The Embrace of Covenant Redemption - II
Scripture: Ruth 4
Text: Ruth 4:10a
(Note: All Scripture citations from the New King James Version)
Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Sunnyside, Washington, 2002
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 18, No. 7
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ,
As you probably know, the theme of the Reformation is often stated as “Justification by Faith.” During Reformation times the debate focused on the correct definition of “justification”, and on its distinction from and relation to sanctification. That debate has surfaced again, not only between Protestants and Catholics, but also within the Reformed world.
It has been correctly observed that the concept of covenant as it is revealed in Scripture is immensely helpful to understand the distinction between and relationship of justification and sanctification. That carries us into our text for today, for it concerns the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Marriage models covenant in many wonderful and instructive ways.
It has been said, and Biblically supported, that covenant, the Covenant of Grace God makes with us His people, carries both promises and conditions—that is, it says what God will do, and also outlines what we must do. When we have explored the meaning of the promises and conditions within the covenant, though, we have failed to put our finger on its essence.
The heart of the covenant is found in the words, “I am your God; you are My people.” That statement is modeled for us in our text; Boaz said, “Moreover Ruth the Moabitess I have acquired as my wife.” Boaz could then say, “Ruth, you are my wife and I am your husband.”
Our theme then is, “The Embrace of Covenant Redemption—It Embraces Persons in Covenant.”
Under that theme we shall explore the relationships between the two parties to this marriage covenant, Boaz and Ruth. I’ll say first of all, that Ruth belongs to Boaz, and second, that Boaz belongs to Ruth. After each point I wish to make clear the implications of covenant; what it means to live in the new status, to live in the reality of covenant.
First then, we consider that:
In marriage two people become one; a union takes place. Two people become one, and yet in becoming one they do not diminish; they do not become less than they were. They do not reduce themselves to one half in order to become one. Marriage, as Paul notes in Ephesians 5, is a mystery. How can one plus one equal one without making the whole less than the parts? Isn’t marriage a 50/50 proposition? No, says God. The whole of marriage is greater than the simple sum of two persons. That is demonstrated in a simple, obvious way when we see that marriage usually brings forth children. The sum of Adam and Eve is all the people in the world today.
The oneness of marriage is found in mutual possession of one another’s person. Boaz could say, “Ruth, you are my wife.” Ruth’s response would be, “Yes, Boaz, I am your wife. I belong to you. I am no longer my own, but I belong to you, my husband.”
What did this mean for Ruth? It meant a change of name, and that meant a change of identity. She was no longer the wife of Mahlon, she was the wife of Boaz. She carried his name. She was no longer a Moabitess; she was an Israelite. Just as in our marriages today the wife no longer carries the name of her father, but instead carries the name of her husband. They are no longer two names, they are one name.
It meant a change of position for Ruth. In Ruth 3:9 Ruth said, “Take your maidservant under your wing.” Boaz took Ruth under himself. Ruth was no longer in possession of herself, she was possessed by Boaz.
We say therefore that Ruth’s status changed. She was no longer her own. She belonged to another, to Boaz. She said, as we say today, “I am not my own, but belong to my faithful husband Boaz who has redeemed me.” This was a truly momentous event in Ruth’s life; it was life-changing. From that moment on she would be a different person and could see everything from a totally different perspective.
Here I want to apply the implications of this new status—living in the reality of covenant possession. This then is the condition in covenant, the requirement of the covenant. How would Ruth live her change of status? Her status had changed in an instant. She was married. She belonged to her husband. Ruth must now live as the wife of Boaz—no longer a widow, no longer poor, no longer a Moabitess, a foreigner. This would be a life-long process for Ruth, for native habits are not easily broken.
She had to learn what it meant to be the wife of Boaz. She had to change her thinking, for instead of thinking of herself as a widow, she was now married. Instead of thinking and acting like a Moabitess, she was now an Israelite. She had to discard all her old allegiances, her old gods, her old ways. She must dress, speak, conduct herself, and create goals for herself, all in keeping with her new status, her new position. Would there be times when she would fall back into her old ways of thinking and acting? We may think so. But always she needed to remind herself of who she was—the wife of Boaz.
That was her foundation—that Boaz had married her. Her struggle to conduct herself worthy of her husband and worthy of his position never needed to be given up in despair, for her efforts were not to become worthy enough to be redeemed or worthy enough to become the husband of Boaz. Her attempts to dress and act as a good wife would not be efforts to earn her position, but to live worthy of her position. To do so, to be successful in her struggle to live worthy of her rank as wife of Boaz, she needed to fulfill the basic requirement of a wife. That basic requirement Paul records for us in Ephesians 5—submission. Ruth had to submit to Boaz, to her husband. That is not as hard as it sounds, for even before marriage Ruth had expressed her desire to come under him when she said, “Take your maidservant under your wing.”
Ruth must now place herself to receive her husband—to place herself under his wing that she might come under, submit, to his care, his protection, his provision, his love. That’s what the word “submit” means—to place one’s self under, to place oneself in a position to receive. God created Ruth, and indeed all women, to receive—spiritually, emotionally, and in an obvious way, physically. In that way, by submitting, by placing herself under Boaz, the two became one flesh, and the life-giving, redeeming power of Boaz became Ruth’s.
This model of covenant has obvious implications for you and for me, for us together as the bride of Christ. Christ has taken us into covenant with Himself. He has declared by His oath that He has purchased us with His own blood to be His bride, His wife. He has given us His name; we are called Christian. That is justification; it is a change in status. By His word and sealed by His blood, we are no longer our own, but “belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all our sins and delivered us from all the power of the devil; and so preserves us that without the will of our heavenly Father not a hair can fall from our heads, yea, that all things must be subservient to our salvation; wherefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures us of eternal life, and makes us heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.” (LD 1, HC)
This is the critical point to understand in covenant. When Christ has received us as His own, as His bride, when we are the wife of Christ, not by our own efforts, but by His solemn word of covenant, our efforts are always to be built on our status. As we strive to live worthy of Christ, as we struggle to dress, to speak, to think, to set goals, not as the world, not according to our old status, but as the bride of Christ, we must never labor under the uncertainty of whom we are. The life of sanctification, as we may call it, is never one to gain a position, to earn the right to be Christ’s bride, but instead is one to live worthy of our status. Paul calls us to do this in Ephesians 4:1, where he urges us “to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
That is the comfort and glory regained at the great Reformation. Justification is God’s great act of redemption through Christ, giving us entrance into the Covenant of Grace, pronouncing us one with Christ, marrying us to Christ, giving Christ to us as our Husband. He did everything and all we did and do is say, “I do. I do take this Christ, His complete payment to wash away my sins, His perfect righteousness to be my glory. I do take all of Him to be my very own. He is mine.”
The implication must continue—the life of sanctification, living in the reality of covenant, living as the bride of Christ, possessed by Him, submitting ourselves to Him, placing ourselves under Him, under His word. Paul expresses this covenant requirement, this marriage posture, this consummation posture, in Romans 12:1 with these words, “I beseech you brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice…”
The implication of the covenant, living in the reality as wife of Christ, means that we present ourselves to Christ, that we place ourselves under Him, submit ourselves to Him. What does that mean? Christ is the Word. There are many ways in which we must strive to bring ourselves under the word of Christ. He simply says that if we truly love Him, we will obey His commandments, we will place ourselves under His authority. We will strive to bring, as Paul says in Corinthians, every thought into captivity to Christ. These are general ways in which we must strive during all our living to submit to our husband, Jesus Christ. But perhaps the most graphic, the most important and critical way we submit ourselves to Christ is done each Lord’s Day.
I remind you that this day itself is called the “Lord’s Day,” that is, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remind you that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, your husband, calls you to have intimate fellowship with Him twice on this day. Do you?
I remind you that Christ presents Himself to you, His bride, twice each Lord’s Day. He calls His bride, you, to present yourself, your bodies here, to come under His care, His protection, His provision, His love, that the two of you may be one flesh.
What does that mean? It means that as His people you must present yourself as your status requires—you are His wife. You have been formed to receive Him, so you must not only come, but you must be receptive when you place yourself under Christ.
Do you come to Christ, to church, receptive, open to Christ, open to the word He has charged His servant to give you? Or do you come with a closed heart and mind? Do you come ready to give yourself up to Him, to submit to His word? Or do you come with a mind filled with resistance, stubbornly closing your mouth and your mind?
Or perhaps if you don’t come closed-minded, do you come with your heart and mind filled with other things? Are your ready to be distracted? Although you are here in body, is your mind ready to flit away and fasten on other things? Do you doze off? If we may use the words of Paul again, to “present your bodies” must be a concentrated activity.
You worship by faith, beloved. You are not presenting your attention to the preacher, but to your Husband, to your Beloved, to Christ your Redeemer, the One who bought you. When you come to the Lord’s Table, you are invited to present your bodies that you may receive bread and wine, the Lord’s Supper. Will this be a living testimony of your desire, of your regular behavior, to place yourself under Christ, under His word, that you may be nourished by Him and with Him?
Do you think that receiving the bread and the wine is a true witness of your desire to come under, to receive Christ, if you regularly decline His call to come under His word in the second service? Do you think you are giving true testimony if you come, but close your mind to His word?
Do you need to repent? Do we all? Yes, we truly do. We need, not only that deep-felt sorrow that we have provoked God by our failure to submit, to come under the word, under the love and care of our husband Jesus Christ, but we must change our behavior to reflect more clearly our status, the bride of Christ.
Let me continue and return to this marriage of Boaz and Ruth. In this marriage we not only see that Ruth belonged to Boaz, but that:
All that Boaz was, in his person, now belonged to Ruth. We have already seen in verse nine that this meant that all Boaz’s possessions were now Ruth’s. But now we want to see the heart of the matter—Boaz was now her husband. He belonged to Ruth; all of his person was now Ruth’s; his ancestry, his nationality, his knowledge, his wisdom, his power, his accomplishments, his courage, his faithfulness, his love, everything that made up the person called Boaz, now belonged to Ruth.
It was all officially hers. This is her status; she has Boaz as her husband. Boaz is her husband, not first of all because Ruth took him, but because Boaz gave himself to Ruth to be her redeemer, to be her husband. This is the glorious reality of Ruth’s marriage, for it is because of what Boaz is and has, that Ruth is redeemed from her poverty, her widowhood, her childlessness, her alien status, her landlessness. She is no longer without inheritance in the land of promise, no longer without a name to inherit the promises of the covenant. She has Boaz because Boaz has given himself to her.
In a previous sermon I gave great prominence to the official, public nature of this transaction, of this covenant. Without repeating what I said then, let me just sketch the public nature of this marriage ceremony because it not only gave wonderful comfort and security to Ruth, but in picturing Christ’s redemption gives wonderful comfort and security to us today.
Ruth 4 tells us that Boaz fulfilled the promise he made to Ruth in chapter 3 by first of all going to the gate of the city. The gate of the city was the place where all public business was transacted. Next, Boaz called for the elders of the city to take their official seats to testify to the lawfulness of the redemption. Then we see in verse nine that Boaz spoke publicly, before all the elders and before all the people. Then at the end of verse ten he says to them, “You are witnesses.” And they reply, “We are witnesses.”
This meant for Ruth that the reality of the stupendous change that occurred in her status did not depend upon her memory alone, nor, in moments of doubt and despair would it depend upon her feelings, but instead that the reality of her change was recorded, witnessed, and officially attested.
The public nature of this transaction, beloved, is only a very small picture of the public way Christ has made His covenant marriage with His people, with His church, with you, His bride. I shall bring just one of countless ways Christ makes His covenant love for you public. Every Lord’s Day you gather here in this public place, and before all the world, for every one to see and hear, Christ greets you as His beloved bride. What wonderful comfort and assurance this should give us. How we should long to hear those words of greeting and blessing every Lord’s Day.
Now I want to return to the significance of Boaz’s covenant act of giving himself to Ruth in marriage. This act shows us in a living way what justification is—that Christ becomes ours. God declares that Christ is our husband.
You see, when God said to Abraham, “I am your God,” God pictured that for Abraham in many wonderful ways. He gave him many and great promises, the birth of Isaac, the substitutionary ram—but it all flowed out of that one statement, “I am your God.” God fulfilled that statement in Jesus Christ, when He united Himself to Abraham in the covenant union of Abraham’s flesh, Abraham’s seed, in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now God declares to us that this Christ, His Son, is ours. In the words of Isaiah 9, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” This Son of God is our Son. This God became flesh. This God gave Himself so fully to us that in the one person of Christ, God and man are united, inseparable, forever fully God and fully man.
All that this Christ was and is, is ours. His birth, suffering, His death, His resurrection, ascension, His reign is ours. His victory over sin, over the law, over Satan, over death and the grave, is all ours. The ransom He paid was for His bride’s redemption. The perfect righteousness He performed was to clothe His beloved. “Of Him,” says Paul in I Corinthians 1:30, “you are in Christ Jesus who became FOR US wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
This is the Christ who publicly says to us that we are bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, one flesh, married, united forever. We are His, and most gloriously, He is ours. This is the One who says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Heb. 2:11)
That is our covenant status. That is justification. That’s what it means that Boaz belongs to Ruth and that’s what it means that Christ belongs to us, His bride, His church.
Now again, this public declaration brings us to the requirement of the covenant, the condition in the covenant. What is the requirement? What is the condition? That you and I, that we the church, that we the wife of Christ, take possession of what is ours. That we take possession of Christ. Returning to Ruth, Ruth must live as one who possesses Boaz and all that is Boaz’s.
How will she do this? She will lay aside the clothes of her widowhood and clothe herself with the splendid gown of bride, the wonderful betrothal garments Boaz provides for her. She will learn her duties from Boaz. She will seek her wisdom from Boaz. She will depend upon him for all her provision. She will not be caught in the fields gleaning anymore, for all belongs to her husband, and her husband belongs to her.
She will look to him for protection. She will not go to her brothers or relatives in Moab when she is in trouble. She will look for fulfillment in life, for all her joy, for her career if you will, in loving and serving her husband.
How does this illuminate our relation to Christ? How does this instruct us how to possess Christ? How do we live in covenant? How do we live in justification? How do we live with title to all the righteousness of Christ?
To return for a minute to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we have said that it testifies that we are married to Christ, united to Him. We must come ready and anxious to receive of Christ. That is not all, is it? You must take the bread and eat it, you must take the wine and drink it.
That is marriage too, is it not? It is not only that you acknowledge that Jesus is your payment and righteousness, that He is yours by the word God pronounces, but that you take Him. We picture that in the marriage form when the wife says, “I solemnly declare that I take to myself, and acknowledge as my husband, this man, here present.” She not only acknowledges, but she takes, and her whole life from then on must be continuing to take her husband to herself.
Do you take this Christ to yourself? That is the condition in covenant—that you live in its reality. That is sanctification, that you take the reality of justification and make it your own. The picture, you know, is not that complicated, but it is so very serious.
Let’s change the illustration for a minute. God gave the land of Canaan to Israel; it was theirs. God gave them title to it; He swore to give it to them. Canaan was the glory of all lands, a land flowing with milk and honey. He then commanded Israel to possess it, to conquer it, to take possession of what He had given them. He promised that He would continue to be their God, that all His power and wisdom, faithfulness and mercy, would be theirs as they set about to take what He had given them.
All He asked was that they would have faith, to believe Him; to believe that this land was theirs, and to believe that His powerful presence would accompany them as they took possession. Did they believe? Many of them did not. How do we know? Because they refused to go into the land. It was too hard, they thought.
But the important point to remember, is that by their disobedience they cut themselves off from possession of the reality of covenant, from possession of the promises of God, from possession of the land God had given them. They, in the words of Psalter 211, “despised the pleasant land, the promised land of God.” On the other hand, when their children believed the Lord and followed Joshua, they conquered. God did not fail to give them victory over all the heathen living in the land of Canaan.
God has given us title to Christ, to His payment, to His righteousness. It is our inheritance. God has given Christ to us. He has promised His own Spirit to us. Now He commands us to take possession; that is the life of sanctification. Justification gives us unconditional title to Christ, to His payment and to His righteousness. Sanctification is simply living in possession of Christ, ever seeking the purging power of His blood, ever gaining more of His righteousness for our very own.
How can I make the righteousness of Christ my own, not only in principle but in reality? Not only on the pages of the Bible, but in my own life? By going out to conquer. But, we say, the giants! My sins, my old nature, the world, the devil! I shall go before you, says the Lord, and you shall drive them out, little by little, and possess the land I swore to you, the land of joy, filled with the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, longsuffering, courage, righteousness.
Do you have faith? Justification is God’s declaration that Christ is yours. Sanctification is your obedient response to that declaration, believing that God will enable you to possess what is yours. Do you have faith? Compare yourself to Paul. In Philippians 3:9 he said that he counted all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord, and counted all things rubbish that he might gain Christ. Do you see Paul striving to gain possession? “Not,” he said in verse twelve, “that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Paul pressed on to possess fully the Christ who fully possessed Paul.
Again, let me remind you of what you say in the Lord’s Supper. Christ presents Himself to you. You reach out and take Him, the bread and the wine. You bring the bread and the wine to your mouth and eat and drink. Are you giving a true testimony to the world, to Christ Himself?
He presents Himself to you twice each Lord’s Day. Do you come? Or do you subscribe to the great American doctrine of moderation: once is enough. Can we take enough of Christ? Do we say that half of what Christ presents us of Himself on the Lord’s Day is sufficient? Do you at all worry what God thinks of you when you neglect His Son? Do you strive to possess Him only one day out of seven, and the other six days strive to possess the fleeting pleasures and possessions of this world?
The glory of covenant redemption, for the embrace is total. Christ possesses us for His own bride, His own inheritance, and we must welcome that possession. Oh, to be totally possessed by Christ! Oh, to submit myself to Him entirely so that He owns me, my thoughts, my desires, my words, my actions, my all.
The glory of covenant redemption is that we possess Christ. He has given Himself to us, given His all. He is ours. He pleads that we believe it, and that on His day, and each day, our life of sanctification is one of constant endeavor to personally and corporately own what is ours. Amen.