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1. From Rags to a Rich Life In Jesus

Series:  Redemption Road
Preacher: Gareth Maggs
Bible Reading: Ruth 1:1-22
Date: 31 July 2022

We’re in the book of Ruth and this is my favourite Old Testament books and we’re in chapter 1. But before we get into the book, let me give you some reasons as to why it’s such a great book.

1. It is a book with incredible characters – We are doing the book of Ruth over woman’s month, because Ruth herself is just an incredible woman. If my daughters had to ever ask me about a woman to look up to… I’d say there mom… because I value my life, but I’d also say Ruth. When you read about her, she is courageous, kind, servant hearted, loving, etc. Ruth is such a great book to look at over woman’s month. She embodies the perfect woman. She’s the perfect woman because she embodies the perfect picture of a man… no ones going to stone me for that comment? I was picturing may some stones, or some woman coming from the side and tackling me… Actually I know what’s going to happen, you’ll wait for the sermon to end and somehow I won’t make it home tonight. She’s a picture of not just any man, but Jesus. We’re going to see that as the story progresses. If you are a woman, wondering how you can be more like Jesus as a woman, well read Ruth.
2. But men don’t feel left out, there’s another man named Boaz. Who is actually also a redeemers in the story and is also a picture of Jesus… and this brings us to another reason of why doing Ruth in woman’s month is a good idea is, because men, if you want to know how to treat a woman, look at Boaz. Boaz is a sacrificial, kind, other person centered man, and we are going to see this as the story progresses.
3. So the characters are the first reason for loving the book, the other is the incredible story. It’s a story of a family who loses everything and God rescues them out of the pit. It’s a love story, one where people sacrifice for one another. It’s a thrill ride, because often you are on the edge of your seat, questioning how the characters are going to get out of this one.
4. The final reason if why this story is so great, is because it’s a story of redemption. Open your bible to the contents section. If you look at the books before and after Ruth, you’ll notice something… can anyone see what it is? This is a hard one, but I’ve got a chocolate for whoever gets it right…

The common theme of the books is that they are books about this history of Israel. Before Ruth you have Joshua and Judges, which are all about how God bought Israel into the Promised Land, and how he lead them with the Judges and after Ruth, the story of Israel continues with God replacing the ruling system of Judges with Kings, this is what the books 1 and 2 Samual and 1 and 2 kings are all about. The question is, why is Ruth placed between these sets of books? Ruth is not about the history of Israel at all, infact it barely mentions Israel? Surely it would have been wise for the book of Judges to go straight into the book of Kings? Why have this break in the story of Israel’s history to talk about this woman named Naomi and her daughter in law, Ruth?

It’s because God’s people needed reminding of how he redeems. Of how he rescues. See verse 1 of the text gives us the context…

In the days when the Judges ruled… so this story happens during the time of the Judges. And here’s a helpful verse explaining what life during the time when the judges ruled.

It’s Judges 21:25 and it says this: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Imagine a world like that. It would be absolute chaos. We have a different way of saying that last sentence in our day, ‘Everyone does what is right for them’. The problem with this thinking is that it kind of leads to the world that you see in those Western movies. A cowboy town, where they are sitting in the saloon, and one guy looks at another guy funny, and next thing they’re having a shoot out and someone dies. It may look cool in the movies, but imagine if you lived in that, there’s no laws, anything goes so there’s nothing stopping someone from killing you. You look at some guys girl funny and the next thing, you’re dead!! This world is starting to take place now. You can be anyone you want, if you are a girl, you can be a boy, and vise versa. You can even be a wolf and no one can stop you. Some people might be offended by this, but hear me out, if we’re allowed to do what is right for us, what is right in our own eyes… then what’s to stop someone from being pedophile, or rapist? If it’s right for them, what we can do to stop them? A world where there is ‘true freedom’ in other words, the absence of restriction, results in a terrifying world.

This is the world that the book of Ruth is set. This is the world that God’s people are living, but instead of turning to God, they looked to have a king. Believing that a human king would solve all their problems. So in the book of 1 Samuel you have God telling the people not to ask for a king like the surrounding nations, but they don’t listen and demand a king. What happens? Israel’s history is filled with kings that never fully get them out of the challenging world they are in.

So Ruth is put between the story of the Judges and the kings to remind us. It is God who ultimately saves. At the end of Ruth, when the main characters Ruth and Naomi are rescued, God is praised for the book says this:

4: 14 “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!

This is the authors way of saying who the true hero of the story is. Ultimately it’s not Ruth, or Boaz, it’s God who uses Ruth and Boaz to save.

This has something to say to us now, because we do live in a world which resembles this. We live in a world where crime is repent, where rape is repent, Joburg is the murder capital of the world, there is corruption, babies being murdered in the womb… everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. What we do then is throw all our trust in the Government. We say if the Government just does this, or the Government just does that, or the Government stops doing this and that… then everything will be fine.

Well guess what, even the best Government in the world cannot stamp out evil. I’m saying this because here’s what South African’s do, they get fed up with the Government, and immigrate to what they hope is greener pastures and what do they discover… everyone does what is right in their own eyes. The only way to be saved from sin and evil, is to trust in the Lord and when you do trust in the Lord, he points you to his son, his Boaz and his Ruth who should you were true redemption is found.

Amen?

So that was a short introduction to the book. Hopefully you know what it’s about. If you missed it, it’s a picture, or story of how God redeems.

We’re now going to dive into Ruth 1.

Now let’s jump into chapter 1

1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.

Believe it or not, this short little bit of text gives you a great picture into the life that Naomi (Who is the main character) had prior to the loss of her family. In verse 1 it tells us that this story took place during the time of the judges when there was a famine in the land. Now we saw earlier what life was like under the time of the judges and we figured out we could relate, but believe it or not we can also all relate to life under the famine. I’ll help you relate with 2 words: Food shedding.

Like many South African’s Naomi and her husband up and leave Judah and they head a town called Moab apparently that’s where the green pastures are. Life is really good for them. There’s 2 bits of evidence. 1. The text says that they start off by sojourning, as vs 1, says in Moab, which means to ‘stay for a short time’, but eventually they lay down roots as the end verse 2 tells us. Which means they must have felt it was a good place to settle.

The other piece of evidence is in their names. In Old Testament literature names often play an important roll in defining the situation the charaters are in. Elimelech means ‘God is King’ and Naomi means ‘sweet’. So the situation is that everything is going well, life is sweet, God is king. Life is actually going pretty well. All is well with the world. But then vs 3 happens.

3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

Now as the reader you kind of hope that this is where the tragedy ends, and it does seem to pick up in verse 4, but not for long…

4 These (her 2 sons) took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah (I always think Oprah when I read this) and the name of the other Ruth (Yay this shows that they’ve been able to pick up their lives again and move on. everything is going great, the boys found 2 wonderful wives). They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

That’s rather hectic isn’t it. This is the kind of tragedy you hope never happens to anybody. Naomi lost her whole family, her husband and her kids. Imagine someone calling you up and saying I’ve lost my entire family. It’s tragic and there are sadly there are some people in our church who have been through this.

But it gets worse, because Naomi doesn’t just lose her family, she loses everything else as well.

Society back then was a male dominated society. Men owned the property and all the possessions in it. So if your husband died, you lost everything. You’d have to organize a relative of your husband to marry you so that you could keep the house and all the material possessions.

So she not only lost her family, but she’s in the brink of poverty

And she she also would have lost her biggest support structure as well. The culture back then was very similar to black and Indian culture is now. Unlike my white culture, where we rely on ourselves for everything, back then your family was your protection, your family was who you turned to when you were sick, your family supported you in everything. And when you got married back then as a woman, you left your old family and commited to the new family. Often the families you moved into consisted of multiple generations with grannies and grandpas, your husbands brothers, and then all the children were all under one roof. A family back then was a really a community that you depended on.

But now, Naomi has lost everything, her structure, all her material possessions. And to top this all off, she still has 2 other woman in her house, Ruth and Orpah, who she has to provide for. The story doesn’t indicate that she had other family to go to, so she really is alone.

Naomi is at rock bottom in her life. And we know this because later in the story, this is how she describes herself: she says

20 She (Naomi) said to them, “Do not call me Naomi (Which means Sweet/pleasant);[a] call me Mara (Which means bitter),[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.

I think many of us can identify with Naomi. We all know what it’s like to be in this situation, when your suffering is so bad… here’s how you feel= you feel empty, bitter and later on we’re going to talk about feeling like God has bought this on you.

Death of a loved one may not be the only thing that causes this, you could suffer in other ways and get to the same place. Feeling like you are the shell of the person that you once were.

If you are not going through this now, you might see it in a friend, they are not the same person they were a few weeks back. They’ve been emptied of something. Like Naomi, they were once ‘sweet’, but now they’ve become bitter, in other words they were once in a good place, now they seem to be living in darkness.

They don’t laugh as much any more, or talk as much any more, or something is just different from the bright person that they were before. This is because of their situation, it’s been so tough that they can’t bare to stand under the weight of it, so they can only let it crush them and that crushes their spirit as well. They’ve got nothing left to give, and you might be feeling like that: empty.

That might be you here today, you are suffering so much that it’s left you bitter and empty inside. Let’s carry on the story..

So Naomi is not in a good state. Let’s carry on the story from verse 6

6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.

So Naomi hears that the Lord has visited his people and she uses word Yaweh when she says Lord. Now there are different names for God in the Old Testament, but she specifically used the name, Yaweh which has many meanings, but she uses it here to mean ‘the all powerful God’.

So clearly there’s a glimmer of hope in the story, Naomi feels that if she heads back to Judah, maybe there’s a chance for her to get her life back.

Let’s keep reading:

7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law,“Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

What happens here is that Naomi and her daughters in law get up to head back to Judah, and as they are walking, Naomi suddenly realizes that it would be best for the 2 younger woman to head back. Out of kindness, she says, “Listen Orpah and Ruth head back to Moab”.

Why is this kind. If you look at the text, you really see Naomi’s heart. She wants these women to have a life of ‘rest’ (vs 9) and she believes that rest comes from having a husband. The word husband is repeated 4 times within this short passage, so clearly having a husband is important to Naomi and She’s worried that these woman will not find husbands in Judah.

There’s various reasons for this: For example Ruth and Orpah are Moabites and due to wars between the Moabites and Jews, Jewish men didn’t like Moabite woman. But also, these women were widows without children. It was seen as disrespectful to marry a jewish widow without children, because it was expected that a widow without children should marry a relative of their deceast husbands. So Ruth and Orpha would have been seen as out of bounce. Finally Naomi says she’s too old to have sons, and even if she could have sons, it would have been ludicrous to wait until her son’s were old enough to marry.

So Naomi advices them to stay home. Now we would have given similar advice wouldn’t we. In a society that is male dominated, Ruth and Orpha need a husband for security, rest and the chance at a somewhat decent life.

Here is the problem with the advice. Naomi’s answer to a successful life is a man. The ancor or the pillar to a decent life, a good life, is to have a good man. In other words, if Naomi was giving a lecture on how to build a good life, and she used a house as an illustration, the foundation of the house would be a man.

Now we understand what make’s Naomi’s suffering all the more worse. Because we understand that losing her husband wasn’t just losing a person, she had lost her pillar of strength. Her entire foundation of her life had been ripped from underneath her.

Her suffering was made all the more worse because she placed her husband in a place he was never meant to be. The foundation of her life.

Friends, let me tell you, only God should be the foundation of your life. And we put so many things as the foundation of our lives. We put money there, we put a good career there and we tell ourselves, the key to a good life is marry the right person, or have the right job. When we do that, it’s like we’re saying ok I can build the rest of my house, I just needed to have the right job as the foundation and now I can keep building.

The problem with this, is that they are fical. People die, money is never constant, sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t, careers end, life happens and so you will lose that foundation and it will leave you feeling empty, bitter, angry at God. Some of you, your foundation was your job and you are entering a blue, blue because you pinned your hopes and dreams on that job. Or maybe it was the start to building the life you wanted and now it’s gone.

For those who made a person your pillar and you’ve lost them. Please hear this in love, there is hope for healing. If you start on the journey of coming to Jesus and letting him be your foundation, you’ll find that you’ll still love the person you lost and you’ll treasure them, but they won’t be your foundation, and this may help you pick yourself up and move on.

If you have lost your job, or their could be 10 million reasons you feel empty, but here’s what happens when you come to Jesus. His foundation let’s you build a house filled with hope, purpose, joy and that never leaves. You might not know how Jesus can fulfill your life, but you do know that you are empty, something is missing and you don’t have the right foundation, you house is not characterized with joy purpose and hope. If that is you, you need to come speak to me after the service. Alright?

So let’s carry on from vs 14. Recap Naomi and her in laws are walking home and we’ve got to the point where we’ve realized that not only has Naomi lost everything, her family, finance, house etc, but she’s lost the foundation of her life and this makes her so bitter.

14 Then they (daughters in law) lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

What an incredible passage. Naomi has hit rock bottom and so Ruth decides to help her by loving in the most extraordinary way. Imagine if someone said this to you. Imagine if someone was so other person centered that they said these words to you: “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried”. They were so dedicated to loving you that they make an oath saying that, if I don’t love you like this, then may the Lord deal with me if, as verse 17 says, “if Anything but death parts me from you”.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard these words before, these are often words quoted at a weddings and we love them. Jack from Titanic says something similar, he says, ‘You Jump, I jump’. And let me tell, when that line was said in the cinema, all the woman were crying, and all the men were trying to be men, you know like ‘hhuu’, holding it in saying to themselves, ‘nothing can break me, I’m a man, be strong…’ but inwardly, we were also crying.

Why? Because we know this is love. Love is not those cheap words said when our hormones are going all over the place. Love is a total commitment of yourself to someone else. Ruth gives herself fully to Naomi: Where you go, that’s where you’ll find me, where you lodge, that’s where I’ll be and where you die, that’s where I’ll be.

Husbands, wives, take note of this! Now I know how you’re going to respond to me, you’ll say ‘Gareth, I will take a bullet for my spouse’. Yes I know, you’ll give your life for your spouse, but will you give your life? In other words, I know you’ll die for them, but would you give up your hopes, dreams, aspirations, in other words all the things that make up your life? You’ll give up your life, but will you give up your life?

I know of a couple who got married and the wife wanted to have kids and the husband didn’t. Eventually after discussing it a couple of times, the husband came around and agreed to one child. When they had the child, the husband felt that his freedom had been taken away. His rest, which was so deer to him, was removed because he was up half the night. He could no longer do some of the things that he loved, like drinking on weekends after a hard week, because he had to be sober so that he could help at night. His Saturday morning Golf was often postponed because his wife was struggling with the kid and so he had to stay home. He felt trapped, he felt he was no longer himself, so he left his wife and kid for freedom and his own identity.

Many people in our culture would say that he’s right. If your losing yourself in your marriage, then run for the hills. You need to be you. You deserve to be happy. Do what is right in your own eyes.

When I heard this story, I could not help but be angry. Because although he’s happy, he’s left a mother to raise a kid by herself, and a kid who grows up without a dad.

The story of people leaving their spouses because the spouse got in the way of their hopes and dreams, or impacted their identity, or they just weren’t feeling in love any more… is so common. What if, what if we sacrificed our lives, our hopes our dreams, our identities for the other person? What kind of world would we have if we like Ruth gave up the luxuaries of the good life in Moab, to love a helpless old woman? We’d have a world where everyone loved like Jesus. The bible says Love the Lord your neighbour as you love yourself, will Jesus loved us more than himself, because he gave up himself so that we could be saved. He gave up his home in Glory to die for sinners. He left Moab to die for an old woman.

Let’s hit the final part of the story:

The most important part is what happens at the end of the chapter. Naomi finally enters the town and when the women of the town greet her, she says what we looked at earlier, which is ‘Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara’

Now when you get to this part of the story, you totally get Naomi’s words where she blames God for her struggles, she says in vs 20 that the ‘almighty has dealt bitterly with me’ and in vs 21 she says ‘The Lord has brought me back empty’ and the Lord has testified against me and bought calamity upon me’. She’s lost everything and the anchor of her life, has been removed.

You and I do this when we go through intense suffering. We shout at God and blame him. But something you’ve got to do when you read chapter 1 of Ruth, is you need to ask why did the author place this speech that Ruth gives in the middle where Ruth declares her total service to Naomi? The author could have just said,

vs 14 Then they (Orpah and Ruth) lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And then gone straight into vs 19 where Naomi enters Judah, but the author chooses to leave in Ruth’s speech to Naomi. Why?

The answer is, to show us that although God allowed Naomi to go through suffering, he never left her. Though she might be empty, God never left her completely empty, he was looking after her for he gave her Ruth to look after her.

See Naomi, when she told the woman to call her Mara, had forgotten or just didn’t think about Ruth. When we are suffering, we can tend to become blind to what God is doing. We can tend to not see the good things in our lives. We can shout at God like Naomi saying, ‘God you made me this way, you have made me bitter! I am empty and you are the one who is tesitifying against me’ and we don’t see the Ruth that he is put in our lives. For example, you might be going through intense suffering right now and you don’t see the friend that’s been by your side the entire time. You shout at God saying nothing is good in my life, but you don’t remember that friend. You don’t see the spouse who has been praying for you the entire time. You don’t remember all the good he’s done in the past as well, you don’t remember how he helped you out of financial struggle, or when he walked with you through that surgery, etc.

You shout at God and you don’t see the roof over your head, the breath in your lungs, the fact that you still go home to a bed. The reason we don’t see these things is because in our suffering, we become so consumed with ourselves, we say wo is me, Lord why do this to me, how can I ever solve this, what am I supposed to do, I’m too ill equipped to deal with this… etc, etc, that we don’t look outside of ourselves to see all that God has given us.

We suffer we become blind, and the thing that we become the most blind to is God himself. But you’ll find when you read the New Testament that the same love Ruth showed for Naomi, is the same love Jesus shows for us. For like Ruth left Moab to enter Judah where people didn’t like her, so Jesus entered a world for us that would eventually put him on the cross. Like Ruth gave up her people to join Naomi’s people, so Jesus left heaven to become part of our people. Like Ruth committed to go wherever Naomi went, so Jesus walks our road with us. He does it in 2 ways, he did it litterrally by coming to earth and experiencing the same experiences we do, and he still walks with us now through his holy spirit, which means we can pray to him about any experience, because he is there with us in the experience and he knows our pain because he’s experienced it. Lastly, Ruth says vs 17 ‘Where you die I will die, and where you are buried, there I will be buried’ – Jesus died where we should have died and he was buried where we should have been buried.

To close off, there are a lot of us here today entering this church like Naomi entering Judah. We’ve maybe lost people, or we’re going through other trials that leave us feeling empty, bitter and angry at the Lord. Don’t forget that we have a Ruth is walking with us.

The text doesn’t say this, but I imagine that when Naomi was getting angry at God, Ruth was standing right there thinking, but ‘he gave you me and I’ve given my life to you, I’ve said where you go I will go, where you lodge, I’ll be there and even offered to be there until death’. Well Jesus is doing the same thing. He is with you in your sufferings. When you enter Judah, or this church, or your house, or your job he is the Ruth right beside you. He’s going I’m here, where you go I go, where you lodge I will lodge and where you die, I will be there. Unlike Ruth, I’ve already proved this, because I’ve already died where you should have died.

I’m finishing off by saying that today, you may be empty, but realise this, the God of the universe, who is so committed to you, that you jump, he jumps, he is with you. He will never leave you and he loves you with all his life. You need to know that. He does not love you with ‘I love you’ his love comes with proof in the form of ripped hands and feet. Trust in that Jesus.

Let’s pray

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