“A Happy Ending”       Ruth 4:9-22                 October 5, 2008

 

SI:  Today we finish our study of the book of Ruth

   Ruth starts with weeping and ends with a wedding.

   It starts with funerals and ends with the birth of a son.

 

Boaz becomes the redeemer of Ruth and Naomi.

   Through his work all tears are wiped away, the fortunes and dignity of these

   women is restored, and their lives are filled with hope and joy.

 

It’s a picture for us of the work of Jesus Christ as out redeemer—

   moving us from tears to rejoicing.

 


INTRO:  The cover story of this week’s Sports Illustrated was about the

   college football upsets of last weekend—Oregon State over USC,

   Alabama over Georgia, and Ole Miss over Florida. 

 

There was a picture of Houston Nutt, the Ole Miss coach.

   It’s at the end of the game, he’s looking up, maybe at the clock—

   his eyes are bright, he’s holding back a smile,

   and there is a young woman with a huge grin hugging him,

   looking at his face with admiration and the caption says:

“Coach Nutt got a hug from his daughter Haven after the upset win.”

   It’s a great little picture of the happiness of a happy ending.

 

If there were cameras 3,000 years ago that could have captured the final scene

   of the book of Ruth, it would have been a happy picture that made you smile—

   old Naomi holding little Obed. 

 

Here was the woman who thought that God was against her.

   Here was the woman emptied by grief, full of regrets, bitter and without hope.

   But at the end of the story she’s smiling and playing with this child,

   and all the women of Bethlehem are gathered around, amazed at her blessings.

At the end of her life, not only are all the broken things fixed,

   but they are better than they have ever been, and she is deeply happy.

 

We love happy endings.  God made us that way.

We all have a deep memory of Eden,

   we have a subconscious sense of how things should be—

   and so when broken things are put right it makes us glad.

The great thing about being a Christian is that we serve a God

   who is working out a happy ending for all his children.

 

This last lesson from Ruth is for those of you here this morning

   who are saying to yourself—I will never get over the hurt I’ve suffered.

   Things have been broken in my life and they can never be put right.

 

It’s for those of you who are saying to yourself—

   I’ve sinned or I’ve been sinned against

   and I’ve seen and felt the devastating consequences,

   and time may pass but I will never have joy again.

 

The end of Ruth proves you wrong. 

The same God who moved Ruth and Naomi from tears to rejoicing is your God.

   The same Redeemer who empowered Boaz is your Redeemer Jesus.

   And he wants you to trust your life and future to him, and move ahead by faith.

 

So let’s look at this story,

   and see how God brought about a happy ending in Naomi’s life,

   and how this same God and Redeemer is at work in your life today.

 

We’ll look at this passage under two points.

All happy endings for God’s people involve

   1.  The grace of repentance

   2.  The miracle of redemption

 


 

MP#1  The grace of repentance

The book of Ruth starts and ends with Naomi. 

As we look at her in this final scene,

   we are reminded that this was not Plan A for her life.

 

Plan A for Naomi’s life was that she and her husband Elimelech should have trusted

   God during the famine and stayed in Bethlehem instead of moving to Moab.

Plan A for Naomi’s life was to raise her sons in Israel, in the faith,

   and that she should have married them to Israelite wives, not Moabite women. 

 

As I said, there are reminders of Naomi’s failure to follow God’s Plan A

   for her life, even in this happy ending. 

You see it in Boaz’ speech before the city gate—

   when he speaks of her sons Mahlon and Chilion and how they died without

   children, and how their name was in danger of being cut off from Israel.

 

You see a hint of it in the words of the women of Bethlehem—

   speak of how this child will restore Naomi’s life—

   reminder that her life and future had once been all but cut off.

 

If Naomi had followed Plan A for her life, which was simply what God had

   told his people to do—stay in the Promised Land, trust me during famines,

   raise your children in the faith, marry them to believers—

If Naomi had followed that Plan A, then she would have avoided lots of pain

   and she would probably have been surrounded by now by many grandchildren.

 

But the book of Ruth is not a parable—it’s a real story about real believers.

   And real believers don’t always follow God’s Plan A for their lives—do we?

No, we sin, make foolish choices, turn against God—

   and we suffer the consequences.

 

God’s Plan A for your life is for you to be truthful in your speech,

   and diligent in your work,

   and content with your possessions,

   and faithful in your marriage.

 

God’s Plan A for your life is that you love the Lord your God,

   with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind,

   and love your neighbor as yourself. 

But we go against his Plan A and suffer the consequences.

The pleasures of sin turn to ashes in our mouths—

   our souls are scarred, our loved ones are harmed.

Lord used famine and barrenness and untimely death

   to teach the Old Testament church the devastating effects of sin

   and Naomi suffered all of those things for her godless choices.

 

And yet, we see something amazing at the end of Ruth—a happy ending.

   That’s because God gave Naomi the grace of repentance.

   Even though she went her own way and suffered, she came back to God.

 

Do you remember what motivated Naomi to repent and return to Bethlehem?

   And that’s what her return to Bethlehem was, it was repentance.

   Bethlehem means House of Bread. 

   Name that speaks of the promise of Lord’s provision.

 

Do you remember what motivated her to go back to the House of Bread,

   and entrust herself once again to God’s promises? 

It says back in chapter 1 that she heard in the fields of Moab

   that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.

 

It was this news of the Lord’s goodness, that moved Naomi to repent.

   That’s why repentance is a gift of God’s grace. 

It happens when we start to see things clearly again—

   who we are, who God is, how our sin cuts us off from communion with him.

   It happens when God’s grace wakes us up so that we say—I can’t live like this.

   I want God again.  No matter how hard it is, leaving Moab, back to Bethlehem.

 

A number of years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there was a well-known pastor

   who was successful in his work but a wreck at home and personally.

He was an alcoholic, and after years of hiding and denying—

   he got a fresh glimpse of God’s grace, devastation of his sin and he repented.

One Sunday, he was not there, just a letter to his congregation—

   confessing his sin, asking forgiveness, and expressing his hope in God’s mercy.

 

This was not God’s Plan A for his life.  God’s Plan A was . . .

   “Do not be drunk with wine, be filled with the holy Spirit.”

   “An elder must be self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”

But he had blown Plan A and suffered the consequences in life, family, and work.

And yet, the man who told me this whole story, who was a member of this pastor’s

   church went on to tell me how the Lord, in time, brought a happy ending.

   Deliverance, sober life, and usefulness in God’s kingdom.

 

Naomi’s repentance wasn’t perfect.  She was bitter, thought God was against her,

   she couldn’t see the blessing he had given her in Ruth. 

That shouldn’t surprise us—because our repentance isn’t perfect either, is it?

   We repent and then we have all sorts of relapses, blaming God and other people,

   self-pity, self-justification—but repentance can be real, even if not perfect.

 

The Lord set Naomi on the road to a happy ending through the grace of repentance.

   It was repentance that led her back to Bethlehem with Ruth,

   where Ruth met Boaz, and where Boaz became their redeemer.

The Lord works the same way in your life. 

   The way to a happy ending starts with repentance.  

   The way up is down.

 

Be open to the grace of repentance.

   If even now you are trapped in a sin and miserable, and you feel the force

   of what I am saying, you know God’s goodness, you want to come back—

   don’t put it off.  Don’t stay in Moab any longer—come back to House of Bread.

You may say—It’s too hard.

   Because repentance means confession and that means humiliation

   and pain and it’s better to keep this hidden. 

 

It is hard, but it’s not impossible.  God gives the grace of repentance.

   He gave grace to Naomi.  It was hard coming back to Bethlehem. 

   The way up is down.  First step to a happy ending is repentance. 

 

You may say:  It’s not me who has sinned, I’ve been sinned against.

   That’s the reason my life is broken and I don’t think things will be right again.

The Lord knows what you’ve suffered, he was sinned against too.

   But are you open to this:  That maybe you’ve responded to being sinned against

   by sinning.  Your own heart filled with self-pity, bitterness, fear,

   self-righteousness lack of faith in God’s goodness. 

 

That’s not God’s Plan A either.  That’s very hard to face when you’ve been hurt.

   But the way up is down.  Happy ending starts with the grace of repentance. 

   Look at the Lord’s goodness, and come back to him. 

MP#2  The miracle of redemption

If you’ve sinned and not followed God’s Plan A for your life—

   does that mean you have to live with Plan B, or Plan C or even Plan D?

Does it mean that there is a wonderful life that you could have had,

   if you had somehow been perfect and hadn’t messed things up?

 

No.  And this brings us to the second point—the miracle of redemption.

When you turn humbly to God and repent,

   and after repenting follow him and live by his strength,

   you find that your life can be as good as Plan A—a kind of new Plan A.

In fact, the book of Ruth dares to say something absolutely amazing.

   God can redeem your sin and error into something better than Plan A.

 

The women of Bethlehem gathered around Naomi—

   these are the same women who earlier were stunned by how broken

   and sad Naomi was when she returned to Bethlehem.

   They said, “Can this be Naomi?”

But now they gather around Naomi and this new baby

   and they praise the Lord for his blessings to Naomi, how he has restored her life.

 

And they point to Ruth, say:

   “This daughter-in-law of yours is worth more to you than seven sons.”

Seven, the number of perfection, Seven sons—the perfect family, greatest blessing.

   These women of Bethlehem, with incredible spiritual insight are saying to Naomi,

   Ruth is better than the seven sons you might have had right here with us

   if you had stayed in Bethlehem all along. 

 

Ruth, your Moabite daughter-in-law, who your son should never have married,

   who came into your life because of the foolish, sinful choices of you

   and your husband, Naomi.  With her you have a life even better than if

   you had stayed in Bethlehem all along.  Naomi saw that by faith.

 

That’s the miracle of redemption. 

The Lord takes the crumbled lives of his people, broken by their sins,

   humbled in their repentance, and he builds them back better than before.

By the miracle of redemption, he uses even your sins sinlessly,

   to make your life better than before. 

What does this better life look like?

   Stronger faith, higher joy, deeper contentment, clearer sight, greater purpose.

How does that make you feel?

   If that doesn’t give you hope—nothing can!

  

Jonathan Aitken was an up and coming British politician in the 1990s

   serving in John Major’s government.  He had a deep interest in Richard Nixon,

   in the course of researching and writing a book, spent time with Charles Colson. 

Colson, remember, Nixon’s right hand man, sentenced to prison for his role

   in Watergate, became Christian, started Prison Fellowship.

 

Back to Jonathan Aitken—in 1999 he was convicted of perjury, humiliated,

   sentenced to prison, and his world came crashing down.

By God’s providence, that very week Colson in London, read in papers—

   sent Aitken a letter—this is what letter said:

 

“I just want you to know that my heart goes out to you, that you’re in my prayers, and that I consider myself your friend.  Your greatest test will be right now, Jonathan.  You can let circumstances shatter you as I saw you quoted in the press or you can decide that adversity will be your greatest blessing.  As you know, I have looked back on Watergate and thank God for it.  Through that crucible I came to know Christ personally and discovered that in the darkest moments of my life he was working to produce what I would later see as the greatest blessings of my life.” 

Aitken was a nominal Christian, went on to dedicate his life to Christ—

   few years ago wrote bio of Colson:  Charles W. Colson:  A Life Redeemed.

 

Redemption should put an end to you saying to yourself:

   I’ll never get over that.

   I’ll never recover. 

   I’ll never have joy again. 

Yes you will.  If you trust Christ, live humbly before him,

   fight against sin in your life, you will know joy once again.

 

This doesn’t mean you won’t have regrets.

   There may be sins you’ve committed that you regret the rest of your life.

   And it’s good you regret them.  But God can soften regrets, use to humble you.

 

And your redemption will not be complete until heaven.

   Every broken thing will not be put right in this life—

   may continue to suffer consequences of sin—like estrangement,

   physical effects of sin against body—but one day, even these set right.

 

And it’s that future note that brings us to the greater miracle of redemption.

   The book of Ruth does not end with the picture of Naomi with Obed on knee

   and the women of Bethlehem praising the Lord for his blessings.

There is one more thing.  What is it?  A genealogy.

   Who’s the big name in this genealogy?  David.  King David.

 

Ruth is set in the time of the Judges, which was a terrible time spiritually.

   Last verse of Judges, right before book of Ruth says this:

   “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Those were the times, and what Israel needed was a righteous king,

   a man who would lead them and bright them back to the Lord.

 

David was that king, the man after God’s on heart—

   the great shepherd King who loved the Lord, and led his people.

So Naomi’s happy ending really stretched far beyond her life,

   down through the line of Ruth and Boaz all the way to King David.

 

And we can take one more important step.

Where is this genealogy repeated in the Bible?  In Matthew 1, genealogy of Jesus.

   Starts with Abraham and goes up through Judah and Perez and then says . . .

   “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth,

   and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jess the father of David the king”

 

And then the genealogy keeps going and ends this way:

   “And Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus

   was born, who is called Christ.”

 

And so we see this amazing thing that God has done.

He poured out his grace on Naomi, forgave her and redeemed her,

   and then he poured out his grace through her to countless generations. 

God gave her a legacy of faith that stretched far beyond her life to many others.

 

Means you have to lift up your eyes by faith to the bigger things

   the Lord is doing in you and through you.

If you trust the Lord, live in repentance before him—

   the redemption you experience can be a legacy of faith

   that goes to your children, grandchildren, and on to other people,

   and in ways you will not know till you get to heaven.

 

Old preacher once said—Like standing at window of cabin in mountains.

   On window sill beautiful wood carving, that’s what God doing in your life—

   but then you look past that carving to forest and then up to snow-covered peaks.

That is where eyes of faith must take you—the greatest and happiest ending.

   The great things the Redeemer is doing in your life

   that you cannot see but will know one day.

 

How do you know he’s capable of doing those things?

   Because the God of Ruth, and the God of Naomi, and the God of Boaz

   and the God of Obed, and the God and Father of our Redeemer Jesus—

   is your God, and he’s the same today in Cullman, Alabama

   as he was 3,000 years ago in the fields of Bethlehem.

 

Trust him.  Be open to the grace of repentance,

   look for his redemptive miracles—

   and then look forward to the great and happy ending

   that he has in store for all his children.