Some Final Thoughts

Thinking about the story of Ruth, it’s hard to come away from it without the sense that God really does work in the lives of His people. He certainly did so in ancient times, and maybe we sometimes feel like they were more “special” than we are because of this. Yet upon reflection, we should know better. The Bible is full of stories of amazing men and women of faith, and it also has many stories of men and women who were ungodly in their lives and characters, and isn’t this really the same condition that we see around us today?

I would actually like to go a step further and suggest that there are more amazing men and women of faith today than there were in Bible times, since unlike those in the Old Testament, God’s people in our time are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Old Testament Israelites were not. The problem we have today is that we aren’t having these people pointed out to us, and in the busy day-to-day we might not notice what is really going on around us. If nothing else, we might at least ponder the possibilities.

As for the specifics of the Ruth story, one thing is quite clear: Boaz was no ordinary man, for he was a “type” of Christ as a kinsman-redeemer. The fact that the text includes “redeemer” in it should bring this into focus for most readers. To review, a “type” is a term that comes from a manner of interpretation called “Typology”; a “typological interpretation”, and is a natural element of Old Testament writing since the Old Covenant itself is a “type” of the New, a fact brought out and referred to again and again in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Ruth is a type of the redeemed, which is to say of you and me. The humility that she demonstrates over and over is the behavior that is supposed to be seen in us, and when she lay down in total submission and humility at the feet of Boaz portrays our coming to Christ in humility and submission and receiving redemption from our sins and the gift of a new life in Christ.

The result of Ruth’s actions was that she was redeemed from widowhood and received a new life as the wife of Boaz, ultimately giving birth to a son in the direct lineage of the Son of God. For us, we are redeemed from sin and receive a new life in Christ, as I said, but we also join the family tree of Jesus as his brothers and sisters in the household of His Father… and our Father. While we remain on this earth, we are servants of His, but when we inherit this birthright, we have not only eternal life with Him, but that life is lived as His brother or sister in the Father’s house. It is because of this significance that we can say that the story of Ruth is much more than an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity and of godly role models, for it is a significance that leads us to the very source of life itself.

I hope that you have enjoyed our little adventure through this story, and I hope that you have found it to be an adventure that is worthy of more thoughtful contemplation. May all of us walk more closely with our Lord as a result of our adventures with Him!

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Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28

Parallel Texts: Matthew 8:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

Mark has shifted the scene to the countryside. Jesus and the disciples, and apparently some Pharisees, are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. They are hungry and the disciples pluck a few heads of grain to eat as they go along, and the Pharisees object, for it is unlawful to harvest a field on the Sabbath. The law on this point is contained in Exodus 20:10 if you’d like to read it just to bring in a little context. By the way, if you do look it up, you will notice that the law doesn’t say this. It says you shall do no work. Were the disciples actually working? Well, that is the real question.

As the years went by, it became apparent that Exodus 20:10 was subject to interpretation, and many well-intentioned leaders believed that there was a great potential for misunderstanding Exodus 20:10, so they adopted a very long list of additional rules to help people avoid an unintentional violation of the Sabbath. This list of rules is not actually part of the law, but as more time went by, it was treated as if it were the law itself; this is what the Pharisees were actually referring to.

In verses 25-26, Jesus cites a well-known example of David feeding his men food reserved by the law for the exclusive use of the priests when necessity required it, with the implication that necessity required the disciples’ actions that the Pharisees were objecting to. He concludes His answer in the following verses:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the faces of those poor Pharisees when they heard that!

As you know, there are those critics out there who claim that Jesus never said He was divine. Even if that were true, He sure implied it strongly on many occasions, and this is another of those.  If the Sabbath was made for man, and that makes the Son of Man the lord over the Sabbath, then it is because He’s also the Lord over Man.

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. Normally, those two groups were sworn enemies, but it would seem that Jesus has brought them together- man-made religion gone bad can do some incredible things in the hearts of men.

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Naomi, Ruth and Boaz Have Much to Teach Us

Looking at our adventure in the book of Ruth, it should be obvious to anyone that this story has much to teach us. I’m not going to say that the things I mention about them are an exhaustive and encyclopedic analysis, but I hope that what follows will give you a pretty good picture of the kinds of people they were.

Naomi

Here is woman who went through a terrible time; she can almost be compared to Job in her affliction. First there was the famine that tore her family away from their lands and lives in Bethlehem, forcing them to move to Moab just to try and survive. She was an outsider there, not knowing the customs or the people, being a foreigner in a foreign place. Thus, she had only her family to cling to; her husband and two sons. The sons then come of marrying age and they marry foreign women, a cultural problem that their parents had to deal with, and then her husband and two sons die leaving Naomi destitute with two foreign daughters in law. In this time of trial, Naomi becomes an embittered old woman, by her own estimation, and begins making drastic decisions. She tried to do right by her daughters in law, releasing them from their obligations to her and urging them to return to their own, and one finally does so, while Ruth insists on being loyal to Naomi, and then Naomi returns to her homeland and her God and family. Upon her return home with Ruth, Naomi guides Ruth on several occasions, and even though some of her advice was risky, it turns out that Naomi was a very good judge of character and gave advice that can only be described as “harmless as a lamb and crafty as a serpent.”

Naomi, while she had her low points in a life marked with tragedy and adversity, overcame that adversity by returning to her God and making very wise choices. I’d say we can learn from her example.

Ruth

Whole books have been written on Ruth’s character, so I’ll keep it short; Ruth had the heart of a servant. She was loyal to the family of her husband, she was humble, she worked hard and without complaint, and she was submissive to her elders. In all of this, Ruth shows us what it means to deal with self, for there is no “self” on display in her story.  To top it off, let us not forget the fact that Ruth made a conscious choice to follow the God of Israel. How different she was from the way we are today, and great was her reward.

Boaz

Boaz was a leader of men, but he was not like many leaders of men, for Boaz was a servant-leader. Remember when, on Ruth’s first day in the fields, Boaz returned from town and “greeted” his workers? Maybe you recall that he told his men not to lay a hand on Ruth. Was there any mention of an incident taking place, or of any grumbling about that? How about when Boaz went to the village gate and asked the elders to come and listen to his discussion with the other kinsman-redeemer; did they say they were too busy? Did the tell him to buzz off? No! They immediately did as he asked because they respected him, just as his workers did. Yet in everything we know of Boaz, there is no indication at all that anybody’s respect was borne out of fear, for Boaz built relationships with other men that enabled him to lead them by gaining their trust.

I once knew of a man who was working in an office in which he was quite high in the management. Other managers criticized him because he took the time to get to know his subordinates as people. He helped them solve problems and listened to their complaints and helped them work things out when necessary without yelling or being obnoxious. Other managers simply made demands of people and demanded explanations, yelling and carrying on in the belief that they needed to control everything. In a crisis, the other managers hollered and made threats to motivate their teams, but our guy would call his crew together and ask them for their help in meeting an impossible deadline. His team gave their all and always met impossible deadlines early, because they wanted to do their best for the man they respected, while the other managers’ teams could never seem to come through in a pinch. Which type of manager was Boaz?

On that fateful night when Boaz awakened to find Ruth lying at his feet, how did he react? He reacted with mercy, kindness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve. That all of this must include a healthy dose of humility should go without saying…

Now dear reader, when you put the characteristics of these three people together, what do you have?

You have the type of person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I would submit to you that this is why God chose to work through these three people, and why their story has resulted in their names being forever associated with the lineage of the Son of God.

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Being Religious, Fasting and the attitude of Jesus

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:18-22

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39

The next scene Mark jumps to is one in which we find both John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasting, while Jesus and His disciples are going on as normal. Curious about this, one of John’s disciples asks about it; why aren’t you fasting? There is a fairly clear implication that they should be, at least in this man’s mind, but Jesus doesn’t think so.

Jesus gives the man three answers to one question, beginning in verse 19. Likening Himself to a bridegroom, and His disciples to guests of the bridegroom, Jesus indicates to the man that fasting is not appropriate at that current time, for they are in a mood of celebration, yet the day will come when the bridegroom is no longer with His guests, and they will have occasion to fast then.

The second and third answers to the question begin at verse 21:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:21-22

In essence, Jesus gives two short parables that are designed to draw a profound distinction between the ministry of John, the Law and the ministry and purpose of Christ. John’s ministry was limited to prepare the way for Jesus, it was really a transitional ministry, under the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, had an entirely different purpose, for His was the purpose of fulfilling the Law and ushering in an entirely new order; the New Covenant. There was nothing about the ministry of Jesus that would serve to patch the old garment of the Law, He was not there to refill an old wineskin; the old garment and the old wineskin had served their purpose and Jesus would replace them both.

There would be no fasting! The Kingdom was at hand in the Person of Jesus Himself. While He was on the scene, fasting was not appropriate.

John’s disciples followed the same fasting regimen used by the Pharisees who fasted multiple days each week. In doing this, they hoped to set themselves apart as the most holy and righteous in all the land, following the Law not only to the letter, but going well beyond the requirements set down by Moses. It wasn’t a bad thing, in and of itself, for it was part of an oral tradition that developed over many centuries designed to ensure that they never accidentally violated the Law: It was very religious.

Yet, as so often happens in the field of human endeavor, the oral code became the very object of their religious existence, and sadly, God seemed to get lost in all of those rules somewhere. Jesus was not going to follow the religious code that was set up with all good intentions, for He knew that such systems tend to replace relationship with lists of rules being checked off: Replacing relationship with transaction.

Next time, let’s look at another example and see how Jesus handled it- see you then.

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Endings and Beginnings

Ruth 4:13-22

After the scene that takes place in verses 1-12 of chapter four, Boaz and Ruth are married. There is not a single word in the text about their life together; other than they had a son named Obed. From what the text has told us, Ruth is humble and loyal, Boaz is kind, of high character and righteous, so we can infer that they lived happily ever after. Certainly, there is nothing to cause this inference to be brought into question. It’s probably safe to infer that Naomi lived out her years in happiness as well.

The text mentions a son as the only specific about the lives of Ruth and Boaz because that son becomes a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a very big deal indeed. It places Ruth in that same lineage; a Moabite. Of course, she is not the only gentile woman in that lineage, and I suppose that we should pause to clear up any confusion resulting from this point, since ultimately this line will pass to Jesus through Mary.

The Old Testament Law states that to be a Jew, someone must be of the seed of Abraham, a quaint old-fashioned way of saying Abraham’s genetic descendant. This “seed” passes from the father, thus Obed is Jewish by birth even though his mother was a gentile. The Father of Jesus was not strictly speaking a Jew; instead He was God. So how could Jesus be a Jew?

I hope you were sitting down when you read that; it is not a joke. You see, unless something happened first, Jesus would be the Son of God without being a Jew.

But something did happen.

During the captivity in Babylon, Jews began to intermarry with gentiles. After the return from captivity, many Jews chose not to return, while others returned and continued intermarrying. It seems that men were much more likely to take a gentile bride than women a gentile husband and eventually, after much controversy and confusion, the Law was changed, so that descendancy from Abraham came through mothers instead of fathers. Thus, you could only be born a Jew if your mother was Jewish. If your mother was gentile and your father was Jewish, you were considered to be a gentile, and this is so to this very day. Thus, Jesus was Jewish because Mary was Jewish.

If you read this book again carefully, there would seem to be either a lot of coincidence or a lot of luck in the story. I think the biggest one of these took place when Ruth went out to work in the fields that first day, and somehow came upon the fields of Boaz. Why didn’t Naomi tell Ruth where to go? By all rights, shouldn’t she have directed Ruth to the fields of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one with first right of redemption? No, somehow Ruth just got lucky and stumbled into Boaz’ life!

You can be quite sure that there are no coincidences here, and no dumb luck either, for God was at work in the lives of these people. Now here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why did God choose Naomi, Ruth and Boaz to be in this story, and thus to be part of the lineage of His Son? (Hint: it’s in the text)

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Photo of the Week: January 15, 2020

 

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Jesus, the Spirit and Religion

Yesterday, I wrapped up my post with a question:

What part of following Jesus Christ, or if you prefer, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, can be confined to a man-made religion?

I mentioned that I’d be interested to hear your thoughts; I’d still like to hear them. I also said that today I’d share some of mine, which I’m about to do, and we’ll see what the Word of God has to say on the subject in the coming days.

As for my initial thoughts, I think that “religion” as we discussed it yesterday, has little or nothing to do with following Jesus Christ, unless it acts as a catalyst for us to learn more about following Him. Here’s what I mean by that:

Not long ago, I was given some things that a particular group of Christians expect of a Pastor (or whatever any particular group may want to call it). A Pastor should always wear a suit and tie on Sunday morning, he should never make a joke or be light-hearted about anything, for that is not worshipful. A Pastor should never ask a rhetorical question in a sermon, for that isn’t reverent, and someone might actually feel comfortable enough to offer an answer. A Pastor should always stand up on a platform behind a lectern (“in the Pulpit”) for not to do so isn’t worshipful. It is also irreverent and unworshipful (I’m not quite sure if that’s even a word) for him to challenge the congregation (isn’t that called “exhortation” in the Bible?). Oh yes, and reverence requires several periods of silence within the worship service. Other items that are not reverent or worshipful are things like talking before the service, having modern music, and changing the Order of Service in any way.

If I’m entirely honest with you, when I see these things in writing here, it is really hard for me to take any of it seriously; this is ridiculous, yet the person giving out the rules was deadly serious…

So were the Pharisees in the Gospels as they spouted off a litany of man-made rules and regulations to Jesus. This is religion in action, and it sometimes acts in direct opposition to God’s purpose, and here’s how: Within the group whose rules I’ve just shared, everyone under the age of 50 has left; the average age is over 70. They very much want church outreach in their community, so they have an after-school program for children. There are some parents who are happy to take advantage of free child care, but not one of them attends that church, nor are they ever going to. Their membership has declined over the last several years by about 75 percent, some of those say they will never attend any church again, so badly were they treated when they expressed different ideas about things…

See what I mean?

While this may be an extreme case, it is by no means a rare one; there are boarded up church buildings all over this part of the country as a result of this sort of thing, and the one I’ve mentioned here has been advised to close up by multiple people, including myself.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of how Jesus reacted to religious rules over the next two days, and next week, let’s see how Paul dealt with similar issues- see you then.

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