Redemption: Our Only Hope is Not Just a Cliché

Text: Ruth 4:1-22

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…” —Ruth 4:14

What do you think it will be like to experience redemption from all of your pain, suffering, and hardship? What will you do in the climax of that moment—when every sorrow is turned to joy, every hurt is healed completely, every loss is swallowed up by triumph, and every injustice has been rectified? That day will surely come, beloved, and we do well to picture what our response will be when it happens. It can remedially shape how we “patiently endure evil” in this present time (2 Timothy 2:24).

As we conclude our final devotion in this series from the book of Ruth, we see that God is still at work even in troubled times. The book of Ruth has been described as the story of God “through the eyes of women.” One of its characters, Naomi, has been compared to a female Job. She suffered from a severe famine and the tragic loss of her husband and two sons. It’s plausible she lost even more than Job did—her essential livelihood. She dwelt among society’s most marginalized: the poor and the widowed. Bitterness had taken such a root in her soul that she chose to redefine her existence (“Mara”). What she didn’t realize is that God wasn’t finished writing the story of her life—an epic chapter was still to come!

Naomi’s faith might’ve been wounded, but it wasn’t dead. Even when we have a crisis of faith, God remains faithful. He never abandons us in our distress, or when we struggle with doubts. He never stops rescuing us from ourselves! His extended grace enables Naomi to take those difficult next steps even as her soul is ailing and everything in her says ‘give up.’ It’s likely a pure ‘faith over feelings’ moment when she urges Ruth to boldly propose to Boaz, who was a legitimate kinsman redeemer in accordance with their ancient cultural laws. This was an act of faith rooted in God’s Word. Naomi finds a way to take a “faith step” despite overwhelming feelings of grief, bitterness, and sorrow.

The outcome was favorable. Boaz and Ruth were married and soon had a son named Obed. Naomi’s misfortune turned to joy when she held that little grandchild in her arms. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15). Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. It’s a glorious redemption moment. The child brought great joy to Bethlehem, became the grandfather of a godly king (David), and ultimately the ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

We can learn much from Naomi. Even when we can’t see the bigger picture and life is under duress, God’s plan is still perfect and filled with love. He knows what He is doing. All things do work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

We must also understand who the main character is in this story. It isn’t Naomi. It isn’t Ruth. It isn’t Boaz. The real Hero is Christ, the Redeemer. He is the protagonist in the story of our lives as well. Our stories are not fundamentally about us; our lives are simply a canvas for God to write out His redemption for the world to see His glory. He is the One Who provides a future for Naomi and Ruth, two widows with such little prospects for a future. It is through the canvas of their lives that we see how God cares for the marginalized, just as He commands us to do (Jeremiah 22:16; James 1:27).

The final takeaway is that we need to keep our eyes on our Redeemer, not the bleakness of the moment. It is not a cliché to say that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the only hope for our world today. Social and systemic injustices will never be remedied without true humility and repentance. Bigotry, bitterness, and hatred in the hearts of people will never be holistically remedied apart from the love of Christ. Violence, vitriol, and vindictiveness will never usher in real justice. Legislation will never change a heart. Only God can do that. Our only cure is looking to Jesus.

We must recognize Jesus not merely as some historical figure, but as the living Redeemer of all the restoration and reconciliation God wants to bring about in our world today. Ignoring Him leads to pride. Looking to Him is what humbles us (Philippians 2:1-11). As Laura Gallier, one of my daughter’s favorite authors, said, “Of all the countless acts of injustice committed throughout mankind’s history, none compares to the atrocious beating, scourging and crucifixion of Christ, which he willingly suffered on our behalf, motivated solely by God’s love for humanity. This revelation becomes our foundation for repenting of our own sinful actions and also forgiving acts of injustice committed against us.” Looking at Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sins humbles us. That’s why so many people ignore the cross—they don’t want to humble themselves. Thus they remain poisoned by their pride, bigotry, hatred, bitterness, and animosity toward other human beings.

Our hope begins at the cross. It is here that we humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus, allow His revelation to transform our hearts, and let him replace our Mara (“bitterness”) with healing. It is here that we find forgiveness and restoration. The cross is where hate is overcome by love, vengeance overcome by mercy, and animosity overcome by reconciliation. It’s where we recognize our humanity with all of its flaws, see a God Who created every person in His very own image, and willingly laid down His life so that His creation can be saved, healed, and redeemed.

Just like Naomi and Ruth in their distress, God has not left you without a Redeemer. He is still writing on the canvas of repentant lives today. Will you trust Him? Will you turn to Him? Will you view your broken world through the reconciliatory lens of the cross? Will you walk, love, and serve others in humility? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, sometimes there are no words to describe the sorrow, the injustices, and the evil that we experience in this fallen world. It is impossible for us to make sense of it all. People need hope. And the only path toward a redeemed future begins at the foot of the cross. Our bitterness doesn’t engineer a favorable outcome. Thank you for your grace, which leads us to that place of surrender so that we can see you write a better story than we could ever imagine. Grant us humility to turn to you, to release our angst, our grief, our sorrow, and all of our fears and doubts. Save us from ourselves. Holy Spirit, reveal to us the path forward. Though often assaulted and sometimes faltering, may our faith be found trusting you to bring about the ultimate redemption in this story we are living. In Jesus’ name, and for His glory, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are some of the etiquette or unwritten social rules in your family? What is essential to treating others with dignity and respect?
  2. What is the central event in this chapter (Ruth 4:1-12)? How is the elders’ blessing on Boaz and Ruth’s marriage significant in light of the rest of the chapter? (Ruth 4:11-13)
  3. How is this chapter an example of God’s providence in our lives? What can this story teach us about God’s redemption plan for our world today?
  4. Why do we tend to overlook or ignore the power of the cross in our daily lives? Like Paul, how can we “die daily” so that we can serve the Lord faithfully (1 Corinthians 15:31)?
  5. What feelings of bitterness, anger, grief, sorrow, vindictiveness, or animosity might you need to bring to the cross today?

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Desperate Faith: “We Bought a Zoo”

Text: Ruth 3:1-18

“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” —Ephesians 3:12

When was the last time your faith moved you to do something bold… even seemingly crazy? When was the last time you were moved out of your comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, taking a necessary risk because you were desperate to follow the way of Jesus?

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” refers to actions that might seem extreme under normal circumstances but are more appropriate in times of adversity, distress, or when duty calls. “We Bought a Zoo” is a film about such measures. It tells the true story of a widowed father, Benjamin Mee, who desperately tries to pick up the broken pieces of his life and lead his grieving children forward after they lost their mother to cancer. He does something quite “ridiculous,” and it ends up being the remedy his ailing family needs in their journey to recovery. Yep, you know where this is going… they bought a run-down zoo and worked to renovate it and restore its faded glory. Benjamin, who had to get unstuck from his depression, later told his struggling teenage son:

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you something great will come of it.”

In our continued devotional series through the book of Ruth, we come to a place in the story that is a fitting picture of Benjamin Mee’s thesis on life. Here we find twenty seconds of insane courage and vulnerable bravery. Naomi coaches her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, to put on some perfume, go down to the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping, snuggle right up next to his sleeping bag, uncover his feet and tickle them. When he wakes up, propose to him. Okay, that is a very loose translation but there’s not a scholar alive who can convince me that it didn’t tickle his feet! Boaz was startled.

“At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.’” What a proposal! Talk about the possibility of looking like an idiot. What if he rejected her?

Ruth and Naomi are desperate. It pays off. The sounds of wedding bells are in the future. Ruth’s twenty seconds of courage is more than just scheming to attract the attention of Boaz. Her actions reveal a bold faith in the promises God. Both Naomi and Ruth knew that Boaz was, according to Jewish law, a kinsman-redeemer as instituted in Leviticus 25. They weren’t following blind or random courage; they were taking God at His Word and acting out of a desperate trust in His decreed faithfulness. Boaz was the man fitting to bring about their redemption story according to scripture, and in the much broader picture, he also foreshadows Jesus Christ, the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer who will redeem a bride for Himself—the church.

Where do you need twenty seconds of bold faith right now? Where do you need to dig down deep and pull out that last ounce of courage you have, and act faithfully in obedience to what Jesus tells you to do—renouncing your fears, your comfort, your vulnerability, and your trepidation? Maybe it’s in choosing to focus on the size of your God rather than the size of a pandemic. Maybe it’s a deliberate choice to forgive that person who wounded you. Perhaps picking up the phone and reconciling a severed relationship, apologizing to your spouse or children, or praying for enemies and political personalities you despise. It might be an act of advocacy, or starting a new ministry to serve the needs of others.

It might only take about twenty seconds of courage to set in motion a series of events that revives something in your life and opens up the floodgates for God’s kingdom to breakout all around you. Where can you flesh out that courage in your life? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer and Lord over all, lead us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know where we need to enact courage and bold faith in the days ahead. There is bitterness, darkness, and unrest all around us. Desperation hovers over many. Move us to make a difference, taking that first bold step of faith, then seeing you open the floodgates of heaven upon our obedience. Lord, thank you for your faithfulness.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever found yourself in a “desperate” situation like Ruth?
  2. What motivated Naomi to tell Ruth to go to Boaz (Ruth 3:1-2)? What specific instructions did she give to Ruth (Ruth 3:1-4)?
  3. How did Naomi refer to Boaz, and why is this significant (Ruth 3:2)?
  4. What does Ruth’s obedience to Naomi reveal about her character? What does Boaz’s willingness to fulfill his obligation reveal about him? What positive character traits stand out in this story?
  5. Judging from this passage, what does God want you to do when you cannot see the solution to a problem in your life? Where is God beckoning you to act boldly and courageously—even desperately?

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The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

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