Matthew 24:14c (part 1)
Arrows And Targets
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 24:14c (Holman) And then the end will come.
This phrase foreshadowed details of Jerusalem’s destruction, of our present day, and of the end-times. Before the Old Testament ritual ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the New Testament Gospel had been spread far enough for all to know it was well grounded and successfully on its way.
Before the Second Coming, not everywhere will embrace the Gospel, but it will be offered everywhere. This is a part of the good that will grow better till the end of time itself. However, when opportunity runs its course, opportunity will end. When grace goes as far as it can, it will be near its end.
Between these two bookends of history, we find ourselves caught up in the drama and tidal flow of this missions tsunami that began after Jesus ascended. Second’s theme for this year’s (2015) World Missions Conference is “Surrender”, based on Galatians 2:20, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”. I find it providential that at the time our missions conference is about to begin I am, in my regular weekly preaching, at a missions text (MT 24:14) we are supposed to be helping fulfill. Our calling is to be on mission, which requires of us a never-ending commitment to surrender, to live life as God desires, not as we desire.
Missions lives by surrender. William Booth, Salvation Army founder, said a person’s greatness can be measured by the level of their surrender.
Let me modify this, and say a person’s missions greatness is measured by the level of their ongoing surrender to Jesus. Repeated lifelong surrender means more missions effectiveness; less often surrender means the opposite.
A time never comes when our missions responsibility is about our will and wants. It is always about God and others. This means at any given moment of our lives, however old or young we are, we must be surrendering to whatever God may be leading us to do that day, even if it is something we never had past plans to do, and have no current inclinations to ever do in the future.
We forget this to our peril. We often live the Christian life like the boy who kept shooting his arrows at a target, but missed every time. Finally, due to frustration, he shot at a blank wall and drew a target around the arrow.
This pictures many believers’ lives. We find it easy to keep doing what we are currently doing, and to be satisfied with it, especially if we are good at it. Success is dangerous. Its revelry can drown out God’s call. But the call to serve God, particularly in being on mission, is a call to surrender our plans to His will every day, to continue being open to following His possibly new, different plan, even if the task is untested by us, daunting, and we feel we might miss the target frequently. It’s better to miss the right God-made target often than to always hit the wrong self-made target dead center.
The missions/surrender paradigm we need to show was well displayed in the life of Mary Magdalene. She lived a life of repeated surrender to Jesus. This led to her becoming the first missionary to carry news of Jesus’ Resurrection (John 20:17-18). Mary had plenty of opportunities in her life where she could have rested on her laurels. At several points, she could have made her own targets, and not felt any need to worry about new targets God may have had for her life. Her missions/surrender story bears repeating.
Magdala, a small town by the Sea of Galilee, was famous for fishing, boat building, wealth, and depravity. This latter trait had a devastating effect on its most famous citizen. Early on, Mary Magdalene sided with the wrong crowd, began a downward slide, and was eventually possessed by seven demons. Her life became a continuous tragedy, but one day a Man looked deep into her soul, and cast those seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2).
This new freedom was a huge win. She was transformed. This dramatic life change by itself would have been enough of a spiritual victory for Mary to bask in for a lifetime.
Had Mary stopped here, stayed at this new, respectable level of behavior, and done nothing more, no one would have ever faulted her. She could have left her arrow and target where they were, but surrendered to find another target. She chose to follow Jesus.
She financially supported His ministry. This was another place where she could have drawn a target around her arrow. She could have stopped at supporting Jesus during His popular public ministry days, and called herself successful. But even this was not enough for her. She surrendered to the point of staying with Jesus even when He was crucified as a criminal.
All the disciples except John fled in terror. Mary could have run too, but courageously stood by the cross (John 19:25), and followed Joseph and Nicodemus to see where they buried Jesus (MT 27:61).
Mary refused to quit surrendering. She successfully lived a transformed life—she could have drawn a target around an arrow there. She supported Jesus financially—she could have been happy with this as the arrow and target of her life. She bravely stood at His cross, and could have drawn there an arrow and target, but she did not. She instead followed Jesus to His grave.
Mary did not have to do all these things, but had surrendered to Jesus to the point of being willing to continue pursuing God-made targets different from what could have been an impressive list of self-made targets. Have you and I prayed lately about whether or not God may have a new target for us?
John Bunyan, a Baptist preacher in England in the 1600s, chose many times to pursue God’s arrow and target, rather than draw his own. He spent 12 years in Bedford jail due to refusing to stop preaching. In jail, he began writing Pilgrim’s Progress, which for 340 years has never been out of print, and has been translated into over 200 languages. Often told he could go home, Bunyan said if he left he would preach before he “reached yon hill.”
John could have often drawn an arrow and target of his own making, but he knew his calling was not about him. His jail-time stay burdened his family, especially his firstborn, Mary, blind from birth. She appealed to authorities on her dad’s behalf, and helped care for the other children. As weeks in jail became months and years, Mary memorized the way to the jail, and nightly brought John soup for supper in a little jug. He said these visits were bittersweet. He cherished them, but said when she left, it was like pulling the flesh from his bones. She died while he was in jail. I am sure many felt he was a radical, but he felt he had to keep pursuing God’s target.
John Paton (1824-1907) was the oldest of 11 children. John could have stayed near this happy family, and served the Lord effectively, but he could sense God was drawing an arrow and target for him elsewhere.
A gifted young man, he moved to Glasgow, studied medicine and theology, and served God successfully for 10 years as an evangelist and city missionary among the poor with Glasgow City Mission, but somehow knew this was not where God wanted him to draw his final arrow and target.
John chose to become the Apostle to the cruel uncivilized cannibals of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) in the South Pacific. One man said, “You will be eaten by cannibals!” John replied, “If I can honor Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether my body is eaten by cannibals or by worms.”
In 1858 he and his wife Mary sailed from Scotland. They lived among pagan cruelty at its worst. On one of their first days there, natives ate five men. On another day seven were killed, their widows strangled, and all were feasted on. He and Mary had expected a long life together, but three months after they landed, malaria did its deadly work. The heartbroken missionary dug with his own hands a grave for his young wife and newborn baby boy. Paton almost lost his mind. The grave became his much-visited quiet place for years. He could have gone home due to this tragedy; no one would have thought less of him. But he chose to pursue God’s arrow and target. After decades of work, the people he worked among were totally Christianized.
Where are the arrow and target of serving God in missions drawn right now in our life? Are we sure we are where God wants us to be, and we are doing is what He wants us to do? When did we last lay our will on the altar, and at least offer to pursue something else, if God were to want us to?