Church at Home – 12th of July 2020 – 1 Peter 1:3-12

Read

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Good morning everyone, thank you for joining me again. As you know, we’ve temporarily asked that people only attend services in the meeting house where they are a member of the congregation. Even with this restriction in place we still can’t fit everyone in. So, I am continuing to put these messages and some other resources online.

Last week we began this series on 1 Peter and covered just the first two verses. But these verses are important. Peter in just those two verses, reminded the people he was writing to – a selection of churches scattered around what is now modern-day Turkey – who they are and what a remarkable thing has already happened to them to make them Christians. They were chosen by the Father, sanctified by the Sprit, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, the Son, to live lives of obedience to God. If a person is a Christian, it’s not just one of those things, it’s not ordinary, it is the result of the extraordinary work of all three persons of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Today, we’ll be continuing in the first chapter and looking at verses three to 12. In these verses Peter reminds these Christians that because of this extraordinary thing God has done, and is doing in them, they have new life.  

Let’s read 1 Peter 1:3-12 now.

In verse three Peter talks about the new birth that God the Father has given Christians. A fresh start and a new identity. Imagine starting again with God, your old sins, your regrets and mistakes washed away, a new identity given to you, all is forgiven. You can start over, but not just to repeat the same mistakes again, you are born again and empowered by God’s Spirit to live out your new identity, to become what you were always destined to be. Not only does God call you to be a new person, he makes you a new person, a person who knows the joy of walking with their God, of experiencing life as it was meant to be. 

Christians have a real, living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is for us the proof of what God is doing in us and what he will bring to completion, he will make all things new, giving them real life, setting things right. Proof that death is not the end, that God has a better plan. 

The hope that Christians have is not in some ideology or philosophy that someone came up with long ago. It is a hope which comes, as Peter writes at the end of verse 3, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 

Our hope is grounded in in a real historical event that happened in this world. When the Apostles like Peter went out to spread the Good News about Jesus, they preached about something that had just happened. People didn’t like what they were saying. They persecuted them, but they wouldn’t shut up, they beat them, but they wouldn’t shut up, they killed them, but the message carried on and spread around the world. Christ died to rescue sinners and he is risen, he is alive

Nothing can tarnish this new hope or inheritance Christians have as a result of their faith in Christ, nothing can take away their identity as children of God, nothing can take away this blessing, it is kept safe for them in heaven. Even if those who persecute the church should do their worst and kill them they cannot destroy their inheritance and in the end the Christians will be brought fourth again in glory when God makes all things new. This amazing gift from God came for free from a God who didn’t owe us anything but punishment for our sins. And that’s why Peter begins verse 3 with praise: 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  

(1 Peter 1:3a, NIV) 

This gift is all from God’s mercy and grace, we didn’t earn it and we don’t have to pay for it, we couldn’t ever earn it or afford it anyway. If you are a Christian, rejoice in the hope that God has given you, be encouraged that it is safe and that your hope is not in something vague but in a real event that happened and that you follow a living Saviour. If you are not a Christian the invitation is there, to know God, to trust in what Jesus did and follow him, to be set free by the amazing love of God to be born again as the person you were always meant to be, to know true life, true love, true hope, true peace, true joy… even in the midst of trials 

These Christians are suffering for their faith. Peter compares these trials to gold being tested in a furnace. When Christians go through trials, when we suffer even lightly because of our faith – because we want to honour God and live this new life – that faith grows. Your faith is proven true and becomes stronger and purer when you cling to it in the face of trials. Gold is refined in a furnace, you don’t get stronger or fitter by lying on the couch all day, and it is just like that with faith. Your faith grows in the hard times. Nobody was ever pampered into being strong. Even gold will perish but your faith secures for you an eternal salvation and results in praise and glory and honour for God and for you. 
 
These people know what is truly important – knowing God and the salvation Christ has won for them – they have been liberated from the slavery of sin and the punishment of death and they know that nobody can take that blessing away from them. Therefore, they rejoice even though they are grieved by various trials. Peter calls their joy “inexpressible and glorious” in verse 8 – this is a righteous joy; they are celebrating what is truly worth celebrating. These Christians have their priorities right when it comes to hope and joy. 

What is your hope and joy in? Our priorities can often get shuffled around by all the distractions of this world, so we should all ask ourselves “Do I have my priorities right?” Are you miserable and stressed out about lesser things while forgetting the things that are most important? 

This is a short letter but Peter paints some very vivid pictures for us in the next few verses (verses 10 to 12). Peter writes of the Old Testament prophets who prophesied about the coming Messiah, his suffering and the glory that would follow. These prophets spoke of the grace that was to come to these people saved by the Messiah. These prophets were so captivated by what had been revealed to them about this work of God that they longed and searched intently to find out the details. Christians can look back at the cross and see more details than the prophets knew, they can tell more of the wonderful story of what God has done, a story that involves us personally. 

Even angels, Peter says in verse 12, long to look into these things. Think about that for a moment. Angels long to see what God has done and is doing in you. Angels can see and behold God, his beauty unhidden, they worship him constantly, and yet what has happened and is happening and will happen to you, because of Jesus, has captured their attention so much! The word translated “long” here, used to described the angel’s longing to look into salvation, that word means “desire” and it is even sometimes translated “lust”, although the word in itself has neither good nor bad connotations. Picture that, angels craning their necks desiring to see the details of salvation, longing to see what God is doing with Christians, with you. This is because our gracious and merciful God is glorified by what he is doing in us. The transformation that takes place in a Christian is glorifying to God. It’s an understatement to say that this is a big deal! 

All who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour have been given new life, a new relationship with God as their Father and a new and sure hope. That’s what we need in times of suffering: not just wishful thinking, but a sure hope. Something solid. In Christ we have that solid ground. An unshakable refuge in uncertain times. 

Jesus said it himself. John 10:27-30 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 

(John 10:27-30, NIV) 

No matter what happens you are Christ’s. He lives and reigns and because of what Jesus has done you have new life and an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. If you belong to Christ, then nothing in this world can take you out of his hand. 

This was true of Peter, it was true of the Christians that he was writing to as they endured their trials, and it is true for us today. 

Pray

Lord as we are separated from each other today, some at home and some sitting far apart in a church building, we pray for a spiritual unity and a great sense of our fellowship with one another in Christ. We thank you that no matter where we are, we can worship you. We can read your word. We can pray to you, and we know that you are always with us.

Help us all to be as careful as we can be out of love for one another. Protect us from infection and keep us in good health. We pray for those who are especially vulnerable that you would relive their anxiety with the knowledge of your love and faithfulness to them

We pray for those working to fight against COVID-19 in hospitals and care homes and labs all over the country and the world. Protect them and bless their work. We pray for protection for those who are made vulnerable by their jobs.

We pray for an end to this pandemic, for powerful treatments, vaccinations and wisdom to reduce the spread and effectiveness of the Coronavirus.

We pray that in times of stress and uncertainty, people would seek assurance in you.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 5th of July 2020 – 1 Peter 1:1-2

Read

Good morning everyone! Thank you for joining me for another Sunday morning of Church at Home! Today I want to begin a new series on the letter 1 Peter. We’ll only be covering the first two verses of this letter today, but they are a very important two verses, as I hope you’ll see.

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Today I want us to take a look at the overlooked. The things that don’t get much attention. When we think of New Testament letters and their impact we deservedly think of Paul’s letters. They are fascinating, brilliant. They explain so much of what Christ has accomplished for his people and what we are in this world. But as we focus on Paul and his letters, we can neglect the other letter writers of the New Testament. Peter often becomes overshadowed by Paul and we forget what a treasure Peter’s letters are too. 

When we think of the New Testament letters, we can also overlook an important part of those letters. The beginning. The opening verses of the letters usually follow some standard format and so we can often skim over them, taking them as any old “dear sir or madam”. But great thought was put into these verses, and more importantly, they are the word of God. So, I want today to look at just the two verses at the beginning of 1 Peter. 

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, 

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: 

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 

(1 Peter 1:1-2, NIV)

Here one of the first church leaders, Peter one of the original twelve apostles, who had learned at the Master’s feet, who had been among Jesus’ very closest companions and friends even among the apostles, writes this circular letter to be passed around to a selection of churches in what is modern-day Turkey. Peter writes to encourage these Christians in the face of persecution and suffering, reminding them what a blessing they have and what a wonderful thing God is doing. These are a people who are feeling the cost of discipleship. They are exiles in this world. They are scattered about in a hostile land. Peter writes to remind them who they and who they belong to. 

This is a people out of step with the world they are living in. They are a not like the rest of the people where they live. The live in a world of false gods and idols. Although the early Christians were said to out-live, out-love and out-laugh their non-Christian neighbours there was friction. The Christians did not join in with the pagan festivals around them, they did not have idols, they did not make sacrifices, they did not visit the pagan shrines, they did not get drunk. So, the Christians were persecuted for their faith and the ways that that faith made a difference in their lives. 

And here they are. Scattered and different. That makes them feel isolated. Isolation can be a terrible thing. It’s gets wearisome. We’ve experienced a different kind of isolation these past few months because of COVID-19. We’ve had to isolate from each other. We’ve had to keep our distance. Even now, look at us. Some of us sitting far apart in a church building. No handshakes. No hugs. No huddling up for a chat. I can’t come down and interact with the children. Some of us at home waiting to return. Isolation is hard. Theirs was a different kind of isolation, but the feelings of stress and loneliness and “Why am I doing this anyway? Can’t things just be normal!” must have crept into their thoughts too. 

Aside from the pandemic, modern-day Christians still feel the same isolation that was around in the early church. Maybe not to such a great extent. We have the freedom to worship openly. We have a history in this place. But still, following Jesus will make you different and being different all the time, being the odd one out, can make things extremely hard and very lonely. There is a pressure to conform. To just get on with being normal and stop being awkward. 

Peter writes this letter to tell them what exactly it is that makes them different and what that means for their lives. He writes to give them courage and hope during their isolation and the persecution they experience. 

Peter calls them “God’s elect”. They were chosen by God. That’s what makes them different. 

Peter goes into greater detail: they are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This isn’t an accident. The Father knows what he’s doing, and he chose them. They have not been overlooked or forgotten. They were chosen by the Father long ago and everything is going according to his plan. 

They were chosen through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is who gives Christians life and makes us different. He transforms us. He makes us holy. He sets us apart. They are feeling the cost of being different, but Peter reminds them that this difference in them is the work of God. 

They were sprinkled with the blood of Jesus. Cleansed and purified by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Their sins atoned for.  

These people aren’t just a bunch of lonely sufferers, a collection of misfits and outsiders, picked on and bullied. These people are God’s elect, his chosen people,  and if they are different now it is because God has chosen them and made them different.  

Peter shows how the whole Trinity has been involved in making them into the new people they have become and are becoming. They were chosen according to foreknowledge of the Father, they are sanctified by the work of the Spirit and brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, cleansed and purified by the sprinkling of his blood, by his sacrifice. 

Knowing who and what you are is important. We’ve all heard of the story of the ugly duckling, right? He doesn’t look like his friends. He’s different. They call him ugly. They bully him. And it makes this poor little guy very sad. You know the end of the story. He grows up and discovers that he was never a duckling at all. He’s a swan. Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if he knew that when he was little? When the ducklings picked on the way he looked he could have just gone “Well, yeah of course I look different from you, I’m a swan and you’re ducks. I’m not supposed to look like you.” I think that would have made him feel a lot better about being different. 

Peter is telling these Christians why they are different. They’re not ugly ducklings. They’re not ducklings at all. Christians are chosen by God and made different by God. When the world makes you feel like the odd one out, and it will if you are committed to following Jesus, then know that you are supposed to be different. That’s the work of God in you. 

Do you ever feel like a misfit because of your faith? Do you ever feel lonely or laughed at? Are you tempted sometimes to downplay your identity as a follower of Christ to fit in with those who don’t know him and don’t follow him? Well if you know Jesus and belong to him you have no need to be ashamed or worry, God has made you his with his whole heart! All three persons of the Trinity were involved in bringing you to faith in Christ. You’ve been chosen by the Father, through the Spirit, for the Son. 

The church is not an ugly duckling. We are not just misfits. We are God’s chosen people.  

Pray 

O Lord, our heavenly Father we thank you for making us yours. We thank you that your church is free to meet again in congregations around the country today. We pray that your people would be careful to abide by the current restrictions out of love for one another. We pray that you would protect your people who gather together to worship you. We pray for the day when we will no longer need the restrictions that have been put in place.  

We pray against COVID-19. We pray for powerful new treatments. We pray for vaccines. We pray for the death of this virus. We pray for those who are sick. Please heal them. We pray for those who mourn. Please comfort them. We pray for those who work to care for others. Give them strength, compassion and skill. 

We pray for our new government, that they would be wise and just and govern the people of this country well. As the country still battles this pandemic and faces towards another recession, we pray for your help, especially for those who are most vulnerable. 

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. 

Amen. 

Sing

Church at Home – 28th of June 2020 – Psalm 73

Read

Thank you for joining me again this morning. Today we’ll turn to Psalm 73, a psalm of wrestling and doubt, but also hope and devotion.

Please click here to read Psalm 73.

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

This morning we’re wrestling with doubt. That’s what this psalm is about. Specifically, it’s about the psalmist’s struggles through doubt caused by the injustice he sees around him and how that appears to contradict everything he believes about God. Doubt is a normal part of the Christian faith and, if we use it well, it can lead us to even stronger faith.

Every so often I’ll have a conversation with an atheist or agnostic and they will raise the issue of how anyone can believe in a good God when there is so much injustice and suffering in the world. I think the assumption that some people make is that, to be a Christian, you must just not think about all that stuff. As if I’ve never thought about the problem of suffering and injustice, or else I just close my eyes to it to live in a fantasy world where everything is nice.

I’d argue that the opposite is true: that a committed Christian is far more likely to think about the problem of injustice and how we can see it right in front of our faces or on the news, while at the same time believing that God is good and just and that he is in control over everything. The Christian is far more likely to wrestle with this than the unbeliever. Loving God and having a relationship with him doesn’t mean that you never wrestle with doubt.

We argue with people who are close to us more often than we argue with total strangers. And that’s because of our close relationship, not despite it. In the same way, my relationship with God makes me more likely to wrestle with him over things and more likely to have thought about the times when life seems to contradict the things I believe. I believe in God’s goodness. I believe that God is sovereign — that he is in control over all things. So when I see terrible injustice, the things I see seem to contradict the things I believe about a good and just God being in control. So, I wrestle with this. I wrestle with God. This is the stuff I think about on a regular basis, because of my faith, not despite it. The believer is far more likely to wrestle with God than the unbeliever.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t shy away from these difficult issues. It is the story of God reaching out to his people and how his people have reacted to this in very human ways. The psalms are full of this humanity. In this psalm we read the words of someone who wrestled with doubt.

Doubt isn’t something we need to be ashamed of. It’s not a sin. It’s not the mark of a fake Christian. Remember that these psalms are there to help the people of God worship him together. So if the word of God contains a psalm all about wrestling with doubt then doubt is a part of our faith.

The psalmist lays out his belief and the doubts he has when he looks around him and reality seemed to be telling a different story:

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

(Psalm 73:1-3, NIV)

Our faith doesn’t hide or shy away from this kind of thinking, it doesn’t try and shield us from it. The Bible makes us think about these issues. We are encouraged to wrestle with God. God’s people were even called “Israel”, meaning “he wrestles with God”, reminding them of the time their ancestor Jacob, or Israel as he became known, actually wrestled with God, clinging on to him to receive a blessing from him. We’re supposed to engage with our doubts and bring them to God. We know he can handle it and we know he’s worth wrestling with. When you wrestle with God you will be changed. We’re not meant to live in a fantasy world of wishful thinking, but to wrestle with the tension of the truth of our faith in the justice, sovereignty and goodness of God and the reality that we live in a broken, fallen world.

You look at the injustice of the world and you might think “Well where is it then? Where is God’s goodness to those who are pure in heart?” It seems the other way around. Those with impure, wicked hearts are prospering while they trample on the weak.

The poor are valued less than the ability of the rich and powerful to make a profit so they can get even richer. Services are cut to the neediest to give tax breaks to the rich. The poor are disenfranchised, ignored, dismissed. And the result is that the poor, the sick, the vulnerable die.

People just like you and me have to bury their children, they have to run for their lives as their homes fall to ruin from the bombs dropped on their towns at the orders of people who live at ease and dress in fine suits. The rich and powerful devour the poor and vulnerable. And this is nothing new.

The author looked out at his world where those who hate God seem to be living a great life. They are rich and prosperous. They’re healthy and free from pain and trouble. They are proud, arrogant, and unashamedly violent. They are malicious and oppressive. They are bullies and it looks like they’re getting away with it.

Because of their success they’re praised by the people and they dare God to act, all the while getting richer and richer:

Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.                
They say, ‘How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?’           
This is what the wicked are like –
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

(Psalm 73:10-12, NIV)

In the face of this injustice, the psalmist’s creed seems like a taunt or like sarcasm:

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart

(Psalm 73:1, NIV)

And yet, even faced with the injustice of this world, I believe this. I believe in the goodness and justice of God with all my heart. I believe that he cares much more than I do about the poor and the vulnerable. This psalm is a journey through its author’s own doubt to an even stronger treasuring of God who is good and just.

When the author’s doubting reaches its worst, he has a choice to make. He had begun to wonder what the point of it all was — in his life of trusting and obeying God (vv. 13 and 14):

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

(Psalm 73:13-14, NIV)

Why bother being good? The wicked seem to be doing great and instead of a reward for his goodness he suffers while it looks as if the wicked, the greedy, the violent are rewarded for their wickedness.

But he stops here. He gets to this point in his complaints and then considers the effect it will have on others if he continues to complain publicly. He still knows deep down that there is truth in his belief that God is good, and he doesn’t want to have a negative impact on the faith of other people.

Since he has decided not to vent publicly any longer, what is he to do? He could keep it to himself and try to bear this burden alone, try to get to the bottom of what’s troubling him. Try to figure out by himself how to resolve this tension — How can there be a good God and so much injustice in the world? But that won’t do. This is an age-old question, something that people have been trying to figure out for millennia. It’s too much for the psalmist to resolve by himself. He says in verse 16:

When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply

(Psalm 73:16, NIV)

The psalmist didn’t get through his doubt by fixating on the injustice and complaining. Nor was he able to resolve things by himself. He got through his doubt by taking it to God. Verse 17:

till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

(Psalm 73:17, NIV)

This tension between the injustice that the psalmist sees around him and his belief in the goodness of God can’t be resolved or understood on a merely academic level. You won’t get an answer that will satisfy you. Because God is not just another subject to be studied. The psalmist couldn’t get through his doubts until he sought God himself, instead of treating God like a mere subject to be speculated about.

If you have doubts and you want to get through those doubts then seek God himself, not just answers, not philosophy or theology. Those are fine fields of study, but you will not be satisfied until you seek God in the midst of your doubts.

There’s a part in the children’s book “The Magician’s Nephew”, part of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The main character, a young boy named Digory, has met Aslan the lion (who in these books is another incarnation of Jesus) and is telling Aslan about how his mother is dying and he’s begging him to heal her. And then he looks up at Aslan.

“Up till then, he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now in his despair, he looked up at his face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared to Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was, himself”

When we take our doubts and bring them to God to wrestle with him and talk to him about what’s causing those doubts. When we bring our pain at the injustice of the world to God, we will find that he cares a lot more about these things than we do. That he mourns with us. That injustice angers him.

We will find a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. We will find a God who weeps with the mourners, who suffered alongside us, who calls us to trust in him and follow him. We will find a God who willingly submitted to the violence and wickedness of this world to put an end to it. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our own wickedness. We will find a God who will make all things new one day as he wipes away every tear from our eyes.

When the psalmist sought God, he begun to be able to see things from God’s perspective, from an eternal perspective.

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.

(Psalm 73:18-20, NIV)

From an eternal perspective, the most prosperous, long, and healthy life here on earth is over in a moment. The wicked may have an easy life for a while but that time will come to an end for us all. The wicked may enjoy life for now, but the afterlife holds no joy for them.

Contrast this with the psalmist, who has put his faith in God. Who treasures God.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will take me into glory.

(Psalm 73:23-24, NIV)

The psalmist may suffer for a time, but if God is his greatest treasure now in this life he will continue to go on with God and be received with honour that awaits all the faithful in heaven.

I don’t have a ready answer to all the questions you may have about the problem of evil and the doubts that may be causing in you. But what I do know is that God cares about this. What I do know is that we are very small, and sometimes we can’t see over the problem of evil and injustice. But I know that God is good, and things are different from his perspective, from the perspective of eternity.

The psalmist leaves this period of doubting with an even stronger faith because he sought God, not merely answers, but God himself.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

(Psalm 73:25-28, NIV)

He treasures God more than anything else in this world and he knows that God is with him forever.

I can’t give you an answer for every doubt you have. Maybe it’s a doubt that will lead you even closer to God and I believe it will if you take that doubt and wrestle with God over it. Seek God.

Pray

Father God, we look to you for assurance of your love and your justice in troubled times. When life feels cruel and unfair, we turn to you. We ask not that you remove us from this world but that you help us to stay close to you during our time here. Fill us with your Spirit and help us to be light in the darkness. Fill us with hope. Fill us with compassion and grace. May your church be an oasis of peace and grace in a troubled world. Help us to shine light into the darkness.

We pray for Yemen, and especially its children, trapped by war, suffering and dying from malnutrition and illness. It is no natural disaster, no unavoidable catastrophe that perpetuates the suffering of these children, but the greed and violence of human beings. Please bring peace and stability to this country. Please help aid to get to those who need it.

We pray against COVID19. Please help those who are working to develop treatments and vaccines. Please help people to be mindful of their neighbours and abide by guidelines designed to protect the vulnerable. Please heal the sick. Please help those who are treating and caring for others. Please bring your comfort to those who mourn.

We seek you in the midst of all of life’s pain and uncertainty. Help us to know your great love.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home Resources – 21st of June 2020 – Jonah 4

Read

Thanks for joining me again this week. This is the final instalment of our series on Jonah since we’re looking at the final chapter of the book: Jonah 4. I hope you find the video, prayer and suggested songs helpful.

Rev. John.

Please click here to read Jonah, chapter 4.

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Last week we read of how Jonah finally obeyed God’s call. He went into the city of Nineveh and preached. Jonah’s preaching led to the whole city repenting and God did not punish them.

What a miracle! The whole city repents, even the cows! Preachers dream of getting a response like this. Of making such an impact on people. An entire city responded to God’s message and all Jonah did was utter the short warning that God gave him to say:

‘Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.’

(Jonah 3:4b, NIV)

Just eight words in our English translation. Just five words in Hebrew. I strive and study and stay up way too late to write my sermons. I read over sentences asking myself if this is this the right thing to say. Is this faithful to God’s word? 

Jonah just mopes into Nineveh and says five words and he gets the kind of reaction that I can only dream of. God is glorified in this — a whole city, a great city, turning from its sin. The power of God’s word! What a display of mercy. Think about how God will be glorified in the lives of all these people who have turned from their sin. But Jonah… Jonah is angry.

Other prophets in the Bible did not have it so easy. Poor Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” begged and pleaded for people to listen to him for years and he was persecuted for his efforts and for warning the people of God’s coming judgement. And this was in Jerusalem, the holy city! Jonah walks into a huge pagan city and says five words and it’s comical how effective it is! This is a complete success, something that should be a prophet’s dream come true. But again, in this strange story we’re confronted with the unexpected. Jonah is so angry and bitter that he says he wants to die. He sulks!

The grace and mercy that God showed to Nineveh offends Jonah. As we’ve been going through this book you may have noticed signs of Jonah’s pride. He really doesn’t want to go to Nineveh, a huge pagan city. When he gets swallowed by the fish, he still manages to have a little dig at the pagans while patting himself on the back for being one of the people who know how to worship God properly. He manages to do this while in the belly of a fish… after trying to flee from God. Well here in chapter four Jonah’s religious pride is on full show.

God’s mercy displeases and even angers him, and we find out here that this is the reason Jonah ran away from his call in the first place. Jonah didn’t run away because the job was too hard or scary, but because he knew that God is merciful, and he didn’t want the Ninevites to have the blessing of that mercy. He knew that God is merciful, the whole history of his people is full of stories of God’s mercy and faithfulness to them when they didn’t deserve it. What Jonah’s attitude now tells us is that he believed that he and his people were somehow worthy of God’s grace and mercy, while the Ninevites were not. It was okay for him to be blessed by God, but not the Ninevites, not the pagans.

Pride finds a way. We are desperate creatures looking for security. Looking for some way to feel safe, to feel like we have value and we’re worth something. Sometimes to make ourselves feel good we’ll pick someone else or some other group of people and just try to feel better than them.

Deep down Jonah knows that he and his people never earned or deserved God’s blessing — it’s grace, it’s mercy. But it is a hard thing to really accept grace because it means forgetting about yourself and we really don’t like doing that. The only way we’re ever going to find the security we need is in completely surrendering to the grace of God. Accepting it with empty hands, forgetting about any notion of paying for it or deserving it.

You’re not perfect. You don’t have to be. God loves you. You fail at things sometimes. Despite that, God loves you. You’re not as smart as you’d like to be. God loves you. You’re not as pretty as you’d like to be. God loves you. Or perhaps you really are highly successful, smart and oh so pretty. God loves you, but not because of any of those things. You’re not better than anyone else. God loves you; you don’t need to be.

Jonah’s having a hard time wrestling with the grace of God because he sees that it means he’s no better than these pagans. It means he’s no more deserving of all the ways God has blessed him. None of his religious practices have made him any more deserving of God’s love. 

Have you received God’s grace for the gift that it is? Or are you still trying to be good enough? Or pretend that the things in your life that you’re proud of somehow make you good enough?

Jonah wishes to die. Or at least he says he does. But God doesn’t kill him. Instead what we see in response to Jonah’s tantrum is another display of God’s amazing grace and mercy. 

What we saw happen to Nineveh was a spectacular display of mercy when a whole city was overwhelmed by the spirit of repentance so that they were not destroyed for all their sins. A spectacular display of God’s mercy. What we see after that, in God’s interactions with Jonah, is something also miraculous, but a quieter, more intimate, more personal display of God’s mercy as he reasons with Jonah. God stoops down and puts on a little show just for Jonah to draw Jonah away from his pride and hatred and awaken compassion in him.

Think of how God could have responded to Jonah. “Who are you to question me and my mercy!? You are angry with what I, God Almighty, have done?! Who do you think you are little man!?” Jonah the runaway prophet is angry that God is merciful, while at the same time having just been shown amazing mercy himself and while relying on that very same mercy for every breath in his lungs.

God doesn’t rebuke Jonah. God questions him:

But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’

(Jonah 4:4, NIV)

God wants Jonah to come out of his anger and think. He is stooping down to meet Jonah where he is to draw him away from his hatred. Marvel at the patience of God dealing with this rebellious prophet sulking in response to God’s amazing mercy!

The question goes unanswered at first. Has Jonah ignored God and stomped off in a huff? Who does he think he is? He goes out of the city to watch and see if God will change his mind. As if his little tantrum would make God second-guess his mercy. Jonah must have a high opinion of himself.

So, God pursues Jonah. He’s after Jonah’s heart. And so, as we’ve seen before in this amazing little book, God who is in control of all things, pulls some more strings. In verses 6 to 8 we see God appoint a plant to grow and shelter Jonah. This makes Jonah incredibly happy. God then appoints a worm to eat away at the bush, then the hot wind and the sun make it wither away and Jonah is off sulking again. This incident with the bush and the worm is all just so God could show Jonah something. God made Jonah care about something. God awoke Jonah’s compassion. Over a plant!

God is trying to get through to Jonah to make a point. This time when God asks the question again Jonah answers.

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

(Jonah 4:9, NIV)

Jonah is sulking again and this time it’s about something which was destroyed — his little plant that kept the sun off his head. This is all part of God’s plan, pulling strings to use this plant and the worm to make a point to Jonah:

But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?’

(Jonah 4:10-11, NIV)

You care so much about this bush which you had nothing to do with and which came and went and you object to me caring about this great city?

God is saying to Jonah that he cares about Nineveh. God knows exactly how many people live there. God knows them all by name. He has given them life. For every moment of every one of their lives, God has been there. He knit them together in the wombs of their mothers. He was there when they took their first steps and spoke their first words. Why shouldn’t God care about them when Jonah cares about a plant that sprung up overnight and which he did nothing to make grow? 

Nineveh matters to God. People matter to God. Animals matter to God. If God is sovereign — and we’ve been shown time and time again in this short story that God is indeed sovereign — then he gives life to all people everywhere. Every breath you’ve ever taken has been a gift to you from God. He has been there every moment of your existence. You matter to God. Your friends and neighbours matter to God and whether they know it or not, God has been there all along in their life.

Perhaps you do not know God. Could he be pulling the strings in your life to direct you so that you ended up hearing this message that you matter to God and that he is calling you to himself?

Our story of Jonah ends there, We’re not told what Jonah said in response. God just lets that question hang in the air like the final note of a piece of music. It sticks with you. Because Jonah doesn’t respond you’re left thinking about the question. It becomes a question directed towards you because Jonah’s not there to give his response. This is a short story, but it sucks you in and it makes this issue of mercy very personal. If God cares so much and shows mercy to those who hate and rebel against him, why should we be angry when he blesses our enemies. In fact, shouldn’t we be merciful. Shouldn’t we bless our enemies?

But perhaps underneath all the pride and all the ways that Jonah forgot that he too was depending so much on God’s mercy, perhaps underneath all that there was something good that led to his anger. And maybe you’ve been thinking of this too. I’ve been going on and on about grace and mercy and I make no apologies for that, but what about justice?

I mean this was a great city full of idol worshippers, full of sinners who turned their back on the living God. This people forgot about their creator and worshipped created things instead. What about justice, what about God’s honour? And I’ve been talking about loving our enemies, but what about all the hurt that our enemies have caused us? What about the people that have hurt you?

How do we worship a God who we believe is good and holy and pure, who cares about right and wrong — justice and injustice — while at the same time believing in his amazing grace and mercy, bigger than we can imagine?

God does care about justice and injustice; they matter to him. Sin matters to God. It can’t simply be waved aside. Sin matters to God because people matter to God. He cares about all the ways we hurt one another. Our Creator cares when his creations turn their back on him.

God has shown us how these two things — justice and grace — are held together. And we see that in Jesus, in the cross. Sin must be atoned for and it was atoned for. To atone for the sins of human beings a human being suffered not just rejection, not just hatred, not just torture and death, but separation from God. The debt was paid. The justice of God was satisfied when Jesus Christ stood in our place and paid our debt. And grace — that man who died was also God himself. Justice and grace meet at the cross, each perfectly fulfilled. God can show mercy and grace to those who have put their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus because the demands of justice have been satisfied. That grace is for you if you put your faith in Jesus. This is how grace and mercy meet — in the cross of Jesus Christ we see a righteous God who hates evil, but who is also a gracious and loving God who blesses his enemies. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done and peace with this righteous and gracious God is yours.

I am glad that God is merciful to his enemies because if he wasn’t, I would have no hope and neither would you. And reflecting on the cross and on God’s lingering question to Jonah shows us the kind of attitude we should have. We should love our enemies because God loved his. While Jesus was being killed, he prayed for the forgiveness of the people doing this to him. Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to show mercy to? That’s what this short story is about. Although most people immediately think of the fish, that’s not the point. The point is mercy. God’s grace and mercy which is bigger than you can imagine. As we gladly receive that grace and mercy for ourselves, we must be careful not to let pride keep us from a kind of religious stinginess that makes us callous or cruel to those who are not like us. We’re no better, no more deserving. It’s a gift. A gift that we can share.

Pray

Lord we praise you for your mercy and grace to us in Jesus Christ. We look at the cross and see the greatness of our sin, we see that you are a just God. But as great as our sins are, the cross shows us that your love is greater. Help us to receive your amazing grace as a gift. Help us to know that we are not saved by our own virtue, but only by the righteousness of Christ who died in our place.

As we receive your grace may it make us humble. Protect us from falling into pride. Keep us from looking down on others. May we be a gracious and merciful people.

We pray for our country. We thank you that the number of new cases of COVID19 are lower, and we pray that they continue to go down. We pray for those who mourn the loss of loved ones to this disease. Please comfort them. We pray for healing for the sick. We pray for all those working to fight against this disease and its impact on our society, whether in hospitals, care homes, labs, factories or shops.

We pray for those who have suffered loss during this time and because of restrictions have not been able to mourn in the usual ways that we find helpful here. Draw near to them and comfort them.

As businesses reopen please help us to be careful. Help us to care about our neighbours and communities.

As churches prepare to reopen please help the leaders to implement all the necessary steps to create a safe place for people to gather for worship. Help us to be wise as we draw up our plans.

We pray in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Sing

Church at Home Resources – 14th of June 2020 – Jonah 3

Read

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Thanks for joining me again today. We’re going to be looking at Jonah, chapter 3 today. Jonah, God’s runaway, rebellious prophet has survived. He’s been vomited out by the giant fish onto dry land. A second chance.

Let’s read chapter 3 together: Click here to read Jonah, chapter 3.

Everybody thinks that Jonah’s about a big fish, but that’s not it at all. Jonah is about a God who is so merciful, it shocks us if we ever truly catch a glimpse of it. God shows his mercy to Jonah first. We see that by the fact that Jonah is alive. Not only did he survive being caught in a fierce storm, he survived being thrown overboard into the sea. Not only that, he survived for three days inside a giant fish. Jonah who disobeyed and rebelled against God was alive because God showed mercy to him.

But more than that, God’s mercy is shown in that he recommissioned Jonah:

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’

(Jonah 3:1-2)

This second call begins with exactly the same words as the first call back at the beginning of chapter one. This really is a second chance for Jonah, a fresh start. Jonah ran away from his calling and God brought him back and now he begins again.

God has not given up on Jonah. That’s a message of hope for all of us rebels, all of us failures, all of us who have run off and done what we know is wrong. God is merciful, God is gracious, more gracious than we dare imagine and if we come back to him we find him — our Father — greeting us with open arms.

Jonah recommitted himself to the worship of the Lord, and as I explained last week — he did so with an incomplete grasp of God’s grace, with still some pride about his religion, and without any mention of going to Nineveh. But still that imperfect repentance was accepted. And that’s good news for all of us who worry whether we’ve repented correctly. Have we said the right words? Have we beat ourselves up enough? Do we feel sorry enough? No. You don’t. But we are not saved by our tears, but by the blood of Christ shed for us unworthy sinners on the cross. If you think of this as a thing which you must get right, you won’t. We cannot atone for our sins. We just don’t have enough credit to pay that debt. Jesus does, and he has paid it for us. Because of Jesus we have a Father who scans the horizon waiting for us to come home so he can embrace us. We have a Father ready to forgive.

Jonah found mercy and heard God calling him again when he was perhaps still soaked and stinking of whatever fish vomit smells like? The so-called prodigal son in Jesus’ parable returned and found his father embracing him and rejoicing over him, while he was barefoot and in rags perhaps still stinking of the pigs he tended.

God’s mercy is not earned. God’s love doesn’t wait for you to get everything right. Stop beating yourself up. Repent, come back to God and know that when you do you come back to the arms of your Father who missed you.

God had a purpose for Jonah, he had a job for him to do. Jonah had a role to play in God’s mission and if God can use a rebellious, foolish, half-drowned, fish-vomit-stinking man like Jonah, he can use you.

One of the remarkable things about Jonah is that, although this book is grouped among the prophets, the content of Jonah’s message plays such a minor role in the book. We’re given one line. Jonah walked into this huge city and said:

 ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’

(Jonah 3:4b, NIV)

That’s all we’re told and that may well have been all that was said. And yet everyone repents. Everyone responds to this message in the best possible way they could. Even the animals fast!

Jonah didn’t skilfully craft a clever message. Jonah didn’t do market research to work out how best to reach the Ninevites. Jonah proclaimed the message God gave him. And that is where the power came from — this was God’s message and God’s word is powerful. It doesn’t matter how well-crafted your argument is, or how charming you are, if it’s not what God wants you to say then it’s just hot air and nobody will be saved. It doesn’t matter how hard you can work, how clever or strong you are — if God has called you to do something your role is faithful obedience. God works the miracles. Not you.

The great English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was preparing to preach to a crowd of 23,654 people at The Crystal Palace in London. He wrote about something that happened a day or two beforehand:

“In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed.”

That workman didn’t need to hear anything more than the powerful word of God: “Behold the Lamb, of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” That’s from John’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 29. A few words, that’s all. But God’s words!

And that’s what happened in Nineveh. Everyone immediately responded in the best possible way to a very simple message, because it was God’s message. It was a miracle! But that’s also what happens every time someone comes to a real saving faith in Jesus Christ. It takes a miracle. It takes divine intervention to turn rebels and wretches into the children of God. The power comes from God himself. God works in people’s hearts to change them. God gave us his word and as it says in Isaiah 55:

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:10-11, NIV)

God’s word is living and powerful. Which is why we read it. It’s why those who preach and teach God’s word should do so with fear and work hard to be faithful and accurate messengers.

What this incident in Nineveh tells us is that the power for God’s mission comes from God himself. One Israelite man walking into the middle of a huge pagan city and proclaiming a one-line warning against it led to the whole city repenting. The power for that didn’t come from Jonah and why should we expect it to? Although this book is called “Jonah” he’s clearly not the hero of this story. God is.

So then when we, the church, engage in gospel ministry, be that through missionary work, family devotions, bible studies, preaching, outreach, or patiently and gently giving a reason for the hope you have to your friend who asks you; let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the power comes from us. That’s humbling, but it’s also empowering. 

If you know that the power doesn’t come from you it keeps you from thinking too much of yourself. It prevents you from becoming proud, because you know that if there is ever any real growth, ever any real spiritual awakening in someone, ever any life-changing, life-giving encounter with God, then it may have come through you, but it certainly didn’t come from you. So, we stay humble and we take care to ensure that it is God’s message we’re delivering, and not our own fancy ideas.

But, if you know that God Almighty can work through you with the power to bring people from spiritual death to new life in Christ, through your humble witness people can encounter God, then that will make you bold to proclaim the gospel. So what if you’re not the most persuasive speaker? So what if you’re not a big, magnetic personality. So what if you’re not an expert biblical scholar? It doesn’t matter! The power comes from God!

One of my favourite quotes about mission comes from a Methodist pastor and evangelist who served God in the 20th century, in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), D.T. Niles. He said:

“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”

The message of Christianity is the good news that, although we cannot and do not save ourselves, God himself saves us. As Jonah himself said at the end of his prayer from inside the fish: “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9b, NIV)

Salvation is of the Lord. Not of me. Or you. Which is why it’s so important we immerse ourselves in God’s word. It’s so important we know God ourselves if we want others to get to know him through us.

We want people to know how great this God is who sent Jesus to rescue us, to take our place and suffer our punishment. We want people to know his unimaginably great grace and mercy.

Jonah is a book of mercy. God had mercy on Jonah his rebellious prophet and he had mercy on Nineveh in sending them Jonah to bring about change in the city and in forgiving them. Throughout this whole story we see God pulling the strings. God is the power behind what happens. God sent Jonah. God sent the storm when Jonah ran away. God sent the fish to catch Jonah. God sent Jonah again and gave him a message full of power that would bring the Ninevites to repentance. God has been in control all along. God’s mission is motivated and powered by God.

So whether you are called to go to the other side of the world, or to go into work, or to sit with your kids and talk to them about God, your mission to be a witness for Jesus comes from God and is empowered by God.

Before the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven he commissioned his followers, and this commission still applies to us today

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

(Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

During these pandemic times it’s difficult for us to imagine going to the nations, but we don’t have to. There is plenty of gospel work to be done right here. In our towns and even in our own homes. But as we go about our mission let’s all remember its motivation. Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and therefore we are to make disciples, teaching people about him. The power for the church’s mission comes from God and for that reason we can be confident of miracles happening and lives changing. We can humbly, yet boldly, do what God has called us to do.

Pray

Lord, we pray that today would be a day of rest. Help us to rest from the trials of the week. Help us to rest from worry. Help us to rest from fear. Help us to rest from the striving to be good enough. Help us to rest in your goodness and in your power, in your mercy and in your grace. We can rest because you never sleep. We can rest because you are a good Father who takes care of us.

We pray for peace in this world. We pray that soon we would all be able to rest from this fight against Coronavirus. We pray that a great blow might be struck against it. We pray for powerful treatments and vaccines to come soon. We pray for those who are working so tirelessly in this fight, may they have a chance to rest soon. We pray for healing for those who are sick. We pray for comfort for those who mourn. We pray for rest for those who hunger and thirst for justice, may they be filled as your peace and justice rush into areas of corruption, grief and abuse. May this world be a kinder place, a more just place, a more peaceful place. May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

As churches prepare to resume meeting in congregations soon, we pray for protection and wisdom. Help us to be careful, to spot potential danger and to prepare well. Protect all who come.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home Resources – 7th of June, 2020 – Jonah 2

Read

[Click here to read today’s Scripture: Jonah 1:17-2:10]

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

The story of Jonah is full of unexpected things. We’ve already encountered a prophet who runs away from God and pagan sailors who turn and worship God and here we have another twist. If someone is thrown overboard at sea, during a violent storm, what we expect to happen is that they will drown. But we read last week that when Jonah was thrown overboard, the sea grew calm, and then in verse 17 we have this great twist: 

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights 

(Jonah 1:17, NIV) 

Not only does Jonah not drown, he gets swallowed by a huge fish. He’s there for three days and three nights, alive in this fish, and while he’s there he prays this psalm, which is almost the entirety of chapter two. 

These things just don’t happen, do they? This is what you might call “unrealistic”. But the key thing in that verse, with its dramatic twist, is the beginning of the verse: 

“Now the Lord provided…” 

(Jonah 1:17a, NIV) 

This is a huge theme in Jonah – The sovereignty of God. God is in absolute control here. Later we’ll see even more remarkable things in this book and what’s behind all these very strange events is the total sovereignty of God. Don’t miss the sovereignty of God in this story by focussing on the giant fish. 

I said last week that this is not a story about a giant fish. It’s not. The fish is only mentioned in three verses (Jonah 1:17, 2:1, 2:10) and the author just writes about the fish in a very matter-of-fact style. There’s no physical description of the fish other than that it was huge. The author doesn’t dwell on it, because, although it was a huge fish, in terms of this story, it’s not a big deal. 

That said, I should probably still talk about this for a bit, because modern readers do get hung up on this. What are we to do with this story that involves such an unusual event? Ask any marine biologist and they will tell you that there is no species of fish that can swallow a grown man and then keep that man alive inside it for three days and three nights. Do we interpret this story as complete fantasy? Did this actually happen? 

You could say that this just didn’t happen because things like that don’t happen. However, then you have a problem with any miracle in the Bible. If you think that you can’t believe that this happened because it’s so unusual, what do you do with Jesus’ healings, what do you do with the feeding of the five thousand? What do you do with the gospel, which tells us that the Son of God was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, he lived a righteous life, performed great signs and wonders, died on the cross for our salvation and literally, really, physically rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? You can believe or disbelieve what you want, that’s your right, but I need to tell you that if you can’t accept that then you are not a Christian. At least not yet. If you can’t accept the miraculous then you can’t accept the gospel and if you can’t accept the gospel then, whatever it is you believe, it is outside of historical orthodox Christianity and you are not a Christian. 

Now, you could look at this big fish and decide that you don’t believe it happened like that for another reason. You could say that this story of Jonah is a satirical story and not every part of it is meant to be taken literally. The story mocks the pride of the prophet who begrudges others the mercy of God while simultaneously being thankful for that mercy when it comes to him. The story, through satire, confronts us with our own pride and the way we begrudge others the mercy and grace of God. It functions kind of like modern-day political cartoons, which have imagery in them that we’re not meant to take seriously, but nevertheless the cartoonist strives to communicate something real and true in an imaginative and powerful way. That kind of interpretation would still permit you to take other passages of the Bible, including miracles, and still believe in them because they belong to a different literary genre. I can respect that as a Christian interpretation. We need to interpret different types of literature differently. I don’t read comics the same way I read newspapers. 

The Holy Bible does contain irony and humour. So maybe that fish is there to get a laugh out of us. Jonah tries everything that he can think of to run away from God and his mission and just when he thinks he’ll finally be relieved of his duties by dying he gets caught by a fish. Very often when you get people to laugh you also get them to listen. 

Finally, there’s another way of interpreting this. The fish was real. Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish and kept there for three days and three nights, because that is what God Almighty brought about. Remember the key part of verse 17? 

“Now the Lord provided…” 

(Jonah 1:17a, NIV) 

This is the work of God. Is it impossible for God Almighty to do this? No! This is not a normal fish. It’s unusual. It’s unique! But so what? God can bring about whatever he wants. Now, that doesn’t deny the literary genius of this story or any of the humour or irony of this story. God has a sense of humour and not only can he inspire humorous satires of proud prophets, he can bring about real events that are, in their recounting, humorous. I mean, I know I’ve embarrassed myself before in real life and, reflecting on those embarrassing moments, I’ve thought to myself, maybe God is trying to tell me something here. Haven’t you? God doesn’t need to fabricate a story to deflate the pride of Jonah, he is powerful enough to create real life-changing events that can do that. 

If you’re interested, that’s my interpretation. Yes, it’s a very strange event. It’s unique. But so what? There are stranger things in the Bible than that… like the resurrection for example. I still think this is a satire, but it’s a real-life satire written by the Author of life. 

This fish was sent by God to bring Jonah back to the mission and Jonah stayed in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. At this point in the story the genre changes to a psalm. A poetic prayer. Jonah’s psalm gives us an insight into his beliefs, his heart. We have this kind of thing in modern media too. You’ve maybe seen a play where one character breaks off, the spotlight focusses on them and they deliver a soliloquy, a monologue that lets you know what’s going on inside them. We also see this in musicals. Something will happen and the characters break into song and the point is to share the characters’ feelings with you. 

From the belly of the fish Jonah prays to God. From this prayer we get a glimpse into Jonah’s heart. It’s a very religious heart. It’s a heart thankful to God for rescuing him and he commits to sacrificing to God. But don’t think that just because this is a very religious heart that it means it’s a very good heart. Religion can be a very bad thing. Religion can keep us from loving God and from loving our neighbour, which is what God actually wants. In this prayer we see Jonah’s religion, there are good things, but also bad things. We see some of Jonah’s contempt for the pagans and some of his pride. So, Jonah grasps God’s grace and mercy, but just like us, it’s mingled with the sense that somehow, we deserve it more than ‘them’, whoever they might be. 

Jonah’s psalm is beautiful in the truth that it expresses. It’s a prayer of thankfulness and faith and hope in the Sovereign Lord and his salvation. Jonah recounts how he was drowning and attributes his salvation – rescue by fish – to God.  

The engulfing waters threatened me, 
    the deep surrounded me; 
    seaweed was wrapped around my head. 
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; 
    the earth beneath barred me in for ever. 
But you, Lord my God, 
    brought my life up from the pit. 

(Jonah 2:5-6, NIV) 

The final verse of Jonah’s prayer sums his gratitude: 

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, 
    will sacrifice to you. 
What I have vowed I will make good. 
    I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”’ 

(Jonah 2:9, NIV) 

That last phrase contains the key theme of this chapter and indeed the whole book of Jonah: “Salvation comes from the Lord.” It’s a beautiful truth and Jonah is enjoying one of the facets of that truth – His salvation comes from the Lord – while at the same time he has refused to bring that wonderful truth to the people of Nineveh. Jonah would rather run away. Jonah would rather die, than share this good news with the pagan people of Nineveh. This is like someone celebrating the amazing food that they’re eating, while at the same time not wanting someone else to eat that same food. 

You see Jonah’s very “local” idea of God in the heavy emphasis on God being in the temple. Look at verse 4:  

I said, “I have been banished 
from your sight; 
yet I will look again 
    towards your holy temple.” 

Also, notice the irony here of the runaway prophet saying “I have been banished”. 

And verse 7: 

‘When my life was ebbing away, 
    I remembered you, Lord, 
and my prayer rose to you, 
    to your holy temple. 

Jonah has just learned that he can’t run away from God’s presence even on the sea. He told the pagan sailors “I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” But still in his mind God is the God in the temple. Now yes, the temple in Jerusalem was a huge deal. A unique and truly holy place where God, in his mercy dwelt, in the midst of his people, but God is bigger than the temple. God called him to go to Nineveh. God cares about the people of Nineveh. He made them. He sustained them every day of their lives.  

Notice the things that aren’t said in this prayer. There is no mention of repentance. Jonah never says sorry for running away from God and refusing to be his prophet to the people of Nineveh. 

During this prayer Jonah also can’t resist having a dig at the pagans. You’d think it would be hard to be proud while squashed up in the belly of a fish, but pride finds a way. 

‘Those who cling to worthless idols 
    turn away from God’s love for them. 
But I, with shouts of grateful praise, 
    will sacrifice to you. 
What I have vowed I will make good. 
    I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”’ 

(Jonah 2:8-9, NIV) 

Jonah commits to making sacrifices to God, probably in the temple, but he says nothing about going to Nineveh and actually doing what he knows God wants him to do. God has explicitly told him to go to Nineveh. 

Jonah still has a local God and a partial grasp of God’s grace and mercy, but what this story teaches us is that God is bigger than we can imagine, and his grace and mercy are bigger than we can imagine. If we have been blessed to know God’s grace, then why should we begrudge anyone from experiencing the same thing.  

That’s why Christians pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and it’s why Jesus warned his disciples that if they don’t forgive, they will not be forgiven. Why should God forgive you and not them? Are you better than them? If you think you are then you don’t know what grace is — it’s the undeserved, unearned love of God. Jonah forgot that. 

This is a beautiful prayer full of things that are good and true and yet this beautiful expression of religion is being used to avoid God. There’s not just a giant fish here, there’s an ‘elephant in the room’. We know it’s there. God knows it’s there. Jonah knows it’s there, but he’s not saying anything about it. Jonah says all this beautiful truth and yet manages to sidestep repentance and never addresses the mission he has been given from God. He says all this poetry and yet never just says “I’m sorry for not going to Nineveh, I know it’s what you want me to do. I will go and I will preach to the people there.” 

After a week when the world saw police forcibly clear peaceful demonstrators, including clergy, so that Donald Trump could stand in front of a church he does not attend and pose with a Bible he evidently does not read, it is clear that religious things can be used as props while we go on avoiding God. Racial injustice, the dehumanisation of black people, police brutality and corruption need to be addressed and waving around a Bible for a photoshoot won’t please God or help anyone. 

Here is God’s response, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, to a people who put on a religious show instead of addressing injustice: 

When you spread out your hands in prayer, 
    I hide my eyes from you; 
even when you offer many prayers, 
    I am not listening. 

Your hands are full of blood! 

Wash and make yourselves clean. 
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight; 
    stop doing wrong. 
Learn to do right; seek justice. 
    Defend the oppressed. 
Take up the cause of the fatherless; 
    plead the case of the widow. 

(Isaiah 1:15-17, NIV) 

And what is God’s response to Jonah’s prayer. His very religious prayer that lacks any love for the people of Nineveh or confession of his sins. There might be a clue in the final verse: 

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. 

(Jonah 2:10, NIV) 

Religion without love is nauseating to say the least! 

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because the people there are not like his people. They are his enemies. And why should they have a chance to repent and turn to the Lord, his Lord? But as Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord”. God saves. Not our nationality, or race, or good behaviour, but God. We are not saved by being the right kind of person from the right kind of place with the right kind of upbringing, we are saved by receiving the mercy and grace of God. We don’t get to take credit for it, no more than Jonah can take credit for surviving at sea. 

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

(Romans 5:6-8, NIV) 

Talk about miraculous, unexpected things! God the Son died for his people! Not because we were righteous or good or beautiful, but while we were still sinners. Ungodly. This is God’s love and mercy. Not only did he set aside his glory and descend to be down here with us, he suffered on the cross for us, he died for us. The only correct response to such grace is to grasp it eagerly, thankfully, with both hands. To trust in the mercy and grace of God. And if we do that how can we ever begrudge anyone that same grace and mercy? 

Salvation comes from the Lord. That means we don’t get to take credit. It means we can’t look down on anyone. If we truly grasp the grace of God we will be gracious to others. We will want to share with others, not just some hollow religion, some rules of behaviour, some theories of the divine, but love. Our love and God’s love. 

Pray

Lord, we pray for ourselves, that as we rejoice in your great love for us we would be loving to others. We pray for our world, for justice and peace. We pray that more and more people would hear the good news of Jesus Christ and and turn to you. We pray for leaders all over the world to lead with love and justice and to desire peace. We pray for justice for the oppressed and marginalised.

We pray for your continued help in the fight against the Coronavirus. Bless those who mourn with your comfort. Bless those who are fighting against this virus in their own bodies. Heal them, Lord. Bless those who are fighting on behalf of others as the work to care for and treat them. Bless those who fight in labs to find effective treatments and vaccines. As we continue to ease restrictions here help us to remain watchful, careful and considerate of those who are especially vulnerable.

Lord we pray for those who have been impacted by restrictions. Those who are out of work. Those who are already struggling with something else and now are feeling very alone. Those for whom home is not a safe place. Lord God, be near to them and help them.

Today Lord, may we practice our religion in love.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home Resources – 31st of May, 2020 – Jonah 1

Read

Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Today we begin a new series on the book of Jonah. Another short but fascinating Old Testament book. Unlike Ruth, where much of the scenes are quiet, pastoral scenes, Jonah is full of big epic things. Unlike Ruth, if we were to make a film adaptation of Jonah, we’d need a good special effects budget. But I hope when we read this story, you’ll see that it’s just as relatable. It speaks to us and challenges us in our daily lives, even though those lives are free from any encounters with giant fish.

When it comes to Jonah everyone thinks of the fish. The truth is this is not a story about a giant fish. The story of Jonah is traditionally read every year in synagogues at the time of Yom Kippur, that is the Day of Atonement. It’s a day when people are reminded of their sins and of God’s mercy. This story is about something much bigger by far than some giant fish, it’s really about God’s mercy and that is something that we all need, something we all must recon with.

Let’s read Jonah, chapter 1 now. [Click here to read Jonah 1]

Despite this being grouped in among the ‘prophets’ section of the Hebrew Bible the book of Jonah stands out for a few reasons. The focus is on the story of Jonah and what happened to him, instead of the content of his prophecy. Very little is actually written about what Jonah said, what his prophecy was. In fact we’re just told one sentence. Jonah eventually walks into the middle of this great city Nineveh and says ‘Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ That’s all we’re told, and for all we know that may have been all Jonah said.

Another way this story stands out among the prophets is that its prophet, Jonah, doesn’t come out of this looking great. He’s not the hero of the story and, as we go through this short series, I don’t want you to think “be like Jonah”. Very often the message is more “don’t be like Jonah”.

Right from the start we see Jonah doing the opposite of what you’d expect a prophet of the Lord to do.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’

(Jonah 1:1-2, NIV)

Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh. A mission from God! And so, you’d expect this prophet of God to go and do what God says. You’d expect Jonah to fearlessly speak God’s truth to sinful people. To be brave. To be faithful. Because God has told him to go and be his messenger.

But Jonah runs away. In fact, Jonah runs as far away as he can:

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

(Jonah 1:3, NIV)

We’re not sure where Tarshish was. There are a few suggestions: Tartesus in southern Spain, Carthage in Tunisia, and a town in Sardinia. Wherever it was it was in the opposite direction Jonah was called to go. Nineveh was to the east, Tarshish to the west. And if Tarshish was in southern Spain then it was as far away as it was possible for Jonah to sail to. Jonah is running away from his call and notice the phrase that’s repeated here: “from the Lord”. Jonah is fleeing to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah is running away from God, (or at least he’s trying to). You don’t expect that from a prophet.

Here we begin to see that maybe Jonah has a small idea of God. I mean he knows deep down that God is the one who made all things and yet he’s operating in this moment as if God is some local, tribal deity that belongs to Israel and in Israel. Jonah thinks he’s getting further and further away from God as he sails away from Israel, further from the promised land, further from the temple. But God Almighty is right there, and he will not let Jonah run away from his mission.

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.

(Jonah 1:4, NIV)

Here on the sea we meet some other characters too. The sailors of this ship, caught up in this storm because of Jonah’s actions, are frightened and they call out to their pagan gods to save them. But none of these false gods can do anything to save them (v. 5). Meanwhile Jonah is sleeping, so they wake him up and tell him to call out to his god and maybe that will work. They’re desperate and they’re trying everything because they’re scared for their lives.

While these desperate sailors fear for their lives and call on false gods to save them, the one who knows the true God sleeps. In fact, this whole storm is because Jonah did not want to play his part in the mission to save pagans.

This is a little representation of what it’s like to ignore our calling. God called Jonah to preach to the pagans in Nineveh and he refused, and here he is sleeping while these pagans fear for their lives. God called the Israelites to be a people for his glory, to show the world what he is like, and are they sleeping on the job while the pagan world desperately calls out to false gods? Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and tell the world about him and make more disciples and today are we sleeping on the job while generation after generation of desperate people cry out in vain to false gods.

Let’s make it a bit more local. Are we — I mean me and you, Christian — sleeping on the job while our neighbours, our family, our friends and co-workers, look for salvation from false gods — from their jobs, their relationships, their money, their looks. We know the living God, we know salvation, we know true hope. We know the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been saved by his sacrifice on our behalf, we know the way to peace with our Creator. We’re not meant to keep it to ourselves. I know I sleep on the job.

Let’s allow the words — from verse 6 — of the pagan captain of this ship to really sink in:

“How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god!”

(from Jonah 1:6, NIV)

Do you call on God on behalf of your neighbours? Do you pray for them? Do you love them? Let’s get up, call on our God, and take part in his mission.

I think we fall asleep on the job, we forget our mission and calling because we can fall into the trap of believing in what I call “decorative holiness”. I think this happened to Jonah, I think it happened to God’s Old Testament people Israel, and I think it can and does happen to churches and I know it happens to me from time to time.

We understand that we are holy, that God has set us apart. That’s what holy means: special, set apart. That’s the amazing, wonderful truth of the gospel! If you are a Christian, if you have faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on your behalf then you are holy! You are set apart, you are special. You are part of God’s holy people, you have been cleansed and forgiven of your sins and the Holy Spirit lives in you to make you more and more holy, to make you like Jesus. We understand that we’re holy, that we’ve been set apart and made special, but we can fall into the trap of thinking that God has set us apart just to have us, just to have this special people to just… be there, to be special, to be decorative like the good china that nobody ever eats off of, or the cushions that nobody sits on, or the decorative hand-towels that you are not allowed to dry your hands on.

We’re holy. But we are not merely decorative. Your holiness is not “decorative holiness”, it’s “functional holiness”. You’ve been set apart, made special, for a purpose, to do a job. Think of yourself less like the special china and more like an instrument in an orchestra or a special tool. We have a function. We have a role to play in God’s mission.

So, Jonah wakes up and they find out that he is the reason for this storm, because he was running away from God. The storm is continuing to rage and get even stronger. The solution is clear to Jonah: pick me up and throw me into the sea.

Has Jonah finally found some compassion for pagan people and now he’s willing to die so that they might live? If so, this is self-sacrificial love. The kind of love we need for mission. The kind of love we see brought to its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who gave up his life so that we could be set free from sin and death.

Or is it the case that Jonah is so determined not to answer God’s call, that he would rather die or, risking death, allow God to punish him in the sea. It sounds a bit much, but there are some clues that this just might be the case further on in this story. In chapter two, Jonah’s psalm or prayer to God from the belly of the fish is conspicuously lacking in any repentance for running away from his mission. After he is vomited out by the fish, God calls Jonah again in chapter three and tell him again to go to Nineveh. And at the end of this, in chapter four, after Jonah has preached to Nineveh and the people all repent, Jonah is so angry and bitter that he just tells God to kill him.

When God called Jonah, Jonah knew that God was sending him to Nineveh as part of his plan to show mercy to this great pagan city. He didn’t want the people of Nineveh to experience God’s mercy and grace. Because God was his God. The God of his people, his race and his country. Why should those pagans be blessed by my God?!

Jonah has a small picture of God and his grace. But what this story shows us, what I hope you’ll see as we go through it, is that God is bigger than we can imagine, his grace and mercy and love are greater and more glorious than we can imagine.

Jonah’s idea of God is so tied to his people and his land that he thinks going far away from Israel is a way to flee from the presence of God. But God is not so small. God chose Israel to be his people, to reveal himself to them and to dwell amongst them, but he’s not confined there. God is the God of heaven and earth, the Creator and Sustainer of all things everywhere. This is a story about Jonah learning that lesson the hard way, so that we might learn it the easy way.

It’s plain that Jonah really disagrees with God showing mercy to the pagan people of Nineveh and really doesn’t want to go and be any part of this mercy mission. Would he rather die than see that happen? Is his hatred for the pagan nations so great? It’s not too difficult to imagine when we look at some of the hatred we see in the news and online. The grace and mercy of God shames and angers us human beings with all our hatred and prejudice.

This book is full of irony. Imagine reading this or hearing the story back in the day. If you were some kind of ancient Israelite-nationalist. You hear a story about an Israelite prophet of the Lord going to preach a warning to the pagans. After a while you’re going to feel a little uneasy, a little uncomfortable with this story. The only Israelite in it, the prophet who you thought would be a hero, is rebellious, disobedient, and selfish. Meanwhile, every pagan character you encounter is responsive to God. The sailors end up worshipping God, by the end of the story we read that the whole city of Nineveh, from its king to its cattle end up repenting. Jonah resents God’s mercy, but the pagans take it eagerly with both hands. But I’m running ahead. We’ll see more of that next week.

Look at your life and the people God has called you to. I don’t mean that you need to have heard a big booming voice from the clouds. God is sovereign. If you’re working in a place, or parenting a family, then that’s where God has put you. If you’re friends or neighbours with someone then this is someone God has brought into your life. Do they know God, or like the sailors do they grope around trying whatever might work whenever the storms of life come upon them? Do you pray for them? Are you ready to talk to them about how you know the God of heaven? Do you talk about God in your home, with your family? Are there people who you need to soften your heart towards, to wake up and pray for, to talk to about God and his mercy?

Pray

Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s a day when we remember when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit to go and be Christ’s witnesses. On that day people from different countries, speaking different languages, got to hear and understand the message of the gospel. So today, let us pray for the mission of the church, the spread of the gospel and that God would continue to heal the divisions of our world by bringing us together in Christ. We remember that God is not just the God of people who look and sound like us, but God Almighty, the Creator of us all.

Our loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, your church. May He empower and embolden us for mission, beginning wherever we are right now.

Bless those who devote their lives to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Protect them and make their work fruitful. May many people all over this world hear and respond to the gospel in repentance and faith.

At Pentecost you brought brothers and sisters together from different places, different cultures, different languages. Lord, we ask your forgiveness for when the differences between us cause hatred, injustice and oppression. We ask you to heal us and make us whole, together with our brothers and sisters all over the world.

We pray for justice and peace in America. May those who grieve the death of George Floyd be comforted with just reforms in the systems of power in America. You hear those who mourn, their cries reach you. May they also reach those entrusted to lead and serve them. May your peace enter into this storm of rage and fear. Still our storms and bring us all closer together in respect, and even in love. Raise up just leaders who will speak for those who are not being listened to. As we see this situation may we also be reminded that we are not immune to such things. May we all strive here for a society that values all human beings equally and treats them fairly.

Once again we pray for an end to this Coronavirus pandemic.
We pray for those who grieve the loss of loved ones. Comfort them, O God of all comfort.
We pray for the sick. Heal and strengthen them.
We pray for those who work to treat and care for the sick. Protect them and give them strength and skill.
We pray for those who work in labs to find and develop treatments and vaccines. Bless their efforts and may we have powerful medicines soon.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, Lord. Help us today, and all days, to follow Jesus, in whose name we pray.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home Resources – 24th of May, 2020

Thank you for joining me again today as we bring our series on Ruth to a close. I hope you have benefited from the series and from these resources.

Read

Today we read Ruth, chapter 4.

Throughout this series God has been showing us through his word that he works powerfully in and through ordinary people in ordinary everyday life. We tend to think of God working through big, dramatic, epic things, but Ruth shows us that he works just as powerfully in the kindness, faithfulness, and love that we can experience in our ordinary daily lives.

If we only think of God operating on the big, epic scale, we can adopt the false belief that our lives don’t really matter that much to God. That’s dangerous for two reasons. One, we can slip into thinking that the sins we commit are no big deal. “Why should God be bothered if I do this? Hasn’t he got much bigger fish to fry? Isn’t there much worse going on in the world?” Two, we can think that the good that we can do in our ordinary daily lives doesn’t really matter that much either, so we get discouraged and lose our enthusiasm for doing good. We can end up thinking that participation in the mission of God, because it is such a big epic thing, is for other people who are somehow living extraordinary lives. And what’s that got to do with us?

What Ruth shows us is that it all matters. Every bit of human life. And that’s especially clear in this final chapter.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

(1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

These were Christians like you and I, living in the real world, living real life with all its mundane tasks and opportunities. There’s no part of your life that God doesn’t care about.

Did you know your life is sacred? Did you know that God Almighty is present with you throughout your day? Did you know that the ordinary things you do, the ordinary life you live, can glorify God? Don’t wait for some great heroic opportunity. Live faithfully now, doing the good things that God has prepared for us to do in our day-to-day lives. They might not seem that amazing, but what this chapter shows us is that they matter more than we may know.

Last time we saw Boaz was in the previous chapter when he had loaded up Ruth with grain to take back to Naomi and was heading straight into town. Most of this chapter (from verse 1 to verse 12) is about what happened there. Boaz went straight to the town gate and sat down. The gate of a town in ancient Israel was where the town elders met to witness transactions, to adjudicate over disputes, to settle cases. Just as Boaz gets there the very man he needs to speak to comes along. Another one of the “just so happened” events of Ruth where those who are paying attention can see God at work even though it’s not explicitly stated.

This man, we’ll call him Mr. So-and-so, who we just found out about in the previous chapter, is a closer relative to Elimelek, Naomi’s late husband, and Elimelek’s son Mahlon, Ruth’s late husband, than Boaz is and therefore is first in line to be the kinsman redeemer. The kinsman redeemer is someone who can acquire the land and/or the widow of a deceased relative so that that deceased relative’s line and inheritance would continue. Boaz wants to be that man because he loves Ruth and he’s a godly man who wants to do right by Naomi, but Mr. So-and-so is first in line.

When Mr. So-and-so hears the proposal about the land he jumps at the chance to possess it. But then Boaz hits him with the catch. The family line of Elimelek and Mahlon must go on, so Mr. So-and-so, if he acquires the land must also marry Ruth so that their children will inherit the land just as if they were Mahlon’s children and not Mr. So-and-so’s. He balks at this. This would, as Mr. So-and-so put it, “endanger [his] own estate” (v. 6).

Boaz on the other hand, is not concerned about his own name or his own estate. He wants to do right by these two widows, and he knows what a worthy woman Ruth is. So, while Mr. So-and-so wastes no time in rejecting this offer, Boaz wastes no time in sealing the deal before witnesses.

Here’s the irony: this man who was so concerned about his own estate, who is he? What’s his legacy? What’s happened to his name? Something like “Mr. So-and-so” is about the best we can do. The Hebrew used when Boaz calls him over and says “my friend” is Ploni Almoni (פְּלֹנִ֣י אַלְמֹנִ֑י), and is like the Hebrew equivalent of “Mr. So-and so,” or “Mr. What’s-his-name,” or something like that. In modern Israel Ploni Almoni is the equivalent of “John Doe”, a placeholder name you use for when you don’t have someone’s name. This man who was so concerned with protecting his name, his inheritance, his legacy has been forgotten. Intentionally left anonymous in this story.

Boaz, on the other hand, we remember and celebrate. even though he was willing to endanger his own inheritance by redeeming Elimelek and Mahlon’s land and marrying Ruth so that offspring could be raised to continue the line of Elimelek. He is, as the elders said, “famous in Bethlehem”. Boaz is remembered for being a good and righteous man of God who lives out the teachings of God’s word. A man of faith, kindness, honour, and love. What better legacy can we hope for?

We hit fast-forward at the end of the story. Ruth and Boaz have a baby together. Verse 13

“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.”
(Ruth 4:13. NIV)

Did you notice that? This is the only point in this whole story where the narrator tells us explicitly that God has done something. If you’re watching carefully you can see God is very active in this story, but here we’re told explicitly that God blessed Ruth and Boaz with a child. It functions almost like a signature or a stamp at the end of the story to affirm that, yes indeed, God was at work here all along.

Bit of a movie spoiler here maybe. But it’s about the iconic twist ending of the sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes” from 1968, and it’s a scene that has been referenced a lot in other media. The Simpson’s even did a musical parody of this scene! So, I don’t feel too bad about giving away the ending of the film.

At the end of “Planet of the Apes”, Charlton Heston’s character, the astronaut George Taylor, sees the Statue of Liberty laying in ruins on a beach. All this time he had thought that he had landed on some strange alien planet ruled by talking apes and here in this moment he realises that it was earth all along. This is home! He’s travelled forward in time but landed on the very same planet he left at time when human civilisation has collapsed, and apes now rule. He gets off his horse, falls to his knees, punches the sand and shouts in anger and despair, overacting in a way that only Charlton Heston can get away with.

Now, if we were back in 1968 and you were a sci-fi fan and I spoiled the ending of that film for you back then you would be quite understandably upset with me. I’d have ruined the film watching experience for you. Because that ending (although it’s foreshadowed throughout the film) changes the film. It changes how we understand it. It shifts our perspective on the story.

When we get to the end of the Book of Ruth, we have a similar situation. As this story ends, verse 17 of this chapter hits like a bombshell:

The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed. He was the
father of Jesse, the father of David.

(Ruth 4:17, NIV)

That line is like the Statue of Liberty laying in the sand at the end of “Planet of the Apes”, except it’s not bad news. It’s wonderful news! We can react, not by beating the sand and cursing, but rejoicing and marvelling at the sovereignty, grace, and faithfulness of God.

From verse 17 to the end of this book we are told that these two people, Boaz and Ruth, are the ancestors of King David. And that revelation changes our whole perspective on this story. It is a story of faithful love. Ruth is faithful to Naomi. Boaz is faithful to Ruth. And what this ending shows us is that all this time it’s also been a story of God’s faithfulness to his people.

Go back to the first words of this story: “In the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). Dark days of Israel repeatedly going astray, getting worse and worse. The Book of Judges repeatedly reminds the reader that there was no king in Israel in those days. The last verse of Judges sums up this dark period like so:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

(Judges 21:25, NIV)

And then we have this story which shows us that even without a king people can live justly and faithfully by adhering to God’s word and relying on him. Boaz lived out the teachings of the Torah, not just according to the letter, but to the spirit. We get to the end of the story and we see forward to the time when God would raise up a man after his own heart to be king over his people: King David.

This story is ultimately about our faithful God. Christians can see even further down the line. This story, as small as it may seem, is part of God’s plan of redemption not only for Israel, but for all creation. From King David would come another King. A truly faithful King. A King like no other, whose kingdom would have no end. Ruth and Boaz are ancestors of Jesus Christ! This little love story is part of God’s great love story. This is part of the story of God’s love for his people, which is so merciful, so gracious, so faithful, that God himself descended into our darkness, took our sins – our debts – upon himself to redeem us. Jesus Christ, God the Son, Son of David suffered on the cross to atone for our sins and rescue us. The motivation for it was the faithful love of God and we can see that faithful love of God here all these years before as he sovereignly orders things to bring about a faithful king for his people. God uses these ordinary people and their acts of quiet faithfulness to bring that about.

Remember, you are part of God’s story too. Your ordinary life is not insignificant. There is no such thing as an insignificant life, an insignificant day, an insignificant moment. God is sovereign over it all and can use the smallest things to tip the balance towards his glory and our joy. God uses the everyday faithfulness of people like you to bring about great things. There are no unremarkable people. The little things you are doing can have big effects. These small acts of faith are used by God.

So, let me leave you with a question, before we pray: What are you going to do today?

Pray

Sovereign Lord, we praise you for your faithfulness. Help us to remember that you are Lord this day. You are Lord over the big things and the small things. You are Lord over the storms and the stillness.

We pray Lord that you would help us to be faithful in our day. Help us to do the good things that you have prepared for us to do.

We pray Lord for wisdom as our country relaxes some of the restrictions that we’ve been under because of Coronavirus. We pray for protection. We pray against this virus. Protect us all from it, help us to slow and even stop its spread. Strengthen those who work to heal and care. Bless the efforts of those who fight against this virus in labs. Grant wisdom, compassion and strength to our leaders.

In this time of great anxiety, we pray that people will turn to you, our faithful God, sovereign over all.

In our Saviour and Lord Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

Sing

Here are some videos that I hope will help you to sing worship to God at home today.

Church at Home Resources – 17th of May 2020

Thanks for joining me again today. We’re continuing in our new series on Ruth as we look at chapter 3. I’ve included resources (including a video sermon and script) which I hope will help you read, pray and sing as you worship at home.

Read

Naomi returned to her hometown accompanied her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth. They were both widows and it seemed that all was lost. But God was already at work to restore Naomi and bring her blessing again. The young foreign woman at her side with remarkable loyalty would be the channel of God’s restoration in Naomi’s life. Ruth had come to seek shelter under the wings of God and she had lovingly committed herself to her mother-in-law. Ruth shows an example of the kind of love that God has for his people. It is a tenacious hardworking, faithful love that we see must perfectly displayed by God to his people. In my son’s “Jesus Story Book Bible”, the author Sally Lloyd-Jones describes God’s love as his “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love”. That’s the kind of love Ruth has for Naomi and we see in today’s passage that this love has inspired more of its kind. Boaz commits to loving Ruth. But let’s start at the beginning of this chapter and not get ahead of ourselves.

The sweetness has begun to creep back into Naomi’s life through the actions of Ruth and Boaz. She’s beginning to wake up a little. She was bitter in chapter 1, she saw no hope, no prospect. The suggestion that Ruth go out and glean in the fields to provide for them came from Ruth herself, not Naomi, who would have known the area better. Naomi was depressed, her husband and her sons had died, it’s understandable. But now, gradually, the light is beginning to dawn and Naomi is seeing possibilities where before she had seen only the bitterness of her life. She’s seeing hope.

She hatches a plan and tells it to her daughter-in-law:

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, ‘My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.  Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing-floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing-floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.’

(Ruth 3:1-4)

There’s a tension here. What exactly is Naomi suggesting? She is telling Ruth to make herself look available. But how “available” are we talking here? She’s instructing her to go to the threshing floor and meet a man. She says “uncover his feet”? Wait, just his feet or more? What’s she planning exactly? The wording in Naomi’s plan is full of double entendres and potential interpretations that could go either way.

Imagine hearing this story told in ancient Israel. We know it’s set in a “dodgy” time in Israel’s past. Stories from that time are full of imperfect characters. You’re listening and you get to this bit and you think “Oh, I see where this is going.” or perhaps you might think, “Oh no, I thought this was going to be a sweeter, nicer story of genteel courtship and here they are on the threshing floor.” So, there’s a sense of suspense as we go into the next scene. What’s going to happen? Just when you’re thinking “What kind of story is this!? I brought my kids!” we get to what actually happens.

Ruth sneaks over to Boaz when he’s asleep after a long day of working hard, feasting and drinking. This is the best kind of sleep and he’s out like a log. She uncovers his feet and lies down. At this point the tension is still there. What does it actually mean by “uncovered his feet”? Because that was a double entendre sometimes. It could mean that she literally uncovered his feet, but sometimes in the Bible “feet” is used as a euphemism for the whole lower body from hips to feet.

But then we read that she just lies there. Boaz doesn’t even wake up until some time in the middle of the night. He’s surprised to see a woman there at his feet. So, she was just literally lying at his feet that whole time, nothing else. He asks who it is and it’s here that the tension truly dissolves, or perhaps the listener is surprised, because the quality of Ruth’s character shines even brighter here where we may have been expecting something dodgy to happen. Ruth surprises us by not waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do first. She tells him what to do, and she makes it absolutely clear what kind of a meeting this is.

‘Who are you?’ he asked.

‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.’

(Ruth 3:9)

Ruth makes it absolutely clear why she’s there. This is not the illicit encounter under cover of darkness that we might have expected or feared. This is a marriage proposal. That phrase “Spread the corner of your garment over me,” can also be translated “spread your wings over me,” and harks back to the previous chapter where Boaz described Ruth as taking refuge under the wings of God (Ruth 2:12). She’s not come to seduce him. This young widow has come to ask him to shelter her, to be refuge for her. The phrase also occurs in Ezekiel, when God poetically describes how he entered into a covenant with the people of Israel, committing himself to them like husband to a wife:

Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

(Ezekiel 16:8)

And if there’s any doubt, Ruth also gives the reason “you are a guardian-redeemer of our family”. A guardian-redeemer could marry a widow and raise a family with her, and with that, the widow’s deceased husband’s line would continue on. Why mention Boaz being a guardian-redeemer if marriage is not what she’s talking about?

And just as the potential dodginess of this night-time scene highlights the purity of Ruth’s character, Boaz also shines in the darkness as a thoroughly decent man. Boaz responds not with lustful, physical action, but with the longest speech in this book:

‘The Lord bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: you have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.’

(Ruth 10-13)

He calls her daughter. He’s older than her, but also wants to her to know that he’s not going to take advantage of her now, and he displays a proper protective affection towards her. He knows what she’s asking. Ruth’s asking him, and not one of the younger men, to be her husband. He readily agrees and praises Ruth’s noble character. You can see in verse 10 that Boaz in fact sees Ruth’s daring proposal as a continuation of the kindness that she showed earlier. This is another display of Ruth’s astonishing faithful love. She could have gone after younger men, but she chose Boaz, a guardian redeemer in the family of her late husband, and in doing so she ensures that the line of Naomi’s husband and her son will not die out. Her faithful love inspires his own faithful love in return, he will do everything she asks.

it’s interesting that it seems Boaz has been thinking about this. He’s worked out exactly who is most closely related to Ruth’s deceased husband, perhaps making enquiries, discussing family trees. I think Boaz had been thinking about this. Daydreaming maybe. This is a man in love, he’s fallen for this strong, loyal, woman of noble character. And it looks like he’s woken up to see his dreams are coming true!

After saying all that, he doesn’t want Ruth to walk home in the dark on her own, so she stays there until morning.

In the morning (Ruth 3:15) Boaz sends Ruth off with 6 measures of grain bound up in her shawl. It was heavy enough that Boaz had to place the bundle on Ruth. Again, God’s kindness flows to Naomi through Ruth and through Boaz. Leaving Ruth, Boaz heads straight into town.

Naomi, when Ruth comes home and reports back to her, knows that Boaz is not going to rest until he’s sorted this matter out (Ruth 3:16-17).

Ruth’s committed, faithful love has inpired the same kind of commitment in Boaz. Really Ruth shows us a little bit of what God is like. That’s part of what human beings are made for you know? To reflect the glory of God. You see, this kind of faithful love that Ruth shows in keeping the promise that she made to Naomi is a big feature of the book of Ruth. I mentioned it at the beginning of this sermon. This kind of love is called chesed which is a word which doesn’t really have a good direct translation into English. It’s love, but not romantic flighty love — it’s a faithful, loyal, hardworking love, a love that does, a love that works, a love that will not give up or let go. This is the love that Ruth showed Naomi and it shows us what God’s love is like. God loves His people with a chesed love. A love that will not let them go. A love that doesn’t depend on mood. A faithful love.

Ruth’s faithful love points the way to Jesus, the Rescuer, who be born many years later in that same town of Bethlehem, Jesus is the living flesh-and-blood proof of God’s chesed love. A love that would not let his people go but came to rescue us from sin and death and bring us back to God. Jesus died in our place because God loves us with a love that will not give up on us. On your worst day, the promises of God to love his people and not give up on us, still apply.

May we who follow Jesus have this kind of love for each other. As we grow in our faith that this is how God loves us, we will love like he loves. God’s love is not fickle, God’s love does not give up. God’s love does not waver based on emotions or circumstance. May we reflect God and his love. May we show, in the lives that we live and the way we treat one another, that the faithful God, the God of Ruth, the God of Naomi, the God of Jesus, is our God.

Pray

Lord God we pray that you would help us to be committed to one another. To our brother and sister Christians, to our families, to our friends, to our neighbours. Help us to work for the good of each other, and may we always be guided and empowered by the faithful love you have for us in Christ.

As we look forward to the easing of some restrictions tomorrow in the fight against Coronavirus, help us to still be careful for the sake of each other, especially our most vulnerable.

Help us, Lord, to have hope that there is light at the end of this tunnel, there will be sweetness after these bitter days.

We pray for your comfort for all those who mourn the death of their loved-ones.

We pray for healing for the sick. For strength for those in recovery. For protection, energy and great skill for those fighting to cure, treat and care for people and for those who continue to keep us going providing essential services.

We pray especially for those who are struggling financially, emotionally or physically in these dark times. Help them Lord.

We have learned how important community is. How much we can miss one another. How fragile normal life is. May we come out the other side of this thing with greater kindness and love for one another.

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen.

Sing

Here are some videos I hope will help you in singing praise to God.

Church at Home Resources – 10th of May, 2020

Thanks for joining me again today. We’re continuing in our new series on Ruth as we look at chapter 2. I’m including the video overview of the Book of Ruth by the Bible Project again, in case you might find it helpful.

You can find the text of Ruth, chapter 2 by clicking on this link.

Here is the video of my sermon, which I have also included in text to help you share it or read along if it’s difficult to hear me in the video.

Read

Welcome back to our series on the book of Ruth. This week we will be reading chapter 2, so without any further delay, let’s read that together.

Many of you know that Sarah and I were blessed to welcome our new baby Anna into the world in March. We’re adjusting to life as a family of four, on top of all the other adjustments that we’ve all had to make during this time of pandemic. We have to parent our two children differently of course. If Anna cries and needs something, we rush to get it for her. Clean nappy, milk, winding. Whatever she needs, right away! It’s different with Timothy. Often, Timothy will ask us for something, and we’ll say, “Okay, you go get it,” or “Yes, after you tidy up your toys,” or, sometimes, “No.” It’s not because we love Timmy any less, not at all! It’s just that Timothy’s nearly four now, so a big focus of our parenting is trying to develop good character in Timothy. We do of course still do a lot for him, because he’s still quite young, but the reason we’ve stopped babying Timothy is because one day he will – God willing – be a man. We want him to be a good man. We want him to be a man who takes responsibility and who is not afraid of work. We don’t want him to be a man of bad character, spoiled and selfish because his parents pampered him all his life. We love him, so we want to develop in him a good character. Personally, I find it hard sometimes. I kind of want to just give him the world. I would quite easily spoil him, but good character is important, so I deny that instinct most of the time.

Character is a big theme in this chapter of Ruth, and it’s also where we get introduced to the final main character: Boaz.

“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.”

(Ruth 2:1)

Boaz is introduced to us as “a man of standing”. Now that phrase doesn’t necessarily mean anything in English other than that he was an influential person. A big deal in Bethlehem. However, the phrase can also be translated as “a mighty man of worth”, or “a mighty man of valour”. That could possibly give us a good indication of the kind of man we’re dealing with here, right at the first mention of his name.

Now look at the first words that Boaz himself speaks in this book:

“Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, ‘The Lord be with you!’
                ‘The Lord bless you!’ they answered.”

(Ruth 1:4)

The first words out of his mouth are “The Lord be with you,” in an era in Israel’s history that is famous for the people falling again and again back into apostasy and faithlessness this is a faithful man. Boaz is a man of God and that’s evident from even the way he says hello to his workers.

Saying hello to his workers is not what we remember Boaz for, but good character is evident in small and mundane things just as it is in big heroic things.

Boaz spots the new woman in his field and asks about her:

Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, ‘Who does that young woman belong to?’

The overseer replied, ‘She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.” She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.’

(Ruth 2:5-7)

We’ve already seen the remarkable character of Ruth in chapter 1, when she chose to stay with Naomi even though it meant leaving her homeland, and we see here that that wasn’t an anomaly. This is just part of who Ruth is, it’s character. Her act of loyalty and goodness wasn’t just a once off, it’s evident in daily life as Ruth humbly asks if she can glean, and then works hard to do so, only taking a short rest in the shelter out of the sun. Ruth asks if she can glean even though it’s written into God’s law that she’s entitled to do so. God’s law forbade his people from gathering right to the edges of their fields or going through the field a second time to gather anything they had missed. That was to be left for the poor. As a widow with nobody to provide for her, Ruth was entitled to this and yet she has no sense of entitlement, but humbly asks and then works hard to provide what she can for Naomi and herself.

Ruth even took the initiative to provide for her and her mother-in-law. Right at the beginning of the chapter we can see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law displayed in her initiative:

“And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.’
Naomi said to her, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.
So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

(Ruth 2:2)

She’s taking a risk in going out to glean. She’s an outsider, a foreigner, on her own. She doesn’t know what type of people she’s going to encounter. Thankfully she goes to a field that happens to belong to Boaz.

So, Boaz and Ruth meet:

So Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.’

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, ‘Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?’

Boaz replied, ‘I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

‘May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,’ she said. ‘You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.’

(Ruth 2:8-13)

Again, we see the noble character of both Boaz and Ruth.  Boaz instructs her to stay in his field, it keeps her safe and he’ll be sure to look after her. Ruth, still not showing any sign of entitlement, is commended by Boaz for sacrificing so much to take care of Naomi. It’s clear now that people have been talking about Ruth, Boaz has heard all about what she’s done.

Boaz continues to show grace and kindness to Ruth. Ruth continues to work hard to provide for her mother-in-law and herself. The grace and compassion of Boaz meets with the selfless hard work of Ruth. And the result? At the end of the day Ruth not only has leftovers from her lunch thanks to Boaz, she has about an ephah of grain too. That was about 22 litres of grain and would do herself and Naomi for about 2 weeks. It’s a testament to her hard work and Boaz’s kindness.

Now. Wait a minute. I hope you don’t stop watching or reading there. Whether you know it or not, we’re in a dangerous place at this point! It would be very easy to look at this passage and think it’s just about personal character and take it as a lesson in morality. You could leave thinking that the message of this chapter is that you’re to go out there and work hard and make something of yourself, or to be generous with the wealth and power you have. That might do for some motivational talk but I’m not a motivational speaker. If I take you down that road, I wouldn’t be handling the word of God rightly. What you must remember is that the Bible is about God. The Book of Ruth is about seeing God working in and through the lives of ordinary people in the kind of situations that happen in normal life.

You could look at this chapter and think “Wow! Ruth is so dedicated and hardworking!” or “Wow! Boaz is so gracious!” and completely miss God in all this.

So now, let’s see God at work. Ruth didn’t know where she was going that day. She went to a field to gather leftover barley. She just so happened to go to the field of Boaz. Boaz, a faithful man of God during a period of biblical history infamous for the faithlessness of God’s people. Boaz just so happens to be a guardian-redeemer of Elimelech’s people – someone who was able to recover the losses and the dignity of the family of Elimelech and make sure that his family continued on. Of all the fields she could have gone to it was Boaz’s field. God is at work here.

God works in the lives of these people and through them. What is it that makes Boaz so gracious? What is it that makes him humble enough that, despite being a big deal, he takes notice of the new face among the needy that have come to his field? Where does his good character come from? Boaz embodies the teachings of God’s law. His character has been shaped by God’s law. He is reverent. He cares for the widow and the foreigner. Boaz belongs to God and God works in and through him.

What about Ruth? She left everything of her homeland to stay with Naomi, but not just that. Remember from last week. She said, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). Boaz heard about all that Ruth had done, leaving her homeland and people and her tireless work in the field to provide for herself and Naomi and he describes it like this:

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

(Ruth 2:12)

Taking refuge under the wings of God like a little chick in search of shelter. That’s Ruth. And God is sheltering Ruth who has sought refuge with him. She finds the right field. She finds the right man.

This is our relationship to God, little chicks seeking refuge. We bring nothing. We earn no credit. We can boast of nothing. And God gives us shelter. He rescues. That’s who God is. The Rescuer. The Redeemer. We see that nowhere more clearly than in the cross of Jesus. If you come to Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you know that there is nothing that you can boast of in terms of your salvation. Your sins are paid for by Jesus on the cross, not by your own good behaviour. You are sheltered in Jesus, covered by his righteousness and faithfulness on our behalf. You’re a little chick who has been given shelter under the wings of God.

But when we come to God we are changed. He changes us to be who we were meant to be, to reflect him, to become godly. Come to God through Jesus and you will receive the Holy Spirit. God himself will set up camp in you and begin changing you from the inside out. You will reflect God as he works in and through you.

The grace, faithfulness, and love of God is reflected here through Ruth and Boaz.

When Ruth returns home, Naomi is shocked at how much food she has:

Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!’

(Ruth 2:19)

Ruth tells her about Boaz, still not knowing who he is. And Naomi rejoices. She tastes the sweetness come back into her life.

‘The Lord bless him!’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.’ She added, ‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.’

(Ruth 2:20)

I love the ambiguity of that phrase: “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” Who is Naomi referring to here, Boaz or God? It could be either. I think it’s intentionally ambiguous and it kind of sums up this chapter and indeed this book. Who is being kind to them? God or Boaz? Yes. Both!

God works in and through normal people. Forget kings, great warriors and miracle workers for a moment. They’re fine but forget about them for a moment. A farmer. A widow. The setting of this great work of God is not a battlefield but a barley-field. People noticing each other and caring about each other. Normal stuff. It happens all the time. And God is powerfully at work in all this “normal stuff”. He is powerfully at work in your life too.

Pray

It’s Christian Aid week this week. Normal fundraising cannot go ahead due to the Coronavirus pandemic, so this year Christian Aid week is moving online. In the video below, Michael from Christian Aid Ireland will lead us in prayer. Please see caweek.ie for more information or to make a donation to Christian Aid Ireland.

Sing

Some videos (including one recorded specially by Christian Aid Ireland) which I hope will help you to sing worship to God today.