Hope For the New Year

Naomi’s husband and sons have died in Moab. Naomi is now, according to the customs of her day, useless to her former daughters-in-law. She does what any kind woman of that day would do and implores them to leave her and find new husbands to take care of them. What more could she offer them but hardships? Orpah returns to her people. Ruth does not. Naomi is befuddled and again encourages Ruth to go with Orpah back to her family in Moab. Ruth then utters her famous rebuttal, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Fast forward hundreds of years into the future. The Israelites are under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The people have had countless “messiahs” who all came and went without fulfilling the promised restoration of the kingdom of God. Now here comes a man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, whose claims of being the Promised One are backed up with miraculous deeds. Could he be the long-awaited Christ? John tells us that after feeding the multitudes with a few fish and loaves, the group mobbed Jesus attempting to crown him their earthly king. But Jesus resisted and fled. When the people found him again, Jesus spoke in a way that baffled and disgusted the crowd, and his words continue to echo their uncomfortable dissonance down through the centuries.

In John 6.54-56 Jesus proclaims, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Cannibalism? John 7.1 tells us the multitudes’ response to this: “He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” But what about his large group of disciples? Many of them joined his following thinking that they would be in the inner circle of the new King of Israel. They were confused at Jesus’ strategies for keeping a following, and they grumbled to themselves and asked, “This is a hard teaching. Who can listen to it?” Vast numbers, like Orpah centuries ago, walked away and returned to their previous lives because this carpenter’s son was now useless in their eyes.

But the Twelve, like Ruth, didn’t leave. Jesus turns to them and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter, speaking for the group, expresses the same hope found in Ruth’s response to Naomi, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, “Where you go, I will go.” Why would these two people say such things?

The answer: hope in future grace. It is a God-changed heart that, at least to outward eyes, inexplicably clings to a hope in future salvation while their current situations seem hopeless. Neither Ruth nor the Twelve, in the moment of their declarations, had any prospects outside of a resolved conviction that those to whom they spoke would be their future salvation. A son-less widow and a Messiah who didn’t want an earthly crown or army—neither are promising in a worldly sense. But faith is the assurance of things hoped for, things not seen is the gentle reminder of Hebrews 11.1.

Both Ruth and the disciples did not receive their rewards immediately. Both experienced hardships before their salvation appeared. Ruth with her awkward pursuit of Boaz before he redeemed her and the disciples and the Church with suffering awaiting the revelation of Christ in the last days (1 Peter 1.5). The stories of Ruth and the apostles are historical events that teach the Church much about the character of the eternal God who calls his people and gives them a hope, causing them to cling to him, even though the entire world is falling apart around them (John 6.65, Jude 24-25). The stories of Ruth and the apostles stories are evidence that God, in order to accomplish his plan of bringing his people into communion with him, will orchestrate and empower enduring faith in individuals. Their accounts should give us the assurance that God will not forsake us to doubt and apostasy but has given us a sure and unshakable hope in a future grace that will most certainly come for those who wait for it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1.3-5)