Ruth: Woman of Extraordinary Faith
Grace Community Church
Aug 5, 2018
Welcoming the Outsider
The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. For over 5 centuries art lovers have been trying to unlock the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s expression. When you first look at her you see a smile on her face. But if you look again, the smile seems to disappear. But then it reappears. Then it’s gone again. Then it mysteriously reappears! French artist, Luc Maspero was driven to such desperation trying to solve this mystery that he jumped four floors to his death from a hotel in Paris. His suicide note explained that he preferred death to the struggle of understanding her expression.
Have you ever wondered what the expression on God’s face is when He looks at you? Is He smiling? Is He angry? Is He accepting? Is He repulsed? Does His expression change from day to day? What is the expression on God’s face when He looks at you?
As we begin chapter 2 of Ruth, Naomi is pretty sure God is frowning when He looks at her. It feels like God’s hand has been against her from the day she and her husband Elimelech moved to Moab to escape a famine in Israel.
First her husband died
Then her sons marry Moabite women (which was forbidden by the Lord), and then both sons die leaving no children
Naomi is left alone in a foreign land where she has no way of supporting herself and no hope of passing on her family lineage.
At this point she believes God has brought her to a dead end, no hope, no future.
So Naomi decides to go back to her home town Bethlehem, and urges her daughters in law to go back to their people because they are still young enough to have a life – there is no future with her. Orpah leaves Naomi and returns to her people but Ruth will not leave and says from now on Naomi’s people will be her people and Naomi’s God will be her God.
When Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi is so convinced that God is against her she tells the townswomen not to call her Naomi anymore, which means pleasant, but to call her Mara, which means “bitter” for the Lord has dealt bitterly with her. God’s expression? Definitely a frown.
But we’re going to see that Naomi is reading God’s expression all wrong. The Lord used these hard things in Naomi’s life to draw her back to Israel and more importantly back to Himself. God didn’t come against Naomi out of anger, He came for her out of love. The expression on God’s face is love, and the Lord is going to reveal that to Naomi and Ruth through a man named Boaz.
Before we pick up the story in verse 8 it’s important to remember just how much of an outsider Ruth was. Israel was a nation that normally embraced and welcomed the foreigner. God, in fact, commanded them to love the foreigner: The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. Lev. 19:23
But Ruth was a Moabite and as we have seen, the Moabites were so bad God had labeled them irredeemable. Their ancestry began with incest between Lot and his daughter, and their history was full of deception and enmity against Israel from that point forward. God commanded Israel to reject the Moabites forever:
3“No …Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever… 6You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever. Deut. 23:3-6
Don’t let them mingle with the people of God and don’t seek their wellbeing forever. In other words, have nothing to do with them. Ruth is a Moabite so as Boaz comes riding up and sees this Moabite woman gleaning in his fields, we might expect him to throw her off his property. But that’s not Boaz’ response because that’s not God’s response.
Read vv. 8-16
Three hundred years after the Mona Lisa was painted, Luc Maspero still struggled to understand the expression on her face. More than 3000 years after this exchange between Boaz and Ruth, there is still something awesome for us to learn about God’s expression towards the outcast, the rejected, and the outsider who has no claim on God’s love or His mercy. That truth is this:
God welcomes any outsider who comes to Him for refuge
Boaz could have chased Ruth off his land in the name of God, citing the scriptures that I read earlier – have nothing to do with Moabites, don’t let them enter the assembly, don’t try to make peace with them and DON”T help them prosper – ever! Instead, Boaz speaks kindly to Ruth, telling her not to go anywhere else to glean, that she was welcome to glean in his fields and that she would be safe and protected in his fields. He didn’t stop there. He invited her at mealtime to share his food – Ruth probably had little if any food of her own to eat, and so it was a huge thing to be offered this delicious meal.
Boaz’ kindness doesn’t stop there. He commands his men to be intentionally careless as they harvest and leave a lot for Ruth to pick up. Do you see what Boaz is doing? He’s welcoming her into their community as much as if she had been a Jew born and raised in Bethlehem. Ruth is blown away and asks, why are you being so kind to me? And here, we see God’s heart reflected in Boaz’ heart. Boaz had heard of Ruth’s devotion to her mother in law. At a time when Naomi had lost everything – everything! – and it would have been easy for Ruth to cut her losses (her husband was dead, after all, which meant she had no further obligation to her mother in law anymore), Ruth says to Naomi, I’m not leaving you. May God curse me if anything other than death separates me from you.
Boaz has heard of her tender devotion to her mother in law and it has touched his heart. But it’s in verse 12 we most clearly see God reflected in Boaz: The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Boaz is speaking to her as if she were a member of the covenant family. Boaz isn’t going rogue here, he’s acting as an agent of God, in essence saying I am being kind to you because I know God’s heart is moved to be kind to you. You have put everything on the line hoping that God will be merciful to you, and reward you for your faith. I know His expression towards you is merciful, and I’m going to reflect His mercy to you.
The picture of Boaz seeking out this outsider and drawing her into the covenant family is a beautiful picture of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done. Jesus came to the Jews, God’s chosen people, the covenant people, and offered them salvation. That was massively loving and merciful of the Lord! But His love didn’t stop at the borders of Israel. He commanded his disciples to go into all the world, cross every border, and invite those who are not His people, who are not covenant people, into his covenant. Ruth represents all of us Gentiles who once were distant from God’s promises and had no right or claim to them, yet have been welcomed into God’s covenant family through faith in Christ. We were outsiders – but we have been brought in through Christ:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Eph 2:11-13
Jesus’ blood removes the wall between God and sinful man (Jew or Gentile) by paying for our sin and cleansing us of our sin. The result is that by faith in Christ we are brought near to God – so near the Bible says we are reconciled as friends, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and married to the Lord Jesus Christ as his bride. Just as Boaz brought Ruth into their close community, treating her as a friend rather than a stranger, as a member of the community rather than an outsider, Jesus came to bring us close to God as a beloved member of His family. Let’s let that sink in a little.
What’s the expression on God’s face when He looks at you? In Christ it is the expression of a Father towards the child He loves. It is pleasure, for God delights in you. It is kindness, for He loves to be merciful to those who take refuge under His wings. It is love, for He loves you with an everlasting love. If we live with a distorted understanding of God’s expression towards us – thinking that He’s angry and disappointed and frustrated with us all the time – we will miss out on the closeness with God He wants us to enjoy.
I read recently that, whether we know it or not, all of us have an innate longing to be known and to be loved. We can try to fill that longing with money, or popularity, or admiration, or one of the many other things that we can try to fill our souls with, but ultimately they will all leave us feeling empty. The thing our souls most long for, the only thing that in the end can fill us, is to love and be loved. Truly belonging to a community. That’s what Boaz offered to Ruth – and that’s what Jesus offers to us when we, like Ruth, come to him seeking refuge.
Sometimes the Lord will lead us into a lonely place like it must have been for Ruth. And we might think that God must be frowning at us in that lonely place. But I think the Lord strips all the other props from us so that we realize how much we need Him. If you’re in a lonely season, it doesn’t mean God is angry or frowning at you. He might be bringing you to a place that’s quiet enough and lonely enough that you see that what you need and want most in life is the Lord. To belong to Him. He is yours and you are His as my grandmother loved to say. This is how God sees you if you are in Christ.
God wants us to know His expression of love towards us and live knowing He has welcomed us into His family. But God also wants us to be Boaz’s who reflect God’s heart to those who don’t yet know Him.
The church should work to reflect God’s welcoming heart towards outsiders
By outsiders, I don’t mean to sound like church is some club that has insiders and outsiders. I mean those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their Savior, who haven’t trusted in the promises of God and haven’t yet become a member of God’s redeemed family. The church needs to reflect God’s heart towards those who don’t know Jesus, and that takes work because the tendency in churches when we just do what’s natural – is to form our little circles, get comfortable with what we’re used to, and without intending to we can box new people out. Often the tighter a church gets, the harder it can be for new people to break in.
Years ago I was invited to a church that was looking to build relationships with other churches. It was a wonderful church with a great pastor and loving and warm people. But as I learned about their history it was a bit unique in that most of them had been together for decades. Their children had all grown up together. They knew each other really well and were very comfortable together. It was easy to see they were a really close-knit fellowship. That’s really special. But the other unique part of their history was that, even though they were in a highly populated area and their church was on a main thoroughfare, they never seemed to grow. They would get visitors, but they rarely came back more than once or twice. Somehow, in a way they weren’t even aware of, they were sending a signal that said, “outsiders not welcome!”
Josh Daffern tells about a time he and his family almost got thrown out of a McDonalds because three of them wanted to eat McDonalds and three of them wanted Wendys so the Wendy eaters brought their Wendy’s bags into the McDonalds. Now as competitors, there’s probably a legitimate concern there, but the way the manager handled it was to confront them rudely and tell them in no uncertain terms they needed to leave the premises immediately. She was determined to throw them out and it was only after Josh apologized profusely that she begrudgingly allowed them to finish their meal, all the while making it clear they weren’t wanted there.
Sometimes churches can get like that: we stand there with our McDonald’s bags and we get all weirded out if someone comes in with a Wendy’s bag. Maybe their Wendy bag is they don’t believe the Bible is God’s word, maybe they don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, or the only way to be saved, maybe their Wendy bag is they don’t understand why we stand and sing for twenty minutes or sit and listen to some guy talk for 40 minutes. They may come in with some unbiblical views or lifestyles. But some part of them is wondering if this Jesus stuff has anything to offer their lives.
We want to be like Boaz, who sees someone who is totally new to it all, culturally doesn’t fit in, but her heart is open and searching. We want to reflect the heart of God and welcome the outsider. Wendy’s bags welcome here! We want to reflect the heart of Jesus who was constantly reaching out to the outsiders and outcasts that polite religious society avoided. Jesus befriended sinners and the tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers and people with really messed up marriages. I mean, the woman at the well was a hated Samaritan and had had five husbands and now was living with number 6 and they weren’t even married! Even by Hollywood’s standards five husbands is a lot! But Jesus didn’t reject her or avoid her, nor did he flatter her or avoid uncomfortable topics. He spoke the truth but in a way that drew her in until she was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God.
We have a Savior who left heaven to come close to us, to bring us back to his eternal kingdom. What’s the expression on God’s face? It’s welcoming love to any outsiders who come to Him for refuge. Let’s be amazed at His welcoming love for us, and then let’s work to reflect His welcoming love to those who don’t yet know our Lord and His amazing, outsiders-welcoming love.
If you are with us this morning and you’re not sure what it means to be a Christian, it’s not complicated. God is righteous and we are sinful, and God’s justice can’t let sin go unpunished. But the Bible tells us the expression on God’s face towards us is love – God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die on the cross and pay for our sin so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
The most important question is, will you believe in him? He offers eternal life and forgiveness of sin to all who come to him, like Ruth, for mercy. Will you come to Him? I’m going to close us with a short prayer and if you want Jesus to come into your life and forgive you of your sins, I’m going to ask you to silently pray along with me.