"He Has Not Left Us Without A Redeemer": Ruth 4:1-22
“He Has Not Left Us Without A Redeemer” Ruth 4:1-22 Do you remember those old-time TV or radio shows that would end each episode with a suspenseful scene that wouldn’t be resolved until the next week? Most of these were before my time, but I did watch my share of “Nick at Nite” and syndicated TV as a child. The one I remember was the old Batman TV show. Almost every episode would end with a climatic episode in which it seemed like the bad guy was getting the best of Batman & Robin, and the announcer would come on & say, “Will the Joker get away with his evil tricks? Tune in next time to find out!” And it wasn’t until the next episode until you’d find out how the story would end, and then they use the remaining time to setup another cliffhanger that left wanting to tune in the following week. That’s sort of how the chapters of book of Ruth read. John Piper noted that the story of Ruth is one of a series of setbacks. In chapter 1, Naomi and her husband, Elimilech, and their two sons decided to flee a famine in their homeland of Judah for the greener pastures of Moab. But things didn’t go so well. Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons marry Moabite women and then for two years neither marriage produces any children. And then Naomi’s sons die. And now there are 3 widows to provide for in a society that offered few income possibilities for women. Naomi decides to return home, and even though Ruth sticks with her, it’s clear Naomi has given up. Chapter 1 ends with her, “I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty…The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” In chapter 2, Boaz appears on the scene, and Naomi becomes filled with hope that maybe he would be a possible husband for Ruth. But weeks pass, and he hasn’t proposed to Ruth. In fact, it seems to Naomi that he hasn’t made any moves at all. So there’s hope that things are looking up, but ultimately at the end of the chapter 2 Ruth is still living with her mother-in-law and we are left with uncertainty and suspense about how things will play out. In chapter 3, Naomi and Ruth come up with and execute a risky plan. Ruth goes to Boaz during the middle of the night and essentially proposes to him. And Boaz agrees! But right when the think this love story is going to have the happy ending we wanted, there’s another setback. There is another man, who according to Hebrew custom, has a legal right to marry Ruth. comes up with a risky plan. Boaz, being an honest man, says he can’t move forward until this other man has been given an opportunity. So, chapter 3 leaves us with the cliffhanger of another possible setback. We know someone will marry Ruth, but will it be a man of character like Boaz. Or will Ruth end up with some good-for-nothing who just wants her mother-in-law’s land, but cares nothing for her? Even though we haven’t met this man, we just have the sense that he could never be the match for her that Boaz is. That’s where we stand as we turn to chapter 4 today, the final chapter of this book. And so far we’ve seen that the Lord has provided for Ruth and Naomi through one setback after another. But what about this last setback. Would this finally be the one where God’s sovereign plan would fail, and stop working all things together for good? Let’s find out! Read Ruth 4:1-4. The chapter opens with Boaz getting right to business. He goes straight to the city gate where most meetings where held and official business took place. And along comes the potential redeemer, the other man we learned about in the last chapter. And we don’t know this man’s name because the text goes to great lengths to avoid giving it to us. Iain Duguid says the Hebrew phrase translated “friend” in verse 1 is a meaningless rhyming phrase that could roughly be translated as “so-and-so”. One English Bible translates it as “John Doe”. It’s the writer’s way of talking about him without using his name, and we’ll take more about that in a minute. But Boaz gets this man seated and gathers a few witnesses around, and gets straight to business. He tells the man that Naomi, Elimilech’s widow is selling his property in order to riase money to live on. If Mr. So-and-So chose to purchase the land as a redeemer, it would come under his control, and once Naomi died, it would become his outright provided their were no children involved. This seemed like a can’t miss deal, and so Mr. So-and-So quickly agrees: “And he said at the end of verse 4, “I will redeem it.” (v. 4) But then he hears the fine print. This field came with a wife—and potentially—a child to support. Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” The redeemer who buys the field would have to marry Ruth and seek to raise up a child to inherit the land when he grows up. As soon as he hears this, Mr. So-and-So changed his mind. He said in verse, 6, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” Suddenly this no-brainer real estate sounded like a nightmare. It was one thing when it was just taking care of an old lady in return for the long-term payoff of the land. But if their were to be a child from this relationship with Ruth, not only the redeemer would lose the land, but he’d have spent all that money with no benefit to his own children and his own estate. In other words, Mr. So-and-So was only interested in ministry to the poor if there was something in it for himself and his family. But spending his time, money, and energy helping someone without anything coming back to him in return? Forget it! The irony of course is that by seeking to protect his own possessions and future legacy, Mr. So-and-So ended up leaving himself nameless. He missed out on having a part in the most important legacy of all: a place in God’s plan of redemption and salvation. But Boaz takes a different and more sacrificial approach, as evidenced by what he said when the transaction was confirmed in verses 7-10: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” Boaz made it clear that he was willing to take on the responsibility of redeeming Ruth & Naomi’s family, not for himself, but so that the name of their dead relatives will not be cut off. Unlike Mr. So-and-so who cared only about preserving his own name, Boaz cared about others, even when it wasn’t likely to benefit himself. But what Boaz surely wasn’t aware of at the time was that his sacrificial attitude would actually land him in a place in the greatest story ever told. Jesus said in Luke 17:33, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” By trying to preserve his name, Mr. So-and-So would remain forever nameless. But Boaz, the one who is willing to sacrifice for others, would be celebrated as a man of character right here in God’s word these centuries later. Moreoever, he & Ruth would begin a legacy that would stretch on to include a king after God’s own heart, David, just a couple generations later, and would continue on to include the King of Kings himself, Jesus Christ. What about you and I? How often are we like Mr. So-and-So? How often do we determine our involvement in ministry needs or other opportunities to serve others or our community by asking questions like: “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of this? Will I enjoy it or find it fulfilling? What will it cost me? What will others think of me for doing this? Will I get recognition from this? Is it worth it?” How often do we do the math like Mr. So-and-So and miss out on greater blessings because we’ve left God and his priorities completely out of the question? We look at our time and energy and finances like the disciples when they brought the boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish to Jesus. We think from a posture of scarity, “This isn’t much. I can’t afford to part with what I have.” But what would happen if we saw things from God’s perspective of abundance, and began to use what we have to serve God, trusting Him to sort out the details. Part of the message of the book of Ruth is that God’s kingdom operates under a sort of “upside down” math, where the way to fullness runs through emptiness. That math didn’t add up for Mr. So-and-So. He clung on to what he add, not realizing that in doing so he’d missed on greater than he could’ve imagined. Naomi lost all the things she had. All of the earthly relationships and stuff she was clinging on to. She said in chapter 1 that she was emptied of all her fullness. But now we see that loss has turned out to be part of God’s gracious plan. If she hadn’t lost everything, she would never have come to value Ruth’s true worth, she wouldn’t have come to understand God’s character & kindness for herself, and she wouldn’t have been bouncing a baby grandson on her lap. Admittedly, she did not choose to endure the trials that she had, but for Naomi, the pain of suffering was necessary for her own spiritual growth and to accomplish her purpose in God’s plan. This if often true for you and I as well. Boaz, for his part, was an A student at God’s math. He had an open heart for the poor, and a desire to serve others. We saw that in chapter 2 with his generosity toward Ruth & Naomi. And he wasn’t marrying Ruth for what he could get out of the deal. From a worldly perspective, it seemed like a losing prospect to marry a foreign widow just so she could have a son to inherit the property he had just spent good money to buy. It just didn’t make sense. But Boaz knew that God’s ways often puts worldly wisdom to shame, and he cared more about pleasing God than what others thought about Him. Perhaps recognizing the social and financial risks Boaz was taking, the elders responded with their admiration and blessing as a sign of respect: “Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” 2. God This may have been a conventional blessing pronounced on married couples in Bethlehem. But it ends up being quite significant for Boaz and Ruth. Because, God would indeed bless Ruth & Boaz with a child, and this child would begin a family line that would not only be celebrated in Bethlehem, but in all of Israel in just a few short years, and in all the world today. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this blessing is the analogy it sets up between Ruth & Tamar. You may not remember the story of Tamar but you can read about it in Genesis 38. Here it is in a nutshell. Like Ruth, Tamar was also an outsider to God’s covenant promises, a Canaanite woman. Like Ruth, she also married into the family under less than desirable circumstances. Like Ruth, she also lost a husband and had no child. Both Ruth & Tamar dressed themselves up in their pursuit of a child and a future. But where Ruth dressed herself up and revealed her identity in order to receive a child through marriage, Tamar dressed herself up to conceal her identity to receive a child outside of marriage. She pretended to be a harlot in order to deceive her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with her so she could have a child, who she named Perez. This was immoral behavior, but God in his providence, ends up using both Tamar’s son, Perez, and Ruth’s son, Boaz, for his purposes. Now, why does God do things this way? Why does God choose to get involved with a bunch of messy characters? When you look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, it’s pretty striking to look at the women included in that family tree: •There’s Tamar, the Canaanite woman who had Perez and Zerah out of wedlock •Next, there’s Rahab (1:5) who didn’t just dress up as a harlot, she was one, until she put her faith in God and was rescued out of Jericho •Then there’s Ruth, who was a worthy woman, but still a Maobite foreigner •There there’s Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, but also the wife of Uriah the Hittite And the men aren’t any better: •After all, Jacob deceived his brother Esau, and Judah slept with Tamar without any qualms, all the while thinking she was a prostitute •Boaz & Ruth’s great-grandson, David, seduced Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up by arranging for her huband’s murder •Later in the list is Manasseh, who was such an idolatrous and evil king that the Bible says from the time of his reign, it was a foregone conclusion that God would destroy the kingdom of Judah Why would Jesus, who could have been descended from anyone, choose to be born into a family tree like this? Matthew tells us in 1:21: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Or as Jesus himself put it, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” He came to save sinners. People like his ancestors, and you and me. And when Jesus came to save that which was lost, he didn’t do so at a distance, and dressed up in one of these biohazard suits like some healthcare worker dealing with a rare disease. He came into this world descended from a long line of sinners. During his lifetime, he was surrounded by sinners. He ate with them, touched them, helped them. Matthew 11:19 tells us that Jesus was even known as “the friend of tax collectors and sinners”. Even in his death, Jesus was surrounded by sinners, with two thieves crucified on either side. And yet, for all the many ways Jesus was surrounded by sin, he never sinned himself. So that, on the cross, He could take the burden of my sin and your sin, the sins of the world, and lay them on himself. And as Jesus experienced the wrath of God against my sin and your sin, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as the price of our redemption was being paid. As we said last week, he gave himself willingly. Though he knew full well the pain and cost involved, he chose to lose his life that he might save ours. But that’s where God’s math comes into play. Mr. So-and-So thought he was something, and yet became nothing. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus made Himself nothing, and therefore God had highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name. As great as Boaz’s legacy and family line became, it pales in comparison to Jesus. In fact, we only remember how great Boaz is because of how great Jesus is. And though Jesus never had children of his own on earth, untold numbers of spiritual offspring have for centuries experienced the new birth and hope that He gives. The family that Jesus is building for himself is part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and he’s promised those who are willing to be called His sons and daughters us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you. How do we become part of this eternal legacy our Redeemer is building for Himself. Well, it’s not by clinging to our own efforts, and our own ideas of how to find happiness, meaning, and success. It’s not by leaving God out of our calculations as we try to figure out how to make something of our lives. Not, instead it’s by humbling ourselves and admitting that our feeble efforts can never be enough. It’s by emptying ourselves and giving control over to the one who emptied himself for us. No matter what you done, or how spectacularly you’ve made a mess of your life, or how empty you feel, the story of Ruth is a reminder that God can take what seems like a lost cause and turn it around for good. And ultimately, the cross of Jesus Christ, the most evil, senseless killing in history, is the proof that there is a loving God who is willing to forgive our sin and who can take the mess we’ve made and redeem it for good. We just have to be willing to trust Him by faith and cling to Christ. The devil wants us to tell us it’s a lost cause, to overwhelm us with feelings of guilt and shame over our sin that we just throw up our hands and say what’s the point. Naomi felt that way. But it’s never too late to do the right thing. For Naomi, once she started back toward Judah—and symbolically towards God—God began to prove to her with one event after another that He hadn’t rejected her, that He still loved her and cared for her. In fact, God ended up writing a better story for Naomi than she could’ve written for herself. By the end of the story, she got her grandson on her lap, and she realizes that God has given her a loving daughter-in-law, Ruth, that has become a daughter-in-love who is better than having seven sons. Maybe today, you need to take your first steps back to God. Maybe you realize that the path you’re on is one that ultimately leads to emptiness and will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s one that has nothing of eternal value to offer. Here’s the good news: whether you’ve just turned off the exit ramp to sin or whether you’ve taken so many wrong turns you’ve got no idea how to undo the mess you’ve made, Jesus is standing at gate, ready to receive you to Himself, to pay whatever costs you’ve incurred and to begin rewriting your story from one of emptiness to one of fullness. From one of cursing to one of blessing. Will you trust Him? Will you follow Him? If that’s you today, and you’re ready to follow Jesus, I want to celebrate that with you. Before you leave here today, I hope you’ll come and let me know that you’ve committed to follow Jesus. We want to rejoice with you in that and be there for you along the way. For those of us who have already come to know Christ’s salvation, perhaps the question we need to wrestle with today is: In what areas of our lives have we been living with a “protect-and-preserve” mentality? Where have we been laying up treasures on earth, that someday moth and rust will destroy, rather than laying up eternal treasures in heaven? Maybe it’s in our homes. You see, just as Boaz’s sacrificial commitment of marriage to Ruth was meant to foreshadow the sacrificial love that Jesus Christ would demonstrate for his bride, the Church, God means for our marriages to be a living picture of Christ’s sacrifical love and forgiveness toward sinners. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that marriage is about what is this person doing for me. Are they making me happy? Are my needs being met? But God tells us in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that the math that makes marriage work is the other way around. It’s in each spouse putting the needs of the other before their own that we find our greatest happiness in marriage. And perhaps we’ve strayed from that. Maybe it’s in our church. Perhaps we have the mentality that the church exists to serve my needs, rather than providing a place for me to serve and be challenged to grow in my faith. When we view church through a me-first mentality, we develop a critical, consumer-driven faith. We come in a park ourselves in our spot waiting for the pastor to feed us, for the music to please us, for others to notice and care for us. But when we view the church as a place where we are called to bear the burdens of others and lay our lives down for the Lord, we began to look at for new faces we can welcome, for discouraged spirit that we can cheer, and to give rather than receive. Maybe it’s another area of your life. Your finances, your attitude at work, or when you’re out in the community. When we understand that we have a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who has already purchased our salvation, set us free from our sins, and secured for us an eternal legacy and inheritance that cannot be shaken, it frees us trying to make a name for ourselves and instead living in a way that points others to our Redeemer. That seeks to make His name famous! Graduates, a verse that became sort of a life verse for me when I was not much older than you was Psalm 115:1: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” One of my challenges and prayers for you all is that you would not make it your goal in life to make a name for yourself, but to glory the name of Jesus. And that’s my challenge and prayer for all of us today. Let’s pray.