Preaching through the Gospel of Mark: Lessons Learned


Yesterday, our church wrapped up a four month journey through the Gospel of Mark, and it was fitting that we crossed the finish line on Resurrection Sunday. What a joy to arrive together at the empty tomb after having journeyed through the life and ministry of Jesus.

This morning, as we prepare to move on from Mark, I can’t help but reflect a bit on some of the things I’ve learned, as I’ve preached through it. It was my first time preaching front to back through one of the Gospels, and I feel like I’m walking away with some valuable lessons, as a preacher. If you preach or teach regularly, maybe these will help you too.

  1. Don’t be too quick to harmonize the Gospels, to try to supplement or fill in the blanks in one with material from another. Sure, harmonizing has its place, and it can certainly be helpful, but I think we do the Gospel writers a disservice when we don’t drill down deep into the riches of a particular Gospel and seek to determine why that writer said what he said in the way he said it. We have four portraits of Jesus for a reason, and each one of them is intended, by itself, to tell us something important and specific about Jesus. Throughout Mark, the question before me constantly was this: What does the Holy Spirit, through Mark, want to teach us about Jesus? 
  2. When preaching expositionally through a book of the Bible it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, to go so slowly that you overlook the connective thought tissue that binds sentences, paragraphs, passages, and chapters together into a cohesive whole. In other words, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae and to lose sight of the bigger picture. I went into Mark with this in mind. Having said that, it’s also easy to miss the trees for the forest. You can move so quickly, intending to help folks get a sense of the movement and the overall message of the text, that you don’t deep dive often enough. We launched our series in Mark in January, and we intended to be done by Easter. And sure enough, we made it. I preached the cross on Good Friday and the resurrection yesterday. Looking back, though, I think the pace was a tad bit fast. Reflecting on the past few months, sixteen chapters in seventeen sermons feels like a bit much. Especially considering the fact that we had to do a 30,000 foot flyover of so much of the content. Ultimately, in light of our journey through Mark, I want to learn better how to balance exploring the beauty and the majesty of the individual trees while always keeping the forest in view.
  3. The more I study the Bible the more appreciative I am of the literary artistry of the text. Yes, the words – every single one of them – are inspired and infallible because they are the words of a perfect God, but I’m learning to appreciate more and more how the very texture of the text is inspired. The structure of Mark has left me in awe at times. The various literary devices he uses. The subtlety with which he hints toward the divine identity of Jesus. The way that he relies mainly on the actions of Jesus rather than the teachings of Jesus to clue us in to the identity of Jesus. The countless allusions to Old Testament texts, stories, and ideas. The way the book divides into two halves that mirror or flesh out the very first verse of the book and demonstrate what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and Son of God. And then, there’s the ending. Why the abruptness? What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell us, as disciples of Jesus? All of this and more has reminded me that the Bible we hold in our hands is a masterwork of literary beauty, style, genre, and technique. In the end, though, how could we ever expect less from the master Creative?
  4. For the most part, Mark presents Jesus’ disciples as bumbling buffoons. Now, not all the Gospels present the disciples in this light, but Mark does. Throughout Mark, the disciples fail time and time again to connect the dots and to fully understand and embrace Jesus as the Servant King who gives his life as a ransom for many. Two things about this stick out to me: 1) The ongoing, never-stopping, never-giving up commitment of Jesus to these hard-headed, hard-hearted men who have their minds set on messianic triumph and glory. Not once does Jesus intimate that he’s prepared to drop them like a bad habit if they don’t straighten up. Not once does he give any indication to anyone that he’s fed up with them. In fact, immediately prior to his arrest he tells the disciples that they’re all going to scatter and desert him in fear, but he assures them that like a good and faithful shepherd he’ll go ahead of them after his resurrection, and he’ll gather them back to himself. Talk about grace and talk about comfort, not only for 1st century disciples but for 21st century disciples as well! Thank God for the faithfulness of Jesus! 2) Many say that the apostle Peter, the chief disciple, is one of Mark’s major eyewitness sources for a lot of the events he narrates. If this is the case, I have a new level of respect for Peter after working my way through Mark. He is rarely painted in a good light, which indicates to me that this fisherman turned pillar of the church had become an incredibly humble man, if indeed Mark is recounting Peter’s own retelling of the life of Jesus.
  5. And then, there’s Jesus. Mark presents us with a Jesus who is mysterious, who works wonders but refuses to allow people to tell others about him, who speaks in parables so as to hide truth from those to whom the kingdom of God has not been given, who acts with complete and total authority in every situation in which he finds himself, who is rarely, if ever, understand by his own followers. Mark’s Jesus demonstrates authority over the unseen spiritual realm. He demonstrates authority over nature. He demonstrates authority to forgive sins. He demonstrates authority over sickness and death. And he demonstrates supreme authority through his teaching. And yet this same Jesus, this authoritative Christ, allows himself to be crucified in shame and weakness. He allows himself to be beaten, whipped, spat upon, and murdered by people who have no right to treat him as they do. Why? What are we to make of this strange paradox of power and weakness present in the man Jesus of Nazareth? What are we to make of this Servant King, this one who is both the Son of Man of Daniel 7 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53? What is he revealing to us about God? What is he telling us about how God works in the world, about the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God? These are some of the most profound questions I was led to ponder as I read further and deeper into Mark Gospel.
  6. The cross is at the center of the gospel because the cross is at the center of the Gospels. Following the plot line of Mark it’s clear that everything is headed toward Golgotha. Even the resurrection seems like a footnote to the cross. It receives much less attention and much less exploration than do the events surrounding Jesus’ suffering and death. Mark’s account of the life of Jesus culminates at the cross with a Roman centurion declaring Jesus to be the Son of God. In other words, for Mark, the cross is the narrative climax. Everything that happen after Jesus dies is denouement. It’s been said that the Gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions, and while I don’t want to dismiss everything else Mark says about Jesus and about discipleship, it’s clear that the cross is the centerpiece of Jesus’ message and mission. After all, it’s Jesus himself who gives clarity to his very reason for coming when he says in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It is then the cross that is ultimately to give shape to discipleship. Jesus makes this clear in Mark 8-10, where three times he predicts his death and resurrection. He then goes on to attach three separate discipleship teachings to these predictions, and all of this while “on the way” to Jerusalem with his disciples, where he will suffer and die. The point? Any and all who follow Jesus must be prepared to follow him to the place of death. Disciples must be ready to die to self-will, to self-glory, to self’s plans and purposes, and to embrace Jesus and his will. Only then will they become all that God intends them to be.

Holy Saturday: A Day for Those who Live in the Time Between


It’s Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter and quite possibly the most under appreciated day of Holy Week. The lifeless body of Jesus lies in a dark, borrowed tomb, and the grieving disciples try to come to grips with the events of the last 24 hours. Nothing of great significance happens on this particular Saturday. Friday, yes. Sunday, yes. Saturday, no. Hence, why it’s often describe as silent. Having said that, I think it has the real potential to be of great significance and comfort to us. It’s the in-between day, and so much of our lives is lived in-between, as we await the final day when the risen and reigning Christ will return and make all things new.

Silent Saturday is for the grieving, who await the day when, at last, they’ll be reunited with that loved one who has gone ahead. In the in-between time, they mourn and are reminded regularly of the loved one’s absence. There’s an empty seat at the table. There are fading memories of the person’s voice. There are fond memories of laughter mixed with very present tears. Silent Saturday is for the grieving parent who, like Mary, has lost a child. It’s for the grieving friend who, like the disciples, has lost a dear companion. It’s for any and all who long to be reunited with those to whom they’ve had to say a final goodbye.

Silent Saturday is for those who have received a cancer diagnosis and are trying to come to terms with what the future may hold. The in-between time is an uncertain time.

Silent Saturday is for those whose dreams have been dashed against the rocks. It’s for all those who are uncertain of hope, who don’t know if they’ll ever be able to dream again. It’s for those whose lives have fallen apart, who don’t know how to rebuild or where to begin again.

Silent Saturday is for those who, like Jesus, have suffered deeply at the hands of others, who don’t know if they’ll ever be whole again, who wish it would’ve never happened and who grieve the fact that we live in a world where it still happens, every day. These live in the heartache of the in-between.

Silent Saturday is for those who desperately want to understand what God is doing in a particular situation, who desperately want to believe that he is up to all kinds of good, even though it feels very much like he’s left you for dead.

Silent Saturday is for the confused and overwhelmed, who are trying to make sense of a trauma that just doesn’t make sense. How could Jesus, who had proven himself time and time again through such unforgettable displays of messianic authority, be dead? I’m sure Saturday was, for the disciples, a day of utter confusion.

Silent Saturday is for all those who have ever asked the question, How could this happen? It’s for those who have more questions than answers, who try to pray but simply sob, who cannot find the words.  It’s for the disciples who feel the incompleteness of the in-between.

Silent Saturday is for all those who are waiting, waiting for the Lord to answer a prayer they feel like they’ve prayed a thousand times. It’s for those who feel as if their prayers hit the ceiling and all they receive from heaven, in response, is silence. It’s for those who have experienced a death and are waiting, hoping, longing, asking for new life.

Silent Saturday is for all those who wrestle with fear. I can only imagine the fear the disciples felt as they huddled in hiding hoping that those who crucified Jesus would not come looking for them. Little could they have fathomed the courage they would display, on behalf of Jesus, in the coming months and years.

Silent Saturday is for all those who groan under the weight of their own sin, who feel like they know more defeat than victory in the battle against sin, who long for the day when they will be completely and totally free from sin’s influence. It’s for those who have to ask forgiveness for the same sin a thousand times and wonder often if freedom will ever come. These live in-between.

Silent Saturday is for those, like the apostle Peter, who have failed the Lord Jesus. Can you imagine the grief and regret he endured on Saturday? Can you imagine how many times he heard the rooster crow in his own mind, how many times he relived his repeated denials of the One to whom he had pledged undying allegiance. It’s a day for those who feel as if they’ve fallen too far for the Lord Jesus to forgive them. Little did Peter understand the grace of his Savior and so often so little do we.

Silent Saturday is for all those who groan under the weight of the world’s pain, who feel like every sunrise brings with it new tragedies. It’s for all those who watch the news and wonder when it will all end, whose constant, silent, ache is summed up in the words, “Come, Lord Jesus.” These sigh with sorrow in-between.

Silent Saturday is for the disciples of Jesus whose bodies are failing them, who remember what it was like to be healthy and strong and who long for that kind of vigor again. It’s for those who struggle with daily chronic pain and who desire to be liberated from the ever-present reminder and into a body that doesn’t hurt. These live in-between.

Holy Saturday extends to each of us a deep hope, the reminder that we live everyday of our lives in the in-between, suffering, struggling, questioning, grieving, doubting, and longing for the day when all of it will be in the past. On this particular Saturday, the disciples wait, though they do not know for what. Little do they know that Sunday morning with bring with it a new creation breaking forth in the midst of the old. Little do they realize, in the midst of their hopelessness, that hope will rise again. Thankfully, unlike them, we who belong to the risen and reigning Christ, know the rest of the story. It’s Saturday, but Sunday is coming. It’s Saturday, the day for aching, for groaning, and for mourning. But Sunday. Is. Coming. Death will be swallowed up by life. Darkness will be drowned and destroyed by light. Seemingly certain defeat will give way to glorious victory. Tears of grief will give way to tears of uncontainable joy. And Jesus, the one who was crucified will rise never to die again. In the middle of the muck and the mess of the in-between he is our anchor and our anticipation.



Good Friday Glasses: The Crucified King and the Eyes of Faith



“It is fallen human nature to look for God in the great acts of creation or in great miracles. Jesus does these things: he calms the storm, he casts out evil spirits, he heals the sick and raises the dead. But the fullest revelation of God is not in power and glory, but in the foolishness, ignominy and weakness of the cross. The cross is the demonstration of the extent of God’s love. The cross is what he will do to rescue us from our sin. The cross is how he achieves his victory. The cross is how he exercises his reign. The One on the throne of heaven is the Lamb who was slain. God hides himself from the powerful and wise of this world to ensure the graciousness of his kingdom. Only through faith, graciously given to us by God, do we recognize in the crucified One our Savior and King.”

Tim Chester

The first half of Mark’s Gospel is packed with miracle story after miracle story and moves at near breakneck pace as Jesus declares and demonstrates the arrival of the kingdom of God throughout Galilee. Demons are confronted and cast out. Diseases are healed. The lame are restored. Unclean outcasts are shown unprecedented hospitality. Bread and fish are multiplied to such an extent that thousands of people are fed and filled to satisfaction – twice. Storms are stilled. Raging seas are calmed. The dead are raised. The authority of Jesus is on full display for all to see. But something curious happens when you reach the halfway point of Mark’s Gospel. The mighty acts of Jesus fade into the background, or so it seems.

There are only two miracles in the second half, unless you also count the cursing of the fig tree. An unnamed man’s son is liberated from the clutches of an unclean spirit (9:14-29), and Bartimaeus is healed of his blindness (10:46-52). Apart from these, the jaw-dropping displays of power so prevalent throughout the first half are missing. The question is why?  What does the Holy Spirit want to teach us about Jesus and about discipleship through the evident way that Mark has chosen to structure and present his account of the life of Jesus?

I believe a real clue is found in a theme that can be traced throughout the second half, the theme of sight. This theme brackets the section on discipleship found in chapters 8-10 (the two-stage healing of an unnamed blind man, in 8:22-26, and the immediate healing of Bartimaeus in 10:46-52). More importantly, it brackets the entire second half of Mark’s Gospel, which is immediately preceded by the two-stage healing of the blind man, officially kicks off with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (8:27-30), and culminates with an unnamed Roman centurion’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God (15:37-39). By the way, it is these two confessions – Jesus is the Christ and Son of God – that clue us in to the whole point and purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Way back in chapter one verse one, he wrote: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In the case of the latter, it is vitally important to note that the soldier’s confession comes as a direct result of seeing the manner in which Jesus dies. In other words, sight, death, and confession go hand in hand and pull together the various threads of a profound theme Mark teases out across several chapters.

The trajectory of the gospel of Mark takes a noticeable turn in chapter eight when, after the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus is in a boat with his disciples, and he confronts their apparent and continued unbelief. He asks them pointedly: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?… Do you not yet understand?” (8:17-18, 21) Immediately following this scene, Jesus and his disciples are in Bethsaida, where he heals an unnamed blind man, in two stages. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, Jesus asks the man, “‘Do you see anything?‘” (8:23) The man says that he can see but not clearly. Jesus then lays his hands on his eyes a second time, and his sight is restored. In fact, Mark tells us that “he saw everything clearly” (8:25). This is then followed by the climax of the first half of the gospel – Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. Curiously though, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him at this point, even though they’ve come to a right conclusion about him. The reason? They don’t yet see clearly what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. Like the blind man healed in two stages, they’ve come to understand (to perceive) that Jesus is the Messiah, but they don’t see clearly (or perceive) what it means for him to be the Messiah. Thus, Jesus sets out to teach them, to show them exactly what it means in the following chapters.

On three different occasions in chapters 8-10, he teaches them about his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. In other words, he tells them that he is the kind of Messiah who is going to die, a message which they find very difficult to digest. More specifically, though, Jesus will give his life as a ransom for many (10:45). In other words, his death will have redemptive purpose. He himself will make payment for sin, through his shed blood and broken body.

At the close of chapters 8-10, which I believe function as something of a “Discipleship 101” course for the disciples, Jesus heals another blind man, Bartimaeus, this time immediately and completely, in one go, and in such a way that Bartimaeus begins to “follow him [Jesus] on the way.” (10:52) “On the way” to where? To Jerusalem and to the cross. The point of all this? The disciples will only ever see Jesus clearly when they begin to see Jesus as the Christ who lays down his life. The same is true for us, by the way. You and I will only ever see (perceive) Jesus clearly when we come to understand him as the Servant King who offers up his life on our behalf.

This is precisely why the second half of Mark’s Gospel (and really the entire Gospel) climaxes at the cross with an unnamed Roman soldier, who stands FACING Jesus and who, upon SEEING the way that Jesus dies, says in response, “‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!'” (15:39) This Roman soldier’s response teaches us, ironically at the very lowest point of the life of Jesus, or so the naked eye might conclude, that to perceive Jesus rightly is to do so only in light of his suffering and death. To rightly understand him as the Christ and the Son of God (1:1) is to understand him only in light of his sacrifice. Otherwise, you will have an incomplete picture at best and a distorted, unbiblical picture at worst.

This, by the way, is why the powerful displays of authority fade into the background in the second half of Mark’s Gospel. While these things confirm Jesus’ identity – as Christ and Son of God – and powerfully evidence the arrival of God’s King and kingdom, they are but pointers to the King’s final and ultimate purpose, as the servant King, who has come to give his life.

More to the point, the awesome acts of power fade because they cannot be the focus of faith. In fact, they must take a back seat to the ultimate display of Jesus’ authority – his substitutionary death. Jesus is not interested in those who flock to him only because they enjoy watching the wonder-working, miracle-making man from Galilee work. No. He’s interested in the eyes of faith which will fix and fasten themselves on the crucified Christ, who has come to make payment for the sins of the people. This, in the end, is why the theme of sight is such a profoundly poignant and potent theme in the second half of Mark. It is only when our spiritual sight is fully and completely healed that we can perceive the glory, the beauty, the majesty, and the awesome power of the Christ who is crucified in utter weakness. It is only when our spiritual sight is fully and completely healed that we can perceive what is hidden to the naked eye, the cross as the very throne upon which the Servant King reigns and wields his authority in uncontested combat in order to conquer the dreadful enemies of sin, death, Satan, and hell. Otherwise, this bleeding, suffering shell of a man looks only like another messianic pretender who dies in defeat and total ignominy at the hands of the seemingly unstoppable Roman military machine.

This is exactly how the religious leaders viewed Jesus, as he hung naked, bleeding, and suffering on a Roman cross. A crucified messiah could not be anything other than a wannabe messiah, or so they thought. This is why they say among themselves, as they stand watching Jesus die, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:32) Notice that they don’t see with their eyes any evidence that proves Jesus to be the Messiah. To the contrary, everything about the scene at Golgotha tells them he cannot possibly be. After all, the messiah would never suffer so horrendous and shameful a death at the hands of the very people the messiah was supposed to come and conquer. Impossible. And yet, those with spiritual sight know like the Roman centurion that it is precisely through the cross that Jesus proves himself to be the Christ and Son of God. As Tim Chester summarizes so well in his book, Crown of Thorns, “Again we meet the theme of physical sight and spiritual insight. They want to see something that will make them believe. But they are blind. They think the Christ will be revealed if he comes down from the cross. But it is by staying on the cross that Jesus reveals God.” (57) There, on Golgotha’s hill, the spotless Lamb dies and takes upon himself the penalty for all sin. There, on a rugged tree, he absorbs the judgment of God. There, the way is paved for all who will come by faith to be reconciled to God. In other words, if anyone wants to see and believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be one must look to the cross. This is Mark’s fundamental point, and it’s where his Gospel has been headed all along.

The same is true today, on Good Friday. The only way to come to a right understanding of who Jesus is is to come to him by way of the cross. The only way to see and savor Jesus for all that he is is to come to him via the shame of the cross, where the glory of God is hidden from all those who expect God to show up and show out through over-the-top glory manifestations that wow the senses. The wonder-working miracles of Jesus drew crowds and stoked the excitement of the populace, but not one of them ever produced saving faith. They weren’t designed to do that. Instead, they were meant to confirm the identity of the one who would eventually give his life, such that when the time came and he was hanging seemingly helpless on a cross the crowds could connect the dots. But sadly, they didn’t. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. And neither can we apart from God’s grace.

It is only the eyes of faith that can see through the thick irony, the mockery and the derision accompanying Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Multiple times in Mark 15 he is called “King of the Jews,” and though the title is meant as a demeaning epithet, the words are nevertheless true. He is the King of the Jews (and of the whole world). When the Roman soldiers clothe him in a purple cloak and twist together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, little do they know that they are clothing and crowning the world’s true King. When they salute him mockingly and kneel down in homage to him, little do they know that their evil actions betray the kind of response Jesus truly deserves. He is worthy of worship, but they cannot or will not see his worth. In the end, it is only the eyes of faith that can see the presence of God in a weak, broken, naked, shameful, shell of a man who seems to have come to the end of his life and ministry destitute and defeated. In the end, it is only the eyes of faith that can see this world’s true King ruling and reigning over sin, Satan, death, and hell, even while he is nailed to the very cross that looks so much like his downfall. In the end, it is only the eyes of faith that can see the lowly cross of Christ as the exalted throne of Christ, from which he wields his authority in sacrificial service to the nations.

On this Good Friday, may you know the grace of God that enables the blind to see the glory of God on full and fathomless display in the cross of Christ. It is a hidden glory that is visible only to those with the spiritual eyes to see, but, oh, the glory that is revealed, in and through the suffering Son of God, to those who have been given spiritual sight! May his beauty captivate your sight today as you remember on his sacrifice.


Not So Fast

close up of snail on ground
Photo by invisiblepower on

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 119:1-16, and I’ve been struck deeply by the psalmist’s passionate desire to walk out the Word of the Lord, to live his life in line with the revealed will and purposes of God. He writes about delighting in the Word of God (v. 14), a delight that drives him to internalize the Word (v. 16). He writes about keeping the Lord’s testimonies (v. 2) and keeping them diligently (v. 4), and he commits himself to steadfastness in them (v. 5). He writes about guarding one’s life with the Word of God (v. 9) and storing up the Word in one’s heart so that one does not sin against God (v. 11). He commits himself to declaring the Word of God (v. 13) – all of it – and meditating on the Law of the Lord (v. 15), fixing his attention on it (v. 15), such that he doesn’t forget it (v. 16). Instead, he is intent on learning it (v. 7), not so much committing it to memory, although that’s part of it, or even growing in simple understanding of it, although that too is part of it, but more so learning it in such a way that it changes him and his way of life, that it transforms his bent, broken, sin-distorted, self-serving heart into an upright heart that praises the Lord. Like a committed musician who practices so much that playing literally becomes second nature, the psalmist wants to learn the Word of God and the ways of God so that they come to shape all the ins and outs of his inner life and his outer life to the glory of God.

As we come to the end of our short stint in the book of Ruth, I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, praying Psalm 119:1-16 for MountainView Church. I don’t want us to forget the story of God’s devoted, generous, redeeming, resurrecting, sovereign love for Naomi. More than that, I don’t want us to forget the God of the story, the God who brought feast out of famine, love out of loss, life out of death, and all the things he’s taught us about himself along the way, great big truths that are designed to take root in our hearts and our minds and transform the way that we live our lives. After all, we are called to be not just hearers of the Word but doers also (James 1:22-25), doers who delight deeply in the Word of Lord and treasure it as much as monetary wealth (Ps. 119:14), doers who desire deeply to diligently keep, walk in, fix our eyes upon, and remember the Word of the Lord.

Oh, that it would be our desire and our delight and our diligent commitment, as a church family, not to leave the book of Ruth behind and to move on to other things, even good things like the Christmas season, without pausing, pausing first to reflect on the key things the Lord showed us and taught us and then pausing to ask the Holy Spirit to take those things and to begin to weave them into the very fabric of our minds, our hearts, and our lives, in order that God’s Word might do its repairing, restoring work in us.

If you need some guidance, I suggest you deliberately set aside a few minutes at some point during the next few days to reflect and pray. Begin by simply asking the Lord to bring to mind 2-3 key takeaways from the book of Ruth (look back over your notes if you need to), and then import those takeaways into Psalm 119:1-16. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you learn those 2-3 things, to incorporate the story of Ruth into your story, and ask him to use those 2-3 things to reorient your heart toward him and your life toward faithfulness to him. And be sure, even as you commit yourself to being steadfast in keeping his Word and you determine not to forget all that you’ve learned from Ruth, that you remember that you cannot do any of it without him. If you and I are going to seek after him, it is he who must keep us from wandering from his Word and his ways (Psalm 119:10). If we’re going to keep his Word, then we must be convinced that we will need his presence and his power, and we must know what it would mean for our good intentions if he were ever to leave us to our own devices (Psalm 119:8). Oh, how we need to abide in our Savior if we’re going to produce fruit! Oh, how we need to confess our need of him if the book of Ruth is ever going to take root in us and be reflected in our everyday lives.

If you need further guidance, a bit of prompting so to speak, let me remind you of some of the big takeaways from the book of Ruth. There are several that stand out to me, and the Lord may well have shown you others. If so, I look forward to hearing from you. Let me highlight a few:

  1. The book of Ruth teaches us that the love of God is the kind of devoted, generous, loyal, steadfast, never-giving up, always and forever love that pursues you, changes you, and redeems you – just like it did Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz – for his glory (and purposes), for your good, and for the good of others. 
  2. The book of Ruth teaches us that God is not only at work when his work is powerful, evident, and clearly traceable, when he shows up on the scene in unmistakable miraculous power and glory. No, God is always at work. Hear that again. God is always at work, often behind the scenes, often accomplishing his purposes through human agents and seemingly random happenings, and often in ways that make little sense at the time and only make sense in hindsight.
  3. The book of Ruth teaches us that God is a tender, gentle restorer of the broken. His patient and purposeful love for Naomi should overwhelm us with awe and wonder. That the God who made all things, who keeps worlds and galaxies spinning by the word of his power, would set his affection and his eye upon a broken and bitter old widow who had lost all hope in him, and that he would work through Ruth and Boaz to restore her faith, her hope, her life, and her joy, should give us hope that God can mend any broken heart and put any life back together again.
  4. The story of Ruth hints at greater good news to come. Naomi’s figurative death and resurrection are designed to give us hope. Her story is the story and shape of the Bible, the shape of the gospel, the shape of discipleship. It is intended to form us into gospel people who understand that suffering precedes glory, that the cross precedes the crown, that death precedes resurrection. Neither Ruth nor Naomi could’ve experienced all that God had for them had they not experienced the suffering of the first chapter or the “what’s next” questions that lay between chapters 2 and 3. God has designed suffering in your story and my story to draw us closer to him, to prepare you and I to more deeply enjoy the glory of eternity, to strengthen our faith, and to shape us into the likeness of his Son. 
  5. The book of Ruth shows us so vividly what the heart of Jesus, our Redeemer, looks like. Through the devoted love of Ruth, we see his devotion to his bride. Through the generous love of Boaz, we see his incredible generosity. When it comes to giving, he cannot be beat. He has given us himself and all else besides! And through Boaz, we also see the cost of our Savior’s love coupled with his courageous determination to win for himself his beloved bride. Oh, what a Savior, and oh, how worship of our worship and our love.
  6. Along those same lines, the book of Ruth also shows us what love looks like in action, the kind of human love that has been radically transformed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, we see through the story’s characters what it looks like to exhibit Christlike love, and we are challenged by the Christlike example of Ruth and Boaz to repent of our own lovelessness and to ask the Holy Spirit to help us learn to love, even as Jesus perfectly loves us.
  7. Finally, the book of Ruth gives us a picture of godly manhood and godly womanhood in action. Boaz is called a worthy man for a whole host of reasons. He is wise, compassionate, protective, generous, kind, a man of integrity, a man of biblically-informed conscience, a man of his word, and a man of deep affection that translates into self-sacrifical action. Ruth is called a worthy woman, again, for a whole host of reasons. She is devoted, hardworking, humble, courageous, strong, loyal, selfless, and decisive. May the Lord see fit to root these character qualities into our hearts such that they bear Christ-honoring fruit in our lives.

In a culture where we are inundated with information to the point of almost constant overload, I realize that it’s all too easy to be done with something once it’s in the past, and I don’t expect you to spend the rest of your life in the book of Ruth. God has so much more to teach us, and I’m as eager as anyone to dive into those things. What I do hope and pray is that you’ll hear the not so fast admonition and the encouragement in my words to slow down, to linger in the four chapters of Ruth for just a few more minutes, to pause and reflect and pray the Lord would work it and weave it into your life, such that it becomes an integral part of the fabric of the Christlike person God is weaving you into as you encounter him in his Word.

Know that I’m praying today that the Lord does exactly that for you, for me, and for us, as a church.

Giving God Room to Work


One of the things that strikes me about the book of Ruth and the story of Naomi’s life in particular is the patience of God. What do I mean? I’m talking about the perfect, patient, intentional work of God to transform a bitter, empty, hopeless widow into a woman who’s joy, faith, and future are restored in full measure. Slowly, tenderly, and via the hands-on love of two remarkable people who demonstrate to Naomi the very real love that God has for her, God works across the four little chapters of the story of Ruth to redeem not only Naomi’s family from extinction but her heart from the edges of unbelief. And not once during the entire story does God chastise her for her grief. Not once does he rebuke her for her bitter tears or her loss of faith in his goodness amidst the ruins of her once happy life. Instead, throughout the unfolding of his purposes for this destitute woman, we see God working compassionately behind the scenes to put the pieces of her heart and life back together again. We see him showering her with blessings, with gifts, with undeserved and unreserved love, patiently working on her heart, massaging her faith muscles, and rebuilding her from the ground up.

First, God gifts her with a devoted daughter-in-law who refuses to return home to her own people and instead commits herself lock, stock, and barrel to a barren mother-in-law who has no prospects for marriage, no potential of an heir for her husband, and no way to provide for them in the present, and to a life with seemingly no prospects for future happiness. So, into Noami’s emptiness, her bitter tears, and her resentment toward her God, the gracious God of hesed (steadfast love) speaks his commitment to his precious child through the immovable love of Ruth. In fact, the very words that Ruth utters to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17 could just as easily have been spoken to Naomi by the Lord himself.

Second, having returned to Bethlehem empty and in the face of impending hunger, God gifts Naomi with enough food to fill her belly and her pantry through the resourcefulness of Ruth and the remarkable generosity of Boaz. And here again, into her lack and into her lap God rains down blessings upon blessings, all with the goal of softening a heart that has become hard and calloused due to tsunami after tsunami of intense suffering. And here, yet again, we see God’s redemptive strategy at work. God doesn’t lecture Naomi. No, God loves Naomi back to life. He showers her with so much tangible evidence of his love for her that she cannot possibly ignore it. In a very real sense, he works to woo her back, to convince her all over again that he is the God she has heard about her entire life, a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. For Naomi, it is just as the apostle Paul reminds us: “It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.” And indeed it does. For by the end of Ruth chapter 2 we find Naomi blessing the name of the Lord (where she was once bitterly accusing the Lord), and we find her giving thanks to him, where she could only before utter words of anger.

And just how does she get to this point of heartfelt praise from where she found herself at the beginning of the book? Let us not forget. The Lord patiently works on Naomi’s heart and works his goodness into the very fabric of her life. He pursues her through his hesed, his steadfast, never-giving-up, always and forever love. Over and over again, he showers her with blessing upon blessing until her cold, calloused, bitter, and broken heart starts beating again. 

And it doesn’t stop when the curtain closes on chapter 2. God knows there is yet more work to be done on Naomi’s behalf and in her heart, an outpouring of love that will radically transform her present and her future, as well as pave the way for the redemption of the entire world. In chapter 3, we watch as God takes Naomi from anxious plotting and planning to restful waiting. We watch as God takes her restored and ready-to-act faith and partners it with a renewed hope that is certain that God will complete through the diligence and commitment Boaz what he has begun. Remarkably, Naomi begins to see her world afresh, no longer through the lens of the losses she’s suffered but through the eyes of faith, the bright eyes that can see, savor, and celebrate the hidden hand of God at work in Ruth’s earlier “by chance” meeting with Boaz. And then, there’s chapter 4, where Naomi’s story finds its resolution, where famine is transformed into feasting and festivity and death is replaced with new life. Ruth gifts Naomi with an heir for her dead husband Elimelech, and I have to imagine that at this climactic moment, where all the earlier suffering is reversed, as Naomi holds the child in her arms and close to her heart, she worships and gives thanks to the God of steadfast love, who had restored more than her family line and her future. He had remade her broken heart and restored her faltering faith.

And here’s the thing. The bottom line. Naomi’s restoration didn’t happen overnight. God took his time setting up the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz (Naomi’s family was in Moab for ten years before she and Ruth returned to Bethlehem), and he took his time bringing things to their happily-ever-after conclusion. We don’t know the exact amount of time that passed between Naomi and Ruth’s return to Bethlehem and the birth of Obed, Elimelech’s heir. It could have been a couple of years. It could have been more. The point is: God authored Naomi’s redemption and restoration in his own time, through a series of events that unfolded not over hours or days but months and years. And then, there’s the “big reveal” at the end of her story. When we come to learn of how Naomi’s story fits within the larger story of the Bible, we realize that God’s plan to redeem Naomi pales in comparison to the richness, the complexity, and the patient execution of his plan to redeem humanity. We’re not talking two years anymore. We’re talking hundreds and thousands of years. And all of it the work of a patient God of steadfast love who is committed to restoring what Adam and Eve threw into utter chaos when they chose to rebel in the garden.

I think all of this is good for us to observe and to reflect on, because we can be so impatient for God to work in the lives of people, for people to change, for change in our own lives and circumstances. I know I can be. But God doesn’t often respond to our impatience or to our plans and suggestions. Things don’t work like that, and because he’s God (and we’re not), he very often works on a timetable that is far different from ours. After all, his ways are not our ways. That said, he is committed to his children, and he is still the same God of steadfast love who redeemed Ruth and Naomi, and he is determined to transform his children into the very likeness of Son. Even so, he often takes the long way round to accomplish his purposes in someone (and in us), and that’s hard for us because we want to see results. And we want to see them yesterday.

As we prepare to conclude the book of Ruth I find myself thanking the Lord for his commitment to change his people, but I also find myself asking him for the grace to see those same people through his eyes and to give him room to work in them, even as he is still working on me. After all, God is in the business of planting and cultivating fruit-bearing trees that last. He’s not interested in the chaff that the wind blows away. He’s interested in oaks of righteousness that stand the test of time and can withstand the elements. That kind of strength, resilience, and growth takes time.

Oh, that we would be patient even as God is patient, and not just patient with the faults of others but with God’s work in them to change them and to change us. He so often takes the long way round and that includes his work within the hearts of people. It took him a while to write Naomi’s story, to bring about her restoration, and it will take him time to work out his purposes in our lives and in the lives of those he’s placed around us.

Is there someone in your life that you have been asking God to change? Are you frustrated because that person doesn’t seem to be changing, even though you believe him or her to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Have you seen brief glimpses of change that give you hope one minute only to leave you disappointed the next? God knows exactly what it will take to conform that person into the very likeness of Christ. He knows how long it will take, and it may take much longer than you could ever imagine. Are you tired of struggling with the same old sinful attitudes and actions in your own life? Are you ready to be free from the presence and power of sin? Be patient with God. He is at work. Through all the seemingly ordinary events and relationships in your life, he is patiently weaving a tapestry of redemption and working out a plan to mold and shape you into the very likeness of Christ. Give him room to do it. Give God room to work.

The Heart of Boaz, The Heart of Christ


It’s hard to read the book of Ruth and not be moved by the love and loyalty that the main characters display time and time again.

In chapter 1, Ruth leaves everything familiar behind, and commits her entire life to her destitute mother-in-law. It’s pretty remarkable.

In chapter 2, Ruth takes it upon herself to go in search of food for them. Being a stranger in a strange new land, this is risky, but it shows us that Ruth’s commitment to Naomi goes beyond mere words. This is true love, love in action. In chapter 2, we also meet Boaz, who responds to the love of Ruth with a kindness and compassion toward Ruth and Naomi that injects hope back into their lives. Here is a love that is tender, protective, and genuinely concerned about the well-being of another. Again, true love, love in action.

And then, in chapter 3, we reach the climactic moment in the story, the moment where the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law leads her to embrace a bold and brash plan to move the story of love forward. She’s asks Boaz to marry her. No mincing words. No small talk. She just comes right out with it, and Boaz is floored. He is taken aback. He is humbled. He is honored that she would pursue him over all the other eligible men in Bethlehem, and he says as much. But he does more than speak. He commits to act. He will marry Ruth, if the nearer relative refuses to do so. His eagerness to absorb the personal cost of redemption is obvious. So obvious, in fact, that I couldn’t help but see the very heart of Christ, in the heart of Boaz, as I worked my way through Ruth chapter 3 last week. The story of Ruth is, after all, really and truly the story of God’s love for his people, and that love is nowhere more clearly on display than in the life and death of Jesus Christ.

The heart of Boaz eagerly extended to Ruth in response to her marriage proposal is the very same heart that beats in the chest of the man Christ Jesus, an eager heart that is as inclined to redeem repentant sinners as Boaz is to make Ruth his wife and to redeem her and her mother-in-law from a hopeless future. Indeed, the Lord Jesus has a heart full to overflowing with compassion for all who will come to him seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In John 6:37, he says that he will never cast aside any who come to him. He will never send any seeker of salvation of away. Never. Ever. Instead, he will eagerly receive each and every one with open arms that reflect an eager heart of compassion. In Matthew 11:28-30, we hear him extend open invitation to all tired and weary souls who will come to him for rest. Sinner, are you tired and weary? Have you come to the end of the road, the end of yourself? Christ’s eager arms are open wide, and his heart is inclined to redeem you.

The same goes for you child of God. Your failures and false starts have not brought utter disappointment to your Savior. That may be hard for you to believe, but he is not ready to throw in the towel with you. He is as eager today to redeem and restore you as he was the day you first fell at his feet in desperate need of salvation. Oh, how your relationship with your Savior would be transformed for the better if you could but see how much he loves you and how truly eager he is to redeem you. My encouragement? Allow the eager love of Boaz for Ruth to point you toward him and to remind you afresh of his heart of compassion which is ever eagerly extended to you.

See also the heart of Christ in the determination of Boaz to make certain that Ruth be redeemed before the end of the next day. This is the same steadfast commitment that beats in the heart of the Lord Jesus. Not only is he eager to save. Not only are his arms open wide. He is committed to the salvation of all who he came to redeem. He is committed to winning for himself a bride, and he will do whatever it takes to make it happen. In Luke 9:51-56, we read that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. From the very outset of his ministry, he knew full well what lay in front of him. He knew that his time on earth would culminate in a cross, and he willingly walked in that direction his entire ministry. He had come in response to his Father’s will to redeem for himself a people, and nothing would stop him or deter him. He would make certain that his people were redeemed from the curse of sin. He would spill his own blood to do so.

Christian, this means that your Savior will see your salvation through to the very end. Not only are your false starts and failures no utter disappointment to your Savior, they cannot thwart his plans for you. They cannot derail his determination to save you to the uttermost. He will complete what he has begun in you. Guaranteed. He will bring you all the way home to him. Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, as the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8. Nothing. As you meditate on the steadfast love of Boaz for Ruth, may you see in his commitment to redeem her the very commitment of Christ to redeem you from all your sin, from its penalty, its power, and its presence. He is not only eager to do so. He is determined to do so.

And like Boaz, who put in Ruth’s arms seventy pounds of barley as a pledge of his intention to see to it that she and her mother-in-law would be taken care of, so the Father and the Son have given every child of God the Holy Spirit as a downpayment on the on their intention to fully and finally redeem us, body and soul, and to welcome us into an eternal inheritance, prepared for all who trust in Christ. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that the Holy Spirit is the seal or guarantee of God’s intention to finish what he’s begun in us.

And even now, we await that day. The day when our eager and determined Savior will throw open the doors of his Father’s house and invite us to take our seats at the victory feast in his honor. And there, as a redeemed and restored people, we will celebrate with him. On that day, we will be home, and our redemption and restoration will be complete. Until then, like Ruth, who is comforted at the end of chapter 3 by the words of Naomi, who tells her to “stay put,” to “stay calm,” to wait, knowing and believing that Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled, so we can wait, confident in the promises of God and the eager, compassionate, determined heart of Christ to finish what he’s begun in us. He will not rest until all who are his are with him. He will not rest until all who are his perfectly resemble his character. He will not rest until all his enemies are under his foot, and his people are finally free from sin’s power and presence. He will not rest until all his family members are safely home and the waywardness of our hearts, the travails of this life, and all the effects of sin’s tyranny are washed away and resurrection life has spread across the landscape of all God’s creation. In this hope, we wait. We watch. We rejoice in the Spirit, knowing that the downpayment is just the beginning.

Christ settled the matter at the cross.

He gave us his Spirit as a generous promise of his intention to close the deal.

And because we see in the heart of Boaz a dim reflection of the very heart of Christ, we can be certain that our eager and determined Savior will make it happen.

If you’d like to reflect more on the heart of Christ for his people, for you, I encourage you to watch this video. It’ll take just 15 minutes of your time. I’ve watched it more than once, and it is food for the soul, a reminder that Jesus’ own heart is always and ever inclined toward his own, a heart of sympathy, compassion, tenderness, and warm welcome. I hope it encourages you today.

All is Gift

adult birthday birthday gift box
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I can’t even remember where I first heard it, but the sentence stuck with me.

In a garden of a thousand yesses, God gave Adam and Eve one no. 

Just one. That’s all. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree in the garden but one. The sentence stuck with me because I’d never heard the garden that God gave Adam and Eve described in such an inviting and generous way. In my memory, at least, there had always been more focus on the one prohibition and less focus on the astounding, big-hearted, open-handed provision and permission of God that lay before the first couple when their generous Creator (and ours) invited them to enjoy the bounteous goodness of his garden.

How about you? Have you ever heard the Garden of Eden described as a land of a thousand yesses and one no? Why don’t we think about it in such terms? Why aren’t we astounded by the creative kindness of a God who would speak all kinds of fruit-bearing plants and trees into existence and offer all of them — all of them — to Adam and Eve for their enjoyment and nourishment, with one and only one exception (Genesis 2:16-17). And, by the way, if we’re looking at the text properly, I believe we’ll conclude that the one “no” was also a gift. A command, yes. A command to be obeyed, yes. But also a gift. For Adam and Eve were never designed to go off on their own in search of knowledge about the way life worked. God didn’t intend for them to determine right and wrong on their own terms. They were meant to get that in relationship with their gracious and generous Creator.

Despite our sinful bent that leads us to view God’s garden “no” as the prohibition of a stingy ogre-like overlord who selfishly hordes the best for himself, the Bible, from first page to last, presents us with a God who is overwhelmingly generous to his creatures. Sure, there are divine prohibitions. There are unequivocal “no’s” that God expects his creatures to heed, and we ignore them at great peril to ourselves. For he is God, and he is holy, and it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

But don’t we run equally headlong into sin when we ignore or disdain the yesses, when we don’t properly acknowledge all the Lord’s incredible generosity, when we fail to enjoy him through the gifts he has given us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we’re told to give thanks in all things or all circumstances, and in Romans 1:21, Paul makes it clear that not giving thanks to God for all that he has generously given is tantamount to rejection of him.

The bottom-line biblical reality is this: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are givers, eternally giving of themselves to one another and overflowing with generosity toward the creation they brought into existence. Even now, in a fallen world, the generosity of the triune God is everywhere. Think about that for a moment. It didn’t stop in the garden. God didn’t pack up shop and turn off the faucet of his great giving nature when Adam and Eve turned their backs on him. Despite Adam and Eve’s stiff arm and our subsequent spurning of him and our refusal to give thanks to him for his incredible generosity, he continues to give and give and give. Every. Day. In a million, million different ways.

It is visible in the sheer variety of trees and plants and flowers that cover the earth. Pause, and just consider them. God does not allow us just one tree, one plant, one flower. No. He gives thousands, as if through them and their beautiful, stately, and seemingly endless variety to display his lavish generosity.

God’s generosity is also recognizable in the sheer variety of tastes and textures we enjoy when we sit down to eat a meal. Pause, and consider the many different kinds of foods you enjoy. Why provide his creatures with such a vast array of different food options and the taste buds to savor all of them if he were not a deeply generous God at heart? Even now. Among countless of his creatures who never once acknowledge his goodness and generosity.

And then, there’s fact that you and I woke up this morning. Gift.

The fact that our hearts are beating and air is filling and exiting our lungs, even as I type and you read. Gift.

The fact that, chances are, you either ate or will eat one or more meals today. Gift.

The fact that have the ability to read this post and the mental faculties to comprehend it. Gift.

The fact that you can probably think quite quickly of people who have influenced, encouraged, and challenged you. Gift.

And what about the ocean breeze that cools you on a sweltering day at the beach? Gift. Or the cozy campfire that warms you through and through as you sit and stare at the stars? Gift. Or the fact that your car has gas in it, four tires on it, and it got you from point A to point B today. Gift.

All of this from the hand of an unspeakably generous God.

But, there’s more. So much more. Someone more.

Indeed, the generosity of God in all his other amazing gifts is simply pointing like a brightly light neon sign toward the climax and crescendo of his generosity — the gift of the Son to sinners, sinners who, having spurned divine generosity in the garden and having since transformed his gifts into gods, deserve nothing less than the full fury of his holy and perfect wrath. And yet. Big hearted Father that he is, with a generosity that surpasses our ability to comprehend, he gives his fallen creatures his one and only beloved Son. His treasured One. And the Son willingly gives himself. He assumes our humanity. He comes to live among us, to be rejected by us, and to die in our place, to take upon himself the penalty for our sin and to give us, in exchange, his righteousness. More than that, to give us himself! Again. The triune God. Overflowing with the kind of generosity that can only be described by the word grace. Undeserved but unreserved.

Truly, if the generosity of God were ever in question, if like Adam and Eve you and I are ever tempted to accuse God of being stingy, of withholding from us some good thing, we need simply turn our eyes to the cross and remember that he has given us that which is most precious to him — his Son — and everything else besides! (Romans 8:32)

Oh, what a giver this God is!

My time in Ruth over the past few weeks has put God’s remarkable generosity front and center, and I admit that I’ve taken notice of it far more closely than I have in a long time. I’ve watched the generosity of Ruth in action. Selflessly, she puts aside any hope of a happy home, a husband, and children, and she gives her life to and for her destitute mother-in-law. I’ve watched the generosity of Boaz in action. Without reservation or hint of selfishness, he offers compassion, protection, kind words, and over-the-top provision to Ruth and Naomi, and he does it all because he (like Ruth) knows the generous God of Israel. These things have made me freshly aware of my Father’s generosity. He is no stingy God. He does not give hesitatingly or sparingly. His is the kindness of a Father who cares deeply for his creatures, especially those of his own household who, through his precious Son, have taken refuge under his wings.

And I’ve also watched Ruth respond with wonder and humility to the generosity of Boaz, and I’ve been challenged by my own woeful response to the generosity of my Father. How strangely easy it is to fall asleep amidst so much goodness and so fail to notice the waterfall of kindness flowing freely and daily from my Father’s hand. Oh, may it be different for you and for me, especially as we approach Thanksgiving. May our response to our Father’s generosity be no less than Ruth’s response to the kindness of Boaz. “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me?” (Ruth 2:10) As we come to see more and more of God’s great generosity, especially through the gift of his Son, may our response be one of ever-increasing humility and grateful worship, recognizing that we deserve nothing from the hand of our Father. And yet, he gives and gives and gives. A million times over. And worth more than all the gifts is the very gift of himself!

In a very real sense, all is gift, for everything we enjoy in this life comes down from the Father of lights (James 1:17), and we would do well to cultivate a sense of God’s remarkable generosity for our every breath, our very footstep, our every car ride that concludes in safe arrival to our destination, our every good night’s sleep, our every hug from a friend — and most of all, for the fact that there is forgiveness and reconciliation available to all who will call upon the name of Jesus. It is through him that we enjoy God’s greatest gift – a restored relationship with our Creator. All of this should compel us into joyful thanksgiving, for as Andrew Peterson writes in his song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone,” in spite of the fact that there is so much wrong here in this fallen world, there is so much that is good, and true, and beautiful, and all of it should lead us to marvel at a generous Father who would continue to place such beauty and bounty before undeserving, ungrateful creatures like you and me.


Nothing is Wasted


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While the popular adage declares that “the devil is in the details,” it is more accurate to avow that God is in the details. The doctrine of providence declares that God’s providential rule extends to all things great and small, from the huge to the minute, the infinite to the infinitesimal.

R.C. Sproul

I love how the Bible works. God doesn’t simply give us a definition of providence. He gives us a story. He gives us a little book like Ruth. In its four chapters, he allows us to peek behind the curtain and witness up close his hidden hand at work. Through the redemption and restoration of a destitute widow God shows us how he is intimately involved in the affairs of one family in one place at one point in time. More than that, he invites us into Naomi’s story so that we might reimagine our own lives as ground zero for his hidden handiwork.

Through the book of Ruth (and the Bible as a whole) God intends to train us to look at our ordinary, everyday lives differently. As Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth, “We, too, are involved in the drama of God’s unfolding purposes. Frequently, we cannot understand what God is doing. But in the Scriptures God is saying to us, as he said to John in the book of Revelation: Come up here to this vantage point for a moment and see what I am doing (Revelation 4:1ff.)! It is as if the Bible as a whole [and the book of Ruth in particular] is saying: Come up here and see how God is on his throne, working out his perfect purposes; and view things in your own life and times from his point of view.” (48)

Now, this does not mean we will be able to understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together once we have allowed the book of Ruth to master us. Far from it. Nor does it mean we will always be able to discern why some particular thing happened to us or to someone we love. Again, far from it. After all, in the midst of her debilitating grief, Naomi never could have known all that God intended for her and her daughter-in-law. Neither could she have imagined in her wildest dreams that her family would be included in the lineage of the Messiah! When she walked out the door in search of food for herself and her mother-in-law in Ruth 2:3, Ruth had no way of knowing whether or not her quest would be successful. In fact, as a foreigner and a vulnerable young women, she had every reasonable reason to believe she might well come home empty-handed. Certainly, God had other plans, but neither Ruth nor Naomi had the inside track on those. They could only act in faith and rejoice in God’s hidden hand revealed after the fact. In the same way, I am willing to bet that so much of what God is doing in our lives will only ever be understood in reverse, when the tapestry of redemption is complete, and we are allowed to view it from the front rather than the back. Then and only then, will we be able to see at long last how all the various threads and seemingly random stitches fit together to form a work of art so glorious that only God could have conceived of it.

Until that day, we have the book of Ruth, as well as the rest of the Bible, to retrain us to see our lives rightly when we are tempted to think that our little ordinary lives are of no consequence or concern to a great, big God who must surely have much bigger fish to fry. The remarkable things that unfold seemingly by chance (Ruth 2:3) in its four little chapters call us back to reality and to a God who leaves nothing to chance and no detail out of his Story. Indeed, the book of Ruth is designed by our Father to reorient us to that Story and to remind us that when we cannot trace his hand or discern his purposes in some specific life situation, we can trust him, and we can trust that he is at work for our good. As Jason Gray writes and reminds us through song, “Nothing is wasted, Nothing is wasted, In the hands of our Redeemer, Nothing is wasted.” Every detail our lives will find its rightful place in our Father’s Story, just as the details in Naomi and Ruth’s lives did, and we can rest in his hidden hand of providence precisely because we can see it on display so clearly in the little book of Ruth.




Why the Book of Ruth?

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This coming Sunday, we’ll step back into the world of the judges of ancient Israel. Only this time, we’ll be launching into the book of Ruth. That’s one of the reasons I chose it, by the way, and not just because it follows the book of Judges in our English Bibles. The story of Ruth is set some time during the 400 year period of the judges. The author of the book of Ruth tells us so, and with the book of Judges fresh on our hearts and minds, I believe it’ll make the remarkable story of Ruth all the more impactful. Beyond that, there are several other reasons to explore this short story of romance and redemption.

First, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to us to peek behind the curtain of the ordinary of our everyday lives. There are no obvious miracles in the book of Ruth. There are no blinding appearances by heavenly beings. There are no larger than life characters in its four chapters like there were in the book of Judges. There is only the pressing need for food that drives an unimportant family from Bethlehem to seek sustenance in a foreign and potentially hostile land. There is death. There is mourning. There is love. There is work. There is hunger satisfied. There is a marriage proposal. There is a wedding. There is a birth. Indeed, for a book of the Bible, the little book of Ruth is decidedly “normal,” just like the great majority of our lives, and that is its beauty. For in it God shows that despite all appearances to the contrary he is most certainly at work in and through the ordinary comings and goings of the everyday lives of his people, often times doing more than we could possibly ask or imagine – like paving a long and winding road right through the little book of Ruth, a road that would eventually lead to the birth of the Savior of the world.

Bottom line: The book of Ruth is a beautiful reminder that the most important things going on in the world probably aren’t the most important things going on in the world, when it comes to God’s work in the world. After all, it wasn’t the mighty judges who ended up in the lineage of King Jesus. It was the little family of Elimelech from the little town of Bethlehem.

Second, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to watch him move mysteriously in, through, and behind all things – even the hard things – to bring about good for his people. Only five verses into the book and Naomi is a destitute widow. She is without her husband, without her sons, and without any means of providing for herself and her daughters-in-law. Things look bleak. But there’s a reason all of this occurs within the first five verses. We’re not supposed to focus our attention on the first five verses. We’re supposed to see the seriousness of Naomi’s situation and focus our gaze on the unfolding, redemptive plan of God that takes glorious shape throughout the rest of the book of Ruth.

As I’m sure it did not for Naomi, in the midst of her misery, God’s sovereignty won’t always make sense to us, especially when we’re in the furnace of affliction, but Ruth’s four chapters invite us further up and further in, and give us something of a bird’s eye view, rather, a God’s eye view, of the story of Naomi. She encounters tremendous suffering, yes, but her God was at work in her suffering to redeem and restore not just her but really and truly the whole world through her descendent, Jesus Christ. In his book A Sweet and Bitter Providence, John Piper writes of Ruth: “The most prominent purpose of the book of Ruth is to bring the calamities and sorrows of life under the sway of God’s providence and show us that God’s purposes are good.” When we suffer, we need to be reminded of this truth, and the book of Ruth is designed to put it in front of us in living color.

Third, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to see the person and work of Jesus and his astonishing love foreshadowed, woven throughout the story, that we might be moved to worship and adore him. In John 5:39, Jesus makes it clear that the Old Testament is about him, which means we ought see signposts in the book of Ruth pointing us toward his person and work. Indeed, his is the incarnate love of Ruth, who embodies God’s covenant commitment to Naomi through her own commitment to remain with Naomi for the rest of her life. His is the generous and liberating love of Boaz, who goes above and beyond what is required by the law to provide for a needy foreigner and her destitute mother-in-law. His is the loyal love of a covenant-keeping God who delivers Naomi from the valley of the shadow of death and raises her to new life, giving her a new family and new future. The book of Ruth is but one chapter in the grand story that the whole Bible is telling, a story with Jesus Christ at the center, and we’re reading the Bible rightly only when we see its many threads coming together in the beautiful tapestry of God’s redemptive work in his beloved Son.

Finally, the book of Ruth is a divinely inspired picture of what it looks like to love well. It’s a story of God’s love and devotion on display in the people at the center of the story. Through Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, God is showing us what love for other people looks like in the lives of those who have been changed by his love. Together, all the characters in the story perform a symphony of sorts, painting for us with their decisions and their obvious acts of kindness a vibrant picture of a love that is self-forgetful, sacrificial, devoted, compassionate, generous, protective, thoughtful, and loyal. As the characters in the book of Ruth love, we look on amazed at God’s love on display in them, and we are challenged to love in kind, as those who have experienced firsthand the love of God in Jesus Christ. And to be sure, such a love is no easy undertaking.

The book of Ruth tells us that loving as God loves requires: 1) the very strength and presence of the Lord himself, 2) an unwavering commitment to die to self, to personal dreams and desires, 3) with no expectation of being loved in return. This is precisely how Ruth loves Naomi, and it’s how we are called by our God to love those he has placed around us, even as Christ loved us. Near the end of his excellent book on Ruth, A Loving Life, Paul Miller writes: “Everything Ruth does – from walking through the gates ignored and unthanked to giving her newborn son to Naomi – is a function of her love for Naomi. She risks her honor by lying at the feet of Boaz, alone and vulnerable, in order to restore Naomi’s family line. By marrying an older man she almost assures herself that she will again be a widow. This complete absence of self reflects the mind of Christ.” (155)

In a very real sense then the book of Ruth gives us the opportunity to do exactly what Psalm 107:43 invites us to do: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” I hope you’ll join us at MountainView Church over the next five weeks as we walk through the book of Ruth and do just that – consider the steadfast love of the Lord.