"Other Redeemers: Dealing with Alternatives to the Lord"
Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, "Turn aside, friend, sit down here." And he turned aside and sat down.2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, "Sit down here." So they sat down.
Then he said to the closest relative, ""Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech.4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ĎBuy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.í" And he said, "I will redeem it."
Then Boaz said, "On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance."
The closest relative said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it." (Ruth 4:1-6).
This is the story of the other redeemer. Did you know there was another redeemer? I have to admit that as I came back to the Book of Ruth to study it for this sermon series, this character
surprised me - I had forgotten that there was another redeemer. And I suppose that he is easy to forget because he is nameless. His name is not recorded for us in the Book of Ruth. I find that interesting.
Isnít it interesting that the one thing that we hear from this man is his desire to maintain his inheritance, to make a name for himself, and to prolong his legacy? Thatís what he was after and it is the very thing that he ends up losing.
He had an opportunity, perhaps, to have his name recorded in the eternal Word of God. Had he agreed to redeem Ruth we might not have been reading about Boaz, but about him - whatever his name was. But, we donít know what his name was because, as Jesus said, "Seeking to save his life, he lost it."
But, "...anyone who loses his life for my sake and the Gospelís, will find it." A great missed opportunity.
That, however, is another sermon. And even though there is a lot of material here on missed spiritual opportunities, Iíd like for us to focus those redeemers who cannot redeem. Iíd like to think about the way to handle those incapable redeemers who promise us help but who are unable to make good on their promise.
Here, in this episode of the Book, we meet a redeemer who could not redeem. And I fear that in our lives we, too, often face the prospect of redeemers who cannot redeem; saviors who cannot save; lords who cannot lead; prophets who can not speak; priests who can not intercede; and kings who can neither subdue our own passions, nor rescue us from our enemies.
I want us to think about those alternatives to the Lord Jesus, which oft times present themselves to us. They look like they can help us in our Christian life, they appear qualified to rescue us, perhaps in some way they have even worked in the past. But, in the end, all false redeemers must say, along with the nameless kinsman of this chapter, "I can not help - I can not redeem."
Before we confront the inadequacy of false redeemers, Iíd like our attention to go to something which is infinitely more pleasant to consider; not the inadequacy of false redeemers, but the full adequacy and complete sufficiency of the one true Redeemer of Godís people, Jesus, who is mighty to save.
We have a little picture of the glorious adequacy and the complete sufficiency of Jesus in this episode of the Book of Ruth. We find that picture in the way that Boaz went about his legal obligations.
Hereís Boaz. He has threshed the barley. He has eaten and has had to drink, and is now lying on the floor. He falls asleep and when he wakes there is a beautiful woman at his feet. Why do I say beautiful? Remember he said to her, "All the better you could have gone to any of the younger men." I think what heís saying is that this is a beautiful woman who could have had her choice of any of the men in Bethlehem but she came to this kinsman.
I think he was not only attracted to her physically, but apparently attracted by way of her character. "Iíve heard from my people that you are by all accounts a woman of great honor."
So he looks down and sees Ruth at his feet. His heart goes out to her and he wants her for his wife. Heís attracted to her and wants to redeem her. But, something stands in the way. A legal matter - the law specifies that there is another person who has a prior right to Ruth. The law of Deuteronomy 25 and Leviticus 25 specified that in redemption the closest kinsman had to be the redeemer.
Even though Boaz is able and willing, he is not, it turns out, the closest kinsman. So, Boaz has to raise up a flag and present this issue. "Iíd love to redeem you, and I really want you, but the law has to be satisfied. Another redeemer has a prior right here and that has to be answered; the law has to be fulfilled." Boaz understood that unless that law was fulfilled he did not have a right to redeem her.
Now, something inside me, and I donít even know who this other kinsman is - we havenít heard anything about him through the whole book, wants to say, "Boaz, get over it. This is just a small technicality. The guy is oblivious to his right to redeem so donít alert him - forget about him. Swoop down on your white horse, take the damsel, and redeem her and the other guy will never find out about it. Forget about the legal minutia and the little technicalities of the law - will it really matter?"
But, Boaz says, "Yes, it will matter"Ö.these legal demands have to be answered - because this is the Law of God and it has to be fulfilled. So Boaz is careful and heís wise. He brings everything together. He takes himself to the gate, the "courthouse" of that day where all legal transactions took place. He goes to the gate and as people are going in and out, he takes for himself 10 elders (itís interesting - 10 is one of the Biblical numbers of completion) a complete jury of his peers, the elders of the City, and has them waiting on standby. When this "nearer" kinsman comes through the gate he says, "Hey, pal, come here, I need to talk to you."
He goes through all of the motions and he undergoes the notorious "sandal ceremony." Itís a custom foreign to our culture, but in that day, was perhaps some sort of a mutation of the Deuteronomy 25 mention of the sandal. Boaz makes sure to go through all of these specific hoops; that this is done publicly, that there are witnesses, and in the end he obtains exclusive rights, all other rights being answered, to redeem Ruth and Naomi.
Now, do you see where there might be a parallel to our great Redeemer and how this presents us with a picture of Jesus?
Jesus goes, like Boaz, through all of the legal requirements, and identifies Himself fully with sinners. Remember the baptism of John? John is baptizing sinners. Baptism is for the washing away of sin. John turns, and standing next to him is his near kinsman, Jesus, saying, "John, baptize me." John says, "No way, forbid it, Lord. How can I baptize You? Jesus, youíve really done enough here, already. Youíve done so much - Youíve left heaven to come down here and work redemption! You should be baptizing me!"
The Lamb of God gives answer to John, "John, I didnít come to do so much. I came to do it all. I came to fulfill all righteousness, to satisfy all the Lawís demands. I came to fully identify with sinners that not a jot nor tittle of the Law would be able to condemn My chosen people."
Just like Boaz, publicly, before many witnesses, King Jesus obeys the Law for lawbreakers like you and like me. He suffers the wrath of God for the guilty like you and like me. He dies the cursed death for cursed sinners like you and like me. He rises victorious for the defeated like you and like me. And then publicly, while everyone watches, He ascends into heaven for people like you and like me who have no right to go to heaven.
Do you see how Ruth could afford to entrust herself fully to Boaz? He was willing to answer all the lawís demands for her. It sent a message to her that this one was a man of integrity. He would answer publicly for her so she could trust herself to him.
Do you see how sinners like you and like me can afford to entrust our lives - past, present, and future - into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus? Do you see it?
He was willing to satisfy all the Lawís demands so that the Law could no longer condemn you. It has already been answered by His life, death, and resurrection.
Some of you have a rough past. You have sinned greatly, and perhaps others have sinned greatly against you. You can entrust that past into the hands of Jesus because He fulfilled the demands of the Law on behalf of all who believe.
Some of you are currently in very difficult straits. Decisions have to be made - difficulty faces you. But, Jesus, the Lawkeeper, reminds us that you can trust your present to Him.
Some of you have grave uncertainties about the future - what lies ahead? Will I trust in my own devices or will I trust in Him? Jesus, who satisfies the Lawís demands says, "Trust in me. I can be trusted. I satisfied the Law meticulously for sinners like you."
One thing Iíve noticed from my own life and from the testimonies of many others, is that when Christ first comes to them, they often face a kind of comparison between redeemers. They have, in the past, trusted certain redeemers to help them and now itís beginning to dawn on them that these redeemers can not help them and can not save them. As the soul is being drawn toward Christ, that soul may give one last glimpse to the left or to the right where those half-way redeemers are flaunting themselves and are displaying their wares - "Look what I have done for you in the past!" Pleasure calls out and Pleasure says, "Look how I have served you in the past. Look how pursuing your own appetite has helped you to such a great degree. Come, trust in me, and weíll keep doing our own thing together. I can redeem you."
And, if it was not pleasure, perhaps, reputation and morality. Morality cries out, "You know, this Christian thing, this Ďborn-againí religious fanatic thing - itís really for people who are drunkards or down and out gutter cases. But, youíre so much more moral than that. Leave this religious fanaticism to the homosexual activists and those who are perverted in every way. Save your self by your own morality. Youíre a good person, after all."
And if not, morality, then religion and resolution knocks on our door and says, "Come, and trust and me. Just resolve to do a little better in the future. Pray harder. Fast more. Give more. And I will redeem you."
If none of these, then skepticism and false philosophy will sometimes rear their heads. Skepticism says, "Youíre not considering Christianity, are you? I mean of all the options that are right here in the modern sophisticated high-tech world, why would anyone possibly turn to something so ancient, so pre-scientific as a man rising from the dead. Please! Be a modern man. Make a modern way. Do your own thing. Itís worked for you in the past - do it again and I will redeem you."
As the Spirit of God gives life and as the soul is converted all comparisons begin to fail. The voices of these would-be redeemers are now drowned out. It reminds me of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, in Mosesí appearance, and in Elijahís appearance - both the Law and the Prophets are represented. As the apostles look on, these disappear and the One who supercedes the Law and the Prophets stands above them and it says, "They saw Jesus alone."
So, the voice of Jesus now rises above the din of these pseudo-redeemers and is heard saying, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. I am your Redeemer and there is no other."
I donít know every single person here today, and I certainly canít look into your hearts, but perhaps some of you are at that very place in your spiritual lives where the voices of other redeemers are now beginning to be exposed for the fallacy that they really are. Perhaps you are looking to Jesus, the only Redeemer, and His voice is now beginning to sound crystal-clear saying, "Come unto Me."
I just encourage you, my friend, if youíre in that place, to turn your back decisively on all other redeemers who can not save and instead repent of your sin, trust in Christ and enter into new life.
I also have a concern for those who have already entered into the new life because I realize that intermittently, and sometimes quite often, unable redeemers appear in the Christian life. They vie for our trust, we are tempted, and sometimes do look to these powerless redeemers.
The problem is, that just like Ruthís nameless kinsman, these redeemers can only promise us a half-way redemption - broken cisterns.
Remember, the kinsman said, "I can redeem the property but I can not redeem the bride." These say, "I can help you temporarily, but I can bring no lasting fulfillment nor fullness of life.
Remember Paul? He thought about these half-way redeemers. He held up the possibility and warned that some people might come to rely on the half-way redeemer called wine; that some people might look to an over-reliance on alcohol to bring their lives together and to bring some integration of the person. So Paul warned about the over-reliance on alcohol or any other thing. He said, "Do not be drunk with wine for this is a waste, but rather be filled with the Spirit."
Our beloved brother who has gone to be with the Lord, Frances Schaffer, looked at that verse in his book, True Spirituality, and said, "Many other words could be substituted for the word Ďwineí in that verse. Do not be drunk with entertainment." People think that entertainment might give them that rest and relief that they want to bring their lives together.
Do not be drunk with sports - you sports fans, thinking that sports that will be the thing that provides that release and place of refuge.
Do not be drunk with hobbies. Do not be drunk with your job, thinking that excessive attention to your livelihood might bring it all together for you - that you might find your identity there.
Do not be drunk with another person. How many single persons have thought, "If I could only get married it would bring everything together for me and then I could be that whole person that God wants me to be."
Do not be drunk with shopping. "Who can get drunk with shopping?" Well, a lot of people look to shopping - that next purchase, the next thing, the next catalog - like a drug.
All of these can become escapes - incapable redeemers which promise the Christian what only Jesus can give - completeness, holiness, and the fullness of life.
Itís also possible to rely on whatever progress weíve made in the Christian life. One of the things that we do in the Sunday School class, The Next Step, is to help people carefully distinguish between sanctification and justification. You can see that those are just two big words that the theologians use and "..itís not really necessary for me to understand them, I just believe in Jesus."
Well, would that it were so, but itís very important to distinguish between these two things. Iíve found many people who are resting in their sanctification and working on their justification.
That might sound like a small distinction but I assure you that confusing those two will bring the Christian life to a screeching halt. Resting in my progress. "I used to be a real low-down notorious sinner but God has really cleaned me up and now I think I can trust myself to do the right thing a little more."
I know that no member of St. Andrews would ever say that he or she is trusting in works-righteousness. Youíve already settled that issue in a final way. "I do not believe that my obedience can save me," but, in an intermittent way we sometimes look to our morality or our works as a source of peace and help. Thatís why the Galatians were warned, "Having begun by the Spirit are you now seeking to achieve maturity by the flesh?"
Itís quite possible to begin trusting in our own moral and
spiritual abilities and to reach an impasse in the Christian life. But, we find that these can only take us so far, and, like the nameless kinsman, our own morality and our own efforts are only half-way redeemers.
There is a world of difference between a moralist and a Christian. Let me give you a real-life example. My wife wants me to love her. So, I commit to bringing home the paycheck and to keeping myself from adultery. "I put in my thumb and pull out a plumb and say, ĎWhat a good boy am I.í"
But, thatís not what she asked me to do - she asked me to love her, to be intimately engaged with her, to listen to her, and to be emotionally connected to her.
Men, thatís what your wives ask, as well. And so I say, the moralist in me, "Oh, come on! Havenít I already done enough? I mean, I am better than 90% of the guys out there today. Iím really trying my best and thatís just going to have to be good enough."
But, itís not good enough for her and God wants more for her and more for me. And so He speaks to me and says, "Husbands, love your wives and lay down your life for her, like Jesus, that you might actually participate in her sanctification.
And then it dawns on me. My morality is not going to help me here. I need a better redeemer. I need something more than my own efforts. I need something better than a half-way redeemer.
Apply this application to other areas of your lives if youíre not married. Perhaps youíre a young person and God calls upon you to obey your parents - not just outwardly while inwardly youíre filled with seething rebellion. God would command you to obey your parents joyfully and from the heart.
If youíre an employee, God would command you to joyously serve your employer. Not just to smile as he walks into the room and to then work in bitterness when he leaves the room.
Wives, it means submitting, not only outwardly, but cheerfully, warmly, and sincerely, to your husbands.
What about worship? If youíre in none of those categories just mentioned, youíre still a worshipper, are you not? You came to church today to worship. Did you worship? Was your heart engaged in worship today? God not only commands you to assemble on the Sabbath Day, but commands that you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Did you? Or did you face the limitations of your own resolutions.
Or in your spiritual disciplines, when God called you this week to be involved in prayer and Bible study and witnessing, did you? And if so, was your heart in zeal, fully engaged? Because thatís what God demands. The heart. Morality wonít cut it here. Raw discipline is good, but itís not enough - itís a half-way redemption.
Escaping into wine, or watching football, or shopping, or moodiness, you know, "I deserve a break today," or work-a-holism may provide temporary relief, but these are half-way redeemers and all insufficient.
What then, must we do to be saved? Very simply - turn your backs on these half-way redeemers and do so as decisively as Boaz and then turn again to the only Redeemer of Godís elect people. Turn again and put faith to work on Christ. Itís the most important activity in the Christian life - to put faith to work on Christ.
We can only put to death our baser instincts, "we can only crucify the flesh one way" says Paul in Romans 8.13, and that is "by the Spirit of the Living God." There is only one way to get the Spirit of the Living God and that is to turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
Only the Spirit can empower me to die to self and live to righteousness. Only He can infuse that power into me, to nurture my children, to love my wife, to pray in a way that I should pray, and to serve within the church in a way that actually gives benefit to other people and doesnít just point to me as the one who serves.
The only way to get the Spirit is to turn repeatedly to Jesus, the friend of sinners. Iíve said it so many times, but again, it is impossible to live the Christian life apart from moment by moment dependence on Jesus. Did you hear that?
It is impossible to live the Christian life apart from moment by moment dependence on Jesus and so may we be found this week regularly turning, regularly relying on Jesus, the friend of sinners.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You, that while many times weíve turned to false redeemers who could only bring us half the way, and left us without life or fullness, that there is a true Redeemer, Jesus, the friend of sinners, and if weíll own up to who we are as empty in ourselves, sinners in need of filling, Jesus will come to us and give Himself to us and pour out the Spirit on us that we might be able to die to our flesh and live to righteousness.
We thank You that this One, for all the people of God who believe upon Him, is always available, saving, helping, keeping, and with us to the end. Thank You for the Lord Jesus, and now give Him to us and pour out the Spirit upon us that we might live pleasing to You.
In Jesusí name we pray. Amen.