Sermon series: Building Lasting Relationships - Ruth
If you believe in luck, you should listen to this story.
"When the plane leveled off at 14,500 feet, Joan Murray took a deep breath and jumped out the door. The bank executive from Charlotte, North Carolina, was enjoying her free fall through the air until she pulled the ripcord for her parachute and nothing happened. Just about then she had an extreme rush of adrenaline.
"But she didn't panic - she knew she had a back up parachute. She was falling 120 miles per hour when she released the reserve chute. It opened just fine, but she lost her bearings and in her struggle to right herself she deflated the chute. While the chute briefly slowed her descent, she continued to fall at 80 miles per hour.
"She struck the earth with a violent blow shattered her right side and jarred the fillings from her teeth. She was barely conscious and her heart was failing. Just when it seemed things could not get much worse, she realized she had fallen into a mound of fire ants that didn't appreciate her disturbing their solitude. All told they stung her about 200 times before the paramedics arrived." [People's Stories of Survival, 15]
It reminds you of the old "Hee-Haw" song, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."
But things are not always as they seem. The doctors that treated Joan believe that the ants actually saved her life. They theorized that the stings of the ants shocked her heart enough to keep it beating!
Now that wasn't luck - it was the providence of God. By "providence" we mean that God has orchestrated His plan in our favor. While God's bestows his favor according to His sovereign will, He also bestows His favor in direct response to virtuous living.
Virtual reality was a craze in the early to mid-1990s. While I will never dunk a basketball in real life, I can perform the wildest throw downs in a virtual world. Unfortunately, life is lived in a real world that operates on a series of realities. We will call them "virtuous realities" [i.e. Realities that are based on virtue – not luck, fate or even wishful thinking]. Our world operates on several divine principles that impact our lives on a daily basis. And understanding these realities will help us build lasting and more meaningful relationships.
The first of these virtuous realities is simple: Your obedience to God's plan opens his provision for your life.
In today's text we observe a beautiful picture of this truth. This passage illuminates the relationship between our actions and the providence of God
I. God faithfully orchestrates His plan for our lives – 1:22
In our last message we saw Naomi and Ruth begin their "return" to the promise land. Although Naomi's motives were suspect, this act positioned her for God's provision for her life. Notice four specific events that God coordinated to perfection as Ruth and Naomi yield to him.
A. He moved at the right time
"They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest" [1: 22]
God's timing was impeccable. They, as widows, needed the season of harvest to live [March – July] to sustain themselves for the rest of the year.
B. He moved in the right person
"Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side named Boaz." [2:1]
God intersected their lives with the one individual who could rescue them from their poverty. It was a godly relative named Boaz. We see God do this throughout the Scriptures. Just it was no coincidence that Philip met the Ethiopian in the desert, it was no accident either.
C. He moved in the right place
"She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz" [2:3]
Someone has wisely observed that nothing "just happens" with God. This, too, was more than just coincidence - it was providence. Do you remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4? Although the Jews typically avoided Samaria, John 4:4 indicates that Jesus needed to go through Samaria. The story then pictures Jesus sitting at the well in Sychar as the woman approached.
D. He moved in the right ways
"Boaz asked . . . whose young woman is this?" [2:5]
Widows were a common sight in Jewish fields of harvest. It was a provision of their culture to allow widows to pick up the fallen grain left behind by the harvester. But Ruth just happened to catch his eye. It is obvious from chapter 2 that Boaz thinks Ruth is special.
After reading the text, one cannot miss the invisible hand of God orchestrating this entire encounter. Daniel Block (NAC) writes "in reality he (the author) is screaming, "See the hand of God at work here!"
II. God prepares and guards His provision in advance – 2:1
"He was a prominent man of noble character from Elimelech's family"
If you have read the book of Ruth, you know that Boaz is going to marry Ruth. But think with me. What is the probability of him not being married already? Does it strike you as unusual that this man of all people was unmarried? Consider what we know of Boaz:
A. He was wealthy
I'm sure this fact about him would have prompted more than one scheming mother to gently push her daughter in his direction.
B. He was strong
In the Bible, names were typically given for reasons. Sometimes the name was a descriptive such as Naomi's two sons, Mahlon and Chilion [1:2]. The name Boaz means "strength." It is reasonable to assume his parents saw this as a physical characteristic.
C. He was a considerate employer [2:4]
When he greeted his harvesters he invoked the name of the Lord. And they, in response, did the same. This spiritual dimension of their relationship suggests the manner in which he treated his employees.
D. He was a virtuous man [2:1]
The phrase, "of noble character" literally means "good virtue." No doubt he had good standing in the community.
E. He was a man of faith [2:4, 12]
He was "churchgoing" man. Not only did he speak of God freely with those who knew him, he also invoked God's name in his first conversation with Ruth, a total stranger [2:12].
While he was probably a few years older than Ruth, Boaz was Bethlehem's most eligible bachelor. Even if he looked like the hunchback, Quasimodo, he was still quite a catch. So, why had he not married? (Nothing in the text indicates he was previously married). God was saving him for Ruth. Do you remember the reality?
"Your obedience to God's plan opens His provision for your life."
III. God directs the paths of the righteous – 2:2-3
From the start of her life with God, Ruth demonstrated a consistent life of obedience.
Disobedience would not have destroyed God's plan, but she would have missed the best God had for her. Notice, the steps she took as God directed her.
A. She believed in the Lord God [1:16]
We have to wonder what would have happened to her if she had rejected God. What if she trusted God but remained in Moab?
B. She waited patiently [1:22]
She had no idea what God wanted to do for her. She was simply taking the step of obedience she knew for the moment.
C. She lived virtuously [2:2]
Interestingly, no one told her to look for work or care for her mother-in-law. Instead, she took the initiative to provide for Naomi. What would have happened if she had sat around and waited for someone to take care of her?
D. She was sensitive to God's leading [2:3]
Many question come to mind when reading of her search for food. Was this the first field she came to? Did others run her off? Did she consider a fork in the road that might have taken her elsewhere? All we do know is that God led her to the right field – and she went.
This was a divine appointment. The same God that brought shepherds to a specific stable in Bethlehem, and brought Magi to a specific house in Bethlehem, brought Ruth to a specific field in Bethlehem. God led and she listened. What have we missed?
IV. God blesses His people in ways they cannot conceive - 2:4-5
It's important to remember that Ruth did not go looking for a husband. She was looking for food. And Boaz wasn't looking for a wife. He was just checking on a crop. But God intended to bless them in ways they didn't conceive. He blessed with
A. Unexpected provision
Through this divine appointment, God intended to not only meet the physical needs of Ruth and Naomi, but also exceed their expectations. But don't forget Boaz. He, too, was blessed by this encounter. God intended to give him a family with which to share his heart.
B. Unseen presence
The greatest blessing that God bestows on anyone is Himself. Throughout this story you cannot miss the presence of God. Typically, we don't see how He walked with us and even guided us until some time passes. But we can gain incredible strength by looking back at events with the knowledge that God had to be with us.
C. Unlimited power
What can we accomplish if God is with us? Whatever God desires of us. This, of course, forces us to consider one of the hard theological questions: "Can we thwart God's purposes?" The simple answer is no. The hard part for humans is to discern what is or is not God's purpose. Until our faith becomes sight and God Himself explains His greater plans to us, we live with the knowledge that our obedience to His plan opens his provision for our lives.
"Sometimes when our plans don't work out as hoped, it's because God is detouring us, leading us elsewhere, in His overruling providence. Thomas Coke, a sophisticated Oxford-educated Welshman, left his ministry in the Anglican Church in 1777 to become John Wesley's chief assistant in the new and quickly growing Methodist movement.
"On September 24, 1785, he packed his books and bags and sailed from England, down the Channel, and into the Atlantic, leaving for Nova Scotia where he wanted to establish the group of missionaries who accompanied him. But the voyage was ill fated and grew more perilous by the day, the ship being caught in mountainous waves and mast-splitting winds.
"The ship's captain determined that Coke and his missionaries, like biblical Jonah, were bringing misfortune on his ship, and he considered throwing them overboard. He did, in fact, gather up some of Coke's papers and toss them into the raging ocean. The voyage took three months rather one. Instead of landing in Nova Scotia the damaged ship ended up in the Caribbean, limping into St. John's harbor on the island of Antigua on Christmas Day.
"Coke knew that at least one Methodist lived somewhere on Antigua, a missionary named John Baxter. Hoping to find him, Coke and his three missionaries asked to be rowed ashore from their shattered ship in the predawn morning. They started down the street in St. Johns, and stopped the first person they found, a fellow swinging a lantern in his hand, to inquire of Baxter.
"It was John Baxter himself. He was on his way to special Christmas morning services he had planned for the island, and the sudden appearance of Coke and his missionaries out of the darkness - out of nowhere - seemed too good to be true. It took three services that day to accommodate the crowds. Afterward, Coke and his associates abandoned any idea of going to Nova Scotia. They planted the missionary team instead on Antigua and on neighboring islands. By the time of Coke's death in 1814 there were over 17,000 believers in the Methodist churches there." [Morgan, "Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes", 655]