Here is a word from Matthew’s Gospel…
“BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who [f]is to come, the Almighty.”
I am fascinated by the event, but even more fascinated by the description of the Coming Prince. It is something that stirs the hearts of believers of all kinds.
I mention the Coming Prince because you may not be aware of it, but believers are being torn apart, one from another, in our time. Things that draw us together have become far too quiet, while the things that divide us are emphasized over and over, to the detriment of Jesus follower.
Modern disciples must recall that we are not supposed to make unity. The Scripture calls us to “endeavor to KEEP the unity” given by the Spirit at our new birth. Yet, we seem to find this hard to do. Let me illustrate…
Once upon a time a man took a walk and came to a bridge. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he saw a man standing on the rail, obviously about to jump. The man was distraught so he said, “Don’t jump. I can help you.” “How can you help me?” asked the man on the rail. The first man replied with a question of his own: “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s wonderful. So am I. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “I’m Protestant.” “That’s great. So am I. What sort of Protestant are you? Are you Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or something else?” “I’m a lifetime Baptist,” said the man on the rail.
“Praise the Lord,” came the reply. “So am I. Let me ask you this. Are you Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” “I’m Northern Baptist.” “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “I’m Northern Conservative Baptist.” “Well, call Ripley’s. This is amazing. So am I. Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Fundamental or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed?”
The man on the rail thought for a moment and then declared, “My father raised me as a Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed.” “It’s a miracle,” said the first man. “Put ’er there, pal. So am I.” Then he asked, “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Plains Region?” The man on the rail said, “That’s easy. My family has always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region.” “This is a miracle of miracles. I don’t often meet a brother who shares my own heritage.
One final question: Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1855 or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872?” The man on the rail replied instantly, “Since the days of my great-grandfather, we have always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872.” This statement was followed by an awkward pause. Looking up, the first man cried out, “Die, heretic!” And he pushed him off the bridge.
We laugh at that story because it is so close to the truth. If two Christians agree on 79 out of 80 points, they will usually focus on the area where they disagree. We need to remind ourselves of the rallying points of our faith in order to stand together. We need to remember the basis of our unity is not our work, but our Savior.
The truth is that it is possible to FIND Jesus and not FOLLOW Jesus – and that moves from being a PROMISING LIFE to offering a tragically powerless life… because the Christian life IS walking with Jesus, not performing FOR Jesus.
As we look at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, take note of this truth…
Key Principle: We can’t really walk with God if we don’t take the time to gaze at Him – to really SEE Him as He is.
It is possible to get distracted. It is even possible to suddenly become enveloped in the storms and lose our way. Let’s not try to fake it – it happens to Jesus followers all the time.
When Paul wrote to a young church the letter we call “2 Thessalonians” he wrote about three pummeling punches the enemy used in swift combination in order to discourage them any time they appeared to begin to gain ground in the Spirit. The Bible, then, became like the “fight tape recording” of that three punch knockout faithfully preserved so that we might not take the same punches:
• 2 Thessalonians 1 mentioned persecution and affliction deliberately set to ensnare believers just like I find on college campuses and business environments that have grown increasingly HOSTILE to anyone who names Jesus as Savior.
• 2 Thessalonians 2 made clear the enemy was involved in planting the roadside bombs of fake teachings that kept the people of God in confusion. How hard do you have to search the web to find people sharing the Bible God should have written but didn’t – because He wasn’t as “smart” or as “tolerant” as they are?
• 2 Thessalonians 3 revealed the enemy’s age old tactic of discouraging believer’s by helping them to focus on others who claimed to have FOUND Christ, but lived in ways that didn’t FOLLOW Christ.
Relentlessly pounding believers with ominous warnings and the fear of coming trouble, together with constant stirring confusion of false words misdirecting Jesus followers with falsehoods and the sinking discouragement of trying to represent Jesus when loud voices of believers with poor testimonies drown out godly examples – these are three of the classic techniques of our enemy.
Here is the good news: Jesus is greater than the temporary prince of the fallen world. He has not left us without defenses. Redemption has already begun, and it will be complete in His return to the planet. In the meantime, we examine the tapes of past fights to prepare for our own. During our time:
We have God’s Word to reveal to us His direction, correction and encouragement.
But, we have something else we can count on. I believe it is the single greatest secret that helps me in the midst of the storms – and it is what I want to share with you in this lesson from the Word.
We have a lighthouse on the shore that shines through the storms. You’ll miss it if you don’t learn to look for it.
If the swells have overtaken you – our lighthouse can offer you hope, direction and rescue. Our lighthouse is the shining light of our loving, intimate, personal God, and our gaze at Him must be one in desperation – as one who knows he cannot make it to shore without Him.
You heard me correctly. We need to need Him more than we think we need Him now. When desperation wanes, cockiness follows.
When I believe I can pull off the Christian life without Jesus, I show I don’t really understand what the Christian life is at all…
Beloved, I want to remind you of words I have spoken before. They are the “theme music” in the background of all that I preach. I repeat them, over and over, because I need to be reminded of them… Please hear them…
The main point of the Christian life is NOT to tell Jesus you believe what He did long ago – so as to avoid Hell and get to Heaven when you die – it is an intimate walk with Jesus TODAY.
Admittedly, Heaven is a stunning benefit and a deeply encouraging expectation based on the unambiguous promises of the True and Living God – but a new eternal destination not the point (it is a side benefit).
Honestly, Heaven would be a penalty for one who hasn’t learned to love Jesus in this life.
Can I be candid with you about something, now that I am a grandfather twice over? I have heard that not every child LIKES to go to their grandma or grandpa’s house. In some cases, the place seems outdated, stuffy and is full of things they aren’t allowed to touch. Do you know why some children don’t like to go there? The reason is simply because they haven’t learned to LOVE grandma or grandpa. They don’t know how COOL they really are (if people still say the word “cool”). This is the reason my wife and I have become very intentional about making our home a place any kid in their right mind would want to come. (A good idea, right?)
The actual point of the Christian life is to WALK WITH JESUS, to learn to love Him and THEN long to be in Heaven with Him. We aren’t supposed to long for the benefits of the relationship MORE than the relationship itself.
“How can I learn to do that?” You may ask.
I must consciously learn to invite Him to journey through the day, to hold His hand and allow Him to lead through the passage of life. Heaven is an unending version of that reality – but not the beginning of it. We can and should have it today. I want to show you HOW.
By the way, the writer of Hebrews knew this secret.
He wrote that we have a great hall of witnesses that watch us as we live out our faith. The whole time they cheer us on, he noted that we are to be “looking unto Jesus” – not the grandstands, not the cheering crowds – but to the Savior. He is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. He endured the Cross that we might enter the journey of life with Him.
John used the same lighthouse to navigate the storm.
For a few moments, will you join me in looking at the first chapter of Revelation?
Look at the first chapter of Revelation, where John gazes Heavenward and gets his instructions to write the book we have today… The opening lines remind us that purpose of the narrative isn’t just to get believers fighting about the meaning of various signs as we approach the troubles of the last days. The narrative teaches us of John’s special GOD GAZING time. He wrote:
1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Don’t miss the opening line: This is the revealing of WHO Jesus is before it is the revealing of what will happen as God closes the human program. Verse one appears to me to be in the order of priority: reveal Jesus and then tell you what Jesus will do. His works follow His character.
Knowing HIM helps you when you can’t understand what He is DOING!
Revelation 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
Did you see Who addressed the letter to the churches?
Like all things, it started with God the Father.
Revelation 1:4 mentions both the Father and the Spirit, so we dare not pass them by without notice. Remember that although God has many titles in Scripture, He has only ONE NAME. It was so precious over the centuries that Jews ceased to speak it aloud. This name YHWH or Jehovah is, in fact, a contraction of several phrases that can be summarized by John’s words in verse four: “The One Who was and Who is and Who is to come.” (In Hebrew: Asher ha-yah v’hoveh v’yavo).
In short, you serve the ever-present, always NOW God.
He is the God of our Fathers, but, if He tarries, that same faithful God will be the God of our sons. He dwells beyond time – for time is something He made for those limited to the few dimensions that make us HUMAN. He is not like us. The end and the beginning are both clear to Him in the same moment.
Read the rest of the letter that John left us and you will see the Father sits upon the throne of Heaven surrounded by the crystal sea. Ezekiel saw Him moving about on a grand apparatus of wheels, flanked by angels and filled with glory.
• When you behold Him, you will know that He is not a created being – but the very context of all creation.
• He is not the One Who does good – rather the very nature of good is defined by His person.
• When you see the train of His robe and the vastness of His presence you will understand – there is no glory that compares to His.
All creation was made by Him and according to His design. Our very purpose is found in His decree.
The writers included God the Spirit.
Verse four made clear that His throne was surrounded by His own Holy Spirit – whose seven titles likely recall Isaiah 11:2.
1. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of the YHWH (The ever-present NOW God).
2. He is the Spirit of Wisdom (hokmah: practical application of truth)
3. He is the Spirit of Understanding (binah: clarity).
4. He is the Spirit of Counsel (etsah: advised strategy)
5. He is the Spirit of Strength (gibborah: empowering courage).
6. He is the Spirit of Knowledge (da’ath: deliberation)
7. He is the Spirit of Reverence (yiraw: sense of supreme awe).
Don’t rush past the details of WHO the Holy Spirit IS, or you will lose a lamp designed to guide you through the storm.
When you are filled with the Holy Spirit of the Living God, you are filled with the One Who is always on time, always up to speed with the facts, always ready to act in righteousness.
When you walk in the Holy Spirit and refuse to feed the insatiable desires of the flesh, you walk in the practical applications of the Word of God. You let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
When you are filled with confusion and under the smoke of enemy fire, the Holy Spirit will bring crystal-like clarity by the Father’s inexhaustible power.
When you face defeat upon defeat and call upon God for understanding, God’s Holy Spirit will advise you on strategies to blunt the fiery darts of the wicked one.
When you cry out in fear of the things of this world, the Holy Spirit will wrap your weakness in the cable-like strength of Hid might.
When you cannot find a path to follow, the Spirit of Knowledge will show you how to cut through the dense thicket and brush of confusion and stir, and move toward the place of God’s peace.
When you yield your heart to the Spirit of Reverence, you will:
• Fear men less than God,
• Love sin less than a deep yearning for the Master’s smile
• You will keep a sharp eye on the immutable, inexhaustible, irresistible God to get through the storm.
The Father’s power and majesty, coupled with the Spirit’s inner assurance are both light sources to fix our eyes upon. But there is MORE…
The third collaborative author is Jesus.
–The lighthouse includes the One Who called Himself “the Light of the world”.
As I scan verses five through seven, I can begin to recite the greatness of our Savior…
He is the Anointed One, because verse five says:
Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ,
The term “Christos” is a translation of the word for the Meshiach – the Anointed One. Our Savior has been appointed by God to be our King, our Priest, and our Prophet.
His words tell what is to come. His place is standing for us before the Father. His right is to hold the greatest scepter ever touched – the King above all Kings.
He is the Truthful One, because verse five went on to call Him:
Revelation 1:5b “…the faithful witness”
You can trust Jesus to talk straight about life, about struggles, about YOU.
He doesn’t dither around with “fortune cookie” like sayings. He isn’t some mystic “Yoda” figure.
You need to know as the FAITHFUL WITNESS, Jesus won’t blow smoke at someone He gave blood to save. Your pain isn’t irrelevant to Him. You aren’t a BOTHER to His schedule. Jesus is the witness before the Father that you can COUNT ON to speak faithfully the truth.
With His own breath, Colossians 1 reminds, man received dignity, identity and purpose.
A short time ago I stood at a Youth Conference and a student asked from the floor a question. He asked if his friend who called himself a “gay Christian” was going to Heaven. My answer apparently bothered most everyone in the room. I replied, “Your friend is mistaken. Christian is an identity. Sexual desire and fulfillment is a behavior. In the Gospels, Jesus taught the disciples that the Pharisees who called a woman “an adulteress” were WRONG. She wasn’t an adulteress – she was a woman created by God and loved by Him. So is your friend. His sexual behavior is something he does – but not who he is. God always separates behavior and identity.
If you buy into the world’s framing of “I am gay” you buy into letting someone’s wrong behavior (that is, their sin) name them. You and I aren’t what we feel, what we want or what we do. That isn’t our identity – it is our behavior.
Jesus refused to call a woman caught in the consequences of her rebellion an “adulteress.” He insisted that she was, in fact, a woman. She was a beloved creation of the Father. Her behavior was NOT her identity, and neither is any one else’s. We must stop buying into the deception that a person should be rightly named by their sin. Identity is neither synonymous with sexual desire nor behavioral failure. What we do is not who we are. Until we separate between identity and behavior we haven’t learned to think like the Savior.
Jesus taught the intrinsic worth and dignity of people. The modern agenda to accept desires as definition opposes the way Jesus looks at people.
You aren’t a pedophile. You aren’t a prostitute. You aren’t a thief. You aren’t a rapist. You are a person – created by a loving Father, and in need of His strong and mighty hand to deliver you from bowing down to your desires as though they were your master. I needed that. Everyone does.
Just as Jesus called the Disciples to see the “woman in sin” was a woman who needed God to fix her brokenness, so any friend who has been swallowed in a lifestyle of impure behavior needs God to fill the space in his heart now taken by the idols of feeling and desire. Jesus words to her were simply: “Knock it off!” (Go and sin no more). He didn’t mean “Get perfect!” but rather “stop doing this thing that God has said is wrong, period.”
Don’t ever forget: Satan knows you by your name, but calls you by your sin. Jesus knows you by your sin, but calls you by your name. Our faith is deeply rooted in God’s love of each of us. That is the heart of the Gospel.
Jesus can represent the Father in all things, because verse five called Him:
Revelation 1:5b “…the firstborn of the dead.”
Don’t get confused. The term “first born” in the text isn’t intended to say the Eternal Son of God was “born first.” The expression isn’t about Jesus being “created” though in the Godhead, He IS the only one Who experienced the process of physical birth!
The word had everything to do with RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES in the time of the Apostles. The FIRST BORN was the one who represented the Father in negotiations and contracts. He was the inheritor of all of his father’s estate. He held a position of greater authority than any other son, any employee, any representative. Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of the Father (Hebrews 1:4). He is the image stamp. He looks, in every respect, like the Father. He said it this way: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” The term firstborn is a term about the right to fully represent the interests of His Father… and Jesus CAN.
Jesus is the One above every ruler and king, because verse five remarked:
Revelation 1:5b “…and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
There is no rival to Jesus. Every cult, every religion, every revered prophet of men will bow before the Lord of all Creation. Every Prime Minister, every President, every king and queen – all will drop to their knees and bow their faces to the floor in the magnificent throne room of the One God has promised to exalt above all.
He is the One who loved you enough to place His hands willingly down against the wood and evil men drove hard the nails through His flesh. Why? Why would He do that for you and for me? John made it clear…
Revelation 1:5b “…To Him Who loves us”
Jesus didn’t simply honor His Father’s wishes – though He DID do all things pleasing to Him. Jesus turned to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and He told them plainly: “Love one another in the way that I have LOVED you.” (John 13:34ff).
It wasn’t simply DUTY that drove Jesus to the Cross. He loved each one of those bumbling followers of His. They couldn’t listen very well, and they slept through their final prayer meeting with Jesus in Gethsemane, even though they knew He was upset about something. These guys had so many rough edges – they could be US! Yet, Jesus made clear He loved them. John included the whole of the church when he wrote “to Him Who loves us.”
Jesus is the One Who laid down His life for us. John wrote:
Revelation 1:5b “…and released us from our sins by His blood—
Think of it! Sin has no hold over you that YOU aren’t giving it.
Acting as a slave to your desires is like living in a jail cell with a door that is unlocked. Jesus unlocked it already.
Before you knew Christ, you were dead in relation to a real connection with God. You could do good things, but you couldn’t do RIGHTEOUS things. You could help people. You could be friendly. You could observe the GOLDEN RULE, pay your taxes and be a faithful spouse. What you couldn’t do, is settle the judicial issue between you and God related to your broken heart. You were born a sinner. It was passed from Adam to you and I by means of our father’s seed. You got more than your nose from him!
Jesus became sin, though He Himself never rebelled against God at all. He did it so that we might have a lamb that was truly spotless of offer up to God and pay for our sin. He took MY place and YOUR place on the Cross.
Jesus didn’t die simply to make us ONE in Heaven, but to bring us together to serve Him NOW! John wrote:
Revelation 1:6 “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Our Savior welded us together. Forget your social status – all followers of Jesus are happy slaves. Forget your wealth – we are to live as those surrendered to the King. Forget your color – God didn’t want a boring world so he gave us many unique features that make us able to reflect His artistry. Forget yourself: We live for the glory of the King.
Don’t forget: Jesus is coming back. He isn’t done.
This old broken planet, gasping for clean air, shedding some of its wondrous beasts in extinction because of terrible greed, incessantly arguing about one opinion after another, spilling innocent blood because of rivalries, jealousies and mistrust… the earth is about to stand silent when the King arrives…
Revelation 1:7 “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
Songwriters Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings and Michael Fatkin are credited with the lyrics of a song called: “So Will I.” Perhaps their stirring words will help you to deliberately focus on the Presence of God, and take the time to truly gaze upward to SEE HIM. They wrote:
“God of creation, there at the start, before the beginning of time with no point of reference – You spoke to the dark and fleshed out the wonder of light. And as You speak a hundred billion galaxies are born. In the vapor of Your breath the planets form. If the stars were made to worship so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made – Every burning star a signal fire of grace. If creation sings Your praises so will I.
God of Your promise, You don’t speak in vain. No syllable empty or void. For once You have spoken, all nature and science follow the sound of Your voice. And as You speak a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath [forming] in pursuit of what You said. If it all reveals Your nature so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You say. Every painted sky a canvas of Your grace. If creation still obeys You so will I, So will I, So will I.
If the stars were made to worship so will I.
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I.
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I.
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I.
If the wind goes where You send it so will I.
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I.
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy, then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times!
God of salvation, You chased down my heart through all of my failure and pride. On a hill You created the light of the world abandoned in darkness to die. And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear. Where You lost Your life, so I could find it here.
If You left the grave behind You so will I…”
When earth is full of drama, gaze up at the God Who will make all things new. Remember, He started this, and He is going to finish it. Revelation 1:8 makes it clear:
Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Think of those words.
• God started it all, and there is no other who will bring it all to an end.
• God is not “behind” – He is always NOW.
• God has no rival to subdue – He is the ALMIGHTY.
Now, let’s make this all very practical.
Philippians 3 was written when Paul was under house arrest in Rome awaiting the “justice” that was bound up in the person of Emperor Nero. Things weren’t looking bright. “Fair” was not on the menu. What did he do?
He said: “I want to know Him. I want to know His power. I want to know His pain. I want Him to change me as I study more and more His face, His life, His character.”
In Acts 7, Stephen found himself surrounded by the disfigured faces of angry men even as He testified to God’s great work in the Jewish people over the centuries. They huddled around him, having removed their covering cloaks so they could hurl stones upon him, Stephen fell to his knees and looked up to gaze at the Savior.
Acts 7:55 “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Beloved, we will never really walk with God as He desires if we don’t take the time to SEE Him.
There are many who don’t look to their own peril. They get swallowed by life’s problems. They may truly know Jesus, but they will fail to follow Him. Their life will not show that Jesus can transform a life.
Their chance to serve the Savior will slip away, and they will waste it all.
Some waste their life because they believe they are too important to bow.
In U.S. Naval Institute Magazine called “Proceedings” Frank Koch wrote:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ’We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.” The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ’I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course. – As told by: Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 153.
When you truly see the Master as He is, you recognize the privilege of being His servant.
Mary met Joe at a Bible study group on campus. After a few dates, they could clearly see the Lord meant for them to spend their lives serving Him together. Joe had the desire to be a businessman that would serve Jesus and create wealth that would fund ministry operated by other friends he saw God calling. Mary wanted to serve Jesus as a housewife with an in-home cottage industry business. She was smart, motivated and dynamic. The short story is they graduated, she with her Bachelor’s degree and he with an Associate’s degree. They got married and she started her business and her family. Joe went back to school to get further education and get his business career started. In the middle of the next year, both of their lives changed. The baby that was forming in Mary was in distress and had to be delivered early. The complications were many, and the baby, little Jolene, was born with a series of severe physical limitations. The couple was stunned. They were prepared to serve God in many ways, but this changed both of their plans. What went wrong? Why would God sideline both of these dear ones and move them to a place of struggle like this?
Tom loved two things in life: his family and fishing. Anyone who knows anything about their family knows this: fishing is more important than perhaps any activity beyond work and worship. Tom and his wife are vibrant in their faith. Their children are active in their children and youth programming at their church. Yet, no one could miss that all of them were very familiar with time on the lake. Every child could worm a hook, net a catch and know the variety of fish caught. They “force adopted” their father’s love. All this was true until the day his son started to pull the boat forward too quickly before his youngest daughter was aware of the move and properly braced herself. She fell backward against the side of the boat and tumbled off into the water as the boat sped away. It was only a matter of seconds before Tom took control, slowed the boat and jumped into the water. The blow to the little girl’s head in the fall and her subsequent toss into the water took her little fragile life from her. Those few minutes changed everything for the family. Tom couldn’t bring himself to look at the boat again, much less go fishing. His son couldn’t forgive himself for the mishap. The family began to fall apart. All sat with their own loss, their own pain, and their own wonder: “What went wrong?”
Why doesn’t God stop these kinds of bad things from happening?
Such “why” stories may be hard to listen to, but they are not difficult to imagine. In preparation of this Bible lesson, I found myself selecting from a long list of stories where the outcome didn’t seem to match the situation. In case after case, it seemed like people were doing good things, only to have a crisis rise in spite of their situation.
When such stories hit our radar, we respond in a number of ways. Some of us just HURT with a “there but by the grace of God go I” kind of mentality. Others seek to find a weakness in the preparation of the people, the medical practices, or someone else to BLAME. We feel an instinctive indignation in the unfair nature of the situation, and we seek to “right it” by drawing from our own mental library of experiences. Here is what we all know inside: You can do everything right and things may not turn out in a way that is either comfortable or desired. Here is where understanding the next part of God’s Word helps us. The truth that saturates the ground of the Genesis 2:4-4:26 is this:
Key Principle: The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.
Life has been broken by sin, but that isn’t the ONLY reason things went wrong. The world is operating under a “patch” after sin entered, but there is MORE to the reason for life trouble than the sin issue. The possibility for trouble began with our very design.
When you ask Jesus followers the “Why?” question, they inevitably turn to Satan’s fall and the subsequent “Fall of Man” passages. That doesn’t answer the whole problem. The underlying question is this: Why would a perfect God design a society that could embrace evil? Sin isn’t the only factor in what went wrong. Part of our understanding of trouble should be found in the equation of our design.
You see, God answered the question about evil and why it exists. It is found in several parts over the earliest chapters of the Bible.
To get to the answer, remember where we have been. The opening prologue of Genesis reminded us of some important truths:
• God created all that is, and He did it for His own purposes. The world is His, and so am I.
• God ascribed intrinsic value to each of us. The value we possess is not based on our ability to accomplish things, but simply because He placed that value upon us. Whether I can do much or little, I am His creation – and that alone makes me valuable. That is true of the elderly, the physically limited and the unborn. If God created it, the intrinsic value is there.
• God assigned purposes to us. They are the true purposes of our existence. Any siren call to change the path of those stated purposes should be identified as the call to mutiny, not a call to freedom.
• God liked what He made when it was as He made it.
The whole first account had only one real actor – He was the Creator. Man had a “walk-on role” in the story, and more explanation was due.
The first “scroll” of life stories found in Genesis 2:4-4:26 can be easily divided into four primary stories:
1) The Creation and assignment of man (2:4-17)
2) The Creation and assignment of woman (2:18-25)
3) The Fall of Mankind and the curses (3)
4) The Beginning of Murder (4)
This is the account of the heavens and earth and what went wrong!
Since God liked things the way they were made, it is obvious something went wrong. The obvious question is this: “What happened?” That is what the four stories reveal…Look for a moment at the first account. Let’s look closely at the first of the four stories of this scroll: man’s creation and purpose (2:4-17).
Fitting the stories together
Take a look at the statement in Genesis 2:4. Some see the statement of Genesis 2:4 as a summary of what went BEFORE in 1:1-2:3. Other scholars believe it sets apart the account of what happened with the creation of man, woman, the garden and the introduction of evil. Genesis 2 recorded:
Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
There are good reasons why you may maintain either view. What is important is this: there is a clear purpose for the narrative. God wanted to explain what happened to His perfect creation.
The Timing of Man’s Creation
The account opened with a word about timing…
Genesis 2:5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
Verses five and six set the story back into the narrative of the sixth day in Genesis 1:26-31. The record wasn’t of a new event, but rather a “zoom in” on the details of that day for the purpose of setting up the story of what went wrong.
Apparently, the earth’s continents were set in place (though not as they are now extant post-flood), but the “ground cover crops and vegetation” hadn’t yet grown. That note helps us to understand two things:
• First, that in the beginning, God used dew as His primary watering method for the earth. Rain came later in the story as we shall see.
• Second, the management of the land was directly linked to the purpose of man (more about that later).
The crucial point is that man was created before the rains were operational as the sprinkler system on the earth. God seeded the landscape and set it to incrementally grow by dewfall and internal design (each plant, etc.). God then turned His attention to creating man to manage the earth’s natural order.
The Creation of Man
Read on, and the account explains man’s creation moment:
Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.
Contrary to other explanations of the origin of human life, the Bible claims we are actual “earthlings” in the sense that we literally were formed from the chemicals and minerals of the ground. The link in the Hebrew language is even more obvious: Man (adam) is created from the ground (admah). Man was not eternally a being – he has a beginning point. He was created in the temporal, frail and physical world. He was intentionally formed (he didn’t come to be from another species). At the same time, man was given a very special gift. God breathed into that formed pile of clay and minerals and gave it “life” – using the word for breath “nawfach” – the word for blowing air into a fire to stoke it, and the word “chaim” for life (part of the essence of God Himself). This included sentience, self-awareness, determinative will and moral conscience.
Stop and consider that man was made by the intention of God and with an essential life component that came from God. In this, our faith has taught us a basic primer of the DIGNITY of human life. We are NOT MAMMALS, nor are we an incidental part of the CIRCLE OF LIFE. We are unique and exceptional on the planet. Every attempt to make us part of the animal kingdom by a random “natural selection” multi-millennial change demeans the uniqueness of man and robs him of his exceptional quality.
To speak to the point: What we are teaching in today’s science classes will end up as tomorrow’s nursing home health care and end of life policies.
I am not trying to be some fussy cleric teaching you to resist modernity and the scientific explanation of things, out of some plea to hang on to perceived power over your heart. I am simply making the argument there is a cost for buying into lies that make people no different than the animal kingdom, and those lies will change public health policy. They will demean human life. They will accept the premise that when a life is lost, though it is sad, there is little consequence. It is a natural part of life on our planet.
One of our own young women faced a choice about a treatment for an illness in her body that would have certainly resulted in the loss of her unborn child. If I understood the situation correctly, the doctor seemed to have precious little understanding of why “terminating the pregnancy” was even a problem. “The couple could always have another child later,” the doctor reminded.
When we lose the sense that every life is exceptional because of God’s assigned value, we lose a sense of who we are as humans created in God’s image.
The Placement of Man
As you keep reading, God not only MADE man, He POSITIONED man to be able to give Him an assignment. This was integral to the man’s self-understanding and his sense of accomplishment. The beginning point was the simple note of “where” man was placed – in an environment that required arrangement, management, and care. The text recorded:
Genesis 2:8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
First, it doesn’t claim the “whole earth” was a garden – only that a garden existed on the earth in that location. Even before the advent of weeds, the work involved in the garden wasn’t some kind of penalty. Man was created with a purpose. He was made to work and accomplish. He was made to work the environment around him and organize it. He was made to care about the things around him – not haplessly use them for momentary purposes. Keep reading:
Genesis 2:9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Some get out of the story at this point. They were fine with the notion of creation, but the sound of a tree of life or of knowledge seems like a bridge too far. My advice: slow down! Look at what the account is attempting to explain. God made the world in a way that it would meet our needs and bring us great pleasure – even by looking at it. The point of the passage was not to offer you a genus of a tree that bore knowledge. The tree didn’t make you have life or knowledge – God did. He ascribed what everything was FOR, and He made clear what would result from eating a fruit. If God said Vitamin D would make your bones and teeth strong, and the fruit of the “tree of life” would regenerate cells in your body – what is the real difference? One sounds plausible and the other fictional simply because you are familiar with the former and have never experienced the latter.
Let me ask you: Can a God Who can fling one quintillion stars into position make a tree to offer a fruit that, when eaten, will regenerate tissue?
If He cannot, then the account is simply false. If He can, then the account may offer a simple account of what God did long ago. What if God made a tree whose fruit could help you grow dramatically the neural pathways of your mind? Would you call that a “tree of knowledge” because of its results?
Remember also, the world that Adam saw was not the same one you are looking at today. Most of us believe the earth began with a single body of land (a pangaean continent). Since the original design, there have been at least two cataclysms – the arrival of sin and its penalties – as well as a reorganization of a massive flood event that has changed places and appearances significantly. If you read the next part and think you can use it for exploration purposes, you have forgotten the cataclysm that separate that world from the one you are in now:
Genesis 2:10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
We don’t know where the places mentioned here are because they aren’t there anymore. The rivers that have their names are not where the originals were. The continents have moved, broken and changed. The fact that Tigris and Euphrates exist NOW in the Persian Gulf at the places mentioned in the text are a simple anachronism. What we should understand is there was a lush garden environment around man sown with a balance of good soil and temperate weather ideal for growing the plants that were already replicating themselves.
One other important factor about this place was that it was a place where God met man in the cool of the day (cp. Genesis 3:8). This little stretch of physical “Paradise” was the place where God came and walked with man and where man gained knowledge of his purpose. It was a sacred place, a HOLY place, a meeting place fit for the King of the Ages to walk with His subjects.
Before we continue with the explanation of man’s assignment, go back and look in the first chapter at what we were already told in the summary statement of the sixth-day creative activities. This will add texture to our understanding:
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The account offers three details:
First, God made man in His own likeness. The term “tselem” that is translated “likeness” is a word for “shadow, shape or form.” What does it mean? It is hard to know the whole depth of the term, but it minimally includes in the context the idea of purposeful labor as satisfying. God liked creating and administrating the world and man was given this “sameness.” Put another way, you are most like your Heavenly Father when you are working to tend an organized and disciplined life. There is satisfaction and pleasure in purposeful labor that leads to some accomplishment. The enemy celebrates leisure and sloth, but little would be gained if we make those our chief ambitions.
Second, God commissioned man to rule over the earth’s created beings. In addition to organization, man was given some control over things in his environment, and that sense of control was meant to be a pleasant feature. This too was something that seems part of the “sameness” men were given by God.
Third, God created two varieties of humankind – male and female. They were created distinctively one from the other with differing design and different purposes.
Go back now to the second chapter:
Genesis 2:15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
In addition to ORGANIZATION and LEADERSHIP (RULING) found in Genesis 1, two new words were introduced into the dialogue in this chapter that describes man’s assigned purpose, the words “cultivate” and “keep” the meeting place Paradise.
The term “cultivate” is from the word “obed” which is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to denote “service” or “labor.” It is used of slaves and their productive labor and even used of worshipers before God. The simple term means WORK. Even in Paradise, work for God in an assigned task is what gave man’s life one of his main senses of purpose.
Economist Todd Buchholz, in his book Rush: Why You Need and Love The Rat Race, sampled 27,000 American workers between 1972 and 2006 and determined that 86% of the people were satisfied with their jobs. He wrote: A life of stasis or murmuring mantras, of staring endlessly at the surf with a pina colada will confound and frustrate your frontal lobe.” He argued that there was no real evidence that in “simpler” times people were happier. They lived shorter and more arduous lives. He further posited that since dopamine is released in response to taking risks, we were designed to try things. He went so far as to state that based on the scientific metrics he studied, it appears that activity and external stimulation, not quiet contemplation, sync us with the world and produce a longer term sense of happiness. Competition and risk produce necessary innovations for progress. That creativity seems to be inborn.
I cannot tell if the details of Buchholz’s findings are reliable, but I can tell you his general conclusion was already stated in Genesis 2. Men were created with the desire to organize, create and master the world around them. Strangely, the desire to do this work in harmony with the Creator is now found in the most unlikely place. This is the basis of PRAYER – working as a servant while requesting supplies from the Owner to keep your world running well.
Next, God added something else:
Genesis 2:16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
In the warning God gave to man, he separated man from all other creation. Here, God treated man as a moral agent, able to decide to follow commands or warned about consequences for not doing so. This act demonstrated that God desired a LOVE RESPONSE from man, even if doing so placed the story of history at risk.
Here is the first answer to the WHY question we looked at earlier.
This is a mere beginning, but it is so foundational, so very important, that I am unwilling to rush past the rich and powerful truths embedded in verse 16 and 17.
Why doesn’t God stop evil from happening?
The first answer (and there will be several others as these chapters unfold) is found in what God said to man about his own CHOICE to follow or to mutiny. We must recognize that as a moral agent, man was inherently given a choice to follow God.
Let me explain…
When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandments of God were two – to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (cp. Mt. 22). He claimed all the Law and Prophets hung on these two commands. In essence, Jesus said the supreme ethic God gave us is the ethic of love. It is the peak of all intellectual and emotional order. It is the organizing principle of all other parts of God’s story of history. It is this love that installs value and worth on each person we encounter. God loves His creation, so it has value. Between us, love is a prime cause that makes us desire to protect another.
The problem is that you simply cannot have love without weaving into the story the freedom of the will to choose to turn away from love. You can force compliance without the will – but that isn’t operating LOVE as the supreme ethic. Your computer can be wired to respond to the command, but it doesn’t LOVE you. It obeys. It is predictable when functioning properly. It is loveless.
Here is the truth: You can only love by choice. Freedom is indispensable to love.
The essence of God’s desire is relationship – with us and between us. Jesus said love drives the story. Therefore, we cannot rightly follow God without both loving God and receiving God’s love.
The problem is that our choice to follow presupposes the choice to reject, to mutiny, and to commit acts of selfish evil.
If God’s chief goal for us is to love both Him and our neighbor, our freedom to choose either to do so or to do the opposite is a necessary component of that command. Love will flow no other way.
Without choice, true love is crushed.
If we demand God put a stop to all evil, we demand Him to stop the premise upon which human history is built. He has planned the story with intricacy to show Who He is, and He has designed a stunningly complex world to make His identity clear. God is love. He chooses to love.
If God blocks all evil and thwarts all choices that don’t honor Him, how can we learn to love? Can His goals for us ever be realized? Is not the Maker the One Who sets the goals and principles of the story? If you want a world in which there is no evil, you are demanding a world in which there is no choice. It would be a coin with only one side. It would be a meaningless contest in which there were joyful winners, but no chance of losing. It isn’t only impossible – it is absurd.
As the absence of light is darkness, so the absence of choice is compulsion.
If God is good, why is there evil?
Ironically, the choice to ask the question is also part of love. We only know it is a problem because we can choose between good and evil. We ask because we are free to ask.
Simply put: with choice, there is love. Sadly, there is also the possibility of evil.
The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.
In the coming lessons, we will see the choice to mutiny destroys man and his environment. At the same time, one day, we will also love reign supreme.
Some years ago, Dr. Ravi Zacharias spoke about this. He said:
“We think we know so much. The story is told in Near Eastern folklore of this man who lost his horse when the animal ran away. His neighbor heard about the horse and came to him and said, “Oh my, bad luck isn’t it?” The man replied, “What do I know of luck?” A few days later, the horse came back with twenty other wild horses and the neighbor saw them all in the corral. He said to the man, “Oh my! What good luck! The horse has brought many others to you! Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The man sent his young son out to feed the horses and one of them kicked his son’s leg, breaking the leg. The neighbor heard about the injury and came to the man and said, “Oh my! What bad luck for it appears your son has been injured!” Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The next day an evil hoard of thugs entered the village taking every available youth to go to their gang army. They spotted the young son but left him behind because his leg was broken. The neighbor came over to say, “What good luck, your son has been saved!” In one little series of episodes, it becomes obvious that we don’t know what lies ahead and what it all means. (I shortened and paraphrased as faithfully as possible his original story).
Dear one, let me plead with you… instead of indicting God because evil and trouble are in your life, why not wait until you stand before Him one day, face to face, and you will find out the reasons why He did what He did to show the heinousness of evil and see the majesty of His unmatched love?
God made the choice clear: follow the Creator or turn and live to serve self. One He defined as GOOD, the other He said was EVIL. The stakes are life itself. What is YOUR choice?
As a grandfather, I have been delighted to rediscover childhood, in some small way, as I watch one infant and one toddler learn the basics of navigating life. Some time back as a dad, I was busy so much of the time, I missed out on things that others see – but I am trying to see with more tender eyes these days. Here is something I have observed that most of you already know, but it helped me to see: Children learn by playing with things. Train tracks that don’t fit together won’t keep the train running. Big blocks on the top of my pile with small ones on the bottom make a collapsed mess. I even recall when I was a child, learning that “Lincoln Logs” make a great looking house (because someone else cut and notched all the wood and I only had to take each ready cut piece from the box). Those house building projects taught me that if I wasn’t careful about how I built, I would end up with a nice house that was missing a door to enter or exit! It would look great, but not one would have been able to use it. That is where childhood imagination kicked in, and I gave my little imaginary home dwellers the power to walk through walls like “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”
It is surprising in how many venues children can learn. They soak up everything! Even playing with food can teach children. Moms make airplane landings in the mouth with a spoonful of strained spinach, selling the child that “this is delicious” and children learn what blatant manipulation looks like! Even so, we have to admit that some food is fun to play with. Oatmeal on a highchair tray is itching to become “dried oat art.” Spaghetti with sauce is just begging to become a new artistic swirl imitating paint on the kitchen wall!
When I think about food, here is what I learned: You can’t build anything on a “Jello” foundation! It seems firm, but it really isn’t! Between the slimy nature of it and its unreliable stability when placed under pressure, I have concluded that no secure buildings will ever have “Jello” foundations.
I guess the bottom line of building is this: everything stable must be fixed to a firm foundation.
I have been observing all around me people who seem to be living lives built on metaphoric “Jello.” Some are kind couples who love each other until they fight and cannot stay married – then it’s over. Their vows were obviously cast in a Jello mold. Others express belief in certain life principles until those same ideals cost them too much money.
For instance, I was talking the other day to a ministry leader distraught because two senior citizens in his congregation who expressed they knew and loved Jesus were found to be living together outside of marriage because their pension and retirement would be cut if they actually married again. They apparently believed in integrity, unless it was to a corporation or unless it would cost significant income with their retirement – in which case such integrity was simply too costly. I call that a jello foundation.
If you think about it, Jesus taught that stable foundations are essential and available. In His opening message recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus made the point in the close of that rousing message on “becoming a disciple” that:
Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
His point was that storms will certainly come in life, and deliberate actions taken because of attentiveness to His Word were what would provide a secure, immovable foundation to get a follower through the storm.
Don’t skip past the two steps involved in a secure foundation.
The first step is KNOWING the Word of Jesus. Without an understanding of what the Lord said, He argued that we face the world without security. I want to make that very plain, because Jesus did. The world is filled with storms, and it simply isn’t a safe place in its fallen state. Because I have God’s Word, I can know both the Designer and the design. Because God explained what happened in the Fall of man, I can understand why things fall apart in a world built by a good God. Knowing is the first necessary step.
The second step is BEHAVING in each of the operations of life (i.e. relationships and responsibilities) in deliberate response to the Words of Jesus. It isn’t just about what we KNOW, it is about what we CHANGE because of what we know. I know how to eat right, but my waist line often reflects knowledge without behavior. That is what Jesus meant when He said:
Matthew 7:26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
In these lessons, I want to follow the truth all the way back to the foundation given by God.
These lessons aren’t designed to be steeped in academics, but rather a renewal of stabilizing principles from the text of God’s Word.
I want to be sure our foundation and behaviors are a deliberate response to the truths Jesus made clear. Consider the words from “The Message” Paraphrase of Proverbs 22:3:
“A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.”
Doesn’t that have the echo of the same idea “and great was the fall of that house” as Jesus reminded?
As you open your Bible to the very first page in Genesis 1, I want you to consider the truth upon which the entire Word of God rests…
Key Principle: A strong foundation for life is set upon two powerful underpinnings: knowing the truth and living based on the truth.
Let’s ask some simple questions to the text at the beginning. What are the foundational truths that can root me deeply and bring stability? What truths enable me to be a dependable person deeply rooted in a stability the world around me cannot understand?
Foundations are usually the beginning of any work. They are not ONLY there, but some important ones are found at the beginning of God’s Word.
As we look at the opening page of the Bible, remember that many of us believe that Genesis was put into its final Hebrew form as a “prologue’ and ten scrolls that each began with the phrase “alle toledot” or “This is the story of” (cp. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9, etc). The older King James designation was “These are the generations of” and the newer translations – “this is the account of – “. In any case, the idea is the same. There is an introduction followed by what appear to me to be ten stories or accounts that are critical to my understanding of the world. Some of the accounts are quite short and pointed, but others are an entire mini-series set for prime time television.
Today I want to look more carefully at the opening introduction to the Bible, and make sure we know how the story began, and what God gave us in the record of the ‘first pour’ of the foundation of His Word. With that is mind, look at the opening words of the Word, a primer of history revealed to Moses at Sinai. Expect this message to address “simple things” because it is foundational. Begin with the Bible’s opening:
The Prologue: The Story of the Seven Days
In the intimate prologue of God’s recorded creation event, there are three details that carry the story.
First, there is the “WHO.” One cannot escape the beginning general note about the intentional Creation of the physical world by God Himself.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
“In the beginning” forces us to conclude any word of something before what we see now is entirely speculative and beyond the story God has explained to us about the cosmic origins. The starting place in the story of man and his world was God’s creation. The beginning was in God. For this reason, wisdom begins with knowing Him. We will never be wise chasing design without acknowledging the Designer.
Second, the ownership of all things is rooted in their making. God made us. He deliberately and purposefully crafted our world and our persons. Therefore, because He was our origin, He alone can ultimately determine my purpose and my destiny. There is an emphatic assertion from the opening line that no one competes as the owner of the planet. This is my Father’s world. Let there be no mistake. No council can overrule Him on why things are the way they are, or dismiss that His record is clear and concise.
Let’s say it this way: The opening line of the Bible offers this simple and straightforward word, that truth is found in the One Who created. Every other choice to explain origin, no matter how sophisticated in appearance, is a dressed up form of rebellion against God, and against the grain of how it all really happened.
God offered man (later in the story) opportunities to innovate with created things in order to improve conditions of our lives on the planet, but creation of something from nothing is beyond the purview of the created. God creates. God owns. In God’s explanation are the knowable facts of our origins.
A culture which cannot accept the opening line of the Bible is one rooted in rebellion. It can form models and even operate great technological advances – but ultimately the truth is found in the opening line that stares back and exclaims: “I am God, I created, it is all Mine.” This is not a fact we can “come half way” and “explain away” for popular acceptance. Either there is a Designer and therefore an Owner, or there is not. The Bible falls clearly on one side of that argument. It is the foundation of morality, mission and mankind’s destiny.
Second, there is a brief mention of the “HOW.” The fact that Creation was done in specific stages and sequences.
Genesis 1:2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
In the record there was a time when the organization of the world was not as we see it today. God could have created with absolutely finished villages and street cars and a world full of developed and modern people – but that is not the record. Creation occurred in an intentional and developmental way. He described creation’s steps. What were they?
It began with matter created but not in its final organized design as we know it. Note the terms ‘earth was formless and void” or the Hebrew “תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ” (tohu v’ bohu). The words mean literally “chaos or confusion” (in the sense of disordered) and “empty of meaning” (in the sense of devoid of recognizable purpose).
The Bible clearly stated that God put matter together, but didn’t immediately assign its order and purpose – that was a second stage. Don’t miss that. The creation entitled the Creator to assign purpose.
God created everything with a purpose and God alone can assign that purpose. Your body was created by Him, and its limitations and its proper uses are determined by Him. Biology is not bigotry – it is control. That is why the world rejects the very science they vaunt when it expresses controls on their desires.
Another important facet of creation that is made clear here is apart from God’s assignments, things devolve into chaos. Whether we are referring to the boundaries God placed on separation of species or of social constructs – the world was designed to function under assigned rules. Defy gravity and you will pay a price. Re-write biology and family function and you will as well.
Freedom doesn’t come from throwing off design. Each initial sense of freedom will eventually show the Pandora’s box of trouble it unleashes when accessed.
Suzie was shy and couldn’t speak to men. She was 27 and had a successful career. She wanted a husband and children to match her dreams. The problem was that her shyness caused her to freeze in social situations. She couldn’t talk, and she couldn’t show her shiny personality that was hidden. Someone told her that alcohol would help her “loosen up” and the bottle would offer confidence that she didn’t feel inside. She decided to dive in. What she didn’t know was the party girl she became solved ONE problem, but unleashed a series of other problems that she couldn’t control. The unintended consequences destroyed the dreams they were supposed to fulfill. I don’t have to describe how. It is a well known story that most all of us have seen in life.
Third, (beyond the “Who” and “how” of Creation) there is the revelation of “WHAT.” Moses reminded us what God designed and how His design fits together.
Look closely at the rest of the verses in chapter one. Note the following:
First, notice the words that mark the “days” in the first chapter:
• Verse 5: “first day.”
• Verse 8: “second day.”
• Verse 13: “third day.”
• Verse 19: “fourth day.”
• Verse 23: “fifth day.”
• Verse 31: “sixth day.”
Next, note how each new day began. In verse three God said: “Let there be light.” God inspected it in verse four and named the light and darkness in verse five. In verse six God said: “Let there be separations – land from sea and in verse seven he separated atmosphere from the vacuum of space above, forming an envelope around the earth. He named the separations in verse eight. Each day began the same way – with the SPEECH of God. That is a point that is repeated and should be carefully considered.
Genesis 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Genesis 1:6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the [expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
Genesis 1:9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day.
Genesis 1:14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
Genesis 1:20 Then God said, “Let the waters [teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
Genesis 1:24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The point is clear: God is the initiator and communicator, and what caused each part of Creation was logical, rational and deliberate thought. He is not hapless not haphazard. He is purposeful and intentional about what He does.
Many in our day seem to think that God is powerful enough to create with intention and purpose, but somehow unable to publish and maintain an accurate and careful record of what He did. They will argue that “Moses made the Creation story” as if God could place one quintillion stars in the Heavens but failed the supreme challenge of passing information to a secretary to write down the Holy Writ.
Third, notice God’s control in the world. When God spoke – what He commanded was EXACTLY what took place. Look at the words “It was so.” The world was created to LISTEN to God’s voice. After the Fall, we have gotten SO used to the mistaken idea that God’s Words aren’t really as significant as the words of our peers and the feelings of our heart about things. Do you recall that Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “As in Heaven, so on earth” as an expression of how WE should think about God’s commands?
Take a moment and look at what the text claims He created:
• Light and darkness – long before heavenly bodies gave them. He can create the effect before the cause.
• Land from sea – the very shape of the continents is in His hands.
• Atmosphere from the vacuum of space – after generations of technology to simply travel into space, it is worth recalling God made both and keeps the atmospheric envelope around the earth. No amount of human ingenuity could possible pull that off.
• God planted the garden of the world with each species and kind of plant. He parked in the heavens planets, stars, sun and galaxy. He tossed into the sea scores of creatures, designed with unique features and adaptability – because the Fall of mankind was coming and things were about to get marred. When the seas were teeming with life, He turned His kind attention to the mud and earth, and built His own zoo.
• Every creature on the earth came from His hand. Every fish in the sea reflects an incalculable complexity and houses within its organs the image stamp of a Creator.
Now, stop and look at God’s evaluation of what He created.
Make note in your Bible in 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:25, 1:31 – “It was GOOD.” God was satisfied with His design, and had no one to please beside Himself.
We need to remember that when God makes something, He knows what He wants and why. That truth is important!
Every shred of Biblical evidence available in the revealed truth of the Living God makes clear this truth: You are not a mistake. You are not surplus DNA on the planet. You are a formed child with a specific purpose by a Creative God. Simple songs of old reveal that in the Psalms:
Psalm 119:73 “Your hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.”
Psalm 139:14 “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
Look at the end of the prologue (Genesis 1:1 to 2:3), because God’s evaluation is crystal clear:
Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. 2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
God was satisfied. There was no need for more or less. He could set aside the creative work and enjoy the fruit of that labor. He created what He created the way He chose to create it, for His own purposes.
Now, consider that those simple truths are the foundational basis of surrender to Him and they are the very points at the heart of our rebellious contention against Him.
If God created all and God purposed all – my life ISN’T about ascribing purpose to things or “making” them valuable – it is about finding my purpose in HIM.
If He is the absolute ruler and owner, and I am His – made by Him for the purpose He made me – ANY other proposed purpose is a false one. Every time I ignore or reject His Word, I am in rebellion… plain and simple.
If the world was designed by God to follow God– our futile attempts to pull off life without attention to His Word will bring collapse in the storm. That was Jesus’ simple teaching in Matthew 7. Storms will crush the stability of your home, and pummel your life.
Yet, that is not what the world says…
Our world celebrates rebels. Look up the word REBEL online. We name sports cars, sports teams, powerful trucks, slick motorbikes and advanced cameras after the idea. In our modern world, rebel evokes untamed exploration, clever innovation, engaging excitement and risky edginess. God’s Word expresses it differently!
According to God:
• Rebellion caused every emotional and relational pain you have ever experienced. Rebellion is the fruit of feeding on selfishness.
• It isn’t exciting, unless you count excitement as violent destruction.
• It isn’t edgy – unless you count slipping from a high place and plummeting below.
• It isn’t exploration – it is violation. It is not simply “going where no one has gone before” but rather “trespassing where entrance has been forbidden.”
We must acknowledge the glorification of rebellion as a means to gain a sense of freedom is one of the greatest hoaxes of our day, sponsored by the Deceiver himself.
When I rebel, I will pay. Sadly, often someone who is innocent in my rebellion also pays. It may not happen today, but God says it will happen. I cannot ignore my need for a Savior and a covering!
When you recognize your rebellion, remember: God didn’t leave us to fix the problem on our own!
R. G. Lee, that great Baptist preacher once wrote:
“There never was another Who caused all creation to be ransacked in pursuit of words appropriate to convey to human hearts and minds His glorious pre-eminence.
There never was another Who was a human child and also a divine Son; Who was wounded by Satan and Who, at the same time crushed Satan; Who was appointed the Savior of men, yet was crucified by men; Who was Judge of men; yet was led as a felon from one tribunal to another.
There never was another Who died and was buried and yet lived; Who saved others and Himself could not save; Who had no sin in Him, yet all sin on Him; Who was the King of Glory, yet wore no crown but a crown of thorns; Who, in the glory He had with God before the world was, had the angelic hails of heaven and yet, on earth, gave Himself to the murderous nails of men!
There never was another Who was the Prince of life, yet died on Calvary; Who was as old as His heavenly Father and ages older than His earthly mother.
There never was another Who was the victim of a Roman cross and victor at a Jewish grave.
There never was another Who poured all seas, all lakes, all rivers out of the crystal chalices of eternity, yet on a cross said with a mouth hot like a parched desert that cries for rain, ‘I thirst’”.
All of this was written to describe the Lord Jesus Christ. God has given Him a name far above every name. We speak today of the Righteous, Risen, Reigning Christ!”
If you don’t know Him, you need Him. If you do, you need to listen to Him. Why?
A strong foundation for life is set upon two powerful underpinnings: knowing the truth and living based on the truth.
Don’t forget: His very NAME is “Truth”. Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.”
Like most healthy and reasonably “normal” children, I didn’t really follow politics, but there were some names I overheard and learned in my early life. One of those unmistakable family names was “Kennedy.” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most Americans of that time thought we would likely have decades of the Kennedy family in the news and perhaps even in the White House…
I was only two years old when President John F. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Later, when I was seven years old, President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California, after winning the California Democratic primary for the upcoming Presidential election. With both gone, most eyes turned to yet another Kennedy brother – Ted. Just a year after the loss of Robert Kennedy, a single-vehicle car accident on Chappaquiddick Island brought his journey to the White House to an end. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s admitted negligence in driving resulted in the death of his 28-year-old companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. According to Kennedy’s own testimony, he accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge, swam free and left the scene. He pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury” and was given a two-month suspended jail sentence. I believe it is safe to say that scandal haunted the rest of his political career. Some in the media murmured about the family being “cursed.” Others waited to see what the next generation would bring.
Perhaps you were moved, as many Americans were, while watching television on the day of President Kennedy’s burial by the salute of little “John-John.” He became the hope for the Kennedy clan’s future. That is until he perished in a plane crash. Our nation again stood shocked around television sets in the summer of 1999 when John Kennedy, Jr. at the age of thirty-eight, crashed into the waters off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife and sister both died in the crash as well.
The sense of a curse deepened in the press. Yet, the truth seemed simpler than some plot or curse. Investigators concluded Kennedy was a qualified pilot but only according to VFR (visual flight regulations). He was not qualified to fly by instruments (IFR–instrument flight regulations). As he flew along the Atlantic Coast, he encountered a blinding fog. Only an IFR trained pilot would have been properly prepared to navigate through the confusing haze.
Immediately after the accidental crash, some pilots explained the disorienting nature of flying without any visual reference points. As strange as it seems, a pilot can lose all sense of direction relative to the ground. Without a view of the horizon, some lights in the distance or another reference point, a pilot can’t reliably perceive what direction he or she is heading. Some have come out of such fog banks flying perpendicular to the ground of even upside down from the earth! There is only one way to safely fly in such conditions, and that is for the pilot to keep his eye fixed on the instruments in the cockpit. The plane electronically provides an artificial horizon marker and makes clear the height, airspeed, and attitude (ascent or descent). The instruments tell the pilot the truth when they can’t see it with their eyes. The toughest part, according to many seasoned pilots, is learning to have unquestioned faith in the instruments – particularly when you feel something different from what they indicate.
Think about the faith it takes to fly on instrument flight regulations. Could you overcome your feelings and trust the panel in front of you?
Now, look at the situations in your life. Sometimes the way forward is clear. The alarm clock says, “Get up!” You hit the button, jump out of bed and head to the shower. It isn’t a mystery; you need to get ready for work. How you feel isn’t all that relevant, since you know the bills will roll in either way. That seems simple enough – but that isn’t all there is to daily life.
Maybe the circumstances you are passing through aren’t all that clear. Maybe you sympathize with the pilot in the fog bank because it feels like that is where you are living right now. Maybe circumstances don’t look particularly good, and God doesn’t seem particularly close… or even fair right now. This wasn’t in the brochure. You don’t know how to trust without being able to see… If you understand that feeling, then you understand my friend Naomi, and you can pick out the struggle she went through long ago. If you feel unprepared, remember that is the very reason stories like this one are in the Bible – to train you to keep focused on the instruments (in this case the promises and Person of God) when flying in the fog.
In the Book of Ruth, Naomi had a crisis of trust. God loved her, but she couldn’t see it. For a long time, it felt like He didn’t love her, didn’t want to tenderly care for her, and didn’t make anything clear. As you open Ruth 4, listen to the truth she learned from her “fog bank” experience…
Key Principle: Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances.
Naomi learned a spiritual version of flying by “instrument flight regulations.” She had to stay focused on God’s character and not her circumstances – and that took training.
Because you may have been away from the story for a while, let’s recall what the Book is all about.
In chapter one, Naomi was given by God two sons, but they were both sickly. She was given a husband, but he died. She was given by God a farm, but a famine drove her from living there for a time. Widowed and broken, she set her face to return from Moab back to Bethlehem. Against her initial wishes, one of her daughters-in-law, a Moabite girl named Ruth, came with her. Naomi arrived back to her old family farm with a companion, but utterly overtaken by bitterness toward God.
In chapter two, we find Naomi begin to soften a bit. Ruth asked to go and glean in the fields among the leftovers, and God directed her to a relative of the family who was kind and generous named Boaz. His care for Ruth and for Naomi’s situation revived hope in Naomi, and allowed her to see that God wasn’t cruelly stripping her of everything – He was repositioning her.
By the third chapter, Boaz showed love to the family and promised that he would see their needs through to the end… We feel like good things are coming, but they don’t happen until the last chapter.
Throughout the story, we learn that we need to live patiently before God.
We need to face the fact that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if leaving us there will position our life where He can best use us. We learn that He can set the stage by removing people dear to us and by removing situations that are both comfortable and familiar. He supplies people to help us, and He opens doors for us – but He does it to fit His plan and His timing.
As we close the story of Naomi’s life, we need to consider how walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not our view of circumstances. I have in mind an ironic truth: The greatest joy of this life is that our greatest joy isn’t found in this life. Because of that, we can’t see purpose here. It is only found in finally viewing the story from Heaven’s perspective. To that end, look at the last chapter, which we can divide into three simple parts:
• First, there is the story of the redemption of the family of Elimelech, the deceased husband of Naomi (4:1-12).
• Second, there is the marriage and childbearing of Ruth that brings about the celebration of Naomi (4:13-17a).
• Third, there is a narrator’s note on the reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22).
Ruth was promised by Boaz in chapter three that he would be willing to help Naomi raise up the name of her dead husband and restore their farm and standing in the community. How did he do it?
Redeeming the family and name of Elimelech (4:1-12)
The text records the redemption of the family at the ancient courtroom found in the gate of the city of Bethlehem. Watch as Boaz makes good on his promise:
Boaz organized the gathering (4:1-2)
Ruth 4:1 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.
There they sat, Boaz and eleven men gathered by him to discuss the matter of the loss of the name of Elimelech and the need to redeem his property. The Law had few restrictions on women of the era in terms of their ability to buy, sell or grow a business or run a farm. Proverbs 31 illustrates the fact that a good woman performed many business functions. Don’t get hung up on the fact that she stayed at home, for that is where people operated their businesses – both men and women. The chief issue was this: a woman couldn’t operate her home business pursuits without a male heir whose name was listed among the tribes of Israel. This allowed the property to be identified by tribe and family and held the land in trust according to God’s prescribed order. Elimelech died leaving no male heir. The relatives could redeem his name by marriage and “takeover” of assets and liabilities, but the order in which they could apply to the court was based on a specific lineage order. Boaz wanted to see Naomi and Ruth cared for, and the farm redeemed – but he knew he wasn’t first in the line to redeem the family – someone else was before him. The text continued:
Ruth 4:3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.” 7 Now, this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”
The court witnessed three issues that day.
First, the land and property of Elimelech were, in effect, purchased by Boaz.
He was taking on all debts and responsibilities for the property. Boaz removed his sandal and put on the sandal of Elimelech, openly beginning a journey to “walk in his shoes” as a metaphor for taking over in his place.
The idea of redemption in the Bible is simple: it is a purchase. When Boaz redeemed the property of Elimelech, he was making crops raised on that property saleable under Elimelech’s name. He was reviving the position of one who had been removed from the rolls because of his death. Real estate hung in limbo for a time because of no permanent tribal record of a living heir. The property was in jeopardy when the next Jubilee year would reset the records of property. Boaz pledged his fortune to cover all the markers on the land.
Christians use the term redemption in a related way as we look in the Christian Scriptures. The idea comes, in part, from the Law and stories like this one in Ruth. We find the term used in places like Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus where he wrote:
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us ...
Don’t get lost in all the words. Paul made the point that God blessed us with all kinds of rich spiritual blessings which will reach completion when we are in His presence in Heaven (1:3). He intentionally chose us long before we were here – with the end purpose of bringing us to holiness (1:4). Out of love God purposefully adopted us (1:5-6). How did He do it?
He did it by redeeming us. The term translated “redemption” is “apolýtrōsis” and literally means “to buy back, to re-purchase something once owned but later lost.”
The Bible teaches that man was created by God and was His personal property. In rebellion, mankind turned from God as a child that ran away. When God “found” us (an analogy with limits, to be sure), we were enslaved. He had to buy us back. Fortunately for us, God had what was required in the form of the sacrifice of His Perfect Son. The blood that paid for our sin, should we decide to accept it, is effective to cleanse us. It also provides the full re-purchase price to put us into the family of God as adopted children. We who follow Jesus are His twice over: once by creation and the second by redeemed purchase.
Second, the name of Elimelech was overtaken by Boaz.
All children of the union of Boaz and Ruth were legally named after Elimelech, and the property remained in his name under his proxy, Boaz. To redeem the name, Boaz lost the right to transfer his own name to others. He gave up his place so that others would have the proper attachment to their rightful father.
Throughout the Bible, the idea of “giving a name” was to take responsibility for and to act on behalf of and in the character of another. Think about these two meanings for a moment:
In some Bible stories, a person gave a name to another to show they were (in some way) taking responsibility for them. Adam did this with the animals, to show he recognized his responsibility to care for them. He named Eve to show he understood his responsibility to her as well. In the Ruth narrative, Boaz took the responsibilities of the dead man Elimelech from chapter one.
Think about this: When I pray “in the name of Jesus,” I am consciously recognizing that He is the One Who can DO the things I ask. He is the One with the responsibility to act where I cannot.
In other Bible stories, the giving of a name is about ascribing character. Many are the stories where understanding the name of the people is key to recognizing the whole story. In Ruth, her name is derived from “Re-ut” – the term for “friendship.” Who can miss that she is the example of the concept? Like Jacob, whose name meant “trickster,” and scores of others, their name helped their story along.
Again, I remember that when I pray “in the name of Jesus” I am to bring petitions that match His character. I dare not ask for something He would not ask. I offer a request because I know, in the end, the granting of it will bring honor to my Savior.
Third, a marriage was announced.
Boaz announced his intention to marry Ruth in hopes of bearing children to re-stock the household of Elimelech with boys. These would carry the name of one who formerly was lost from the tribal records because of death and loss of all of his name-bearing sons. The people were excited, and their blessings reflect they understood what the priority of the marriage was for Boaz. They exclaimed:
Ruth 4:11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
Between Rachel, Leah, with Bilhah and Zilpah (their maids) the twelve sons of Judah were born. According to Numbers 26:20-21, the house of Perez was a very sizeable clan. All in all, they were exclaiming, may your house be full to overflowing – the best way to both become people of wealth and of fame!
It shouldn’t escape any Jesus follower that the completion of the redemption happened with the wedding of the two. That same truth applies to our own re-purchase by Jesus! We await the coming of the groom as the “bride of Christ!” It is for this reason, we are to be preparing ourselves, by walking distinctly from the world around us.
That is the first of the three stories of the passage, that is, the court proceedings that redeemed the family. The other two parts of the passage are the results of that story. Notice the first outcome was the fruitfulness of the family…
The marriage and childbearing of Ruth (4:13-17a)
Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”
Did you happen to notice that most of the focus of the account was not on the baby, nor on the baby’s parents – but on Naomi, the matriarch of the redeemed and restored family? Naomi suffered loss and became bitter. Now God showed her a small touch of His love and a slight glance at the beginning of His purpose. She didn’t live long enough to see it all, but she began to get a glimpse of this truth: the death of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion were not the end of her family’s story – they set up the special way God chose to use them.
The reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22)
The last story unfolds the true underlying purpose of the whole story. This was a legal document of lineage for a king that sat on the throne of Jerusalem. Little “nobody Naomi” and her unloved and forgotten family were awarded a critical role in the plan of God! The writer ended the story with these words:
Ruth 4:17b “…So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez [s]was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.
Can we not see that our life is bigger than we know? Can we not understand what the Lord told us concerning the plan? Proverbs 16:9 echoes through history: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” God is at work behind the staging of your life, before your life, beneath the fabric of your life. He forgets no one. He misses nothing…
In a way, your life is in His hands. Your role in the world is His to write into the scroll. In another way, you have much that you can and should do. You must learn to fly by instruments because the fog will roll in. Even though you won’t choose the fog that one day will surround your life, how you see where you are in the midst of the fog is your choice. You can prepare to learn to fly without sight.
A young student in China decided to play a trick on his elderly teacher one day. He caught a small bird and cupped it in his hands behind his back. He then approached his master with a plan in mind. He would ask the wise man what he had in his hand. If he answered correctly, he would then ask the teacher if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said, “Alive,” he would crush the bird. If he answered, “Dead,” he would release the bird. Upon approaching the teacher, the young student said, “Old man, what do I have in my hand?” The man responded, “A bird, my son.” “Is he dead or alive, old man?” the boy asked with a grin. The old sage thought for a moment and then he replied, “The answer to that question, my son, is in your hands… It’s in your hands.”
Here is the truth from Naomi’s life: No matter what you think about your circumstances – God is at work in, through, and around you. She thought God left her family, but she found out that only by famine would she move to Moab. Only in Moab would she find Ruth, and only through Ruth would the story of her family be redeemed.
• The loss of her husband wasn’t a fluke – it made her leave Moab and go home to start the king’s lineage.
• The loss of her sons wasn’t happenstance – they set the stage for a redeemer.
“Wait!” you might say, “I have made so many bad choices! I am not like Naomi at all!” That is nonsense. Her sons married forbidden women. A Moabitess shouldn’t have been in the gown of an Israelite wedding. You must understand: No matter how much you think your bad decisions have blocked God’s love, as long as you are breathing, God is at work in your life. Your bad choices didn’t put you too far from God’s ability to work in your life.
You simply MUST learn to fly by the instrument panel etched on His face. You have to trust His character and not the foggy mess of your circumstances.
When you learn to fly by instruments, you place your faith in His ability and begin trusting a mind greater than your own. That is part of the surrender process. You begin by plotting the course to the destination by allowing God to lead you – since you know He knows what you cannot know. In short, flying by instruments includes beginning my journey with the end in mind.
The first thing we learn to do in our journey is to think through our destination, because it has much to do with how we get where we are going. When we know where we are headed, the point of the journey becomes clearer. What we take with us and why we value it becomes clearer.
Let’s say it this way: My first task in learning to trust God and not my circumstances MUST be to clarify in my mind where I’m headed.
Philippians 3:20 reminds me: “You are a citizen of Heaven!” How does that affect my view of Washington’s woes and the mountains of problems of this life? I must keep in mind that what looks like a reversal and defeat of the Lord’s plan isn’t that at all.
I must also learn that my Father may chart a course through a storm I cannot see in, but He is not unsure of where I am going and how to get me there. The way for Israel to get to the Promised Land was THROUGH the harsh desert and hot sands. The way for you to get to the land of His promise may take you for a time through that same sand pit. For a while, you may smell the camels. God hasn’t left; He is leading where you cannot see. Remember, Israel wasn’t ready to fight for the land without attacks from desert people that taught them warfare. Some of your problems are to teach you and prepare you to use the defenses God has set up for you. You cannot “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6) alongside the likes of the Apostle Paul and his fellows, without some fight club training and a few bruises.
If I second-guess His way, I’ll grab the wheel and begin living by feeling! If I waste time fighting His every directional change and keep “putting in my two cents” every time He inputs instructions for my directions, I keep arguing the foolish point that I can do this as well as He does. He has told me to “Trust in HIM with all my heart and NOT lean on my own understanding.” He has explained that I must “in all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). He knows the best way for me to get where He is leading. I simply don’t.
The excursion may be long, but I know I’m going to arrive if I trust Him to get me there. No matter what I see or cannot see right now, knowing He is leading me opens the door to freedom and optimism, because “He Who began a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 1:6).
If I am willing to let the instruments take over, there is a great opportunity. Think of it this way: The beauty is they start wherever I am. The instruments don’t tell me there is no way to get there from where I am. If I grab the controls and pull things off course, I have a reset – a renewed trust – where they will again take over. It is possible that I may willfully disobey and pull away in mistrust, but I have a Savior who reassures me that doesn’t put me beyond His grasp. That is why He has told us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
• If it is true that He can grab the controls and lead me home, then it is also true that my future has more power over me than my past. The journey is all about what lies ahead.
• All the nonsense detours, all the silly wrong turns, all the accidental forays away from the destination mean little to the journey once the instruments take control.
• Stop acting like you can’t turn over the controls when you can’t see anyway! You can have a start fresh.
Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances… Love’s foundation is trust. The problem is you have to choose to trust what He knows over what you think you see.
Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.
At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.
Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:
Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.
If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.
This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.
It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.
I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…
Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.
The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.
Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”
Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.
Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.
Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.
Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:
It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:
“It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.”
A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).
Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).
Mary of Magdala
During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).
At the Disciples’ Chamber
Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.
Peter and John at the Tomb
Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).
At the Temple
Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).
On the Road
On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.
By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.
Over the Next Month
Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.
A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).
His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.
Those are the accounts.
There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…
“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”
Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…
First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).
Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.
Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:
Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.
A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:
Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.”
These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.
Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).
How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.
Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:
53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:
Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!
Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).
Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.
Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!
Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).
Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.
The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.
Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).
Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!
Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).
Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….
How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?
In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.
First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.
Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.
Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.
Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”
Justin Martyr wrote:
“We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”
Clement of Rome described the believer:
“He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.”
Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!
When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).
Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…
• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.
Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.
Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:
[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”
In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?
It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.
Because I am privileged to shepherd people, I have often been in the room of one when they are leaving the body and entering into eternity. The last words they utter aren’t always brilliant or meaningful, but sometimes they tell us something about the person that uttered them. Consider some of these as they lay dying.
Some people show what was most significant to them in that moment. For instance:
• Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”
• Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”
• Nostradamus still showboating his supposed predictive ability exclaimed, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.
• Convicted murderer James W. Rodgers was led in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”
• When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”
• The poetess Emily Dickinson’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”
• But I found particularly touching and dedicated to his craft, the words of surgeon Joseph Henry Green who was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”
For some people, their last words may well show their attitude toward life and the people they shared it with:
• Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”
• As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”
• Actor Michael Landon, best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, died of cancer in 1991. His family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”
• John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”
• Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.
• Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”
• Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” (adapted from mentalfloss.com)
It isn’t a stretch for us to recognize that people can utter important things as they leave this earth. The same was true of our Savior. In fact, if you examine the words He spoke from the Cross (as recorded by the early Apostles and Gospel writers) you will note one significant truth…
Key Principle: The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.
It is important for us to remember that our view of the death of Jesus 2000 years later is very different from the view they had that Friday long ago. The people around the Cross likely had little concept of what they were seeing.
• Some, no doubt, thought a “trouble maker” was being “put down” and peace would follow.
• Others who were more politically minded may have felt this was just one more in a long series of injustices that unjustly punished their people by an occupying force.
• Some close to Jesus likely had broken hearts over the terrible personal loss as Jesus hung dying.
All of the things people felt as they watched Jesus suffer grossly seemed very real to the people on the scene, but they were but a pale view of what was truly happening.
God was effecting full payment for the sin of mankind by exacting the price of a perfect sacrifice. Few, if any, could have really understood the work, despite God’s long standing promises to offer this gift.
In this lesson, we want to look at two passages that describe the day of the Crucifixion. First, we want to see the people who gathered and consider what they saw of the event (though we have already admitted they were likely all missing the point). After looking at those standing around, we want to consider the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and what they revealed to those who listened then, and those who will listen now…
Go back to the edge of the walled city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and stand amid the olive tree grove watching a public execution early one Friday morning. Who was there? What were they doing? What were they like?
Take a moment and turn to Matthew 27, and you will see them…
Hard to miss among the crowds were the Roman soldiers:
The words introduce them almost as a natural part of the city, though they were nothing close to “natural.” Matthew recorded:
Mt. 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him…33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Look at these men! Like many people in our world, these soldiers:
• Exuded confidence and felt they were important people handling considerable power that felt no need of God in their lives (27:27).
• Seemed totally unfeeling toward Jesus and took no time to consider His life or claims (27:27b-29). HE was irrelevant to them.
• Shoved Jesus where they wanted Him (27:33), gave Jesus what they wanted Him to have – and thought nothing of it all (27: 34).
• Grabbed from Jesus what they thought they could get (27:35), and then were content to stand back and watch Jesus (27:36).
• They didn’t mind placating other people’s weak needs for a leader – but they didn’t feel they needed one! (27:37)
You know people like these guys. They are people who think they are powerful, God is irrelevant or inconvenient and they can handle things without Him. They own life. They live perfectly within the illusion of control, nearly limitless youthful energy, and nothing ahead but a future they forge with their own hands. God could get nothing they weren’t willing to give, and they weren’t interested in hearing what He wanted from them. They see only what they know. Theirs is not the world of nursing homes. They don’t do sickness and hospitals. They have life by the tail…
Then the dark days come.
Reality knocks, power wanes, the new kid is now climbing the ladder and is about to get your corner office. Health fades. The self-sufficiency illusion begins to fade. They get closer to the end than the beginning of life. Their strength can no longer get them what they want. People stop listening; stop following. Throughout life they thought they could “handle God”. They weren’t thinking of the future when the ride neared its end.
Matthew spoke of others at the scene. Some were forced into being there…I am thinking of Matthew 27:32. Take a look…
Compelled to be a part was Simon the Cyrene:
Matthew reported: Mt. 27:32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.
He is not unknown to historians of the New Testament. We could easily compare this to Mark 15:21 and read about his family as well.
Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.
Every indication in the narrative leads us to the conclusions that:
• Simon was not intentionally trying to find Jesus, nor follow Jesus – but Jesus was thrust into his path.
• Simon was abused by virtue of some blatant racism and mistreated out of prejudice.
• The experience changed him and his family. They followed Jesus and his children became leaders among the believers. Mark declares that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus- two well known Christians of the first generation of followers after the Cross. Many believe (though it is impossible to know for sure) one was referred to at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in:
Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”
Perhaps you know someone who was passing through life abused by others, bruised, and perhaps even the subject of racism or other gross injustices. They weren’t looking for Jesus, but suddenly they saw Him crushed unfairly in front of their eyes. They found in Him One who understood their pain and was intimately familiar with their inner hurt. They were compelled to follow Him, and they took others with them because of their testimony.
Maybe that isn’t a story close to you. Maybe it took MORE for you to really grab hold of Jesus. Maybe you were just too busy to stop and really seek Him. You were more like those in Matthew 27:39…
Matthew set the Cross before a busy street scene outside the city wall…
Matthew 27:39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Jerusalem was at its busiest at Passover. Many people were:
• So busy with the holiday season they really couldn’t stop and listen to the truth when it was right in front of them!
• Even without examination, they were sufficiently sure that what they hadn’t carefully considered wasn’t true or worth the time – so they had no need to carefully consider it.
• They hurled accusations at One they did not understand and did not honestly care enough to carefully consider His claims.
All the people of this group thought they were busy doing important things. They thought they knew enough (having picked up “seeds” of moral truth along the way), but they knew only enough to do what they wanted. In the end, they urged Jesus to save Himself – the very opposite of what they truly needed. They needed Him to die for them – but they didn’t take the time to understand God’s Word beyond the sound bites – so they didn’t know it.
I can’t help but notice the…
Matthew offers a brief nod to their mocking of Jesus as they piously stood in judgment:
Matthew. 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Isn’t that the way those who prefer religion over God look at things? They were:
• Religious men, “professionals for God” dressed in easily identifiable by their garb. They didn’t blend into the crown – they were better than that!
• They had a system that worked out to care for all the eternal issues, even though it was not in step with God at all. They didn’t walk intimately with Him, and there were times the coldness of their heart showed in the cruelty of their lips.
• They accused Jesus of impotence (while He patiently suffered – “cannot save Himself”).
• They accused Jesus as making false claims (“king”, “trusts in God”, “delights in God”, “Son of God”) but did not show the hearts of those who would desire brokenness and intimacy – for that is not the religious way.
Surely you have met them. A bit of theology mixed with a bit of homespun morality and “poof” – there is a religious mind made up to teach you what God SHOULD want – even if it isn’t what His Word says concerning what He DOES want. It usually has a misshapen Jesus Who fits into their already preconceived notion of righteousness. For the religious mind, God must fit their theology – and He must do only that which they deem important. There is a thick skin of the heart that religion forms – often making it impossible to touch the tender heart of God – or have Him touch us.
Move away from the crowd for a few minutes and move closer to the Cross. Luke 23 includes half of the words of Jesus at the Cross….We need to listen closely for the last words of a dying Savior. He has something to reveal. He will tell us why He came. He will explain what His life meant. He will also make clear what His death would accomplish.
Meet Jesus at the Cross. Listen to His words… whoever you are.
This was the place of finality. It didn’t seem like it. It looked like another injustice, another tragedy, another loss. That KEPT happening long past the Romans…. but this was a place of finality despite the appearance. The Cross was the dramatic signature event where Divine character and compassion overcame the consequence of human sin. It was the place where eternal love was demonstrated in temporal sacrifice.
Jesus went to the Cross in order that we, through his death and the marker of the acceptance of the payment at the Resurrection might have a permanent and personal relationship with God. In the weakness of His body, Jesus brought us the POWER of God to save us.
When Jesus followers speak of “the Cross”, we’re not thinking a rough piece of wood attached to a stump of tree and chained together; it is much more than that. For us, “the Cross” is our family “shorthand” expression for the death of Jesus.
The Cross is the place “where Heaven’s love met Heaven’s justice”.
On that Cross, Jesus spoke. Seven times His words were recorded in history.
THE FIRST WORD: FORGIVE
Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
It is not out of character that Jesus cried out to the Father in Heavene to “Forgive them.”
Was He referring merely to the soldiers who stripped Him and nailed Him to that tree? Was He asking on behalf of mocking shoppers who passed by? Was He asking on behalf of those pious but pompous religious slanderers? Did His call for forgiveness include Pilate who sentenced Him?
Jesus forgave all of those who had no idea what they were doing. It was for their forgiveness the plan was being fulfilled.
• He did it for every professor or religious teacher who hated Him.
• He did it for the men who bribed Judas for a false testimony.
• He did it for every disciple who cheated on Him and lived out fear instead of faith and self instead of service.
• He did it for the ones who promised they wouldn’t deny Him and did, and for the ones who yelled, “Kill Him!” because they lacked any sense of the One about whom they spoke.
• He did it for Pilate and for every person in power who is deluded enough to believe that power in this life translates into power in the next.
Jesus called for the Father to forgive them all… What does this tell us?
It revealed a wonder from the Cross. There is forgiveness. There is MORE than temporary abatement of God’s wrath that was available in the blood of bulls and goats. There is complete forgiveness in ONE sacrifice.
Here is the truth: Only the One paying the price can truly reveal why He is doing it, and part of what He told us is that He wanted the Father to forgive the guilty by means of the payment of the Perfect.
Jesus wanted forgiveness for all who have lived a life for self. Can you honestly say you haven’t? I can’t! The old Negro spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I was. So were you. So were many who never stopped to think about it. What is clear from the words spoken from the Cross is this was a place of profound forgiveness.
THE SECOND WORD: PARADISE
Dr. Luke picked up more important and revealing words from Jesus on the Cross…
Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The first word dealt with the world, but the second dealt with one needy and perishing criminal. Isaiah promised the One coming would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Jesus was. He was placed between two men. One derided him for not getting them all free. The other identified his own guilt, and turned to Jesus humbly. He knew what He needed and He identified Jesus as able to provide the forgiveness He had proclaimed for those around Him.
Jesus promised the man “Paradise” the English version of an ancient Persian word for a “planned and walled beautiful garden”. Persian kings were noted for offering friends the opportunity to walk in their lavish gardens. Jesus promised a filthy criminal, blood stained, with profuse odors of fallen humanity all about him – the opportunity to join Him in the garden of His Father.
What does that tell us?
The man offered Jesus nothing but putrefaction. There was nothing of fortune, fame, power or pleasure the man could offer Jesus. He gave Him nothing but himself – and that was all Jesus needed to make the promise of Paradise!
THE THIRD WORD: MOTHER
John 19:26,27: Jesus said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple ’Here is your mother.’
Jesus was not removed from our human experience. He was fully God, but fully man as well. His relationships here were not just “His ministry” they were dear to Him on the highest level of emotion. What do I mean? His mom mattered.
Sure, He taught us that “compared to our love for God, our relationships of this world – mother, father, sisters and brothers, children and even spouses – are a distant second. That didn’t mean He didn’t value them. It meant He placed His Father first, and we are to do the same.
In Israel, I make the point to my traveling students that Jesus’ relationship with His family wasn’t as positive as many people dream. It was hard for Him to do the will of His family and clan, and do the will of His Heavenly Father. That brought tension. At the Cross, He reached across the divide of those who struggled to get together in life, and He connected the broken relationships at the place of reconciliation.
This Third Word from the Cross is about relationship – and that is what began the whole story of the Bible. God desired to express relationship. That is why He created. He is relational, and He desires that connection with us. Jesus didn’t discount the value of our love and emotional attachments here.
THE FOURTH WORD: FORSAKEN
Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Darkness fell on Jerusalem that lasted three hours and as the sins of the world, the awful legacy of the man’s mutiny was laid upon Jesus. Paul later noted:
2 Corinthians 5:21:”He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
In the same way the scapegoat of the Hebrew Scriptures was forcibly banished from Jerusalem, so our Savior bore the sin of the world alone – literally. Theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote it this way:
“Christ’s self-emptying was not a single act or bereavement, but a growing poorer and poorer, until at last nothing was left to Him but a piece of ground where He could weep and a Cross where He could die.”
We need to keep this word “forsaken” in mind. When Jesus promised He would never leave you nor FORSAKE you – this must be contrasted to the way He paid for our sin. He was alone so that you and I will NEVER have to be again. His Spirit will be our companion here, and in His presence we will know union of a magnitude unknown in this life. Alone is not a Christian idea, nor a Christian word – not now and not in the time after time to come.
THE FIFTH WORD: THIRST
John 19:28: “I thirst.”
When the Psalmist prophesied that our Lord’s punishment would be graphic and torturous, he wrote:
Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”
The idea of payment in blood was no more a theological and theoretical exercise to Jesus than it had been for bulls and goats for generations. This was punishing suffering of body for cleansing of souls.
Why include Jesus’ request for something to drink? After taking literally thousands of people along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, I am convinced it was to help with a huge problem with Jesus followers. We tend to see Jesus in theological terms and not as an actual man. God addressed that by reminding us the same pains we feel, he felt. Sin is costly. His death was real.
THE SIXTH WORD: FINISHED
John 19:30: “It is finished.”
Hanging on the tree, forcing breath in utter agony, Jesus’ body was poised against the darkness. His broken body still offered a voice that carried from that rocky hill and pierced through the skies of Heaven and the depths of Hell as He cried, “Tetelestai… the Greek term for “It is finished!” Jesus cried out to end a long cycle of sin and blood. He paid everything necessary in His death. His work was done.
• The atonement blood of animals was no longer necessary.
• The unanswered mutiny of man was now reversed by a new Adam Who died for any who believe what God has said.
• There is no work we must do, no class we must pass, no power we must muster – He did all.
Ours is only to believe. We need nothing more, but can offer absolutely nothing less. We must believe, or the death is without profit to us. To walk with God, we must trust Him, and believe He is Who He says He is. We must trust what Jesus has done. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. In Him, it is all finished.
THE SEVENTH WORD: COMMIT
Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This final exclamation of Jesus from the Cross was a quotation from Psalm 31:5. David wrote the words in a time of tremendous conflict, and simply showed that he trusted God with everything. Jesus paid for sin and knew God would deal with His dead body. He would see the Father in a matter of moments. Any fear of death, natural to the state of a man, was offset by an overwhelming trust in His Father in Heaven.
That is what the Centurion did at the Cross when HE trusted Jesus. Matthew reminds us:
Mt. 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
That is what the thief on the cross beside Jesus did when He trusted Jesus for salvation.
Luke 23: 39 “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
There are some who come to Jesus only minutes before they die. Though they did not love and serve Him in this life, their life was not a waste. Jesus knew that our present existence in this body is but a short preface to a never-ending eternity. Because that is true, then thief’s life was not wasted; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise!
Strip away all the noise and listen to the words of the Savior to the thief. Jesus trusted the Father, and He called all others to trust HIM.
• He demanded we get past the covering mechanisms of selfish pride.
• He called us to set aside our sarcasm we use to cover deep hurt over how life has worked out. We are all called to trust Him, and in Him we will find mercy.
Jesus said all He needed to say.
The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.
I am frankly glad that this life isn’t all there is. If it were, I would never be able to face the utter unfairness and the incomplete brokenness I see here.
Emma Reynolds from Australia published a story two days ago that explains what I am trying to say. She wrote:
When she took Nolan to the hospital for the last time, after he had battled cancer for more than a year, he had not eaten or drunk anything in days and was continually vomiting. On February 1, the oncologist sat them down to hear the terrible truth. The four-year-old’s cancer had spread and large tumours were compressing his bronchial tubes and heart just four weeks after open chest surgery. The cancer was no longer treatable. The anguished mother walked into her son’s room, where he was watching YouTube.
Me: Poot, it hurts to breathe doesn’t it?
Nolan: Weeeelll…. yeah.
Me: You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you baby?
Nolan: (looking down) Yeah.
Me: Poot, this Cancer stuff sucks. You don’t have to fight anymore.
Nolan: (Pure Happiness) I DONT??!! But I will for you Mommy!!
Me: No Poot!! Is that what you have been doing?? Fighting for Mommy??
Nolan: Well DUH!!
Me: Nolan Ray, what is Mommy’s job?
Nolan: To keep me SAFE! (With a big grin)
Me: Honey … I can’t do that anymore here. The only way I can keep you safe is in Heaven. (My heart shattering)
Nolan: Sooooo I’ll just go to Heaven and play until you get there! You’ll come right?
Me: Absolutely!! You can’t get rid of Mommy that easy!!
Nolan: Thank you Mommy!!! I’ll go play with Hunter and Brylee and Henry!!
Nolan slept for most of the next few days. His mother made sure things were in order. “I cannot explain to you what signing an Emergency Responder ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order for your angelic son feels like,” she wrote.
When he woke up, Ruth had his things ready to go home for one more night together. But her son was still putting others first. “He gently put his hand on mine and said ‘Mommy, it’s OK. Let’s just stay here OK?’ My 4 year old Hero was trying to make sure things were easy for me …
“So in between sleeping for the next 36 hours, we played, watched YouTube, shot Nerf Gun after Nerf Gun and smiled as many times as we could. An hour or so before he passed he even filled out a ‘Will’! We laid in bed together and he sketched out how he wanted his funeral, picked his pall bearers, what he wanted people to wear, wrote down what he was leaving each of us, and even wrote down what he wanted to be remembered as … which of course was a Policeman.”
At 9pm, while watching Peppa Pig in bed, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. “He said ‘Ummmm OK Mommy. Have Uncle Chris come sit with me and I’ll turn this way so I can see you’. I stood at the bathroom door, turned to him and said ‘Keep looking right here Poot, I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door. They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respiration was extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.
“I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then a miracle that I will never forget happened…. “My angel took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and said ‘I Love You Mommy’, turned his head towards me and at 11:54pm Sgt. Rollin Nolan Scully passed away as I was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”
Nolan loved his family and friends with a fierce devotion, and brought people from across the world together, Ruth said. “He was a warrior who died with dignity and love,” she added. Alongside the bereft mother’s heartfelt letter to her son, she shared a memorable photo of Nolan lying on the bathroom floor, showing how her son was too terrified to leave her side even when she showered.
“Now I’m the one terrified to shower,” she wrote. “With nothing but an empty shower rug now where once a beautiful perfect little boy laid waiting for his Mommy.”
Jesus died to give all of us the opportunity to see the world healed, sin destroyed, and death rendered inoperative – because He gave eternal life. Won’t you trust Him? This isn’t all there is. It truly isn’t!
Robert Norman Ross (October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was a 20 year Air Force veteran (retiring at a rank of Master Sergeant) who became a painter, an art instructor, and a television host of the still popular “Joy of Painting.” His instructional television program aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in the United States, but was also picked up in Canada, Latin America and Europe. What you might not know is that Ross was a Floridian, born in Daytona Beach and raised in Orlando, Florida. He had two sons. Though his show ran in the 80s and 90s, reruns still flood YouTube and other media outlets. Notable art critic Mira Schor called him the “Fred Rogers” of painting, (Referring to the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) and noted both had soft voices and a slower and more soothing pace of speaking. The artist was diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 1990s, and The Joy of Painting’s final episode aired in the Spring of 1994. He died at the age of 52 in the summer of 1995. His grave is in Orange County, Florida (Gotha) and frequently has people who leave small pictures and paintings beside, according to a local resident of the area.
What Bob did was more than bring his large “afro” hairdo to the set and paint landscape pictures; he shared the love of his own personal passion for painting. It was all too obvious that he loved to paint, and he loved to show people they could learn to paint.
Why do I mention this painter to begin this lesson? I don’t want to sacrilegiously compare Bob Ross to our Creator, but I do want you to consider one similarity or reflection: Bob modeled his passion. He may have seemed a bit eccentric, but he truly believed others could learn to do what he was doing. The interesting thing is this: so does the God Who created us. God models love. He shares love…and yes, He teaches us to love. In Ruth 3, you will be able to see this truth…
Key Principle: God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.
Before we get to our continuation of the story of Naomi and Ruth in chapter three, take a moment with me and look at the few descriptive verses about LOVE in 1 Corinthians 13. Ruth 3 is considered the equivalent in the Hebrew Scriptures – the main difference being that Ruth models while Paul (in 1 Corinthians) describes. Look at the description of love as God gave it.
The Description of Love in 1 Corinthians 13
First, a bit of context. Paul was in the middle of a section answering questions about Spiritual gifts, the empowering abilities given at your salvation with the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. He made a point to answer five misunderstandings about these gifts to the church at Corinth. Reading the letter carefully, Paul wanted believers to know:
1. God speaks and engages them (12:1-2).
2. There are basic tools to discern truth from error (12:3).
3. Each believer is unique (cp. 12:4-7).
4. Each believer should be valued (12:8-11).
5. No believer should see themselves as overly important (12:12-31).
Paul then made clear that God had something even BETTER than great empowering gifts for His people. He wrote:
1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
Paul said, in essence, because of God’s empowering the church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; yet, because of choices it may lack love for people – and that is the most important ingredient for our work.
The body should seek from God the gifts that would fill out the needs of the whole group, but they should seek something else that was even more critical to the success of the work of reaching people for Jesus. They should seek the highest prized earthly possession of the church in her dealing with one another. They should seek to learn to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in the way God would have us love.
Paul made clear the priority of love in four arguments in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
• Love is more important than great communication skills! (13:1). It didn’t matter if Paul could sing like an angel or argue like a skilled lawyer – the work of making clear the truth required a loving vessel.
• Love is more important than deep spiritual insight (2a). The gift of prophecy uncovered hidden spiritual truth, but it was of little value if issued from a harsh voice and cold life.
• Love is more important than great vision in God’s work. (2b). Faith that moves mountains is dangerous in a loveless servant – they are liable to dump the mountain on the house of someone for whom they have only disdain!
• Love is more important than self-sacrifice (3). Giving of one’s self is truly an act of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice comes from love. Many a parent raised a child out of obligation, but the house was cold because of the absence of true love.
Deep faith won’t make up for a cold heart. Both the traveling priest and the itinerant Levite mentioned by Jesus in the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” seemed to have plenty of faith. What they lacked was love. It was such a lack that it cried loudly to the man who lay beside the road broken and helpless. They crossed over to the other side of the path to avoid making his problem, their problem. In their rush to serve God, they left a man helpless and bleeding beside a road to die alone, and nothing they would teach or oversee in the Temple that week would change that fact.
Did you notice that Paul didn’t finish verse three offering any less than EVERYTHING – self included? Faith isn’t enough without love, and the same is true of generosity! Giving without loving also falls short. Perhaps we give from guilt, or to gain status. Generosity can’t replace love.
Paul explained the practice of love in fifteen short but picturesque descriptions (13:4-7).
It may seem dumb to hear it said, but LOVE (as God described it) is known by its practice. Love isn’t something you FEEL as much as something you CHOOSE to ACT upon. Paul made clear that love is not a mystical force (as in the case of some song writers who believe it is like mud you accidentally “fall into”). Not to sound cold, but love is a clear, calculated and consistent choice.
If He commanded it; we can do it! Even more… when a believer practices love – it can be measured (13:4-7). Paul wrote a description of its appearance:
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Look at the description for a moment:
• Love is patient: makro-thumeo “long before burning temperature”. God’s description of real love is the kind that doesn’t “fly off the handle” and become rash in reaction.
• Love is kind: chrest-euo-mai: “to show one’s self mild or tender”. Love isn’t rough, but gentle. It isn’t harsh, but mild. If you find you bristle at the sound of someone’s voice and snap at them when they speak to you – you don’t love them.
Pastor Melvin Newland shared a story that I think fits well here. He wrote: “I heard a story about a woman who was standing at a bus stop. She had just cashed her tax refund check, so she was carrying more money than usual & was a little bit nervous about that. She glanced around & noticed a shabbily dressed man standing nearby. And as she watched, she saw a man walk up to him, hand him some money, & whisper something in his ear. She was so touched by that act of kindness that she decided to do the same. In a burst of generosity, she reached into her purse, took out $10, handed it to the man, & whispered to him, “Never despair, never despair.” The next day when she came to the bus stop, there he was again. But this time he walked up to her & handed her $110. Dumbfounded, she asked, “What’s this?” He said, “You won, lady. Never Despair paid 10 to 1.” Pastor Newland went on to make the point that kindness isn’t really kindness when it is self-serving, and it doesn’t always pay back in this life.
• Love is not jealous: dzayloo means “to burn with uncontrolled impassioned fervor”. Love hasn’t caused you to lose control. Lust does that, but not love. People will say, “Love makes you do crazy things!” We know what they mean, but it really doesn’t. The Bible simply offers no refuge to the person who says “I couldn’t help it; I just felt so strongly!” Our world has demoted truth and responsibility painfully, while it elevated feeling as the chief of all motivators. God made it clear – don’t blame love.
• Love does not brag: Per-pereu-omai means “to verbally celebrate or concentrate on self-issues and accomplishments.” By definition, love is “other person centered” and therefore not unduly focused on self. For every moment we spend justifying our own selfishness, we give up a moment in which we could have loved others. This may seem obvious, but the longer I live the more I see people starved for real love because they have settled for selfishness as a cheap replacement.
• Love is not arrogant: Phusio-o means “to become inflated and cause to grow in self-importance” and is the brother to the word “does not brag”. In our culture, someone has fed us the idea that our needs must be first, so that we can somehow have enough to care for others. That would be fine if we didn’t fall into a bottomless pit and find our needs growing as we fed them. Love doesn’t take all the air from the room, but allows others to shine and considers the needs of others first. Self-promotion is arrogance. Pouting when we don’t get our way is a form of childish arrogance.
• Love does not act unbecomingly: as-kay-mon-eh’-o means “act in a way that tears down the other”. Love builds up others whenever possible, and never seeks to cut down the other, or smash their dreams. It means holding your tongue and training your speech. It means saying you are sorry for anything that pulls the other down. It isn’t your job to FIX the other, but it isn’t your job to DESTROY them either!
• Love does not seek its own: The word used literally means “not forcing their own way upon another.” You keep hearing words that are the intonation of the same idea – the opposite of loving is selfish. Think of love this way: whatever you would like people to do for you – do THAT to and for them. This is a thinly veiled plagiarized quote from my favorite teacher…. Jesus!
• Love is not provoked: The word par-ox-oo’-no means “sharpened” with a figurative idea of becoming sharp or pointed. Love isn’t wearing a razor thin knife edge so that is can cut back.
• Love does not take into account a wrong suffered: The terms logidzomai kakos mean “to keep an account or record of evils suffered.” Historiography and forgiveness don’t really work together. If you find yourself saving up “what he or she did wrong” – you aren’t acting in love toward the other person at all. With every exchange, you are making a longer list of what they have done wrong, and readying it for release. .
Love calls us to notice others. It calls us to care. It helps us get off the center of the stage of our own lives and put others there. Love is at the center of our evangelism, and lack of it is at the center of our ineffectiveness to reach others.
• Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: It “does not celebrate getting away with breaking a rule”
• Love rejoices with the truth: It “celebrates truthfulness”
• Love bears all things: From the word stego which means “to cover over or thatch”
Love listens. It takes the time to care. It covers over the fact that what is being said doesn’t seem relevant or necessary. Love locks on to the value of the other person.
• Love believes all things: to entrust and give credit to”. Love talked about is easily ignored while love demonstrated is irresistible!”
• Love hopes all things: epidzo “have high expectations of”.
• Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”.
The point is this: because love is a chosen set of behavior, when a believer practices true love – it can be measured (4-7).
The Picture of Love in Ruth 3
The third act of the story follows three people as God weaves the redemption story of Naomi’s once beleaguered family back together, this time making her line a part of the most important line in human history – the line of Messiah. On the way, each of the three main characters will model love in their own way – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.
The story is broken into four simple parts:
• What Naomi told Ruth to do.
• What Ruth did to follow the instructions,
• What a surprised Boaz said about the plan of the women.
• An uncertainty about the future. The end of the chapter is left uncertain (from the perspective of the players) with everyone waiting for the final act of God to bring the story together.
Naomi modeled love in her instruction.
The story opened with a speech by a newly softened version of Naomi, fresh from God’s initial blessing…
Ruth 3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her,
“My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”
With some small blessing, feeling returned to her long numbed limbs. Naomi began again to think in terms of love. What does that look like?
The small passage we read offers five examples of loving behavior.
First, love places another first. It cares for another above self. Love places the needs of another above the needs of self. This is reflected in “shall I not seek security for you?”
Second, while selfishness separates, love gathers. Naomi expressed again (after calling her daughter earlier) that her family was Ruth’s family. This is expressed in “our kinsman.” Ruth was an insider in Naomi’s mind, and that opened the door to allowing her to be a part of the solution.
Third, love sees possibilities for a future. Love isn’t just about the problems; it is about seeing and pronouncing hope. This is reflected in “he winnows at the barley floor tonight.”
Fourth, love works to make another successful. Using the skills she learned throughout her life, she counseled Ruth on what to do and how to do it.
A skill like proper appearance is reflected in “3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes.”
Another skill like “timing” matters in potential conflict situations. Naomi taught that love demanded Ruth think of what will work for Boaz, not what works best for her. This is reflected in “do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.” It would have been easier to walk up to the man and get the whole situation over with. She may have felt confidence to do that – but that was not what the situation demanded. Youth can be most seen in direct hubris. With some tempering, Naomi brought to the situation advice that led to a greater chance of success.
Fifth. love is honest and doesn’t hide the risks about the road ahead. This is a work of love reflected in “then he will tell you what you shall do.”
Ruth modeled love in her obedience.
Following the instructions of Naomi, Ruth went to the threshing floor and hung back until the meal was over and the servants bedded down for the night. The text continued…
Ruth 3:5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.” 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.”
First, loves learns to trust beyond sight. This is reflected in the phrase “All that you say I will do.” Ruth didn’t insist on understanding everything before she agreed to follow everything she was told to do.
Second, love protects the reputation of another. This is reflected in the word “secretly” in verse seven. This proposition could look like something unsavory, and could affect the reputation of Boaz. Making the connection without bringing dangerous damage to the reputation was a loving act.
Third, love subjects itself to the role of a servant. Note how Ruth related her identity as “your maid.” People who believe they are too important to serve don’t understand love. Love shows in service. Love expresses itself in subjection.
Boaz modeled love in his speech.
Naomi and Ruth modeled love in the passage, but so did Boaz. Keep reading as you encounter the speech of Boaz and you will be amazed at the clarity of the model…
Ruth 3:10 Then he said,
“May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.
First, love appreciates the kindness of another. Listen to the comment of Boaz. He made clear that she has offered him a wonderful surprise. He didn’t talk down to her, but up!
Second, love allays the fear of others. Boaz knew that Ruth and Naomi needed redemption, but he didn’t presume that he would be offered an opportunity to be involved (since there was another closer to the situation that had first choice in the matter). He made clear that he would not stand by and let the matter go undecided. He knew the fear and vulnerability of the women, and he didn’t want them to be uncertain. He flatly stated, “Don’t worry, I will act.” Her greatest fear was likely rejection. He second greatest fear was inaction. How many women fear rejection and inaction by the man in their life?
Third, love encourages and reaffirms good testimony. Boaz was quick to affirm the testimony of Ruth, and called her a “woman of excellence.”
Fourth, love seeks the best for the object of its love. Boaz wasn’t sure he would play a role in the redemption of the family of Elimelech, but he was certain that he would be able to stand by them until their needs were met, one way or another.
Fifth, love gives beyond expectation. One great thrill of love is that it is often full of surprise! Boaz made a promise, and that was a hope, but also an expectation. The barley was the unexpected gift in verse fifteen, a special surprise of provision that was both a sacrifice to him, and an unanticipated blessing to both Naomi and Ruth.
Love left things uncertain.
Note the excitement of anticipation in the atmosphere of uncertainty. Isn’t that exactly what love produces? Ask any young man who ever overcame the cracking of his voice to ask a pretty girl to dance, and they will tell you that all matters of love are risky! The text ends with risk – just as it should in a good drama. The chapter concludes with the whole matter unresolved…
Ruth 3:16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”
Love involves taking a risk. It involves a level of uncertainty that is so uncomfortable, many people choose to live without it rather than take a chance. The truth is, loving is risking.
• Ask any parent who has given everything for a child, only to watch them walk away and never call or seem to care.
• Ask anyone who has cared and given in love to a spouse who simply snubbed that love and was found in the arms of another.
• Ask GOD, Who gave His Son for the world, only to have many yawn and pass by the gift.
God knows the pain involved in the choices of people. He knows the risk involved in loving…Because God made His highest value LOVE, greater than all other values, He placed in everything the risk of rejection. That was illustrated in the Fall of man, it didn’t come from the Fall. It was built into the original design of the universe. God didn’t want robots that were programed to respond to Him – He made people.
Here is the truth: Rejecting the love of another person may be a tragic mistake, but rejecting the love of your Creator is an eternally tragic matter.
Go back and think through the love modeled by Naomi. She offered a classic example of love that Jesus Himself showed to us.
• Jesus’ love placed US above Himself as He faced the Cross to pay for sin.
• Jesus calls us to gather to Him in love and become one with each other.
• Jesus offers you the best eternal future imaginable, and even beyond your imagination!
• Jesus makes an offers to you of life, but also provides His own Spirit, to aid you to navigate successfully in this world.
• Jesus makes clear the difficulties ahead: the warfare and attacks of His enemy that come with your new life.
Jesus loves us, and the model of Naomi demonstrates that love beautifully. The issue isn’t God’s love; it is our response. Even the most loving and caring people can suffer the abuse of unthinking and selfish response.
• Some respond by ignoring the gift of love and living thoughtlessly, regardless of the cost to the Giver.
• Some respond by choosing a path to the gift of Heaven that more suits them. They want eternity in bliss, but not with Jesus. The problem is, in the end they will get neither Jesus nor Heaven.
• Some respond by seeing the cost paid for them, and are overwhelmed by God’s gift. They respond by wanting to know the One Who gave Himself for us. Is that you?
God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.
There is an old ethical test that is used in counseling called “The Lifeboat Test.” There are a variety of scenarios, but the issue of selfishness versus selflessness is tested by placing you (mentally) on a sinking ship. There is no doubt the ship is going down. There is no doubt one cannot live long in the frigid waters. The question is this:
Will you try to find something you think will float and use it instead of a lifeboat? Will you avail yourself of the lifeboat provided?
“I have many memories about my father and about growing up with him in our apartment next to the elevated train tracks. For years we listened to the roar of the train as it passed by. Late at night, my father waited alone for the train that took him to a factory where he worked the night shift. On this particular night, I waited with him in the dark to say good-bye. His face was grim; his youngest son had been drafted. I would be sworn in at six the next morning while he was at the factory. My father didn’t want them to take his child, only 19 years old, to fight a war in Europe. He placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘You be careful, and if you need anything, write to me and I’ll see that you get it.’ Suddenly he heard the roar of the approaching train. He held me tightly in his arms and gently kissed me on the cheek. With tear-filled eyes, he murmured, ‘I love you, my son.’ Then the train arrived, the doors closed him inside, and he disappeared into the night….and I left for boot camp. One month later, at age 46, my father died. I am 76 as I sit and write this. I once heard Pete Hamill, the New York reporter, say that memories are man’s greatest inheritance, and I have to agree. I’ve lived through four invasions in World War II. I’ve had a life full of all kinds of experiences. But the only memory that lingers is the night my dad said, ‘I love you, my son.’”
What an incredible power can be found in a father’s blessing! What empowering for life grew from such a simple but vital inheritance! I mention the story because in this lesson I want us to carefully consider the empowering that comes from our Heavenly Father’s blessings, given in love. I admit, the story found in Ruth 2 is an emotional one to me, because God has so richly blessed my life, I cannot imagine what I would be like had I not been shown the love of both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.
To draw us back into the story of that blessing, we must first go back to the story of pain – for it is in the backdrop of the dark and dreary days and long sleepless nights that we find the birth of a new day…
Last time we opened this little book, we learned when looking in Ruth 1 that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. That is an uncomfortable truth, but one that many believers can easily attest to from their life experience. Though God does deeply love us (according to His Word) He doesn’t see that love as something that requires Him to keep us from troubles, discomforts and even pain. He seems content to let us go through things that will eventually yield good fruit, even if there is a time of throbbing trouble along the way.
Consider His beloved people Israel as they walked through the wilderness of Sinai. Passing through a place of intense heat by day and nothing short of “bone-chilling cold” by night, God met them. In all their national experience they never saw God more clearly, even though they were never more vulnerable, more uncomfortable and more uncertain. God led them through.
In the story of Naomi captured in the Book of Ruth, God seems to have even intentionally increased discomfort in the life of an older woman (a wife and mother) to bring her into a relationship with a much younger woman. That relationship would eventually pull a young Moabitess into a new place, a new home and even give her a role in bringing salvation to the world as a mother in the line of Jesus. God’s rich place for Ruth was only found by plotting a course through pain in the life of Naomi. I have to admit that this side of heaven, there is little doubt in my mind that Naomi wouldn’t find much comfort in God’s path to redemption until she stood in Heaven’s gate.
She bore, raised and buried her sickly sons. She lost her farm for a time to famine. She buried her husband. She was broken, but in the breaking, God re-positioned her to bring the line of Messiah into the world.
Pick up the story at the beginning of chapter two. As the curtain rose on the second act of this four act play in Scripture, Naomi and Ruth were back in Bethlehem. Naomi wore on her face the part of the embittered old widow suffering under God’s hard hand. If you have ever had the opportunity to live with one who was broken, I dare say that she was probably not really a “joy” to live with at that point! Yet, Ruth hung tough and looked hard at the circumstance, stubbornly unwilling to give up hope and see a blessed future in spite of what looked like a cursed past. Watch as she attempted to take a proactive position to direct a hopeless friend back to seeing the whole picture of God at work. She helped her understand blessing. You will see…
Key Principle: God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.
We learn to “grow in God’s love” when we understand that He is the One Who is setting the stage for every blessing we have ever received, or ever will receive. He is at work, even in the emptying of our life to ready the very blessings He desires to use in our restoration!
First, note God had stored resources available that Naomi lost track of because of her intense pain.
It is hard to see promise through searing pain, but it was there…
Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
The verse offers two pieces of new information: Naomi had family in Bethlehem and some of them were people of means.
The first you hear about “other family” is AFTER the return, AFTER the bitterness and AFTER hope has slipped from the scene. It seems Naomi didn’t calculate everything – she tallied up only the bad things. Though she didn’t feel it, God wasn’t done with her, and her life wasn’t a wrecked waste. It did feel that way to be sure – but we are warned in Scripture all the time not to trust our feelings to discern truth. It is natural to feel deep pain and think, “I guess it is over now!” The problem is, what may be a “natural feeling” in this fallen world is often not a godly impulse. Naomi knew what God took and couldn’t see what God guarded in place to give her a future.
In verse one, it is impossible to miss that Elimelech had an extended family with other male members in Bethlehem. If he had a brother that was living, that alone would have provided some comfort and assistance to Naomi, because of the Levirate marriage (Hebrew: “yibbum” mandated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6) where the brother of a deceased man was obliged to marry his brother’s childless widow in order to give a possibility to raise up a son in his name if God allowed. The term Levirate isn’t a reference to the Levitical tribe, but rather is a derivative of the Latin word “levir” which meant “husband’s brother”. There is a story in Genesis 38 where it was not honored and God was not at all pleased. In the case of a Levirate marriage, the first child born to the brother’s widow would be deemed the heir of the deceased. If either of the parties refused to go through with the Levirate marriage, both were required to go through a ceremony known as “halitzah” or “the renunciation” Today, most contemporary Jews renounce instead of practicing this.
Verse one indicated that Boaz was a relative, but not a required Levir, so his help was not demanded, though it was obviously welcome. If you look more closely, though, Boaz was a man of means. He could have aided in many ways that didn’t include child bearing! As you keep reading, God had more help in store for Naomi…
Second, note that in addition to possible financial help, God had emotional resources available to Naomi as well!
Listen to both the words and the tone of Ruth’s words to Naomi as you keep searching the text:
Ruth 2:2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
The text offered some interesting things. First, can you hear respect in Ruth’s words? Her words were bathed in humility and caring. This was not the sound of an overly-privileged and demanding youth; it was the soft sound of a woman who tenderly looked to help. Entitlement sounds shrill to the hurting ear; humility offers a welcome tender tone.
Ruth carefully approached Naomi. She asked for permission to lend a hand. She pressed Naomi to look beyond despair. Sometimes that is all we need to help us shake off the fog of depression – the quiet voice of someone who loves us and wants to help. It doesn’t always work, but it is always right to try. After all, God may have taken her husband and sons – but he gave Naomi a loving daughter-in-law that would not leave her and wanted to help restore her life. Naomi seemed unable to get up and get ready for “end gleaning” – but Ruth could step in – and she did!
A second thing to note in the text (I love the way verse two ends) is the reply of Naomi in a word of affection. Naomi doesn’t snipe at her, but tells her to “Go, my daughter.” After her nasty and embittered words in Ruth 1, it looks like Ruth’s testimony is beginning to work in her.
Here is the truth: That is how a testimony works. It slowly, carefully drips love out on the object of affection. It isn’t a flood, but it doesn’t run when the other person reacts as one embittered. If you are going to have an impact on someone, it is going to take time and require persistence – even when they don’t seem to be responding. Testimony isn’t built overnight. It takes time, patience and persistence in the face of resistance. At long last, you may see a small “crack” in the stone-wall face of your hurting friend. Ruth would tell you, “Keep trying!” They may not be ready to receive love at first, but they will need love that doesn’t retreat to be restored to a healthy life. God provided Naomi with more than relatives. He provided her with a young woman that was emotionally sensitive to her long season of pain. There is more to the story, for God provided more.
Third, God provided a bridge between the assets of provision and the needs of her life.
Ruth went out and did what she needed to do, but that wasn’t a guarantee of anything if there wasn’t enough at the edges of the field to keep them alive. Keep reading…
Ruth 2:3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
There is no indication that Ruth had any knowledge of Boaz’s property lines. All textual indications are that she was simply diligently following what was available, field by field. She came to glean at this field by happenstance, from her point of view (though with God there are no coincidences). This is the point of the verse – God was at work. Mature believers should readily understand that a God of providence doesn’t need luck to put together assets and needs. Look at how effortlessly Ruth drifted into the place of God’s blessing. She didn’t plan it, and she didn’t know it was about to happen… and most of the time, you won’t either.
I am not arguing that it didn’t take diligence and work on her part. She didn’t lay in bed and hope for a check; she got a job. At the same time, God worked behind the scenes to track her path directly into oncoming blessing. That is how He works. Watch the progression:
God blessed her because of a believer “close by” (Ruth 2:4)
Ruth 2:4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
How often God uses a believer who walks intentionally with Him! The text oozes with a man of godly stature in Boaz. The first words from his mouth in the text are wishing blessing from God on other people. Do you know people like that? I do! I know people who God has blessed and they have responded with a deliberate thankfulness and a heart to share God’s gifts. They have been at work in my life this week.
One dear man gave $100,000.00 to our work in Africa this week. I have never met him. I may never meet him this side of Heaven. I can tell you this: people will be reached with God’s Word because of his impulse to give. God brought this man into my life because he watched videos on YouTube and grew in the Lord. He wanted to find our work and give to it. He was “close by” digitally, and God brought together asset and need.
Don’t forget when you are struggling, there is more than your money and your month. God is there. He knows how to care for His children. He knows how to bless. In fact, you have never had a single delight, a single moment of blessing that didn’t come from His good hand. Yet, God had more in store…
God not only covered the need but He exceeded the need! (Ruth 2:5-9)
Despite how some people pray, God isn’t broke and He isn’t stingy. He has what you need – because He IS what you need! Watch the story unfold for a moment…
Ruth 2:5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”
Humanly speaking, Ruth had the wrong heritage to expect blessing from a “man of God” in Israel. She was a Moabitess, and that alone made her suspicious in the eyes of Israel. After the famed temptresses from Moab were used by God’s enemy to help derail the blessing of the Promised Land near the end of the life of Moses, Ruth couldn’t comfortably show up in downtown Bethlehem with a sweatshirt displaying “Moab University” on it. She was a foreigner in a land that was held by a closed clan, and she came from the region of a long remembered enemy. I think it is interesting that Boaz’s servant knew her whole backstory when asked to give her identity. Ruth didn’t just follow the Law and go to the edge of the field to glean – she ASKED to do what she did. She explained who she was. That couldn’t have been easy! When the servant recounted Ruth’s words, they dripped with humility once again.
Don’t skip that God was at work in the background right there. Keep reading you will realize that God was about to dump blessing on an unsuspecting young woman… Boaz walked up and met the young lady. He told her that he was going to stand in the place of provider for her and for Naomi. The text recalls:
Ruth 2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”
God touched the heart of Boaz and the man responded with kindness. Is that how we look at those who we come into contact with who are displaced by life and in need of help? I hope so. It is easy to be jaded. It is easy to see someone trying to get something in a culture saturated in entitlement values. Boaz didn’t think twice. He considered her story, and lent a hand. What happened next surely helped assure him that he was helping the right person…Look at her reaction:
Ruth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
The proper response to God’s blessing is not to feel like we deserved better, but to feel a sense of deep appreciation, and fill our mouths with praise and celebration. Did you notice what Ruth felt about herself that came out of her mouth. She exclaimed: “I am a foreigner!” She was saying aloud what she clearly felt within, “I cannot expect even the nicest of these people to help me. I am not one of them. Anything I get will be more than I could normally expect.”
Just as God’s Word teaches us to be givers; it offers counsel to those of us who have been on the receiving end of blessing. Don’t demand it and don’t expect it. Don’t coach yourself into thinking you deserve more than people have offered. It isn’t wise, it isn’t thankful and it isn’t going to produce good things in your daily walk. Consider for a second the attitude Jesus told His followers to have when offered honor and blessing.
Tucked into a portion of Luke 14, there was a story of Jesus entering the house of a Pharisee after synagogue services one Sabbath afternoon. Reclining around the table in the home of a wealthy man, Jesus spoke:
Luke 14:7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who [g]are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Men and women, because we live in a time where self-touting is considered near a necessity in business and has nearly taken the place of a virtue in our culture, it is again essential to speak the words of the Savior concerning a humble spirit. Healthy believers don’t echo entitlement. They sound surprised daily at the sheer size and nature of God’s manifold blessings to them. They see themselves as LESS than the honor they receive. God resists the proud, but gives manifold gifts to those who think themselves less than they are!
The Apostle Paul warned the Romans in the letter to them:
Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
God doesn’t want you to hang your head in perpetual shame. He loves you and loves to bless you. At the same time, we need to be thankful and careful not to overplay our relationship as though we did something to deserve His love. We didn’t. That much is painfully clear in Scripture.
“Wait!” you may say. “Didn’t I work hard? Didn’t I ask Jesus to walk with me today?” Perhaps you did. The fact is that your conscious and deliberate choice to ask Jesus to guide you through the day, however, will benefit YOU much more than Jesus. Despite how the world shapes a positive self-image, we need to be mindful that we bring little to God when we bring ourselves. Look back at Boaz’s words to Ruth. Her behavior DID invite blessing. Her loving and humble spirit DID attract attention. In short, hers was a demonstration that God blesses those who are faithfully dedicated to be what He wants them to be (2:11).
Ruth 2:11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.
Remember that God doesn’t ignore your sacrifices on behalf of others. We need to remember that our children may not remember all it took to get them where they are, but God was watching. Our boss may not readily acknowledge all we sacrificed for the company, but God knows those who do their work with diligence. Boaz heard because Ruth DID. If she was slack, he may have been less inclined to shower blessing on them.
I love that Boaz made very clear the blessing was from God and not merely from him. He told Ruth:
Ruth 2:12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Boaz blesses Ruth, and claims his goodness is merely her “maskoret” – the word translated “wages.” Boaz believes that Ruth deserves his response through her choice to follow Israel’s God. Did you notice that Boaz didn’t make her focus on his benevolence at all? He gave, but he made clear that God was rewarding her for her sacrifices. How often we are tempted to use even our giving as a way of showing others our goodness? When we focus attention on US instead of on God, we rob Him of His due. We have nothing to give that He did not give us!
It is true that God connects the assets to the needs. Yet, we should recall two more things about God’s blessings:
Fourth, God doubly honors a thankful heart.
You can’t help but read the response of Ruth and celebrate with her! The text records:
Ruth 2:13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
Here is the moment we get a model response to God’s blessing. What do we see? Our response should be one of thankfulness. It should contain a frank acknowledgement of both God’s goodness and the giver’s generosity. Look at how specific she was:
• You brought me comfort – she acknowledged the effect of the gift.
• You spoke kindly – she made clear his approach was a blessing in itself.
• You treated me with care not normally given to one like me – she showed surprise for his extraordinary goodness.
The secret of Boaz’s giving (seen clearly in verse 12) was that he saw the hand of God in the testimony of Ruth. He was a good guy, but he saw God at work in and through her. I think of a little poem that sometimes helps put things in perspective:
Look at self and be distressed,
Look at others and be depressed,
Look to Heaven and you’ll be blessed!
In times of distress, one of the greatest ministries we can have to someone is to bring them comfort from Scripture. When people feel inferior, we can bless them by making them KNOW we don’t see them that way because God doesn’t see them that way at all.
Finally, consider that God’s objective in blessing is to refocus us.
Go back to the scene and watch what happened when mealtime came…
Ruth 2:14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied.
Boaz showed through public action that he was fine with everyone hearing what he thought about Ruth, and he wasn’t ashamed to be identified with her. She trusted Israel’s God, and cared for one of Israel’s daughters. She proved her faithfulness by cleaving to her mother-in-law when few could bear her negativity and bitterness. She became a part of the people of Israel in Bethlehem, even when she felt like an outsider. If she got the message, Ruth walked home that night with a different sense of herself.
Follow her to the small home of Naomi, and listen in as the older woman was changed by God’s blessing…
Ruth 2:19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.”
Can you believe the change of expression in the woman that had been so embittered before? God blessed her home, and her whole vocabulary began to change. In verse 19, she called on God to bless the man who blessed her home. In verse 20, she specifically asked GOD to bless the man. Can you hear her heart changing?
It wasn’t simply the grain that changed her, though hungry people don’t usually feel as blessed as full ones. It was the sense that the hard hand of God had been lifted, and God was restoring Naomi’s household through the kindness of another. The same woman who tried to push away the help of Orpah and Ruth a chapter ago was now calling on God to bless the one who shared with her household.
God used the time of hardness to empty Naomi’s hands. He used the time of blessing to refocus her on His goodness. He was not being cruel; He was readying people for enormous blessing.
Let me ask you pointedly: Do you trust God when things aren’t going well? Do you trust that God is good when the economy isn’t? Do you see Him as righteous when you work hard but find the one who was a slacker got the promotion over you? Do you see Him as just when things don’t feel fair?
I believe one of the profound reasons some of us don’t understand God’s blessing may be that we “hedge our bets” in the world in case we feel “God lets us down.” We don’t let go of this world completely. Let me explain with a story…
In April of 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He brought only about 600 men, and was vastly outnumbered if he thought he would defeat Montezuma with all his thousands of warriors in the Aztec empire. Cortez was eventually victorious. How did the small force win? One way Cortez motivated his men was having all his ships disassembled (some say burned) after landing. His men stood on the shore and watched as their only possibility of retreat destroyed. From that point on, they knew beyond any doubt there was no return, no turning back. The general clearly understood that same power of making a “point of no return” commitment.
It is important for us to recall that God cannot be judged by today’s circumstance, nor can we trust our feelings about our life to be a reliable measure of God’s true purpose for us. Here is the truth from God’s Word…
God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.
Did you ever have a friend recommend a movie, only to have them accidentally “slip” out of excitement and spoil the movie by sharing the ending for you? I hate that! Sadly, as we renew our study in the ancient Book of Ruth for a few rich lessons in God’s love, it is necessary that I “spoil” the end of the story in order for the premise for the beginning lesson to even make sense. Though I hate spoilers, I simply have no choice. Here it is! As you open your Bible to Ruth 1, we need to recall that God used the lives of a few women to offer His Redeemer to the world. As far back as the first book of the Bible in Genesis 3, God promised that in spite of Satan’s duping of a woman in the Garden of Eden, God would bring Messiah through the womb of a woman and redeem all mankind. God takes the broken and makes it new. The Book of Ruth shows one of the strong links where God “set the table” for the redemption event. He did it through broken people. Here, He did it through the life of a woman who lost control of everything so that we could gain everything. Her name was Naomi.
As you look at her story, you will probably marvel as I did at how the work of God in our life sometimes includes “emptying our hands” to fill them anew with the people and things I need most to honor His true purpose for my life. It can be a painful process, but it is a loving and necessary one. It can help to reduce my desires to one: His will. It can help me to grow in trust of Him, but it is easily misunderstood. The danger in the process is that I will misunderstand it, and begin to feel it is an unjust or unloving process. When God moves my life into a position, I may be easily swayed to think He has forgotten me, or doesn’t really love me at all. That is the deception born in impatience that Job experienced in the writing that bears his name. He didn’t get things taken because of his sin; he sinned because things got taken. It is easy to understand, simple to justify and utterly wrong. God loves me, and that is true even when my life isn’t working out the way I planned it. His plan is my highest purpose. Here is the truth the way Naomi would express it when the lesson was made clear to her…
Key Principle: God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us.
As we open the book, consider how God works to get us in the best position for use, and ponder what that means for the coming week.
God set the stage to move His people (1:1).
God wanted to accomplish something through His people, but they were utterly unaware of the important role God planned for them. They were living daily life and making ends meet with no thought they would play critical roles in the story of God’s redemption. God knew, and He set the scene to move the players into position. How He did it may seem surprising, but understanding it may help you recognize God’s hand where others don’t look.
Notice how the door they needed to enter to be of special use to our Father was one brought on by difficulty. God’s setting of the stage didn’t look like a prize – but a problem. Ruth 1 records:
Ruth 1:1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.
• The times offered little direction. The author related it was the time of the Judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
• The conditions offered little security. Israelites moving to Moab would not have been easy. The journey of the people under the last days of Moses would have been remembered, and those weren’t fond memories in the hearts of the locals. Moving to Moab likely felt much like being Japanese and moving to America right after the Second World War.
• The results offered little hope. In some ways, the move to Moab looked like a defeat of their God. He gave them a Promised Land, and in a few generations it was already suffering so badly that some left. It may have felt like a defection from the family ties and national heritage by Elimelech and Naomi.
We must remember that God doesn’t need those things: great cultural direction, solid community security and a hopeful setting to do great things in and through people. We seek those things for ourselves, but they aren’t required to accomplish a powerful and lasting work through our lives. When we understand that God has no need of them to work, we recognize He is ready to work even when we think the time may not be right. Follow the movements through verse seven…
God allowed increasing discomfort to unfold His plan (1:2-7).
He led the couple and their children to a place where he could set the scene for His work, but it was not a place them wanted to be.
Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.
A man named “My God is King” married a woman named “My pleasantness” and had two sons that appear in the record to have been “high needs” children. The boys were named “wasting” and “puny.” This reflects that while the children were a blessing, their condition may have led the parents to see them as a “veiled blessing” because they may not have been healthy. What could be more uncomfortable than having children that didn’t seem to get the life the others of their generation did? As they were already nearing marriageable age when they moved (they only lived in Moab for ten years and the boys married and died during that time span), it is reasonable to cite their sickly natures as the prime reason they did not marry at home. We have to read verse two slowly, because whole lives passed into and out of the scene. Naomi’s life flowed out of her as those she loved, served and cared for were taken by God’s hand.
The truth is, God set up marvelous blessing to the world, but He did so based on the daily, prickly discomfort and even the sometime sharp, searing pain of some of His own.
Jesus demonstrated this in His time on Earth. God’s richest blessings came at His expense. Scripture makes clear that God can and will use our lives, but we won’t know why it happens the way it does. Look at the specific costs that Naomi paid in the story:
God took cherished people (1:3,4)
Ruth 1:3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years.
God stripped Naomi of her identity in the community (1:5)
Ruth 1:5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.
As difficult as it was to lose her husband and her grown sons, the text revealed something more. The issue wasn’t just the searing pain of those losses, but the underlying issue of her identity. Much more than now, a women’s identity was culturally determined by her marriage and the productivity of her womb. A woman in the home was often greatly loved, but in the community a barren woman suffered a sincere stigma. This helps us to identify the tremendous importance that was placed by people on bearing children and leaving something behind. Consider this: verses three and four would have been interpreted in Naomi’s time as more about her personal identity than about her loneliness.
God signaled a move home (1:6-7).
Left with little hope in a foreign land, Naomi rose from the grave side of her family, and made a decision: she would head home. The text reminds:
Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. 7 So she departed 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.
If you read carefully, you will note that her move was prompted by two factors: The change in the growing conditions in Judah, and the travel of the news about that change to Moab. Both of these factors were carefully superintended by God. What looked like a simple choice was hand fed by the Father above. God led the family out, and now God was leading the woman back – all in settings of discomfort and pain. None of it was vacation. None of it was fun. Her name meant “my pleasantness” – but her life sounded more like “my misery.”
The point is this: from the opening of the story two things have been true: life has ranged between uncomfortable and staggeringly painful for some of God’s people and He was working behind the setting of all the events to bring about incredible blessing to the Earth. This is no small lesson, and it needs to be rehearsed over and over, that we may understand that painful circumstances aren’t A SIGN OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD. God is not unloving, but His work in us may be uncomfortable. God is not cruel, but His shaping of us may be excruciating.
God didn’t only change the conditions to move the people – He changed the people in the conditions. He isn’t just changing life around you; He is working in and through you.
Watch a blacksmith working a piece of iron for a few minutes. Here is what you will learn. Shaping is hard. Shaping rips off rough edges. Sparks fly as shaping involves pounding and heat and sharp strikes to refine our shape for use. God does the shaping against the anvil of a hard world, and it isn’t easy to look past the pain. From the perspective of the red hot malleable metal, everything is working against it. The anvil is hard, the hammer is swift and unrelenting and the fire tears into its very structure. Yet, in the hands of a master craftsman, the work is purposeful, powerful and productive.
God offered gifts to make transformation possible (1:8-22)
The first gift God provided was found in other people who cared.
One of the things we have to evaluate is not what we have lost in troubling times, but what God has provided to get us through. One of his chief gifts is other people who reflect, knowingly or unknowingly, His love. For reasons I don’t really understand, it seems like God offers “helpers” for us, but we may push away those we need most (1:8b-13a). Take a moment to go to the road where Naomi and what was left of her tattered family were traveling. Listen to their conversation, because it is revealing:
Ruth 1:8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?
While God provided two friends, Naomi pressed the women to leave. In the brief account, we learn about a number of mistaken ideas she believed that led her to attempt to push them out.
First, she believed her circumstances made her less valuable to God and to others.
If they left, she would have lost some of her best allies and advocates. Why would she tell them to go away? Perhaps she didn’t seem to understand or truly believe the ladies would follow her for any reason other than their own benefit. Maybe she reasoned, “I don’t have anything to offer them, so they should leave me.” While she may have been doing a nice thing (putting others first) it seems based on her later reactions that something else was actually happening. She appears to have seen her worth as diminished at the very time God saw her as just “getting into position” to provide the backdrop of His rich blessing.
Take a moment and consider the lesson in Naomi’s life. Behind the words spoken on that path so long ago, there was a feeling that led Naomi away from the truth. Consider this: We may not realize how important our testimony and relationship is with another person. We may feel we have nothing to offer. We may feel small. All of that is how we feel, but it is NOT what is true. God positioned her by removing from her hands the things He chose to remove. Was He cruel? No! You have to look at His end game to understand His moves during your life – and you don’t have that ability. Neither did Naomi, and that caused her to misconstrue her worth in God’s work.
We stopped reading mid-way in verse thirteen. Finish the verse:
Ruth 1:13b “… No, my daughters, for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.”
What did she say? Did she say it was harder for her than for the two ladies who lost their respective husbands? She certainly did. That reflected how she felt. They lost one man; she lost three. They were still young and marriageable; she was neither.
The second false underlying belief was that her situation was so much harder that no one would truly understand. That would allow her to justify isolation.
Look closely at the strong feelings that poured out of the words and you will see what she believed about her pain. It wasn’t only that her loss was quantitatively greater. The truth is, when we have “bled out” in a painful loss, we feel like Jeremiah weeping in Lamentations 1 when he wrote: “There is no pain like my pain!” Though that is a common feeling, it isn’t substantively any truer than the idea that we have no worth. People feel things different ways. Our emotional structures aren’t all the same. One of the common ways people justify cutting themselves off from other people is by embracing the notion that they have been faced with a uniquely difficult circumstance. If no one will really understand, there is no reason to share it with another. We hurt alone and withdraw. We learn to quickly make little of other’s pain – because we didn’t pass through it with them. It looks like less to us. It can be diminished even more if we compare it to pain we have been sharply wounded by for an extended period of time.
The enemy’s chief weapon is isolation. God’s greatest offer is constant intimacy. One of our most common wrong beliefs is that we cannot embrace others because of our painful circumstances.
The women were told to leave Naomi. Her mind seemed set, and I have little doubt they were not accustomed to winning an argument with their mother-in-law! Orpah read the metaphoric handwriting on the wall and bowed out. The text continued:
Ruth 1:14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
The second gift God provided was a reminder of the truth.
If you look at what Ruth said to Naomi, you will see several truths that were clear to the younger woman:
First, whether she believed it or not, Naomi was a woman Ruth wanted to spend more time with. Ruth felt compelled to be a part of Naomi’s life, even though her husband was gone. Ruth felt a personal attachment and a continued desire to remain in Naomi’s daily journey.
Second, whether she saw the value or not, Naomi was part of a people Ruth desired to be a part of. It was no small thing to venture outside of her homeland into the land of Canaan. Worse still, Israel didn’t have a spotless record with Moab nor was she noted for being selfless in their eyes. Ruth was leaving her people to be with a people who didn’t have street credibility. Yet, she made the choice and was ready to live with the consequences. She did it because living with God’s people, with all their faults, was better than living out in the world.
I keep reading articles about all the ways the church has failed this country, this generation and basically, EVERYONE. Working in the church world, I think I can safely say it is far less than idyllic. At the same time, I think many believers fuss but don’t really know what it is like to face the world alone anymore. In this week alone, I have seen people from our little local church care for the needs of a number of people who were unable to do for themselves some critical task, and who do not have family on the scene to help. Living with God’s people isn’t perfect, but having the bond of the Spirit with others allows us to get help when we need it, and offer help when we should.
Whether she felt it or not, Naomi had a God worth knowing. The pains we face can make us forget the greatness of the God we love and serve. We may begin to believe He isn’t Who He truly is – and that is exactly what the enemy is hoping for! Look at how Naomi was reminded of the distinction that came from having a relationship with the God of Abraham – it was pronounced through the desires of a Moabitess.
Believers get used to echoing complaints about life and some forget how terrible it is in the world when you have to face life without knowing God. Ruth WANTED to be with Naomi. Ruth WANTED to be a part of the people of Israel. Ruth WANTED to have a walk with God. She saw these things as worth making the choice to walk away from the familiar. God was calling her to Himself.
The height of Naomi’s personal numbness to God’s gifts was emphasized during the few words found in the account of her return to her family farm and her old friends back in Bethlehem. The text offers this memory that was sure to be a later embarrassment to Naomi:
Ruth 1:19 So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
If you read the words with an open heart, they sting. God was setting Naomi up to be a blessing to the nations. She was playing the role God designed for her, and He was maneuvering her into position. All she could see was pain, and all she could do was BLAME.
She snapped at her old friends in bitterness, because they were excited to see her. That was nothing less than a defense mechanism to keep herself in isolation. She made clear that life was bad because God wanted her to suffer. She didn’t serve a good God, if you heard her tell it, but a sadistic afflicter of the downtrodden and innocent. She wasn’t LOVED by God; she was UNDER HIS HAND OF JUDGMENT. It wasn’t true, but it is what she believed – and it is what she said.
Bitterness is a work of the flesh. It is rooted in a false view of God, and an elevated view of our own pain. It grows in the heart that feels wronged by one more powerful. It thrives on victimization. It is very dangerous, because it is a poison that spreads from one person to many others.
Maybe it isn’t clear to you how she got so bitter. You should recall that she spent ten years in a place she didn’t belong. Long ago, the Moabites denied food and safe passage to the Israelites while on their way to Canaan. They even hired Balaam to curse them (Num. 23:5-7). Because of these evil deeds, God became very displeased with the Moabites (Deut. 7:1-3; 23:3-4). Whenever Israelites took Moabite wives God’s judgment followed.
She spent ten years out of the will of God and let her boys marry the forbidden ones. Her attitude wasn’t all because of her loss; it may well have been because she didn’t feel God wanted to bless her because of her choices. When you are out of God’s will, you will find yourself in places you are not supposed to be, doing things you are not supposed to do! After their deaths, I wonder if Naomi didn’t blame herself for the losses, because of her own disobedience to God’s commands.
In spite of her feelings, God gave more than just people and truth as gifts to her – He worked out a new start for Naomi. He didn’t do it BECAUSE of her, but rather so that He could work out His plan as He set it in motion. To do it, another gift was dispensed.
The third gift God provided was a new beginning (1:22).
The text in chapter one sounds like it ended in a summary statement…
Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.
On the surface, it is a simple: “So it was they came home together…” but that wasn’t the whole verse. Keep reading:
Ruth 1:22b …And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Barley is normally harvested in April, in the spring time. The winter rains end usually by February, with perhaps one last sprinkle in March. By April, spring has blossomed and the hillside greenery has already peaked. A new year’s food crop harvest begins with barley. The whole idea was they returned as a “page was turning” for a new beginning.
Naomi didn’t see the new beginning, because she was stuck licking her wounds from her past. That may sound harsh, so perhaps we can just say that she wasn’t able to think positively with all the pain in her heart. That was a mistake. When God offered a new day, clinging to the pain of the previous one could not help her move forward.
The Book of Ruth is rich in paradoxes. The story opened with a terrible famine and closed with a celebration feast. It began with the recollection of three sad funerals and ended with the memory of one happy wedding. In all, the greatest paradox (in my opinion), is that God was setting up unparalleled blessing at the very time when He would be accused of abandonment. He was doing a great work in one who failed to see His hand there at all.
All that happened because life took a turn to place Naomi into position to be used mightily by God.
Remember we said earlier that God loves us even when our life isn’t working out according to our plan. Don’t forget: His plan is my highest purpose. Wasn’t that best seen in Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? John 18 revealed the Savior slumped over a rock praying to be delivered – and then following that prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, Father.”
That is why God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. He wants us to have opportunities bigger than we feel qualified for, and greater than we can imagine.
Our lives are in His capable hands – and that should help to stabilize us when we pass into a time where what we planned fades away, and what He desires emerges. One writer offered this poem a few years ago to help us understand…
A basketball in my hands is worth about $19
A basketball in Michael Jordan’s hands is
worth about $33 million
It depends whose hands it’s in
A baseball in my hands is worth about $6
A baseball in Mark McGuire’s hands is worth $19 million
It depends whose hands it’s in
A tennis racket is useless in my hands
A tennis racket in Pete Sampras’ hands
is a Wimbledon Championship
It depends whose hands it’s in
A rod in my hands will keep away a wild animal
A rod in Moses’ hands will part the mighty sea
It depends whose hands it’s in
A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy
A sling shot in David’s hand is a mighty weapon.
It depends whose hands it’s in
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands
is a couple of fish sandwiches.
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in God’s
hands will feed thousands It depends whose hands it’s in
Nails in my hands might produce a birdhouse
Nails in Jesus Christ’s hands will produce
salvation for the entire world.
It depends whose hands it’s in
As you see now it depends whose hands it’s in.
So put your concerns, your worries, your fears,
your hopes, your dreams, your families and
your relationships in God’s hands because
It depends whose hands it’s in. (Author Unknown)