be-successful-burn-your-boats/.
  2. “Burn the Ships,” written by Matt Hales, Seth Mosley, Joel Smallbone, and Luke Smallbone, Curb/Word © 2018.
  3. John Morley, first viscount of Morley of Blackburn, en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Morley,_1st_Viscount_Morley_of_Blackburn.
  4. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernán_Cortés#Destroying_the_ships.
  5. Louisa Fletcher, “The Land of Beginning Again,” from The Land of Beginning Again © Nabu Press, 2011.
  6. “Burn the Ships.”
  7. Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Gordon Bietz, former president of Southern Adventist University, is associate director for higher education for the North American Division.

His presence was causing heartburn for the Sanhedrin. They had maintained their authority through a long chain of traditions from the time of Moses, and now the populace was listening to another. Jerusalem was rife with rumors. Everyone was talking about all the new things this upstart rabbi was preaching and doing. He was not an official rabbi, nor was he authorized by Temple leaders.

“Have you heard him speak? It’s wonderful. He speaks as if he knows what he’s talking about.”

“Did you see what happened when he touched the man with leprosy? It was incredible! I was talking to Joseph; he was actually there!”

“I hear he’ll be at Nazareth. Let’s go see for ourselves.”

It was all very troubling. The Sadducees and Pharisees were not sleeping well; they were nervous. He was attracting large crowds, much bigger than those who came to the synagogue. They couldn’t allow self-proclaimed rabbis without a formal education to teach the people.

“The Sanhedrin needs to have some control, or there will be chaos!”19 1 2 2

“Things must be done in order. We must bring stability to the population!”

“We can’t have some new zealot upsetting the balance of power.”

The Jews had always had to maintain a careful balance with the Romans. Together they were keeping the peace. The peace was in jeopardy if some itinerant rabbi was out there teaching with no supervision. Everything would be better if he would just go away.

“It would be better for the nation.”

“It would be better for the common folk.”

“It’s most important for our relationship with Rome and the delicate balance of power.”

Let’s Make It Official

They couldn’t think of anyone for whom it wouldn’t be better, and so they called that committee meeting, and you can imagine the discussion. It was classic groupthink.

“The other day I was talking to someone who is wondering why we aren’t doing anything.”

“I spoke to someone who said that he’s teaching heresy.”

“We had our own people review his teachings. He said he would destroy our Temple.”

“I heard him myself: he called us all hypocrites and whitewashed tombs!”

“I have a motion: Whereas there is much turmoil being created in our synagogues; and whereas there are many disturbing questions being put in the minds of the common people; and whereas this man, Jesus, said he would destroy the Temple; and whereas we, the Sanhedrin, have responsibility to maintain proper theological order; and whereas we are charged with sustaining a balance of power with the Roman government; and whereas he threatens that balance of power, for the preservation of our nation and our national heritage, I therefore move, Mr. Chairman, that he be put to death.”

“I demand in the name of the living God: Tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“All those in favor?”

“All those opposed?”

“The motion is carried.”

It's Thursday; but Sunday is coming.

19 1 1

Next Stop: Gethsemane

Under the cover of darkness and the guise of legality, after many speeches about being faithful to the truth, but with the fabrication of false evidence, a death decree is passed. Muffle the message by killing the messenger. Centuries before Machiavelli they decided that the end justified the means. Their objectives seemed reasonable and logical.

“Save the nation!”

“Protect the relationship with Rome!”

“Safeguard the system!”

“Preserving the nation justifies some injustice.”

Groupthink overtook group thought and mobocracy ruled the day. Like a snowball collecting more and more momentum, it cascaded into a consensual roar of opinion as almost every committee member embraced the conviction that this person must go to save all that they stood for.

They became a mob collecting late-night vagrants, rolling out of the committee room through the streets of Jerusalem, through the Kidron Valley, and over to the garden on the Mount of Olives. There in the garden this rabble of radicals rumbled into Jesus.

“Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?”

A tentative defense by panicked disciples, a flashing sword, a severed then healed ear, and next the mob picks up riffraff; like a hurricane sucking energy from the warm ocean water they roll back into Jerusalem, captive in tow, rushing, lemming-like, over the cliff to the high priest.

There the religious leader, dressed in a three-piece suit, meets the itinerant preacher; the uncommon man in common robe.“We need an accusation!”

“He said we were whitewashed tombs.”

“That won’t carry much weight with the Romans.”

“He broke the Sabbath.”

“The Romans won’t kill him for that.”

He stands silent before His accusers.

“I demand in the name of the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said it. In the future you will see the Son of man seated in power at God’s right hand, coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Priestly shock and feigned dismay is immediately followed by a torn priestly robe and quick judgment. The mob rushes from high priest to Pilate for a quick veneer of judicial approval.

It’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming.

Truth as a Person

19 2 1

There was urgency to all of it. Like breaking into the bank, it must be done quickly before the alarm sounds. It was as if they sought in the rush of activity an anesthetic for the conscience. In the rush of busyness, they found a deadening for the mind. No time for thought or reflection; the decision is made, do it quickly. Let’s get it over with.

In front of Pilate the whirlwind of hatred stumbled momentarily like a hurricane crossing land. Pilate, awakened from sleep, was not so quickly sucked into the vortex of their anger. He paused, he questioned, he reflected, and he sought to protect himself from the tidal pressures that this storm of hate was causing him.

They were protecting their traditions; he was protecting his job.19 2 6 5

They were looking after their livelihood; he was looking for a future promotion.

They were guarding their turf; he was guarding his reputation.

Everyone was protecting, guarding, and securing:

Their own place.

Their own future.

Their own power.

No one was guarding the truth. No one was speaking out against the torrent of falsehood. And in the eye of the storm the Lamb of God stood calm and unruffled as the demons of hell circled, inciting the mob ever more.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Pilate, you don’t understand! It’s not a question of reasoned reflection. “What is truth?”

It is not a time of rational inquiry. “I find no basis for a charge against Him.”

It is not a time of calm deliberation. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

It is an unleashing of hell on earth, and Pilate had no power, for he had yielded his power:

to protect his job,

to guard his reputation,

to employ his skill at controlling mobs.

Pilate had yielded his power to others, and was now swept along like a broken reed with the winds of evil that swept into Jerusalem. Pilate, the politician seeking shelter from hurricane winds, tried to get a grip in the storm, tried to gain some control over the circumstances, tried to be the governor in charge. Now he's thrashing about for an answer as he sees his ship sinking.

He grasps an opportunity.

“Herod Antipas is in town for the feast; Jesus is from Galilee. Galilee is Herod’s territory, so I will send him to Herod. Yes!”

Nice try, Pilate, but the hurricane winds blow full circle and hit him from the other side.

In front of Pilate the whirlwind of hatred stumbled momentarily, like a hurricane crossing land.

“Therefore, I will punish him and release him.”

Be serious, Pilate; you thought you could get some sympathy from this mob? Rule number one in Roman mob control: “Blood increases a mob’s thirst for blood.”

Another idea: “Barabbas! That’s it, Barabbas! Surely they don’t want Barabbas back in their midst.”

You don’t get it do you, Pilate? You really don’t understand the forces driving the tempest.

“If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.”

“Not Caesar’s friend?” The arrow of those words pierces Pilate’s heart. “Not Caesar’s friend?” He can see it all now. The memo:

“To: Emperor Tiberias of Rome

“From: High Priest Caiaphas in Jerusalem

“It is apparent from events recently in Jerusalem that Pontius Pilate, procurator appointed over Judea, Idumaea, and Samaria, is not a friend of Caesar, for he is allowing pretenders to the throne to go free. He invites violence by weak leadership.”

Pilate saw the handwriting on the wall, or on the memo: Checkmate; the game is over for compromising politicians who try to save their necks by compromising with evil.

“Not Caesar’s friend!”

As the storm of screams crescendos to fortissimo Pilate buckles to the pressure, fortitude blown away like autumn leaves, courage toppled like a rootless tree. He handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Then Pilate quickly called for a basin to wash his hands. He made his hands wet but the water never touched his heart. Like Lady Macbeth in her sleepwalk:

“What, will these hands ne’er be clean? . . . Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

Getting their wish didn’t calm the winds of mob violence—it only fed the fire of frenzy, for theirs was a demon-driven lust for blood. And Jesus was led to the Place of the Skull.

It’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming.

The World Turned Upside Down

19 3

Everything out of place.19 3 6

Nails for wood, nailed in a Carpenter.

Blood for living painted on nails.

Feet for walking nailed to wood.

Clothes for wearing divided as spoils.

Hands for healing squired to cross.

Eyes for compassion closed in death.

Knees for children twisted in anguish.

Heart for loving pierced with sword.

Tongue for instruction, dry, thirsty, swollen.

Everything was out of place.

It was as if up were down, in were out, white were black, East were West, North were South.

It’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming.

Never Normal Again

The raging storm dissipated over the landscape of Jerusalem, the Son of God having absorbed the energy of the mob. With the energy of the mob dissipated, exhausted, scattered, and dispersed, it was back to business . . . keeping Sabbath.

Back to the routine; it felt good to get back into the routine. There was the sundown worship reading of Scripture: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4, 5).

They shared stories of salvation from Egypt with their evening prayers and the Sabbath candle. Enjoy the meal, relax, the storm is over, this too will pass, go to bed.

Forget what you saw!

Forget what you heard!

Forget what you did!

The nation is saved.

The system is in place.

We are all secure.

The leaders know what is right.

Where shall we go for services tomorrow?

It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Sabbath, as Usual

Sabbath comes, but everything is still out of place.

Soldiers guarding a tomb? Military posted over a grave? What kind of fear appoints guards over the dead? There is the calm of rationalizing on Sabbath. Congratulations were passed around about a purpose accomplished. The satisfaction of jobs that are secure. The confidence that a problem is behind them. The assurance that the nation is in good hands. The hurricane that devastated the landscape on Friday is rationalized on Sabbath.

“It had to be done.”

“It cleared the minds of everyone who is in charge here.”

There were the usual services that Sabbath day. There was the usual “Good morning, Rabbi Jones.”

“Good morning, Pastor Smith.”

“Nice to see you at synagogue today.”

“Nice to see you at church today.”

It was all very usual; there were the usual meals and potlucks. There was the usual conversation:

“The rabbi had a strong voice this morning.”

“The pastor was in unusual form this morning.”

After dinner conversations included the events of yesterday.

“Pilate sure gave in, didn’t he?”

“I don’t think we will have any religious zealots to worry about for a while.”

“Who do you think will be the next high priest?”

It was business as usual on Sabbath, but Sunday is coming.

Great News!

The soldiers were the last ones to expect it. Hardened Romans had seen it all. Demons were there with the soldiers, guarding the tomb with their spiritual incantations, tightening the seal, locking the door, shutting the tomb.

Then a flash; an earthquake; a broken seal; panic and running. Quickly called meetings and fabricated stories.

Sunday has come!

Women get the news!

Peter gets the news!

Disciples get the news!

Pilate gets the news!

Priests get the news!

We get the news!

Christ is risen!

Gordon Bietz was president of Southern Adventist University from 1998 to 2016. He now serves as an associate director of higher education for the North American Division.