October 31, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Ruth 1:1-18 Mark 12:28-34 Hebrews 9:11-14
I know some of you don’t watch football, but this past week there was a play that is worth talking about because it tells us a story that makes sense of a spiritual theme that we read in today’s scripture passages. During a game between Troy and South Carolina, Jahmar Brown recovered a fumble, ran fifty yards toward the end zone and, one yard before he crossed the goal line, stated celebrating and threw the ball into the air. The referees ruled that it was not a touchdown because he did not have possession of the ball when he crossed into the end zone.
He had the ball. There was no one nearby that could stop him, success was certain, but he became overconfident and started his celebration before he actually crossed the goal line. When our children ran track, we saw the something similar happen more than once. A winning runner would start easing off just before they crossed the finish line and, at the last moment, the second-place runner passed them and won the race. These stories remind us that it isn’t a touchdown until you cross the goal line, and you haven’t actually won the race until you cross the finish line. The difference between winning and losing often depends upon whether you commit the effort to finish what you started.
A spiritual lesson with the same theme can be found in scripture. We begin this morning with the story of Ruth. Ruth was a daughter-in-law of Naomi and, and both women were widowed while they were living in Moab. Naomi, her husband, and her sons, were citizens of Bethlehem, but moved to Moab during a time of famine. We join the story in Ruth 1:1-18.
1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye, and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Naomi and her family move to Moab, her sons both marry local girls, and then both Naomi’s husband and sons all die leaving her a widow with two dependent children widow children. Since the famine in Israel is over, and since she has no job, no family, and no support system in Moab, she decides to return to Israel where she at least has some family from whom she can ask for help. But as they begin their journey, Naomi recognizes that, as much as she could use the help, her return to Israel won’t do any favors for her daughters-in-law. In Israel, they will have the same problem that she has in Moab. They will be far from home, separated from everything they know, and have no family or support system upon which they can depend. And so, out of compassion, Naomi sacrifices her own needs and tells her daughters to return to their families where they have a better chance to be cared for, or to find new husbands and families for themselves.
Orpah resists and initially rejects Naomi’s offer, but ultimately agrees and returns to her family, but Ruth does the same thing that Naomi had modeled for her. Instead of returning to her family and doing what was best for herself, Ruth sacrifices her own needs for the good of Naomi because of her loyalty and love for her mother-in-law. And the sacrifice that we see in the story of Naomi and Ruth is a foreshadowing of an even greater sacrifice that Jesus would make in order to offer a path of rescue, reconciliation, and restoration to the entire world. But knowing about the sacrifice of Jesus isn’t enough, just as knowing about God, memorizing, and even following, the commandments isn’t. And that’s what Jesus is talking about with one of the teachers of the Law in Mark 12:28-34 where we hear this:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Jesus says that it’s good that this teacher of the law understands the law and the commandments. It is good that he follows the law and the commandments. Understanding and following the law and commandments is almost enough because Jesus says that in doing so the teacher is “not far from the kingdom of God.” Because he knows, understands, and follows the law and the commandments, the man is almost saved. But something is still missing. Jesus has hinted at it, but in Hebrews 9:11-14, Paul explains it more clearly.
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtainingeternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
There are several things here that we, as well as the original recipients and readers of Hebrews, already know. We know that Jesus is our high priest who intercedes between God and humanity. We know that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin and willingly offered himself as our sacrifice so that we could be redeemed in the eyes of God forever. We know that because Jesus sacrificed himself for us, we are forgiven of all our sin, can stand before God, and can live with a clear conscience.
But after Paul repeats these things that we already know, he concludes by saying why God did these things. He says that God did these things “so that we may serve the living God.” The reason that God has offered us salvation and rescue is so that we can offer him a life of service. We were purified for service. We were saved for service. The reason for Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and the reason for our rescue, is so that we can serve God.
This is the same thing that we saw modeled for us in the story of Naomi and Ruth, and the same thing that Jesus was hinting at in Mark. While it is good to believe in God, to know the law, the commandments, and the rest of the scriptures, and while it is good to follow the instructions of God, that isn’t enough. The thing that Naomi knew, that Ruth learned, and that Jesus was teaching, is that after we begin to follow the instructions of God, we must also be so filled with compassion and love that we begin to model the sacrificial nature of God, to sacrifice ourselves, to sacrifice our wants, our needs, and our desires, for the good of others and for the good of God’s kingdom.
Knowing, believing, and even following are all good things, and they are almost enough. Doing those things will bring us to place that is, as Jesus described as “not far from the kingdom of God.”
But Jahmar Brown started celebrating and dropped the ball before he cross the goal line. The whole point of football is carrying the football across the goal line. And Paul says that the whole point of God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ is so that we will live lives of service and sacrifice to God.
Let’s not miss the point and quit before we cross the goal line.
Did you enjoy reading this?
Please LIKE and SHARE!
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.
*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.