In preparing to preach, you learn the art of withholding. Not withholding in a neglectful way, mind you. Withholding in a wise way, discerning the difference between what could be said and what must be said. The “could” is good, but it’s not the most essential material for that sermon, that season, that setting, that people, etc. There are various things to consider here, but the point I’m trying to drive at is this—the diligent student and preacher of God’s Word always has leftovers! Just sit down with one of them on Monday morning and you’ll find out!
At Christ Community Church, we just finished our sermon series on the Book of Ruth—an amazingly rich little book! True to form, here are some leftovers:
1. God’s sovereignty—it’s all-encompassing. The Bible isn’t bashful about this. Go to Genesis 50.20, Job 38-42, Matthew 6.25-33, Acts 1.23 and, practically, anywhere else, and you’ll find that God meticulously ordains, sustains and governs all things, from the hues of the lily to the cross of Christ. Ruth’s contribution to this is the extension of God’s sovereignty into the realm of personal “happenstance.” In Ruth, we discover a God Who is intimately involved in the lives of particular individuals—searching them out, working in their hearts, ordaining and reigning in the events of their lives, impregnating “happenstance” and “chance” with divine presence and purpose, putting our tragedies on an eternal trajectory of good and glory [that is, for those who love God, Romans 8.28] and not only appointing the rain drops in our lives but omnipotently directing the ripples also. What that means, as one pastor has put it, is “God wants us to know that when we follow Him, our lives always mean more than we think they do. . . . Serving a widowed mother-in-law, gleaning in a field, falling in love, having a baby—for the Christian these things are all connected to eternity. They are part of something so much bigger than they seem” (Piper, sermon on Ruth 4). Learn to read happenstance in light of God’s sovereign purpose.
2. God’s reign—the book of Ruth takes place during the reign of the judges. This was an exceedingly sinful age, which is captured by the last line of the book, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Hence, they didn’t do what was right in God’s eyes. It appeared as if God’s reign was over, even that God was dead. On cue, Ruth begins with the death of Naomi’s husband, a man named Elimelech [which means, God is King]. But the story of Ruth shows us that even in a godless age where, by all appearances, God is dead, that He is no longer on the throne, God reigns. He reigns in Naomi’s heart, as she acknowledges Him in her sufferings. He reigns in the hearts of Ruth and Boaz, such that Jesus’ impending kingdom ethics in Matthew 5.2-16 are almost personified in them. He reigns in their mourning and their dancing. And He reigns in the sovereign preservation of a particularly important family line, out of which Israel’s greatest king will arise—David (Ruth 4.17-22)! That’s the end of Ruth, to show David’s God-appointed existence and right to the throne. God is King, indeed! And this ultimately shows itself in God’s promise to David of a greater Son, One with an eternal throne and kingdom, Jesus Christ (2 Samuel 7.11-14; Matthew 21.9). God’s ongoing and unending reign in a godless age is quite relevant to us in our own.
3. God’s mercy—there is a temptation to read Ruth this way: Ruth and Boaz are good, faithful people, therefore God loves them and has acted mercifully towards them. They are righteous, therefore God extends His refuge. That is a wrong reading, not only of Ruth, but any part of the Bible. That’s not grace and gospel, which makes that reading tragic. The reality is that God, in keeping with His own glory (Exodus 33.19; Romans 9.15), has acted in sovereign mercy towards Ruth and Boaz. He’s given them circumcised hearts, so that they have come to love God (Deuteronomy 30.6); so that Ruth, the sinful Moabite, didn’t turn back as her sister-in-law, Orpah, but seeing God’s merciful wing outstretched even to her, fled to Him for refuge and salvation; so that Boaz, the sinful Israelite, blessed rather than cursed the Lord, and consistently bore the heart of His Redeemer. God mercifully saved sinners in Ruth, and they became two people who lived as exemplary citizens of God’s kingdom. This, and this only, is a right reading of Ruth—it’s gospel, good news for sinners.
4. Godliness—having said that Ruth is about God’s mercy to sinners, it’s also about the undeniable truth that God works in and through those whom He saves. Ruth and Boaz are co-heirs of God’s mercy, and co-laborers in godliness. Seeing what we see from them, while acknowledging the sinfulness of the time in which they lived, we are led to observe an awesome display of counter-cultural godliness.
Ruth counts the cost of leaving family, familiarity, future prospects, and [false] gods behind, and flees to take refuge in the Lord. Though a Moabite, she conducts herself as a true Israelite, that is, with heart faithfulness towards the Lord. She conducts herself as a Proverbs 31 woman throughout her sojournings on earth (see 1 Peter 1.17-20; Hebrews 11.13-16) and, so, is called “a worthy woman” by the Holy Spirit (Ruth 3.11).
Boaz is likewise called “a worthy man” (Ruth 2.1). He hails from Bethlehem, trusts in the Lord and imparts that trust to His servants (Ruth 2.4). Instead of taking advantage of the young Moabitess in his field [remember this is taking place during the reign of the judges! Cf. Judges 19.1-30], he cares for Ruth (Ruth 2.8-9), he provides for the widow, and shows her grace, comfort, kindness, and overflowing generosity (Ruth 2.13-19). He bears the heart of a redeemer; because he has the heart of his Redeemer.
When they are put in a potentially scandalous situation sexually, their character rather than their passions win the night. Sexual purity reigns (Ruth 3 and Ruth 4.13). Through the entirety of the book, we see two people who, by God’s grace, are “pure in heart” (Matthew 5.8).
5. The glory of Christ—the book of Ruth blossoms into the glory of Christ. From the a] meticulous sovereignty of God “taking pains” to bring about and preserve His Son’s fleshly line, to b] the establishment of various types and shadows of Christ, to c] the foreshadowing of God’s plan to provide refuge for sinners ultimately and finally on the cross (Ruth 2.12), to d] the implications of Ruth’s and Boaz’s faith, what they clung to and believed concerning the Messianic promises of God (Genesis 3.15; 12.1-3; 49.10, etc.), to e] Boaz, a “r”-edeemer from Bethlehem, who bears the Redeemer’s heart in so many ways, to f] the biblical promise and accomplishment of redemption in Christ (Colossians 1.11-14), to g] the glorious depiction of God’s mercy towards the nations and the ingathering of all peoples that take refuge in Him, to h] the immensity of God’s grace as the only Savior of sinners, the glory and worth and beauty of Christ is put on display for us. This is what we exist for, to delight in the glory that we see of God in Christ, and Ruth does not disappoint the heart.