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Mercies In The Shadows

Sovereign Stories

Rev. Philip Miller | September 6, 2020

Selected highlights from this sermon

Going from a tight shot on the Book of Ruth, Pastor Miller shows us as he pans out further and wider, that this is not just Ruth’s story, or King David’s story, nor even Israel’s story, this story is ultimately about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Book of Ruth reminds us that when we have no idea what God is doing, we can trust Him because He is the same God today as He was during the time of Ruth.

In his 1947 essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien coined a phrase, a word, that I’ve come to love. It is the word eucatastrophe. It’s like catastrophe set right and good. He defines it this way, it is “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” More than just a happy ending, eucatastrophe brings “a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back [into place].” “It is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief… however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures… when the “turn” comes, [it summons] a catch of the breath, a beating and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears.”

Tolkien incorporated such a moment of eucatastrophe in The Return of the King. After the great battle over the ring of power, the hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, is recovering from injury, and the last thing he knew the wizard, Gandalf, had fallen to his death. But now he hears a distantly familiar voice calling him back to consciousness. This is the passage as Tolkien writes:

“‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’… Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then the wizard laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out all the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. ‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ – And he waved his arms in the air – ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’”

And there it is. Eucatastrophe. The world set to rights. Everything sad come untrue. And today in the book of Ruth we come to the eucatastrophic moment, and unlike The Lord of the Rings, this is no fairy tale. This is a story that takes place in space and time and history, and yet the sudden turn of happiness in this story is no less poignant. The story ends with everything sad coming untrue, the world set to rights! It is a eucatastrophic moment.

And if you read the Bible you will find numerous stories like this, numerous stories where, by the grace of God, despair is turned to deliverance, and misery is turned to majesty, and brokenness turned to beauty, grief turned to glory. And we have to ask ourselves what is the function of these stories in the Bible. Why are they here? What are we to make of them? How are we to apply them to our lives? Because these stories, friends, are not just here to stoke our wishful thinking, nor are they here to help us escape the real world into a dream world we wish were real, nor are they are here to help us, you know, so we will feel bad about why our lives are so confusing and why our moments are not as clear as these stories are. No, these stories in the Bible are stories that show us in compressed form the redemption that God is weaving into our stories as well.

It is the same God who is working redemptively to bring this eucatastrophic moment for Ruth and Naomi. This same God is working redemptively right here, right now in your life and mine. The problem is we’re so close to the story we have a hard time seeing it. We are so embedded in the middle of the plot line we grow weary in despair with the grief that we experience. But these stories, the stories like Ruth, remind us that our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that His redeeming work is happening even now in this very moment, that our stories, too, are masterpieces of redemption and grace when everything is said and done.

And so these stories give us hope. These stories raise our faith and trust and resiliency. These stories help us fix our eyes on our redeemer, and help us keep pressing onward. And so if you would, wherever you are, let’s open our Bibles to the book of Ruth, to the final chapter, Ruth 4:13–22. We’re going to see this eucatastrophe moment here at the end of the story. And I want us to allow our hearts to long for and to attend to God’s redeeming work in our stories as well.

Would you bow your heads? Let’s pray and ask that the Lord would come and be our teacher.

Father, would you help us in our grief, in our sorrow, in all the hard things of this world to hope again, to fix our eyes on the redemptive work that you are doing. Help us to see Jesus. Help us to find joy and hope and future in the promises and redeeming work that you alone can do. Help us see you, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.

Here at the end of the book of Ruth we see multiple redemptive stories coming together all at once. I want to show them to you. First, we see Ruth’s redemptive story. In verse 13 (chapter 4, verse 13) we read this, “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” In these two short compressed sentences here, the narrator captures for us the total redemption of Ruth’s story, this woman who began as a Moabite, a bereft widow of a faithless Israelite, unable to have children. Can you imagine just for a moment her sorrow in not being able to bear children for ten years (She was unable to conceive.) and the things she must have thought or wondered about in her heart? And here she is now, destitute, vulnerable, hopeless.

Now fast forward to the end. Right here, this verse! And now she is the wife of Boaz, a chayil gibbor, a worthy honorable man of valor, a faithful Israelite, a man of hesed, of loyal love and covenant. She is now legally bound to an Israelite man. She is part of the covenant community legally. Officially this is her chosen people. Remember she has taken shelter under the wings of the Lord God. And it says here, “The Lord (capital L-O-R-D).” That is the covenant name of God, Yahweh, that is mentioned here. “The LORD gave her conception.” This is a covenant child. And you can just imagine, can’t you, Ruth’s tears of joy as she realizes that she is actually pregnant, that her dreams of being a mother would be realized, and that she would hold a baby of her very own.

And then this child is born. It’s a boy. It’s a son. It’s an heir. It’s a goel, a redeemer. Everything Ruth asked and imagined has now come true in real life. She’s married to an honorable man who adores her. And together they bear a son who by levirate marriage will serve as the heir to the line of Elimelech. The clan is preserved. Disaster is averted, and all is well in the end.

But this is not just Ruth’s story, is it? And so the camera pans now to Naomi, and Naomi’s redemptive story. In verse 14: “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, (the covenant name of God again) who has not left you this day without a redeemer (a goel).” Now watch for it here. We all know Boaz is the goel. Right? He’s the goel. “Won’t you be the redeemer?” Right? This is the question. Watch this because it’s going to shift. Watch what happens. “[He] has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name (This goel, this redeemer) be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him (the goel).” So the redeemer is now the child, this son, who is the goel, the heir, who will redeem her life, her line and her life. “May this child’s name (We don’t even know what his name is yet.), may his name be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life, a nourisher of your old age. He will bring you life as you have brought him life (in a sense). He will nourish you as you nourish him.”

And all of this is because of Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who loves Naomi, who is more to her than seven sons could ever be. And she has given birth to this redeemer. And there’s a cascade of blessings that are flowing down. Don’t you see it here? God has blessed Boaz. Boaz has blessed Ruth, and blessed Naomi. The townspeople have blessed God and Ruth and Boaz and their house, and now the women are blessing God. And this goel (the child), this story of redemption has let loose a cacophony of blessing, resounding to the glory of God and the joy of His people. And then in verse 16, a continuance. “Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi,’ and they named him Obed.”

Can you just picture this? Naomi with her weathered and beat down features, wrinkled from the grief of time, and her face, looking down into the face of this baby with smooth cheeks, sleeping in her lap. And Naomi smiles, a sweet, broad, tender smile as her heart beats with love and hope and warmth. In chapter one she said, “Call me Mara, bitter, because I have nothing in my hands. I am empty.” And here she is empty-handed no more. Don’t you see this? In her arms lies her redeemer, her goel, the restorer of her life, and she’s back. Naomi. Pleasant. She’s back. A son has been born to Naomi.

It’s so interesting, isn’t it? It’s Ruth’s son, but they say, “He’s Naomi’s son,” because he’s Naomi’s redeemer. And it’s part of her story, her redemption.

Now, for some reason, we don’t know exactly why, but the neighborhood ladies decide they’re going to name this child. (chuckles) I don’t know if you would like that, but that’s what they do, and they name him Obed. Obed means, in Hebrew, servant. Servant.

Now remember back in chapter three, and two actually for that matter. Remember how Ruth identified herself to Boaz, how she introduced herself? She said, “I am Ruth, your servant.” So Obed is named after his mom. It’s a fitting name. After all, he’s the redeemer. He’s the restorer. He’s the rescuer. And his life serves so many ends for so many people, and Obed is the servant of all, isn’t he?

But this isn’t just Naomi’s story either. And the camera pans out again, and we find out this is actually David’s redemptive story. Look at verse 17, the second half. “He (Obed) was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” David who? Like, King David—as in the greatest king Israel ever had! As in the king that the “Star of David” is still on the flag and is still around to this day. As in David, the one who authored most of the Psalms that we have in our Scriptures.

Do you realize that this story is about so much more than Ruth and Naomi and Boaz? This story is about how God preserved the line of the King, that the King must come from Judah. And Judah was the father of Perez. We remember it. Now look at 18. We’re going to pick this up.

“These are the generations of Perez:

Perez fathered Hezron,

Hezron fathered Ram,

Ram fathered Amminadab,

Amminadab fathered Nahshon,

Nahshon fathered Salmon,

Salmon fathered Boaz,

Boaz fathered Obed,

Obed fathered Jesse,

and Jesse fathered David.”

Do you realize that when Samuel, the prophet Samuel, came to Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the king of Israel, and after running through all the sons in the family he said, “Do you have any other sons?” and Jesse answered, “Yes, the youngest one is tending the sheep out in the fields,” that those were the very fields of Elimelech that Boaz redeemed for the family line?

This is David’s story. And if Boaz and Ruth don’t get married, there’s no Obed, and if there’s no Obed, there’s no Jesse, and if there’s no Jesse, there’s no David, and everything falls apart. So this is David’s story.

But it’s not just David’s story. The camera pans out again because this is Israel’s redemptive story. It’s Israel’s redemptive story because listen, if there’s no David, then there’s no great king. And if there’s no great king, there’s no man after God’s own heart. There’s no Psalms. There’s no shepherd of the people of Israel. And remember, this story, the story of Ruth, takes place in the time of the judges which was summarized in Judges 21:25 this way: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

So the book of Ruth in many ways is the answer to the question, “How will God get us out of this mess, this period of the judges, and bring us a real king?” And what did God do? What was His plan for redemption? He took a hopeless and helpless situation, a family full of disobedience, death, destitution. He took a bitter old soul and a Moabite, a Gentile, a foreigner, a stranger to the covenant blessings of God, and He took a famine. And into all of this hopelessness God planted and God watered, and God grew and sprouted and flourished, and then harvested the most beautiful story of redemption because of his hesed, His covenant, steadfast, loyal, faithful, loving kindness, which means for Israel, in the period of the judges where everything has been a mess in all the sin and shame and squandering of these days where Israel has wandered far from God. It means they are not beyond His redeeming love and grace. His promise still stands. He will be faithful even when they have been faithless, and in grace, friends, grace, there will be a king in Israel.

But this isn’t just Israel’s story. The camera pans out even wider because it’s Jesus’ redemptive story as well. Because as great of a king as David was, he wasn’t perfect. And so the people of God were waiting for their true king, a greater king, the king that God promised David would come from his house and his lineage and who would rule and reign on his throne for ever, who would be a descendent from Judah’s line, the line of the king, for

Judah was the father of Perez,

and Perez the father of Hezron,

and Hezron the father of Ram,

and Ram the father of Amminadab,

and Amminadab the father or Nahshon,

and Nahshon the father of Salmon,

and Salmon the father of Boaz,

and Boaz the father of Obed,

and and Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of David.


And in Matthew, chapter 1, we read

“David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

and Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

and Abijah the father of Asaph,

and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat,

and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,

and Joram the father of Uzziah,

and Uzziah the father of Jotham,

and Jotham the father of Ahaz,

and Ahaz the father the Hezekiah,

and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

and Manasseh the father of Amos,

and Amos the father of Josiah,

and Josiah the father of Jeconiah,

and Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

and Zerubbabel of Abiud,

and Abiud the father of Eliakim,

and Eliakim the father of Azor,

and Azor the father of Zadok,

and Zadok the father of Achim,

and Achim the father of Eliud,

and Eliud the father of Eleazar,

and Eleazar the father of Matthan,

and Matthan the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.”

This story, friends, is ultimately, finally, fully about Messiah, the child who would be born, the Son who would be given, the child who would be the goel, the redeemer, the restorer, the rescuer, the royal son of David, the heir to the throne, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the shepherd, the one born in Bethlehem and the servant of all. He is the true and greater redeemer to come, that on the cross He will bear the price of our redemption. He will purchase us, buy us, redeem us, set us free that we might have life and a future, and a name and an inheritance. He is the true and greater king who will shepherd His people, Israel, who will rule and reign with justice and peace and equity. He is the true and greater servant who will wash His disciples’ feet and lay down His life to ransom many.

And in what Tolkien referred to as the greatest eucatastrophe in the greatest story of all time, having laid down His life, Jesus rose from the dead in resurrection power, and ascended in glory, and will one day return to set the world aright. One day all will be made new.

In Revelation 21 this is what John writes: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

And there it is. Everything sad come untrue. The world set to rights. It’s eucatastrophe. And friends, all of this traces back to Ruth and Boaz and this story. If Ruth and Boaz don’t get together, there’s no Obed. There’s no Obed. There’s no David. And if there’s no David, there’s no Jesus, and if there’s no Jesus there’s no resurrection. There’s no new heavens and earth. There’s no eucatastrophe. Literally the healing of the universe and the plot line of all of redemptive history hinges on this story. And here’s the point. God is weaving an intricate tapestry of redemption here. He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of redemption. Boaz and Ruth had no idea what God intended to do through their story, did they? They had no idea what their stories would one day mean for you and for me, how their story in some sense would be a model of the redemptive story arc of the universe. They had no idea.

Naomi had no idea what God was doing in her story either, how her loss and sorrow and grief and bitterness could be turned to such joy and hope and a future, and not just for her but for the whole world. And yet without knowing, indeed without even asking their permission, God’s mercies are operating in the shadows. And He knows what He’s doing, doesn’t He?

John Piper one time said this, and I’ve never forgotten it. He said, “God is always doing ten thousand things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” (chuckles) God is always doing ten thousand things in your life and my life, and we may be aware of like three of them.

Elizabeth Elliot had a famous illustration. She said, “Our lives are like a tapestry.” Do you know what a tapestry is? It’s like a big sewn rug that hangs on the wall, or something like this, a big tapestry of art sewn together. And on the front of it it is beautiful, ornate, intricate, detailed, beautiful. But if you flip it over, pull it off the wall and look at the back side of that tapestry, you will see threads running this way and that in a mess and mat of what looks like purposeless chaos. It is not until you get to the other side of the tapestry and see the author’s intention, the artist’s intention, that all of those random threads start to make sense. That’s what was going on, and that’s what was happening.

And our lives are like that, friends. Until we see the end, until we see the eucatastrophe, and everything sad comes untrue, and the world is set to right, we see chaos. We see threads going everywhere. It looks purposeless. It looks chaotic. It doesn’t look like God knows what He’s doing, but in the end, when everything is said and done, and we actually get to see what God has been doing in our lives, in our history, in our world, it starts to become beautiful. And the same God, friends, who did this for Ruth and Naomi in these four compressed chapters, this same God is doing the same redemptive good intentional work in your life and my life. This is not to deny the pain and the heartache and all the mess of the things we go through. It’s simply to say that God has a bigger perspective, a greater intention. He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. We’re called according to His purpose.

In our lives, friends, God is doing this great, beautiful and redemptive work right here, right now. And so I don’t know what you face. I don’t know what you’re going through. Sometimes life is really hard. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve had those moments. But the book of Ruth is reminding us that when we have no idea what God is doing, we can actually trust Him. We can actually place our hope in Him. We can put our faith in His promises. We can cast our entire weight of our life on His shoulders. It gives us a resiliency to keep on, to persevere, to not give up hope. For grief is real. Pain is ever-present, and yet the mercies of God are new every morning and they are with us every step of the way.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

So keep on. Keep pressing on. Don’t give up. God is doing ten thousand things in your life right now, and you see maybe three of them. Trust Him with the rest, the 9,997 other variables that you can’t even see. Your God is good. He is faithful and true, and He is watching over you. We can trust Him because He’s our God. Let’s keep our eyes on Him.

Would you bow your heads and pray with me?

Can it be true? Is everything sad really going to come untrue? What has happened with the world? Jesus has happened to the world. Redemption is happening in this world.

In Jesus Christ, Father, you are setting all things to rights. So right here in the middle of the plotline, in the middle of the chaos and all the noise when things don’t make sense to us, Father, help us to trust you. Help us to not give up hope. Help us to walk by faith. Help us to believe that the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives in us, that you are in the business of redeeming and restoring, taking crucifixions and turning them to resurrection life, that you are taking brokenness and mending it, and that everything sad really is coming untrue. Help us believe. Help us to remain faithful. Help us keep our eyes on Jesus, the One who is worthy. He is worthy of everything. We pray this to the glory of His name, Amen.

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