May 22nd 2022: James Sibley

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Ruth chapter 3: Finding Rest

We are going to consider what it means to find true rest. What does it mean to rest in your everyday life? Is it to do nothing? I can only have restful rest if I can fully switch off. For rest to be restful, you have to know that things are being taken care of. True rest comes from a settled security, knowing that things are ok, things are taken care of.

As we look at rest in this chapter, let’s recap what has taken place. The book of Ruth opens with Naomi and Elimelech, her husband and their two sons in Bethlehem. There’s a famine in that land. Whether rightly or wrongly, they go to the land of Moab to look for food. While they are there, their two sons get married to women from Moab. In time, Elimelech and both of their sons pass away. So, we are left with Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, her two daughters-in-law. In time, Naomi hears that the famine has stopped in Bethlehem, her homeland. She makes the decision to return. She sets out on her journey with her two daughters-in-law following after her. She then decides to send them back, telling them that there is no point in them coming with her. Orpah returns back to her homeland in Moab. Ruth, after whom the book is named, decides that she wants to leave her homeland, wanting to commit her future to her mother-in-law, as well as to Naomi’s God. She says in chapter 1, “You God shall be my God.”

In chapter 2, these two widows are in a very vulnerable position, with no-one to help them, no-one to look after them. In that time and culture, it was a difficult position to be in. We see that Ruth seeks to go out to find food and sustenance for Naomi and herself. God’s sovereignty leads her into the fields of Boaz. As the harvest goes on, she is able to collect lots of food. This leads to where we are now, in chapter 3.

Chapter 3 opens with Naomi now turning to Ruth saying, My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1). Naomi wants to find rest for Ruth. The harvest is drawing to an end. Whilst their most immediate need for food has been met, there is still a question mark over their situation that Ruth and Naomi find themselves in. What are they going to do when the food runs out? Where would their long-term security come from? What if another famine came? What would they do?

Previously in the book it was Ruth who had taken the initiative but now Naomi steps in, looking to find rest for her daughter-in-law. Now that the harvest is drawing to a close, they are able to direct their energies elsewhere, to this deeper need, the need of rest, the need of long-term security for themselves.

Before, when Ruth was working in Boaz’s fields, they had a brief interaction. But it seems that no further meetings had taken place between Ruth and Boaz. We often like to romanticise the book of Ruth, of their eyes meeting across the field as they progressively fall in love. But that doesn’t seem to actually happen in reality; it seems they haven’t communicated since that first interaction. Boaz gives no indication of realising what is about to unfold. He doesn’t seem to realise that he was able to offer Ruth and Naomi long-term security. It might be that Ruth was still in mourning. The text does not make this clear.

Naomi makes this proposal, “Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”  And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” (Ruth 3:2-5).

Naomi’s proposal is to get Boaz to resolve their situation by providing for Ruth a home and a family. The way that Naomi has planned for this to happen is for Ruth to sneak into the threshing floor, to uncover Boaz’s feet and then for her to wait and see what Boaz would say. Ruth readily agrees to this plan, which might be a little bit surprising because this is a bold plan. It’s a potentially dangerous plan. It’s a reputationally risky plan.

The threshing floors in those days were places where all the people who had land would go and thresh out their crops. They were owned by the whole community and the times of threshing were community affairs. We see Boaz there, eating and drinking with the other people. With eating and drinking, no doubt lots of dodgy activities took place. Remember, this was the time of the Judges, when so many people were far away from the Lord. They were doing what was right in their own eyes. It is safe to assume that these things took place at the threshing floor as well. It would have been easy for a man like Boaz to take advantage of a woman like Ruth, putting herself in such a vulnerable position.

Is what Naomi was doing foolish? No. Naomi has seen enough of Boaz, of his kindness and generosity that he showed to Ruth and herself to know that she can trust him, to know that Ruth can trust him. Naomi has come to recognise that God is at work in that situation, that God has been leading them to where they are. So, in reality, this is a bold act of faith, trusting that God is in control and trusting that Boaz will seek to do the right thing.

Ruth follows Naomi’s proposal; she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do, So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:6-9).

Ruth follows Naomi’s’ proposal almost exactly. But instead of just identifying herself as Naomi told her to, and then waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do, Ruth, through her actions and words, makes a proposal of her own. When asked who she was, Ruth says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9). She uncovers his feet and asks him to spread a corner, or the wing, of his garment over her. No doubt, Boaz would have understood this for what it was – a request for Boaz to redeem her, to marry her. This also refers back to chapter 2:12, where Boaz says to Ruth, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Boaz said that to Ruth in chapter 2, now Ruth says to Boz, in chapter 3, ‘You cover me with your wings, with the wings of your garment.’ Ruth is asking Boaz to be the answer to his own prayer, to provide safety and security for her and her family.

As Naomi knew, these guardian redeemers had a moral and a legal obligation to step in and help family members who were in trouble, through buying their land, through marrying them and raising up a family through them. Ruth waits, no doubt with baited breath, for Boaz’s response. How would he respond to such a brave proposal, from one coming from a foreigner, from a widow, from someone who had nothing, in a vulnerable position? Well, he responds, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” (Ruth 3:10)

Boaz responds, as he so often has, with words of blessing, talking about her kindness and her character. He responds with a promise, “do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask.”  The message from Boaz is that the rest which Ruth and Naomi are looking for is coming.

But there’s a problem here, “And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.” (Ruth 3:12). But Boaz reiterates the promise, “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” (Ruth 3:13).

This matter will be taken care of. Boaz promises that it will be taken care of. Ruth knows that this matter will be resolved. She can trust Boaz. She lays down to rest for the night, knowing that when morning came, this would be taken care of. When morning came, Boaz even made sure that Ruth’s reputation was protected, making sure she left before it got light, making sure that no-one knew she has been there in case they thought anything untoward had taken place. So, Ruth leaves in the morning, returning to Naomi.

Ruth could have returned battered, bruised, abused and with nothing but instead Boaz sends her home with a promise and a pledge to that promise, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” (Ruth 3:15-17). Ruth tells Naomi how it went, showing that Boaz had promised that he would resolve the situation, showing her that he had sent her back with a gift to share with her mother-in-law. What is this gift? A pledge, a promise, a tangible reminder of the promise that Boaz has made that he will resolve their situation.

Seeing all this, Naomi knows that her plan has worked, that God has been faithful. And so she says, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” (Ruth 3:18). At this point, the chapter comes full circle. The chapter starts with Naomi saying to Ruth that she must find rest for her, and it finishes with her telling Ruth that Boaz will not rest until the matter is resolved. Rest is coming because Boaz will not rest until it is sorted.

Now, to us. I’m sure that some of us here this morning are in verse 1, seeking rest. We are aware of our need for rest. Not just the kind of rest that a good night’s sleep will provide, or even a nice holiday. We are longing for the kind of rest that comes only from being settled, being secure, having a firm foundation on which to live our lives. Some of us are feeling like life, that satisfaction, are slipping through our fingers. Here is a message that Ruth points us to – apart from Jesus, no true and lasting rest can be found. Rest is only found in Him. He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

How does Jesus give rest? He is gentle and humble of heart. His heart for His people, His welcome, in the way He deals with our sins and our guilt, providing acceptance and forgiveness and love, give rest. It is in the hope that he gives us of life eternal. Only this, which only he can give, can give us true rest. Only knowing, that no matter what happens, even if we die, we will go to heaven and be with Him. Only that can give us this kind of rest in this life. The curse of sin is toil, but the blessing of Jesus is true rest. This is rest – to know we are loved, we are forgiven and accepted, to know that it is not about our performance, trying to win His love, rather it’s about Him, His love for us, what He’s done for us.

Another thing that gives us rest is knowing that Jesus does not change as we change. In our sufferings and in our struggles, He is always the same. He is constant in His love for us, constant in His presence with us, constant in both His power and His goodness. He is working in us, working for us. Apart from Christ, there is no rest. Apart from Jesus, we are all in judgement, stuck in sin. Apart from Jesus we have no solid foundation to live this life and no hope in death.

How can we find rest in Jesus? How do we get the rest that Jesus offers? We just come to Him. He invites us through His word to come to Him. Here’s the great difference between Jesus and Boaz – did you note the elaborate preparation that Ruth underwent before she went to see Boaz? She washed, she put on perfume, put on her best clothes and then she went. We don’t need any elaborate preparation to come to Jesus. We don’t need to sit and work at making ourselves beautiful before we come to Jesus. All that He requires is for you to feel your need for Him. He gives it all. We just go to Him, come to Him with our needs, with our thirst, with our hunger, with our sickness, with our sin, with our burdens, with our weariness. All of this we bring to Him, for Him to deal with, for Him to give us rest.

We find more than rest in Him, we find that He makes us lovely, pleasing to Him. One day we’ll be glorified in heaven, with Him. Do you desire rest? Do you feel the weight of weariness? Come to Him. Trust in His life, in His death, in His Resurrection. All of these He did for us so that we can know true rest, rest that comes from forgiveness, acceptance and hope of life eternal.

Ruth didn’t know exactly how rest was going to come to her. This passage ends with still not knowing whether Boaz or this unnamed man will redeem her. Even though rest is coming, there are still so many things that remain uncertain before her, whereas for us it is clear. This rest is only found in trusting Jesus Christ. This life on earth has many uncertainties but in all of this we can be certain of one thing – that Jesus Christ never changes. A firm foundation never changes.

We have rest in Christ – not the full rest of heaven – that is still to come. One day we will know true and full eternal rest, free from sin, free from suffering. But until then we know the rest that comes from His gentleness with us, and the love and acceptance that he gives to us. So, we need not fear. This has all been dealt with. As sure as the Lord lives, He will bring this to completion. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Our forerunner Jesus is in heaven, so we will go there to be with Him.’

In Jesus we have rest from trying to do things in our own strength. We can turn to Him. Some of us can find ourselves feeling exhausted in our Christian life because we forget our justification. We forget that our standing before God comes from Jesus Christ. Rest only in Him. God declares us righteous because of what Jesus did in His righteous life and in His death on the cross. That alone is our standing before God. Jesus has already died for our sins. That should bring rest to us.

Life will not be easy but in Christ we can find rest. Rest is a conscious part of your walk with God, coming to Him for rest. We can do that as we come to God in prayer. Unload yourself to Him. Pray, and in your heart, cast your cares onto Him, as Peter says. Ask Him to spread His wings over you and to give you rest and security in the midst of life’s storms. In all of this, remember that just as Boaz sent Ruth back to Naomi, full, so Jesus has not left us empty on earth alone. He has left us with the Spirit, with the Comforter, with the one who reminds us of our adoption as God’s children, as a deposit and a pledge of the life to come. The Spirit is within us to prepare us for eternity, to remind us that’s where we are heading, and to bring our progress in the Christian life to completion.

So, we can rest in Jesus because He did not rest until the work of dealing with sin and death was done. The good work that he has started within us, He will bring to completion. So, rest. Stop striving. Stop struggling. Rest in Him.

November 11th 2018: Ian Middlemist

Ian-Nov18Hebrews 4:14-15

We have a friend in a very high place. It’s good to have a friend in high places who can speak up for us, and help us when we go through personal difficulties. Things which are impossible for us to achieve are made possible with a friend in a high place.

The Hebrews obstinately ignored God in the wilderness. Many never entered God’s rest. Yet God’s rest still stands today – rest from labour, but ultimately rest from judgement – eternal rest, to enter, through the sacrifice of our high priest, Jesus Christ.

A great high priest: we have many needs which many do not know about. We have one who helps us in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16). What’s been offered to us is the offer of help. Lots of us think we don’t need help. Far too many try to cope alone. We all need help. We fool ourselves into thinking we’re fine.

There’s a specific need addressed here – the matter of belief and unbelief. This is where we need most help. It’s important for us to focus on the need of all needs, the matter of belief. All else is a distraction. Belief changes everything. Do you believe in the creator God? If you do, it changes everything. Do you believe that you can do nothing on your own? Do you believe that God sent His Son Jesus into this world as the revelation of who God is? If you do, it changes everything. Do you believe Jesus is almighty God, sinless and pure, who died at the hands of sinners? It changes everything. If you believe you should be the happiest of all because Jesus died for sinners. He chose that path. It was planned. Our God is alive, He has risen from the grace, His name is victory. It changes everything.

What gets in the way of belief? Our circumstances, career, hurt and pains that won’t go away, being fearful of the future. All of this gets in the way. Faith puts God between us and our challenges. We have a great and victorious high priest. Focus on Him, not on your circumstances.

Why is He great?
He is the priest who passed through the heavens, not an earthly temple. He blasted into space and time and is now sat down next to God in heaven. He passed through the heavens.

He has made the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb without blemish. Who would dare say no to Jesus? Heaven’s justice, the finest court from where all other courts get their ideas from.

He is filled with the fullness of God.

He is great because He is the Son of God. He is your help in time of need. His priestly work on earth was finished. In the Old Testament, animals were slaughtered; the sins of the people were laid on animals day by day, non-stop sacrifices, the priests sacrificing daily. Animal sacrifice could never be enough. Jesus sacrificed His own life, once and for all. It was finished, then Jesus could sit down next to the Father because it was finished. Do you believe in this great High Priest? Are you trusting in Him?

He is a sympathetic high priest. Our Saviour’s coming to earth means He knows what it’s like to be fallen. He knows. As Jesus returned to heaven His humanity is not diminished at all. He has experienced our weaknesses. He knows. It is important we know He is great but also that we know He is sympathetic. He was tempted. Life is a test. Jesus was tested. In order for Jesus to qualify as our Redeemer He had to be tested. He passed the test! He trusted His heavenly Father. Our High Priest is our friend who knows how hard it is for us. We need to ask for the help of the one who can help.

Our Sanctuary: our King is the polar opposite of all earthy kings. If ever there was a king we should fear it is this holy king. His requirement for our life is perfection. How can we approach Him? As sinners we should be afraid. But Jesus made the perfect priestly sacrifice for us.

The devil and his minions are fantastic videographers, capturing our words and thoughts. They love to capture footage of our sin. The devil hounds us at times, he glories in causing heartache, he is a giant over past events. We are often living in the past. Did you know Jesus takes this video footage and erases it? Everything is bank. We are sons of God. The devil has nothing against us. We can come boldly into the throne of God and claim the crown. He has done it all. You must come boldly; your guilt will hold you back from coming into His presence.

Sometimes we need more grace when facing trials. You need to know you can find help in time of need. Your greatest need is to believe in the cross, that God loves you, that God has a place for you. We’re called to come to the throne of grace. Your friend in the highest place is there waiting for you. Some Christians are surrounded by trouble. Lift up your eyes to heaven – that’s where your help will come from. Our great high priest is in heaven interceding for us. He won’t let you down. Keep looking up.

September 2nd 2018: Ian Middlemist

Ian Middlesmist-Aug 18Hebrews 4:1-13

What are you seeking, dreaming of? Thomas Moore had the concept of Utopia, a desire to explore the idea of a perfect society. Today, the dream still pervades. This is probably different for each one of us. Perhaps it’s memories of better times, happier days?

What is your greater Sabbath?
We are a restless people. On the seventh day God rested from His creation. Sabbath is the seventh day. God rested from all His work. What does that mean? He put His feet up because He had worked really hard? He had a snooze? Our God could have created a billion universes in one moment if He wanted. We are His interest – men and women. The Lord’s rest was not inactivity. The universe is held by His power. He’s been active ever since. God is intimately involved in creation and our lives. It’s good to rest. Creating men in the image of God was not the end of His work – His purposes were not fully achieved, there was more to be unveiled. The purpose of rest is to point us to the eternal rest. The Saviour was a shadow of the things to come, the reality is found in Christ (Colossians 2).

The promise of rest requires a response (verse 1). The promise of rest for Israel was more than entering the Promised Land. It’s a promise that still stands. Disobedience, grumbling, complaining – refers  to the knowledge God has of our hearts. God knows our heart. He knows if we are believing or unbelieving. He knows some could attend church just to prove a point, He knows if we are not going to listen. He knows some will open the Scriptures but will not listen. In the end God will expose it all.

In verse 2 we are given the reason for the Israelites’ unbelief. Even though the gospel was proclaimed, it was met with unbelief. They perished. The gospel invitation goes out though churches and ministries all the time – to receive rest in Jesus Christ. It is a command of the sovereign Lord, come to Him. Great things have been done. Jesus Christ has come, become man. His miracles proved His deity. All has been done for you to believe. Turn to Him today. Rescue has been demonstrated. Jesus really died and really rose again. He lives! Look to Him. Believe in Him.

Will you believe? The promise is there, the invitation stands. Have you repented, confessed your sins? The time for that response is now – today.

The nature of rest (verse 8). Jesus is compared with Joshua leading the Israelites into rest in the Promised Land. However, this is far inferior to the work of the Jesus. Jesus provides us with eternal rest for our soul. Psalm 95 is quoted again. God’s promised Israelites would come to a land of milk and honey, a land where they were free to worship God. Yet the people go through a time of turmoil because they were not trusting in Jesus but doing what they wanted. David wrote a warning in Psalm 95 as well as a promise – it is possible not to enter God’s rest. The Canaan rest is just a shadow of the promise to come.

The nature of the rest involves ceasing from your own work, trusting in the work that has been done. It is a rest in the Lord, He has done it all. Trust in Him. Rest in His goodness, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28). Ultimately, the promise is of eternal rest.

We are again and again encouraged. He will give us strength ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:13). The life I live, I live by faith. Learn to function from a position of rest and truth, to avoid burnout. Utopian dreams will fail. Rather, listen to the word of God and obey. Be thankful for the Sabbath rest, remembering Jesus has done it all.