Below is the sermon preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York on Mother’s Day 5/14/2017. (The lines with the strikethrough are there for outline organization purposes but are often said later in the respective paragraphs (see the italics).)
Can you imagine the Samaritan woman that Jesus found at the well getting any awards from the average Jewish man at the time for being an excellent wife and mother? Of course not! She was a Samaritan. I mentioned last week that they didn’t believe there was such a thing as a “Good Samaritan.” She didn’t have the right pedigree to be a good wife because Jewish people intermarried with Gentiles to create the mixture called Samaritans. Moreover, how can she be an excellent mother if she isn’t teaching her children to worship at Jerusalem? If that were not bad enough, the Samaritan woman that Jesus found at the well had been married and divorced five times and was living with a man to whom she was not married. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that even today most people would not give such a woman an award for being an excellent wife and mother. Then again, there are men who would overlook all that if she was pretty and they wanted to be man number seven. But this Samaritan woman had an ugly sunburn from going to the well at noon everyday and the hardships and shame that she had experienced took away any beauty that was left. It was not just Jewish men who would have refused to honor her as a worthy wife and mother. The men of her town didn’t see her as an excellent wife and mother either. Even man number six didn’t think she was marrying material. And yet, this unlovely Samaritan sinner became like a worthy wife and mother after meeting man number seven—the perfect man—Jesus. Yes, in and of herself, she was still an unworthy ugly sinner; but Jesus Christ loved her anyway and the Holy Spirit would speak through her so that many others were born again for she was the bride chosen by God the Father. By faith in Jesus, she became like a virgin engaged to marry the perfect man who runs back home to tell everyone the good news and she became like an honored mother in that many were born again because of her testimony. Her spiritual children would later tell her: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” She is a type of the church. The church is our mother and many of us believed at first because of her testimony but eventually came to believe for ourselves because we heard Jesus for ourselves. The church is the bride of Christ. Yes, because the church is still in the old age she is an ugly sinner that no one should praise; but because the church is already in the new creation she is a beautiful virgin who will make an excellent wife and mother worthy of praise by her husband and children. Thus hear this love poem from Proverbs as the words of God the Father about us unworthy ugly sinners who, like the Samaritan woman, believe in Jesus Christ:
When God looks at His church He doesn’t see a group of unworthy ugly sinners, He sees the worthy wife and mother of Proverbs 31 who bears good fruit. One thing that gets lost in translation is that the poem was written as an alphabetic acrostic so that the first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the second verse with the second and so forth on through the end of the alphabet. In other words, this poem describes us from a to z. It also describes Ruth. Unlike your English Bibles, the next book in the Hebrew Scriptures is Ruth and in Ruth 3:11, Boaz says to Ruth, “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” The Hebrew for “excellent wife” in Proverbs 31:10 and “worthy woman” in Ruth 3:11 is identical. So the poem about the worthy woman is followed in the Hebrew Scriptures by a story about a worthy woman named Ruth. Indeed, remember that the poem says the husband of the worthy woman is known in the gates when he sits among the elders. No one knows the name of the man who turned down the opportunity to redeem Ruth. In the ESV translation, Boaz calls him, “friend” but if you look the Hebrew word up in a dictionary the entry reads, “a certain person, someone.” Boaz is saying, “Turn aside, so-and-so.” This is the last chapter of the story:
In order to put this genealogy in a larger context, our New Testament reading is:
When God looks at His church He doesn’t see a group of unworthy ugly sinners, He sees a worthy mother like the worthy woman of Proverbs 31 or like Rachel and Leah or Tamar or Ruth or Mary the mother of Jesus.
- Knowing that Ruth the Moabite was a worthy woman like that described in Proverbs 31, the townsmen blessed her to be like Rachel and Leah as well as Tamar. (In your personal Bible study this week you might consider reading the story of Lot and his daughters, the story of Rachel and Leah marrying Jacob, and the story of Judah and Tamar, all of which are in Genesis, and compare and contrast them with the story of Ruth. It isn’t as much reading as it might sound, but to encourage you let me just note that in all of these stories there was a bed-trick during celebrations, for example, Tamar tricked Judah into thinking that she was a prostitute and Laban tricked Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel. But for our purposes this morning let’s focus just on the words of the blessing by the townsmen.) First, the townsmen say, “May YHWH make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.” Not having read the rest of the passage you might think they were praying that Ruth would have a lot of sons. But then they give the example of one son named Perez. They say to Boaz, “May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that YHWH will give you by this young woman.” Boaz and Ruth lived during the chaos we read about in Judges. Thus the townsmen were praying that Ruth would rebuild the nation of Israel through having one special descendant who would be king. Indeed, Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and she has an honored place in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In a similar way a long time later, a worthy mother named Mary would rebuild the people of God by giving birth to King David’s heir Jesus Christ although this time it didn’t begin with a bed-trick but a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. Jesus is the ultimate answer to the prayer of these townsmen in Bethlehem.
- When God looks at His church He sees a worthy mother like Rachel and Leah and like these other worthy women including Ruth and Mary. The church is a worthy mother like Rachel and Leah because she is rebuilding the people of God. It was because of the testimony of our mother the church that many of us believed and were born again. I personally came to faith because of the testimony of a mainline Presbyterian church as did some of you. Some of you came to faith in Jesus Christ because of the testimony you heard in other denominations. Some of you came to faith in Him only when you heard Jesus speaking for yourself and as such the church wasn’t like a mother to you but still you have joined together with this congregation to be a worthy mother to others. Indeed, it is because of the testimony of churches that many people will believe and be born again. We might look at the church and think, what a bunch of unworthy ugly sinners, but God sees her like Tamar, who was more righteous than Judah, and like the worthy woman of Proverbs 31, who bore good fruit, and like Ruth, who clung to her mother-in-law, and like Mary, who was blessed among women for bearing Jesus Christ Himself. God sees His church both as a worthy bride for His Son and a worthy mother for His children.
- What makes us a worthy wife and mother for our Redeemer Jesus Christ is not our race or righteousness but our faith in Him.
- It is not race that makes us a worthy wife and mother for the Jewish Redeemer. Matthew 1 mentions by name four women who were worthy wives and mothers of a redeemer, but the only one we haven’t discussed is Rahab. Rahab wasn’t what you might think of as a worthy wife and mother. She is the one who is most like the Samaritan woman by the well for Rahab was a Canaanite and a prostitute. And yet, Matthew honors her as a worthy mother of Christ by telling us that Rahab became the mother of Boaz and we know that Ruth became the wife of Boaz. Thus we see that Rahab the Canaanite prostitute and Ruth the Moabite were both worthy wives and mothers for a redeemer. I would imagine that it is more shocking to us today that a prostitute would become a worthy wife and mother than that a Canaanite or a Moabite would become a worthy wife and mother in the lineage of a Jewish King. But the Canaanites and Moabites were not just Gentiles. The Canaanites were under the curse of God to be put to death by the sword and the Moabites were under the curse of God that they shall not enter the assembly or church of the Lord forever. Clearly it was not race or ethnicity that made one a worthy wife and mother for a Jewish redeemer for one could be a cursed Canaanite or Moabite and still be a worthy wife and mother for a Jewish redeemer. That might not be so hard for us to believe today since the church, like the Samaritan woman, is a mixture of Gentiles like Ruth and Jews like Mary. (But Rahab wasn’t just a Canaanite – she was a prostitute.)
- It is not our righteousness that makes us a worthy wife and mother for the Jewish Redeemer. The reason that it is still so hard for us to believe, not just to accept with our minds or say with our lips, but to believe in our hearts that a prostitute can be considered a worthy wife and mother for our Redeemer is that we are still holding on to our own righteousness as if we are more worthy than her. It is so hard for us to believe that it is not our own righteousness that makes us a worthy wife and mother but we are considered a worthy wife and mother only because of the righteousness of the Redeemer who is greater than Judah, Boaz, and David and all the rest of those men put together. We want to cling to whatever righteousness we have left and be praised by Christ for it. But we are at the same time an ugly prostitute and a beautiful virgin bride and those cannot be mixed. No amount of make up can make the ugly prostitute that is our old self look like a beautiful virgin bride. But thankfully our new creation self cannot repeat the fall and become a sinner. It is for this reason that some types of the church in the Scriptures are described as virgins like Rachel and Mary and some types of the church were prostitutes or sinners. The church is both – as a part of the old age she is a prostitute or sinner and as a part of the new creation she is a beautiful virgin bride for Jesus Christ. (So if our old self is not and never will be a worthy wife and mother for Jesus then how did we become a worthy wife and mother for Jesus? Or let me put it this way: If it isn’t our righteousness or our race that makes us a worthy wife and mother for Jesus, then what is it?)
- It is our faith in Jesus that makes us a worthy wife and mother for the Jewish Redeemer. Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” The Old Testament calls this saving faith the “fear of YHWH.” Proverbs 31:30 says, “a woman who fears YHWH is to be praised.” Indeed, a complete statement of faith in Jesus always includes belonging to His body the church. Ruth’s statement of faith to her mother-in-law Naomi was “Your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Rahab had the same kind of faith. All of these worthy women have that faith in common. Conclusion: The church of Jesus Christ includes people from every nation on earth, of every race and ethnicity, both those who have led scandalous lives as well as those who the world would consider pretty good people but they see themselves as horrible sinners, but what we all have in common is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Ruth, our statement of faith is: “Your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Indeed, let’s remember that God considers us a worthy mother by this saving faith in Jesus. God sees His church as a worthy mother and her children and her husband praise her. Like the Samaritan woman who became a worthy wife and mother, let’s invite others to come and see a man who knows our every sin and loves us anyway. And let’s listen to Jesus for ourselves and know that He is indeed the Savior of the world. Amen.