Podcast listener Hannah, wrote in to say this: “I love Pastor John’s 1984 sermon series on the book of Ruth. I have listened to it many times since I found it in 2005. In 2012 I listened to it with tears streaming down my face as I held my husband’s hand and as we drove to our first military duty station as newlyweds. I especially remember this section.” And here’s the sermon excerpt from his sermon from way back on July 22, 1984, titled: “Ruth: the Best Is Yet to Come.” Here’s what John Piper said:
In 1912, John Henry Jowett gave a series of lectures at Yale called the Yale Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching. I have been reading those, and in it he describes great preaching. And he does it in such a way that I see Ruth, that is the book, and what the author of this book did is what he thinks great preachers are supposed to do. Let me read this paragraph for you.
Jowett described a great preacher as one who seems
to look at the horizon rather than at an enclosed field, or a local landscape. He [has] a marvelous way of connecting every subject with eternity past and with eternity to come. . . . It is as though you were looking at a bit of carved wood in a Swiss village window, and you lifted your eyes and saw the forest where the wood was nourished, and, higher still, the everlasting snows! Yes, that was Binney’s way, Dale’s way, the way of Bushnell, and Newman, and Spurgeon — they were always willing to stop at the village window, but they always linked the streets with the heights, and sent your souls a-roaming over the eternal hills of God. (The Preacher: His Life and Work, 95)
Now if all we had in the book of Ruth was a quaint story about how a destitute grandmother finally gets a grandson from a daughter-in-law, I wouldn’t use the word glory. That is where the story ended. And it was just sort of a sentimental encouraging little thing. I wouldn’t, but that is not where this story ends. This writer lifts his eyes to the forests and the mountain snows of redemptive history.
They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:17)
And all of the sudden we realize there has been something vast and expansive at stake here. Something far more has been going on in Moab and Bethlehem in the lives of these seemingly insignificant people than just the contentment of a grandmother. These people are being put in touch with the vast scope of redemptive history.
The name of David for us Christians, and for those Jews reading this book — we know what that name calls up: David, Son of David, Messiah, greatest king that was ever in Israel. And his Son someday is going to be King — new age, peace, righteousness, freedom from pain and crying and grief and guilt. This simple little story of Ruth opens out like a stream into a great river of hope that includes the whole world. And so is not the message: Don’t ever think that what you do in obedience to God in the midst of your setbacks is insignificant?
One of the great diseases of our day is triviality. What makes it a disease is that we were created to be consumed with magnificent causes — not trifles. Our souls will not be content with trifles. Yet we are enslaved to trivialities. We live in the Swiss village workshop and walk around and look and “ooh” and “ah” at little figurines and never lift our eyes to the forests or to the everlasting snows beyond.
So our souls shrivel up and our lives are trivial and our capacity for great worship is dead.
Well, the book of Ruth is written to teach us that God’s purpose for your life is bigger than that. God’s purpose is to connect his people with something infinite, something great, something magnificent.
For the Christian there is always a connection between the ordinary gleaning in a field, having a baby, and coming back from a foreign land. Ordinary things. For the people of God nothing done in obedience to Jesus Christ is ordinary. It’s all cosmic. It’s all magnificent. God is preparing a demonstration to the principalities in the heavenly places of his own wisdom, and he is doing it in your daily lives, if you had eyes to see.
So the word “glory” isn’t too big, my friend. It is not too big. It is too little. It is weak. It is lame. I wish I had words bigger and better than the word “glory” to describe what our destiny is and what the meaning of your Monday is tomorrow when it is connected to the King of kings and the destiny that he has for the world.
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