And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Jesus, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew 15:22-28)
There is an exclusive golf course in this area that I dearly would love to play. I’m so eager to play there, in fact, that I actually called and tried to find a way – any way – to gain access to the course.
So much for that!
You and I are used to living under a system in which (generally speaking) it’s not what you know but whom you know. We’ve grown accustomed to how things go in this world, and how it’s easy to be on the outside looking in on the elite. That is simply how this world operates.
Thankfully, that is not how the Lord operates.
This morning we continue our Advent study of the women in Jesus’ genealogy as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel. We’ve learned remarkable lessons about Jesus and his family history – and what his lineage says about his mission in this world. This morning, we examine a woman named Ruth, a most-unlikely candidate to be the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestress of King Jesus. To be honest, the world wouldn’t give her much hope of “getting in” the family of God.
But that’s not how God operates.
As Ruth’s account teaches us, first, the God of salvation focuses on your hunger – not on your heritage. Second, God sovereignly provides for those He saves. Third, God blesses the heritage of the saved – sometimes in unexpected ways.
The question, then, is not “whom do you know?” but “do you want to know the Savior?”
First, the account of Ruth teaches us that the God of salvation focuses on your hunger – not on your heritage.
Read the book of Ruth and you’ll learn of the setting for those events: a time of great instability and sin in Israel. The time of the judges, we’re told, was a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” instead of walking in the Lord’s law. The Lord therefore punished His people with famine; even Bethlehem (“house of bread”) lacked food. A man of Bethlehem named Elimelech (whose name meant “my God is King”) took his wife and sons to Moab to find food, but instead of repenting of their sins and returning to the land of promise to seek God’s mercy, Elimelech rebelled against the Lord and remained in Moab. His sons even married Moabite women – when they should have remained within their religion and married pure Israelites. Not surprisingly, it seems the Lord punished all three men with untimely deaths.
But Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, heard some good news: God had shown mercy on His people, visiting them with food back in Bethlehem. Naomi set out to return home and tried to get her Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to act sensibly and return to their fathers – and thus to their pagan religion. Yet they didn’t want to go. Finally Orpah “came round” to Naomi’s logic and did the “sensible” thing by returning to her father’s house.
Not Ruth. She wouldn’t budge.
Take a close look at her reply to Naomi and you’ll see Ruth didn’t merely love her mother-in-law: she loved her mother-in-law’s God, the one true God. Now Orpah – frighteningly – looked “churchy” at first. She loved Naomi too and appeared to want to follow Naomi back to God’s country. When push came to shove, however, Orpah caved in and remained in paganism.
Despite her mother-in-law’s insistence (it’s almost as if Naomi said to Ruth, “Look it – I’m not going to have any more children! Go on with your life!”), Ruth would not turn her back on the Lord. She cast her lot with God and with His people.
Generations later, Ruth’s descendant Jesus would interact with another Gentile woman who admitted she was a “dog” ethnically but craved some of God’s scraps. It’s no surprise Jesus honored this woman’s hunger for him – such hunger for God ran in his family.
The issue for you isn’t your heritage, as blessed as it is to grow up in a Christian home. Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion all grew up reading the Bible. They might have even boasted in their heritage (“my granddaddy was a Presbyterian minister!”). Yet they showed no evidence of loving the Lord.
The issue is, do you hunger for God’s forgiveness in Christ? Do you want to be washed clean of your sin and reconciled to the Father eternally? Or do you think you’re a hopeless outsider – like me trying to get onto that exclusive golf course – or, worse, a part of the “in crowd” because of your heritage?
God doesn’t save those who trust in their background or status. He saves those who hunger for Jesus’ mercy for their sins.
Second, the inclusion of Ruth in Jesus’ genealogy teaches us that God sovereignly provides for those whom He saves.
The very fact that God saved a Gentile named Ruth back in those days – when His people were not as “missions minded” as we are today – testifies to His sovereign grace to save His elect. Surely He used the witness of Naomi to impact Ruth, but Ruth’s salvation was planned by God from before the foundation of the world and wrought by His power alone. You and I might think it’s impossible for God to save sinners in a certain place; clearly, it’s not. He will save His elect. You and I simply need to be about the business of witnessing for Christ.
Although Ruth was converted to Christ, when she and Naomi came to Bethlehem they had no grounds for much hope. They probably had imagined the best they could do would be to grow old together in Naomi’s hometown. Yet God blesses sanctified industry and obedience, and Ruth showed Godly industry when she ventured out to the fields to glean some food for her and her mother-in-law (reflecting Ruth’s knowledge of the Levitical laws about providing for the needy). Ruth 2:3 informs us she “just happened upon” the field of a man named Boaz, who was a close kinsman of Elimelech and had the rights of a kinsman-redeemer for his cousin Elimelech’s sons. This meant that he could marry his kinsman’s widow – here, Ruth – and claim her and her land as his own.
Obviously, Ruth didn’t “just happen upon” this man’s field. God had it planned from all eternity!
As it turned out, there was one man closer than Boaz to the family; he had the right of first refusal to marry Ruth. Despite this bump in the road, the Lord provided for Ruth to marry Boaz. The nearer kinsman didn’t want to interfere with his own inheritance, so he deferred to Boaz, who gladly married Ruth and raised up a son for her and by extension Naomi.
From barren to blessed: the Lord truly provided bread, and rest, for Ruth.
You and I often quote Romans 8:28 – you know, how all things work together for good for those who are the called according to God’s purposes. But do you truly believe it? Do you think the Lord has any good purpose in having you where He has you at this time in your life? Do you question if He is going to provide for your needs?
Ruth is infallible proof that the Father, who gave His only Son for your salvation, will freely give you everything with Jesus.
Third, Ruth’s account is proof that God blesses the heritage of those He saves in Christ.
Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, which means “servant.” This servant later would have a grandson named David, who would be king over Israel and a man after God’s own heart. The Lord would make a covenant with David to give him an eternal kingship: this promise, of course, was fulfilled by King Jesus, who conquered all our enemies and who gives us rest from our sin and fear.
Read the blessing pronounced on Naomi and her family in 4:11-12. We today would call it a “throwaway phrase,” along the lines of our wishing a newly married couple “many happy years together.” Who knows if they will enjoy many happy years together? But common as it is, you and I wouldn’t dream of not offering them such a commendation. That’s probably what the folks in Bethlehem were doing that day – just saying the usual to Boaz, Ruth and Naomi.
Little did they know how Obed’s descendant Jesus would make Bethlehem-judah famous!
The Lord uses saved sinners to impact others around them, sometimes in unexpected ways. Where might He be using you, Sunday School teacher or school volunteer? Is it possible that one or all of those children in your toddlers’ class might grow up to be missionaries? Why not?!
Ruth wasn’t a likely candidate to be an ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the Lord doesn’t operate as does our fallen world. He uses the small things to confound the great.
I remember my mother telling me that she grew up not going to church. In her later youth, she and my grandmother actually attended church one Sunday; they knew the Lord was calling them to worship Him. Still, it can be pretty uncomfortable attending a new church when you haven’t been to church in a long, long time. (That might have been how Ruth felt at first).
Yet a kind, older lady invited my mother and grandmother to her house after church for soup. “It’s not much,” she said, “but I would enjoy having you.” In God’s providence, my family had plans and couldn’t make it – but they sure came back to church to worship the Lord in a place where a little older lady, meek though she was, showed them the warmth of Christ. And feeble though I am, here I am today, privileged to minister to you.
How will the Lord use you today in the work of His eternal Kingdom?
I encourage you to read the book of Ruth today. There is so much meat in the book that I couldn’t cover it in a month of Sundays.
But don’t forget the most-important lesson that Jesus, the descendant of Ruth, wants you to learn from his Father’s dealings with his ancestress Ruth: being a part of God’s family doesn’t depend on your pedigree. It doesn’t matter your heritage, or if you’ve been a “churchy” person. Serving Him doesn’t demand that your ancestors all attended Reformed Theological Seminary.
He saves sinners who are hungry for his Son’s mercy, no matter their origin or background. He provides for, and utilizes, saved sinners, no matter their origin or background.
So – are you hungry?