If someone stopped you on the street right now and asked you what redemption is all about or what does faith really mean or what the gospel is, how would you respond? Redemption is one of those big church words we don’t really use outside of those walls. However, it gets after the most fundamental process in our faith – how we go from a lost sinner to a child of God. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a while these discussions are helpful to have. As the saying goes, “you never outgrow the gospel”.
The Book of Ruth
After I did a study on the book of Ruth several years ago, it really brought to life some of these concepts. If you haven’t read it before, spoiler alerts ahead! It’s not a long book, so take an evening and read through it. I’ll hit the high points here, but it’s kind of like watching the movie versus reading the book. The book usually provides a much richer experience.
Ruth opens on a scene in ancient Israel where a famine has broken out. Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi, and two sons to a different land. The sons marry women after arriving, one being Ruth. Then tragedy strikes! Elimelech and the two sons die. In the ancient world this was particularly devastating. Due to laws and customs, women were highly disadvantaged without men in their family. Naomi eventually learns their original home in Bethlehem had food, so they travel back. As they set out Naomi pleads with her daughter-in-laws to go be with their families in their homeland. This was certainly compassionate; human reasoning would say they would be far better off. After some convincing one did turn back. However, Ruth responds with one of those epic statements: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).
When the pair finally make it to Bethlehem the tiny village is stirred up. Some seemed to recognize Naomi and were asking about her. From a place of utter despair and hopelessness Naomi responds to the people saying “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). Stop here and really try to understand the enormous depth of her agony. She has lost her husband, her two sons, destitute is an understatement, and she sees no hope. Other than her beloved Ruth her companions are misery and death. Seriously, pause for at least a minute and try to fathom this dark and bleak place she finds herself in. Some of you may unfortunately understand this better than you would like.
However, there is the faintest glimmer of hope, like a candle in the middle of the consuming dark ocean, because it’s harvest time. The next scene opens with Ruth going out to glean, which basically means picking up the scraps the workers leave behind. Except Ruth just so happens to glean in Boaz’s field. Boaz was of some kind of relation to Elimelech and qualified as a potential kinsman redeemer. A kinsman redeemer was a provision in Levitical law allowing a relative to buy back land to keep it in the family. It also provided for the marriage of a widow and continued the dead husband’s line of succession. Boaz voluntarily took on this role. He bought the land in question and married Ruth. Boaz rescued Naomi and Ruth from a seemingly hopeless situation. They would be well cared for and safe. The contrast between their arrival and after Boaz comes into the picture is stark.
Christ is called our redeemer because in the same way Boaz rescued the two women, He rescued us from our otherwise hopeless situation leading to death. Boaz redeemed them by paying a price for the field and ongoing support. Like Ruth and Naomi, we have no means of pulling ourselves out of the miserable situation we were in. For us instead of a terrible physical situation, we were in a terrible spiritual situation. Our sin, or lack of being able to measure up to perfection, means separation from the Holy God. This in a nutshell is the gospel, meaning “good news”.
Breaking it down a little more, let’s dig a little deeper into the price. One reason I am hoping you really considered Naomi’s deep despair is because whether we realize it or not, we are in a similar situation spiritually. We are without hope and completely destitute. God cannot coexist with sin and if you’ve ever lied, had a bad thought or countless other shortcomings like I have, then we’re in this same boat together. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. You can do amazing works of good, but that doesn’t fix the bad. A murderer can also save someone’s life, but we still expect punishment for the murder. So the price is separation from God eternally or spiritual death. Super uplifting I know, but this is the real situation. Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story.
No, just when all hope seems to be lost, it’s like it’s harvest time in Bethlehem. Hope can be seen, but it gets a little worse before getting better. Jesus voluntarily steps down from Heaven where He is glorified to then live a human’s life. Jesus is the better Boaz, but His cost is far more than the price of a field. Jesus, the perfect creator that the mightiest angels worship, is spit on, horrifically beaten, mocked and slowly killed. What they also couldn’t see was the sin of all those who had and would live was levied on Him. Even though innocent, because Jesus took on the sins of us all He cries out to God the Father “’Eli Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46b) God the Father could no longer look on Jesus and He was separated from the Father. Now this is the exciting part. Jesus is buried, but doesn’t stay that way. He is resurrected on the third day and is glorified with God the Father again. It is in that way we are redeemed. He was the perfect sacrifice who voluntarily paid the price in our place.
Just like Ruth, we must accept this gift. Fortunately we don’t have to go gleaning in a field. Paul says “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. We can only trust in the work that Jesus did on our behalf. At its core, that is faith – trust.
It is important to understand there is a difference between believing God exists and true faith. James explains “you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The Biblical authors had no concept of a real faith that had no works associated with it. Real faith drives you to obedience and a desire to follow after Christ.
So what does all this mean for you and me? First you should consider if you have put your trust in what Jesus did for you. Have you decided to surrender to what He wants and follow Him? Considering you are dealing with the creator of everything and your eternity, this is by far the most important decision you can make. Do not make it lightly. If you have any questions at all, find me, find one of the pastors, find someone trustworthy to help.
Second, if you put your faith in Christ, but maybe have not cultivated that relationship with Him as much as you would like, do something about it. I know if I didn’t talk to my wife, it wouldn’t take long before there would be an uncomfortable conversation. Communicating feeds a relationship and you can’t expect it to grow without communicating. So how do you prioritize whatever time you do have? I would offer finding a guided Bible study to help walk you through some topic, book or the whole Bible. Being in God’s word is fundamental to understanding Him more. Prayer is at least as critical. Try to set aside some regular time where you can really focus on praying. I also like to pray walking through the halls at work… eyes open though. You can loudly pray through worship songs in your car. Fortunately God doesn’t strike people down for awful voices; I can attest. Saturate your life with prayer in a variety of ways.
Finally, I am so grateful that because God exists we have purpose. Have you ever considered how absurd life would be without God? Without eternity and a moral judge, what is the point in life? Fortunately we have purpose coming out our ears! The last thing Jesus did before ascending to Heaven was tell us our mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). We are all created and gifted in different ways to carry out this mission. How are you living out your purpose? Whose life or lives are you investing in out of sincere care for them and their relationship with God? There are many places to get started at church, but also with your neighbors, kids, co-workers or something like a homeless shelter. You are not alone in this. Rely on fellow Christians to help you through this process.
I leave you with a fun, at least to me, extra bit of application. Read the end of Ruth and throw in Matthew 1:17. Yes there’s a genealogy, but stop… don’t fall asleep yet. I find it pretty cool how God took this union and who it would eventually give us.