Be it in the first act of salvation, the prodigal’s confession, or the daily renewal of the heart, all people are called upon to return to the Lord…however not all do.
Good morning, if you have a Bible please be turning to Ruth Chapter 1.
I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, perhaps it’s just me, but every time I find myself at the airport I like to people watch. The airport is a wonderful place to do that. There’re all kinds of people at the airport. But my favorite are people that exit the luggage area expecting to be reunited with a loved one.
I love to see them make eye contact for the first time. I love to see the smiles form on their face as that loved one comes into sight. I love to witness the exchange of flowers, the long embraces, the tears. There’s something beautiful about a return home.
That’s where we find ourselves this morning in Ruth 1:6-22
If you’re a careful reader you will have noticed that the word, “return” is used 12 times in 17 verses. And just a little Bible study tip for you, when a passage of scripture keeps repeating a word it’s a good indication that this is the main idea of the passage.
Our story this morning is much more than just a story about Naomi returning to Bethlehem…it is the story of Naomi and Ruth returning to God.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and get into the text:
5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house…14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.
In matters of faith, returns always begin with:
A Call to Return. 5-6, 21
5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.
Naomi is so convinced that God is at work here, that God is the one calling her home that she says,“21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.”
Notice the contrast: I went away…the LORD has brought me back.
She believed that she is standing in Bethlehem because God had picked her up out of Moab and placed her in Bethlehem. How?
He ensured that the Good news of hope was sent to her v. 6
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.
Isn’t it amazing that as these women were out in a field in a foreign country, before cellphones, before social media that somehow it just so happens that news reaches them.
Why would Moab be talking about this? They don’t care about Israel? What visitor came to that specific country, that specific town, that specific field, on that specific day, to those specific women and shared that specific message.
God himself sent that message of good news: Don’t worry what you leave behind in the fields of Moab, because there’s something better for you in Bethlehem.
This is the good news of the gospel. Don’t worry what you leave behind in your fields of Moab because there’s something better for you in Bethlehem…and that something better is Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus, He’s far better than anything this world offers.
As God made sure that message of hope reached Naomi God has made sure that this message reaches you as well!
It’s no more an accident that you are here today receiving good news than it was that Ruth and Naomi were in a field receiving good news.
How is it you found your way to this country, this city, this church, this service, on this day, at this very hour, in this passage, hearing this message of Good News, that God is calling you home?
It is because God is drawing you to Himself. God is speaking to YOU. He’s saying, come under my wings as Ruth came under my wings!
So lean in and listen to the news that the Lord has brought your way today.
Remember, the book of Ruth is about God being the God of the ordinary. Ordinary people from an ordinary town, living ordinary lives, in which it seems that God was doing ordinary things. God doesn’t come with angels announcing to Ruth and Naomi…come back to Bethlehem. God doesn’t give them a bright light and voice from heaven for them as they are going to the fields. No burning bush experience in the fields of Moab. But make no mistake, God was speaking, in normal ways.
Perhaps you’re expecting something miraculous. You’re waiting for your burning bush experience before you come to God. You may never get that. Maybe He comes to you like He came to Naomi, in terribly ordinary ways, but still he comes! Open your eyes to His presence in even the ordinary.
And if you still long for the miraculous: look no further than a crucifixion followed by a resurrection. Look to the cross this morning for it shouts His love for you, it pleads with you, “come home.”
Secondly, the call to return must be followed by:
A Commitment to Return v. 7-10
7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”
It’s not enough to just hear the call of God. When the Good News of Jesus is spoken to anyone it is meant to evoke a response in the listener.
You can’t be neutral with the gospel.
The words of Joshua 24:15 stare us in the eyes this morning: choose this day whom you will serve,
The Words of Jesus compel us to no longer live in indecision: Matthew 12:30 – Whoever is not with me is against me.
This idea of deciding this day whom you will serve is so important that the entire book of John was written so that you would make a choice.
The entire book follows this pattern:
A sign is given to prove that Jesus is the Son of God
A choice is made to accept or reject Jesus.
And it ends by basically saying…what do you choose.
This happens with Nicodemus – He sees the signs and eventually makes a choice for Jesus.
This happens with the woman at the well – She sees the signs and says yes.
Whether we look at the people in the book of John or we look at Naomi and Ruth we discover that faith doesn’t have to be perfect in order to return home. You just need a mustard seed of faith. You just need a faith that says, Mark 9:24 – “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Naomi’s faith wasn’t perfect. She’s extremely bitter.
But, she hasn’t let her struggles keep her from God. She could have, “well I’m not returning to Bethlehem…look what God’s done to me, why should I return to Him? Even in her doubt and her struggles she was confident of this:
- God was real
- God was worth following.
She knew the stories, The miracles in Egypt, The care in the wilderness, the favor as they took the land of promise.
She couldn’t deny their reality, therefore she couldn’t deny the reality that God was real, that God was good, and that God was worth following.
So, she returns…even in her struggles! Don’t let your struggles keep you from returning to God.
If you doubt His goodness, look no further than the cross. It is the ultimate picture of His goodness toward you. God so loved the world, that doesn’t just mean every person…certainly it means that, but earlier John writes that Jesus came into the WORLD, to His own, and that world rejected Him.
God’s love is made manifest in that He loved His enemies on the cross, He laid down His life for those who cared nothing for Him, He shed his blood for those rejected Him and were shouting, “crucify Him.” Look past your struggles to the cross and you will see His glory and goodness extended to YOU.
But as you survey the book of John, not every response to a sign was positive.
Pilate and the pharisees, see the signs, but say no because they valued the glory of men over the glory of God.
Just because you’re here this morning, just because you’ve experienced His presence today (AND YOU HAVE…as we have worshipped God this morning, surely you have experienced His presence), but that doesn’t mean you’ve said yes, nor does it mean that you will say yes.
There’s a war waging inside each of us this morning, a war over our heart, our allegiance. We must rise up and become active participants of that battle…choose this day, right now in this moment, whom you will serve.
Perhaps what I’m most struck by in the book of John is Jesus’ followers who see the signs, follow for a little while, but eventually find his teachings too difficult so they John 6:66 – “turned back and no longer walked with him.”
We find this too in book of Ruth this morning. Three women make a choice to follow God, but at the end of the chapter, only two are remaining.
Scripture teaches us that true faith is marked by:
A Continuance of Returning v. 11-16a
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you.
Let us be reminded of this, there will always be temptations to quit the journey.
- When life gets hard your circumstances will whisper, “It’s not worth it?”
- When your read scripture that clashes with your worldview your doubt will whisper, “wait a minute, do I really believe this? And If I don’t believe this, then do I believe any of it?”
- When the pleasures of this world begin to grow large in your eyes, the will shout to you, “I can satisfy you in ways Christ never you…come over here and enjoy life with me.”
- When the treasures of this world begin to glisten and shine they will say to you, “this is what’s really important…spend your time to gain more of me. I will give you comfort and joy like no other.”
And if we are not careful, if we are not intentional about clinging to Jesus we will find ourselves like the people of Israel who had been freed from Egypt: Numbers 14:4 – And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
The land of slavery was appealing to them and the land of our slavery, the places Christ has pulled us out of, can be appealing to us as well.
But what we see in the book of Ruth is a picture of true faith vs false faith. False faith trudges along for a little while, but when tribulation or persecution arises, when the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things arise, false faith falls away.
Orpah and Ruth both set out on the journey. Orpah and Ruth obviously both had affections for Naomi. Orpah and Ruth both had every intention of going to Bethlehem. But then we read these words:
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her
To kiss is easy, but to cling requires effort!
Which do you do today? Do you kiss Christ with an outward affection that won’t last the test of time because there is no deep heart change that has ever taken place…you’ve never really been in love with Jesus.
This is what happened to Orpah. She was willing to go until she realized the road to Bethlehem wasn’t going to be an easy one.
But Ruth chooses a different path…She cling to Jesus.
Ruth’s decision wasn’t some half-hearted decision. If we keep reading we will hear her say, Ruth 1:17 – “Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”
Who do you suppose will die first, Ruth or Naomi? If all things play out naturally, certainly Naomi will die first. The commitment Ruth makes isn’t a short-term commitment. I’ll follow you till you die and then I’ll return home. No, this was the continual, perseverant decision of faith that said, even after you die I will still stay in the land of promise, I will still follow Yahweh. I will follow Him not till your death…but till my death! It is a lifelong commitment!
Do you cling to Jesus like this, as a man who can’t swim and has fallen overboard clings to a rope that has been thrown to him? It’s precious to him. It’s his only hope. He won’t let go of it for anything. If he sees great treasures in the ocean he won’t let go of the rope in exchange for that treasure, for the rope is of greater worth…it is his very life. So he clings to it with every once of strength his has till his knuckles turn white and he feels the texture of the rope in his palms. Though it hurts, still he clings. Though he lose strength, still he clings. To lose the rope is to lose everything!
This is what it means to cling to Jesus.
Ruth clung to Naomi as Adam was commanded to cling to Eve. It’s the same word.
Genesis 2:24 – 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Marriage is a picture of how Christ loves the church, how He clings on to us and how we in return cling to Him!
Just look at the traditional wedding vows:
“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.
This is what it means to cling to Christ.
I cling to you when life is better and I am tempted to forget you because I think I don’t need you.
I cling to you when life is worse and I am tempted to reject you because of my circumstances.
I cling in riches and poverty…I’ve not come for the gift, but the giver of the gift and I care not whether I have poverty or riches, give me Jesus.
I cling to you in my sickness when I pray and it’s not lifted, in my spouses sickness or a child’s sickness, or a friends sickness as I see their body deteriorate and I ask, “Why, God”! Yet I cling, because I’m not holding on to health, but you!
I cling in love.
I cling by cherishing you.
And I will cling so long as blood is coursing through my veins!
But we can’t leave today without looking at what true returning looks and sounds like. With true faith there is always:
A Confession of Returning v. 16-19
For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.
I believe what we have here in Ruth’s confession is a picture of what it means to truly turn to Christ.
For where you go I will go.
Jesus makes it plain that true confession is one that says, I follow Jesus. “where you go, I go.”
Matthew 4:19 – And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Matthew 8:22 – And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
Matthew 10:38 – And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Matthew 19:21 – Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
To follow Jesus means:
- You believe he was worth following.
Ruth followed even when logic said, your chances for remarriage is better in Moab. Your chances for a child is better in Moab. Your chances for survival is better in Moab. But she follows because her heard the call, “follow me.” And she truly believed that Yahweh was worth following
To follow Jesus means:
- You trust Him. If I’m in a dangerous part of town and some shady person comes up to me and says, “follow me.” Ummm…no. If I’m in some foreign country with you and you say follow me and I don’t think you know your way any better than I do, I’m probably not going to follow you.
Make no mistake, Ruth comes to Bethlehem because she trusts in God – The Lord repay you for what you have done, … the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
If Jesus is willing to lay down His life so that you might have life…then I assure you, you can trust Him.
- To follow Jesus, for the disciples, meant giving up everything. They left their homes, business, future.
Ruth left her
family for a new family
land for a new land
traditions for new traditions
Language for a new language
Ruth would have agreed with Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Your people shall be my people,
Ruth is leaving behind her old life, her old customs, her old community and embracing a new one.
Ruth says, I want to be identified as an Israelite and no longer a Moabite. True confession takes on a new identity. Baptism is a picture of this. It is a public declaration to the world, this is who I am. I am a follower of Jesus and I am not ashamed to be identified as such.
But it’s more than just that, she’s committing to become a part of a new family.
Conversion is not just a commitment to God, but a commitment to the community of faith. To surround yourself with this new community that they might nurture you and support you in this new life. When you say yes to Jesus you say yes to His church, because Christ has given you the church to help spur you on to faith and good works.
and your God my God.
Ruth chose to forsake Chemosh, the god of Moab, for Yahweh, the true God of the Universe – She believed Him to be that true God…superior to Chemosh.
For us it means we don’t absorb Christianity into our way of life, I practice a little Buddhism here, a little animism here, some superstition there, oh yeah, and some Christianity sprinkled in here and there. NO! There’s a word for that – Idolatry, it’s like number one on God’s top ten list…No other Gods before me.
The Bible also uses another word for that, Adultery. Ruth knows that just as her husband wasn’t okay with sharing her with another man, Yahweh wasn’t okay with her heart being divided between two gods.
So she forsakes her old belief system and commits totally and completely to a new one: Your God will be my God.
Ruth will discover that though the journey was hard…it was worth it. Jesus is worth whatever sacrifice you must make in order to take hold of Him.
In six days and 8 hours (six day and six hours) I will be at the airport, but I won’t be watching people…waiting for my family to come home. I can assure you I will be as close to that gate as I can possibly get without getting arrested. And every time I hear the click of shoes or the roll of luggage or every time I catch a glimpse of movement as someone rounds the corner to enter the main hall of the airport my eyes will be searching for my family. Maybe you’ve experienced that before. The excitement, anticipation, longing you experience as you wait for a loved one to come home. If so, you have but a taste of what God feels toward your returning.
He’s calling you home. He’s at the airport waiting, anticipating your return. He’s even gone so far as purchased the ticket for you. I want you with me so badly I’ll pay for everything to get you here…and He did. He purchased your return ticket with the precious blood of Jesus.
And the return journey is so simple. It’s as simple as saying right now, Jesus where you Go, I go. Your people will be my people. You are my God.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
 John 20:31 – “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”