How to Preach the End of a Series (part 4 of preaching the gospel of Ruth)

Preaching through Ruth provides a good test case for exploring how to preach the end of a series. That’s because it is so short. The space between the end of the book and the beginning of the book is small. It is relatively easy to conclude with a comparison or contrast to the beginning.

So, when you conclude a sermon series consider:

  • re-emphasizing the series theme (in Ruth: Discovering God as “the Restorer of life” conveniently found at the end in 4:15; chapter 4 provides tons of opportunities to re-explain facets of redemption, including our need to become mini-redeemers in our world)
  • showing how far we’ve come from the beginning of the series (especially important in a narrative like Ruth; we began at the end of the Judges with no king, in great need of one, and end Ruth with an announcement of King David in 4:22; plus in the middle Ruth and Boaz are two characters who do not do what is right in their own eyes)
  • teaching how the book contributes to the Canon of Scripture (in this case, what does Ruth add to the Story; this will overlap some with the first bullet point above; if you didn’t have Ruth, what would we miss?)
  • reminding congregants about what God has done in Christ (especially important if you are completing a series through a NT epistle of Paul; usually, the letters will begin with the indicative and move on to imperatives; the end of the series is a good time to remind us all of the indicatives which were the foundation of the more practical sections)
  • convey a sense of corporate accomplishment (“We’ve traveled a lot of biblical ground together during this series…”; ending a series is a bit emotional, bitter/sweet; I have found that congregations that experience such travels begin to anticipate the next journey with you)

Preach series well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. If you’re preaching Ruth chapter 4, consider the following path:

  1. Two kinds of redemption (spiritual and material; a time to carefully define redemption in its various forms in the story)
  2. The redemption we’re responsible for (vv. 1-10 and how God’s laws create opportunities for us to be mini-redeemers for those in need)
  3. The blessing that came and comes through redemption (vv. 11-22; here we find the wonderful announcement of our selected theme and the trajectory created by Boaz and Ruth’s son)

Let the Main Character Determine Your Sermon Idea

If you’re preaching through Ruth’s Gospel and reach chapter 3, you’re wise to let Naomi determine the subject of your sermon. She does that through the first recorded words in v. 1,

“My daughter, should I not seek rest for you…?”

Read through the chapter quickly and when you arrive at the end of the chapter you’ll hear Naomi repeat your sermon idea,

“…the man will not rest but will settle the matter…”

In any narrative it’s wise to allow key speeches of main characters have a say in our sermon themes. In the case of Ruth chapter 3, staying focused on the theme of “rest” will prevent us from focusing too much attention on the planning (vv. 2-5) and executing the plan surrounding the risky–some would even say, risqué–threshing floor scene (vv. 6-15).

The narrative means something because (1) we desperately need the kind of rest this narrative highlights. In his commentary, Webb says it’s “rest…from spiritual emptiness and alienation from God….acceptance…provision, a future, and a life worth living.” Jesus taught us about it in Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews tells us that it’s still future (4:1-11).

The bulk of the story involves (2) our search for rest. It’s an interesting combination of working and waiting. Ruth displays incredible faith in Naomi’s zany, even dangerous plan (an unmarried woman walking around in the middle of the night!).

N.B. Don’t miss the great opportunity to highlight the description of Ruth in v. 11, “…for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” It’s the same word used in Proverbs 31:10. In Ruth 3:11 it’s the reason Boaz gives for redeeming Ruth and Naomi. That reason will surely test your theological acumen!

Finally, (3) the source of our rest is still found in Boaz, the redeemer. This is repeated in vv. 2, 9, 12-13. Campbell defines him as “[the one who] takes responsibility for the unfortunate and stands as their supporter.”

And, if you’re looking for how Ruth and Boaz send us on a trajectory to Christ, like Ruth, Jesus becomes an alien/stranger on our behalf in order to bring us into true family status. Like Boaz, Christ brings us into His family so that we can enjoy the rest of God.

Preach well so God receives His due, in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


When Exemplars and Christ-Centered Combine: Preaching Ruth (part 3)

I know some pit Christ-centered preaching versus exemplar preaching (“go and do likewise” in the case of good examples or “go and do otherwise” in the case of bad examples). But it’s hard to deny that Ruth contains some narratives that provide good examples for Christians to follow (think, Boaz). But Ruth also functions for the Church by placing us in a narrative trajectory that leads to our Savior, the Source of God’s favor. It’s both/and, not either/or.

Boaz was the source of favor for Ruth and Naomi. Chapter 2 opens by drawing attention to him: “a worthy man…” He’s the kind of man God creates and is there for us to emulate. The narrative does more than provide an exemplar, but not less than.

Campbell suggests, “the Ruth story is basically about extraordinary caring and concern, kindness that is above and beyond the call of duty.” In the overall message of Ruth (discovering God as “the restorer of life”), what happens to Ruth and Naomi provide a picture of how God restores life by extending kindness.

The theme of the narrative is located in Ruth’s statement about her spiritual instincts: that she would “find favor” in someone’s field (cf. 2:2, 10). Often the statement of a main character contains the seeds of the big idea for a narrative scene or series of scenes.

To make sense of the chapter, focus on the concept of “favor.” You could outline it this way:

The source of favor (vv. 1, 4-5, 8-9, 14-16, 19-20) is Boaz and the laws God put in place to care for those in need.

The need for favor (vv. 2-3, 6-7, 13, 17-18, 21-23; these two main points could switch places, even though the source of favor occurs in v. 1) is a picture of every one of us spiritual unfortunates.

The reason for receiving favor (vv. 10-12; if you like theological challenges, you’ll love the reason provided in v. 12, “The Lord repay you for what you have done…”) is the faith Ruth had in the “system” God put in place.

As I said above, Ruth’s Gospel does more than provide Boaz as an example to follow. Naomi describes him in v. 20, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” It’s a great opportunity to remind everyone how God extended favor to us in the person of His Son, to restore life.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Ruth’s Christo-centric Narrative (part 2)

If you’re planning on preaching any Old or New Testament narratives these days or in the near future, my approach to Ruth may help.

For instance, (1) the entire narrative begins with a sovereign God allowing (bringing?) a famine, multiple male deaths in the family, but also good news that food was now available (vv. 1-7). It’s an example of the judgment God’s people could expect if they disobeyed Him (cf. Lev. 26:19-20).

Remember that all OT narratives meaning something within the context of the blessings and curses announced in the Covenant.

(2) Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi and her God is crucial to the story (vv. 8-18, 22). Our congregants need to hear that only the God revealed in Christ is the source of all truly good things in this life. That’s especially important in a time when an estimated two-thirds of Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life and half of all Christians believe some non-Christian religions can lead to life eternal. Of course, our parishioners are probably not trying to be Christian and Hindu, let’s say. More than likely they, like us, try to be Christian and still allow our affections to land on more sophisticated idols.

(3) Finally, we read this candid reaction of Naomi to all the “bitterness” the Lord brought into her life (vv. 19-21). So many tidbits. Naomi’s not recognizable (v. 19). She knows exactly what God has done to her (v. 20 “…the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”). A great opportunity for us to explain a theology of trouble/discipline (cf. Heb. 12:3-11), the purpose of the “bitter.”

And, if you’re wondering about how to get from Ruth 1 to the Gospel, you might think: on the cross, the Almighty dealt very bitterly with Jesus (v. 20) and the Lord testified against Jesus and brought calamity upon Him (v. 21) because of our sins.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through the Gospel According to Ruth

After preaching through Judges, more than one parishioner asked if I would consider preaching through Ruth. Judges was so depressing, despite my best efforts to practice a form of Christ-centered interpretation each weekend. They needed a narrative that focused more on good news.

Even if you choose not to preach Judges/Ruth back-to-back, preaching through the gospel according to Ruth is an excellent short series. It does present its challenges.

First, select a theme for the series. Select a theme:

  • from the wording of Ruth.
  • that captures the good news of Ruth.

I’m extremely picky when it comes to selecting a theme and image that will be my first slide every Sunday. I’m usually not satisfied with my commentator friends’ choice of theme/title for the book. I greatly appreciate their work and benefit from it each week. But the choice of theme/title is very personal, pastoral.

I found my theme, of all places, on the lips of the townswomen who said to Naomi about Ruth’s son: “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age…”

You could just as easily word something from their statement in the previous verse 14, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…”

I love the way the book ends as a contrast to how it began: loss of food and even more tragic loss of life. Upon returning to Bethlehem Ruth said, “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty…” (cf. 1:21). So, the Lord really did restore her life through the birth of a special son. Cross-eyed readers will quickly see parallels to the Son born way down Ruth and Boaz’s line.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Christ While Preaching Through an Old Testament Book of the Bible


I am a huge fan of consistently preaching Christ from the Old Testament. If you are planning to preach through an OT book of the Bible this year, you might be interested in what my former professor, Pete Enns, says about the task:

“…pastors have the privilege and challenge, in a variety of creative and engaging ways, to teach their people what the OT is about. It may take time to earn the further privilege of bringing these Christians to appreciate more fully how Israel’s story is transformed in Christ. And this is not a quick fix, but a process of reunderstanding God’s Word, modeled after the NT writers, that may well take considerable time to implement.” (p. 216 in, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by Berding and Lunde; emphasis added; I found Enn’s and Bock’s views very helpful)
Let me add to that italicized phrase: bringing these Christians to also appreciate more fully how Israel’s story is transformed in Christ to become our story. That last part is critical for a truly Christ-centered hermeneutic/homiletic.
If you do devote that kind of time, your parishioners will rise up and call you blessed. You, of course, will have to navigate the OT carefully, avoiding the minefields of endless historical data–even minutia–that doesn’t preach well (I’m convinced God never intended it to preach). This keeps the sermon running on theological tracks (how it’s functioning for the Church, what you probably think of best as principlizing). Most importantly, you will have to employ the skill of moving from the OT to Christ-crucified, preferably from the vocabulary and images of your preaching portion.
If you want some help and enjoy listening to sermons, listen to as many Tim Keller sermons on the Old Testament. If you like reading, you will profit from a book I just completed last week, Heralds of the King.

The variety of preachers who contributed sermons in the book resulted in a variety of ways to move from the Scriptures to the Savior.
Preach Christ well from the OT for God’s glory in the church… (Ephesians 3:21).

Four Ways To Exegete Your Text: Following Jonathan Edwards’ Practices


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Douglas A. Sweeney’s, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford).

One of the take aways from this book for those of us who preach or teach the Bible is the four different ways Edwards regularly approached studying the Bible. The four ways are Canonical, Christological, Redemptive-Historical, and Pedagogical exegesis. Think of them as supplements you take to boost your daily nutrient intake. Do you take any or any combination of them each week during sermon preparation?

These four approaches supplement what we normally think of as exegesis: historical-grammatical-literary. Edwards helps us remember why we need to move beyond the realms of word, historical, and literary studies. Here’s what we gain and how our congregation profits from the results of the following four exegetical practices:

Canonical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion fits with other Scriptures. Look for times when other Scripture provide vital additional information for the interpretation of your preaching portion.  Your congregants will appreciate seeing how God’s revelation works together to create meaning.I don’t recommend the common practice of showing listeners other Scripture that say the same thing as your preaching portion.

Christological Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion functions for the Church because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and dispatching His Spirit on those who believe. Your listeners will appreciate learning how all Scripture points to the grace of God in Christ. This will keep all sanctification efforts faith-based and help avoid the dreaded moralistic, self-help sermon application. And remember that when you remind the saints about the Gospel, any non-Christians in attendance get to hear the Good News too.

Redemptive-Historical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion is part of the meta-narrative flowing throughout Scripture. Your parishioners will profit from the times when you locate your passage in the Story of Redemption (creation, un-creation, recreation, new creation). They will begin to appreciate that salvation is something much larger than the personal, saved-to-go-to-heaven variety.
Pedagogical Exegesis: showing how Scripture guides faith and the Christian life; here we gain precepts for living life as a Christian. One of the great quotes from the book came from this section. It reminded me of my primary responsibility as a soul-watcher. Sweeney writes of Edwards:
“At the end of the day, however, he was a clergyman and teacher paid to unpack the text in a pedagogical way, with the formation of disciples at the forefront of his mind.” (p. 188)

Before Sunday I hope you will supplement your normal exegesis with one or more of these four approaches, all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Both a Bad Example and Christ from the Wicked City of Gibeah in Judges 19


In these posts I am working my way through the book of Judges to provide a strategy for preaching difficult narratives.

Whenever you preach through the book of Judges–a very brave thing to do, by the way–you will discover that there are no judges. But there are lots of people doing what was right in their own eyes. The theological reason is provided in 19:1 “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…” What could a king do?

Well, a certain kind of king could teach and enforce the ways of God among the people of God. That would put a stop to the terrible wickedness that we read about in the city of Gibeah. And, of all things, Gibeah was home of God’s people, not a “city of foreigners” (cf. 19:12). They were “Benjaminites” (v. 16). None of us readers are prepared for how wicked God’s people have become.

The story revolves around a Levite and his concubine. Davis says that “he was heading for Sodom-in-the-land-of-Israel.” The parallels between Judges 19:22-28 and Genesis 19’s famous story are numerous. What starts off with no hospitality (Judges 19:15) ends up in what might be the worst scene in all the Bible (spoiler alert: except for the Cross, of course!).

The Levite gives his concubine to “the men of the city, worthless fellows” and she is raped and killed (v. 22, 25). His insensitivity is unbelievable (v. 28). And then, the Levite follows that up with the unthinkable: “he took a knife…divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel” (v. 29).

The chapter closes with the people’s reaction: “consider it, take counsel, and speak” (v. 30).

If you ever preached this chapter, one challenge is to help a church realize that it could get this bad. This is how bad things can get when God is not worshiped, when American individualism fills the hearts of people in the pews. Bad example? Yes.

A bigger challenge is to see the grace of God-in Christ in this narrative. That happens when we point out that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a worst crime than anything Sodom or Gibeah experienced. And, of course, it is Christ’s broken body that makes it possible for Believers to experience the kingship of God in the power of His Spirit. Preach Christ? Yes.

Preach well for the sake of His glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. I read the post and wanted to draw attention to the preaching strategy, how the narrative conveys theology for the Church.

First, the theological statement that drives the entire book is found in v. 1 (“no king”).

Second, the whole story revolves around God’s people, not pagans.

Third, the varied sins of God’s people are on display, including the most heinous ones.

Fourth, there is a clear reference to redemption in v. 30 (“the people of Israel that came up out of the land of Egypt”).

Finally, if you are inclined as I am to show how such a ghastly narrative points to Christ, look to the parallel between the concubine and the Cross.

Hope that helps.


Preaching the Chapters in Judges That Have No Judges

A beaker filled with water to which oil has been added, demonstrating insolubility of oil in water.

When you arrive at Judges 17 you encounter a lengthy narrative that has no judge. What it contains is a mixture of spirituality and idolatry. Like oil and water, the two don’t mix. But, evidently, mixing the two is very tempting.

A recent example were the defeat speeches of both presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, and her running mate, Timothy Kaine. I was surprised that both speeches contained quotes from the Bible.

Ancient examples are found in Judges 17-18 and the personal story revolving around Micah, his mom, his idols, and their priest.

A theological, interpretative key can be found in 17:6 (also 18:1) “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s the general problem. The specific problem must be identified from the narrative. The specific problem in this case is the religious confusion, the mixture of the spiritual and the idolatrous.

How’s this for a strange mixture: “his mother said, ‘I dedicate the silver to the Lord…to make a carved image and a metal image” (17:3). Those idols end up in Micah’s house. And Micah is very interested in spiritual things, like having a priest (vv. 7-13). The chapter ends with Micah stating, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

One way to preach the theology of these chapters is to point out the other ways in which key characters create their own brand of worship. Davis asks, “Does this not parallel the contemporary mood…that worship is…a very individual affair, a matter of sheer personal preference, and like your toothbrush–a very personal thing?”

You’ll find more of the same in chapter 18 when Micah’s priest gets kidnapped and more idols are highlighted.

These chapters provide an opportunity for us to challenge each other to make sure we check our tendency to worship God and coddle our idols. And you’ll have to spend time, of course, on the remedy found in 17:6 and 18:1, our need for a King and what it is about King Jesus that creates a people who do what’s right in God’s eyes, instead of their own.

I hope this helps you make sense of a couple of difficult chapters in Judges. Preach them well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching the Unique Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Samson


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the preaching the unique circumstances of Samson’s birth. This week I’m focusing on the end of his life. The Samson narrative in Judges is very important to the theology of the book. When I preached through the book of Judges I chose to devote two messages to his life.

If you read the first Samson narrative post, you saw the parallels between Samson’s birth and Jesus’ birth (both involving prenatal instructions about the unique children). When you come to the end of Samson’s life, more parallels exist and this is a critical observation for the Christ-centered expositor.

For instance, Webb writes,

“rejected by his own people, arrested and handed over to their enemies, tortured and made a spectacle…until at last his calling is consummated in his death. But in dying he destroys Dagon, the god of Israel’s enemies.”

Amazing isn’t it.

What I like about that quote is not just the listing of all the parallels, but the fact that everything focuses on the plot of Judges: how God rescues His people from their enemies.

Several weeks ago while teaching for a day in Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program, I selected a narrative from Judges (the infamous, Jephthah’s Tragic Vow). I asked the class to identify the subject of the narrative. Then, I pointed out the tendency to overlook the primary action of the book and individual judge narratives.

What do we learn about our salvation from the death of Samson? That’s the focus of theological interpretation. And the answer? Our salvation was secured through the death of our Judge Jesus. Judges 13:7 states, “for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” And it was Samson’s and Jesus’ death that won the victory for the people of God.

Next time, I’ll list some of the ways Samson shows us our spiritual struggles. He does function as an exemplar at times, but most importantly, Samson shows us a picture of our Savior’s victory-through-death.

Preach that message so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).