I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.
On November 16, 1778, the above statement appeared in a letter from Captain John Paul Jones of the United States Navy to Monsieur Le Ray de Chaumont of France.
Captain Jones had sent the letter in hopes of persuading the French government to provide him with a ship that he could sail into battle on behalf of the American colonists fighting against the British troops in the Revolutionary War.
In Ship Shape
In response to Captain Jones’ request; the French government issued him a frigate, which he named Bonhomme Richard. From French to English, Bonhomme Richard translates to Good Man Richard.
Fellow colonist and patriot, Benjamin Franklin, was the inspiration for Captain Jones’ naming the ship Bonhomme Richard. Two factors influenced Captain Jones’ decision to honor Franklin. Firstly, Franklin was, at that time, the United States ambassador to France. Secondly, he was the author of a wit and wisdom publication, Poor Richard’s Almanac, that was popular with the colonists.
A Frenzy Of Frigates
In August 1779, Captain Jones took command of Bonhomme Richard and set sail around the British Isles. Accompanying Bonhomme Richard were three other Franco-American frigates; Alliance, Vengeance, and Pallas.
On September 23, 1779, tension was high as the four Franco-American frigates encountered enemy vessels. Dead ahead in the moonlight were not only two British frigates, Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, but also a Baltic merchant fleet.
The Serapis and Countess of Scarborough were escorting and guarding the Baltic merchant fleet, which was bound for America to deliver supplies to the British troops at war with the colonists. Captain Jones and his entourage were on a mission to prevent those supplies from reaching their destination.
A Dubious Past
As a pirate having previously sailed under the skull and crossbones flag, Captain Jones was a master of deception. Relying on a trick learned from his former trade, Captain Jones was masquerading—sailing Bonhomme Richard under the British flag as he headed, under full sail, toward Serapis.
Aboard Serapis, Captain Richard Pearson spotted the sails of the Franco-American frigates and noted that one was nearing Serapis. Unsure whether the approaching frigate sailing under the British flag was legitimate and not wanting to fire on his own countrymen, Captain Pearson issued an ultimatum—calling out to Bonhomme Richard‘s crew to either give identification or face open-fire.
A Fight To The Finish
Just as Bonhomme Richard came within rifle range of Serapis; Captain Jones suddenly dropped the British flag, hoisted the American flag, and opened fire from Bonhomme Richard’s cannons. Meanwhile, the other three Franco-American frigates engaged the Countess of Scarborough in battle.
In a close-quarter duel with Serapis; the Bonhomme Richard sustained considerable damage and, at one point, appeared to be sinking. Seeing the crippled Bonhomme Richard, Captain Pearson asked Captain Jones if he was ready to strike his colors. In naval language, Captain Pearson was asking Captain Jones if he was ready to surrender. From the deck of the Bonhomme Richard, legend has it that Captain Jones replied:
I have not yet begun to fight!
Indeed, Captain Jones was true to his words. What had begun as a deadly dance between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis would culminate in a desperate embrace. In an effort to stay afloat; Captain Jones boldly lashed Bonhomme Richard to Serapis, which his Marines boarded—entering into hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. The bitter battle raged on for three more hours. Not directly engaged in warfare; the Baltic merchant fleet, unfortunately, escaped.
Eventually overwhelmed, Serapis and Countess of Scarborough had no logical recourse but to strike their colors. Proclaiming victory, the crew of the badly-damaged Bonhomme Richard took command of Serapis and boarded her. Continuing to take on seawater; Bonhomme Richard disappeared, the following day, into the murky depths.
Initially coined by Captain Jones; the phrase, in harm’s way, has since become a common figure of speech. To be in harm’s way is to be in the path of danger.
Get Out While The Getting’s Good
Our Scripture text takes place in an unspecified location as Jesus journeys, town to town, teaching and preaching on His way to Jerusalem.
Luke 13:31 (King James Version)
31 The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.
The Herod of whom the Pharisees were warning Jesus would have been Herod Antipas; who was, at that time, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. Thus, we can ascertain that Jesus would, most likely, have been in either the former or latter of these two locations.
Okay, so why the Pharisees’ sudden concern for Jesus’ safety when, time and time again, they have had Him in their cross hairs? Now, we see these leopards changing their spots and coming to Jesus with words of concern.
Hey, Jesus, You are in harm’s way. Herod has it in for You. You need to make Yourself scarce.
Did the Pharisees really care about Jesus’ welfare; or were they simply trying, in an effort to expedite His arrival in Jerusalem, to frighten him into distancing Himself from Herod? Frighten Jesus, are you kidding? Well, I guess they thought it was, at least, worth a try.
Once in Jerusalem, Jesus would certainly be more-directly under the Pharisees’ sphere of influence and more-easily controlled or eliminated. Also, as far as the Pharisees were concerned, keeping Jesus contained in Jerusalem would lessen the likelihood that His popularity would spread and He would continue to grow in power.
I can’t help but recall a quote from the 1974 movie, The Godfather, Part II, in which Michael Corleone, portrayed by Al Pacino, said:
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
The Pharisees had pegged Jesus as their enemy, a radical troublemaker who posed a threat to their regime. Mind you, that is not to say that there were not some Pharisees who sincerely did come to follow Jesus, but they were exceptions to the rule.
How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees in regard to their warning Him that His life was threatened by Herod? Well, Jesus did something totally unexpected. He shared His itinerary with the Pharisees and instructed that they share it with Herod. An open book regarding His whereabouts and intentions; Jesus did not hesitate, but placed Himself in harm’s way.
Luke 13:32-33 (King James Version)
32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
33 Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
The Three-Day Plan
In the Greek translation, alopex was the word Jesus used to describe Herod. From Greek to English, alopex translates to a fox and vixen. Jesus was actually thumbing His nose at Herod by calling Him a fox of the female persuasion.
When Jesus began His next sentence with the word, behold, He was saying:
Ta-da (or voila), I am casting out demons and rendering cures. You have seen me face down not only devils, but also diseases of every description. I am intimidated by neither them, nor Herod. No, I will stay my three-day course, which will end with My being perfected.
Jesus revealed that today and tomorrow; He would go walkabout, as our Australian brothers and sisters might say, casting out devils and healing the sick. Yes, He was steadily working His way toward Jerusalem, but He had no plans to rush and arrive there until His appointed time.
When Jesus stated that a prophet cannot perish outside of Jerusalem; He was speaking, in third-person, about Himself. He was the Prophet of whom He spoke. Jesus was fully aware that He would die in Jerusalem during Passover and not a minute before.
In looking at the three-day timetable Jesus laid out, we cannot help but see parallels with the three days in which His death, burial, and resurrection would play out.
Let’s sidetrack for a moment to the Gospel of John and read Jesus’ prophesying His resurrection on the third day.
John 2:18-21 (King James Version)
18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
21 But he spake of the temple of his body.
Jesus was telling the Jews to destroy the Temple and He would, in three days, raise it up. The Temple to which Jesus referred was not made of stone and mortar, but flesh and blood. The Temple was symbolic of Jesus’ body, and the raising up symbolic of His resurrection.
A Heaping Helping Of Hurt
Returning to the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus speaking directly to Jerusalem and lamenting over their cruel and rebellious behavior.
Luke 13:34 (King James Version)
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Jesus cried out not once, but twice to Jerusalem to get their attention. In His mind and heart, Jesus was remembering and lamenting the loss of the many prophets who had been placed, in harm’s way, in Jerusalem—where they were martyred for having stormed the gates of hell in their battles for righteousness.
Jerusalem and the nation of Israel had been anxiously watching and waiting for seven-hundred years for the arrival of the Messiah, the promised One of God. Jesus exemplified the fulfillment of each and every Messianic prophecy. However, just as the prophets before Him; Jesus was unwelcome, hated, and despised.
Jesus then paints a moving image in which He compares Himself to a mother hen and Jerusalem to her chicks.
In Jesus’ words, you can feel His love as He expresses His longing to embrace, as a mother hen embraces her chicks, Jerusalem. In His words, You can also feel His pain at their rejection.
We have to stop and consider that Jesus thought highly enough of chickens to actually choose a hen as a symbol of Himself. Wow, that’s powerful, isn’t it? A humble hen as representation of the King of kings!
Acting on the recommendation, we made it a point to sit down and watch The Natural History Of The Chicken. Directed by Mark Lewis and released in September, 2000, the documentary truly was both informative and entertaining.
One segment of the program was an interview in which a farmer told of one of his chickens, a white hen named Liza. Much smaller than the other hens in the barnyard, Liza would lay eggs and try setting on them; but the other hens would push Liza out of her nest before her eggs could hatch. In desperation, Liza even tried setting on eggs belonging to other hens; but that only led to more conflict.
A Mother’s Love
Feeling compassion for Liza, the farmer built a small chicken coop just for her. Shortly thereafter, Liza laid several small eggs and managed setting on them until they hatched.
At long last, Liza finally had her own little brood of chicks. Leading them around the barnyard, Liza began teaching them the finer points of being chickens. Motherhood seemed to agree with Liza.
One day, as the chickens were roaming free-range and doing what chickens normally do; peacefully basking in the sunshine, taking dust baths, or busily scratching the ground in search of a grub or two; the farmer saw the flock suddenly scatter.
Looking up in the sky, the farmer saw the cause of the disturbance—a hawk was circling overhead in search of prey. As the other chickens hurried to seek shelter, Liza ran a few steps with them. Suddenly, however, Liza froze in her tracks, glanced behind her, turned, and ran in the opposite direction.
At that moment, the farmer’s heartbeat quickened as he realized the reason for Liza’s sudden change of heart. Her love for her chicks was greater than her love for herself.
Placing herself in harm’s way; Liza scampered out into the open field, spread her wings, covered her chicks, and collapsed to the ground. Trusting their mother, Liza’s brood remained sheltered beneath the fortress of her wings.
Out Of The Blue
With the speed of a heat-seeking missile, the hawk hit Liza with such intensity that her feathers exploded into the air. Before the hawk could regain its composure and return for a second strike, the farmer ran across the barnyard and frightened the predator away.
When the farmer reached Liza, her body lay motionless amidst a scattering of feathers. At first, the farmer was sad; but his sadness quickly turned to anger not only at the hawk, but also often unfairness of life.
Scene Of The Crime
As the farmer stood there trying to come to grips with what had just happened, he heard muffled sounds emanating from underneath Liza’s still-outstretched wings.
As he lifted Liza’s wings, popping up and peeping out at him were all of Liza’s chicks—her precious, long-awaited brood. At that moment, Liza raised her head and the farmer realized her thick plumage of white feathers had not only served to protect the chicks, but also Liza.
Flooded with relief and overcome with emotion, the farmer said that Liza’s self-sacrificial act was undeniably the bravest he had ever witnessed. From that day forward, the farmer said he redefined being called a chicken as a compliment, not a criticism. Now, I do, too.
Hard Times Ahead
In prophesying that Jerusalem will become desolate, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that what goes around comes around.
Luke 13:35 (King James Version)
35 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
The desolation of which Jesus spoke came in 70 A.D. when Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered his son, Roman General Titus, to lead the Roman army in an attack on Jerusalem.
Emperor Vespasian, believing that the people of Jerusalem were mocking his power and questioning his ability to enforce his rule, ordered General Titus to crush the insurrection that had begun in 66 A.D.
During Passover, the Roman army finally managed to smash through the city walls. Once inside, they were consumed by mob mentality—killing, pillaging, and plundering as they surged toward the Temple Mount. General Titus tried to reign in his troops, but had totally lost control.
Emperor Vespasian had given orders that the Temple be spared, but one soldier defied orders. Throwing a burning torch through a low side-window, the Temple curtains were set ablaze. As the fire spread, it burned with such intensity that the solid-gold lining of the Temple walls melted, ran down between the stones, and settled in the crevices.
When the Temple finally stopped burning, the soldiers used pry bars to disassemble, stone by stone, the Temple—scraping loose and commandeering, as spoils of war, the gold from every crevice.
Jesus also prophesied this event in the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 24:2 (King James Version)
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
When all was said and done, Jerusalem was made desolate as 1,100,000 Jews were slaughtered and 100,000 more led away as slaves.
Coming Around Again
Jesus further prophesied that Jerusalem will not see Him again until the time when they say:
Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Several weeks later; those very words would echo without and within the walls of Jerusalem when Jesus made His triumphant entry humbly riding, through the Eastern Gate of the city, on the back of a donkey—knowingly placing Himself in Jerusalem, knowingly placing Himself in harm’s way.
In reality, however, what Jesus was prophesying was not His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but His Second Coming. On that day of days, the nation of Israel will finally realize that Jesus, the Son of God; was, is, and forevermore shall be the Messiah, He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
If I asked you to think of a profession that places a person in harm’s way, what would your answer be? As a general rule, the most common responses are military personnel, police officers, and fire fighters. Yes, and God bless them for what they do.
Have you ever, however, stopped and considered that God’s earthly messengers also place themselves in harm’s way? Self-sacrificially, as servants of God, they are called to step outside of their safety zones and place themselves in harm’s way. If you don’t believe that to be true; read how Jesus, in the Gospel of John, forewarned His disciples.
John 15:18-20 (King James Version)
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
My ten years simultaneously serving two churches (particularly the one that was, at that time, Donna’s and my home-church) proved to place not only myself; but also Donna, our family, and our friends in harm’s way. Far too many of us suffered more than our fair share of hurts and rejections—many that cut and still cut deeply into our hearts. God, however, has been with us—strengthening and supporting us every step of the way.
A friend of Donna’s and mine, on learning that his niece was engaged to marry a seminary student, cautioned her to think twice before entering into the marriage. If she and her fiance followed through with their plans, her uncle explained that she would be placing herself in harm’s way—committing herself not only to her husband, but also his future congregations. Re-evaluating the situation, she broke the engagement and is now happily married to a man in a secular profession.
In my particular circumstance, Donna and I were already married when I entered the ministry. I could not, however, have knowingly chosen a wife who would have been more loving, tolerant, and supportive of my congregations and me.
Apart from ministry, how many other professions of which you are aware place demands on the spouse and children to regularly accompany the employee to his or her place of employment? I am hard-pressed to think of any.
Not once did Donna report with me to work at the post office and accompany me on my mail route. However, barring health issues or unforeseen circumstances, she was with me every Sunday at both churches—not only attending, but also voluntarily assisting.
Yes, few endeavors will place you and yours in harm’s way faster than imparting, in Spirit and truth, the Word of God; and Jesus tells us as much. As the absolute Authority on the subject, He should know. Refusing to bend to the will of the Pharisees, He willingly and repeatedly placed Himself in harm’s way to fulfill His God-given mission. Jesus subjected Himself to constant ridicule; rejection; persecution; and, eventually, crucifixion.
We know, however, that death was not the final chapter in Jesus’ life. No, death was merely a transition from this life to the next. Jesus rose up, on the third day, perfected. In turn, He promises that His good and faithful servants will transition from this life to the next and rise up perfected, too.
As a matter of fact; Jesus chose to close His Sermon on the Mount, arguably the greatest sermon of all time, by offering words of encouragement and reassurance to the men, women, and children who, by Divine providence and/or Christian conscience, find themselves placed in harm’s way.
Matthew 5:10-12 (King James Version)
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
What Jesus is telling us is the end justifies the means—the best is yet to come. Therefore, go boldly and assuredly into the world, and make disciples for Him. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
Featured Image: Cute Babies And Pets; Mother Hen Protecting Chicks; YouTube; Color Photo; 2019
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.