"Shall I Not Seek Security for You?"
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do."
She said to her, "All that you say I will do."
So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. (Ruth 3:1-6).
When Missy and I were completing our internship for seminary, we went to Southern France to work with North African Muslims, many of whom came from the mountains in North Africa. We were hard-pressed to find any converts as they were few and far between. However, we were so grateful to find one couple, both of whom had been Muslims from Algeria, had come to Christ, and now had actually become leaders in the church in Southern France.
We were very pleased when they invited us into their home to eat with them. They served us rabbit stew for dinner. At one point in the meal the father dipped the ladle into the rabbit stew and withdrew from the stew the head of the rabbit. I was not very excited about eating rabbit stew. And I sure wasnít excited when he held up the head of this rodent. I was even less excited at what he did next; he exhibited it for everyone to see! We tried to smile and take it all in - you know, "When in RomeÖ"
Later we asked our missionary friends, "What was that all about - that he would hold up the head of the rabbit at the meal?"
Our friends explained to us that this was a custom in that culture, designed specifically for the guests. The host would hold up the rabbitís head to display to the guest that the teeth of the rabbit were in the middle and flat rather than being on the side and sharp, like fangs.
You say, "Well, Iíve never seen a rabbit with fangs." Thatís the whole point of the custom. They have another cheaper alternative to rabbit which they call "roof rabbit" - a cat. So, to show the guests that "we spare no expense to serve you the real thing" they exhibit the head.
Now, I know thereís a risk in offering a strange illustration like that to begin the sermon - you might tend to remember the illustration but forget that which it illustrates. I think it does clearly show how amazing it is to find foreign, strange, and even bizarre cultural customs in other parts of the world.
We might flatter ourselves and say, "We are the flatline culture, we are the culture that is not strange, not bizarre - we donít have any weird customs" - but we do. Just ask your friends who come from out of the country, or ask your friends who come from up north. Theyíll tell you, "South Florida is really a weird place." Weíve told people from up north, "South Florida is just like New York only a little bit hotter." When they come they find thatís not true at all. Itís a very different place.
The Church is a very different place. Itís odd - itís made up of odd people. In fact, weíre called to be different people. When people come into the Church they find our customs, our traditions, and our practices odd.
We can only imagine that Ruth, the Moabitiss, the outsider, the alien, the stranger, when she came in to the Old Testament Church, found the customs of that church to be odd and difficult to understand.
For instance, Ruth would have been completely unfamiliar with the law of the Levirate marriage. The word "Levirate" comes from the word, "levir" which is Latin for "a husbandís brother." The Jewish Law of the Levirate is found in Deuteronomy 25:
"When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husbandís brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husbandís brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn whom she bears, shall assume the name of his dead brother that his name not be blotted out from Israel. But if the man does not desire to take his brotherís wife then his brotherís wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ĎMy husbandís brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel. He is not willing to perform the duty of a husbandís brother to me.í Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him and if he persists and says, ĎI do not desire to take her,í then his brotherís wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face and she shall declare, ĎThus it is done to the man who does not build up his brotherís house.í"
Another tradition taken from the Law found in Leviticus 25.47-49 is a law governing redemption, the right of another person to buy back the property or the person of another who was sold into a state of slavery because of poverty:
Now, if the means of a stranger or sojourner becomes sufficient, that is if someone comes from outside of Israel, settles in Israel, becomes so wealthy in Israel that he is able to buy a slave, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a strangerís family, then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle, or his uncleís son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.
We find both of these laws sort of combined in the Book of Ruth. Boaz is not, strictly speaking, the Levirate. He is not the brother of Ruthís deceased husband. Weíve already learned that the only brother of Ruthís deceased husband was also deceased and unable to fulfill his duties.
But, under the Law of Redemption, where a close relative was able to perform the rights of the redeemer, Boaz is qualified. So, in Ruth we find both of these laws being combined and applied.
These customs seem strange to us - you know, taking off a sandal, spitting in someoneís face, public ridicule - even the idea that a relative might redeem someone who has become impoverished. But, if these customs are different to us, who are at least somewhat familiar with the Bible, how different they must have seemed to Ruth the Moabitiss.
They are not strange to Naomi. Naomi grew up in this culture where these laws and customs were taken for granted. A whole society would have been familiar with them. Thatís why Naomi, the insider, the one who knows about these laws and customs, finds herself, now, in a position to counsel and instruct the outsider regarding the reality and the truth of these customs.
Ruth apparently doesnít know how to conduct herself in the household of God and Naomi has to explain to her. Thatís why in verse 1 Naomi asks, "Do you want me to explain this to you? Shall I not seek for you, my daughter, security, that it may be well with you?"
When Ruth hears the question about security we can imagine that she kind of shrugged her shoulders and said, "I donít know - I donít know what your customs are regarding security. I donít know what rights Iím entitled to enjoy. And if I were to be offered security, I wouldnít even know how to go about securing that security. Help! Iím an outsider - I donít know these customs. They are strange to me."
But, when Naomi, the mother-in-law, the older, the insider hears the plea for help she springs right to action and she puts together this little matchmaking plan by which she intends to obtain security for her bereaved daughter-in-law.
I have isolated five elements of Naomiís matchmaking plan. It starts off with her desire to make a match. "Do you not want me to seek security for you?" She points to the fact that a match can be made here.
Secondly, she tells this younger woman about the man. She makes the match. She says, "Not only is security a possibility for you under the law, but hereís a real catch right here! This guy is wealthy, heís apparently kind, and Ďget after it - this is a possibility for you!í"
Thirdly, the matchmaker instructs the young lady on where this eligible man might be found.
Fourthly, the matchmaker tells the young lady how to get ready. She puts her through a crash course in a Hebrew charm school. In essence she tells her that she has to take a shower, get dressed up, and to approach him but only at the proper time at the social engagement.
Finally, she secures from the young bachelorette a willing response, "Yes, mother-in-law, Iíll do all that you tell me to do."
Now, here we sit, many, many centuries later, in a very different culture, and we ask ourselves what could this very foreign passage of Scripture have to do with us?
I see a parallel here in that we, like Naomi, the older, the insider, are in a position to be introducing outsiders to the Redeemer. And, in a sense, we could view our tasks of evangelism and discipleship as a joyous exercise in matchmaking.
Hereís what I have in mind. We, like Naomi, can be saying to those who are lost, to new believers, and to our own covenant children, "Shall I not seek security for you?" They donít know the customs of the Great King. People in the world donít know they have a need for security. People in the world are already secure and they have found their security in wealth, success, following out a occupation or vocation, savings, and popularity.
Pastor Brad, in his role as pastor of outreach, is finding more and more as he shares the Gospel with people that they are basing their security, even when it comes to their standing before God, on their own efforts. Were we to ask the average person today, "What would you say if you had to stand before God and God were to ask you, ĎWhy should I allow you to come into my heaven?í What is the basis for your security?"
Most people would respond, "I would tell God that I tried my best to be a good person" basing their security on their own efforts. But we have the joyous privilege of going to people in those situations and saying, "Wouldnít you like to know about a greater source of security, one that is not based on the fickleness of your behavior but based on the perfect behavior of another - the righteous life and the sacrificial death of Jesus?
Not only to the lost, but also to our children we have the opportunity to point them to their need and to the possibility of a true and lasting security with the Redeemer.
Secondly, we also can follow the matchmaker model in that we can point others to an eligible groom. Look at Him - Heís eligible. Again, I go back to that "Him." He is able. He is able. He is able. He is willing. Doubt no more. Look at Him. Look at the Redeemer. Qualified to save. Heís the Groom of the Church. So this matchmaking idea that I have is not so far-fetched after all. In fact, the work of salvation is the work of God dipping in the sickle and reaping out a bride for His beloved Son, Jesus the Head, the Groom.
We have the joy in our evangelism, in the Christian nurture of young people, and in the discipleship of young believers, of consistently pointing to the strength, the beauty, and the qualifications and glories of our Groom.
Last week we were walking the dog. I have this dog-walk discipleship plan. Not that Iím discipling my dog - but when I walk the dog I have a wonderful opportunity to disciple my children. Maybe itís because when you walk the dog you just look at the sidewalk and you really donít look each other in the eye. Maybe itís like that Catholic confessorís booth where you are not able to look into the eyes of your confessor. As we were walking down the road and the dog is pulling me (while Iím pretending to walk the dog) Hannah, our eleven year old, begins to open up to me concerning some of her own present struggles. I begin to open up with her concerning some of my present struggles. I was able to point her, and able to point myself, to the qualified Redeemer. At one point in the conversation she said, "You know, Daddy, youíre right. Tomorrow when I go to school to Mr. Sicaís class, and find myself at my desk, Iím going to pray to Jesus that He would help me get through the day."
You know, that warmed my heart. In the grace of God I was able to respond quite quickly to Hannah, "Hannah, thatís fantastic! Jesus is certainly there to help us get through the day, but do you know that Jesus has a specialty? He specializes not only in helping us get through the day, His specialty is to come and take away the sins of the world. Not only to get us through the day, but to get us through the day victorious over sin that we might glorify Him by our lives. Thatís your problem, and thatís my problem, Hannah, but thankfully that is the real strength, those are the real qualifications of the Redeemer."
Doesnít it say in Hebrews 2: "Since therefore, He, himself, is tempted, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."
The joy we have in pointing others, pointing ourselves to the strength and sufficiency of the one who is able to rescue us from sin and temptation is what Hannah needed to know at that moment, thatís what I need to know at every moment, and thatís what evangelism and discipleship are all about.
Fourthly, we also, like Naomi, play the matchmakers role in pointing others to the place where the Redeemer can be found. You might ask, "Where can our Redeemer be found? Where is the threshing floor of Jesus?" If Boaz could be found like clockwork on the threshing floor where, like clockwork, can Jesus be found? Where does Jesus live? Where is His headquarters on planet Earth?
Itís true that He indwells the Church. Thatís why itís so good for us to invite unbelieving friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the place where Jesus dwells - to the Church. Likewise in our discipleship, when weíre working with our children or new believers. We must keep the Church central to them, to remind them that this is where Jesus threshes the wheat, this is where He can be found, this is where your path can intercept with His path, in the preaching of the Word, in the distribution and celebration of the sacraments. Older believers, younger believers, and unbelievers can find Jesus at work, here, in the Church, His threshing floor.
But thereís another arena where our Redeemer might be found. That is the arena of the Christian home. Thatís why the New Testament consistently emphasizes the ordering of the Christian home. I Peter 2.12 puts it this way: "You ought to order the home this way that they [outsiders, the Gentiles] who slander you, might, as they come into your homes, and see your behavior glorify God in the day of visitation."
We call these sections of the New Testament epistles, the "house tables." For instance, in Ephesians or Colossians or 1 Peter the author will talk about the doctrine of Christianity and the teaching of Christianity. When it comes to the "so what?" of Christianity, itís all about ordering the home in a certain way. People have to be invited into our homes that they might come into the arena where the Redeemer lives.
The initial results are coming in, not about the upcoming elections, but as the Pastors have been meeting together we have been talking about foray into household evangelism that we call, "Streetlight." Weíre beginning to ask each group, "Howíd it go with you?" "What kind of success did this group have?"
And one thing about which we have become abundantly certain, is the priority of the home as an evangelistic tool. Our homes must be intentionally ordered with the dads playing the role that the Bible lays out for them; with moms fulfilling their role; with parents fulfilling their role; with husbands and wives fulfilling the role as defined in the Bible; employers, employees, grandparents, singles - each person fulfilling the role that is laid out for him or her in the New Testament.
Recently, I was down at the Iverson Center and picked up a book that I read in seminary but hadnít picked up since. I had been wondering about it. It was Michael Greenís book, Evangelism in the Early Church. I found a quote on page 270: "One of the most important methods of spreading the Gospel in antiquity (that is in the early 1st Century Church) was by the use of the Christian home."
We can say the same thing about discipleship, using well-ordered homes where the Redeemer lives, bringing children into these homes - our homes - and seeing the home ordered as it should be, and seeing the presence, authority, and sweetness of Jesus in that home. This is a very, very effective discipleship tool as well as an evangelistic tool.
As we think back on our recent experiment in Streetlight Iíve asked myself the question, "If a pastor of a local church in modern America, South Florida, wanted to do one thing more than any other thing to encourage a congregation to evangelize, what would that thing be? And the response that I have is that the pastor will encourage the believers of the church to invite a neighbor over for dinner. You say, "Wow, that is really kind of a wimpy approach!"
But, I feel certain that if we bring unbelievers in, not to ambush them, not to hit them with the Gospel rock and then drag them under the walls of the kingdom so theyíre safe inside, but just simply to share with them - to let them breath in the air of the Christian home that that will have an impact on people and will soften them to the Gospel, allowing them to see our lives so that they may glorify our Father in heaven.
Fourthly, our evangelism and Christian nurture is like matchmaking in the way we encourage readiness in those who will soon meet the Redeemer. You know how Naomi encouraged readiness in Ruth. She told her to put some color in her cheeks, and put on her best dress, get perfumed and showered, and then she told her to approach Boaz, but not right off the bat, to wait until heíd eaten, and then come up to him.
And in the same way we might have opportunity to tell people how to get ready to meet their Redeemer. Our roll is very similar to what Naomi said, but not identical. In fact, in one significant way itís completely opposite. We do tell people to get ready to meet the Redeemer, but we do not tell people to get all dressed up. What I mean is, we donít tell people, "Oh, you better put your best foot forward with Jesus. You better come clothed in the righteousness of your own weaving."
No. We tell people, "Come, naked, and come with your need evident." Thereís another little bizarre illustration - some of you know that last year I had a skin cancer removed from my shoulder. Once they detect that on you they set up regular six-month checkups. When you come in, you know the routine, you take off your outer garments and the doctor checks over every inch of your skin. It is really embarrassing, really humiliating. You canít cover any of your imperfections, but put them right out there for the doctor to see.
Thatís exactly what we do in our evangelism. We encourage people, "Look, take off all your pretenses to your own righteousness. Put aside any excuse-making. Donít hide it, donít cover it, and donít call it by a better name than it is. Call it sin and bring it to Jesus and He will take it away. Come not in your best clothes, but in your worst. Come naked. Come not all perfumed but come foul. Come not all cleaned up, but unwashed and filthy. Donít cover your sin. Donít hide your sin. Donít justify your sin. Come with nothing in your hands but your sin and your need. Take words with you, words of confession."
You see, the Lord Jesus died to deal with our sin and it is nothing but an insult if we come to stand before Him and pretend that we can deal with it ourselves. We cannot.
The Lord Jesus rose to have victory over our sin and itís an insult to the resurrection if we pretend some victory over sin in ourselves. Rather we must come defeated in ourselves and poor and naked.
Tell people that, will you? Tell your kids that, not to justify, not to hide, not to cover, but to bring whatís worst to Jesus. Tell yourself that. Say in the words of the hymn:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked I come to Thee for dress,
helpless I look to Thee for grace,
Foul I to the fountain fly,
Wash me Savior, or I die.
This is the way the people ought to approach Jesus. Helpless, empty, naked, foul, and desperate. Boaz might have been attracted to a confident, good-looking, well-dressed woman. But our Redeemer is attracted to a naked, helpless, desperate, foul sinner. The sooner we can see ourselves that way, the sooner He will come and meet our needs.
Lastly, we look for a willing response. In the same way that Naomi elicited a willing response from Ruth, we look for a willing response from disciples. Recently I was teaching the parents of our communicantsí class how to coach their children through an intelligent profession of faith. Weíre not looking for perfection from our children, but we are looking for willingness. The mark of a Christian disciple is willingness toward the authority of Jesus.
"Willing, willing, I am willing!" This is the discipleís chant!
As I go on in the Christian life Iím realizing more and more that discipleship and evangelism are not what I originally thought they were. I have lots of books on my bookshelf about discipleship and evangelism, but as I come again and again to Scripture, I find evangelism and discipleship to be something a bit different. Maybe the matchmaking model will help me and maybe itís what Iíve been missing in my approach. I hope that it will motivate and help you as you try to disciple your own children and young believers in our congregation, and to reach the lost for our Redeemer.
Our Father in heaven we thank You for the work of the Redeemer which is now available to all those who trust in Him and repent of sin. Lord, we pray for this congregation that we would joyously take up the role of matchmaker, seeking to introduce unbelievers to Christ and introduce and unite young believers with Him. Thank You for the security that is ours in the Gospel. May we be found joyously about this matchmakerís task - pointing others to our blessed, qualified Redeemer.
In Jesusí precious name, Amen