Extraordinary: The Gateway to Rest

Sermon by David Strain on October 4, 2015

Ruth 4:1-12

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Take your own copies of God’s Word please and turn with me to the book of Ruth, or if you’re using one of our church Bibles you’ll find that on page 224; Ruth chapter 4. We are going to be reading the first twelve verses of the chapter of Ruth chapter 4, page 224. Before we do read that, let’s bow our heads as we pray. Let’s pray together.


O God, we pray that You would pour out the Holy Spirit upon this assembly of Your people so that there would be no mere word but there would be life-giving, Gospel truth applied in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring transformation and grace into all our lives. Would You come and be the preacher? Let the voice we hear be the voice of Christ speaking in Holy Scripture. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.


Ruth chapter 4 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, ‘Turn aside, friend; sit down here.’ And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, ‘Sit down here.’ So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, ‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.’ And he said, ‘I will redeem it.’ Then Boaz said, ‘The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.’ Then the redeemer said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’


Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself,’ he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.’ Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, ‘We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.’


Amen, and thanks be to God who has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.


A Memorial to the Honorable

The congregation that I served in London met in a beautiful old church building on Aldersgate Street in the square mile of the ancient city and the church yard adjacent to the church had been converted sometime in the 19th century into one of London’s smallest and loveliest public parks called Postman’s Park because the building next to it on the other side was the old royal mail offices. And along the back wall of Postman’s Park there is a curious memorial. It features a covered porch, open on one side with seating inside it and a wall at the back covered in fifty-four Royal Doulton ceramic tiles and each tile bears a simple memorial to ordinary citizens of the city who died giving their life for another.  “Thomas Griffin: Fitters Labourer. April 12, 1899. In a boiler explosion at a battersea sugar refinery was fatally scalded in returning to search for his mate.”  “Elizabeth Boxall. Aged 17 of Bethnal Green. Who died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse. June 20, 1888.”  “Walter Peart. Driver and Harry Dean fireman of the Windsor Express on July 18, 1898 while being scaled and burnt sacrificed their lives in saving the train.”  “Alice Ayres. Daughter of a bricklayer’s labourer who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life. April 24, 1885.” And on and on and on the memorial plaques read, simply listed the bare facts of each case. It was always to me a profoundly moving thing to stand in the beauty of that delightful little park and to read the catalogue of names that have not been forgotten because of the manner in which they lived and died.


A Name Lost Forever

And there’s a sense in which the fourth chapter of the book of Ruth is also about names that are worthy of remembrance, and as we’ll see, also about at least one name not worth remembering at all. In some ways the great problem that the narrator has set out to resolve in the storyline of the book of Ruth, is “How shall the name of Elimelech be preserved in Israel now that he has no heir?” Naomi, his widow, cannot bear him a son, Ruth, his daughter-in-law, has likewise lost her husband, Mahlon, and so Elimelech’s name and along with it his allotment in the Promised Land will surely be lost forever. To possess real estate in the land of promise that could be passed on to your heirs served as a kind of sign that you belonged to God’s people and that His covenant blessings enfolded both you and your heirs forever. And so to lose your land and to have your name disappear from the rolls of the people of God was a terrible prospect. That has been the great crisis that the storyline here has sought to resolve. And as we saw last Lord’s Day Evening, as we looked at chapter 3, Boaz who belongs himself to the clan of Elimelech, stands in a position to rescue Naomi and Ruth and the family name of Elimelech by marrying Ruth the Moabitess and by raising up an heir to Elimelech. And for his part, when the matter was brought to his attention you will remember that Boaz promised immediately to see to the issue first thing in the morning. But, he told Ruth, introducing a note of tension into the story, there is someone else more closely related to Elimelech than he. There is a nearer kinsman-redeemer and this other man has a prior claim, so that whatever Boaz’s feelings may be in the matter, he cannot redeem Ruth and Naomi unless and until the nearer redeemer refuses to do so.


And now as we turn at last to the opening twelve verses of chapter 4 to see how things will go when Boaz swings into action, I want you to notice that for the first time in the storyline Ruth and Naomi take a backseat. They almost entirely drop out of view. There is no direct speech attributed to them in the remainder of the story of the book of Ruth. All the action, all the spotlight, our attention falls entirely on the activity of Boaz. And as we watch him act on behalf of Naomi and Ruth I want you to notice three things with me. First of all we’ll see the kind of Savior that we need. The kind of Savior that we need. Boaz teaches us about that; the kind of Savior that we need. But also the kind of service that we owe. The kind of service that we owe. And then finally we see the kind of salvation that we receive. The Savior we need, the service we owe, and the salvation we receive.


I. The Kind of Savior We Need


Let’s think first of all about the kind of Savior that we need. Look at verse 1. Boaz is a man of his word and true to form having promised the night before that he would deal with the issue quickly now that the sun has risen it looks as though he’s gone directly from the threshing floor to the city gate and there he has sat down. Now the city gate in those days was the equivalent of city hall or the county courthouse. It was the place of business and legal transaction and of judicial decision. And by sitting down here, Boaz was giving public notice of his intention to conduct a legal transaction. And by the way, don’t miss the delightful note in the text here that highlights for us yet again the marvelous providence of God. Can you see it in the passage? Boaz has taken his seat in the gate and “Behold, the redeemer of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. Impeccable timing. Here is God the matchmaker at work. He paces Boaz’s steps from the threshing floor to the city gate perfectly, doesn’t He, so that just as Boaz sits down you’d never guess who just happened to be passing! The very man Boaz needs to see. It’s a clue to us that however nervous Naomi and Ruth or Boaz for that matter might be feeling at this moment in the story, we need not be afraid. God has impeccable timing and He will work out His purposes for the good of His people and the glory of His name.


And so Boaz seizing the bull by the horns. “Turn aside, friend,” he says, “and sit down here.” Then he quickly calls the court into session. Ten elders of the city are asked to join them. They sit down and very skillfully he begins to present his case. Verse 3, “Naomi, who’s come back from the country of Moab, is selling a parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if not, tell me that I may know, for there is no one else besides you and I am next in line after you.’” In other words, “This looks like a wonderful business opportunity!” Ruth is selling not actually the land itself but the rights to the use and the profits of the land. The technical term is the usufruct if you want to know. You should try dropping that into casual conversation tomorrow, the usufruct! She gets the use of the benefits, the profits from the land, and that’s what she’s selling in order to provide for herself and her daughter-in-law amidst their destitution. If the nearer redeemer would buy the field he’d ensure that at least it stayed within the same clan from which Elimelech had come. And the man, verse 4, he’s immediately excited at the prospect and he says, “I will redeem it.” He’s going to add another piece of property to his portfolio. And he’s eager. “I will redeem it,” without any hesitation, he says.


The High Cost of Redemption

But being the honors graduate of the internationally renowned Bethlehem School of Law and Agriculture that he was, Boaz is an expert in how to drive a hard bargain and make a fine contract and so he skillfully follows up with the second part of the bargain. Look at verses 5 and 6. “You will redeem the land?” he says in effect. “Oh that’s great news! Naomi will be so relieved! Just sign here and here and here; initial here, here and here, and while you’re doing that there’s one more thing that I neglected to mention. It’s a small matter really. Your new real estate comes with a mother-in-law, a new wife, and the obligation to raise a son on your own dime of course until he’s old of course to take back the land you’re buying here today on behalf of Ruth’s dead husband and her father-in-law. So anyway, as I was saying, if you’d just sign here, here, and here.” It’s a master stroke of careful negotiation. And as Boaz drops this bombshell on the poor fellow, we watch mid-transaction as the blood drains from his face. Suddenly he changes his tune, doesn’t he? “I cannot redeem it for myself,” he now says, “lest I impair my own inheritance.” He was perfectly happy to help Naomi and Ruth out of a tight spot when it looked like he would gain a profitable parcel of land from the business deal. But it’s another matter entirely now that it’s been made clear that actually, along with the land, he will get all the responsibility for Elimelech’s dependents. Any son that Ruth bore him would be considered Elimelech’s heir, not his own, and the parcel of land that he purchased that day would not belong to him in the end but to the heir. And so he’s worried that Naomi and Ruth will bleed him dry in effect. “I’ll endanger my own inheritance while I’m trying to save theirs! No thank you.”


You see what’s going on. While he stood to gain, he was happy to be a redeemer, but not if it cost him too much. But Boaz is not like that at all, is he? And when the man tells Boaz to redeem it in his place, Boaz is quick to perform the rather strange little ritual in verses 7 and 8 that seals the deal. The nearer redeemer gave Boaz his sandal, I suppose a close analogy today might be something like spitting in your hand and shaking on a promise. He gave Boaz his sandal and the contract is settled. Boaz calls the elders to bear witness. Now he’s bought the field and much more than that really, with a tone of triumph although it reads like a piece of cold, legal work here, he’s also won Ruth to be his wife at long last. He will be the one to preserve the name and the allotment of Elimelech’s family forever. And you understand, of course, that Boaz will have to bear the same cost and endure the same liabilities and the same risks as the other redeemer.  But whereas the other redeemer would not risk his own bankruptcy, Boaz is prepared to commit everything to redeem Naomi and Ruth and secure the name of the family of Elimelech. He acts unhesitatingly, he acts wisely, he acts faithfully, keeping his promise to Ruth and Naomi, and supremely he acts sacrificially. He willingly shoulders the obligation, even if in doing so it will mean his own detriment.


Isn’t that the kind of Savior that we all need? A Redeemer who rescues us at His own great cost. One who has loved us and given Himself for us. Boaz here is a reminder, a picture to us, of the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, there are alternatives out there, other so-called “redeemers” who seem to promise much and to whom we may at first turn. There’s a whole array of empty religion. There are the countless outlets for the pursuit of mere pleasure that our culture says will set you free if only you will devote yourself to them. You can rest your hope for significance and satisfaction and rest in family, in intellect, in some vague, ill-defined spirituality. They all at first seem to be effective redeemers but no one will do for you what the greater than Boaz has already done. He is the one, “who though He was rich became poor, for our sakes, that we might become rich.” He is the one “who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross.” He is the one who, as Paul puts it in Romans 3:23-24, “Though all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, has secured our justification freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our Redeemer! He bears all the cost of our salvation. We have nothing to pay. He incurs all the obligation. He pays with His lifeblood at Calvary. You’ve been wasting your time chasing the wrong redeemer, one who will never save you in the end. It’s Jesus that you need. It’s Jesus that you need.


II. The Service We Owe


First of all there’s the Savior that we need. Boaz points us to Him. Turn there. Look there. Run there. Jesus, the greater than Boaz is a perfect Redeemer. And secondly, notice the service that we owe. The Savior we need; the service we owe. When Boaz met the other redeemer in the gate that morning notice in verse 1 how he addressed him. In the English translation it says, “Turn aside, friend. Sit down here.” The phrase translated “friend” actually is the Hebrew expression “ploni almoni.” The New Jewish Publication Society translates that phrase as, “Mr. So-and-So.” Mr. So-and-So. The writer is highlighting his namelessness. He might have called him simply, “the man” or perhaps, “the other redeemer” but it seems as though the narrator goes out of his way to call the man names, Mr. So-and-So. He’s telling us something important about this fellow and we begin to see what it is when we remember the great concern of the book of Ruth is the preservation of the name and inheritance of Elimelech. That was the dilemma, remember, that Boaz sets out to resolve. And the great irony of this part of the story is that the man who is in first place to secure the preservation of Elimelech’s family name is the one man whose name is deliberately hidden and obscured by the narrator. He’s just Mr. So-and-So. His name is forgotten. It is blotted out of the record. We don’t know who he is.


Whoever Loves His life…

You know, throughout Scripture having your name blotted out is a dreadful prospect. It is symbolic of the curse and condemnation of God. So for example, Deuteronomy 9 and verse 14, in His wrath God threatened to blot out the name of Israel from under heaven. Or Psalm 109 verse 13, there is a curse on the wicked that echoes much of the message of the book of Ruth. “May his posterity be cut off,” the psalmist prays. “May his name be blotted out in the second generation.” That’s what Mr. So-and-So could have avoided for Elimelech, but in his refusal to do so, it is precisely what he ends up experiencing himself. His name is blotted out. There are two redeemers in this passage. One serves only himself and has no name. Boaz, on the other hand, serves others selflessly and his name is never forgotten. You will recall that the Lord Jesus has said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me he must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him,” John 12:24 and following. Isn’t that precisely the message here? Whoever loves his life, loses it. Whoever hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life. Whoever seeks to make a name for themselves at the expense of others loses their name in the end. But whoever is willing to give all to redeem others, their names are never forgotten.


Remember those names on the memorial in Postman’s Park, preserved, their memories preserved because of their selfless actions. That was Boaz. And that is the Christian life. Friends, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ that is your calling. To be sure, Boaz reminds us of Christ in his selflessness as he redeems Ruth and Naomi, but here’s the question as we observe him acting so selflessly – Would others observing you be put in mind of the Lord Jesus Christ just as Boaz has put us in mind of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there much of the Savior in your selfless, sacrificial conduct? Is your life redolent of Jesus Christ? Will your name be preserved in the book of life or will you just be another Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So who, despite their words, live the life that showed they did not really know or follow Christ after all?


III. The Salvation We Receive


The Savior we need, the service that we owe, then finally, the salvation we receive. Look at verses 11 and 12 and particularly the blessing pronounced by the people and the elders upon Boaz and Ruth as their marriage is at last secured. “We are witnesses,” they say. “May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” Leah and Rachel were the lives of Israel’s patriarch, Jacob. By comparing Ruth to Rachel and Leah, these elders are saying something extraordinary, filled with significance about this Moabitess. The same thing is true of their prayer that Ruth’s son would be like Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah. Judah was Boaz’s direct ancestor. Bethlehem, Ephrathah belongs to the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah. Tamar, like Ruth, was a Gentile; Tamar, like Ruth, bore Perez through levirate marriage. Though unlike Ruth, if you read the story, Tamar’s actions were seedy and manipulative, whereas Ruth acts with godly purity and integrity.


A Wideness in God’s Mercy

But in making those connections do you see the point the elders are making? It’s extraordinary! They are recognizing Ruth as a true Israelite, even though she is really a Moabite by birth. They are saying, “She belongs as much as,” and they are praying she will have a role analogous to Rachel and Leah and Tamar. It’s almost as if they have some sense that this marriage portends great future blessing, not just for Boaz and Ruth and Naomi, but actually for the whole people of God. And so it will, as we will see, God willing, next time. But for now, do you grasp, can you see, that Ruth the outsider is now Ruth the insider? Ruth the stranger, Ruth the Moabitess, is now Ruth the heir of Israel’s matriarchs and the caretaker of Judah’s future. That’s what the kinsman-redeemer does for her. And that is really what the Lord Jesus Christ does for us all. He takes us from outside and He brings us all the way in. He takes us from a place of exclusion and brings us into the family of God. “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” When you come to trust our true Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, you stop being a stranger to the people of God. You start to become a member of the family. No matter how far outside you may think yourself, through Jesus Christ there is a way in to the family and household of God. The Gospel brings Moabites and makes them heirs of the rich heritage of the people of God. The Gospel makes sinners saints, it forgives the guilty, it cleanses the dirty, it releases the captive, it sets the prisoners free. There’s room for you. There is room for you. You are invited in. All you need is a Kinsman-Redeemer.


One of the remarkable features – we noticed this at the very beginning – one of the remarkable features about this fourth chapter of the book of Ruth is that all the action is driven along for the first time in the story not by Naomi, not by Ruth, but by Boaz. The opening sentence actually of verse 4 features an unusual Hebrew sentence structure. It places the subject before the verb so that Boaz is the very first word. Boaz is highlighted. Our eyes fall on Boaz. And as you scan through the chapter almost all the active verbs relate to Boaz. Boaz is the actor on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. They are passive. Their stance is summed up in the last verse of chapter 3. Look at it, the last verse of chapter 3. What is their attitude? “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man, Boaz, will not rest but will settle the matter.” How do you come in from outside, right into the family and household of God? You do it by no work of your own, but you do it by resting, like Naomi and Ruth, entirely on the work of your Kinsman-Redeemer. All the attention falls on Him; all the action is His. You do it by clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ who has done everything necessary to save you. There’s nothing for you to do but trust Him. Nothing to do but wait confident that He will settle the matter. “He is the propitiation for our sins,” 1 John chapter 2 and verse 2 says, “and not for ours only but for the whole world.” That is to say there is room for you in the kingdom of God because of the work of a perfect Kinsman-Redeemer and all you need do to come in from outside into the family and household of faith is to rest upon Him.


Do you have a Kinsman-Redeemer in Jesus tonight? He can give you a name written indelibly in the book of life. Without Him, like Mr. So-and-So in our text, your name, you know, it will be blotted out forever. Won’t you take Ruth and Naomi’s stance and trust the greater than Boaz to act for you? The Savior that we need is the Lord Jesus Christ. The service that we owe – those who follow Him serve selflessly just like Jesus Christ. And the salvation we receive – Moabite outsiders find a place in the central stream of the life of the covenant people of God. There’s no one so far away, no one so lost, that through faith alone in Christ alone you who once we strangers and aliens without hope and without God in the world cannot be brought near and made fellow citizens and members of the household of God. May the Lord help us to look to Christ, a perfect Redeemer. Let’s pray.


Father, we bless You for the Lord Jesus Christ who has done all the work, who has settled the matter by giving Himself and bearing our penalty in His body on the tree. Help us, please, to cling to Him, our perfect Kinsman-Redeemer, to follow Him, and as we do would You make us servants of His whose lives put others in mind of Him? For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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