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Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March 5, 2018

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2: 8-9

When you play any game involving a ball—whether it’s golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, basketball—you need to keep your eye of the ball. You won’t be able to hit a golf ball, tennis ball or baseball if your eyes are not focused firmly on the ball. Likewise, you won’t be able to kick a soccer ball down the field, or make a basket in a game of basketball if you don’t follow the ball closely while the game is being played. That’s what God was telling the Israelites when they strayed from God and began complaining about being in the desert. Keep your eye on the ball—on God.[1]

The Israelites forgot about the miracles that God had performed to free them from the Egyptians. They forgot about being rescued from slavery. They forgot about how God had parted the Red Sea for them to pass, and then drowned their pursuers. They forgot that Moses led them to safety and had ensured their survival. So God sent a plague of poisonous snakes to bring them back to the reality that God is their only hope. They begged Moses to ask God to remove the plague. “So Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21: 7b). Moses followed God’s instructions and made a bronze snake and put it on a pole for all to see. Keeping their eyes on the bronze snake healed them from snake bites.  But it wasn’t the statue that healed them. It was their faith in God—keeping their eye on him—that permitted them to live.

Last week we saw how Jesus reacted to the unbelief he encountered on the temple grounds when he saw the usurious practices of the temple money changers and merchants. In this week’s gospel, he is speaking to Nicodemus: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man [Jesus]. Just as Moses lifted the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3: 13-15).  Jesus was explaining that just as the Israelites were healed by their faith in God by looking up at the snake on the pole, so we are saved from our sin by looking up at Jesus on the cross. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Paul reminds us that it was by Jesus’ death on the cross—that we are made alive in Christ: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2: 4-9.

We should always be thankful for God’s goodness, his blessings of deliverance. As I was finalizing this piece on March 3, 2018, I received a call from our son Bobby, who was skiing in Mammoth, to let us know that he is ok.  The avalanche was close to where he was skiing, but he and his friend were unscathed.  They closed the mountain after the avalanche, but they are safe.  I thank God for their deliverance today from harm.  Psalm 107 was written to celebrate the return of the Israelites from their exile in Babylon: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever . . . Some wandered in the desert wastelands . . . they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107: 1, 4-6).

Keep your eyes on Jesus. God doesn’t promise a problem-free life, but he promises to be there for you. Keep your eyes fixed on the cross, remembering that Jesus loved you more than he loved his earthly life, that he died for you, and that he will deliver you from your distress.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-9; Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3: 14-21.

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