Expository Sermon on Ruth
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 10/5/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(Sorry, due to a technical problem, this sermon was NOT recorded to YouTube. )
Please open your Bibles to the little book of Ruth, chapter 1.
Before I go on, I would like to thank our two Sabbath presenters who let out in Sabbath school and worship service at Rosario last week. Gary Salsman taught our Sabbath school lesson, and concluded it with some deeply emotional thoughts from diary entries which Jeanette wrote in the last few months of her life. Then Chuck Davis preached our sermon, wearing his mountain climbing gear, and musing on the three-day hike Abraham and Isaac took to Mount Moriah.
And of course a thanks to Bob and Carol Grady and other church members who carefully organized the SAGE 25th Anniversary celebration, which happened right here last week.
And still more thanks go to our Pathfinders leaders and staff who worked so hard to make the conference camporee as enjoyable an experience as possible in spite of the rain. Even though we couldn’t all be together last week in one place, it gave me a lot of pleasure to think of each of these groups doing what they were doing.
If you’ve been attending here in the last few months, you know that I’ve been going through the Old Testament book by book, trying to discover Jesus’ footprints there. Because from what He told His followers on the road to Emmaus, He was present in all of Scripture. And I believe that if we can trace His footprints in these books, we can learn how to follow Him more closely today.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the book of Judges. Judges can be a pretty intimidating book, what with all the idolatry and enemy attacks and grotesque stories. But you might remember that I made a point of mentioning that there were times during the book of Judges when it says that “the land had rest,” for 20 years, or 40 years, under the care of a good judge.
The first phrase in the book of Ruth tells us that the events of Ruth happened in the days when the judges ruled. But this book is as different from Judges as day is from night. This must have been one of those times when the land had rest. In Ruth, nobody worships idols, no enemy nation occupies Israel’s land. Nobody in the book of Ruth commits an atrocity.
And also, no divine being appeared to anyone in this book. In Judges, a divine being showed up at two or three times, and in each case this was most likely Jesus Himself. And in Ruth, nobody consults a prophet. Nobody has a vision. There is no direct divine guidance, in other words. Even though Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus—she’s mentioned in Matthew 1, verse 5, Jesus never contacts her in person, that we know of.
Once in a great while someone wistfully says to me something like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a prophet of God in our midst again, who can give us direct and specific instruction from God?”
Actually, this happened very rarely in the Old Testament. Years and years would go by without a prophetic voice. If you will do a study on when Old Testament prophets showed up, it was generally before some major crisis. Mostly, the prophet would appear to warn God’s people to return to God. The prophet would utter dire warnings against disobedience, but would also offer encouragement about how willing God was to forgive if people would simply return.
And in Ruth, there’s no prophet. But what is so refreshing, everybody in the book still behaves themselves. They don’t need a personal, on-the-ground prophet to keep them on the right track, or to show them how to live.
That’s why I think the book of Ruth can be so helpful for us today. As I was reading through it this week, the phrase popped into my mind, “No matter what.” I don’t think the actual phrase is printed that way in the book, but I found at least three “no matter what” examples. And I think they can give us strong guidance about how to live our lives this coming week. Let me show you what I mean by “no matter what” faith—faith I believe we will need more and more as Earth’s history crunches to a close.
Ruth 1:1 – 8 [NKJV]: Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.
If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.
No matter what, God is kind.
Now, it’s easy to say that God is kind when you have a holiday house full of kids and even grandkids. But what about when you are not only a widow, but both your sons have died, and there are not even any grandchildren on the horizon? How could Naomi, almost without thinking, express the hope that the Lord would be kind to her daughters-in-law in the future, when He had already allowed them to become widows at such a young age? Wouldn’t Naomi have been justified in regarding God with a great deal of caution? And wouldn’t she have been justified in communicating this uncertainty to Ruth and Orpah?
But she didn’t. First, she heard that the famine was over—and she chose to believe that this was an example of God’s kindness. Becaues even though she was about to turn her face to the northwest and start trudging back to her homeland all by herself, Naomi had acquired such a firm “no matter what” faith that, no matter what had happened in her past, she could face a future which she knew contained a kindly God.
Now, Naomi wasn’t a head-in-the-clouds kind of person. She looked at life with clear eyes. And she could express strong opinions about God if she felt she needed to. If you know the story, you might remember how when she arrives back in her hometown of Bethlehem, and people start greeting her with her name, Naomi, which means “pleasant.” She immediately cuts them off. Let’s pick up the story part way through verse 19.
Verses 19 – 21: . . . And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
What’s so amazing is that Naomi can hold these two ideas in her mind at one time. Idea One is that the Almighty God (in her view) has afflicted her. Idea Two is that He is kind.
The Bible is full of paradoxes. Life itself is full of paradoxes. It’s foolish to demand that God be absolutely consistent all the time. Don’t ever fall into the fallacy of thinking that God treats everyone the same. I did my student teaching to a class of 30 eighth graders, and I did not treat everyone the same. The shy, perfectly-behaving girls on the first row needed different treatment then the three tough boys in the back row who were throwing things at each other. My voice was softer to the first group, and more commanding to the second.
And it’s the same with God. He does what He must to get people’s attention. Sometimes it’s a still small voice, sometimes it’s a chest-rattling Sinai thunder. Whatever it takes.
And like Naomi, Jesus Himself believed that no matter what, God is kind. Jesus would tell His disciples things like, “The Father Himself loves you.” “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” In Gethsemane, facing the most terrifying crisis any human being has ever faced, Jesus could still say trustingly, “Not My will, but Your will be done.”
So, what do we do with this, this week? We need to check out our attitude about God, and see if it needs some additional enhancing. And we enhance this attitude by reading more of our Bibles, not in little slices and dices but whole chapters and whole books.
This week’s online edition of the Christianity Today magazine talked about the viral video which features Botham Jean’s brother giving a forgiving hug to the female police officer who shot and killed Botham. It was a beautiful picture of the gospel.
But only part of the gospel. I’m quoting directly from the online article (and I’ll include the link when I put this sermon online). The author, Dorena Williamson, writes:
“Most have probably seen this footage. Brandt [Jean’s] offer of forgiveness and hug has been shared and praised widely across social media.
“But many have likely missed footage from the rest of the family, including these words from Botham’s mother, Allison Jean.
“’Forgiveness for us as Christians is a healing for us, but as my husband said, there are consequences. It does not mean that everything else we have suffered has to go unnoticed,’ Mother Allison told the court.
“What went unnoticed? According to Botham Jean’s mother, the crime scene was contaminated by Dallas police. High-ranking officials deleted evidence. Police officers turned off body cameras and vehicle cameras.
“’You saw investigations that were marred with corruption,’ Mother Allison said. ‘While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to ensure that our city does what is right.’
“Listening to the entire Jean family offers us a fuller picture of Christianity. In their words and posture towards [Officer] Guyger and the criminal justice system, we hear calls for both forgiveness and justice. But if we elevate the words of one family member at the expense of another, we run the risk of distorting the gospel.”
I believe that Naomi understood this completely. I believe that she could leave God free to do what He had to do, knowing that He was doing or allowing things for the best eventual good of everybody involved. Why do bad things happen to good people? As my dad would thoughtfully say once in a while, “That’s the way things go.” Naomi could look back at her grief, and feel it sharply, but yet could turn her face forward and say, “No matter what, God is good. God is kind.”
And our second sermon point follows naturally from the first. Let’s pick up the story again at verse 8:
Verses 8 – 15: And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
What’s another “no matter what” truth we can learn from Naomi?
Naomi knew that no matter what, God is kind, and no matter what, God is enough.
That’s a hard thing to say, and a hard thing to believe. But Naomi believed it. As she looked lovingly into the eyes of Jesus’ ancestor Ruth, Naomi seems to have firmly believed that no matter what, God would take care of her. God would provide for her.
Because Jesus believed exactly the same thing. Over and over again He insisted that allowing your family or your friends or anyone else to hold you back from following Him completely is desperately, dangerously wrong-headed. Because people who devote their lives fully to Jesus are not cutting their affections off from their families. It’s exactly the opposite. They become more loving husbands or wives, or fathers or mothers, or better and more selfless friends.
As we read Bible prophecies about the end of time, we understand how important it is to learn to live as though God is all we need. God is enough. God will provide.
So how do we put this to work, this week? I think we need to take another look at what we think is important. It’s great to make life goals, but we need to remember the intensely practical advice given us by James.
James 4:13 – 15: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that. . . .”
Jesus, of course, put this more positively. In the Sermon on the Mount, after He warns against trying to serve God and money with equal fervency, He says this:
Matthew 6:25 – 26: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
A little later, in verse 33, He sums it up like this: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
In other words, as Naomi discovered, no matter what, God is enough.
There are a lot more ways we could trace Jesus’ footsteps here in the book of Ruth, but I would like to look at just one more. Ruth convinces her mother-in-law to let her go along to Israel, and they arrive there. Let’s pick up the story in Ruth chapter 2.
Ruth 2:1 – 4: There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him, “The LORD bless you!”
Here we see that Boaz is also a “no matter what” person. Here comes Sermon Point Three:
No matter what, God is kind, and no matter what, God is enough. And no matter what, God deserves to be brought into your real life.
Thursday night, after that skin-of-your-teeth Seahawks win, Shelley and I settled down in front of my laptop and watched the highlights and the postgame interviews. And we heard Russell Wilson casually mention that he regularly prays to God for his teammates. He just tossed off that comment casually, in response to an interviewer’s question.
And as Boaz arrived in those farm fields every day, he called out a blessing to his workers, and they responded. Of course, this boss and these workers were living in a land where God was definitely in charge, and Boaz must’ve felt his responsibility to bring the nation’s God into the picture as often as possible.
Yet since you and I are not living in the promised land, but in America – which is a promise land to many but also a land of religious freedom – we need to bring God into our real lives in a more nuanced way. I am so impressed by how many of you graciously and humbly and tactfully do this. People who come to our prayer meeting Wednesday nights tell how once their friends or coworkers discover that they are praying people, and go to a prayer meeting, they ask that their prayer requests be taken there.
As I listen to you tell your stories, it seems to me that humility, along with a gentle, watchful assertiveness, is most effective in sharing your God with those you know.
And even more important than what you verbalize about God is how you behave. Ruth and Boaz were so incredibly careful about their courting. The man who greeted his workers in the name of the Lord in the morning was very respectful of Ruth in the evening. And he made sure that he carefully followed all the rules when it came to claiming Ruth as his wife.
Even just a glance at recent news tells us how important it is to be people who always behave consistently with what we know God wants us to do. Who knows how many teammates and other people Russell Wilson has turned toward God. I don’t know the full story about his behind-the-scenes personality, but he seems to be someone who wants to live consistent with what he believes. And God honors that.
So how about you and me this morning? If it’s true that no matter what, God is kind, and God is enough, and God deserves to be brought into our real daily lives, would you like to join me in resolving to take these truths with us from this room to our residences and recreation and work roles and school rooms?