Transformed by the Gospel
I really love the game of baseball, so one of the joys that I have experienced as a dad was teaching my kids how to hit a baseball. If you’ve ever tried to teach someone this skill, you know how it went.
After showing my kids how to hold the bat correctly, I would back up a little bit and hold the ball out for them to see. I would then warn them, “Keep your eyes on the ball.” At this point, I would underhand pitch the ball to them and they would inevitably swing wildly and miss the pitch by a mile. The problem? They didn’t keep their eyes on the ball! It wasn’t because they didn’t trust me. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to keep their eyes on the ball either. It was because it isn’t natural to keep your eye on the ball. Your shoulders want to go where your arms go and your head wants to go where your shoulders go and your eyes want to go where your head goes. So when my kids would swing their arms at the ball, their eyes would end up looking out toward left field instead of being locked onto the ball. And this is where the teaching and training would kick in. If my kids wanted to be able to hit the ball, they would have to learn to go against their natural tendencies and condition themselves – force themselves – to keep their head down and their eyes on the ball while the rest of their body moved. Usually after a few dozen more pitches, they would begin to force their bodies to do this and they would begin to make contact with the ball.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to take my eyes of of the ball as well. But I’m not talking about a baseball now (although that is true too which is why I rode the bench in high school). I’m talking about the gospel.
Just like our natural tendency is for our eyes to look away from a baseball as we swing at it, we also naturally look away from the gospel in daily life even as we try to live it out.
We look at the situation we are in.
We look at the people around us.
We look at the world around us.
We look at ourselves.
Our eyes are anywhere – everywhere – except on the gospel so often in life. And predictably, we miss God’s glory.
As the final days of Jesus’ ministry approached, we are given a wonderful reminder of what it looks like to live with our eyes fixed on the gospel – on Jesus – through an amazing act of worship and insight by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8). Jesus and His disciples are eating dinner in Bethany when Mary takes an expensive container holding expensive perfume and breaks the container and anoints Jesus’ head and feet with the perfume. The cost of the perfume was staggering – about a year’s wage. Add to that the value of the container, and Mary’s act is even more astonishing.
Theologians suspect that Mary was anointing Jesus’ body for burial before He died because she actually understood what would transpire a week or so after this dinner. Jesus had been trying to guide His disciples to understand that He would be crucified and raise again, but typically, they weren’t quite getting it. (Let’s go easy on them; they hadn’t been given the Holy Spirit yet and they didn’t have the full council of Scripture from which to draw a proper understanding of what was going on for them in real time.) It seems that Mary uniquely may have not only understood that Jesus’ death was approaching, but also that He wouldn’t stay dead long – thus her act of anointing His body before He would be crucified.
That explanation makes sense of why Mary anointed Jesus, but it really doesn’t get us to the how. I’m not talking about how she physically poured the oil – I’m talking about her heart – what had stirred her affections to the point of pouring out this expensive perfume on Jesus. Surely the one event that prompted a longing within Mary to perform an act of such love, worship, and devotion was the raising of her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.
Mary had witnessed Jesus bringing life to a place where death had dwelled. But for Mary, the event had not been just theological or academic, it had been personal. It was her brother who Jesus raised. It seems that the event helped her frame a proper theology of Jesus (He has power over death; therefore, He will raise again Himself), but it did far more than that. It transformed her. That is why a couple of months after that miracle, Mary is still overflowing with gratitude, love, and devotion for Christ.
And that is what the gospel should do to us as well.
Now, we might be quick to contend that Mary had an unfair advantage. She had Lazarus to look at! Surely every time she looked at her brother, she recalled how Jesus raised him from the dead. That’s why it was easier for her to keep her eyes on the gospel, right. (By the way, have you ever wondered how often Lazarus told someone, “Have I ever told you about the time I died?”)
Well, that’s true only if we think that giving physical life is more impressive than spiritual life. Only if we think giving physical sight is more impressive than giving spiritual sight. Only if we think it is more impressive to heal a man’s legs than forgive his sin.
You want to know the reason I believe that I take my eye off the gospel too much? Because I make much of myself. I’m selfish and I believe I am a pretty good person. Jesus had an easy day when He forgave me unlike what He had to do to forgive that other guy down the street. Now that took some work on Jesus’ part! I’m a sinful man and my natural inclination is to pursue my own glory – even at the cost of God’s glory. And that is why I must struggle – fight – battle – to push myself down and lift up Christ alone. Because it is in these times, when the Holy Spirit produces this fruit in my mind and heart – that the gospel comes back into my view and I see it for what it truly is – amazingly beautiful.
My salvation was not cheap and easy. It was difficult and costly because it came at the price of Jesus laying down His life on my behalf. Jesus willingly suffered and laid down His life for a glory-stealing, self-centered, sinner like me. That is more impressive – that is more powerful than Jesus raising a million Lazaruses from the dead! And I carry that reality with me daily. I have all I need to devote myself to Jesus just as Mary did that day – in fact I have more on this side of the cross. The problem is not that I am ill-equipped, but that I am human and I must fight my natural drifting (or running at times) away from God.
I have been encouraged by others, and will pass along that encouragement to you, that as followers of Jesus we must preach the gospel to ourselves each day. Each hour. Each minute. That is how we keep our eye on the ball and live day-by-day for God’s glory instead of our own. The gospel is not just for evangelism. It is for discipleship as well. If you want to be transformed – preach the gospel into your heart each day and let it develop and grow such a deep sense of gratitude for and awe of Jesus in you that it must spill out in your daily living.
You’ve probably picked this up by now, but that is at the core of The Gospel Project for Kids. God has positioned you to preach the gospel to your kids week-after-week as you preach it to yourself as well. If it feels as if you are saying the same thing week-in and week-out, then good! You’re doing it right! Keep at it. It’s what they need. It’s what you need. Your kids won’t worship Jesus like Mary did apart from the gospel being planted deep within them. Go plant it deeper this week.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the March 8, 2015 session (Unit 31, Session 2) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.