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Monday, December 23, 2019

#5 Mary, Mother of the Messiah

Of the 40 generations of men in Jesus family tree listed in Matthew 1:1-16, only five women are named.  It’s amazing any women are named at all, since the patriarchal custom of the biblical writers was to omit women.  So, the fact that these five particular women are named is a clue there’s something very special about them and we need to pay close attention.  And yet, these five heroines of our faith are not famous for the things you would think.  Every one of their situations was scandalous in some way or another.

Tamar was impregnated by her father-in-law. Yet she was also wise and cunning. She sensed God’s hand at work in the family of Judah’s and was willing to do anything to be part of it.

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who grasped her chance to break free from sin and destruction by professing her faith in God and joining His holy people.

Ruth was a destitute foreign refugee who clung to God and His people and found redemption.

Bathsheba had an affair with the king and lost her child, but she became a queen who advocated for the oppressed and powerless.

Today, we will consider the best-known of the five women in Jesus genealogy—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew 1:16-25
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Joseph is not Jesus' biological father.  However, the Gospel of Matthew spends 16 verses telling us Jesus' lineage through Joseph. What does that say?  One thing it says is Joseph adopted Jesus as his very own son.  Joseph treated Jesus as his flesh and blood and there was no distinction in his heart or mind that Jesus wasn't his actual son, even though the relationship wasn't biological.  How many have known this special adoptive love that treats one as a son and daughter by choice?  Think about it:  most people do not get to choose their parents.  You are born and your biological father and mother are who they are, like it or not.  And parents are compelled by the laws of nature to love their biological children.  On the other hand, adoption is an actual choice.  An adoptive parent chooses to accept and love their adopted child.  Nature does not require it.  And it is a very special kind of love when someone chooses to adopt a child who is not their biological son or daughter.  The same could be true for step parents who chose to love their step children as their very own.

It is worth noting here the situation into which Jesus was to be born.  Jesus, the most important man who ever lived, who is the Son of God, was born in need of adoption.  He grew up in the home of a father who was not related by blood.  Mary was his mother, but Joseph was under no obligation whatsoever to accept Jesus.  Yet Joseph chose to adopt God’s Only Begotten Son as his own.

But what of Mary? Who is she?

Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary has been famous to Christians for 2,000 years.  She is so integral to our faith she is named in the Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…” Some people admire Mary so much they treat her like a goddess, even praying to her. Who is this fascinating mother?

The Bible does not focus on Mary.  After the stories of Jesus’ conception and birth, Mary is only mentioned 12 more times.  Mary is there in the background throughout the story of the New Testament, but never as the focus.  The focus is always on Christ—the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  Even so, Mary is there at the birth, she is there in the midst of Jesus’ ministry (struggling to understand like the rest of us).  She is there at the cross as her son dies, at the tomb when he rose from the grave, and she continues to help lead the church with the Disciples in the Book of Acts after Christ ascended to heaven.

There is absolutely no description in the Bible of what Mary looked like or how she dressed.  In our world today, we are very focused on how women look, what clothes and makeup they wear, hairstyles, body image, etc.  However, the Bible mentions nothing about Mary’s appearance.  That tells us these physical things were not important.  Maybe they shouldn’t be as important to us either.  From God’s perspective (the perspective that really matters) true beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance or fashion.  The true beauty of a woman comes from the way she responds to God. 

Mary would have been a young girl when the angel Gabriel came to her (probably only about 12 or 13 years old) .  That was the age most first century girls were offered for marriage in Galilee.  Mary was engaged, so we know she was of age.  What do you think of when you think of Mary?  You might think of a young woman just out of college between the ages of 20-30 years old because that’s the typical age women get married in our culture.  Let me blow your mind a bit.  My daughter, Abigail turns 13 in one month.  Right now, Abigail is the age Mary would have been when she became pregnant with the Son of God.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. She was an ordinary girl looking forward to marriage and a normal life, but the angel’s visit changed her life forever.  Mary was afraid and troubled by Gabriel. She never expected the incredible news she would have a child or that her son would be the Messiah. Although she couldn’t comprehend how she would conceive the Savior, she responded to God with belief and obedience.

Although it was a huge honor to be chosen by God, her calling would demand great suffering.  Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.  Mary was a willing servant. She trusted God and she obeyed His call.

The angel told Mary in Luke 1:28 that she was highly favored by God. This means Mary was given a large portion of grace or "undeserved favor" from God. Even with God's favor, Mary would still suffer much. Though she has come to be  highly honored as the mother of the Savior, she would first know disgrace as an unwed mother.  She almost lost her fiancĂ©.  Risked being stoned to death (the penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock in her time).  Her precious child would grow up to be rejected and cruelly murdered.  Mary's submission to God's plan would cost her dearly, but she was willing to be God's servant.  Mary was a woman of rare faith and obedience.

We are deeply in debt to Mary.  Her willing obedience to God brought the Savior into our world.  It's no wonder that people for thousands of years have sought to honor Mary, the mother of the Messiah.  Unfortunately, there is something in human nature that leads people to idolize and worship those we especially admire. 

Some venerate Mary as divine.  They even say Mary—like Jesus—never sinned (a doctrine known as The Immaculate Conception).  The Bible never says Mary was without sin.  To the contrary, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  Every person who ever lived has sinned at some point—including Mary.  Furthermore, we see that Mary struggled to understand Jesus’ ministry just like his Disciples.  At one point in the Gospels, Mary shows up along with her other sons and attempts to take Jesus home with her because they thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21, 31).  She didn't understand.  You seen, Mary was not perfect.  She was a sinner in need of God’s grace and salvation just like you and me.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  It is through Jesus Christ that Mary is saved—just like you and me.

What do you see when you think of Mary?  You may be tempted to picture the perfect women portrayed in the porcelain nativity scene sculpted by an artist.  Is that the real Mary?  Is that who you think you need to emulate?

I urge you not to turn Mary into some mythical figure.  Let her be the real girl she was in the Gospel.  The real story is much more compelling than the myth.  Mary was young, poor, and female in a time when women were not highly regarded.  She was a real mother who faced real challenges.  She had no special powers or abilities that you don’t have.  All she had was a willing and obedient heart.  God saw her faith and obedience and He helped her succeed.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to choose you or help you—you just need to be willing and obey.

Mary was like so many mothers.  She was there in the background the whole time nurturing, supporting, and encouraging.  She had too much to do and never enough time to do it.  She wasn't a super mom; she was just a regular person depending on God to help her through.  She was not the central character in the story, but that’s OK.  She never needed the focus to be on her.  To the contrary, she must have recognized as she came to understand more fully who her son was that the focus should always be on him instead of her.  Jesus is Lord, not Mary.  Jesus is the Savior, not Mary.  Jesus is the one who takes away our sins, who answers our prayers, who directs our path. 

I think it would disturb Mary if we spent too much time honoring her.  She would say, “Why are you giving me all this attention?  Don’t look to me!  Don’t worship me! I’m just a person like you.  Please! Please, look at my Son over there!  Isn’t he wonderful?”  Oh that we all had that attitude.  This life is not about us!  It is about Christ! “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!  Look full in his wonderful face and the ting of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace!”

And Mary’s life encourages us to be the best we can be—not because she was perfect, but—because she was just an ordinary girl.  You don’t have to be perfect or even special to make a difference.  Mary was just an ordinary young girl who was willing to be the mother God wanted her to be.  Are you willing to obey God’s plan for your life?  Do you trust God to take what you have to offer and use it for the glory of His Kingdom?  That’s the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Monday, December 16, 2019

#4 Beautiful Bathsheba

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Today, I share the story of beautiful Bathsheba, the fourth of the only five women listed in Jesus royal lineage of over forty generations. And of the five women listed, Bathsheba is not even fully named. Some translations add her name in parentheses, but the original Greek literally says, "and David the king begat Solomon of her of Urias".  Oh Matthew! Can't you even say her name!  Beautiful Bathsheba!

Bathsheba's story is incredibly complicated and embarrassing.  It's the kind of tragic, awful affair that most people would rather not to talk about and just forget it ever happened. Certainly, it is not the kind of glorious tale one praises as a proud moment in your family history! And yet, Bathsheba is right there in the genealogy of Christ our Lord. Without this woman and the terrible thing that happened, Jesus would not be the man he was, because Bathsheba is his great, great, great… grandmother.  So what happened to beautiful Bathsheba?

2 Samuel 11:1
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem

Note: There is trouble here. This is the time of year kings go to war, but David is in the city. For some reason, he is not acting like a king. Is he injured? Tired? Have pneumonia? Being lazy? We don't know for sure, but David's not acting like a king.

2 Samuel 11:2-3
Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

Bathsheba's father was Eliam who was the son of Ahithophel.  Ahithophel was one of David's best royal advisers. A few years after David meets Bathsheba, Ahithophel will defect to David's son Absalom when Absalom leads a rebellion to overthrow David.

Rabbinic legend holds that Bathsheba's grandfather, Ahithophel, is the one who instigated Absalom to rebel against David. Though the Scripture does not say it, ancient Jewish rabbis taught that Ahithophel told Bathsheba to seduce David on purpose as part of his own plot to take over the kingdom. I think that's just wild speculation from the rabbis who try to make sense of why David, normally so faithful and righteous, would do something so terrible.  If anything, when Ahithophel rebels, it it is to pay David back for what we are about to see happen to Bathsheba. How would you feel if someone did the following to your granddaughter?
2 Samuel 11:4-6a
Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”

Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” 

Uriah the Hittite
Uriah was Bathsheba's husband. He was also one of David's very best warriors (think Green Berets or Navy Seals).  Uriah was listed among the 37 best warriors in David's entire army--an army of tens of thousands of fighting soldiers. And Uriah was a Hittite, not a Hebrew. People often accuse God in the Old Testament and Israelites of being racists who hated foreigners, but that just wasn't true. We've already seen that Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were non-Jewish foreigners God welcomed as part of His holy people, Israel.  Foreigners were always welcome if they worshiped God.  God told His people to look after the foreigners among them, because they were some of the most vulnerable in the community and God cared about them.  God frequently reminded the Israelites they had once been foreigners in foreign land and they ought to remember that and take care of the refugees among them.  It was false gods and idolatry and wicked religion that God rejected and called His people to reject. We see now that Uriah is a foreign minority living and fighting for God's people. 

Uriah's name itself means “Yahweh is my light”. Yahweh is the proper name of God, the name He revealed to Moses through the Burning Bush when He said, "Tell my people I AM has sent you."  Uriah was a convert to Judaism who worshiped the One True God and he was one of David's best and most loyal elite soldiers. And we shall now see how honorable was Uriah's character.

2 Samuel 11:6-11
Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?” Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.”

David figures he can cover this whole thing up if he can just get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, but Uriah's honor and integrity is getting in the way. Oh the irony! David, supposedly a man after God's own heart, has lapsed in his own integrity and done a deplorable thing and he can't make it go away because his mighty man, Uriah, is too honorable!

2 Samuel 11:12-17
“Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.

David has gone from bad to worse. Now, he has gone from adultery to lies and cover up and murder. If David were our president, the Congress would call for impeachment and the Senate would have to convict! He is guilty of high crimes against the Kingdom.  He has put his own interest ahead of the Kingdom of God he swore to defend, abused his power, and murdered Uriah (and several other soldiers needlessly died in the process).

2 Samuel 11:26-27
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.

There's a tremendous story in the next chapter of how God sends a prophet, Nathan, to rebuke and punish David. I encourage you to read it. I'm not going to include it, because it’s the story about how David was held accountable and how he repented.  But this morning, I’m telling the story of Bathsheba, not David. 

You see, that's the problem you run into with Bathsheba. She's just treated as a side character in all this. David's the King. Uriah's a mighty warrior. Nathan's a prophet. And most of the commentary and sermons and books you find about this whole story centers on all the men. There just isn't much information about Bathsheba the woman. Well, it's a man's world (or at least it was when 2 Samuel was written). 

I have so many questions about Bathsheba! Don't you? Like:  Was she a willing party to this whole thing or just a victim?  Now, I must make an important disclaimer.  We live in an era where we are finally beginning to recognize and expose the shameful, devastating hurt that has been done to so many women through sexual harassment, assault, and rape.  In this #metoo era, I recognize that I still don't understand all that women have been through over the years--even though I have a wife and two daughters, I don't know all that women go through.  I have read statistics as high as 1 in 3 women are sexually harassed in their lifetime and 1 in 5 will either be raped or face attempted raped.  There may be women reading this right now who have experienced sexual mistreatment.  And I hope you know I have a pastors heart (and also the heart of a father with two daughters).  I care about what you've experienced.  Can I have your permission to speak frankly? I don't have all the answers and I freely admit as a man I may in ignorance stick my foot in my mouth, but I speak with a sincere heart.  We've got to do better.  We've got to stop the mistreatment of women.  

When I read Bathsheba's story, one nagging thought comes to mind.  Bathsheba could be like Monica Lewinsky. You remember Monica Lewinsky?  She was the White House intern that had a sexual affair with President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s.  For many, Monica Lewinsky became the modern definition of a floozy.  Which begs the question: have we treated Monica Lewinsky fairly?  How about all these other women who are thrust into the public spotlight because they are victims who were sexually harassed or objectified or assaulted and suddenly their private lives are paraded out for public scrutiny and everyone’s talking about them.  It's like being assaulted all over again.  Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.  How would you feel?  

Here's the thing: People rarely ever really know the whole story about anything, but everyone forms an opinion. It's as if we cannot abide not knowing (or thinking we know) and so we’re compelled to construct our own conclusions—usually based on the most spurious of clues. We look at people's incredibly traumatic experiences that are as complex as a tangled ball of yarn, with threads of mistakes, victimization, causation, outside influences, happenstance, influences from the spiritual realm (both darkness and light) and we try to distill it all down to some simplistic, neatly tied bow that we can place on top of a Christmas present and says, "This is the story." It rarely works that way in real life. And not in God's story either, because God’s story in the Bible is REAL LIFE.  We may never know the WHOLE story of David and Bathsheba. Only God knows the TRUTH.  But we do know this, God embedded Bathsheba’s memory in Jesus’ royal lineage.  Whatever her virtues or failings may have been, God knows and He has kept her name for all to know for all time.

What we do know about Bathsheba is this:
First of all, she couldn't really say no to David.  David was the king.  What the king tells you to do, you do.  If he wanted to sleep with her, she couldn't say no.  It didn't matter if she was married.

Second, her husband was murdered.  That's terrible!

Third, Bathsheba got pregnant, gave birth, and the child died after seven days.  The Bible says the child’s death was punishment for David’s sin.  However, the baby’s death grieved Bathsheba too. (See 2 Samuel 12:24) I can't imagine the horror of carrying a child in your womb for nine months (especially if it was the result of forced sex) and then holding it in your arms for seven days and then watching it die.  And we don’t know if Bathsheba’s sex with David was consensual or forced.  And how would that effect the emotions? That's messed up!

We also know that Bathsheba became David's wife after her husband’s murder.  (Again, she couldn't really say no, could she? What the King says, you do.)  Maybe she was just making the best of her situation, like women have always had to do who lived in a male dominated world.  Maybe it was Bathsheba's plan all along (like the rabbis said).  The truth is, we don’t know.  Never the less, Bathsheba remained David’s loyal wife.  The first son died, but she had another son and named him Solomon, whom David promised would be heir to the royal throne.  Even though David had a least eight wives and had eighteen sons, Bathsheba managed to secure succession to the royal throne for her son, Solomon—an ascension that stood against all other rivals.  Furthermore, Bathsheba helped guide Solomon as he started as king.  Many believe Proverbs 31—that famous passage extolling the virtues of the ideal womanwas written by Solomon as he recalled he advice of his mother, Bathsheba.  There are certainly two pieces of advice toward the beginning of Proverbs 31 that seem like something Bathsheba would tell her son when he became king.

Proverbs 31:2-3
O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not waste your strength on women,
    on those who ruin kings.

I encourage you to take some time to read 2 Samuel 12-20 of all the trouble David got into because of what he did to Bathsheba—pain, heartache, murder, wasted time and strength and resources of God’s Kingdom.  Think of your own lives today and walk in integrity.

But there is another bit of advice I think is even more relevant and likely to come from the mouth of Bathsheba, a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world where she had no power, no voice, no respect, no guarantee of justiceProverbs 31:8-9.

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.  Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.

God can use anything in your life to accomplish his plans.  He can use your mistakes, your fears, your trauma, your sin.  God could even use an affair or a sexual assault to accomplish His plans.  That doesn’t mean we should go looking for these things.  Certainly not.  Who wants the pain and suffering and darkness and death that come from these evils?

No, we don’t go looking for them, but sometime these evils come and find us.  And if something like this has found you, I want you to know that God loves you.  God cares about you.  He knows the whole story.  And even if it feels like the world doesn’t understand or care or seek justice for you:
            GOD CARES.
                        GOD UNDERSTANDS.
                                    AND GOD WILL BRING JUSTICE as only God can.

And Jesus, the great, geat, great... grandson of beautiful Bathsheba is the answer.  He is the One who:
                    And in the end will MAKE ALL THINGS RIGHT!

He is the One who was born in a manger, but He is also the One we wait for who will come again to judge the living and the dead and make all things new.  Amen.

#3 Ruth the Redeemed Refugee

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Matthew 1 list 40 generations of Jesus’ males descendants, but only names 5 women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Today, we will here the story of Ruth the redeemed refugee.
Ruth is a short book. It only takes 16 minutes to read it.  I encourage you to read the whole thing.  I'm going to share much of it today and make some comments as we go through the story.  However, I encourage you to read the whole book.

Ruth 1
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

I just want to point out that the famine was so bad in Israel that this family left their homeland in search of food.  How bad would life have to be for you to move your family out of America in search of food?

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Remember, this is a patriarchal (male dominated) society.  Women have no way to make it on their own.  With out a husband or sons, Naomi and her daughter’s in law are destitute.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Now, that's the way Naomi thinks.  She assumes the Lord is against her, but that isn't necessarily true.  However, it's easy to fall into this negative thinking when life is hard for a long time.  

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

What we see here is amazing and I don’t want you to miss it.  What we have here is a decision by Ruth to follow God.  Both Orpah and Ruth were Moabites.  Moabites did not worship the God of the Bible.  Moabites worshiped idols and false gods.  But Ruth and Orpah both saw something special in Naomi’s family.  Naomi’s family worshiped the God of the Bible—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And Orpah and Ruth must have saw something special in this family.  There is always something special about people who worship the One True God of the Bible.  And it was so special that both Orpah and Ruth wanted to leave their own people’s ways behind in Moab and convert to Naomi’s people and religion in Israel.

Very often, a person’s decision to follow God is closely linked to the people of God they know.  Most people don’t care that much about whether Christians can quote the Bible or explain the theology and doctrines of Christianity.  What they do care about is how you live.  Does your life embody the Christian faith so that people want to join with you in following God?  Is your life a witness for Christ?  If Ruth were your daughter-in-law, would she see God in you so strongly she would want to leave behind her former way of life apart from God and follow your people instead?

But Naomi explains how hard it will be to follow her home to Israel…  Living as God’s people  is not necessarily easy.  Jesus even taught that you should count the cost before your decide to follow him.  To one man who wanted to follow him, Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)  I.E. Jesus and his followers often must lead a hard life not even knowing where they will sleep at night.

Orpah decides the cost is too high and decides to go back to Moab.  However, Ruth is determined.  She has found in Naomi’s family a life that is better than her former life in Moab.  She would rather face hardship with God’s people than remain in Moab apart from the One True God.

19 So the two women [Ruth and Naomi] went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

Ruth 2
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”

Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

The ancient Israelites had a form of social welfare.  When farmers harvested their fields, the would leave the corners and edges of the field.  Then, the poor, the widows, and orphans could come harvest what was left.  It wasn’t much, but it might be enough that they wouldn’t starve.  Of course, the poor, widows, and orphans were vulnerable and often mistreated (just like they are today; people often treat them scornfully and they have very little recourse).  So Ruth is going to go try and glean enough from the leftover harvest to keep herself and her mother-in-law alive.  Can you imagine being in her situation…

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”

“The Lord bless you!” they answered.

Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah.  [An ephah is about 30 pounds.] 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”

21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”

22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”

23 So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

Ruth 3
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”
Boaz was Naomi and Ruth's guardian-redeemer (or family redeemer).  That meant, it was his responsibility to make sure the family line of Naomi's dead husbands and sons did not perish from the earth.  It was his duty to care for. protect, and provide family heirs for his dead kin's surviving family.
Boaz had the power to redeem Ruth and Naomi—to save them from a life of hunger, poverty, shame, and death.  He had the power to save their family name.  But to do so would be costly.  Caring for them meant more mouths to feed, and we've already seen in the story how famine could strike and devastate a community.  Furthermore, redeeming Ruth and Naomi would draw resources from his own family.
Jesus Christ is the Great Redeemer of all humanity.  He redeems us from spiritual hunger, poverty, shame, and death.  His redemption assures our names remain among God’s people.  But our redemption comes at great cost to Christ too--much greater than Boaz's.  Jesus paid for our redemption with his own blood.  He suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for our sins.  His redemption brings us back into the family of God, as heirs of eternal life, forgiven of sin, blessed with eternal life.  His redemption adds our name to the Book of Life.

Ruth 4:13-16
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Jesus the Redeemer
And David was the great King of Israel—the model for the coming Messiah, The King of kings.  And the Messiah is Jesus Christ—the great, great, great, great… grandson of Ruth, the redeemed refugee from a foreign land.  Isn’t it good to know our Lord and Savior, our Redeemer was willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem us from our sin?  For Jesus Christ laid down his life on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sin.  If He was willing to do all that, isn’t He willing to redeem whatever other brokenness or shame or misfortune you face.
But do you trust Him?  Will you put all your faith in Him?  Will you be like Orpah and turn and go back to your false gods and unfaithfulness?  Or will you be like Ruth, who counted the costs and said in Ruth 1:16, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
The choice is yours.