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Worship Theme: The Savior calls us to believe that his baptism impacts our baptisms.
Sermon Theme: He Is Our Polished Arrow
The instructor made it look so easy as he taught Charlie the proper technique. He showed which hand held the front of the bow and which hand held the arrow. He showed how much tension to use as he drew back the string! And he effortlessly released the arrow and the string and sent the arrow hurdling through the air toward the target and just like that he stuck the arrow right in the bulls-eye! But then it was the Charlie’s turn. And it wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked. Charlie needed practice, and you could tell. His arms shook as he held up the bow. Even as he drew the string his bow circled as if Charlie were shooting from the deck of a ship in rough waters. It took him a painfully long time to decide to release and when he did the arrow made it about halfway to the target. A shooting a bow and arrow is definitely a skill that needs practice to be perfected.
Did you catch the target shooting picture in our text for today? God tells us about a servant that he sent forth into the world. The text written from the Servant’s perspective, telling of his dialogue and discussions that he had with God the Father. Jesus is that Servant and will look at this prophecy with a special focus on a unique picture that Jesus paints of himself. Jesus the Servant says in verse two (God) made me into a polished arrow. Let’s explore that picture and together we will rejoice that Jesus was just that for us. He is Our Polished Arrow.
If you’ve ever been to a shooting range you’ve seen this in action. But even if you haven’t, I think you can figure this out! It’s easiest to hit targets that are close. At 10 feet, it’s pretty easy to be accurate, but at 10 yards it’s a little harder. At 100 yards it gets even harder, and at 250 yards it’s really hard. If you look at your targets from those different distances, you likely have different expectations. At 10 feet, you probably want every shot in the bull’s-eye, because that target is so close to you. At 10 yards, you’re looking for a tight cluster close to the middle. At 100 yards, in the circle is pretty good and at 250 yards you might be happy to consistently hit the target. As the difficulty of the shot goes up, the standards that a shooter holds himself to conversely is lowered. There’s no way you can hit the bulls-eye every time from such a great distance. And you are setting yourself up for disappointment if that’s what you expect. Not even an Olympic biathlete or a SWAT team marksman can do that!
That’s the way it works in target shooting, but it’s not the way it works in life. God’s standards are the same for us, whether the target is easy to hit or not. Sometimes God’s laws are like the 10-foot target – where you’d almost have to try to miss. God tells us not to rob banks, and that’s a pretty easy target to hit right. Look, we are all doing it right now – not robbing banks. He tells parents to feed their family, and I don’t know of anyone here who refuses to do so. It’s a pretty easy target to hit. But sometimes it takes a little more to hit that target. “Love your neighbor.” God says. It’s easy to love the neighbors that God has put in my family, spouse and kids. It’s pretty easy to care about the neighbors across the street – that nice family very kind and loving and considerate. But right next door is your neighbor too. You know, the guy that glares at you when you try to be nice and that blows his snow back onto your driveway and you are pretty sure has trained his dog to use your front yard as his own personal restroom. He’s a neighbor too and it’s suddenly like hitting a moving target. Then there’s the really hard stuff – like making sure that my offerings are a proportionate thanks gift to the Lord. There’s setting proper priorities to make sure that physical wants don’t outweigh spiritual needs. There’s loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me. Those targets are so far away that we seldom if ever get it anywhere close to the way that God wants it. And God doesn’t grade on a curve like we grade our own targets based on a level of difficulty. God doesn’t care if the target is 10 feet, 10 yards, or 10 miles away, he demands a bull’s-eye, every single time.
One of the Greek words that gets translated “sin” in the New Testament is amartia and it really means to miss the mark. God’s will is the bull’s-eye and when we don’t hit it, we are guilty of sin. When we serve ourselves instead of him, we miss the mark. When we get tired of being nice to those who aren’t nice to us, we miss the mark. When we choose entertainment that entices over spiritual nourishment, we miss the mark. And for missing the mark, we deserve to be thrown out of the competition. We deserve to be put on the firing line of God’s wrath. We deserve eternal punishment and hell for the countless marks that we’ve missed.
And because of our sins, our God does fire something in our direction. He draws his bow and flings toward us an arrow. But it’s not one to pierce and crush and kill. It’s his polished arrow sent to save.
I’ve never been bow hunting, but I hear that it is pretty fun. It adds the challenge of having to be closer to the animal, having to be very precise and being more in control. And you have to be judicious with your arrows. It’s not as simple as just reloading. Most deer aren’t going to stick around to see if another arrow goes whizzing past their ear. One and they are going to be gone. And the arrows have to be in good shape, too. If your arrow gets bent, you’ll miss your target. If the arrow’s not straight, it won’t get the job done.
Jesus is the polished and straight arrow of the Father. He says of his Father he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. Paul said that a different way. He said, but when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5). When everything was perfect, when the prophecies had been fulfilled, when the rulers and their decrees were set, when the forerunner was in place, God pulled back the string and sent his Son, his servant, his arrow into the world. Like a hunter who waits for the perfect time to take the shot, God waited for the perfect time, his time, the fullness of time, to send us our Savior.
Jesus was a straight arrow. He had no defect in him, he had no tendency to trail off toward self- service. He never veered towards safety instead of truth. He never overshot the target in pride, nor did he ever fall short in laziness. He always hit the target – he was always a bull’s-eye. When God’s law demanded dead-center precision, that’s what Jesus delivered. He lived perfectly for us. He obeyed perfectly for us. He was the arrow of perfection that we could never be. And he went right where he was called to go. Even when he was called into the womb of a virgin, that’s where he went. When God called him into the skin of a toddler, he went. Even when that arrow was shot towards persecution and rejection and suffering, Jesus was willing to go. He went straight, right where God aimed him. And that arrow flew through life exactly where God had planned for him to fly. Even when God’s aim showed a cross in his sights. God flung his arrow toward that cross of wood and Jesus was willing to fly there. A bulls-eye! And there the arrow stuck! There Jesus was pinned with nails through his hands and feet. He was pierced and crushed and there he willingly and innocently died - for you and for me.
And though Jesus was a right down the middle Savior, he was willing to endure the punishment that our missed marks deserved. He absorbed God’s wrath and justice and paid the price that our lousy aim deserved. He suffered and died so that we could be forgiven. That’s the message that John the Baptist proclaimed. Did you hear it? John said “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) and you guessed it – it’s amartia that John says Jesus took away. He takes away our missed targets. He takes away the de-merits for us missing where we were supposed to be. The Lamb takes our sheet with scattered aim and missed marks and he puts his name and the bottom. Then he takes his own target sheet, with only one hole in the dead center because he hit a bulls-eye every time. He takes his perfect sheet and writes at the bottom your name and mine. It’s as if we had never missed. God credits us with Jesus’ precision, his perfection. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that through him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s amartia there too. Jesus knew nothing of missing the mark, yet that’s what he became so that we could become the righteousness of God!
So, what now? What now for us. We who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn when it comes to perfection have been credited with the holiness of Jesus. We who have not lived an hour of our lives without sinning are now called saints of God and sons of the Heavenly Father and heirs of heaven. So now what? After the speechless shock of God’s amazing grace wears off, we worship him. After the renewed awe that a mortal like me was chosen by the immortal God settles in once again, we look to thank him. We worship him in his house as often as we can. We thank him by giving him our hearts and living always and only for him. We worship him by arranging our lives to glorify his name and by encouraging those around us to do the same. We worship him by mimicking John and pointing others to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Those in our home, in our neighborhoods, in our lives – let’s point them to Jesus. We can tell of missed marks made perfect and of sinners turned to saints by Jesus. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
God’s salvation reaches to the ends of the earth because Jesus is the Light of the World and because Jesus uses lights like us to shine his glory and love. And with the Spirit’s help we can do just that, so that many many more can see Jesus and the light of his love! And in that light, they we see what we see: Forgiveness, life and salvation – they are ours in Jesus!
Whether you have ever shot a bow or if you could think of 1,000 things that you’d rather do – it’s all the same! What really matters is this: Right when we needed it, right how we needed him, our God sent his Son, the polished arrow to make us straight and pure has washed us clean in the waters of baptism. He shot into our lives with love and forgiveness and now we will sail into the air with him – into the clouds of heaven to spend an eternity with him in glory.
That’s our Father’s grace and love. That’s the joy of being able, through faith in Christ, to say: “Jesus…He’s My Polished Arrow!” Amen.
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