Daily Devo – Day 5

Maundy Thursday, April 9th

What was Jesus doing on Thursday of Holy Week?

The big event of the day is the Last Supper and Jesus and the disciples making their way to Gethsemane.

Note: In liturgical churches this day is known as Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, which reflects Jesus’ words, in John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment.”

Jesus Washes The Feet Of His Friends, John 13:1-17; 34-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:31–17:26 is a unit known as The Farewell Discourse, which are the final words and instructions of Jesus before He was arrested. If we were to reduce these chapters to two words, they would be assurance and comfort. Jesus prepares the Disciples for His death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He speaks of the opposition between the ways of this world and them as His disciples, preparing them for the hardships to come.[1] He does this by showing them that this opposition will come from their union with Himself (e.g., abiding in Him, see John 15:4).

One of my VitalChurch colleagues made the observation that the Last Supper, with Jesus stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, is the most pivotal moment in all of human history. What we witness is the culmination of the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the launch of the New Covenant (or Testament). At the official inauguration of this new age, Jesus is modeling for us a new ethic and practice—humbly serving others (see Philippians 2:2-7). Jesus didn’t want this object lesson moment to be missed, we are to find our comfort, joy, and delight in being found “in Him” and from that assurance we are to humbly love and serve one another—and “the other,” through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Application: Two thoughts…

  1. How is your assurance of salvation? Do you know that you know that you know that you are secure in God’s love and full acceptance? If not ask God to reveal to you what might be hindering that. Surrender afresh your whole life to Him and ask for that assurance to warm your heart.
  2. How is your servant’s heart? If you do not live alone during this shelter-in-place moment, you are experiencing, CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS in a whole new way, where we’re in each other’s space more than usual. How’s it going? (I’ll leave it at that.)

Deeper Dive: Jesus and the Disciples Making Their Way to Gethsemane

After the Last Supper Jesus and the Disciples began to make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Along the way, in the moonlight, they would have seen small fires burning in the vineyards that shared the Mount of Olives with the olive groves. And keep in mind that the national emblem of Israel was a golden vine.

It is possible that Jesus spoke His John 15 words with a view of the vineyard fires in the background. What were the fires about? At the end of each day the vinedressers would stack the dead and fruitless branches into a pile every few rows and then burn them at dusk. Perhaps as Jesus spoke His words, the Disciples could see the fires burning from where they were standing (or walking)??

And then Jesus and the Disciples would need to cross the Kidron Valley on their way to Gethsemane. On the afternoon before the Passover Celebration in Jerusalem, which would have begun on Wednesday, the Temple Priests would have been sacrificing of the lambs on the altar of the temple. Theologians speculate that as many as a quarter-million lambs were slain in a typical Passover season, requiring hundreds of priests to carry out the task. There would be a tremendous amount of blood drained from 250,000 lambs along with the water used in the ritual cleansings. The water and blood would have been flowing down the Kidron Valley which separated Jerusalem from Gethsemane. The word, Kidron means “black brook” or “gloomy brook,” perhaps the name was in response to the continuous flood of blood and water from the Temple.

When Jesus and the Disciples walked through the Kidron Valley, it’s likely that Jesus couldn’t help but be moved by the biblical symbolism that the valley held in terms of sacrifices made “for sins,” the river of blood from those sacrificial lambs. Jesus knew that as “The Lamb of God” His blood would soon flow for the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. His crossing the Kidron was a confirmation concerning “the cup” of the sins of the world that He was about to drink and die for. He came to die as God’s perfect Sacrificial Lamb for our sins that we might be restored to direct access to an intimate life-giving relationship with our Father God. He is, indeed, a good, good Father.

Application: The best, maybe the only legit, application is to worship. When you have a few minutes maybe slip out of the house and take a short walk. Reflect on the suffering that Jesus was about to endure. Thank Him and worship Him.

You can also gather your household and tell them the story I just told you. And here’s a link to a video from the Bible Project about sacrifice and atonement that you can share with your household…

https://bibleproject.com/explore/sacrifice-atonement/

[1] cf. Tolmie 1995:228-29.

Holy Week Devo – Day 4

Wednesday, April 8th

What was happening on Wednesday of Holy Week?

The major event was Judas’ decision to betray Jesus.

One Of You Will Betray Me, Matthew 26:14-16

Then one of the twelve disciples—the one named Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him. From then on Judas was looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them.

Based on the median income for a full-time wage or salary worker in 2019, the equivalent amount would be approximately $5,460—not nearly as much as we might have thought!

Someone once said, “Knowing what NOT to do is just as good as knowing what TO do.” So, what can we learn from Judas? At least two things…

1 For three-and-a-half years Jesus, the only perfect person who ever lived, provided the ultimate environment for incubating a dynamic faith, yet Judas still went sideways. Parents of prodigals, or pastors, or employers who have experienced loved ones making poor choices, walking away from the faith they were raised in, or employees not living up to their potential and needing to be let go can be overwhelmed with a strong sense of shame and guilt.

(It should be noted that there is legitimate shame and guilt that humbly acknowledges our failures and points us to the cross of Christ. Legitimate shame exposes our depravity. We should feel shame when we hurt someone because we violate our relationship with them and the Lord. Take care not to justify or deny your wrongdoing. Let legitimate shame do its work. If the Spirit of God lives in you, you will be nudged into the light of His presence and seared by His penetrating eyes. It is God’s kindness to orchestrate the events of our life so that our heart will be tested and then humbled.[1])

Certainly, we must acknowledge and own what we could have done differently—and apologize where necessary, yet in the end we cannot control the decisions of others.

Application: Own what you can own. Repent. Apologize wherever it is appropriate. Ask for the Holy Spirit to be released afresh on the person/people because God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

2 Seemingly “insignificant” and unconfessed sin can snowball into addictive, destructive, and lethal behaviors if not acknowledged and confessed. There are many kinds of addictions. There are ingestive addictions—like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sugar, caffeine, and/or food. And there are also process addictions—things like illegitimate shame and guilt, a poor understanding of who we are in Christ, and other processes like pornography and masturbation, shopping, social media, binge watching digital content, religion, making money, and working out can even become an addiction—although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

Judas had been stealing from the collective money bag, and when he kept this sin secret, Satan gained more and more ground in his life. Judas made a deal with the chief priests and then sat down at our Lord’s table with known sins that he was unwilling to own and confess, and Satan entered even further into his life. Unconfessed sin always opens the door to Satan’s power in our lives.

John 13:27a: When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him…

Matthew 27:3-5: Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Application: Confess all know sin. Join a Community Group and seek out safe, challenging, and accountable relationships.

[1] Dan Allender. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, NavPress 1990: 63-66.

Holy Week Devo – Day 3

Tuesday, April 7th

What was Jesus doing on Tuesday of Holy Week?

It’s important that, as we move through Holy Week, we begin to see and understand the resolute focus and intentionality of Jesus that is reflected back to us by the Gospel writers…

He, with the Disciples, Passed by The Barren Fig Tree: Matthew 21:19-22

This object lesson teaching of Jesus on faith and prayer emphasizes that the power of prayer lies not in the power of the person praying but, in the power and promises of God. Our freedom from doubt begins to arise from a growing awareness that something is truly God’s will. True faith receives what it asks for. True trust is not presumptive arrogance but submission to God’s will.

The Authority of Jesus is Challenged in the Temple: Matthew 21:23-27.

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus was no stranger to controversy and conflict with the religious establishment. Most Jewish people (including the disciples of Jesus) held a fixed (but wrong) view of how the Messiah should come and what He would do. The demands of the chief priests and the elders emanated from a stubborn place and a desire for personal power and comfort rather than a heart that desired to know and do the will of God.

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25. Excerpt from 25:1-13

Leaving the Temple, Jesus and the Disciples walked up the Mount of Olives, probably to a place that overlooked the city. Matthew 24-25 are the last of Jesus’ five teaching discourses that make up the bulk of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples, giving them a prophetic overview of events to come in the near and distant future. Here’s how to outline the chapters…

  • Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.). (24:1-3)
  • The troubles before the destruction of Jerusalem. (24:4-28)
  • Jesus foretells other signs and miseries. (24:29-41)
  • Exhortations to watchfulness. (24:42-51)
  • The parable of the ten virgins. (25:1-13)
  • The parable of the talents. (25:14-30)
  • The Second Coming and Judgement. (25:31-46)

 As we can see, Tuesday was a packed day of exhortation and instruction! A concise overview of the day’s focus would be:

  • A pattern for personal prayer that it is not petitioning God to do our will, but a humble inquiring of God to share His will for us.
  • The natural drift of the human heart is toward selfishness, personal comfort, and control. It is essential that we engage the Christian life as humble learners.
  • Jesus will not take His followers around suffering, but through suffering—and we are to be watchful, prepared, and productive along the way—because judgement is coming.

Application:

  • Consider your prayer life. Ask God to draw you after Him in a new and powerful way. “Draw me after you and let us run together!” –Song of Solomon 1:4a
  • Where is personal preference, stubbornness, and control hindering your relationship with God and others? Get real.
  • Where are you stuck in your longing for comfort in the midst of our call to stand firm for Jesus even when it means suffering?

Tim Keller and George Hebert on Prayer

The Christian’s Call to Suffer

Holy Week Devo – Day 2

Monday, April 6th

Mary Pours Out Her Costly Perfume, Matthew 26:6-13

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

A Note of Context: The anointing of Jesus recounted in Luke 7:36-50 is a different incident from this anointing. This anointing is also related in John 12:1-11 and Mark 14:3-9 (although John 12 states that Mary anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair). Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is Monday evening, two days after Lazarus was raised from the dead and the day after Palm Sunday. Jesus enjoyed a very special friendship with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They offered Jesus warm friendship and their home provided a respite in a world of conflict and escalating hostility (cf. Luke 10:38–42). It is also worth noting that the resurrection of Lazarus was likely one of the main reasons the crowds in Jerusalem were so large and boisterous on Palm Sunday. The word had spread and there was a holy hope and expectation that swept through the city including those who made the trek to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.

Big Idea: The main emphasis seems to be, don’t waste your life on anything but Jesus.

Dig In: Chinese Pastor and Theologian, Watchman Nee wrote a book in the 1930s entitled The Normal Christian Life. The last chapter of the book is titled, “The Goal of the Gospel” and it addresses this idea of waste from Matthew 26. Nee points out that in the parallel accounts of John (12:1-11) and Mark (14:3-9), all the disciples joined Judas in scolding Mary for wasting this expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet we find Jesus defending Mary by replying, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13). What does Jesus mean? Nee contends that Jesus is saying, “people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.”[1] If Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field[2] (see Matthew 13:45-46), then it’s not a waste to sell everything we have to buy the field that contains the pearl. To have Jesus is worth “wasting” all that we are and all that we have on Him.

Application: This might seem like kind of an in-your-face question, but I’ll ask it nevertheless—In your mind, what is the difference between a wasted life and an “un-wasted” life? How will you discern whether or not you are wasting your life (or even portions of your life)? I have been wrestling with this question for the last few weeks. Spend some time in this shelter-at-home season and prayerfully reflect on and evaluate your life. How did you get to where you are today? What is God placing on your heart for this next season of life?

Deeper Dive: In Paul’s letter to young Timothy he provides some sage advice…

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. –1 Timothy 4:15-6 (emphasis added)

The two verses above offer a context for regular moments of reflection and evaluation. First of all, the goal is not perfection, but progress (v.15), and secondly, a consistent and thorough evaluation of ourselves and our message will lead to the furtherance of the gospel (v.16). This requires courage because we must be willing to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.

And returning to the idea of waste, on May 20, 2000, in Memphis TN John Piper delivered a message to thousands of college students at a one-day Passion Conference. The message was titled Boasting Only in the Cross. Piper made a passionate plea to that generation to avoid the dangers of a wasted life, calling on them to take risks and make sacrifices that will matter for eternity. Piper called for a single-minded, soul-satisfying passion for the glory of God that seeks to make much of Him in every sphere of our lives. Subsequently, that sermon has been called, a “message that moved a generation” and had a ripple effect through that generation (see below for a 7-minute clip—or the link above for the full message). As Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “A life spent in selfless devotion to Jesus is not wasted, but a life spent on self is totally wasted.”

 

[1] Pgs 186.

[2] By-the-way, this “pearl” passage goes both ways. You are also the pearl of great price that Jesus purchased for Himself.

Holy Week Devotional – Day 1

Palm Sunday, April 5th — Jesus’ Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [see Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [See Psalm 118:26]

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Thinking it through: The big question seems to be, would you have recognized Jesus?

Someone has said, “Expectation is the root of all hurt.” Think about it. If you were to go back and consider the times in your life where deep relational woundedness occurred, it most likely includes someone disappointing or hurting you in a way that was completely unexpected. Expectation is a programmed assumption. Sometimes our expectations are legitimate, and the wound is raw and real. Sometimes our expectations are illegitimate and the wound, while it may still be piercing, has been self-inflicted. The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to liberate them from Roman oppression; instead, they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul.

Here are three questions for you to consider…

Are there areas in your life where you have placed unrealistic or unbiblical expectations on God?

In a blog post Christian author Randy Alcorn identifies six false expectations that diminish true happiness…

  1. God’s Love for Us Should Look Just Like What We Want
  2. We Won’t Be Persecuted for Our Faith
  3. Jesus Must Return in Our Lifetime
  4. Life Will Go Smoothly and We’ll Always Have Health and Wealth
  5. Life Will Be Fair and People Will Treat Us Kindly and Thoughtfully
  6. Churches Owe Us Better Treatment than We’ve Received

Do you still carry woundedness or bitterness from your past as a result of unmet expectations?

All of our pain resolved or otherwise, is important to our heavenly Father. Your feelings, right or wrong, are valid. Nevertheless, consider real hurt vs. perceived hurt. Read Psalm 22; a psalm of David. He’s confused and in deep anguish—and yet he turns to God in his anguish. David is famous for being a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), yet we sometimes fail to recognize how he repeatedly paid attention to loss, grief, and disappointment. As King, David led Israel to God through his own experiences of grief and loss.[1]

Are your aspirations, hopes, dreams, and expectations rooted in a developing biblical theology?

As Matthew notes, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was foretold in the Old Testament. Those who were deeply familiar with the Scriptures would have recognized what was happening.

So, what is biblical theology? Biblical theology can be contrasted with experiential theology, which defines God through personal experience, emotion, and the subjective discernment of reality. Simply stated, biblical theology is seeing the whole Bible (both Old and New Testaments) as a single narrative. A more robust definition is the lifelong endeavor of tracking the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture in its proper context. It is one story that moves from creation to sin, to judgment, to reconciliation, and finally, to the restoration of all things.

Many Christians have never seen or understood the difference between experiential theology and biblical theology. Experiential theology will keep us trapped in immaturity and set us up for repeated disappointments. This could be a main reason for people exiting the Church—they’ve never been taught how to study and embrace the full single story of the Bible. And consequently, they didn’t recognize Jesus when He showed up in their lives. Unrealistic expectations and the resulting disappointments have hijacked their lives.

Is this happening to you? Do you know someone who is on the fringe or who has exited the Church because of poor instruction? If this describes you, go back to the Beatitudes: acknowledge your spiritual poverty, mourn over your sinful condition (along with the condition of the world around us), become a humble learner once again, and you will begin to experience a hunger and thirst for God. If you know someone who is deeply disappointed with God and/or the Church, invite them to meet and ask to hear their story. Don’t try and fix them, listen to them, affirm their feelings, and continue to love them. When the time is right, offer to read a book with them. One of the best books to help someone get back on the right track is Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. It’s a retelling of a biblical narrative from Luke 15 that we often get wrong. Both brothers were prodigals and the main character is not the younger prodigal but the older one. Keller tells us there are two ways to miss God, 1) rebellion (younger prodigal) and 2) religion (older prodigal). The gospel is the third way. Read this book with your friend (Spouse? Child? Co-Worker?), walk together and let God do the rest.

Here are some additional resources to further consider biblical theology:

[1] Adapted from Enlarging Your Soul and Church Through Grief and Loss by Peter Scazzero.

Preparing for the Next Great Awakening

Here’s a quote I came across a few days ago…

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” —John Piper

Have you thought much about what God is wanting to say to you in this shelter in place moment? I keep thinking this disruption is a major opportunity. It’s a time to get real with God and it’s a time to get right with God. Getting real, or owning our own stuff, is the best (and fastest?) way to get right with God. We all accumulate idols.

Idols are those activities that we engage in when we’re stressed out and looking to medicate. In this 21st century culture, idols are everywhere. We have music idols, sports idols, Instagram idols—and we even have a long-running television show to make our own “American Idol” (which I have generally enjoyed by-the-way).

Within the sinful nature of our human hearts, there is a need, a hunger to idolize. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, explains that Scripture teaches the human heart is an “idol factory.”[1] Idolatry quietly and subtly slips into our lives when we allow good things to become ultimate things.[2] Another way to understand this is to think of idols as functional saviors. Jerry Bridges defines functional saviors in the following way: Sometimes we look to other things to satisfy and fulfill us—to ‘save’ us. These ‘functional saviors’ can be any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They can become the source of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts—which often begins as a dalliance. Idols can begin to preoccupy our minds and consume our time and resources. They make us feel good and sometimes, they can even make us feel righteous (religion can become an idol). Whether we realize it or not, they begin to control us, and we worship them.[3] It’s been said that all sin is idolatry because in that moment we are worshiping something or someone other than God.

Still another way to understand the contemporary form of idolatry is to think of it in terms of defining where we obtain our hope. At the heart of every culture lays its main “hope.” Any dominant cultural “hope” that is not God Himself is an idol.[4] We tend to think of idols as bad or evil things, yet they almost never are. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect the idol to satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything or anyone can become an idol, especially the very best things in life.[5]

So, in this anxiety-filled downtime let’s identify the primary idols that hold a prominent place in our hearts? Here are ten common idols: self, security (or control), approval, relationships, success, wealth, health, food, sex, and comfort. All legit things, right? Perhaps a good conversation with your spouse or close friend might be to identify and confess those idols that are attempting to become a primary hope in our lives? (One of mine is comfort.)

I believe that God is up to something big in this moment of history. We must make the decision to no longer tolerate our idols and our low levels of faith, our personal dysfunctions, and give ourselves over to God’s longing to remake us in Christlikeness. Only God can do the changing, but we can choose to surrender afresh.

The next great awakening in the Church and in our country must be centered on our hearts being changed by God. It will begin by replacing the pseudo-Christianity of the consumer-driven lifestyle enhancement model of church (i.e., what can I get from God and church?) with the Spirit-filled faith of biblical Christianity model (i.e., we surrender to Him our whole heart, soul, and mind). Then we, as the church, will offer the renewal of authentic godliness to those who are being malformed by the plethora of cultural idols in the deepest parts of their hearts.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: xiv (quoting John Calvin).
[2] Ibid. Adapted from Keller.
[3] Jerry Bridges & Bevington, The Bookends of the Christian Life: 72.
[4] Andrew Delbanco. The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Quoted in Counterfeit Gods: 129-130.
[5] Keller: xvii.

Ruth 2 — THE Most Important Question of Life


[This sermon is from a series on Ruth taught at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth MA where I currently have the privilege of serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor.]

The title for this sermon is THE Most Important Question of Life (this side of heaven) and we’ll be looking at Ruth 2. Why Ruth? The primary reason we are studying Ruth is that transition and change has become so common in our contemporary culture that we can become numb to it. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The only thing you can really count on is change.” In addition to the transitions and changes each one of us, and our families are going through, we’re also experiencing transition and change as a church. And my challenge to us is to ask the question, “God, what do You want to teach me, to teach us, through the significant transitions of life?” Ruth is a narrative account of some pretty severe and significant transitions and we get to see how the main characters handle them. Here are 3-takeaway lessons from chapter 1:

  1. Even in the midst of dark, difficult, and chaotic times God still works on our behalf for His glory and our joy.
  2. Even when we’re disobedient it does not thwart the sovereignty and the ultimate purpose of God.
  3. There is a great benefit in being in community in the same way that Naomi and Ruth needed one another.

Today we will be introduced to the third main character: Boaz. So, we’ll be reading all of Ruth 2.  You might be asking are we going to be reading whole chapters every week?  This month, yes.  I would remind you of Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy in 1 Tim 4:13: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.”:

“Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.  One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.’  Naomi replied, ‘All right, my daughter, go ahead.’ So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.  While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. ‘The Lord be with you!’ he said.  ‘The Lord bless you!’ the harvesters replied.  Then Boaz asked his foreman, ‘Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?’ [a poor translation, “who is” is better] And the foreman replied, ‘She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.’  Boaz went over and said to Ruth, ‘Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.’  10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’  11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’  13 ‘I hope I continue to please you, sir,’ she replied. ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’  14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some leftover.  15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!’  17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.  18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was leftover from her meal.  19 ‘Where did you gather all this grain today?’ Naomi asked. ‘Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!’  So, Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, ‘The man I worked with today is named Boaz.’  20 ‘May the Lord bless him!’ Naomi told her daughter-in-law. ‘He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.  That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.’  21 Then Ruth said, ‘What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.’  22 ‘Good!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.’  23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.”–Ruth 2:1-23

My wife, Linda, and I enjoy watching a few television shows together…We’ve enjoyed many of the British detective dramas because they are not nearly as violent or eerie as their American counterparts. One of the American crime shows that we have enjoyed is Bluebloods. When I was a kid watching a television drama there was generally only one plotline. As I got older, I began to notice TV dramas had two simultaneous plotlines that intersected at the end. A while back it occurred to me that Bluebloods usually has three simultaneous plotlines…And that’s is what we find here in the 2nd chapter of Ruth—3 overlapping plotlines. In this chapter we find:

  1. Boaz is introduced as the third main character (after Ruth and Naomi)
  2. The interaction of God’s grace and human responsibility
  3. The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2

So, let’s look at them one at a time…Boaz is introduced as the third main character. Three things about Boaz…The first thing we learn about Boaz is that he is wealthy and influential (v.1). The second thing we learn is that he is a relative of both Naomi’s and Ruth’s deceased husbands.  This is where we really begin to see the clouds part and a ray of hope emerge—for two reasons…It turns out that Boaz is one of Naomi’s and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemers. A kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who had both the privilege and the responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, in danger, or in need of vindication. Naomi identifies Boaz, at the end of v. 20 as, one of our family redeemers.” And it’s interesting that Naomi hadn’t told Ruth about Boaz being a relative. It’s another indication of Naomi’s good theology and that she was trusting in the covenant God of Israel as her and Ruth’s ultimate provider. What we find, by God’s merciful providence, is that Boaz can buy back the family farm that Elimelech and Naomi gave-up to move to Moab. There’s a catch though. If there was a widow (like Ruth), the kinsman-redeemer would marry her in the hope that the family name could live on.

Another reason for a ray of hope to shine through is that in addition to being wealthy and influential, Boaz is a godly man. In v. 4 Boaz arrives at the field where Ruth is gleaning and greets his crew with God-focused greeting. If we wanted to know something about a businessman or woman’s relationship with God, we would not necessarily look at how they act on a Sunday but how they greet and treat their staff (or colleagues) on Mon morning. How far down has God penetrated into the details of their everyday life? I think that’s the reason the author adds that seeming bit of trivia. Another thing we need to know about Boaz is just a tiny bit controversial. There is some subtle flirting going on between Boaz and Ruth right from the get-go. As we consider this, it’s important to clarify that nowhere in the text does it state that Ruth was beautiful, or that Boaz was handsome. And furthermore, the text indicates that Boaz was older than Ruth. We know this because he addresses her as “daughter” in v.8. Ruth’s age is probably 25-30 and some theologians think Boaz was in his 40’s, or even his 50s.  (I have daughters so; I’m going to go with 40s :). Notice in v. 5 that as soon as Boaz arrives, he sees Ruth and asks about her. And then they almost instantly get into this intense and politely intimate conversation. And the reason I brought up that the text doesn’t say they were Ken and Barbie lookalikes is because what seems to be at the heart of Boaz’s attraction to Ruth is her kindness and generosity toward Naomi—and then, even more importantly, in v.12 Boaz acknowledges her conversion to the covenant God of Israel when he says, May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’ In v. 13 Ruth responds to Boaz saying, ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’ The literal translation of the word “kindly” is “heart.”  So, what Ruth is saying is: “You have consoled me by speaking directly to my heart.”  Boom, love is in the air.

In v.17, other translations say that Ruth gleaned about an ephah of barley that day. Do you know how much that is? It’s about 40-pounds of barley or enough to make about 70 loaves of bread. As we read in the text, Boaz made sure Ruth and Naomi would have plenty of barley to eat and to trade for the additional necessities of life.

God’s grace and human responsibility work hand in hand; they are not contradictory. We see this dynamic tension at play here in chapter 2 as we encounter the further unfolding of Ruth’s godliness and character. Last week I introduced the Hebrew word hesed, which has no English equivalent but describes the longsuffering, pursuant, extravagant, unrestrained, covenant love of God. Here in chapter 2, we see Ruth pursuing God’s grace, or favor.  The Hebrew word is chên and it’s used 3-times in this chapter.  I find it a bit more clear in the NASB:

  1. V 2: Let me go and find favor
  2. V 10: Why have I found favor?
  3. V 13: May I continue to find favor

From the beginning of her life with God, we see Ruth demonstrating a consistent life of humility and surrender, which are the markers of true conversion. Yet, at the same time, Ruth demonstrates a proactive resourcefulness. I see in Ruth both humility and assertiveness.  She is both realistic and hopeful. It’s amazing maturity—whether we’re talking about a new convert or a twentysomething. I would see Ruth as one of those people who starts out as the receptionist and eventually becomes CEO of the company. You may find it interesting that in the Hebrew Scripture the book of Ruth comes directly after Proverbs, where many of us will remember that the last 21 verses are a description of the virtuous woman. It’s assumed that Solomon had Ruth in mind when he wrote Pro 31. We saw this humble assertiveness and realistic hopefulness in chapter 1 and we see it even more profoundly here in chapter 2—and we will see it blossom fully next week in chapter 3.

The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2…This is where we ask of the text, how does this chapter point us to the person and the work of Jesus Christ? (Lk 24: 27) This is a pretty easy call now that Boaz is on the scene. I hope you can see that Jesus Christ is the better Boaz who leaves the comfort, majesty, and perfection of heaven to become our Kinsman-Redeemer that He might redeem us from our sin.

As we begin to land the plane—and having established that Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer and Boaz “may be” Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, I want to take you into the conversation between Boaz and Ruth in vs. 10-12:

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’ 11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

What we see here is Ruth absolutely humbled by the kindness and generosity of Boaz. And we see Boaz complementing Ruth on the kindness and generosity she has shown to Naomi.  But what is also happening, at a deeper level, is that Boaz is acknowledging Ruth’s conversion to the covenant God of Israel. Look at v. 12 again:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

The OT is full of references to God’s people taking refuge under the wings of God. Here’s one:

“For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.” –Psalm 63:7

With that in mind here is the big idea for today:

We are awakened to the unfathomable riches God’s grace as we take refuge under His wings.

I would like to suggest to you that Ruth’s question to her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ is THE most important question of our lives. Have you ever been so enraptured with the beauty, the grace, the majesty, the wonder of God that you, maybe tearfully or joyfully, or both, asked God, “Why me, what have I done to deserve the kindness of Your salvation?” And the answer, of course, is nothing. We have done nothing to deserve the kindness of God’s salvation. When you were at your very worst Jesus Christ died for you.  When you were shaking your fist and cursing God, He pursued you with hesed and loved you with kindness, mercy, and saving grace.

If you haven’t asked the question, “Why me?” you might not be a Christian…