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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:In his sovereign grace, God works the return from death to life
Text:Ruth 1:6-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 122

Hymn 28:2,3 (after the law)

Psalm 67

Psalm 146:1,2,5

Hymn 43

Scripture reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14

Text:  Ruth 1:6-18

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters,

We worship a God who works miracles.  You see it when he pulls someone out of the world and turns them to Christ.  There is a terrible abortion holocaust in our land.  However, there are also remarkable stories of people who once worked in abortion clinics.  Through the faithful witness of Christians, they were brought to faith in Christ.  God worked the miracle of life in their hearts and they abandoned the ways of death.  When we see him do this, we’re led to praise him all the more. 

In the Bible, one of the most powerful portrayals of God’s power in bringing life from death is in what we read from Ezekiel 37.  The prophet sees a valley of dry bones.  They’re dry – they’ve been dead for a long time.  Besides the prophet, there is no life in this valley.  The only living thing is the prophet and he’s commanded to preach the Word of life.  As he preaches, things happen to the bones.  They begin reconstituting into human beings.  When the Holy Spirit comes, there is life again in the valley.  God miraculously brings life to dead bones. 

We live in a world filled with death.  Sinners are enslaved to it and characterized by it.  When someone is not a Christian, the Bible is clear that they are spiritually dead.  Physically they’re alive and breathing, but in their hearts there is death.  They have hearts of stone.  The curse of sin has brought death into a world which was once full of life.  But the good news is that God has not abandoned what he has created.  God is still calling forth life from dead bones.  In fact, the whole Bible is the story of how God has done this, is doing it, and will do it.

We can see it also in our text from Ruth this morning.  God is working in the lives of Naomi and Ruth to bring life out of death.  At the end of the sermon on Ruth 1:1-5, I mentioned that Ruth is an ancestor of our Saviour.  God was going to work through this Moabite woman to bring our Lord Jesus into this world.  He would us save us all from the death that our sins have earned.  Today, we’ll see how in his sovereign grace, God works the return from death to life.  We’ll see:

  1. Naomi’s disregard for the antithesis
  2. Ruth’s devotion to Naomi and her God

Somehow word got back to Naomi that the famine was over in Israel.  Verse 6 says that “the LORD had visited his people and given them food.”  That means they had turned back to God in faith and repentance and he delivered them.  One of the key words in our text is “return.”  It’s found right in this first verse.  After hearing that life in covenant fellowship had returned, Naomi decides that she wants to be a part of it; at least we can say that she wants to share in the covenant blessings of food and life.  Naomi decided it was time to return from death in Moab to life in Israel, at least at a superficial level.

Now remember she has two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.  That’s all that’s left of her family.  Her husband and two sons had died and there were no grandchildren.  We saw last time that the family had come to a dead end.  All that’s left are three vulnerable widows.

The two widow daughters think that it would be best for the three of them to stick together.  Orpah and Ruth want to go with Naomi to Israel.  The language used by the author of Ruth is remarkable here.  In both verses 6 and 7, not only is Naomi setting out to return to the land of Judah, but also Orpah and Ruth.  That word “return” gets used for them as well.  That’s very curious.  In what sense could Orpah and Ruth “return” to Israel?

Here we need to think about the big picture.  We need to remember that outside of covenant fellowship with God, there is death.  Moab is not a land of life, but a land of death.  Moab is a place where the true God is not worshipped or loved.  Moab is a place where people don’t care about what the true God commands.  Moab exists because certain people have rebelled against God and loved death more than life.  Moab is not God’s design for his creation.  God created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship with him.  They vandalized that design.  God set out about restoring it and he purposed to do it along a certain family line – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so on.  It was Abraham, not Lot his nephew, not Lot from whom the Moabites came.  Yet God still said that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.  Through Abraham and his line, God wanted to return all the nations to himself. 

We sang Psalm 67 a few minutes ago and that Psalm speaks about all the nations praising God.  Psalm 67 was traditionally sung at Pentecost by the Jews.  Pentecost was the feast of weeks and in Hebrew Psalm 67 has seven verses with a total of 49 words – perhaps this Psalm was crafted for that very occasion.  Pentecost was a feast celebrating the harvest.  The harvest of food was connected to the harvest of the nations.  But did you know that there it was also customary for Jews to read the book of Ruth at the feast of Pentecost?  The book has a theme of harvest running through it, and it also speaks of the harvest of the nations.  It speaks of God’s plan to return the nations to himself, to graciously bring them from death to life.  It’s a good thing then that Orpah and Ruth from Moab want to return with Naomi to Israel. 

But look at what Naomi does.  She tries to send them back, not just once but several times.  Naomi thought that it would be better for them if they stayed in their home country of Moab.  She argued that they would not get husbands if they came with her.  Naomi even gave Orpah and Ruth a blessing in the Name of the LORD.  She did everything in her power to get them to turn around and go back to Moab.   

Now we might read this and reflect on it and say, “Well, you know, I probably would have done that too if I were in Naomi’s shoes.  Those poor Moabite girls probably wouldn’t be able to get married.  It’s rough to move to a new country, to a new culture.  I might send them back too.”  But there is a huge problem in Naomi’s thinking here.  This is a problem which has plagued God’s people throughout history.  Naomi’s thinking was purely horizontal, purely focussed on this earth and human concerns.  She didn’t take into account the vertical, she didn’t take into account the LORD and his will.  She didn’t think about the antithesis. 

We don’t speak much about the antithesis anymore, but it is a crucial concept in our Christian worldview.  We need to speak more about it and let it shape the way we think and act.  What is the antithesis?  Imagine for a moment standing on an overpass over a freeway.  You’re in the middle of the overpass, looking out over the freeway.  Cars are travelling one way and cars are travelling the other way.  People are going one direction or the other, let’s say east or west.  Nobody on that freeway is travelling north or south, or north-east or south-west.  It’s east or west, period.  What divides the traffic going one way from the traffic going the other way is the median.  There is a median dividing the traffic.  That illustrates the world in which we live.  People are going one direction or another.  They are either on the broad road leading to death or on the narrow road that leads to life.  It’s one way or the other.  There is an antithesis between the two – a dividing line, just like the median divides the traffic on a freeway.  This antithesis needs to be recognized by believers.  In principle, we are not heading in the same direction as the world and, in practice, this must be increasingly reflected in the way we live.

But Naomi wasn’t thinking along these lines or anything like them.  She disregarded the antithesis in her thinking and speaking.  She was heading back to life in the Promised Land, back to where the means of grace were available at the tabernacle.  She thought that she was being loving by sending her daughters-in-law back down the broad road to death in Moab.  Here was a divine opportunity for these women to make a U-turn, and Naomi tries to sabotage it.

She wasn’t thinking about what she was saying by telling Orpah and Ruth to go back.  She was sending them back to death.  By sending them back to their false gods, in a sense Naomi was sending them back along the road to hell.  They wanted to go with Naomi on the road to life.  They wanted to be in the land where God made his name dwell, where there was covenant fellowship, where the opportunity existed for forgiveness and reconciliation through the bloody sacrifices that pointed ahead to Christ.  But Naomi essentially says, “No, my daughters, go back to the devil and his people in Moab.  Head back on that broad road that leads to death.”  Naomi thought that she was doing something good for Orpah and Ruth, but in reality by forgetting the antithesis, she was doing the worst possible thing for her daughters-in-law.              

It’s just as easy to forget the antithesis today, isn’t it?  We can so easily forget that our unbelieving family and neighbours are on the broad road to death.  We might even encourage them on that road, without even thinking about what we’re doing.  Our text exposes this for the sin that it is.  God’s design is for people to have life.  God’s design is for people from all nations to have life through the children of Abraham, and if we believe in Christ, we are the spiritual children of Abraham. 

When Naomi tried to send Ruth and Orpah back to Moab, she was dishonouring God, being a poor witness for him.  She wasn’t taking him into account at all, she wasn’t eager for him to be praised by the Gentiles.  With this she showed how much she and others like her needed a Saviour.  If we think about it, she also shows how much all of us need a Saviour.  Because all of us at times forget to account for God in our lives, we disregard the antithesis and pretend it isn’t there.  Instead of helping people to the narrow road to life, we say or do things that help them stay on the broad road to death.  These things are sinful.  How thankful we can be that we have a Saviour who lived a perfect life in our place, one who always took God into account in his life.  How thankful we can be that we have a Saviour who has paid for our sins in full, including our sins of disregard for the LORD and his designs for us and the world in which we live.  The gospel proclaims that everything is covered by the blood of Christ.  We are forgiven and set free from the curse which rests on all disregard of God and his ways. 

Brothers and sisters, we have a great Saviour who has redeemed us from all our sinful foolishness and the ways we fail to help our neighbours.  But this same Saviour also redeems us to his ways.  Through reliance on his Word and Spirit, he wants to have us look more and more like him.  That means that we become increasingly aware of the antithesis God has placed in this world.  That means that we also become aware of our calling with regard to those in unbelief.  Unbelief is serious trouble.  Living your own way often causes so many troubles in this world.  But all of those pale in comparison with what will be encountered in the hereafter.  So, no more of “It’s okay for you to keep on your path.”  Instead, it always has to be, “Come with me on the road to life!”  That’s what unbelievers need to hear from us.

In our text, as so often happens, God works despite the sinfulness of his people.  He graciously works a return from death to life despite Naomi’s disregard for the antithesis.  She was weak and sinful, and in spite of that, God was still in control.  Human sinfulness can’t knock God off his throne.  We see that in what happens with Ruth. 

When Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to Moab, there was some arguing.  But eventually Orpah listened and she went back.  She remained lost to the world, alienated from God.  Orpah went back to death.  But not Ruth.  Ruth refused to listen to what Naomi was saying, and this was a good thing.  After all, what her mother-in-law was saying wasn’t pleasing to God.  When an authority commands someone to do something contrary to God’s will, there’s no need to obey.  In fact, it would be wrong to obey.  We should always remember what Peter said when faced with this conflict between what people say and what God says.  Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Ruth didn’t obey her mother-in-law, she argued with her until she got her way, but none of that was sinful – not at all.  It was the right thing to do.  She insisted on returning to Israel with Naomi. 

That’s when we hear those memorable words from Ruth:  “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.  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.”  Those are truly remarkable words from this Moabite woman.  She’s not going to abandon Naomi.  She’ll live where she lives.  Ruth is going to leave behind her Moabite identity, and become one of the Israelites.  Doing that also means leaving behind Chemosh and the other Moabite gods and turning to follow Yahweh, the one true God. 

“Your God will be my God,” says Ruth.  Those words are so pregnant with significance.  Ruth was turning her back on Chemosh, the Moabite national god.  In 2 Kings 3 we read about how Mesha king of Moab rebelled against Jehoram.  Israel ended up attacking the Moabite king and it didn’t go well for Mesha.  The Moabites were losing and they needed the favour of Chemosh, their god.  So what did Mesha do?  He offered his eldest son as a burnt sacrifice.  From that story in 2 Kings 3, we learn that the worship of Chemosh involved death.  It involved burning children to death as offerings to earn the favour of Chemosh.  By turning away from Chemosh, Ruth was turning away from death.  By turning to Yahweh, she was turning to life.  In fact, Ruth swore by God’s Name that she meant what she said.  She was committed.  She firmly decided to follow the only true God and commit herself to him. 

Now we might say that she decided to follow the only true God.  But of course we recognize that this was a work of sovereign grace in her heart.  She says the things that she does because God is at work in her life and in her heart.  She’s dedicated herself to following Yahweh.  This is an act of faith.  Where does faith come from?  Ephesians 2:8 answers that question, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  That’s the key thing to see here.  Not Ruth as the great woman who commits herself to Naomi because she has such a big heart.  The key thing is the gift of God.  The key thing is a sovereign God who graciously brings a Moabite woman from death to life.  He brought Ruth to live with his people.  In his sovereign grace, God plucks Ruth from the broad road to death and brings her across the median (the antithesis), turns her around, and puts her on the narrow road to life.  God graciously took her for one of his children.  And with this child, saved by grace, he would work to bring his Son into the world.  Through Ruth, and what he did through her, our gracious God would bring life for many.  He would bring the way for the sins of Naomi to be forgiven.  He would bring a way for the sins of Ruth to be forgiven – Ruth was a sinner in need of redemption too.  He would bring a way for your sins to be forgiven, every single one of them.  Forgiven through Jesus!

At the end of the last sermon on Ruth, I mentioned that there was a glimmer of life.  There were still three widows alive.  Now this time we see that there’s not only physical life, but also spiritual life.  Ruth’s dead bones have been reconstituted into a living human being by the Spirit of God.  A woman who was once dead in her sins is now alive with faith in God.  She’s been brought into covenant fellowship with him and she’s on her way to the Promised Land.  She’s returning to her God and Maker.  God made this all happen, he did it in his sovereign grace.  Now loved ones, think about this:  today Ruth is in heaven, praising the God who graciously saved her.  She’s part of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  She’s praising him for what he did for her and through her.  We should do likewise, praising him and loving him for the fact that we too have been delivered from death.  And remember:  this happened not through our own efforts, but entirely by grace alone.  By grace alone, God has worked for us too the return from death to life, from dry dead bones to glory.  AMEN.                           

PRAYER:

O sovereign gracious God,

We are thankful that you’ve saved us from death through Christ’s death.  We’re glad that we can be your people and truly live because Christ lives.  We praise you also for the work of your Holy Spirit.  We praise you for what he did in Ruth and despite Naomi.  We praise you that he has given us the gift of faith, that we have salvation through him.  Please help us to treasure this gift always and always praise you for it.  We also ask for your help in taking you into account in everything we do, especially in the way we interact with unbelievers.  For the sake of Christ, please forgive us for every time we’ve failed in this regard.  We beg you to help us better to recognize the antithesis between believers and unbelievers and then also speak and act accordingly.  Father, so often we are afraid to speak about our faith to others.  We pray that your Spirit would help us to overcome our fear.  Help us to truly love the lost and point them to the way of life in Christ.  Please use as instruments in your hand to save sinners from the broad road to death.  We pray this because we do want to see your great Name praised in increasing measures.                                        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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