Dear radio friends,
There is only one place that a child of God may call home: the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. You do not let your children live in someone else’s house but in yours. So God wills that His children live as members of His house. His house, Paul in I Timothy 3:15 tells us, is the church of the living God.
One who partakes of Jesus Christ by faith and says, “I don’t need to be in the church as a member,” contradicts his confession of belonging to Jesus Christ. This attitude is very common. There is the attitude today in Christianity that one can go to basically any church available, it really does not matter what it teaches. What matters is whether it is convenient for me and fits my schedule or is appeasing to me. But I don’t need to join a true church which emphasizes the truths of the Bible. And I don’t really need to come under the rule and the care of the church. I can worship God all alone. I don’t need to be in the church at all. I can listen to God’s Word, perhaps, on the radio.
That is contrary to the confession that one makes when he says, “I am a child of God.” If God, then, is my Father, then I belong to His family. And I must place myself in His house. I must put myself under His care and under His rule. And all of this is to be found in the church, which is the house of the living God – the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15).
God sees it that way, too. The church is our home and we are to be in His house. Because God sees it that way, God also seeks His wandering children and brings them home. If your child is not at home at suppertime, you go out and seek that child. You call the child. A father will say to his teenaged son and daughter, “This is the time I want you home.” So also God seeks and restores us in repentance. And when He does so, He calls us to the church. We read in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved.” Now these all continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship one with another. God wills to bring us home to His church.
This is what we are taught as we continue our series on the book of Ruth. This is what we are taught as we come to the homecoming of the prodigal daughter, Naomi. The book of Ruth is primarily about Ruth the Moabitess, who was brought into the church in the Old Testament and became one of the ancestors of our Lord. Naomi, her mother-in-law, was the means that God used to bring Ruth in.
Naomi, with her husband Elimelech, had left the land of Canaan. That was a serious mistake. For in the land of Canaan, God had promised that He would meet with His people. He had pitched His tabernacle in Shiloh. He had given to them the prophets and the priests. And that was the land where God would reveal Himself and give them the bread of His Word. But Naomi left the land of Canaan for earthly bread. It was a time of famine. They had heard that in Moab there would be plenty of earthly things. And they began to live for earthly things, just like the prodigal son. So also the prodigal daughter, Naomi, left the land of Canaan and lived as a prodigal, living first for the world, not for God.
She left her father’s house. She left the place where God showed her the promise of Jesus Christ. But God brought her home as God brings every one of His children home. Very powerful and sobering is the Word of God that God brings His children home, as Naomi confesses. When God brings us home it is not as in the days of Naomi that He brings us from one country to another, but it means that God brings us into His fellowship, into His house, the place where all His blessings are stored up for us, where we might live in the security and the peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this house is His church.
We come now today, in the book of Ruth, to the verses 19-22. Please open your Bibles and read them carefully. Remember the context? Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, are leaving the land of Moab and returning to the land of Canaan.
It was the faithfulness of God which brought Naomi home, something that Naomi, in all of the bitterness of her soul, knew. She says, “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again.” The Lord brought me home – that is always the way it is. Of ourselves, we get caught in sins. Not only do we fall into sin, but soon we cannot find our way out, and very soon sin would place chains upon us. But Jehovah brings us home.
He not only brought Naomi home, but He ruled graciously over her in such a way as to bring home Ruth. God used the weakness and sin of Naomi to accomplish a great blessing – to bring with Naomi yet another, Ruth (and out of Ruth, to bring the promised Savior). God is so very, very faithful, is He not? He is so faithful to Naomi that even her own folly and her sin in the end must serve the purpose of God. It was God’s purpose that through Naomi God would bring Ruth, His chosen, into the land of Canaan. And out of Ruth would come the Christ child. That is how faithful God is. God brings us home.
Remember the significance of Elimelech and Naomi’s leaving the land of Canaan. Though we might say it was very understandable, it was very wrong. The bottom line, we saw, was that they were earthly. They were considering their life from the point of view of “what shall we eat and drink and put on?” Their bellies were empty. God was chastening His people with a famine in the days of the Judges. Elimelech and Naomi came to the point where they could no longer endure. And Moab looked very good. It was not that they first lusted after the life-style of the heathen. But they said, “we must, after all, make a living.” They left the home that God made for them in Canaan. And they came to a land where God was not pleased to reveal Himself in the fellowship of His people.
But now God brought Naomi home. And that is a beautiful thing! To be brought home is to be given the assurance of our inheritance. To be brought home is to be assured that we will be fed and loved, and will live with God our Father. That is the significance also of the church of Jesus Christ. In the church God gives to us the assurance of His love. He feeds us with His Word and we enjoy the fellowship of the living God.
By leaving Canaan and leaving her spiritual home, Naomi had placed herself in spiritual jeopardy. But God, in His faithfulness, would bring her home.
He brings her home as a repentant, believing child of God. He does this as the good shepherd. Naomi’s homecoming underscores a great biblical truth of the irresistible grace of God which leads us to repentance. Naomi’s homecoming speaks of Jesus Christ as the faithful Savior, who goes out to seek and to save those who are lost, and it speaks of the irresistible grace of God operating through His Word to bring the elect of God to repentance and into the fold of the church. Let us remember that! Let us remember that our place as a believer in Jesus Christ, and the place in His church, is due to the wonderful grace of God. That we belong to God, that we love His church means that God has been merciful to us and has blessed us.
God bringing Naomi home showed four wonderful things.
It showed, first of all, His great love for Naomi. Naomi was His daughter, one for whom Christ would die and, thus, was precious in God’s sight. And it grieved Him that she would live apart from Him and seek to be satisfied in something other than Him. In love, He brought her back home.
God, secondly, showed His great grace. If God were at all like us, how would it go? Every time that you and I walk away from God and foolishly choose the way of sin, God would say to us, “Well, you find your own way back then.” If God were like us, that is the way it would go. But God is very gracious. He does not deal with us as we deserve. He deals with us according to His own mercy in Jesus Christ.
Still more, God showed His compassion. Naomi was miserable in Moab. She was wretched and she was troubled. How can any child of God say, “I’ll live in the world and be happy”? You cannot do that if the Spirit of God is in you. Foolishly you may choose the way of sin. But if you are a child of God, you bring upon yourself misery and anxiety and all types of difficulty. But God, in compassion, brought her out of that misery.
And still more, God showed His power, His mighty power, to reach down from His heaven and so work in our hearts to lead us into the way of repentance, in the way of chastening, to bring us home.
We emphasized in the past weeks that God did indeed chasten His daughter, that, from an earthly point of view, Naomi lost everything in order that she might learn that she had everything in God alone.
Sometimes we reason this way (it is a terrible thing, but we sometimes do it): God is faithful, God will restore me from the way of sin. So it does not matter if I walk contrary to my confession of Jesus Christ. I do not need to take the spiritual walk very seriously. Then we say, I want Moab for a little while. I want the fun of this world – the drinking, the parties, the swearing, the sexual tantalizing. I want to show an attitude of scorn towards authority, too. I want a little bit of the world along the way. I see the world’s young men and women and I want to be like them. I want to live my life by my own rules. Oh, I want to go to heaven. I want to have a Christian funeral. And I want Christians weeping for me and a minister preaching the sermon. But I want fun in Moab, too. And my comfort is, well, God will be faithful and He will bring me out, won’t He?
That is wrong. That is horribly wrong. That is blasphemy. It is so contrary to the confession of a child of God. It is hypocrisy. If we love the Father, then we love His home and His people and we want to experience joy and peace in walking with Him in this world. But there is another reason why it is so wrong, a more realistic reason that Naomi points out. It is because of the grievous means that God will use to restore us. God’s chastenings are grievous ( Heb. 12 tells us that). It is better to learn under the Word of God to walk faithfully with God. It is better to do it that way than to learn it over the course of God’s severe chastenings, over the course of ten or twenty years of your life in which God breaks you down and you lose everything. It is better to learn the ways of God through the preaching of the gospel and through catechism classes in the church where people and young children are taught, than to learn it through the harsh and grievous chastenings of God in life.
Naomi said, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.” That was not an accusation against God. That was not faultfinding with God. But that was a frank, honest confession that God’s chastenings were grievous and painful to her. We would put it this way, “I have a bitter pill to swallow.” God’s chastenings are rooted in love. He is not an indifferent father. God takes it very seriously. And when you and I stray from Him, He does exactly what is necessary to restore us. Sometimes those chastenings bring lifelong reminders and burdens. They can be very difficult. Mark it down. If you are a child of God and you foolishly play the prodigal, you willfully depart from Him and His church, believing that the world would be a better place for you, then, yes, God will be faithful to you and bring you to repentance. But He will do so through grievous afflictions. And when it is finished, you will learn to fear the folly of your sin. You will learn that when you idolized the way of sin, you were playing the part of a fool.
But Naomi is not only confessing that God’s chastenings are grievous. She is confessing that now God has brought her to see how grievous was her sin. When she says that she is bitter, she is expressing the truth that God had given her to know the folly of her own sin. She says, “Jehovah has testified against me.” That word “testify” is used repeatedly in the Old Testament Scriptures to refer to a legal idea, of a courtroom. She means to say, “I appear in God’s court. I appear before God who sits before me. And God testifies against me, too. He knows. He has brought compelling evidence to my heart about what I have done. God has made it very plain that I have walked in the way of sin. That sin is a bitter thing to me.” That is the work of God. That is how God works in us. Does God do that to you? Does God show you how foolish and how bitter are your sins? That is the faithful work of God.
There are churches today who say, “God doesn’t want anything bad to happen in His children’s lives.” They have a great question. They say, “How can good people experience bad things?” That is not the question we should be asking. We should understand that Jehovah is a holy and a faithful God. When we walk in the ways of sin, He will bring us to a genuine sorrow for sin. This is the way that God accomplishes repentance in our hearts. God gives us to feel our sins, gives us to feel the horror of those sins, and gives us to know that only through Him and through His Son can we have any relief from the horror and the burden of those sins. If you do not know your sin, what it really is, you cannot know Jesus Christ. In faithfulness, to bring us to the wonder of Christ and the wonder of His love and mercy, God also gives us to know the horror of our sin. And He brings us home. He brings us back to His fold and the enjoyment of salvation.
When Naomi returned, the city of Bethlehem was all in a stir. The women said, “Is this not Naomi?” The men, we read, were busy in the barley harvest, so the city was mainly inhabited at that point of women as Naomi returned with Ruth her daughter-in-law. And they rejoiced! There was great joy to see her. There was amazement. Is this Naomi? Can it be? Yes, it is she! Though she is older, though she seems to be bearing a heavy load upon her soul, yes, she is our sister. She is etched in the memory of our hearts. We cannot forget her. There was joy! They called their friends and neighbors together and said, “This is Naomi.”
What a wonderful picture that is. The wonderful picture of a sinner being restored into the fellowship of the church. Perhaps there were the carnal element in Bethlehem who were not excited, who said, “Well, what about it that she’s back home,” and were not thrilled at all. But for the true people of God in Bethlehem, they were overcome with joy. Naomi is come home! God has restored her to her place among us! The people of God were glad.
Is that your response, too? If one who formerly confessed Jesus Christ and then went astray is brought back by the wonderful grace of God, how do you greet him? Do you greet him with joy in your heart? If one whose life is under a cloud, whose sins have been revealed because God would not let him slide into hell, God would not let him rest under a covering of silence, and God has brought repentance, so that everyone knows the terrible sin, and the church has also announced the wonder of his repentance, do you greet such a person with joy? Are you moved with great joy, the joy of a restored sinner brought back into the fold of the church?
Sometimes our response is self-righteousness. Sometimes we look at such a person and say, “I would never do that!” And sometimes in disdain and self-righteousness we shove them away. We do not want anything to do with them. That is wicked. That shows us to be far from the kingdom of heaven in our own hearts. A sinner brought back home again? The church built up as the body of confessing, repenting, contrite sinners? Oh, that is joy! Then we can have fellowship.
The church of Jesus Christ is the only place where you can have fellowship. Have you ever thought about that? You cannot live and have fellowship in darkness, only in the church.
Let us have it ring in our hearts: God is faithful, God brings us to repentance, God brings us home again. And let there be joy in our hearts, joy before the presence of God when God brings His erring prodigal sons and daughters home again.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We ask for the blessing of Thy Word upon our hearts. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.