Monday, July 30, 2012

Sovereignty - Ruth 2:1-10

Sovereignty – Ruth 2:1-10

I would like for someone to tell me about a time when God took you out of a situation was pretty good and led you into a situation that was even better. Maybe it was a job or a relationship or even a church. Tell me how God led you from good to better.

I hope that you continue to give God glory and honor for blessing you the way that He has. He deserves that, does He not?

Now I want you to think of a time when God took you out of a good situation and put you in a situation much worse. Have you ever been there? Of course you have. You just may not have looked at it that way. Everyone has been through a time when things seem to be rocking along just fine, all is well, and the bottom drops out of it. Maybe it is a report from a doctor. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one. A car wreck, a cheating spouse, a hang nail, or your favorite idol got voted off the show, whatever it is, is that God’s fault?

Think about it now, if you gave God credit for the good things that come your way, shouldn’t He also get the blame when bad things come? Wouldn’t it be disingenuous to not look at it that way? That line of thinking may make some of you uncomfortable but God is big enough to handle our exploration of this subject.

I believe it is especially applicable in the wake of the recent shootings in Colorado. Here’s a hypothetical situation for you: suppose that insane gunman had not gone into that theater that night (and he is insane by the way. He may not meet the legal definition but sane people don’t do that and more gun laws are not going to keep insane people from killing people.) But suppose he had not gone in there. Those people who saw that movie could go home and get in bed and thank God for a safe and fun night out, right? I don’t know that they would but they could.

But since many of those will never go home again at all and others will have physical and emotional problems the rest of their life, should God not get the blame? And if He is to blame and since we know Him to be all-powerful, who does He think He is to put us through that kind of pain? Have you ever felt that way? If you have you are not alone. David often cried out to God in frustration. Elijah told God to just kill him. Job wished he had never been born. Jonah told God he was so angry at Him he wanted to die.

In fact, I would imagine that the vast majority of people have at one time felt that way. I can remember a time in my own life where I was driving down the road and pounded on the steering wheel and shouted, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, God, but I don’t think it’s very funny!”

Humphrey Bogart, the great theologian, once said, “Things are never so bad that they can’t get a little bit worse.”

I have an idea that at the end of the first chapter of Ruth that Naomi and Ruth were feeling just this way. Our message is going to come from verses 1-10 of chapter 2 but I want us to take stock of what has happened in these widows’ lives up to that point. In chapter one the family endures a difficult time of famine and so they leave Bethlehem and go to Moab where Naomi’s 2 sons marry women but then not only does her husband die but then her 2 sons die as well and she is left with only 2 daughters-in-law.

The one d-i-law, Orpah makes the decision to go back to her family home but as you remember, Ruth says so eloquently in verses 16 and 17 that she will follow Naomi wherever she goes even unto death. Boy, who doesn’t need a Ruth in their life? That must have been a great comfort to Naomi. I can just picture the 2 of them walking back to Bethlehem. They are still in grief from losing their husbands. They don’t understand why all of this is happening to them but at least they have each other.

It’s a long walk back home to Bethlehem from Moab and I can just picture the 2 of them walking along and talking. I bet there wasn’t a moment’s silence, with both of them expressing their feelings to each other, both of them thinking they can’t get a word in edgewise. You married men know the feeling, right? So, while they still have a lot of problems, things are looking up for them. At least they have a plan and pretty soon they will be where they can get some help and then they top that last hill that overlooks the Jordan River.

The scriptures don’t say anything about all this but I want you to see one quick thing in verse 22 of chapter 1. Read. So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

And we know from one other scripture that there is a problem. In Joshua chapter 3 we see the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan and God stopped the flow of water and they passed over on dry land because in verse 15 it says the Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest.

Now can you imagine how Naomi and Ruth felt as they topped that last hill and saw all that water? Can you just hear the desperation in their voices? “God, why? We are trying to do what you want us to do. We are trying to be obedient. We are already in trouble NOT of our making and now this?! Why would you do this to us?”

We don’t know how they got across. Maybe they found a boat or maybe they walked all the way around or maybe they swam. I don’t know. The point is, it was just one more thing! Hadn’t they been through enough? I bet you know that feeling. I bet you have had that same desperation in your voice as you talked to God. But just as God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can endure He also knows how much heartache we can endure and so Naomi and Ruth finally make it back to Bethlehem. Let’s pick up what happens next as we read chapter 2, verse 1-10.

I would bet there are 25 different sermons in that one little passage but I want us to see only 2 things this morning.  I want us to look at what I believe are the main reasons this passage is in here.  Is the reason this passage is in here to teach us about luck?  Is it to show us how Karma works?  Is it to show us an example of how by working hard we can change our destiny?  No.  I believe that we can see from this passage that God is sovereign and that God has a plan.

The first instance of God's sovereignty is in the first verse.  There is a saying that you can pick your friends but you are stuck with your family.  It's a good thing for Naomi and Ruth because Boaz is described here as a man of standing or maybe in your Bible it says he was a mighty man or a man of wealth.  None of those are wrong.  The original word includes all of that but leans more toward the ethical side than the prosperous side.  In fact, Boaz uses the same basic word or phrase to later describe Ruth in chapter 3 verse 11 where he says she is a woman of noble character.

Ruth proves that she's not lazy by getting up early the next morning and going to look for food.  She knows she is going to have to provide for Naomi and herself and she goes out, a foreigner in a strange land, and decides to glean some grain or corn.  I said last week that there was no Social Security or Welfare but there was an OT law that commanded the owner of a field to leave behind just a little bit, some scraps, to those who may be in need and that is what Ruth is after here.

It says that Ruth just happened upon this field.  The King James says she happened upon it and that makes it sound like dumb luck.  It sounds like a blind pig finding an acorn.  Finally some good luck, advantageous circumstance, fortuitous providence, chance encounter. 

In John chapter 4, was it coincedence that Jesus was sitting by the well in Sychar when the Samaritan woman came to draw water?  Was it good luck when Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch in the chariot?  Was it good karma that Peter and John were going to the temple at 3 pm and saw the beggar?  No, it was the guiding grace of our Heavenly Father who sees and knows everything and has great, great love for you just like He did for Ruth.

It is the sovereignty of Almighty God who allows us to have free will and still ordains our footsteps.  Sovereign means to have supreme and independant power.  All through the Old and New Testaments God is called Sovereign Lord.  Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."  God doesn't need your permission to do something.  You don't see or understand everything like He does so we just have to trust Him.

Let's say for a minute God did ask you before He did something.  Let's say God comes to you and says, "Uh, hey Bill.  I have this plan and I need to break your leg so that you can go to the hospital to tell a certain nurse about Me.  How do you feel about that?"

You would probably say no.  But if you knew that that nurse would come to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus 10 years later, remembering what you said and that she would then witness to a doctor who would council a young woman not to have an abortion and that child would grow up to lead your grandson to Jesus?  Would that change your mind?  Was that broken leg fair to you?  Did it hurt you badly?  Were you affected by that the rest of your life?  None of those questions even matter any more!

We don't see things as God sees them so who are we to complain or even question God?

I want us to look at another verse in this passage.  We see that Ruth finds favor in the eyes of Boaz and he treats her with respect and fairness even though she has done nothing to deserve it in his mind.  I want us to read verse 8 again.  "So Boaz said to Ruth, My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me."

There are 2 ways you can look at that.  First you could look at it as restrictive.  That is narrowing my options.  Who does he think he is to try to limit what I can do?  He's not the boss of me.  Another way to look at that is to think of what a blessing it is to be separated or holy to these people and this field where Boaz can protect and provide for me.  God doesn't want you to do certain things or go certain places, not because He is mean but just the opposite.

He wants you to be in the right place at the right time because He has a plan for your life.  Just like He said in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

We see that Boaz is an OT picture of Jesus Himself and He wants us to stay in His field.  He knows there is nothing but trouble in another field and even though we don't deserve it He wants to bless us and protect and provide for us.  Ruth is a picture of the church and as part of the church of Jesus we want to do as we are told.  We want to stay under the protective wings of Jesus.  There is work for us to do there just like there was for Ruth but we don't see it as restricting us but it is protecting us.

One last thing I want us to see in verse 10 is the response of Ruth.  At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me--a foreigner?"

I am reminded of another such question.  I Chronicles 17:16 says, "Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?

You may think, "Oh sure.  That's easy for a king to say."  David knew heartache like I hope most of us will never know.  He knew great physical, emotional, even spiritual pain.  He often cried out to God.  He spent years running for his very life for reasons he couldn't understand.  In the end, he acknowledged God's sovereign will was for his benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom of God.

Did he understand why everything had happened to him?  Did it make it not hurt to lose an infant child?  Did knowing that God was sovereign and had a plan bring his son Absalom back to life?  No, of course not.  There will always be things we don't understand.  There will always be things in life that still hurt and things that aren't fair; things we can't know until we see Jesus.

My friend Scott told me about visiting a castle in England a few years ago.  He was amazed at the architecture.  He said the furniture was beautiful.  The gardens were amazing.  The pictures on the wall were all incredible.  He said they had in one room several huge tapestries hanging down from rods.  These tapestries were works of art that were sewn by hand and depicted all sorts of important places or events.  The handiwork was intricate and perfect.

He looked on the back of one of them, though, and he said it was awful.  It was nothing but a mass of different color pieces of material that made no sense.  It was ugly and distorted and you couldn't tell at all about what was on the front by looking at the back.  On the back was ugly nonsense but the front was beautiful and perfect.

It's the same way with our lives.  From our vantage point, it doesn't make sense.  It's not fair.  We don't deserve it.  It's ugly and horrible for no good reason.  And it may be that way our whole lives.  God doesn't promise to make it make sense.  He never says life is going to be fair in the end.  We just have to trust that He is sovereign and that He has a plan.  And when we do that we are in place to ask God just that one question like Ruth did:  Why have I found such favor in your eyes, Sovereign Lord?

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