Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hope: Baby

Ruth 4:13-22

The book of Ruth seemingly ends with a baby.  With that baby came great hope.  Ruth's arms would no longer be empty; her heart had a fullness where there once was despair.  She had a man who loved her, who redeemed her and gave her security and hope.  He was related, he was able and he was willing, so he did it.

Notice I said seemingly. Ruth's story doesn't end in the book of Ruth.  Ruth's son had a son, who had a son whose name was David, who became king over all Israel.  David had a son, who had a son, and so on and so on, until we find ourselves back in Bethlehem in a stable, looking into a manger.  Yes, as many of you know, Ruth is in the messianic line of Jesus.  A Moabite. A hopeless woman who found hope through a kinsman redeemer. And this baby in the manger also brings great hope.

You see, because of our sin, our relationship with God is dead.  As dead as Ruth's husband.  Sin has eternally separated us from God.  It has left us not only hopeless, but helpless.  We can't bridge that gap.  Like Ruth, there is no way to improve our standing.  Just as she needed a kinsman redeemer, we need a Kinsman Redeemer and God's law provides for it.

I have often looked at the manger and thought, Why this? Why a baby?  Why become human?  Couldn't the wrath of God have been poured out on Jesus up in the throne room of heaven and He could have just gotten it over with up there?  Why suffer the humiliation and frustration of 33 years here on earth?

What I didn't understand is the Kinsman Redeemer's requirements.  In order for Jesus to be our Redeemer, He had to be related, He had to be able and He had to be willing.  Then and only then, would He qualify.

So He put on flesh. While still 100% God, He became 100% man. Trust me, I don't get it, but I believe it. He walked.  He talked.  He got hungry. He cried.  He slept. He lived.  He became human so that He was related.

Then He lived a perfect life.  Though tempted in all ways, He never succumbed to the temptation.  In His short 33 years, He made good decisions, spoke with kindness, was angered but didn't sin, humbled Himself over and over again - all because I failed miserably at all those things. His perfection was then exchanged for my imperfection to establish a pure record to prove He was able to redeem.

Then comes the hardest part of redemption. Jesus was related and He was able, but would He be willing? The nearest kinsman to Ruth's late husband was related and able to pay, but when it came to the willing part, he walked away.  Jesus had the option in eternity to reject the plan to redeem fallen humanity. He could have said, If that's what it costs, then forget about it. But He didn't.  His willingness is seen in the fact that before the foundations of the world were laid, Jesus chose for Himself a people that He would redeem. (Ephesians 1)  The wrestling we see in the garden the night of His arrest is a second proof. Jesus laid aside His anxiety about bearing His Father's wrath and chose to willing lay down His life (John 10:18).

The final proof of His willingness is the cross.  There's no arguing what was accomplished there. The Kinsman Redeemer stepped up and proved His humanity by suffering, proved His ability by bearing the wrath of God and proved His willingness by stretching out His arms to be nailed in place.  A true redemption - qualified and paid for.

Tomorrow morning Christmas is celebrated around the world.  Gifts are exchanged, meals are shared, laughter and family and music and memories will fill many homes.  Let us agree not to forget the central character of the Christmas story:  a baby.

A baby who brought hope at His arrival.

A baby who began the process to qualify Himself as our Redeemer in a manger.

May we never look at the manger again the same way.

Merry Christmas - you are loved.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hope: Redeemer

Ruth 3:6 - 4:12

Boaz wasn't alone on the threshing floor, but thankfully he was off to one side by himself.  The men were sound asleep from a long day's work and Ruth quietly weaved her way through the sleeping men to Boaz.  She did exactly as Naomi had instructed.  She uncovered his feet and then laid down, waiting.

It was only a few minutes that Boaz stirred. He sat and threw the blanket back over his feet, then paused.  "Who is there?"

Ruth sat up, as her heart skipped a beat.  Actually, it skipped a few.  "It's me, Ruth.  I am in need of a covering, as well, and I am praying you would be willing to help in this manner."  She could feel her heart beating in her temples. "You are a relative after all. "

Please, please, Boaz, understand my request.

He was silent for a moment, but in the darkness Ruth could see his head drop.  He brought a hand to his forehead and sat.  She was tempted to explain further, but chose silence instead.  This man knew the law, he understood what she was offering.  She didn't want to make it awkward for him, but the longer it took him to respond, the more she was confident this plan was failing.

He finally spoke, but in hushed tones.  "Ruth, you have honored me by requesting this of me.  There are so many younger men who would be willing to redeem you."  He reached for her hand and she willingly gave it. It was rough and yet gentle at the same time.  "You are a woman of excellence and it would be an honor to have you as a wife.  But there is one complication.  There is a relative who is closer than I am to your late father-in-law.  The law requires that he be offered the redemption first.  I will go in the morning and make the offer.  If he accepts, then your future will be with him.  But if he declines, then you and I will be married."

Ruth processed his words.  She was beginning to feel like property, like an item at auction, but the law must be upheld.  Then she saw it.  Boaz wiped a tear from his cheek.  He really did want her.  Ruth's heart swelled with love for this man.  He now fulfilled the three requirements to be her kinsman redeemer - he was related, he was able and he was willing.  Now her conversation with the Lord changed from requesting a redeemer, to requesting a specific one.

She stayed until the break of dawn, when she slipped out and returned home.  

Later that day, she stood with a group of women, as they watched the business of the town being discussed in the gates of the city.  After some time, it was Boaz's turn.  He stepped up and addressed one of the men.  Ruth couldn't hear the conversation, but she was watching the body language.  Boaz was talking, using a lot of gestures.  The man's face lit up and a couple of other men stepped forward and patted him on the back.  This was not good.  It was as if they were congratulating him.  Then she saw Boaz shake his hand.  

Ruth could feel tears welling up in her eyes.  The lump in her throat was growing and she was forcing herself to stay composed.  The men were laughing and talking.  She saw Boaz glance over to her and their eyes met.  In that brief moment, Ruth knew it was going to be okay.  He turned his attention back to the men, rubbed his head and then gestured at her.  Ruth realized that Boaz had just informed this gentleman that she came with the deal.  The celebration died down, as the realization of the obligations that came with the land settled upon the man.  

Then he shook his head.  She could see him talking,  She didn't know if it was his wife, her color or the inheritance issue, but it worked.  There was an exchange of a sandal (another interesting Israeli custom) and another handshake, and it was done.  Boaz was then the one being congratulated and after the excitement died down, he walked towards her.

Hope.  The things Ruth didn't dare let her mind imagine started to flood her heart.  A husband.  A home.  Children.  Grandchildren.  Love.  Security.  Someone to care for and sleep next to.  Someone to cook for and cheer on.  A bright future, not a hopeless one.  

All these thoughts flooded her soul and she struggled to remain composed as Boaz approached.  The women standing around her quieted, not knowing the transaction that had just transpired.  "Ruth, would you walk with me?"  Boaz smiled as he led Ruth away from the crowd.  "There's only one thing I have left to do."

Ruth's eyes were wide with wonder, and yet the tears had already started to fall.  

"Let's go talk with Naomi..."

Friday, December 22, 2017

Hope: Offer

Ruth 3:2-5

Ruth went to wash up and put on her best dress.  Her head was spinning.  It had only been three months since she arrived in Bethlehem, two months since she had her first encounter with Boaz. But Naomi's plan was risky.  If she failed, her ability to glean in Boaz's fields was at jeopardy.  Was this really worth the risk?  Naomi's words rang in her ears...

"Our land must be redeemed.  It cannot sit as a wasteland.  So our laws lay out a process. Because we have relatives who are nearby, they get first option.  They can redeem it buy purchasing it from me, but when they purchase it, you and I are a part of the sale price.  They will be obligated through their purchase to let us stay in the house and to give you progeny."

With that, Ruth sat up straighter.

"What are you saying, Naomi?  They would have to marry me?"

"Yes, that is part of the redemption process.  They would be required to take you as a wife and give you a child. Then that child would inherit our family land.  His other children would not have access to it.  So that way the land would stay in our family with our family name."

Ruth felt herself scowl.  "What if he has a wife?  This is not a great process."

Naomi nodded.  "Most wives aren't happy about this but sometimes the men do it to acquire the land. It might come with a wife but it brings in an income, as well and an automatic inheritance."

"I still don't think this sounds like any fun.  To be a second wife for financial gain doesn't sound like a  love-filled marriage."

"It may not be romantic but it gives you offspring and a future.  You won't have to beg with the poor for droppings in the field and you won't have an empty house to come home to.  But I am not finished.  Boaz is a kinsman to my late husband.  He would be the perfect kinsman redeemer!  He's not married and has no children, and you yourself said he's kind and friendly with you!" Ruth felt her cheeks go flush.

Now she found herself standing in front of the mirror, dressed in her finest, and prepared to go to Boaz to ask him to redeem her.  Her cheeks were still warm.  It sounded so desperate. Then again, she was desperate.  He could offer a future that she thought was lost.  Naomi had said there were three requirements - he had to be related, he had to be able to pay the price and he had to be willing. She knew that the first two wouldn't be a problem, but would he want her?

Naomi had also said the day was today.  The end of the harvest was at hand and her access to Boaz would soon end until the next harvest.  Apparently she had been concocting this plan for a month now, but thought it was best to spring it on Ruth that day so she didn't have much time to think about it.

As Ruth walked to the threshing floor, she rehearsed what Naomi told her to do.  Boaz will be staying on site until the harvest is done. After he falls alseep, uncover his feet and then lay down at his feet.  With his feet uncovered, he will wake up and find you.  Then just do it - just say it.  And then pray.

This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  He is a good man, fears the Lord, is kind to his servants.  Why wouldn't he make a good husband?  Then again, why isn't he a husband? Oh, dear...this is frightening...

Ruth quietly made her way through town and out towards the fields.  Instead of worrying about the thousands of reasons not to do this, she talked to her God and asked for His will to be done.  The thought of a real husband and children was too good to be true...hope was rising in her heart and she had to be careful not to let it overwhelm her...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hope: Provider

Ruth 2:4-3:1

Ruth could see the man talking with his reapers.  She assumed he was the owner of the field.  He was not dressed like the workers, but she could tell he was not a stranger to the land.  The men were attentive to his conversation - he was important.  She also noticed that he looked her way several times and then suddenly he was coming her way.  She averted her eyes and tried not to look frightened, but the kindness and warmth of the women may not be an indicator of how the men felt.

As he got nearer, all the women stood from where they were eating their lunch.  Ruth stood as well and remained quiet, head and eyes remained on the ground.  Then she saw his feet stop in front of her and she slowly looked up.  His face was worn with years of sun exposure, his hair - dark and wavy, gray accents at his temples.  She could see the family resemblence, as he had the kind eyes of her father-in-law and was the same frame and coloring as her husband.  There was not anger in his eyes, but she spied a definite curiosity.

"Good afternoon, ladies.  May the Lord be with all of you," he warmly greeted the women.  Then he turned to her. "Ruth?"

"Yes, sir." She lowered her eyes again, not out of fear but respect. 

"Welcome to Bethlehem.  I am pleased that you have chosen to come and glean in my fields.  I have instructed my men that I want you to stay and glean here."

She looked up at him again and there was smile on his face.  He continued, "When you are thirsty, I have water here for my servants.  You are welcome to it.  My men will not harm you - they will make sure you are safe in the fields."

Ruth was overwhelmed with his generosity.  She was expecting to be dismissed, but instead, this man was giving her a great gift - safety and provision.  She dropped to her knees and bowed her head and asked, "Why would you treat a foreigner with such kindness?"

He reached for her hand and helped her stand. "I have heard of the kindness you have shown to Naomi.  It takes a brave woman to leave her family and her home, and come to a strange land, all for the love and care of an old woman.  The kindness I extend to you is not of my doing - this is God's blessing upon a faithful woman.  You have sought shelter under His wings and I am just fortunate enough to be used by Him to help you."

"Thank you, kind sir.  Naomi will send her thanks, as well, when she hears of your goodness towards us."

"Boaz.  My name is Boaz."

Ruth smiled as he turned to leave.  Today was turning out to be a much better day than she had thought it would be.  By the afternoon break, Boaz was eating and laughing with the workers and he made a point of serving Ruth some of his lunch, as well as the other women.  Ruth thought to herself, No wonder this man is wealthy - his generosity makes his workers loyal to him.

As she was leaving, she overheard Boaz tell his men to let her into the fields tomorrow.  Rather than just gleaning the corners, he wanted them to pull wheat for her in the fields and leave them for her to gather.  She shook her head in disbelief.  Not only was he generous in letting her glean his leftovers, but now he was giving her some of the best of his crops.

When Ruth arrived at home, Naomi was waiting at the door.  She wanted to hear all about her day and at the mention of Boaz's name, Naomi nodded her head and said a prayer. 

"He is one of our closest relatives.  A good man - God is blessing us, Ruth!" 

Ruth continued to glean in Boaz's fields through the barley and wheat harvests.  She believed that Naomi's depression was lifting a bit, because every day, she could see that Naomi was doing things around the home that indicated her energy was returning.  Then one day she came home and saw that the table was set for dinner, a candle was lit and the smell of fresh bread and stew filled the house.  

"Well, this is a fine sight!  Naomi, you have outdone yourself!"

Naomi served the dinner and then sat beside Ruth. "I want to talk with you about something. I have been thinking about it for some time and because the harvest is nearly over, I think now is the time to discuss it.  I have been racking my brain to figure out how I can provide for you, and I think I have come up with an answer!"

Ruth smiled and squeezed Naomi's aging hands.  "Oh, Naomi - you don't have to provide.  The Lord has already provided beyond my imagination.  We have a home, we have food, I have a safe place to work.  Life is fine right now."

"I want more for you, Ruth. I want a future for you that is greater than watching me grow old and die. Now, listen closely as I tell you how we are going to change our lives for good."

And then, this little, aging Hebrew woman leaned in and laid out the strangest plan Ruth had ever heard...