“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
The score was seven to five in the bottom of the final inning. The team sponsored by the grocery store, in the heinous yellow jerseys, was trailing once again this week to the undefeated team with an insurance agency logo on their chests. This was no surprise really, for the team had lost all of their first ten games.
On this sticky, mosquito filled evening, however, the team had managed to keep it close. Now they were within three runs of victory. The first batter had raked a single to right, the next flied out to center, and the third had walked. The tying runs were on board with one out.
Just as some of the crowd began to get excited, others remembered who was coming up to bat. And everyone looked up to see him take the long lonely steps to the batter’s box. They called him “Little One”. He was the shortest child in his grade, and in the grade below him, and the grade below that. As he walked, the jersey that was two sizes too big, and the dirty, wrinkled baseball pants that ended under his tennis shoes made the boy look even more unimpressive. When he played, he played a deep right field, deep enough so that he wouldn’t get in the way, and when he batted, which by league rule meant at least one at bat per game, he was batting .100, a single, gift wrapped for him by a clumsy catcher on a full-swing bunt three games back. But now it was up to him, the little one, to deliver the team’s first win.
Paul rejoiced in the opportunity to write a letter to the churches in Ephesus. Of all the churches that Paul wrote to, this is a letter full of encouragement and exhortation to action. But Paul knew something. He knew that the Ephesians had a pretty good understanding of the works that needed to accompany the Christian life of faith. These people did the right stuff, the religious things, but they needed to be reminded to believe in the One who had given them the grace to be able to do the stuff, even Jesus Christ. For all the faith and love they had shown, at the end of the day, they were still sinners, still dead and in darkness apart from the light of God’s grace, love, mercy, and peace, as seen in the blessings that were theirs: election, redemption, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
The little one dug into the batters box, and then stepped out to knock the dirt out of his treadless sneakers. He looked up and one emotion emanated from the boy’s face for the whole world to see. Fear. After the last walk, the opposing coach had brought in his ace to close it out. This twelve year old was enormous, a freak of nature, a monster accentuated by the blood red jersey with black trim. He was wild, he threw hard, and he instilled fear in the hearts and faces of all the kids in the ugly yellow jerseys. But then, the little one began to dig in again, and he looked up with renewed determination.
Perhaps, the Ephesians were puzzled by the tenor of Paul’s exhortation. At first, it seems Paul is praising their works, and the next minute, he is in a sense devaluing them. But Paul had been at that place one time in his life as well. Paul did all the right stuff: Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, zealous for the Law, a persecutor of the church. He did what was right. He looked the part. But he did not believe. What needed to change him was not doing more works It was believing and marveling in the grace secured for him by Jesus Christ. Grace, not just works, was the quality that needed to set these believers apart.
The boy’s knuckles were white as he gripped the bat while the monster unleashed his first offering. Strike one! The boy couldn’t swing or even react. He didn’t even see the ball. Beads of sweat ran down his face mixing with the dust created by his nervous feet shuffling. He dug in with yet more resolve. Strike two! The second pitch had whizzed by so fast, you could hear the seams tearing apart the thick, moist air. The situation was bleak, 0 and 2, one out, and the freak of nature laughing on the mound.
The boy could hardly move. He simply stood there and waited for his usual walk back to the end of the bench after another strike out. He saw the wind-up, and the pitch. And at that moment, everything froze, the world stopped, and there was a moment of clarity. When the earth began it revolutions again, the boy extended his arms and bat as the heater approached, and his frozen slumber was rudely awakened by a 68 mph fastball striking his aluminum bat with a resounding “ping”.
The little one had never had this feeling before. He had connected. The sounds came rushing into his head like a flood: the instruction to run from his agitated coach, the cheers from his team and the crowd. He tossed the bat aside and began to run, picking up speed, the joy of knowing that he would get on base and that his batting average would jump exponentially!
Then he committed the cardinal sin of Little League. He looked for the ball. It was a high fly ball on the infield, second base side. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the umpire cried out, “Infield fly, batters out” followed by the sound of the ball dropping and hitting the dirt at the feet of the second baseman.
The little boy stopped, and as the second baseman scurried to collect the ball, the runners scampered back to their bases. The boy could not fathom what had just transpired.As he began to walk back to his spot at the end of the bench the tears began to flow uncontrollably. The coaches tried to console the boy but the questioning had begun. “But I hit the ball. I got a hit off the monster. The second baseman missed the ball. Why am I out? Why am I out?” he blubbered over and over.
The Ephesians had done so much well. And it would have been easy for them to take comfort in the accomplishments of their hands. And when we are pious, when we are an example of holiness before brothers and sisters, we too can become conceited. Look at me God! Look at all I have done! Surely, You will bless me for the works of my hands. Yes, a lot of people know all about works, but there needs to be more. Paul’s cry resounds before the Ephesians, and before us, “Not of works so that no one can boast”.
The little one had been done in by the infield fly rule. When there are less then two outs with runners on second and first, a pop fly in the infield will be ruled an automatic out to protect the offense from a “cheap” double play. Yes, the boy hit the ball, but because of the rules the hit was never a hit, it was meaningless, and the boy was reduced to a dripping mess of tears.
Even though the Ephesians had produced good works, even though they knew love and faith, their works by themselves in the end, according to the law, produced death.
After some of the hubbub had died down, the next batter came to the plate. The terror on the mound was filled with rage. How could that little one pop me up? No one touches my heat. The huge beast reached deep down and unleashed all his sound and fury in a cannon blast toward home plate. The batter had no time to do anything but shut his eyes as the heat-seeking missile of a pitch exploded into the side of his helmet. The batter fell to the ground, gathered himself, and tried to make it to first base. But with each step the ringing got louder, and the disorientation was enough to knock the boy out of the game.
The little one stood up, forgetting his own misery and peering through the chain link fence, hoping his teammate would be okay. As he was watching, his coach came over and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He told the little one that he would need to run for the hit batter. He told him to remember that boy as he ran the bases, to remember the chance that was now his because of the sacrifice of another. And so the boy, after checking on his teammate, ran out to first base, beaming with this new chance to run.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. For the Ephesians and for us to come before God, to truly love Him and worship Him and serve Him as we should, we needed to be saved through a sacrifice. His name is Christ the Lord. He is the one that allowed Himself to be hit with all the fury of our sin and the rejection of His own Father. He sacrificed Himself so that the Ephesians, that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This life did not come because of something we have done. No, our works pronounce us guilty, pronounce us out. Yet Christ’s sacrifice renews and restores us, so that through the gift of grace through faith, we may glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
The little one took his lead off first. The ogre had been removed from the game. Bases loaded, down by two, last of the seventh. The count had quickly run to 2 and 1. The new pitcher, feeling the nerves, hung a curveball that never curved. The batter crushed a long fly ball to left field. The fielder tried to dive for the ball in his desperation, but he came up empty. The ball rolled all the way to the fence. One run scored as the boy reached second base and made the turn for third, the center fielder now trying desperately to corral the ball.
As the boy reached third the second run had scored, and the coach was flailing his arms wildly as he waved the runner home. The boy looked down at home plate for the first time all season. The center fielder finally grasped the ball and fired it into his cutoff man. The boy was halfway there, running with all the might a person of his stature could muster. The shortstop wheeled around and gunned the ball into the catcher. The boy began his slide as the catcher looked to block the plate. The dust swelled up and shielded the play from view. The silence was surreal.
The catcher had bobbled the ball as a tiny foot crossed the corner of the plate. The team had won and the little one had scored the winning run. Much celebration ensued as the team went out for ice cream. But the boy never forgot the reason that he got to score that run. The team finished the season 1–11, but after that day, it didn’t really matter. The little one and the boy who got hit became friends and they talked about that day often. But the conversation would always end with the little one telling the other boy, “Wasn’t it great when you scored that winning run!”
So that no one can boast. Christ’s sacrifice for us is the reason that in our gratitude we desire to do the stuff, to work good in His name, and to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We must come to Him and say, remember when You died for my sins, and secured the victory forever. May we remember the infield fly rule, but more, let us remember the sacrifice of our Savior.
Mr. Matthew Nuiver is a Senior Seminarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. He is a member of the Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.