Harvest Community Church (PCA) in Omaha, NE

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Listen to the sermons (biblical, expository preaching), messages, and conference audio from Harvest Community Church in Omaha, NE. Harvest is a congregation denominationally affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Harvest Community Church (PCA) in Omaha, NE


    • Jan 2, 2022 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekly NEW EPISODES
    • 37m AVG DURATION
    • 196 EPISODES


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    Latest episodes from Harvest Community Church (PCA) in Omaha, NE

    “Persevering Faith” – Hebrews 11:1-3

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 2, 2022

    “Out of Egypt and into Nazareth” – Matthew 2:13–23

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 26, 2021

    “The Branch of Salvation” – Isaiah 11:1-9

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 24, 2021

    “Jesus Dethrones Illegitimate Kings” – Matthew 2:1–12

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 19, 2021

    “Light Breaks Into Darkness” – Isaiah 9:1-7

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 12, 2021

    Well, you have your Bible, please open up with me to Isaiah. We're going to be in Isaiah 9:1-7. Over the last couple of weeks or so leading up to Christmas, Pastor Jacob has been working through the story of Christ's birth in the Gospel of Matthew, one of the most popular text. I think we would all agree in the Bible and yet the events that we read about in that passage and Mark or in Matthew Chapters one and two and in the corresponding infancy narrative in Luke's Gospel are stories and events that didn't arise out of the blue. In other words, the event of Christ's birth were events that were planned before the foundation of the world and events that were anticipated in the Old Testament. Today we're going to look at just one of those prophecies that looks forward to Christ's birth. It looks forward to Christ's incarnation some seven hundred years before it actually took place. So hear now the word of the Lord from Isaiah 9:1-7, I will be reading out of the English Standard Version. "But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:1-7, ESV This is the word of the Lord. In the year sixty-nine A.D., about two thousand years ago or so, a year that's been called the so-called "Long Year" by historians. The Roman Empire went through something of a tense period of conflict and civil war. It actually all started the previous year back in sixty-eight A.D., when one of the most deranged emperors to ever govern Rome died. His name was Nero, and in 68 A.D., Nero killed himself. His successor, a guy named Galba, Emperor Galba, became emperor. Now, when word of this event, this transition of power, reached the eastern boundaries of the empire, where two generals named Vespasian and his son, Titus, were busy leveling Jerusalem and the surrounding area because of a large scale Jewish revolt that was underway. The younger of the two generals, whose name was General Titus dropped everything to go back to Rome and congratulate the new emperor who had ascended to the throne. You see, if you were among the first to greet the new guy and to make sure that he likes you, well, in the end, that would work out on your behalf. So that was Titus' plan, get the new guy to like me. So he began his long journey back to Rome to greet Emperor Galba. On his long, way back, a few things happened. First, long before Titus even got to Rome, Emperor Galba was assassinated a few months after he took control in January of 69 A.D. A new emperor named Otho took power of the empire in Rome. Right when that happened, something else happened. Another general and another area of the empire whose name was Vitellius decided that now was his opportunity to become emperor, and so he declared himself emperor and decided to march upon Rome and against Otho and his supporters. A few months later, Vitellius successfully overthrew the second guy named Otho as emperor. Given all of this upheaval that was going on in Rome, what was Titus, the first general who was going back to Rome to congratulate the first guy who had now died, what was he going to do? In the midst of all of this upheaval, he was kind of stuck in the middle and wondering, who should he get behind? You see, if you tied yourself to the wrong guy. That wasn't good because their downfall would eventually be your downfall. Well, in the end, here's what Titus did. He decided that with all of this turmoil unfolding, he'd go back and make sure that his dad Vespasian became emperor, and a few months later, Vespasian and marched on Rome, and he became emperor, too. Now, if you found that whole historical synopsis to be somewhat dizzying and confusing, that's because it is. Un the history of the Roman Empire sixty-nine A.D. was a dark and tumultuous year of political upheaval. It saw, if you were counting four different emperors in the course of a year, it was a year of backbiting and civil war. If, like General Titus, you were caught in the middle of all that, well, your next move would seal your own fate as well. You see, your future was bound up in who you supported. Support the wrong guy and you're not going to have much of a future. When you think about it, even if you support the winner and this is the kind of environment you call home, how long do you think you really have until somebody comes for you next? Now, on the one hand, the events of that story of sixty-nine A.D. and the tumultuous time of the Roman Empire are far removed in a variety of ways from our own context. On the other hand, you and I are always faced, we're always faced with decisions in life like Titus about who or what to support who or what to hitch our future ambitions to. Whether we're talking about the world of politics or our own future ambitions, or even something that's inconsequential as the world of sports. We're always trying to navigate this world and hopefully come out on top by supporting the right causes and the right people. Be that as it may, the Bible tells us that whatever we decide to get behind in this world, whatever alliances we gravitate towards and however shrewd we are in navigating this environment of competing forces, no amount of skillful maneuvering in the present can give us the kind of triumph that we look for or the satisfaction that we long for. You see, the Bible tells us that there are many good things and right things to get behind in this world, spiritually speaking, we live in a world of sin and unbelief and darkness. This world could never and will never yield a solution to its own problems. Our only hope then, while we live in this world, is to get behind somebody who is not of this world, but who nevertheless came into this world some two thousand years ago to triumph over the present darkness. So our big idea this morning is this walk in the light of the Son. Now we'll talk about the historical setting of our passage, Isaiah chapter nine, in just a moment. For now, keep in mind that when Isaiah writes what he writes here in Isaiah nine, some seven hundred years before Christ's birth and incarnation, Isaiah is speaking into a bleak and dark situation that's unfolding in his own day. He sees God's people descending into a time of darkness and gloom. Yet, in the context of that, he also looks forward to a future day where he sees a dramatic reversal on the horizon, a reversal that subverts expectations. So as we look at our passage, we'll see first how Isaiah describes this reversal as glory that overcomes gloom and then how he explains this reversal as deliverance that overcomes bondage. First, a description of how glory overcomes gloom and versus one through three and then an explanation deliverance, overcoming bondage and verses four through seven. Most commentators break this passage down and those two parts, and so I'm following accordingly. 1. How Glory Overcomes Gloom 2. Deliverance that Overcomes Bondage How Glory Overcomes Gloom So let's begin with seeing how glory overcomes gloom. Now throughout this passage, again, keep in mind that Isaiah is looking forward. He's looking forward to a future day. He's standing in about the seven hundred B.C., and yet he's looking to a future day on the horizon. To appreciate the descriptions that Isaiah provides of that coming day, we have to first appreciate when he says what he says. In other words, we have to appreciate something about the historical context in which Isaiah is prophesying. As we'll see, it's a context of doom and gloom and darkness. Understand that in the lead up to what Isaiah tells us here in Isaiah chapter nine, the prophet has been speaking from Isaiah seven through Isaiah eight, and now into Isaiah, nine, into a particular situation that was transpiring in Judah during the reign of King Ahaz around seven hundred thirty-four B.C. You see at that time, King Ahaz and the kingdom he led, known as Judah, were faced with a kind of international turmoil of their own. You see immediately to their north and alliance was forming. Actually, an alliance had already formed between two nations between Syria and the 10 northern tribes of Israel. This new alliance that had formed just north of Ahaz decided to put Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah in their crosshairs. In fact, they were intent with overthrowing Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah. As Isaiah is writing what he's writing, those armies from the North are already on the move. They're already pressing down southward, taking over city after city in Judah intent on overthrowing Ahaz and his kingdom. So Ahaz is faced with the potential loss of the kingdom he governs. He has a choice to make. Would he get behind the Israel-Syria alliance so that they would stop attacking him? Perhaps he could surrender to them while he still has time left and promised to pay them tribute so that they wouldn't attack him any longer? Kind of like paying the mafia for protection. Or on the other hand, maybe Ahaz would rather than align himself with that alliance to turn to the real superpower of the day a nation known as Assyria and get behind them so that they would offer him protection from this alliance forming in the north. In short, Ahaz is faced with a decision about what alliances to form, about who to get behind so that perhaps his kingdom that was under attack would be spared. Before he makes that decision, the prophet Isaiah comes to him in Isaiah chapter seven, and he pleads with Ahaz not to get behind anyone. Rather, he tells him to forsake all of these worldly alliances and the geopolitical wheeling and dealing that's going on in the day and instead look to the Lord. To trust that the Lord is going to deliver Judah from international threats near and far, just like he's always done throughout their history. Does Ahaz listen to Isaiah's advice? Well, no, he doesn't. Instead, and we would find this out if we were looking at Isaiah seven, he proceeds with forming an alliance with Assyria and though it saves Judah in the short term, ultimately, it's the decision that would lead to the devastation of his kingdom. First, after he makes that decision, Syria and the 10 northern tribes of Israel would be devastated by Assyria, the superpower of the day. That might have been good news for someone like Ahaz, who was only living in the short term by what he could see. After Ahaz is gone later, in history after he dies, Judah would suffer at the hands of that superpower too. Throughout Isaiah chapter seven and eight in the lead up to Isaiah nine, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the future, and he outlines the consequences for rejecting the way of faith that he held out for Ahaz. Isaiah announces that because many in Judah, including the king himself, have rejected the way of faith and have chosen instead to live in the short term by what their eyes could see, the nation as a whole would be plunged into deep darkness and gloom. Even in that darkness, here's the good news. God would preserve a faithful remnant, a portion of his people who still trusted in him. Who were marked not merely by their national identity as Israelite or Judahites, but by their spiritual identity as a people who hunger and thirst for the Lord and for his promises. For people like that, here's where we come to the burst of light in Isaiah 9:1, the day of salvation would eventually dawn. Look again at verse one where we read, "But there will be no gloom for her, who was in anguish." There will be gloom after Ahaz, gloom will set in for the nation of Judah. Isaiah is looking beyond that at this point, and he says, "But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations." Back in the early 1990s, and some of you might remember this, one of the most dangerous cities in the world was Medellin, Colombia. In fact, at the time, I think it was labeled the most dangerous city in the world. During the heights of Pablo Escobar's drug cartel, which was based in Medellin. The city had something like a murder rate of nearly 400 murders per 100,000 people. It was by far the highest in the world. To give you a comparison, the highest murder rate in the United States today is St. Louis, which is about 64 murders per 100,000 people. So that was, you know, doing the math something like eight fold what St. Louis is today. Moreover, the poverty rate in Medellin in the early 1990s was something like 50 percent. The infrastructure of the city left much to be desired. After Escobar's death that the city underwent this incredible transformation, the homicide rate plummeted, the poverty rate fell too. Over the course of the next few decades, Medellin has been transformed into what one publication calls it one of the smartest cities in the world. Now, of course, all cities have issues Medellin included, but the transformation that city has undergone in three decades is truly remarkable. Well, when our text opens in verse one, we hear Isaiah announce an even more remarkable transformation than that. He tells us that the lands to the north of Judah and Jerusalem, the lands of Zebulon and Neftali would be transformed. Now this was land that was originally settled by God's people all the way back in the book of Joshua. The people of God who lived there, the Israelites who lived there under King David and under King Solomon, they flourished in that place. After Solomon died, well, that land quickly became a land of idolatry. False worship sprang up on the mountains of Zebulon and Neftali and the surrounding regions, and the land became a setting for international conflict. It was eventually land that was devastated by Assyria, in Ahaz's own day. We learn in the Bible that after a Syria devastated the land of Zebulon and Neftali, the carried away the Jewish population that lived there and then repopulated it again with pagan gentiles who didn't worship the Lord instead. In God's providence Assyria turned this land into a place of deep darkness and gloom in more ways than one. Yet, Isaiah looks forward to a day when that depleted and dark territory would be the first to be transformed. Of course, the kind of transformation that Isaiah envisions and Isaiah 9:1 has nothing to do with the implementation of any social or technological program. It has nothing to do with any kind of earthly glory whatsoever. Rather, Isaiah sees transformation of this territory because God himself is on the move. Understand that whenever we hear about light breaking into darkness in the Bible, it's nearly always associated with the presence of the glory of God. For example, the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 104:1-2, "You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light, as with a garment." The advent of light into the world, then, is nothing more and nothing less than the emergence of God's presence into the world, to dwell with his people. And to deal with the dominance of spiritual darkness that had overtaken not only the land but also the world. As Isaiah looks forward to this day, the advent of God's glorious presence, well, he tells us in verse three that this really has nothing to do at all with a geographical plot of land. Rather, it has everything to do with what this will mean for God's people. Look at verse three, where the prophet Isaiah proclaims quote, "You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you, as with joy at the harvest as they are glad when they divide the spoil." Again, Isaiah is peering forward to a future day just like he was in versus one through two. As an aside, what's interesting is that throughout these verses, these first three verses in Isaiah, he sees these events of the future as so certain that he actually speaks about them in the past tense. He did that when he spoke of God's presence back in the land, and now he does that again when he talks about the effects that this has on God's people. So what is the effect that God's presence has on God's people? Well, first he talks about the multiplication of God's people. Remember, in Isaiah's own day as he's writing this prophecy, those who were actually looking to God by faith were few. It was maybe a small remnant among the people of Judah and Israel who actually believed in the Lord and love the Lord. In the future, Isaiah tells us when light breaks through the darkness, he sees a dramatic increase in numbers. Not only Jews, but also pagans from the nations would soak in the light of God's presence. Remember, because of Assyria, those northern regions became a mixture of gentiles and Jews, which is why Isaiah calls them here Galilee of the Nations. When light arrives, when God's presence breaks into human history, he paints this picture where even a remnant of the Gentiles will be transformed from a people of unbelief to a people of faith. God's people, then we learn when God's presence arrives would swell numerically. They would spread out geographically, and we only need to read through the book of Acts to see how that takes shape and in their growth. We also learn that their joy would increase, too. If you're looking at the imagery of verse three Isaiah likens the joy of God's people when God's presence arrives to that of a farmer after a bountiful harvest. Much of you farmers are joyful right now, that's the kind of joy that's envisioned here. Then he pictures that likewise as joy of a victorious army dividing up plunder after a battle that they won. But that leads to the question why? Why are they so joyful? Why are they filled with such joy? Well, very simply, the joy of God's people is conditioned by nothing other than the fact that with the advent of this light, they now dwell secure in the presence of God. When I was a kid, my parents were kind enough. Year in and year out to take my sister and I on a number of great vacations. Often one of the places we would go to was the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. Now, as a kid who was spoiled and got to go to Walt Disney World fairly often, you would think that I would appreciate the thoughtfulness of my parents and the sacrifice that it was to take me there year in and year out and that as a kid, I would have simply just appreciated being at Walt Disney World, but that that would have been enough for me. But if that's what you're assuming, then you've never vacationed with kids. You see, without fail, every time we went on one of these extravagant vacations as a kid, even to Disney, it was never enough just to be on vacation. I always wanted something more. I remember one year in particular as a kid, that there was this toy Davy Crockett rifle that I saw in one of the gift shops, the gift shop that Disney strategically locates just to drive every parent crazy. I had to have it. For days in the so-called Happiest Place on Earth, all I thought about was this toy rifle asking my parents for every five minutes and unable to find any semblance of joy in the so-called Happiest Place on Earth until I held this overpriced faux wooden rifle in my hands. Talk about needing to shift my priorities. If we're all honest with ourselves, I think this also captures how we too often live in God's world, too. You see, when we become Christians, I think many of us can attest to the fact that God was enough. To be in his presence, to be in his church and to study his word might have felt like drinking water from a fire hose. It was a lot, but it was also a satisfying place to be. At some point we settle in and we often begin to obsess over comparatively insignificant things. Remember, in verse three of our passage, God's people are rejoicing with exceedingly exceeding joy simply because they're in God's presence. Their joy isn't conditioned by anything else other than God is in their midst. Friends, that's a game changer for God's people. That's everything in dictating our joy in the Christian life, too. But is that enough for you? Does that reality by itself produce joy in your life, or is your joy conditioned by a host of far more insignificant factors? If you profess Christ, let me ask you this, do people know you by your joy? You see, one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy, and we're called to be known as God's people for our joy. So do people know you as someone who professes steadfast joy in Christ? Or are you on the flip side, known more is a critical curmudgeon, as a bitter killjoy, always upset about something and always with an axe to grind. Now, of course, that's not to say we need to fake it when we walk through real suffering in life and when the world feels like a two ton elephant on our back. But even in suffering, the Bible tells us that there is a profound, not superficial, but substantive joy in knowing God and being in his presence. Joy in trusting that our identity as Sons of God is rooted and secured through the work of Christ. Friends, it's true that we live in an angry and scared and delusional world, but we're a people who don't belong to this world. We don't think like this world. We don't relate with each other in the back biting and exhausting way that citizens of this world relate with each other. Our joy is not and cannot be conditioned by anything in this world because if it is, it's understandable why we would be a miserable kind of people. We have what the world does not. So let me exhort you with this don't so obsess over the scraps of life that you fail to appreciate the feast that's laid before us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Find your joy, real joy, substantive joy in Jesus Christ. So Isaiah describes this future day when God's glorious presence would powerfully break into the world and his people would flourish in quantity and quality as a result. When we turn to verses four through seven, Isaiah puts meat on the bones, as it were, by describing for us more about the character of God's presence in the world and more reason that we have to be a joyful people as we pilgrim in this world. Deliverance that Overcomes Bondage So this leads to the second point deliverance that overcomes bondage. Now, when we turn to verses four through seven, if you're looking at your Bible, you may notice that in verses four or five and six, Isaiah begins at least in the English translation. With this word for the idea here is that in each of these verses, Isaiah is explaining both the nature of God's advent and the reasons we have to be a people of joy. In doing this, he gives us three what we call vignettes, three pictures to explain God's advent as our deliverance out of bondage, the bondage of darkness. So let's take a look at these three vignettes. First look at verse four, where Isaiah tells us that through the advent of God's glorious presence, God's people are delivered from bondage. They're pictured here as a people who were once pressed down with a wooden bar on their necks. That's this idea of a yoke with a rod in the hands of a taskmaster used against them. This symbolism pictures God's people living under an oppressive burden, a burden that that clearly goes beyond merely physical things. When the light arrives, what happens? Well, this burden is dramatically broken. Notice that the relief they experience is also likened in our passage to the relief that was brought about by Gideon in the book of Judges. That's what this reference at the final line of verse for when we hear about Midian, that's what that calls to mind. If you don't know the story in the book of judges. When God's people, particularly in the north of Israel, the land of Zebulon and Naftali were oppressed by the Midianites, God raised up Gideon to deliver them. If you were to look at the book of Judges and read about that deliverance, you would find that Gideon's triumph over the Midianites was, by all accounts, unexpected. It subverted expectations because the Lord called Gideon to go up against Midian with only 300 men. Yet, through that unexpected band of men led by Gideon, God saved his people. In the same way, I say, tells us that the deliverance that God's advent brings will come about in an equally, actually an even more unexpected way. A way that subverts expectations. We'll have to wait until verse six to hear more about that. In verse five Isaiah tells us that through the advent of God's presence, it's as if a war has also been won. The imagery is that of a military equipment being burned by fire. What's important in this imagery is that at no point in Isaiah's forward looking future picture that he gives; do we hear anything about God's people actually fighting a battle or winning a battle. In fact, the only picture we have is that of God's people enjoying the end of a battle that's already been won. As Alec Motera puts it, "They have entered the battlefield only after the fighting is done." They win a victory without actually fighting a war on their own. Now these two vignettes the one in verse four and the one in verse five are both helpful for us in explaining God's advent. They explain the character of God's presence and what it means, what he breaks into human history. They explain the reasons that we have to be a people of joy. When we come to verses six and seven, the final two verses in our passage, we also come to the vignette, the picture that holds everything else together, this is the one in verses six through seven that explains the victory. This is the one that explains the nature of the burdens lifted, and this is the one that puts flesh and blood to the coming of God's presence into the world. Unexpectedly, at least for those hearing and reading this and Isaiah's own day, the climax of deliverance is a child. Talk about deliverance through unexpected means. Yet in this child, we find that God himself has come. Notice in verse six that there are four names that are ascribed to this child. This is a famous passage; it was read for us earlier. Most of us probably all know what these titles are, we read Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Now, each of these four names, when you really get down to it, would simply be inappropriate to give to any ordinary child, even a child who's born into royalty because each one of these titles are packed with notions of divinity. Let's just look at two of these. First, the title wonderful counselor may seem tame on the surface of things. It may seem as if this is simply somebody who doles out pious and positive advice, and that's about it. Kind of like a motivational speaker of sorts. That's not at all with this title suggests. In fact, one commentator named Paul House opts for a translation "wonderful planner", because this title points to one who plans supernatural things and then carries them out. It has nothing to do with somebody who just sits on high and doles out positive advice that you can take or leave. In short, the language here suggests that this child is vested with the knowledge to plan redemption and then the authority to carry it out. The next title, Mighty God, suggests even more clearly that than the first the divinity of this child. This is a child who embodies the power of God in his person. Who defeats the enemies of God, and then, like God himself, is the rightful object of worship for the people of God. Understand, then, that the descriptions and the titles that are given to this son point to a ruler that the world could never produce on its own. This is one who represents perfectly God's people before God and who in turn perfectly rules over God's people as God's true king. It's no surprise, then, that Isaiah nine, this passage that we've been reading and studying and preaching on is cited in Matthew chapter four at the outset of Jesus's public ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles and applied to Jesus. It's no surprise that Jesus, in his incarnation, is described in John one as light that had broken into the world. John 1:09 tells us of Jesus, the true light which gives light to everyone, has come. The future hope that Isaiah declares then for the small and faithful remnant in his own day, living in darkness, living in gloom has nothing to do with political deliverance from an international enemy. It has nothing to do with anything earthly whatsoever. It has nothing to do with getting behind the right earthly power or the right earthly king or the right earthly kingdom. Rather, the ultimate hope that Isaiah holds out to them and us is Jesus Christ. The one who has dealt with our greatest enemies of sin and death and the devil and the only one through whom, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul in Colossians one, transfers us his people from the domain of darkness to his own glorious kingdom of light. Application Friends, the gospel tells us that the things this world values, things that may have a veneer of wisdom and power, of things that we might be really tempted in our own lives to invest all of our capital into are ultimately things that are powerless to do what we really need from them. So often the world pulls us into thinking that our ultimate hope depends on what we get behind in this world. You see these metaphors of light and darkness, metaphors that we find all over the scriptures, are also commonplace elsewhere in life. Typically, when the world wants to baptize something as good, even if it's not good, it's associated with light. Any time the world wants to identify something as evil, it cloaks it in the metaphor of darkness. For example, the Philadelphia Eagles are a team of light, and the Dallas Cowboys are a team of deep, deep darkness. That's true. Yet the Bible tells us that the true light, the true light that has come into this world has nothing to do with this world. The true light is not found in what looks powerful in this world. Rather, it's found in what the world considers lowly and despised. It found in the one who is born to a teenage girl from a backwater town in Galilee of the nations, on the fringes of the most powerful empire in the first century A.D. By all accounts, the light that dawns in the first century A.D. in Jesus Christ subverts expectations in a plethora of ways. Yet in this child lies the power of God. Friends like General Titus and Ahaz before him, we're often driven by angst about being on the winning team. After all, nobody wants to be on the "wrong side of history". The Bible pleads with us to vest our hope not in anything that this world values, but in this child, Jesus Chris. The one who stands at the center of human history and the one who stands at the end of human history. So if you're not a Christian this morning, let me ask you this. What alliances in this world are you banking on right now? How's that working out for you? You see, the Bible pleads with us, as do I, to ally yourself above everything else with God's king, Jesus Christ through faith alone. That is our only hope in this ruthless and dark, dark world. At the same time, this passage calls all of us, whether you're a Christian or not, to check our allegiances and to align ourselves or realign ourselves with the true light and the true king. This is what I want to leave us with. That is just as we do not seek salvation from anything that this world offers, so too do not despair, the apparent dominance of darkness in this world. You see, there's much in this world that could distress us if we let it. I don't think I need to say that, but I'll say it when we look out into our neighborhoods and into our worlds, we see that the darkness of sin and unbelief hangs over everything. Then we turn inward and then we examine our own hearts and we see our own sin. When we do that, how many of us have cried out with the Apostle Paul, "wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?" While there will always, always be much to pray for, and there's always much that could drive us to despair, understand the light of the glory of God's presence has already broken into this world. The church has already spread abroad all across the world and continues to do so to this very day, even in places that we would identify as places of deep darkness and persecution for the church. The Spirit, we know is also actively at work in the church, actively at work, even in our own local church, in our ministries, at work in our members. All of us are learning day by day what it means to walk in the light of the glory of God. The Bible tells us that the light has already dawned and far from disappearing or fading into the night sky, the Bible looks forward to the day when Jesus Christ will come again in a second advent and the light of the glory of God will be so bright that sun and moon will no longer have a purpose in the new heavens and the new Earth. Revelation 21 has something to say about that. Again, there's much we could despair over in this world, but brothers and sisters, the first advent that we celebrate has already come. The second, I promise you, is on its way. In the meantime, the Lord, our God, through his Spirit, is in our midst. What alliance could be any more consequential than that one? Pray with me. Father, we thank you for what Isaiah looked forward to, that we look back upon. That is the advent and appearing of your glory and your Son. Lord, we thank you for Jesus Christ. We thank you that Jesus Christ was and did everything that Isaiah looked forward to in his own day. Lord, I pray that as we walk, as sojourners and exiles in this often dark world that you would help us remember who we are and whose we are. That you would help us correct any battle allegiances that we have with this world. That you would instead realign us day by day with what is true and what is right and what is good. What we ask this in Christ name. Amen.

    “They Shall Call His Name Immanuel” – Matthew 1:18–25

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 5, 2021

    “Jesus Christ, Son of David, and Son of Abraham” – Matthew 1:1–17

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 28, 2021

    “Fear God and Keep His Commandments” – Ecclesiastes 11:7–12:14

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 21, 2021

    Hear the Word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes chapter 11, starting in verse seven through the end of the book. 7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. 1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. 9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. My junior year in high school, I was required to take a physics course. Now, physics would not have been my choice, numbers and science, and all of that is not really my favorite thing to do, but it was a requirement and I took it. There were actually some interesting things in the class, one of which was an assignment. I was calculating, this would be 20 years ago right now I was gearing up to do. We had to do it over Christmas break my junior year there and we had to build a balsa wood bridge. So they gave us balsa wood sticks and some wood glue, and we had to take it home and to form a bridge that would hopefully be as strong and sturdy to bear up under as much weight as possible. So I worked on this project with a friend. We went home and hung out, and kind of messed around if I'm really being honest, and put together a very basic bridge. We got a little concerned when we got there and we saw all the elaborate bridges that some of my other friends had put together and we were thinking, oh my goodness, ours looks so flimsy. What's going to happen here? Actually, we ended up okay because it wasn't just how much weight can your bridge bear up under, but it was a ratio thing. So the lighter the bridge, the sort of the less weight you had to bear under if two bridges held the less or the same amount of weight, the lighter bridge because it held up weight under less material, would be deemed the winner. So because ours was so flimsy and very little went into it, our ratio was actually quite high. What was interesting in that project was the way that they worked through bridge after bridge after bridge. They put it on this machine that my physics teacher had hooked up, that we he slowly poured water into the bucket so that he could know exactly how much weight this could bear up under. We watched bridge after bridge after bridge crack and collapse. There wasn't any bridge that stood the test of all the weight that was put on it. There was no bridge that got to the end and said, well, I guess that can withstand under any pressure. Eventually, every bridge broke. Indeed, in life, ultimately, everything breaks. So what this means and what the preacher is trying to tell us in this passage is that if our identity, if our hope, if our confidence is in how we compare against others at some point in our lives, well, then we're ultimately building our foundation on a sinking sand. Even though you might be a little bit behind someone here or you might be a little ahead of someone tomorrow, the point is that ultimately even your bridge won't stand up. Eventually, everything is going to break. You need a firmer foundation, one that's not built on shifting sinking sand. What the preacher says as he closes this book of wisdom is that you need to build your life on the rock solid foundation of God himself. In Jesus Christ and him crucified. You need to do this through all the days of your life, from when you were young to when you were old, for as many years as the Lord trusts you and trust to you until he calls you home. Afterwards, as the preacher reminds us, comes the judgment. Our big idea then today is this Fear God and keep his commandments. This comes directly from Ecclesiastes 12 verse 13. So this morning, three parts to the sermon as we look at it. First, fear God in youth, some of you young people today, this is a sermon for you. Second, fear God in old age. Those of you who are not young anymore, this is a sermon for you and for everyone in between. Then third, fear God in view of eternity. 1. Fear God in Youth 2. Fear God in Old Age 3. Fear God in View of Eternity Fear God in Youth So number one fear God in youth. Look again at 11:7, "Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun." Now the preacher's starting a comparison here, but it's not clear yet where he's going with this. So we have to peek ahead a little bit in the passage to see where he's going. He's talking about light and light is sweet, and he's talking about eyes that see, especially see the light of the sun. This is an image for youth, for the earlier years of our lives. We're going to see this as the preacher later talks about the dimmed eyes and the darkness of old age. In fact, one of the main ways that the Bible talks about old age is as dimmed eyes. For example, Isaac in Genesis 27:1 is old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see. Jacob, in Genesis 48:1, again is old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see. Eli, the priest under whom the Prophet Samuel served, again when he was only reading in ` Samuel 3:2 was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see. Dimmed eyes are a product of old age. So the preacher is saying, enjoy light while you can see it. It's sweet, it's pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So verse eight, "So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity." What he's saying here is that life is precious, life is sacred, every moment of your life from the beginning to the end is something that you should enjoy and savor because he says the days of darkness will be many. Now, what are these days of darkness? Well, this could refer to old age. Again, if old age is characterized by dimness of sight, then old age could be the darkness that it's referring to here. Or this dimness, this darkness could refer to death. Death is the final enveloping of darkness around us, as it's often talked about in the Bible. Or it may not refer to the lifespan of an individual human being, but it may be talking about the lifespan of the world itself. The end of the world, the day of the Lord, the final day of God, when God brings all of history to an end and brings everyone in judgment is described by the Prophet Amos in Amos 5:20 as a day of darkness, "is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light and gloom with no brightness in it." So enjoy these years when there is light and enjoy all the years of your life, but remember the days of darkness will be many. There's a warning here, not to give too much attention to youthfulness. Verse nine, once again, encouragement to enjoy youth. "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth." Enjoy this youth! But he says, be mindful of the coming judgment. He says walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes, but know that for all these things, God will bring you into judgment. Now what's interesting about this walk in the ways of your heart and the side of your eyes is how often we are told elsewhere in the Bible not to walk after the ways of our heart and not to walk after our sight. For example, a verse I quote often is 2 Corinthians 5:7,"We walk by faith and not by sight." The preacher isn't contradicting those verses. The preacher isn't contradicting the many places where we are told not to follow after the ways of our hearts. What he's saying here is not a contradiction because those passages talk about morality. Will you trust in your own wisdom or will you trust in your own insight? Will you trust in what you can see or will you trust in the Lord? Here the preacher is simply saying, enjoy this, enjoy life while you can see it and savor it. The warning says don't get too far afield is to know that for everything you do, God will eventually bring into judgment. So in verse 10, the preacher really encourages us to enjoy youth, "Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity." They are a mist. They are here and then they are gone. Enjoy this while it is here. Youth ends far too soon. Now I am not yet what I would consider to be old, my children might disagree, but I'm also probably not quite in the young category anymore. I'm at 37 years old, which means that I'm just a year or so shy of half the average age of life expectancy for a male living in the United States. I haven't had that many years on this Earth, but it's astonishing how much has changed, even in my short lifetime. I want to give you a vivid example, some of you who are older will maybe remember some of this. My wife and I were this week at a shopping mall. Shopping malls are tremendously depressing places to go today. It's hard to explain to younger people how much fun and how much life and how much bustling there used to be at shopping malls. I have the most vivid memory as a child of being at a shopping mall and being in the food court, which was the best place to eat in town, and there were so many people they were just on top of each other. Then when you left the food court, people were just going in all kinds of different ways. There was life and energy and vitality there. I associated a lot with my childhood. But as I think about the childhood, my youth, I also know that that child or that mall in Hastings, Nebraska, has now been bulldozed to the ground because it couldn't sustain itself anymore. As I went in a shopping mall that's sort of limping along, I won't name it. I don't want to offend anyone, but you can probably guess there aren't that many in Omaha. As I went to a shopping mall this week, it was amazing. The growth of that is how skillful they are in putting up walls where they used to be businesses. So I was looking at a wall that was tiled and there was sort of a makeshift library, a take a book, leave a book. I realized, wait a minute, this is where the pretzel vendor used to be. As these businesses are going away as life and the world changes, I think about these vivid childhood memories of things that were a big deal then and how quickly things change and move away. That's a picture of a little bit of what happens in our youth. We have these vivid memories of when life is sweet and it's pleasant for the eyes to see the sun and the preacher says, enjoy this while you can. Children enjoy your childhood; you never get it back again. Young people enjoy the stage at which you are because you will never get it back again. Those of you with new babies enjoy that stage, they grow up so quickly. But everything eventually breaks. Nothing can withstand the test of time. It all eventually breaks down. Youth is but one season under heaven, there's a time to be born, but as the preacher is about to remind us, there is also a time to die. The preacher exhorts us to take seriously old age and death. Fear God in Old Age So what we're seeing in the next section in verses one through eight of chapter 12 is really the final word of the main part of this book. There's a main section. I'm going to show you how we find the end of that and a little bit, but this is the last main thing that the preacher says before the conclusion or the epilogue to this book. His main point is fear God in old age. The second section is fear God in old age, and it starts in verse one. This is sort of the transition from the previous section to this one. "Remember also your creator in the days of your youth before the evil days come in the years draw, near of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them." Now we read in verse nine of the previous chapter that we should remember our creator because judgment is coming, but here the preacher is reminding us that we should remember our creator in the days of our youth because of joy. Charles Bridge is one of the commentators on this passage. He writes this this line that really stood out to me, "Many have remembered their creator too late in life, but none too soon." As I look back on my life, I do not regret a single thing I gave up following Jesus. I don't regret any of the parties I missed. I don't regret any of the lifestyles that people around me were living. I don't regret missing out on any of that. My only regrets are when I did not follow Jesus as closely as I should have. My only regrets. Many people find their creator too late, but none find their creator too soon. You see, when you're young, you tend to think that you are invincible. The preacher reminds us here that the young invincibility very quickly fades away, far more quickly than we realize. The days are coming when you will say, I have no pleasure in them. Then versus two through seven, the preacher turns to this extended metaphor or this sort of stream of images that sort of roll by us now. Sometimes he's building an extended metaphor where the details are very clear, you know, pretty much exactly what he's talking about. Other times, some people have tried to sort of press the details too far to say, well, this refers to that, and it's a little too hard to make some of those connections. Where the details are not always clear the general meaning is. He's giving us a tremendous range of imagery to remind us about what old age does to all of us. So look at what he says in verse two. Here is where he brings back that comparison that he started in verse seven at the beginning of our passage of the last chapter, that youth is characterized by seeing the sweet light, whereas old age is characterized by darkness. So 12:2, "before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain." Not just clouds that come to bring the healthy life giving rains, but now these are clouds that come after the rain is over and they just hang and darken the sky. Then there's verse three, "in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed," We have here at the beginning of a description of a house that's falling apart with age, and it begins with the keepers of the house probably talking about limbs, arms and legs that tremble. The keepers of the house tremble and the strong men are bent, what used to be as strong back is now bent over with age. The grinders ceased because they are few, probably referring to your teeth. The old age makes it difficult to chew. Those who look through the windows are dimmed again, we're having a sight imagery, someone's looking out of this house and you can't quite see through the windows anymore. Verse four begins the discussion of hearing and the doors of the street are shut, "and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—" When we shut the doors, we can't hear what's going on outside, and that's what happens to this house. Again, where the youth think that they are invincible, those who are old know fears. "They are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— " in verse five. The almond tree blossoms, well, this sounds promising new life blossoms, but it's giving an image of if you think of an almond tree when it blossoms, it's whitened like hair. The grasshopper drags itself along, think of how spry and nimble a grasshopper is, but as the days creep on year after year in fall toward the colder seasons, you ever seen those grasshoppers that can barely move anymore? Grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home and all of a sudden, the house is no longer decaying. We find ourselves in the middle of a funeral. The end has come, the mourners go about the streets. Then verse six, "before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern." Again, don't try to press the details of what the cord is and the bowl is and the pitcher is or the wheel is. This is an image of the fragility of life. In just a moment, it's gone. Until verse seven, "and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." When God first created Adam, he gathered together dust and mold it and shape that dust into Adam's body, and then God himself stooped down to breathe the breath of life into this man. When sin into the world when that same man rebelled against God, God told him that you are dust and to dust, you shall return. Our bodies returned to the dust, and the life breath that's been on loan to us has to be returned to God. In verse eight, the preacher ends this main section of Ecclesiastes with, "Vanity of vanities, says the preacher. All is vanity." We know this is the end of the main section, because there's a this is the tail where there's a corresponding top at the very beginning of Ecclesiastes in 1:2. It says the exact same thing, "vanity of vanity, says the preacher, all is vanity." He began on that word, and now he ends on that word. Everything is a mist. It's a breath. It's a vapor. It's here, and then it's gone. Everything, even you young children one day are going to grow old and you are going to break down and die. Everything breaks down and dies. All is vanity. One of the most stunning object lessons of the relentless, vicious work of time, I think, is to see whenever they have a big reunion for something, a big reunion of people who are famous. So this year was the 50th anniversary of a really famous football game, the game of the century, between Nebraska and Oklahoma in 1971. Children, 50 years ago, Nebraska won games. In that in that game, it was a really big game against, against a really big team, and it was an epic battle. You can pull this up on YouTube. The fittest, the fastest, the strongest men who are youthful in their vigor and their vitality fighting it out like gladiators on the field. It was an epic game. That's why it's called the game of the century. When this reunion has happened, those same young, vibrant men are now bent with age and their limbs tremble. Age has taken a significant toil on the best and the fittest and the strongest of their generation. Even more cruel, perhaps, or when you see reunion episodes of sitcoms, especially the sitcoms that that glamorize and idealize and idolize youth. Where you see these people who are living it up for their youth and their beauty, and that's everything to them. You see them 20 years later and age has not been kind. You say if they were living for their youth, if that was everything to them, if that's what that show was about, their lives have already peaked. How tragic to live that way. How tragic to live clinging to what cannot be retained. If youth is everything, what do you do when it's gone? Youth is a time of light, and it is and it is a time of joy, but it is so fleeting. Old age is a time of darkness and fragility. No one likes it better. The preacher acknowledges that these are years you are going to say, I have no pleasure in them. You will have pleasure in them, but not of the kind that you had, which is everywhere, all around you in your youth. As I remember my grandmother so vividly saying at the death of my grandfather, death comes to us all. Death comes to us all. The preacher wants us to know life under the sun is so fragile, it is so fickle, it is so fleeting to cling to, it is futile and foolish. Wisdom insists, then, that we must remember our creator because he is the eternal one who stands outside time. Time does not age God because he is the ageless one. He is neither older nor younger. He has never been before. He is always before. He is, and he always will be. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change. There is no before and after with God. He simply is. Fear God in View of Eternity So the preacher concludes all of this book in verses nine through fourteen. With an exhortation to remember this creator. So now we come to section three, fear God in view of eternity. Again, some commentators call this the epilogue or conclusion, but the point is this stands outside of the main body of the work. The preachers surveyed everything, and now he comes to his final conclusions. What should we take from this? This is the application section of his sermon. So in verses nine through ten, part of this is tracing the preacher's work in life and ministry. Besides being wise, the preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The preacher sought to find words of delight and uprightly he wrote words of truth. We're told in 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon spoke 3000 proverbs and his songs were one thousand and five. You see we value in our day access to information. We want to be able to Google something at the drop of a hat and figure out an answer to anything or look it up on Wikipedia. Figure that kind of thing out. The ancients had a very different perspective. They valued not mere access just to know that I can look it up, and they didn't value mere information. They wanted mastery of wisdom. For someone to memorize 3000 proverbs and one thousand five songs is an extraordinary feat of wisdom. He mastered this great wisdom over the course of his life and he tried to pass it on. He was a teacher. He tried to find words of delight and uprightly he wrote words of truth. Then verses eleven and twelve, he talks about what these words did. He says, "The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." Goads prod livestock. If you're trying to get a cow or a sheep to go in a certain direction, a goad was a big stick that you would poke him to get him to go in the direction that you wanted to go. We need these in our own lives to be goaded by these words of wisdom. But he says words of wisdom are also like nails. You think of what nails do? They fix something down, particularly for a shepherd, that's what's in view here. The shepherd who's goading, the shepherd who has nails firmly fixed down, the one shepherd from whom on wisdom comes. This is shepherding imagery. The shepherd would have used these nails to fix down his tent from site to site. Wisdom teaches us to know when we need to move and when we need to remain steadfast and fixed and steady. What the preacher warns us is that too much information, too many books, can obscure the clarity of God's wisdom, the wisdom that comes from one shepherd. Of course, this one shepherd is God. As Psalm 23:1 says, "The Lord is my shepherd". Particularly when Jesus Christ came into the world de declared, "I am the Good Shepherd" in John 10:11. That's where wisdom comes from. It comes from the timeless one, the eternal one, the one who is not affected by time because he created it and encompasses it all before him in his eternal wisdom and power. Well, in verse 13, this is the conclusion. He says, "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." He has surveyed everything under the sun and what does he say? Fear God and keep his commandments. After considering everything under the sun, everything in this world, the preacher says there's nothing in here that's going to satisfy you like you're looking for. Instead of looking under the sun, look above the sun, look to the creator of the sun. Fear God and keep his commandments. Now we've talked about what the fear of God is. It means, on the one hand, acknowledging your vulnerability and your helplessness and your hopelessness and your guilt because of sin. To be truthful about that. Not to try to hide it, not to try to make justifications or excuses. It's to acknowledge them before the judge of all the Earth you stand guilty. It's to go to that same judge and recognize that he is your only hope, because he has loved you so much that he has sent his son, Jesus Christ, into this world to die for you in your place so that you may be reconciled to him by grace through faith. It's to trust in this same Lord because of his promises, anyway, even though you are guilty. The fear of God, the fear of the Lord is another word, then for faith. As the Bible everywhere declares, we are justified, we are made righteous before God by faith. We are counted as righteous before him by faith. So the preacher says fear God, but he adds this line, he says, keep the commandments. Now this isn't to atone for your guilt. This isn't to earn something before God. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone and not by works. Ephesians 2:8-9 is very clear about this. "For by grace, you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not by work so that no one may boast." We are not saved by keeping the commandments, rather, when the Bible talks about keeping the commandments, it's always as a loving response of gratitude. Knowing that even as we seek to keep his commandments, we're still dependent upon him upon his grace, upon his power to obey. To keep the commandments as another word for what the Bible calls sanctification, to grow in the holiness without which no one would see the Lord. We are justified by faith, by the fear of God, and we are sanctified as by God's power. It's by God's grace through faith, we seek to keep his commandments. So, in verse 14, the preacher closes with this word. He says, "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." A life lived for the fleeting pleasures of this world is its own reward in full and those pleasures are so quickly fading away. Nothing lasts, everything ultimately breaks down. A life lived for the glory of God, who is not under the sun, he is above the sun, he is the one who created this, and the life lived for his glory will not be in vain. Application How do we apply then? Well our application then is just what the preacher tells us, fear God and keep his commandments. Ecclesiastes is a difficult book. There are blunt words, grim outlooks and despairing conclusions. Forgive me if you were offended by the preacher's description of old age today, for example. As I said in my first sermon in this Ecclesiastes series. Martin Luther considered this to be a most optimistic book. Martin Luther was the great reformer who began the Reformation in 1517, and he considered this to be the most optimistic book. What he saw in Ecclesiastes is a book that has explored all the possible rabbit trails that we might pursue all the possible avenues under the sun to find happiness and satisfaction and joy. He exposes them all as a fraud. He shows that every single one of these cannot provide what we are looking for. So what he's doing is to clear away the debris, to get rid of what may cloud our vision, to get rid of what may be a confusion. Much study and much anticipation and attempts to find satisfaction in this life is a weariness to the flesh. He's done that for us, and he's cleared away these false ideas about how to live, especially by clinging to the vanity of this world. So that once that debris is cleared away, the gospel then can shine all the more radiantly. The gospel tells us not about a life hack, not about a quick fix, not about how to have your best life now. The gospel tells us that Jesus Christ came into this world, the one who is above the sun, who came down from heaven into this earth, so that he could lift us up to God. Fear God and keep his commandments. Well, let's unpack what that means, because it gets at what the gospel is. Again, the idea of fearing God is to believe, it's faith. It's to have faith in God and what the Bible tells us after everything else has been cleared away, and we can see the gospel in its radiance, is that we are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with the promise that all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. There are so many proposals in life for how to find salvation. You can find anywhere all kinds of ideas about how to do the right good works, about how to sacrifice personally in your own life, about how to do the right collection of religious practices to appease God. The scriptures are so clear you are dead in your sins and trespasses. You are a child of wrath. You are without hope and without God in the world. There is nothing you can do to counteract this. You cannot do enough community service hours to overcome the wrath of God against you because of your sins. You need nothing less than the death and resurrection of God's only Son, the Lord of Glory. Fear God, then. He is the judge of the living and the dead, the judge of all the Earth, and he will surely do what was right. He will bring every deed in a judgment on the last day and he will by no means clear the guilty. Fear him, the Bible commands. Again, the other part of fearing him is not just to cower before him, not just to acknowledge your helplessness and hopelessness and vulnerability and guilt before him. It means to take him at his word. To believe the promises that he makes. The promise of salvation for all those who turn from their sins in sorrow. As we heard earlier today to consider his word, to confess our sins and to hear the assurance of God's pardon through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The question is, will you believe his promises? We turn to Christ for salvation. That's what this book is driving at. Clear away everything else that's getting in the way and turn to Jesus Christ, whom the rest of the scriptures hold out as your only hope and comfort in life and in death. Fear God. But also keep his commandments. In addition to the saving grace of justification by faith alone, another one of God's saving graces is as the Westminster Larger Catechism question thirty-two, puts it, "To enable us unto all holy obedience as the evidence of the truth of our faith and thankfulness to God and as the way which he hath appointed us to salvation." Now, listen to that God's commandments are the way to salvation. Now, not the way to gain salvation. We don't keep commandments to gain salvation. This is rather the way that God has appointed for those whom he has saved. It's not how we are saved, by keeping the commandments, it's what we are saved for. Again, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not by works", not by keeping the commandments well enough". so that no one may boast." But in verse 10, the very next verse, he says, "for we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works", for keeping the commandments, "which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in." We are saved not by keeping the commandments, we are saved for keeping the commandments. God has appointed these good works that we should walk in them as a people whom God has brought out of death and into life. You see, for the believer, God's commandments are no longer a thundering word of condemnation against our sin. That's the warning of the Bible if you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ, God's word sounds as a thunder blast from heaven, declaring that you are guilty and in danger of the wrath of God for all of eternity. For believers, in the words of John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace, "Christ has hushed the laws loud thunder", and he has done this, "so that justice smiles and asks no more." There's nothing else that you need to do because Christ has done everything that justice demands. The law then is transformed from our enemy, our persecutor, our oppressor, our condemning agent into a friend. Not by anything that we have done, but through Christ. Christ reorient us to the law through Christ, we relate to the law in a new way. He makes that introduction in a friendly way. The commandments of God then teaches how to please God through holy lives. So as we've seen all of the false ways to live and as the preacher has exhorted us at many points toward the wisdom of the fear of God, the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord. I want to ask you, do you long for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord? Do you delight in the law of God in your inner man and your inner person? Do you pray that God would conform you to the image of Christ and to righteousness, holiness and knowledge? The only alternative to Christ is this vain world where everything ultimately breaks. Don't put your trust there. Put your trust instead in Christ. As the apostle John writes in 1 John 2:17, "this world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." "Vanity of vanity, says the preacher, all is vanity." In a view of that and in view of eternity. Fear God, looking to Jesus Christ in faith, and keep his commandments. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray for a heart of wisdom, wisdom that comes from above that is first pure and peaceable, not wisdom that is from below and is earthly and spiritual and demonic. We pray that you would give us the wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified that we would look to him as our alone confidence, our alone assurance, our alone hope and comfort of salvation. That through Christ, you might relate us to the law in new way, not to gain something, because we can gain nothing before you, we can earn nothing from you. But to live a life that's really related to you as your children, as your people who are growing in the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Who are being conformed to the image of Christ, by your grace, by your mercy, by your power. We pray that this would all be to your glory through Jesus Christ name we pray. Amen.

    “Confident Endurance” – Hebrews 10:19-39

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 14, 2021

    Well, this morning we are returning to our study in the book of Hebrews. We will be in Hebrews chapter 10 versus nineteen through thirty nine. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:19-39, ESV This is the word of the Lord. A couple of years ago, a once famous pastor, someone who had published popular books, pastored a large congregation and and by all accounts, had an incredibly successful ministry, announced one day on social media that he was excommunicating himself from the church and from Christianity. Now to be excommunicated, if you're unfamiliar with that term, is the most severe form of church discipline that can be enacted in the church. When someone no longer cares to live like a Christian no longer believes the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Leaders in the church are sometimes forced to excommunicate someone, which means that their profession of faith is rendered null and void, and they're removed from membership in the church. So in announcing, this former pastor, that he himself was excommunicating himself from the church, he was announcing that he no longer believed the gospel, that he no longer wanted to live as a Christian, and he was therefore removing himself from the body of Christ. Now this was apparently the final step, although we still hold out hope for his repentance in a downward trajectory that was some years in the making. He had resigned from pastoral ministry some years earlier and ever since then had renounced much of what he had taught and published in his ministry. The edifice of his previous gospel of convictions slowly crumbled and then to cap it all off, he and his wife announced they were ending their marriage. Now, as you can imagine, this announcement that he no longer considered himself to be a Christian was both jarring and heartbreaking for those who knew him, but also for anyone who may have at one time simply benefited from his written ministry. Understandably, to have any influential Christian leader make shipwreck of their faith is going to leave a trail of debris in the wake. Unfortunately, this specific example isn't the first time, nor will it likely be the last time that something tragic like that happens in Jesus's church. I'm sure many of us, myself included, can cite examples in our own stories where a once influential Christian leader or teacher, someone who ministered to you even if only through their publications, made the decision that they were done with biblical and Orthodox Christianity. When those stories hit too close to home friends, they're understandably heartbreaking, upsetting, shocking, scandalous, and they may even elicit some self-reflection of our own. For example, we may ask ourselves that if someone like that, someone who seemed on the surface of things to have it all together could abandon the faith, well, then what hope do I have to persevere and the Christian life? Do they know something I don't? Maybe we even question how those stories reflect on God? Does God actually abandon his people? Well, I don't want to leave you in suspense on that last one, so no God doesn't abandon those who truly belong to him. The question of perseverance and endurance, how do we stay the course in the Christian life when we see people we love and admire head towards the exit door is what our author addresses in our passage this morning. He wants us to be aware of the sobering reality that apostasy, that is turning your back on your faith, sometimes happens in Jesus's church. As he issues this sobering warning about apostasy, he also wants to equip us as believers to live the Christian life with the necessary equipment to endure and persevere into the end. So our big idea this morning is this we have need of endurance. As we walk through this passage, we're going to take it in three chunks, basically following the three paragraphs as you see it divided up in the English Standard Version. First, we'll look at a charge to endure and versus nineteen through twenty- five second, a warning to endure and verses twenty-six through thirty one. Then finally, the way to endure in verses thirty-two through thirty-nine. 1. A Charge to Endure 2. A Warning to Endure 3. The Way to Endure. A Charge to Endure So first, a charge to endure. So if you scan the first seven verses of your passage or so, you may notice a couple of commands. Actually, I count three different commands, each of which begin with the phrase “Let us”. As we'll see in a moment, our author calls us to be earnest people as it pertains to our faith. He calls us as Christians for the sake of our perseverance, to be serious about truth, serious about spiritual disciplines, to take our faith seriously and to take the local church seriously as well. Before he does that, he starts in a really familiar place, if you've been plodding along in Hebrews with us. He rehearses for us, in summary form, everything that Christ Jesus has already done on our behalf. Now I think it would be easy at this point, especially because we've already heard such a long and beautiful exposition of Christ's person and work throughout the previous several chapters in Hebrews, to treat these first two or three verses or so as throwaway verses. Now maybe you're thinking to yourself at this point, goodnes, author of Hebrews whoever you are, just get to your main point. You've already told us this stuff about what Christ has done and who he is. Yet, far from being simply filler to transition us to the real meat of the passage, these verses, these first few verses are really important in the larger context of perseverance. Understand that when theologians talk about perseverance or endurance in the Christian life, they've traditionally distinguished between the grounds of our perseverance and the means of our perseverance. In other words, the first thing we have to know about perseverance and enduring in the Christian life is that it's first and foremost grounded and rooted in the work of God. He's the one who secures us. He's the one who holds us fast. Our perseverance and endurance doesn't depend on whether our affections for the Lord and the gospel ever ebb and flow, which they do indeed. Rather, perseverance depends on the Lord. This is why our author begins in the way he does within this larger context of perseverance before telling us what to do. He has to remind us, first and foremost, what Jesus Christ has already done. The first thing he tells us is that when Christ died for our sins, well, he went where you and I could not. Having done that, he has invited us as his people to follow on his coattails. You may recall that when we talked earlier, the last few sermons we've given in Hebrews, we noted that in the tabernacle, the earthly place of worship in the Old Testament, there was a big curtain, a big veil that closed off the most holy place on Earth from everything and everyone else. Remember that center room in the tabernacle and then later in the temple was considered to be the holiest place on Earth. It was where God's glory dwelt most powerfully on Earth, and therefore only the High Priest once a year was able to go past that curtain. He was the only one who was allowed to do it, and he was only able to do it once a year. In the New Testament, friends, in the gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we learned that when Christ died, what happened to that curtain? Well, we learned that the curtain of the temple was torn in two. What's being communicated there is that access to God through Christ's life, death and resurrection is no longer limited and shadowy, like it was in the Old Testament. Rather, through, as our author puts it, the curtain of Christ's flesh, all who attach themselves to Christ by faith alone now have access into the heavenly places the place where Christ himself ascended after the resurrection, the place that the most holy place in the Tabernacle ultimately pointed to, and the place where our Lord Jesus Christ now reigns in glory. That's the second point our author makes in this opening few verses. Christ is the great high priest over the house of God. Christ opened the way of access for all of his people, and now he sits in heaven, where he reigns over his church and he preserves his people. Now, these opening three verses that we read are only a summary of everything that we've heard thus far about Christ's priestly work. Yet what they do is really important because they remind us of the privileges that we have as God's children, and ultimately they communicate what anchors us in the Christian life from start to finish is not us, it's not ourselves. It's not our work. It's Jesus Christ, the one who lived for us, the one who died for us, and the one who now reigns in the heavenly places for us. Now, in view of these grounds, our author gives three specific exhortations to tell us that there are certain means that we, as Christians, are called to lay hold of in our own lives for the sake of our perseverance. So what are some of the things he says? Well, this gets us to the commands in the first part of our passage, we're first in verse twenty-one. He calls his church to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with purer water. So what does it mean to draw near? Well, think about some of the really ordinary things that we're called to do in the Christian life as a people who have been washed and cleansed by the Holy Spirit and made new creatures. Well, we're called to pray to God when we're burdened. We're called to engage with God as in the study of his word. We do that both in private and we do that corporately as a church. Perhaps the chief expression of drawing near is when we come into the worship assembly and we hear and respond to the gospel and partake of the sacraments as well. In fact, one commentator notes that his first command to draw near encourages God's people, you and me, to a life of worship that includes private worship, worship at home, worship with our families, but at most certainly also includes corporate worship, worship with each other. That's why at Harvest, we call what we're doing right now the pinnacle of our week. Second, we're then urged to hold fast without wavering to the confession of our hope. Now, ultimately, this is an encouragement to know what you believe and why you believe it. In other words, can you articulate what the church has always confessed about Jesus in the gospel? Do you hold those truths to yourself? Can you defend those truths in the context of a world that often challenges truth? In short, this is an exhortation to take truth seriously and to constantly shore up the foundations of that truth for yourself by going again and again to the study of God's word, even being prepared in the process to make an argument for what we believe and why we believe it. Then third, our author instructs us to consider how to quote, “Stir up one another to love and good works and encourage one another regularly”. All of which suggests that we cannot neglect the local church. Now, when we tie these first three commands together, I think there's a strong sense in which this third command, this command to stir up one another also kind of draws all of the other commands together. When you think about it, you can't really draw near to God in corporate worship unless you're in the local church. You're going to have a really hard time holding fast to the truth if you're trying to live out your faith alone on an island. All of us then need the local church for the sake of our perseverance. Over the years, the various U.S. military branches U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines have used a variety of marketing slogans to try to up their recruitment. Some of you can probably think of some off the top of your head. I think of the one that's been in play for the Marine Corps since 1977, “The Few, the Proud, the Marines”, something like that. One of the worst slogans that has ever come and gone was one that the U.S. Army rolled out in 2001. So leading up to this, the army did some research and found that many young people saw the army as a dehumanizing place where you would lose any sense of individuality. So to combat that perception, in 2001, the army rolled out its “Army of One” slogan. They wanted recruits to know that the individual is valued in the army. So that slogan played into that. It was an attempt to placate this perception that many young people at the time had about the army. By 2006, again, just five years later, that slogan was replaced by Army Strong. The “Army of One” marketing campaign was viewed pretty widely as a pretty big failure in the army recruiting process. Now it was viewed as a failure, but I don't think it takes much thought to understand why it was viewed as a failure. When you sign up for the army, you're also signing up to join a group of people where you have their back, they have your back, and you're working together with other people to accomplish a mission. There's a sense in which an army of one is even a contradiction in terms. So too, there's also a strong sense in which a Christian of one is a contradiction in terms too. Friends, understand that the good news of the gospel is that when Christ saves us, he saves us from a variety of things. He saves us from sin and death. He saves us from the power of our sin. He saves us from the devil. He also saves us into a people. His church is in the context of the local church, not where we lose our individuality, but where we receive the accountability that we all need to live lives that honor God. It's in the context of the local church where we put our gifts to use and serve each other. It's where we receive things like word and sacrament, means that God has promised to use for our spiritual nourishment. The author of Hebrews, is going to come around to this later in Hebrews 13 and tell us to submit to our spiritual leaders, something that we cannot do apart from the local church. So let me ask you this, are you committed to the local church? When I ask that, I don't mean, are you committed to the idea of the local church in the abstract? I mean, are you committed right now or are you in the process of being committed to the local church? You see, our passage encourages us to be committed to something very specific, flesh and blood people with real faces who have likewise been purchased by the blood of Christ. It urges us to commit to a specific people to regularly encourage those people and even to actively think about how to love other people in the church for their own spiritual good. There are a lot of reasons why it might seem reasonable to walk away from the church or neglect the church. The local church, after all, is a cauldron of sinners where we're constantly the sinned and the sinned against or the sinners and the sin against, and the local church forces us to deal with things that we'd otherwise like to avoid. There's a reason why John Calvin said, “They who depart from the church give themselves up to Satan.” Now, I understand that might sound strong to some of you, but Calvin is just reflecting what the Bible has to say about the tragedy when someone makes a shipwreck of their faith and either is excommunicated from the church or more often than not, excommunicates themselves from the church. That language that I just quoted from Calvin is actually the same language that the apostle Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:20, to describe two specific people who made shipwreck of their faith and were excommunicated from the church. Being apart from the church trying to do spiritual life apart from the local church, friends, is not a good place to be. So rather than retreating from the church, the Bible would have it, and our passage specifically right here would have us lean into the local church to meet together in person regularly and encourage each other all the more in view of the eternity that awaits us. So this is the charge to persevere. First and foremost, rest in everything that Christ has done know that the security we have in the Christian life is anchored to the one who is exalted and reigns in the heavenly places. Christ has already done everything for our salvation. Then he calls us to something, he calls us to make use of things that he's left us with for our spiritual nourishment. Things like the local church to stay the course in the Christian life. A Warning to Endure Now that he's issued this charge, well, then he turns to consider what happens if somebody doesn't persevere in Christ. What happens if somebody walks away from Christ and walks away from the church for good? Well this leads to our second point, a warning to endure. When we turn to verse twenty-six, we are coming to the fourth of five worrying passages in Hebrews. If you recall, we've encountered a number of these warning passages elsewhere in Hebrews. It's a pretty typical characteristic of Hebrews to include these various warning passages, and these warning passages are intended at their heart to show us the importance of pursuing Christ throughout the entirety of our lives by holding out the consequences for giving up on our faith. In short, should we decide at some point in our lives to go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of truth? Well, our author tells us that judgment is what's going to result. Now, the first question we have to ask about this passage is who are those who are sinning deliberately after receiving a knowledge of the truth? Who are those people? Well, let's start with saying who those people are not. Understand that our author here isn't talking about the believer who struggles with sin. This isn't about the Christian who struggles with some sin, though continues to grieve it, to repent from it, seek accountability for it, and so on and so forth. We all struggle with sin, this passage isn't speaking about that kind of person. So let me encourage you from the outset that if there are particular sins besetting sins that you're struggling with right now, repent from them, seek accountability for them, keep pursuing Jesus in them. Also know and be encouraged that this passage isn't picturing or portraying you in your sin. Rather, the person in view here is what we would call an apostate. An apostate, according to our author, is a person who continually sins deliberately after being trained in the truth. This refers to a person who may have at one point or another professed faith in Christ, but who are now brazenly living life apart from Christ, apart from the church, and aren't in any way pricked by a sense of guilt. Later in the passage, this person is described as someone who, “Who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and has profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has outraged the spirit of grace.” I'm quoting from verse 29 and the imagery here is quite vivid when you think about it. To trample underfoot is a statement of disdain and contempt, putting Christ underneath your foot. This is somebody the author of Hebrews, has labored so extensively and eloquently to exalt. Now Hebrews, you're now treating him as somebody lower than dirt, as if he's lower than dirt. Then to profane the blood of the covenant that plays off Old Testament sacrificial language, where Christ's blood is treated as common and unfit for sacrifice and to outrage the spirit of grace. Well, that's to treat with contempt the one who has graciously worked in their midst in the church. Our author, then, has in mind someone who was very much a part of the church. A member of the covenant community. Then at some point these people decide, for whatever reason, to reject Christ completely and happily entertain sin. Now, before we go any further, I want to drop two important theological anchors on this topic of perseverance, just so we don't get the wrong idea of what our author's communicating. The first thing we need to know about this wider theological conversation on perseverance and endurance is that this passage isn't teaching us that a believer, a true believer, could ever finally fall away. Now it is true that true believers could go through seasons of doubt or being given to sin here or there. Yet as Thomas Watson, Puritan, once wrote, “Though grace may indeed be shaken with fears and doubts, it cannot be plucked up by the roots.” Jesus gets at this too in John 10:27-28, where he tells us, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28, ESV Now it is true that there may be people we walk with in the church who at one time or another seemed to be walking well, but then eventually make the decision to turn away from grace. If that continues indefinitely, well, that doesn't mean that person has lost their salvation theologically speaking. Rather, it means that they were never truly believers in the first place. This is John's evaluation of individuals who departed from Christ and from the church in his own day. In 1 John 2:19, he writes 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19, ESV All that being said, these warning passages in Hebrews, including this one in Hebrews chapter ten, are a means to jolt us to our senses, especially when we're entertaining sin. They aren't teaching that a true believer could ever lose their salvation. That's the first theological anchor to keep in mind. The second one I want to drop is this, there may be people in our lives, even right now who we can think of, who appear to have fallen away, who appear to be in this apostate kind of state. Yet that doesn't follow that they've done so conclusively. You see, we may know people who at present don't want anything to do with Christ and the church. People who are dabbling in sin and their present trajectory looks ominous, but we still hold out hope that they would one day return to Christ. We still pray for those people and even plead with them to come to their senses and as many opportunities as we have from our perspective, though, until death takes them, we can hold out hope for their repentance. If that doesn't happen well, it's then that our author has some hard things to say. So what happens then, according to our passage, for the one who walks down this road and who never turns back? Well, our author tells us that eternal judgment follows, in verse thirty, “the Lord will judge his people.” Now, recall that our author throughout Hebrews has been in conversation with the Old Testament. Specifically, he's been in conversation with the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices and he's constantly been comparing and contrasting that system to what Christ has done to show that Christ Jesus is better than anything has come before. To show he's superior to any of that stuff. Now in our passage, he draws another contrast to show that while the excellencies of Jesus Christ far surpass anything of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and the judgments do as well. Notice in verse twenty-eight that our author tells us what happened. He reminds us what happened in that sacrificial system when someone willfully broke the law of Moses, if there were two or three witnesses and you were found guilty of breaking the law of Moses and the Old Testament, what happened? You died, death, capital punishment. For the one who rejects Christ, the one that the entire Old Testament law and sacrificial system pointed to, the consequences are worse. It's an eternal death. In the mid 1800s, there was a Russian by the name of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who published a book in English that we know as “Notes from a Dead House”. It was a book that recounted Dostoyevsky, his four year imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, that is a gulag. Now, throughout Dostoyevsky, his book, he's constantly giving us windows into the state of mind of his fellow prisoners. At one point, he narrates for us just how difficult prisoners had it when they initially were sentenced to their prison term and had to begin their prison sentence. Now, typically, Dostoyevsky tells us that when a prisoner was already in prison for a bit, they tended to accept their sentences. Very few times that they ever try to escape from prison or anything like that. Yet before a prisoner came to trial, before a prisoner came to prison while they were still on trial, some would go to irrational lengths to postpone their prison sentences because they couldn't take what was about to happen to them. Dostoevsky tells us a story where someone was apparently sentenced at trial to serve a minimum period of time in a labor camp, three years or so. After the trial and before they were shipped off to this Siberian labor camp, they would somehow commit another crime so that they'd have to be retried again. They buy themselves a few days, maybe a few weeks. Even the trial would have to start again and they'd be sentenced again. Now, this was a completely irrational move because ultimately the prisoners were handed either double or triple their prison sentence in the process, but for them, as long as they could delay judgment for a day, for two days, for a week and buy some time to some of these prisoners, thinking irrationally, it just didn't matter. Well, friends understand that to step away from Christ, to reject the gospel, to uproot yourself from the people of God, the best you can hope for is to delay judgment. Any decision we make to embrace our sin and live our lives apart from Christ may be a temporary distraction and may allow us to do what our sinful hearts really crave. But in the end, judgment will come, and any decision we make apart from coming back to Christ and embracing the gospel once again is as irrational as the prisoners and Dostoevsky's day. Now, maybe you know someone right now, or maybe this would even describe yourself where you have one foot in the door and one foot out. Nobody really knows that except for you, and the way out is looking more appealing by the day. Now, to be sure, we all have spiritually dry seasons in our life, but one of the functions of this passage, as we've said before, is to jolt us awake and recognize that there are very real spiritual and tragic consequences for walking away from Christ. So if that's the path that you right now are thinking about entertaining, to whatever degree you might be entertaining it, let this warning passage push you back on course, back into the hands of the one who was already judged for the sin of his people in the person of Jesus Christ. Hear this warning passage as a means of grace for your perseverance, because that's what it's intended to do. Now that our author has spoken these hard but necessary words for us to cling to. He ends for us with more of a note of encouragement as he reminds us of the equipment that we need as we live out the Christian life and persevere to the end. He tells us that the equipment we need is actually quite simple. It's an abiding faith in the promises of God. The Way of Endurance So this leads to our third point, the way of endurance. Beginning in verse thirty-two, we see that our author calls his readers to recount the former days. We see that in your text, but what he has in mind here aren't the former days of the Old Covenant, not the former days of Moses, days he's already commented so extensively about. Rather, he calls his audience to reflect upon their own personal history when they face a lot of pressure to throw in the towel on Jesus and on the church. They're looking at the text. We hear that sometimes these Christians in their past were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction. Another verb here indicates that whatever they went through, and we're not entirely sure it probably involves some kind of public shaming or mockery. Then in addition to suffering themselves, our author tells us that they also stood by their brothers and sisters who also suffered. They were partners with those who were so treated. Perhaps this is one of the ways they encouraged each other. As the author of Hebrews would have us do back in verse twenty-five. Nevertheless, we then learn in our passage that these Christians also had to endure. Yet one more thing they had to endure the plundering of their property, either through imperial edict or mob rule or both. Now again, we don't really know, this is actually an interesting historical window into the audience, the original readers of Hebrews. We ultimately don't know the specific persecution in view, but we do know that throughout the latter half of the first century, especially in Rome, Christians often had to face these sorts of things. They were frequent targets of slander. The Roman historian Tacitus, who wasn't a Christian at all, set around this time that Christians were a people who were engaged in quote, “a deadly and dangerous superstition”. They were also arrested often for just being Christians. The same historian Tacitus also reports that Christians in his own day were arrested on trumped up charges, one of the charges being, “hatred of the human race”. Christians sometimes did have their property plundered. A few centuries later, a historian looks back on the latter half of the first century when Emperor Démission reigned and tells us that Christians, certain Christians, were exiled just for being a Christian. Then when they were exiled, their property was confiscated by imperial edict in the process. So Christians endured a lot. These Christians endured a lot. Whatever the specific situation viewing these Christians, how did they endure? They endured, but how did they endure? Well, look, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. They took it in stride. They joyfully accepted the sufferings that were thrown their way. So why in the world would a Christian do that? Why in the world would they just take something like that? Well, according to our author, they endured this way because they knew that they had a better possession and an abiding one. They endured the loss that they suffered because they were confident that there was so much more to be gained in Christ. In short, they endured in the past because they had a real and abiding faith in the promises of God. If you're looking at your passage, you'll notice that then in verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight our author cites another Old Testament text, something he often does in Hebrews, as we've seen a number of times. This time he cites from Habakkuk 2:4. Habakkuk is one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, and he's picking up on something that Habakkuk wrote. It's fitting that our author would quote from Habakkuk at this juncture because the prophet Habakkuk, in his own day some six hundred years earlier from when the author of Hebrews is writing, knew all too well issues of suffering and injustice. He's also writing to the people of God about issues of suffering and injustice and how to deal with some of those things. So from Habakkuk, our author takes what he had to say some 600 years earlier and applies it to the situation of his readers in the first century. What does he have to say? Well, first he tells them that the coming one will come and will not delay. In short, he tells them to be encouraged because despite the sufferings and injustice that they're dealing with in the present, Christ Jesus really is coming again. Injustice and suffering will not be ignored. It will not have the final word because Christ is coming again to make all things new. While we wait for the God of justice to bring all things to right, which he will do when Christ comes again, how does he call his readers to wait in the present? How does he call us to wait in the present? Well, that's the next thing he tells us where in verse thirty-eight, we learn, “my righteous one shall live by faith”. Friends, when we face evil in this world that places the church in the crosshairs and when the church abroad suffers for their faith, like the original readers of Hebrews suffered for their faith, there's a lot that we wish that we had to navigate that context. Perhaps you wish you had rhetorical persuasion as we speak into an irrational world, or legal muscle to fight back against laws and statutes that target the church, or even security to protect ourselves just in case violence spills over into the church, as it often does for the persecuted church around the world. While there are merits to walking through this sinful world with that kind of wisdom, according to our author, at the end of the day, the equipment that we need above everything else is pretty simple. It's steadfast and abiding faith in the promises of God. It was by faith that these same Christians endured the struggle that they had to face in the past, and it's by the same faith that they and we will endure in the present. To cite the Puritan John Owen, “Sincere faith will carry people through all difficulties, hazards and troubles to the certain enjoyment of eternal blessedness.” So ask yourself, is the object of your faith Jesus Christ? Understand that we can look like Christians and talk like Christians all we want.That's not going to get you through the kind of trials that our author wants to prepare us for only a faith that's supplied by Christ and abides in. Christ is going to carry us through whatever we're called to walk through in the future. So do you have that kind of steadfast and abiding faith in the promises of God at the end of the day? Friends, this is the way to persevere. This is the way to endure, it's faith. Application So as we conclude our sermon and prepare to come to the table and taste and see that the Lord is good, let me leave us with this. Friends rest in the certainty of God's power to preserve his church and his people rest in the certainty of God's power to preserve his church and his people. We pilgrim through a world where there are many things that seem volatile, whether it's the experience of a Christian leader who once seemed like such a bulwark in the faith suddenly fail and in a way that no one would have predicted, to close personal friends slowly drifting from the faith they want shared in common with you, to even something more severe outbursts of persecution that often arise throughout the world against the church. It's hard to find one thing under heaven that we can rest upon with certainty. Yet the gospel reminds us that because we have a God who is unchangeable. When he says to his church, as he does in Philippians 1:6 that, ” he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.” Well, we can rest and we can rest in certainty that what he has promised to do. The God who is unchangeable in his being, his essence, and his promises is faithful to accomplish. So maybe you're worried about the church abroad right now, worried how the church in a place like Afghanistan could ever endure amidst the current persecution they're facing. Or you're worried about the church at home and worried about what the church in America could be facing in the future and what that would mean for you and me, what that would even mean for Harvest Community Church? Or maybe you're worried about your own perseverance or the perseverance of people you love who you see drifting right now, maybe even towards the exit door? Well, probably about those things, be wise in the way that you walk in the world and the way you counsel people in those things, but also rest above everything else in the fact that God, who is unchangeable, will by no means abandon his church, nor will he abandon his people. Pray with me. Gracious, Heavenly Father, Lord, you have given us some hard words to consider, but words that we need to hear. Words about what it means to persevere in the Christian life. Things that you call us to lay hold of for our own perseverance and endurance of the Christian life. Lord, we confess that in many ways we've neglected these very good things that you've given us as a grace for us to endure. Father, we pray that for any among us who might be drifting right now, Lord, that you would pull them back, pull them back to embrace things like the local church and the means of grace that you dispense in the local church. Pull them back to experience the grace of the fellowship of the saints. Lord, would you remind us as we face a volatile world and are faced with things that seem so uncertain in this world that you are the God who infallibly holds your church and holds your people fast? We ask all this in Christ's name. Amen.

    “No More Remembrance of Sin” – Hebrews 10:1-18

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 7, 2021

    “You Never Know” – Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 31, 2021

    Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. 4 He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. 5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. This past Friday, my family and I went on some errands. We got to a store where we needed to go. My wife went in and I stayed back with the kids in the van. Our baby started in this time to get a little restless, so I had just gotten him out of the car seat when my wife texted me that she was done and she was headed on her way back out. Well, in the course of trying to get the baby back in the car seat and texting my wife to let her know where exactly we were parked in the parking lot, so that she could come out to find us. I guess I set my phone on top of the van and forgot that it was there. It wasn't until an hour later that I realized when we were home and getting out of the van and heading inside, and I went to grab it that I realized the phone was not with me. In a moment of horror, I realized what I had likely done. Now that was an unsettling moment, to say the least. I realized that my chances were not good. Things looked grim. There was almost no way I was going to be able to get this phone back. I started to think about where this could possibly be. We drove across a long area. I thought, how long can a phone stay on the top of a van as it's driving at high speeds? Then apparently it fell off, so can a phone survive a fall to the pavement at that high speed? Even if it survives, the initial impact can survive being driven over by the cars and the semis that I was sure would be driving over it. At that moment, the risks were high, the odds were very low. I was faced with the question, you know, what can you do when there's nothing you can do? There wasn't much I could do at that point to go back and tell my foolish forgetful self to take my phone off of the van. So what can you do when there's nothing to do? Well, you can only do what you can do. So I did the only thing I could do. Which was I pulled up, Find My Phone and I was able to locate my phone. It was in the middle of a two way street that I knew exactly where it was, about the first major turn we took. It was about 8.8 miles from my house and it was 1.8 miles from the store we were at. So if you're asking how long a phone stay on the top of a van, it's 1.8 miles. So I went there in a panic. I was using my wife's phone to FaceTime with her at home to coordinate so that when I got there, she could press the little tone function that it'll beep and let you know where it is. When I got there, there was way too much traffic, which didn't make me feel better. I couldn't hear a thing. So here I was, I realized it wasn't in the center of the street. Thankfully, there was actually a raised median. So to try to get a better look, I walked out on the median. This is in the dark, mind you, as cars are whooshing around me. The things we do for our phones. I went all the way out and I couldn't hear anything and she says, I'm hitting it, I'm hitting it. I could hear nothing, but as I walked, eventually I saw it and there it was. Incidentally, if you need a good review for a cell phone case, I have one and it's totally unharmed. Now there are times in life where there's just not much we can do again, where the risks are high, where the odds are very low, and in those moments, it's really tempting just to quit before you start. To say, well, there's really nothing can be done here. There's absolutely no chance that this will be pulled off. I genuinely have no idea how that landed in direct middle of the median, except by the grace and the providence of God. The preacher here wants us to know that as much as he has said throughout this book about foolish action, about fools rushing into areas where they haven't thought things through or acting in a foolish way, especially by putting too much faith in a world that is ultimately vain and broken. The preacher does not want us to make the opposite mistake of thinking that wisdom consists in inactivity and passivity and just waiting back and just throwing in the towel and quitting before we have actually started. Just saying, why bother with this at all? That approach is the preacher tells us in this passage simply isn't wise. So the preacher tells us that in unsettling uncertainty, and I certainly had unsettling uncertainty with regard to my phone, we need to take appropriate action. That's our big idea In unsettling uncertainty, take appropriate action. This is a passage about not so much the ways that we can save the world with our heroic efforts, but this is a passage that is designed to get us to do something, to do whatever it is that we can do, even when we don't know at all whether things are going to work out. So the first part of our passage is, first of all, Unsettling Uncertainty and Appropriate Action. And we're going to look at verses one through four for that. Then the second part, which is "You Never Know!" and that's an exclamation point if you're taking notes, there in verses five and six. Only two points today. 1. Unsettling Uncertainty and Appropriate Action 2. You Never Know I do want to say this is a sermon that is dealing with more common themes, themes about the ways in which we conduct our lives in the world, personally and professionally and things like that and so it's good and right for us to focus on that. However, I do want you to know that at the end, I will consider what this has to say about the gospel. So hang with me until that point. Unsettling Uncertainty and Appropriate Action So the first part unsettling uncertainty and appropriate actions and verses one through four. Verses one through four have a series of proverbs where there's a little bit of wisdom given in each one. Individually, some of these proverbs are quite obscure. It's hard to know exactly what the preacher means in some of these proverbs, but together the message is very clear. So it's important for us to understand together what they are saying so that we can go back and look at each proverb individually. The big idea that he's getting at is that again, the vanity of life that the preacher spent so much time talking about, don't put your hope in this life. This life will not satisfy you. You will not find what you were looking for. That message the preacher doesn't want us to misconstrue as a justification to shut down or to retreat or to withdraw, or to slip back into passivity in life. The preacher has warned us often about foolish action. Now he is going to warn us about foolish inaction. One of my favorite proverbs gets at this it's Proverbs 26:13, which says, "The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” Proverbs 26:13 So you have to think, but why would a sluggard say that there is a lion in the road? You realize, well, there probably isn't a lion in the road, but somehow the sluggard convinces himself that there is a lion in the road to justify his passivity, his laziness, his sluggardliness. It's easy to imagine risk, and there very often is real risk all around us, but it's foolish to see danger and risk as a reason not to do something. Again in unsettling uncertainty take appropriate action. Derek Kidner, a commentator on this passage, looks at this section versus one through six and just summarizes it with two words, be bold. Well, as we look at these individual proverbs, the first one is probably the most obscure, the hardest to interpret and verse one. The preacher says, "cast your bread upon the waters", that's the hard part to understand, "for you will find it after many days." Now, it's that last line that gives us a little bit of clarity about what he's saying whatever it means to cast your bread upon the waters, and I'll go through some possibilities here. What the preacher is getting at is that we must, first of all, account for delays. Whatever is going to happen from casting your bread upon the waters, the only benefit you are going to get will only happen after many days. There's going to be a delay. In life, whatever we do, the things that we do, we have to account for the fact that things don't happen, rapid fire as much as we wish that they would. So what then does it mean to cast your bread upon the waters? Well there's three major options. The first one is alms giving, giving to the poor. Now the weakness of this is that it is nowhere mentioned or hinted at in this passage, but that's one of the traditional interpretations through the ages, that this is about giving to the poor, alms giving to the poor. The idea is that it will come back to you, it'll find you out after many days. The second option has to do with thinking of casting your bread upon the waters as some kind of senseless action. Really, if you think about it, nothing is gained by throwing your bread into water. It just becomes a soggy, sloppy mess. You can't really eat it anymore. It's just goopy. The idea is that this world is so unpredictable that even the senseless things that you do will have some result at some point in time in the future. Now that's a possibility, but I think the best explanation is that this is talking about overseas trade putting your bread, your products, your work, the produce of your work on the ships and sending them out onto the seas to trade overseas. Now there are two reasons to think this. Douglas Miller and his commentary points out how many economic matters are dealt with. Again, this is a sermon about common things in our common everyday lives. He talks about bread and verse one, he talks about the portion in verse two, in verse four we have sowing and reaping. Again, this tells us that these economic matters that we're probably not dealing with alms giving, giving to the poor, we're probably dealing with some kind of productive business commerce kind of activity. The second reason for thinking that this is trade overseas is that we are told twice in 1 Kings that Solomon himself, the author of Ecclesiastes, was engaged in that very work. I 1 Kings 9:26-28 and 10:22, we read twice that Solomon himself put his bread, his goods, his tradable items onto ships and sent them overseas to trade. Now think about the uncertainty of overseas trade in those days. You couldn't get real time updates about where your cargo was. You couldn't even get delivery notification. You wouldn't find for many days whether the ship had successfully sailed somewhere, made the trade and come back with your profits until many days. The preacher saying it's still worth it, even though it's going to take many days account for those delays but be bold in your life. Don't slip into foolish inaction or passivity. In verse two, the preacher tells us also this that we must diversify your investments. Look at verse two, "give a portion to seven or even to eight", there's that diversity, "for you know not what disaster may happen on Earth." You invest in one area and a disaster may strike that, but if you invest in seven or eight areas, it's much less likely the disaster will strike all of those areas. So through your diversification, your wealth will be made safer. Again, risk is not a justification for inaction. What the preacher is trying to say is don't put too much stock in the vanity of this world, but you have to live. You have to make an income. You have to support yourself. So make sure that your action is wise and it's governed by wisdom. Well, third, verse three, the preacher says, whatever will be will be some things are inevitable and beyond our control. So look at verse three, "If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie." Some things are going to happen. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes trees fall. Those things are going to happen. You are going to encounter disasters and hindrances, whether you're active or not. So saying this, not to paralyze us, but the opposite he is trying to prove to us that there is never a risk free adventure. So in verse four, he tells us not to be ruled by risk. Don't be ruled by risk. Look at verse four, "he who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap." Now, the preacher has already said at a few different times in Ecclesiastes that there is a proper time for certain things. Ecclesiastes 3:1, that's the famous song that was sung by the birds, "to everything there is a time and a season under heaven." You possibly heard on the radio or have you at least read it when we were studying it in this passage. There's a proper time for everything under the sun. What the preacher is saying here is there's never a perfect time. If you're waiting for the wind to stop before you sow or if you are waiting for the clouds to dissipate before you reap, you'll never find that perfect time. You've got to get on with your life. You've got to get on with your work. Before I worked in full time pastoral ministry, I worked for a tech startup, I was a bi-vocational pastor. I pastored in my free time and for my full time job, I worked for a tech startup. I had the privilege of working for one of my best friends. He was my boss and like most startups, we had a pretty good idea that we didn't fully know how to package or market or sell, but we just worked really hard to try to figure things out as we went along. So my job at that time was I was in sales. I made cold calls, endless cold calls to try to set up meetings where I could give sales pitches, where I could give trials of what we were doing in the hope that one day someone would pay our company for what we were doing. We were working really hard to get this company off the ground. Now, at that time, another company was started right about the same time and it was in the same sphere, the same industry, we had the same home city. So we were kind of competitors right from the beginning. Maybe because of this, they really started to hate our company and really harassed and attacked our company. It got so bad that my boss had his cell phone number posted on Craigslist with this company asking them to call and harass my boss at his home, it was extremely unsettling. The low point for me was when I came across a comment on a blog article randomly, it was a blog article about business ethics, and there was a story that was told about me, about my interactions with one of my clients that was absolutely a lie about the bad ethics that we had apparently engaged in. When I saw this, that they were attacking me and naming not only my company, but my client's company, I was hurt by this. I was embarrassed. What was I going to say? I was scared. I was angry. I felt helpless. This was extremely unsettling. What can you do when there's nothing you can do? Well, I worked not only for one of my best friends, but also his father was involved in this business and we went and asked him. A man named John Watson, and he'd been in business for 30 plus years. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember the wisdom that he shared. He says this kind of thing happens. This kind of thing happens and this too shall pass. He said, don't worry about that. But he says the second thing is you just got to keep doing what you're doing. Don't let this distract you. Just keep doing what you can do. Just keep moving. It was such an encouragement from a man who had clearly seen his share of battles and has faced his share of attacks and had seen so much, because he was getting the same wise advice as the preacher does here. Again, think about what the preacher said about the vanity of this world. He said no matter where you turn, no matter what you do, there is going to be unsettling uncertainty. The proper response to this is not inaction. We can't just slink back in our lives. The proper response is appropriate action. Well, after offering these four parables, the preacher then tries to give sort of a background justification, what justifies the four things he has told us. Here's the justification it's that you don't know much about this world, so you never know which of your efforts may prosper. You Never Know! So look at section two and verses five to six, and again, this is the part where it's just, you never know, you never know. In verse five the Preacher writes, "As you do not know", you don't know, you never know, "as you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything." The preacher saying you don't know much about this world, and he goes to the most basic fact of life. Indeed, without this fact, there would be no life. God created human beings to be embodied souls. We are souls and we are bodies and you can't separate that. Well, if you do that's called death, when the soul is stripped away from the body. If you just have a body without a soul that is a dead body, that's a corpse. In that time, when our souls are separated from their bodies after we die, we're not complete. We are awaiting the resurrection of our bodies so that we can once again be embodied souls. Our souls are never meant to be without bodies. The preacher is saying, think about this mystery. How is it that a soul comes into the life of a human child growing in the womb? Now this is a great proof of the sanctity of life in the womb. The soul comes to the child in the womb. This is a human being in the womb. This is one of the proofs we see in scripture that life is sacred and we must protect life in the womb. That's part of what we are seeing here. He's getting at this mystery. How does this happen? The answer is we just don't know. Even theologians debate this question to this day because the Bible doesn't give us much information outside of this verse about how this comes to pass. There's one theory among the theologians that just as your body is shaped by the mingling of the DNA of your parents, so also your soul is produced or generated by the mingling of your souls of your parents. Just as you pass down the material part of your body, so parents pass down also the souls down to their children. That's called traducianism. There's another view that God creates each new soul individually in the womb, and that soul comes to the child in the womb, that's called creationism. There's a healthy debate among Bible believing theologians because the Bible just doesn't say much about this mystery. What the preacher saying is if you don't even know about how you came to be, what do you know? What do you know about your life and about the work of God who makes everything? Well, verse six, since you don't know much, you never know what may prosper. Verse six, "In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand," This either means sow from morning until evening or sow in the morning and in the evening. I also wonder whether the two sowings might refer to two different kinds of seeds because the next thing he says is, "or you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good." Again, he talked about diversifying earlier in verse two, "give a portion to seven or even to eight for, you know, not what disaster may happen on Earth." So he is maybe saying, keep working, work diligently and maybe work in a different way so that whatever diversification you have to do so that something will prosper and your entire crop will not be lost. Now, regardless of what he means, again, the point is very clear unsettling uncertainty should not keep us from action, but rather spur us to diligent action, you just never know. If you don't understand the way that you came to be. How can you know how God will work in through your work in the world? This is the key issue here; this is where the preacher is bringing this into the work of God in the world. You can never understand the mysterious work of God in the world to turn things about, according to his will. Now, sometimes it's vexing. We work our hardest and all of our efforts come to nothing. The preachers talked a lot about that. Here he is saying it's actually to spur us to action. You don't know what will work, so when you're working, you are entrusting yourself to the mysterious will of God to bring about his results in the world. The 5th century church historian Theodoret tells a story about the mysterious work of God in the world. A story about a Christian monk named Telemachus. Now, for whatever reason, Telemachus was present one day at a Roman gladiatorial battle. Now Christians hated the gladiatorial battles. If you don't like the violence of a football game, understand that when someone gets injured in a football game, everyone stops and it's a big deal and they all clap when an injured person leaves the field. In a gladiator battle the point was to fight until blood was shed and people were left dead in the arena. So Christians hated the gladiatorial games. One day a monk was there and he saw what was happening was so horrified by the violence and the bloodshed that he ran out into the arena. Now the accounts, there are different accounts, it's unclear exactly what happened, except that we know that he died in the process of this. This monk was either killed trying to get between the gladiators or he was killed when the crowd thought, who is this who has the audacity to interrupt our entertainment? Then they demanded his death. Or maybe the city prefect demanded that he die. Something happened until Telemachus died. You think about all the gore and the bloodshed and the violence and the disregard for the sanctity of human life that Christians should oppose for and couldn't get any worse than this. Now a Christian's blood was shed as he was trying to stop the barbarism. But in the mysterious working of God, the story of this went to the Christian emperor Honorious, who from this point on January 1st in the year 404 forward took stock of this and made a ban on the gladiatorial game, so they were stopped from that day forward. One man didn't know what to do. What can you do when there's nothing you can do? One man did the only thing he could think to do, and it was a terrible plan. It was the only thing he could do, but it had no chance of success and he was killed in the process of this. The risks were high and the odds were low, and he lost his life. But you never know how God might work. You never know how God might work. That's the kind of boldness the preacher is urging us on toward in this passage. Application Now from this passage, let's consider two applications. The first, again, is that that common level. Again, this is a passage that's dealing with our common lives, what we experience personally and professionally, politically and culturally. 1. The first application is this that in unsettling uncertainty, take appropriate action, that's our big idea. Brothers and sisters, it's so easy to look at this world and despair. It's so easy to look at this world and be discouraged by everything happening in politics, in our culture in our neighborhoods, everything happening in our personal lives and in our work. It's so easy to just open up the paper and find a thousand new reasons to be discouraged. How can anyone function with these issues looming over our heads? Wouldn't it be better, don't we all sometimes fantasize about retreating, withdrawing, going somewhere else? Building a compound somewhere where we can be safe from this world? The preacher gives us such valuable wisdom here. He doesn't tell us to be cavalier or to be foolish, as though these issues didn't exist, to live in denial and pretend that things weren't happening. Yet he also doesn't want us to give up, to throw in the towel, to resign ourselves to passivity and inaction. Instead, he says that in unsettling uncertainty, take appropriate action. Account for delays, understand that progress and positive change doesn't happen quickly. To diversify your investments, make sure you make yourself less vulnerable and expand your opportunity for growth and success by diversifying where you invest your time, your talents and your treasures, what God has given you to steward. Whatever will be will be. Bad things are going to come one way or another. We don't know in advance the only thing that we know in advance is that we can't change what's going to happen before it comes. Fourth, don't be ruled by risk. Don't give up hope because of how bad things look. I heard someone recently distinguished between hope and optimism, and I thought it was really a good point for Christians. He says Christians are not optimists, they are hopeful. It means that we don't think that every little thing we do is going to work out perfectly in the way that we imagine it's going to do, that's what an optimist does. Ecclesiastes is a good dose of cold water on our optimism. The Christians are always hopeful. We believe that the God who is working all things and making everything and bringing everything to accomplish his will, is a God who loves us and a God who is caring for us and who has our best at heart for those who love him and who are called according to his purposes. God teaches us here that he is at work in ways that we cannot possibly understand, in our families, in our work, in our neighborhoods, and in our church. When you continue your work, you don't do so in spite of everything going on in denial. You do so because you know that God is the one who is ultimately in control. If you are feeling stuck today like this, life is not worth continuing, the preacher says you have no idea what God is doing in and through your life. You have no idea what God is bringing out of what you are doing and the frustration you are feeling. 2. Now again, the preacher is addressing all of life in this passage, especially business and professional pursuits. So it's right to give a general consideration to the exact subject matter he's addressing. It's also important, as we're here today to not miss the gospel in this. That application goes like this that in the uncertain growth of the Gospel, take appropriate action. What's so interesting is the way that Jesus uses this message. Jesus draws out the preacher's message here in Ecclesiastes, and he draws it into his many sermons in the Kingdom of God, especially as you think about all the way the Kingdom of God deals with sowing and reaping and the uncertainty of the growth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus took the preacher's message, and he says, this is about the Kingdom of God. In Mark 4:26-29 he tells this parable, for example. Jesus said, 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29, ESV You don't know how your soul came to be in your body in the womb. The farmer doesn't even know how the crop grows. All the farmer can do is to be diligent, to keep his hand to the plow, to keep working, even though he doesn't know. To know, who knows? No one knows. You never know, but to keep working, expecting that the God who makes everything will continue to work just as he has promised that seed time and harvest will never pass away until this world ends when Christ returns. Jesus said this wasn't just business advice. This isn't just how we should conduct our farms and our professional lives. This is about the progress of the kingdom, the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this world. Are you discouraged by delays of the progress of the gospel? Charles Bridges, in his commentary on this, writes, "See how this passage furnishes to us a valuable rule and encouragement. He's such much of our toil in the gospel seems to be in vain. Much disappointment arises from the world and often more from the church. The soil is uncongenial. The prospect of harvest is precarious, but the promise is sure you will find it after many days." You don't know how the kingdom is going to sprout, but you will find it after many days. Are you unsure whether certain opportunities for ministry are worth it? Are you unsure about whether certain investment of the word of God into someone else or into your own life are worth it? Well, part of what the preacher says is diversify your investments. As a church, we're trying to pour the word of God into people from a number of angles. We're urging you to worship privately at homes and with your families. To do so as a part of disciple groups here at the church and Bible study, Sunday school classes, to take part in outreach and missions and evangelism just spread and scatter that seed in the gospel. Even though you don't know how it's going to grow. Ultimately in our corporate worship services, what we are doing right now is the pinnacle of our week where Jesus Christ is at work, spreading the gospel of the kingdom into our lives. Which one of these strategies will be the silver bullet, we don't know. God doesn't give us that. He just has to be faithful. Keep your hand to the plow. Don't wait until the perfect time when the winds have ceased and clouds have gone away. Continue laboring in the gospel. Share Jesus Christ wherever you go. Less I miss an opportunity in a book that is largely pre-evangelistic, trying to teach us wisdom in this book unless I miss an opportunity, let me tell you the gospel right now. The gospel that we are talking about the Jesus Christ to who used this sermon and integrated it into his own preaching about the kingdom, is a gospel about the son of God who loved you so much that he was sent by his father into this world to die for you in your place. God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ, he gave his son and whosoever believes in Jesus Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life. This seed is the gospel that goes out to all the world and you don't know where it's going to fall on good soil. Our task is not soil diagnostics. Our task is to scatter the seed and wait on the God who makes everything to do his work. Are you worried then the disaster is going to strike this church? Let me clarify it for you. Yes, disaster will strike this church and the church as a whole. Disaster has not ceased from striking the church of Jesus Christ from the day he sent his church into the world. Rain clouds will gather and trees will fall, we can't control that. We know it's going to come, we can only keep our hand to the plow. Are you doubtful in your own life about whether the time is right to serve or to share the gospel with someone you've been praying about for the wild for a while? Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn't, and I can't answer that question. To everything under heaven there is a time and a season, but there's a difference between looking for the proper time. Scripture says there is a proper time for everything under heaven and waiting endlessly for the perfect time that will never come. The proper time does come, the perfect time will never come until Jesus Christ returns. Five hundred years ago, those who began the Protestant Reformation were wondering whether the project to recover the scriptures and the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners had any chance to go anywhere. They were wondering about this. They were laboring in the gospel and didn't know where this would go. In fact, five hundred years ago this year, we celebrated the five hundred anniversary of the Reformation as a whole four years ago and 1517. Five hundred years ago this year, 1521 was the year that Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. It was in 1521 that Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms, where he had the chance to recant the preaching and the gospel. He had to think about this overnight. He knew this was an incredibly momentous decision in his life. Would he recant or would he stay faithful to the scriptures? On April 18, 1521, he said those famous words, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of scripture or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen." According to some tradition, this is when he said, "Here I stand. I can do no other." In the face of disaster, what did he do? He could simply stay faithful to the word of God. Keep his hand to the plow, keep studying, keep praying, keep preaching, keep teaching. He did not know what God was going to do. He did not know how those seeds of the gospel unleashed again after being clouded under a dark period of history where the gospel was veiled and covered over. He did not know what the gospel was going to do, and neither do we. He was called to be faithful in his time, and we are called to be faithful and ours. At the end of the day, we don't know how God is going to build his kingdom, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, but we are given promises that should drive us to take appropriate action anyway. One of my favorites is in 1 Corinthians 15:58, and with this I'll close. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us faith to trust that you are continuing to work out your plan. In the deepest of uncertainties, we pray that you would give us faith, no matter how unsettling the situations we face, to continue following you to continue to take appropriate action to do whatever it is that we can do. Not as the hope of saving ourselves, we're trusting in Christ alone for our salvation, but trusting that you will take the few seeds that we scatter and will build something that we cannot think or imagine by your work and by your grace and all for your glory. We pray this in Christ name. Amen.

    “The Destructiveness of Folly” – Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 24, 2021

    “Wisdom is Better” – Ecclesiastes 9:1–18

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 17, 2021

    Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes chapter nine, starting in verse one. But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. 7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. 11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. 13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. 17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:1-18, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our god endures forever. I mentioned last week that the previous week I had gone to an eye appointment. Just a normal appointment with an eye doctor to check if my vision had changed to check on general health, that sort of thing. During the course of that eye exam, I asked my doctor a question. I asked whether she would recommend whether it be a good idea for me to look into that laser vision correction surgery they offer. Now, that would be a really big deal for me because I am absolutely as blind as a bat. I don't actually know how to measure that, but I'm very blind. I can only read about this far in front of my face. I'm very, very blind and I've been using glasses or contacts since I was in the second grade. So the ability to have my vision corrected so that I could just get up in the morning and see without having to put anything on my face or in my eyes sounds like a wonderful prospect. So I asked her and she looked again at my chart, apparently to determine my age. She said to me, here's the thing you're going to have to make a choice of what you want. She says it's possible you can do this kind of a surgery, and it will correct your ability to see a far distance, your farsightedness. That choice will come with a price. To do that, you're going to have to actually sacrifice some of your ability to see things close up. Now, remember, I still can see things close up; as long as I have the book right here, I can see it without any glasses. It's a wonderful gift to just see it right there. Again, she looked at my age and said, you're about five years from the time at which that nearsighted, short sighted vision is going to start fading away. You're going to start needing reading glasses and bifocals to see things that you've always been able to see, but the problem is, if you get this surgery, you're going to have to sacrifice more of that than you think you will be comfortable with. Eventually that's going to even make it worse and you're going to need stronger reading glasses or even bifocals to correct what you are giving up in order to gain that farsighted vision. Now, for me, this is a dilemma because I read a lot. I read all the time and the idea of possibly damaging or making it worse, this short sighted nearsighted vision would be a big sacrifice to me. The reason I'm letting you into my doctor's appointment here is to tell you that I think this is the dilemma that we all face, all the time and everything we are doing. In life, we can either try to have the control, we can claim the control of the short sighted vision, or we can seek after farsighted clarity in life. Either in life, we're going to look at what's closest to us, what's near to us, and we're going to want to cling on to that or we're going to be willing to sacrifice this for a long term farsighted kind of vision. Now, the Bible calls this farsighted vision, not to just look at what affects me today, but to look at my life in the light of eternity. The Bible calls that gift wisdom. The Bible says that we don't naturally have wisdom because we all lost it at the fall of humankind with our first parents, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We need this wisdom to be able to see off into the distance, but this wisdom will come at a cost. It will mean giving up control over the short term nearsighted goals, that maybe your eyes are fixed on this morning. You can't imagine what it would be to give up the short sighted, near sighted vision to exchange that in order for the long term, far sighted eternal wisdom of God. Here's part of what the wisdom of God does, especially as we study this passage, it reminds us that whatever you think you have right now, even if it is not started to fade away, maybe it's like my nearsighted vision that day is coming perhaps sooner than you care to recognize. You can't cling to it. At some point the day is going to come when even the close things that you want to cling to with all your strength will fade away. Which means that maybe it's not a bad investment to go ahead and look at the long term wisdom. What this passage is teaching us, then, is that wisdom relinquishes control and readies us for eternity. Wisdom lets go of the short term gains that we might make it relinquishes control, and it readies us for the long term vision of what wisdom helps us to see about how to prepare our lives for all of eternity. That's our big idea, Wisdom, relinquishes control and readies for eternity. So three parts in the passage we're looking at today. 1. Relinquishing Control 2. Relishing today 3. Readying for Eternity Relinquishing Control Now as you come to this first section in verses one through six, we're talking about relinquishing control. Again, what the preacher is asking us is, are we going to claim farsighted clarity or are we going to cling to nearsighted control? The first thing the preacher wants to tell us is that we do not have the control we think we do over the short term, over what we can see with our near sighted vision. That this is quickly fading away far more quickly than we'd like to think it is. So the preacher says this in verse one, he says, "But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him." Now stop there for a moment, as we consider where the preacher is setting this up, where he's going to go. Now it's important to understand that this word deeds only appears here in the Old Testament, in this form at least. This word in other forms shows up all over the Old Testament. Normally, this is the word for to serve or to be a servant or a slave if it shows up in different versions. Specifically, this word is often used in relation to the gods, whether the true living God of heaven and Earth, or the false pagan gods. When you serve a god, that's another way of describing worship, to worship a god is to serve that god. As we're going to see, this idea of worship is very close top of mind for the preacher. So I think what the preacher is saying here, and I'll make a case for this as we keep going, is that he's saying all of this I laid to heart examining it all how the righteous and the wise and their worship are in the hand of God. Your righteousness, your wisdom and your worship are in the hand of God. Now where's he going with this? What's the issue that he's raising here? Well, this gets to the next part of verse one, "Whether it is love or hate, man does not know both are before him." Now this is a notoriously difficult sentence to interpret. There are interpretations that go in every direction. Now I'm going to give you what I think it is, and then I'm going to try to justify that based on the next verse that we'll look at in just a moment. What I think the preacher is saying is that we cannot manipulate blessings from God, by our deeds, by our actions or by our worship, by righteousness, by our wisdom or our worship. So he's saying all of our righteousness, all of our wisdom, all of our worship, it's in the hand of God. When it talks about whether it's love or hate, we're talking about the response that we get back from God. What should we expect from God when we order our righteousness or our wisdom or our worship? Can you give to God something and expect infallibly in my life right now I'm going to get something back from him? He says it's kind of a pagan way of looking at God. That if I offer the right God, the right act of worship at the right time, that I can guarantee success in my business or in my good fortunes in my agriculture or in my marriage or whatever I need are in battle. I just have to offer the right worship to the right god at the right time, and I can control the outcome that I'm going to get. The preacher says it's not that simple. You cannot manipulate God to get blessings that you want from him to control your life in the short term. Now, here's why I think this is what the preacher is saying look at verse two. He says, "It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice." There's that worship idea. Whether you worship well or you don't worship well, the same thing comes to everyone as the good one is so is the sinner. He who swears is, is he who shuns an oath. You cannot offer the right act of worship or the right righteousness or the right obedience or the right good deed to God at the right time and expect that you will be able to just select what you want, like a vending machine and select what you want and get that directly from God. It does not work the same way. The preacher acknowledges this is a very difficult reality for us. In verse three, he says "This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all." He's talking about death. We all end up dying. Also, "The hearts of the children of men are full of evil and madness is in their hearts while they live and after that, they go to the dead." He says the fact that we can't control our lives, the fact that the short term vision is not as much in our control as we like to think it would be. That we can't offer the right worship to the right God at the right time and get what we want out of life. He says this is a vexing thing. It's an evil under the sun. Because of this, many people turn to full out evil, the hearts of the children of men are full of evil. It inclines people don't want to say, well, if God isn't going to get me what I want, I am going to get what I want by any means possible. The preacher says not so fast, just because you cannot control life in the short term doesn't mean that you should have no perspective on life at all. This worry says you've got to sacrifice that short term vision in order to gain a longer term vision into eternity. So he says in verse four, "But he who is joined with all living, has hope. For a living dog is better than a dead lion." Now to understand what he's saying about the dog and the lion understand dogs were not cute, wonderful pets like we have them today. Dogs were scavengers that were just the lowest of the low out and about and vicious creatures. Dogs were not very much liked in the ancient world. Whereas a lion has a similar kind of idea that we would think about today. A lion was the king of the beasts. But it's better to be a living scavenger than a dead king of the beasts. Well, why is this? Well, in verse five, he says this, "For the living know that they will die." That's a surprising answer. Why is it better to be alive than to be dead, because if you're alive, you know that you're going to eventually die. The idea is that you can adjust your life accordingly, not with just the short term in view, but with the long term eternity in view. For the living know they will die, verse five and six, "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun." Those who are already dead have no more ability to redirect their lives, to live their lives with a view toward eternity. What's done is done and whatever reward they have received for whatever they have done in this life, they've received it in full. What the preacher is telling us is that the purpose of this life is not to secure blessings in this life. Blessings that are here today and gone tomorrow. If they haven't started fading away, they will very soon. The purpose of this life is to live with a longer vision, a vision for eternity, to seek, to pursue blessings in the life to come. In order to prepare for eternity, what the preacher is saying is we must relinquish control over this life into the hand of God. Everything we have is in the hand of God, even if we don't know what it's going to bring to us in this life. This week, a couple of nights ago, my wife was with our children in the backyard, while I was inside cleaning up and doing dishes after dinner. The children were able to all pick a piece of candy and they were able to take it outside as they were playing in the backyard and enjoying their candy. My two year old in one fist that was clutching his bag of Reese's Pieces. Now everybody loves Reese's Pieces. Two year olds love Reese's Pieces, even E.T. loved Reese's Pieces. Everybody loves Reese's Pieces. I would cling to those things too. For whatever reason is he was playing with his Reese's Pieces clutched in one fist. He decided that he was going to take his other hand and start hanging from the monkey bars. Now, I don't know what went into this. Allison said she didn't see it happen, but suddenly he saw that he was there hanging from the monkey bars with one hand and realized that he was in a pickle, that he had his short term pleasure in one hand, he didn't want to let go of that, but he couldn't reach up and grab, and he really couldn't keep holding on to this. He was terrified because I mean, it's not very tall off the ground, but he's not a very tall person yet. So he realized what was he going to do at this moment? He had to choose one thing or the other. Well, guess what? Time caught up with him, and he couldn't hold his grip very long and he fell to the ground. Now Allison wanted me to assure you all that he is fine, he fell about this far. When he landed, his Reese's Pieces went absolutely everywhere. Biblical wisdom teaches us that we cannot cling to our Reese's Pieces forever. At some point, we've got to let go. As Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed for a man to die once and after that comes judgment." We cannot control this life because ultimately, we cannot control God. You cannot cling tightly enough to your pleasures in this life to get what you want out of this life. Even if you do, it's fading away faster than you know. By our behavior or our worship or our righteousness or our wisdom, we cannot control God's blessings in this life because we ultimately cannot control life and death. The only thing we can do, then the only proper course of wisdom is to instead look beyond this world and prepare for eternity. To be clear, we can't control life after death either, but wisdom helps us to see with clarity how to prepare for our long term lives for all of eternity with a far sighted vision that looks in faith to Jesus Christ. The preacher says all of this now, but you'd think that might lead him to gloom and despair, but once again, as we've seen the few times in Ecclesiastes, he actually takes a sharp turn and leads us to where we don't expect he leads us into joy. Relishing Today So the second section we see in verses seven to ten is relishing today, relinquishing control and now relishing today. Let me just read this section one more time versus seven through ten, 7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, ESV There are two basic ideas to this section. The first is this that if you have God's approval, he talks in verse seven, God has already approved what you do. If you have this approval with God, then you are to live with joy. That's the first thing the preacher is encouraging us, live with joy. The question we need to be asking then, is how do we gain God's approval? When the previous section, you don't game God's approval by manipulating him, by trying to offer the right worship to the right God or the right time to secure his approval by what you do. Remember, Ecclesiastes is very pretty evangelistic. It doesn't give us all the answers here, it clears away the brush and clears away the wrong answers so that we can see with clarity the answer that the rest of the Bible is pointing to. That is to say that the way you gain God's approval is by nothing that you do, but it is by receiving through faith what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. That God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. If you know, Christ, if you are believing in Christ, if you are trusting in Christ, in God already approves of you. As Michael Eaton writes in his commentary on this passage, "The believer is not struggling for acceptance. Sometimes it feels like that that God must not be satisfied or pleased with me or accepted me yet, because maybe I haven't done the right things, and so I've got to keep going. Once I receive his acceptance, then God will bless everything I do." The preacher says it doesn't work like that. You don't know what will come in this life, but what you experience in this life is not indicative necessarily of your approval of by God in the life to come. You gain approval by faith. The believer is not struggling for acceptance, he is already accepted. Michael Eaton writes, "If you are already accepted through Christ and the Bible tells us death loses its sting. Eternity is not ominous and all of life is a gift." The second idea that the preacher gives us here is to remind us of the looming presence of death. He reminds us in verse 10, "There was no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol to which you were going." Sheol all comes up a lot in the Old Testament, it is a word that does not correlate to the New Testament idea of hell. It is not the place of eternal condemnation and judgment against the wicked who reject faith in Christ. It is rather the place of the dead, generally speaking. You might translate that as the grave, the grave. The second idea the preacher is saying is that Sheol or the grave keeps earthly pleasures in proper perspective. The preacher saying here that earthly pleasures are fleeting, so don't make too much of them. Sheol is coming. Don't live for the short term. Live with a vision for the long term. He's also saying this, that the earthly pleasures are fleeting, so enjoy them while you can as God's gift. After my two year old tumbled from the monkey bars and the Reese's Pieces that he's so loved were scattered all over the yard, my sweet daughter ran over to help him pick them up so that he could eat them. Yet there was dirt, but he's two, so he didn't care. Now that's a good gift. The reclaiming of what was scattered and lost to enjoy these. What the preacher is saying is if you have been reconciled to God through faith in Christ, enjoy your Reese's Pieces, go eat your bread with joy, drink your wine with a merry heart for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments always be white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life. Enjoy this life as a gift. Life is so short and if we are properly prepared with a far sighted view of eternity, we should enjoy everything that comes to us in this life as a gift. This enjoyment cannot be dependent on nearsighted control, trying to squeeze short term gain from this world as though this were all we were living for. The enjoyment the preacher is talking about is a very different kind of enjoyment. It's the enjoyment of a life lived before the face of God without any demands upon him of trying to manipulate him or attempts to control him. It's an enjoyment that's prepared to see life move and unexpected, sometimes painful directions in the short term, because we have confidence in the goodness and the power of the hand of God in the long term. Readying for Eternity It's in this way by lifting our eyes from what's right in front of us this life, to the eternal perspective of wisdom in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it's by this that God readies us for eternity. That's the final section readying for eternity in verses eleven through eighteen. In verses eleven through twelve, the preacher once again is saying we do not retain control over our lives in the short term and look at all the ways he says it in verses eleven through twelve. Life doesn't go in the way that you would expect it. "Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift." You'd expect the Swift to win. "Nor the battle to the strong", you'd expect the strong to win the battle. "Nor bread to the wise", you'd think the wise could find a way to get bread. "Nor riches to the intelligent," you'd think they'd be able to manipulate the markets to gain their riches. "Nor favor to those with knowledge", can't they use their knowledge to gain favor? Why is this, why doesn't life go as we expected? Well, the end of verse eleven, "time and chance happen to them all." Time goes by chance happenings that are not in our control but are indeed in the hand of God. All of this happens to everyone. Then the preacher really draws this to its logical conclusion by saying in verse twelve, "For man does not know his time", the time of his death, "like fish that are taken in an evil net and like birds that are caught in the snare. So the children of man are snared at an evil time when it suddenly falls upon them." You don't have the control. You think whatever control you think you have is slipping away and fading away sooner than you think it will. That doesn't mean that wisdom is entirely without value. The preacher says the wisdom is of great value, especially by readying us for eternity even at the cost of short term benefits and especially of short term recognition. So in verses thirteen through sixteen, the preacher gives us this story, this this parable this fable. He says, "I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me." He said there was a little city with few men in it, hear the descriptors, little city, few men. "And a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it." This is a David and Goliath story. That little city with few men don't stand a chance, but against all odds we read in verse 15, "there was found in it a poor wise man." Not a rich, wise man, not a favored wise man, a poor, wise man. "And he, by his wisdom, delivered the city." So you might think this is a success story, but the preacher goes on to say, "Yet no one remembered that poor man." That poor man was entirely forgotten. So again, does this mean that wisdom is worthless if you don't get that short term recognition, that short term gain? The preacher says not at all, verse sixteen, "But I say that wisdom is better than might." Though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard, despite the fact that he didn't get short term recognition, wisdom is still better. He says it again, verse seventeen, "The words are the wise heard in quiet are better", there's that word again better, "better than the shouting of a ruler among fools." You think about that blithering blasting ruler who's trying to give shouts in the confusion, and it's the words of the poor, wise men and quiet that carried the day. Then again, verse eighteen, "Wisdom is better. Wisdom is better than weapons of war." Then the preacher says one sinner destroys much good, that's where he's going, and the next chapter and Lord willing, will deal with that next week. What the preacher is saying It is better. It is better to gain this wisdom, this far sighted clarity into eternity than to cling to nearsighted control of what's already fading away. Wisdom will benefit you in this life, but the greater benefit of wisdom is not what it can gain you now. It is the far sighted perspective when you live your life in the hands of Almighty God. Application Our application than this morning is this it comes from Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding in all your ways, acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 Now, if you've been following so far in this sermon, you probably have noticed that the preacher at times seems to be giving contradictory advice. He says, obey God, but don't imagine that your obedience will secure you any blessings. He says the living are better than the dead, but that's only because the living can then prepare for their death. He says eat, drink and be merry, but make serious preparations for eternity after you enter Sheol. He says wisdom is better than might and weapons, but he says that too will be forgotten. These sound on the surface like contradictions, but they're not. The preacher is giving us this comprehensive worldview that explains the things that we cannot explain that gets our minds around a vision of this world that is far beyond anything we could think or imagined. The preacher is teaching us that your life and everything in this world is under God's absolute sovereign control, that's what he described in verse one as the hand of God. All of this is in the hand of God, God's absolute sovereign, kingly almighty powerful control. This world, on the other hand, and everything in this world is sinful, vain and broken, and it's passing away. Your only hope, then in life and in death is to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. If God has indeed accepted you through Christ, then even this vain world God turns to a blessing. You don't have to work to make what's in front of you a blessing. If you have been accepted by God, then God gives you all gifts in life as a blessing for you to enjoy. You must fully confront this fact that you have no control over your life. You just don't. As much as you like to think that you can plan around the uncertainties of life you can't. We know this intuitively, but we still try anyway, don't we? We're shocked when something happens that we don't think we deserve or that didn't fall into the parameters of our plans. The infinite wisdom of God stretches further than we want to believe all the way to the evil and the wickedness and the calamity and the suffering and the disaster of this world. Even to the point of seeing that the same kinds of things happen in this life, to the righteous and to the wicked a like, that doesn't make sense from our perspective. Yet in the wisdom of God, his wisdom is big enough to encompass even that. So we have to decide as we look around and we see the randomness and the chaos of life, we have to either decide that life is meaningless and meaningless and chaotic and capricious, or even that the most explicable, inexplicable events in life are rather in the hands of a sovereign, wise and loving God. Either there is chaos or there is an order, even when we cannot see it. We can either trust in the Lord with all our heart or we can lean on our own understanding. We can ultimately do both. We can either acknowledge him in all our ways or we can seek to establish our own paths. We cannot ultimately do both. We can either lay claim to the far sighted clarity that the gospel gives us or we can cling to nearsighted control over the affairs of our lives. We cannot ultimately do both. How, though, can we trust him when nothing in her life makes sense? Last week, I talked about spiritual motion sickness again about this idea, when I when our lives are down, we're looking at something near to us, something that our eyes are fixated. When we fixate our eyes on the things that we cannot fix that are ultimately out of our control. We think that we're in control. We're staring down at like a book or something in the car, and we think we have it in control, but all around us, we can feel movement. We can feel the jostling of this world. We can feel that this world is moving around us in ways that we cannot control and in our souls. Just as sitting still and reading a book in a car can make you sick as you feel the bumps in the roads and the turns of the car, so our souls can be spiritually sick when we get this conflicting sense of whether we are in control or whether we are not in control. The remedy for motion sickness is to set our eyes on that long term horizon and that's the remedy that the preacher is talking about here. Give up what you can control today by setting your eyes not just on the certainty of your death, but beyond death, to the fact that one day God will judge the living and the dead. The way we do this is to ground ourselves in the immovable, unshakeable fact of God's love demonstrated once for all at the cross of God's beloved son, Jesus Christ. I need no other argument. I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died and that he died from me. When we suffer evil after living moderately good lives, we hate it. We must remember, though, that Christ suffered under the infinite horrors of hell and the full curse of God's wrath after living a perfectly righteous life. It's that Christ crucified that is the wisdom of God hidden and predestined before the ages and now revealed to all the world through the word of God and the preaching of the gospel. That, the gospel is the horizon of wisdom that will heal us, Jesus Christ and him crucified. God's wisdom is big enough to hold it all together. Can you sacrifice nearsighted control to entrust yourself to the far sighted goodness of God's hand? Wisdom relinquishes control and readies for eternity. Are you willing to give up that control in order to gain the blessings that you will never forfeit in the life to come? Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us Christ, that you would give us Jesus Christ and him crucified, his wisdom from God and sanctification and righteousness. We pray that if there are any here who have not yet given their lives to Christ, that today by your word and through the power of your Spirit, you would lead them to believe and trust upon Jesus for their salvation. To lean not on their own understanding, but in all their ways to acknowledge Christ and to let him direct their ways for their salvation. We pray this in Christ name. Amen.

    “Who is Like the Wise?” – Ecclesiastes 8:1–17

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 10, 2021

    “The Blood of the Covenant” – Hebrews 9:15-28

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 3, 2021

    If you have bibles with you, I invite you to open them up with me to Hebrews 9:15-28. Hear now the word of the Lord. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:15-28, ESV One of the most precious doctrines, doctrines are referring to theological teachings that the church confesses, a theological teaching that we as Harvest Community profess, that Christians have professed for two thousand years, is a doctrine known as the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Now you haven't heard that term before, you may assume that lies on the periphery of important Christian doctrine. In fact, the so-called penal substitutionary review of the atonement is no different doctrine of Christianity. In fact, it's the doctrine that lies at the heart of the gospel. So the basic question what are we saying when we refer happily the penal substitutionary view of the atonement? To affirm this doctrine, to break down the phraseology of it, is to say something very specific about the nature of Christ. In the particular it is to claim that when Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago, he first of all voluntarily died in our place. Hence, the word substitution. Then to pay the penalty for our sin by satisfying God's righteous requirements against sinners, hence penal, so that God's sinful people, you and I, could have peace and fellowship with God, hence, atonement. Now understand that this doctrine is predicated on a few assumptions. It's predicated on the assumption that we, as sinners who have rebelled against the holy God of the universe, deserve nothing less than the eternal wrath of God. When Christ entered into human history, he willingly took our place. He died in our place so that the punishment we rightly deserve for our sin was instead poured out to Jesus for all those who trusted him for salvation. This is indispensable. It's a thoroughly biblical doctrine, and we have to confess with every other Bible believing church. Yet, in some quarters over the last few decades, this doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has sadly come under duress. Not because it's not a biblical doctrine. Again, it's a thorough biblical doctrine, but because it sounds far too harsh for many in our sanitized Western Conference. One theologian about 20 years ago or so who sadly rejects this doctrine, has characterized penal substitution as a teaching rooted in violence that imagines the cross as a form of cosmic child abuse, with the Father pouring out his wrath on the Son. Now there are a legion of problems with that kind of characterization, but the fact of the matter is that this very biblical doctrine that we know as penal substitutionary atonement assumes both a certain view of God, God's character, and a certain view of human sin and humanity, which is simply unpalatable to many people in our western context. You see, when we turn to the Bible, whether we're talking about the Old Testament or the New Testament, one thing we find all over the place is that the shedding of blood is really important and it's really pervasive. Now we could turn to Leviticus, for example, and read all about the various animals that had to be slaughtered. We could turn to Leviticus and read all about all of the various sacrifices that had to be offered, all the animals that had to be slaughtered, and all the blood that had to be poured out at the altar. Or on the other side of the Bible we could turn to Revelation and read about how, after the great harvest of the Earth, a veritable sea of blood as high as a horse's bridle that comprise an area of one hundred and eighty four square miles filled the earth. Now these ideas of sacrifice and the shedding of blood, the pinnacle of which is Christ penal substitutionary death on the cross are frankly a bit difficult for many in our modern world to accept even professing Christians. Yet, even if you rightly profess the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as biblical and necessary, which it most certainly is, perhaps all of this imagery of blood and sacrifice in the Bible raises the question for you. Why? Why was it necessary for blood to be spilled in a sacrificial system of the Old Testament? Ultimately, why was it necessary for Christ to die? After all, God is God, and if you wanted to forgive sin, why couldn't he just snap his fingers and forgive our sin? Why does God's wrath need to be satisfied, and why does all of this blood have to be shed? Well, fortunately, our passage this morning addresses many of these questions, and for all of the weedy details that we have to work through, its main point couldn't be simpler. That is Christ Jesus had to die. And that's our big idea this morning, Christ had to die. As we work through a passage, we're going to home in on three specific reasons for why Christ had to die. Now again, we might imagine if we were to answer this question in a vacuum, why did Christ have to die? A number of reasons we could give, but just sticking to the text. What we find are three specific reasons given to us in Hebrews by the author in this text for why Christ had to die. 1. Christ had to Die so that We Could Receive 2. Christ had to Die in Order to Represent Us in Heaven 3. Christ had to Die so that He Could Return Christ had to Die so that We Could Receive So first, Christ had to die so that we could receive. Now notice when our passage opens, our author reminds us of something that we've heard a number of times already in Hebrews, he says, right out of the gate that Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. Now to review because this is an important concept, a mediator is someone who stands between two parties. In this case, Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, stands between God and mankind in order to represent us, the people of God, before God. So that we could draw boldly near to God, near to the throne of grace, unencumbered by the defilement of our sin. This is exactly the privilege that we have in the new covenant. Through Christ, we are invited as the people of God to draw near to God. We have the promise that when we lift up our prayers to the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ, that he hears our many prayers. Also that we sojourn this world with security and belonging in an otherwise insecure and lonely world, because Christ Jesus in the new covenant claims you and me and the church as his own. For all of these great blessings that we enjoy in the so-called new covenant, we learned that before any of that belong to us, before any of that was ours, that Christ Jesus had to spill his blood. The first thing we learned in our passage is that Christ had to spill his blood specifically for us to receive forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins that all of us so desperately need. In order to give us the forgiveness promised in the new covenant, it was required that the mediator, Jesus Christ, spill his blood. But if you look further down in your text, if you're following along with me beginning in 18, we're going to skip around for just a second. Our author tells us that this concept of shedding of blood, which we read all about in the book of Hebrews, how Christ had to shed his blood. Well, we learned that in one sense, this was nothing new because the shedding of blood was characteristic of the so-called first covenant too. Now we've encountered this language of first covenant elsewhere in Hebrew, so you get that language here in verse 18. When our author talks about the first covenant, well, he doesn't view the covenant that God entered into with Israel all the way back towards the beginning of the Bible, all the way back in the Book of Exodus, which we sometimes call the covenant with Moses. Different names, but same covenant, first covenant, covenant with Moses same deal. In verses 19 through 22 of our passage our author reflects on a few chapters in the book of Exodus that tell us about what happened when this covenant with Moses, this first covenant, was ratified or inaugurated. Now, to give some brief biblical theology, we find that throughout the scripture, as God enters into a series of unified covenants with his people. It's a way of advancing his singular promises over time. A covenant is a way of securing a special relationship with a people, and the Lord enters into a series of these covenants with his people in the Bible. He enters into a special relationship with Abraham and his descendants, all the way back in Genesis chapter 12. He enters into a covenant with Moses and the nation of Israel, and that's the one that our author reflects upon as he looks back a few thousand years from when he writes. Then there was a covenant that came later with King David and his sons. With each of these covenant administrations, as we call them, there were formalizing events that accompanied the start of each of these covenants. In verses 19 through 22 of our passage, our author is reflecting on the formalizing event of the first covenant of the Mosaic covenant. Now, if we were to go back in the Book of Exodus, we would find that the formalization of this covenant when this Mosaic covenant, the first covenant actually began, happened right at the start of Exodus 19. Now, as the story goes, some 50 days after God miraculously delivered his people out of slavery and captivity and Egypt well, he gathered them to a certain place in the desert, a place we know as Mount Sinai. Through Moses, God had some really important things to say to Israel at Mount Sinai. First, he reminded them how he just saved them, 50 days earlier out of Egypt, all by himself. When they were laboring in Egypt for 400 years in slavery, the Lord stepped in when they did nothing to deserve it and pulled them out of slavery and captivity without them contributing a single thing to their salvation. Then he called them as his people, as his treasured possession to be his own and so to walk, according to his law. After the Lord issues these things, the people of Israel respond, This God seems pretty good to us, so all that the Lord has spoken, we're going to do it. We're going to do it, they say in Exodus 9:8. Well, following this enactment of the so-called first covenant, Moses, what does he do? Well, he goes up on a mountain, Mount Sinai, and he meets with God one on one. It's on Sinai that Moses received the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, followed by a variety of other specific laws in Exodus 21 to 23. Then in Exodus 24, Moses descends down the mountain, he tells Israel all that God commanded for them, and then Israel responds once again with these ominous words. They say, "All the words that the Lord has spoken, we will do." Before the covenant was finally ratified, before it was finally stamped as the start of it, one more thing had to be done. The next morning, Moses wakes up early in the morning and he offers a number of sacrifices to the Lord. He builds an altar at the foot of Sinai. He offers oxen on it. He pours out animal blood on the altar and then he sprinkles blood on God's people and on the book of the law that was just received. Now this is the event that our author reflects upon in our passage in Hebrews and verses 19 through 20. It leaves us with the question I think why all the blood? Why was it necessary that this covenant ratifying ceremony be accompanied by so much blood? Well, the blood symbolized two really important things for God's people to understand. One reason was that the blood symbolized the penalty for breaking the covenant. Understand that God is holy and that God requires those who bear his name, Israel, be holy too. For God to be the perfect God of justice means that he can't just let lawbreaking and unholiness slide under the rug. Otherwise, he just wouldn't be the God of perfect justice. After all, we would never consider a judge to be just in our own day if he gave a criminal a free pass. Now we may quarrel from time to time over what might be a just sentence in any given situation. However if a judge failed to uphold the law at all in view of the clear guilt of a criminal, well, we probably wouldn't consider that person to be a just judge in the slightest. So too, with God. This is why God couldn't just ignore sin. His reputation depended upon it, because perfect justice requires that infractions against an infinitely holy God, be paid with life. This is what all the shed blood so vividly demonstrated. It demonstrated that sin is no light matter. That sin is an infraction against an infinite holy God. That sin requires that blood be shed. On the other hand, just as blood pictured quite potently, the penalty for breaking the covenant. Well, it also foreshadowed it looked forward to a provision, the provision that God would one day make for sinners in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The blood that was spilled at the start of the Covenant with Moses and throughout the long thousand year run of the Covenant of Moses may have been a stark reminder of judgment. It also pointed to the means of our salvation as well. Understand that it wouldn't take long for Israel after twice repeating that they would do everything that God commanded for them to break their end of the bargain. It's a pretty drastic way too. They transgressed God's perfect law, and every one of them as a result deserved to die a sinner's death. Though they violated their end of the deal and friends, though we violate our end of the bargain each and every day too, God wouldn't violate his end of the deal. After all, he bound himself to his people by way of covenant. In the fullness of time, he would send his son to be the perfect sacrifice, to do what the bloody sacrifices under the Mosaic Law could never do. That is bring about true and lasting forgiveness to sinners like you and me. The provision for sin that God's people under the Mosaic Covenant desperately needed and the provision for sin for our sin that we desperately need to be found only in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who died in order that we might live. Christ shed his blood in order to inaugurate a better covenant, the new covenant, a covenant that was better than the first one. In doing so, the sins of all of God's people past, present and future have been completely 100 percent forgiven for all those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Just as Christ spilled his blood so that God could forgive, well, so too, we learn as we continue in our passage that he also spilled his blood so that he could give. Now, if you look at verses 16 through 17 in our passage and skipping back to the beginning again, our author gives us another important perspective on Christ's death. He relates Christ's death to that of a last will and testament. Now, many of you probably know what a will is. I'm sure some of you probably even have wills as well. In a will, we bequeath property and that property that belongs to us, we bequeathed to other people. Usually, it's other family members. We sometimes call those other family members or people who get some of our inheritance, heirs. They are heirs to the estate when what they will receive eventually one day is called an inheritance. Of course, we also know that heirs don't actually receive their inheritance ordinarily until the one who bequeathed them their inheritance dies. Well, this is the background in verses 16 through 17, when an author tells us that a will takes effect only at death. Only then is the inheritance actually released and distributed to the heirs. When Jesus Christ spilled his blood for you and me, we who belong to Christ, we who, as the Apostle Paul tells us, are heirs according to promise, we received an inheritance, too. That begs the question what is this promised eternal inheritance that we receive as a result of Christ shed blood and broken body? Well, there are various blessings that are part of this inheritance we receive. One theologian, Charles Hodge, mentions things like justification that is being forgiven of our sins and being declared righteous in God's sight. It includes reconciliation with God, that is being put in a right relationship with God once again. It also includes a title to eternal life, the hope of eternal life that we look forward to after death. We could also add to this list things like adoption that is becoming members of God's family as well. Above everything else, the chief blessing that binds all of these other blessings together is Jesus Christ himself. Because every other blessing bequeathed to us in the new covenant flows from the inheritance that is the person of Jesus Christ. Now, as a quick aside, I've been told that there are these certain vacation destinations around the world that are known as all-inclusive. I've never been to one before, but I'm told there are these magical places, typically an exotic or remote locations, where you pay one lump sum and when you arrive, you don't have to pay for anything else. Sounds kind of magical to me. All the food you could ever want is covered. Every activity or excursion you could ever want to do is covered. Transportation is covered, your room is covered. There's nothing, while you're there, that you have to pay for. Nothing that you have to go outside the all- inclusive to get. It's all at your fingertips and you shouldn't have to procure a credit card at any point in your stay. This is how our inheritance in Christ works, too. After all, the Apostle Peter tells us that his divine power has granted us all things, not just some things, not just most things, all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Apostle Paul tells us that in Christ are hidden all the treasures, not some of the treasures, not most of the treasures, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Brothers and sisters Christ Jesus, who we receive as covenant members of the new covenant, is the whole package. When we identify with Christ through faith alone, he gives us everything that the God sized hole in the human heart could ever want. He gives us meaning and purpose so that we don't need to frantically look for it in our vocations. He gives us the kind of belonging and security that we could never find, even in our most intimate partners on Earth. He gives us forgiveness and rest from the toil and endlessly trying to make ourselves acceptable or worthy in his eyes or in the eyes of the world. Brothers and sisters Christ had to die so that we could receive and when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, well, that's exactly what happens. Boy, do we receive. The exhortation from this first point, then in one sense, it's quite simple. Put away your idols. Brothers and sisters stop hedging all your bets by claiming Christ on the one hand, but then chasing after so many other lovers, on the other hand. Look to the one who gives, look to the one who gives lavishly, look to the one who shed his blood to give, and who gives without us having to do a single thing other than faith alone to receive it. Look to Jesus Christ friends and be satisfied in the God who gives? Christ had to Die to Represent Us in Heaven So Christ had to die so that we could receive, that's our first point. But as we continue in our passage, we hear of a second reason for why Christ had to spill his blood and die on a cross as well. That is, second, Christ had to die in order to represent us in heaven. Now, there's a particularly powerful scene that unfolds later in the Bible, specifically in Revelation chapter five. There the Apostle John, who's peering into the Heavenly Holy of Holies, he sees the slain lamb, Jesus Christ, make his approach to the throne of God. To give a little bit of context after weeping in heaven, in despair that no one was found worthy in heaven to open this scroll and look into it, his eyes suddenly pivot when he sees the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, standing as a slain sacrifice. This lamb then makes his approach to the throne. He takes the scroll from the hand of God, and then all of the heavens erupt in a chorus of praise. Well, that event that John sees unfold in dramatic, symbolic fashion in heaven is the same event that our author now describes in verses 23 through 26 of our passage, albeit from a slightly different angle. Now, we've already heard in Hebrews that when Christ shed his blood, he ascended into the more perfect tent, that is into heaven itself. Remember, our author has made the argument a number of times in Hebrews already that the tabernacle, this mobile tent of worship in the Mosaic Covenant where all the Leviticus priests ministered and offered sacrifices. It was great, but it was only a copy or a blueprint. As carefully constructed and as outwardly ornate as this thing called the Tabernacle in the Old Covenant was, it was only ever supposed to be a replica of the genuine, heavenly tabernacle made without hands. Even though the earthly tabernacle was a replica, well, it was still a serious matter under the Covenant of Moses to draw near to God in it. If we were to go back to the Pentateuch, Exodus and Leviticus, we would see that the Levitical priests had to offer a lot of blood in this tabernacle. Day after day, year after year, they'd have to offer a blood upon blood upon blood to cover the sins of God's people. Blood was sprinkled everywhere. Even the priest's clothes were sprinkled in blood. By one account, over the entire life of the sacrificial system, which would have been close to about a thousand years, over one million animals were eventually sacrificed. That's a lot of blood. Again, all of this points to the fact that human sin is so serious that drawing near to God, even in a divinely instituted copy, because that's all the tabernacle was, required that all of that blood be spilled. Yet, as necessary as all that blood was to enter the copy, there's no chance in the world that it would have gotten you access into the real deal in heaven itself. This is why our author tells us that it was necessary, it had to happen, that the heavenly things would be purified with better sacrifices than the blood of bulls and goats in the old covenant. So what was this better sacrifice? Well, of course it was Jesus. It was Jesus himself who entered heaven after spilling his blood on the cross. Not by virtue of the blood of bulls and goats, but by virtue of his own sinless, undefined blood. Remember that scene that we just referenced a moment ago in Revelation five were the slain lamb made his approach to throne of God? Well, because of the nature of the sacrifice that Christ offered as the sinless eternal one, he was able to go where no one else, even the most morally upstanding person you could think of would ever dare to go. Yet, remarkably, when Christ entered into heaven after paying the debt that we could never pay, we read in our passage that he didn't do this for his sake alone. Our author tells us that he entered into heaven itself in, verse 24, now to appear in the presence of God. That's literally before the face of God. Here's the important phrase, "on our behalf." Understand that Christ didn't ascend into heaven in order to leave us in the rearview mirror. Christ didn't ascend to get away from us and all of the baggage that we bring to the table. Remember what Christ said in his parting words to his disciples in Matthew, 28? Well, he said, "I am with you always to the end of the age." By his spirit, friends, Christ is with us right now on Earth. In heaven the resurrected and ascended Christ represents us. He advocates for us and he invites us to lay our many prayers at the foot of his throne. There's a story from the Bible, which I think at this point is particularly instructive to illustrate all of this. Earlier in the Bible, in the life of Joseph, this can be found in the latter part of Genesis. We read a story about when Joseph had been unjustly imprisoned, that there was a glimmer of hope at one point during his time in prison when he met two fellow prisoners who were Pharaoh's chief cup bearer on the one hand and Pharaoh's chief baker on the other. Now these two people, the chief cup bearer and the chief baker, they were one day serving in the courts of the King of Egypt, pretty high up, and then, for whatever reason, they were thrown in prison where they were now sharing a cell with Joseph. As the story goes, and many of you probably know the story, is that one evening these two prisoners dreamed a dream, and when they awoke from their dream, they were disturbed and they were confounded by the dream symbolic nature. They had no idea what their dreams meant, but they suspected that they were probably pretty important. So one thing leads to another and in steps Joseph to interpret their dreams. First, he hears the chief cup bearer, relay all the details of his dream, and then Joseph tells him the good news that what his dream looks forward to is something that will happen. In three days' time, he will be released from prison and all things will be back to normal for the chief cup bearer. In just three days, he'd be vindicated. He'd be released from prison. He'd get to go, continue to work in the courts of the King of Egypt, Pharaoh, and all would be well for the good old chief cup bearer. After interpreting his dream, Joseph has a request for the chief cup bearer. You might know what he says. He says this, "Remember me when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh and so get me out of this house." The cup bearer is a well-connected man. He some of the closest access that you could get to somebody calling the shots in a kingdom. He's the chief cup bearer. He ministers in the courts of Pharaoh. So Joseph asks that he advocate on his behalf, when in three days' time he gets to go in and minister in Pharaoh's courts once again. What happens? Well, the narrative ends on a dull note when we read that when the chief cup bearer was released, he, "Did not remember Joseph, but forgot him." There was no one to advocate for Joseph's innocence, and as a result, he sat in the despair of prison for another two years. In stark contrast to this, the good news of the gospel is that in our guilt, there is one who has not forgotten us. Brothers and sisters, rest assured that Christ has not forgotten any of his people. Jesus Christ tells us as much in John's 6:39, when he declares to his disciples, "and this is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up in the last day." Therefore, we need not be overwhelmed by anxiety when we see the church under duress, possibly concerned with whether or not Jesus' church could ever endure the various onslaughts from the world she faces. We do not fear whether the escalating pool of secularism and worldliness is somehow overpowering Christ's hold on his church. As isolating him as life can sometimes feel for some of you, know that you have not slipped the mind of your advocate. Christ has ascended by virtue of his own perfect blood and from heaven he holds us fast and will by no means relinquish control of any of his saints, any of those who he has already claimed as his own. As we continue our text our author than roots, this security of ours even deeper when he tells us that unlike the Levitical priest who enter the tabernacle repeatedly, they went in and out year after year with bloody sacrifices in tow. Well, Christ, he doesn't need to enter heaven repeatedly. In fact, if this were the case, our author reasons, that would imply that Christ would have to suffer repeatedly since he'd be sacrificing himself over and over again too. Now the Levitical priest they had to offer sacrifices repeatedly, but for Christ, his blood was so effective that it was able to cover the sins of every Old Testament believer, every sin of every believer who has lived in a two thousand years since his first advent, and every sin of every believer yet to be born until the second advent. In heaven, our Lord Jesus sits enthroned. His work is done. Ss a result, he claims us as his own. This is why he had to shed his blood so that he could enter heaven and be our advocate in the heavenly places. That is what he does right now. Christ had to Die so that He Could Return Before we close out our study of this passage, we're then given implicitly one more reason for why Christ had to die. Third, Christ had to die so that he could return. Later in the Bible and this happens in Luke's gospel, when a priest named Zachariah enters the temple one evening to offer incense, well, we learn that there was a crowd while he was ministering in the holy place in the temple, there was a crowd outside the temple praying. Now, Luke doesn't tell us in that narrative what they prayed, and so we can't be certain. Jewish tradition suggests that when a crowd of people gathered outside the temple when the priest was inside, they prayed for God to accept the priest's offering. In the process, they waited expectantly for the priest's return. If the priests offered the right sacrifices, according to the law, that's what would happen. His offering would be accepted and then he would emerge out of the temple to the relief of the crowd of onlookers. In short, the return of the priest was what the people of God hoped for every single day as they waited outside the tabernacle and temple, prayerfully hoping that their sacrifice would be accepted. Likewise, the return of our great high priest, Jesus Christ, is what we anticipate too. Yet for us understand that there's no apprehension or doubt connected with his return. After all, if Christ offered the perfect sacrifice, which the scriptures loudly proclaim that he has, then we can trust that it's inevitable. It's guaranteed that Christ will one day emerge from the heavenly Holy of Holies to the praise of his people too. Now earlier in our text, back in verse 26, our author told us that Christ shed his blood for our salvation. Then he used this phrase, "at the end of the ages." Now that was two thousand years ago, right when Christ shed his blood. According to the New Testament, the time between Christ's first advent and his second is a time that's ubiquitously referred to as the last days. According to the New Testament, we're actually living in the last days right now. Now, of course, that doesn't mean that we know how many 24 hour days we have left until Christ comes again. That's not a call for us to try to wildly calculate when Christ is going to come again. It does mean that there is no more redemptive work that has to happen again until Christ returns. In God's economy the next best thing, the next big thing, rather that we anticipate as the people of God will believe it or not, it's not the next election. It's not the College Football National Championship, especially because Nebraska is not going to be in it. It's not so many of the things that we care so deeply about in this world. Now, of course, it's OK to care about those things. It's not bad to care about those things, but those just aren't the kind of things that should take the lead in shaping the most powerful affections that we have. These aren't the kind of things that that should inform the most important decisions we make in the world. Only Christ, and specifically the hope of Christ's second, advent, the hope of Christ appearing a second time should take pride of place in the life of the church in shaping how we walk in these last days. In summary, the promise that flows from the acceptance of Christ's perfect Blood in heaven is that he is going to come again. As we, as his people are call, we as his people wait for that. The New Testament calls us to wait expectantly for that day to arrive. Application Now on the one hand, implicit in that promise is the urgent call for any of you who really don't know Christ Jesus right now to identify with him by faith alone while there's still time. Now author already told us in verse 27 that you're going to die, you will die. You can't avoid it. After you die, our author tells us, comes judgment. Are you ready for that? If you're not, if you're not trusting in Christ right now, well, that the appeal would be to live expectantly right now by putting your trust in the only one who has done everything necessary to appease the wrath of God for his people. Don't trust in your knowledge to save you. Don't trust in your affluence to save you. Trust in Christ, who alone has the power to save all those he advocates for before the Father in heaven right now. On the other hand, even if you really do identify with Christ by faith alone right now, ask yourself, how am I expectantly waiting for his return right now? Are you harboring grudges and bitterness against your brothers and sisters in Christ or are you learning to forgive one another by pursuing reconciliation as much as it depends on yourself? Are you letting sin fester in your lives and assuming that because no one has seen it in its full ugliness and no one has called you out on it that it must not be a big deal? Or are you constantly learning to put to death that sin that belonged to your former life? The great high priest, Jesus Christ, shed his blood for you and for me. He had to so that we could be saved. He had to so that he could ascend to heaven and he had to so that he could come again. That's what we eagerly anticipate on this side of glory. But are you ready for that day? As we live on this side of glory secured by his blood and yet eagerly awaiting his return, well let me make this final appeal to us in closing. Church learned to be a non-anxious presence in this world. Now, I'm sure I never lived under the Mosaic Covenant so I can't guarantee, but I'm almost certain that it would have been a sight to behold to be an Israelite worshipper during the old covenant. To see the care that was taken in worship and everything from the construction of the place of worship, to all the bells and smells that surrounded the worship ceremony. I can imagine that all of that would have reinforced the gravitas of worship. It would have been hard to avoid that conclusion. Yet I can also imagine a certain level of anxiety accompanying that whole process too. After all, what happened if one of the priests who was supposed to be representing you, what happened if he messed up one of the sacrifices he offered? Well, that happened in Leviticus Chapter 10, Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire. The whole system, in other words, was marked by care, there were also severe consequences, too. While care and consequences are no less present in a new covenant, we just don't need to worry in Jesus Christ, whether or not our high priest will make a mistake. Because Jesus blood was already offered, it was already accepted. We already have an advocate in heaven. We are already secure in him, and we already have the promise that one day Jesus Christ our Lord will emerge from the heavenly Holy of Holies to save those who are eagerly awaiting his return. So as we live our lives until that day, understand that we have no reason to be overcome with paralyzing anxiety in the present. Sure, there's a lot to be anxious about in this world. There are global anxieties. There are individual anxieties. But while we could so easily lose ourselves down the endless rabbit trails of anxiety that are ubiquitous in our world, our passenger reminds us that because the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed, we have been freed to be a non-anxious presence in this world. We've been freed from proving ourselves before God and others, and instead we take to heart Christ advocacy for us in heaven and the identity he gives us on Earth. We've been freed from anxiously caring so much about our reputation or our own comforts. In Christ we've been freed to love and to look outside of ourselves and begin to serve as a people who have already had every single one of our most deeply felt spiritual needs already met in the perfect shed blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. So whatever the paralyzing fear is, that may have taken root in your heart. Maybe fears that you're bringing into the church with you this morning. Trust in the one who offered his blood on your behalf will in Jesus Christ, hold you fast and he will one day bring you and me and his church into our glorious home. Pray with me. Gracious, Heavenly Father, Lord, we come across these images of blood so often in the scriptures, and we confess that sometimes in our context, that imagery doesn't sit quite well with us. Yet we pray that you would remind us as we continue to encounter that imagery, as we read your word, as we study your words, we hear your word preached and read that you would remind us through it of the seriousness of our sin. The fact that sin is no light matter, but also that you would remind us that we have an advocate. We have one in the heavenly places who's already paid for all of our sin by his precious blood, who holds us fast in heaven, and who will one day bring us home. Lord Jesus, I pray you to remind us of these great benefits that are ours in the new covenant. Benefits that we have not earned, but benefits that we have received through faith alone in Jesus Christ, our Lord. In whose name we pray. Amen.

    “Fearing the Lord vs. Scheming” – Ecclesiastes 7:15–29

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 26, 2021

    Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. 19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. 21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. 23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? 25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. Our passage this morning is focused on the topic of wisdom. So to frame this discussion of wisdom, I want to return to an illustration I've used in the past in a related but different biblical concept. The biblical concept of mystery, a mystery, as we've talked about before, is something that God conceals until the time at which he sees fit to reveal what formerly he concealed. He conceals something, that's the mystery, then once he reveals it, that's the mystery which is revealed. Now, the reason for talking about wisdom and mystery at the same time and using the same illustration for both is that God's wisdom, we are told, is a mystery. The Bible tells us this explicitly. Paul writes this in 1st Corinthians 2:7, he says, "But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery. The hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages unto our glory." The wisdom of God is one of these mysteries that is concealed until the time when God chooses to reveal it. So as we consider wisdom and what the preacher is telling us about wisdom in this passage, I want us to think about this illustration that I've used in the past about an escape room. Have you ever been into an escape room? If you've not, they are wonderful thrills. I really enjoy doing them, although I'm not all that good at trying to get my way out of the escape room. When you go into an escape room, usually an escape room has some kind of theme. I've done one where I was trying to stop the assassination of JFK and another one where I was trying to escape the sinking Titanic. You go in and there's some kind of back story, usually a fairly contrived back story. The thing about it I escape room is when you get in that room, everything around you is a clue. When they lock that door, you are left with just the clues to try to look at the clock and look at the calendar on the wall and look at the things that are written on the boxes in the room and to try to use all of that information to be able to turn that information into combinations for combination locks. When you unlock the different combination locks, you get more clues, using those clues, you keep unlocking combination locks until you're able to finally make your way out of the escape room. You need the information that's there. You can't just start randomly trying to try all the possibilities of the combinations. You don't have time, you're on a limited time frame. That information is hard to figure out sometimes where it is leading you to. In fact, sometimes invariably as you're going through escape rooms, at least if you're me and you don't have the sharpest analytical abilities for things like this, you're going to find yourself stuck. You're going to find yourself where, you know maybe a few of the clues and you're able to work out a couple of the answers and the puzzles that you're facing. Then you find yourself looking over the same information again and again and again, looking again at the clock, and again at the calendar, and again at the sign on the wall and saying, I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. So when you call the employee, you know, you do the call of shame and ask for help to try to solve the next puzzle. They come in or I had a walkie talkie for one, and they'll say, go and look at this again and you look and the answer is right there. It was right there the whole time, but you missed it. You felt stuck for that whole time until you realize the answer was right in front of you. You just didn't realize it for what it was. In your life you may feel like you've been able to solve a few of the puzzles in your life. Today you might be here feeling stuck, feeling like you keep looking again and again at the information that you know about your life and you look at this knowledge that you have about your life and you try to piece it together in different ways and different combinations. Yet the puzzle remains, and you feel like you don't know what's next. You don't know what to make of your life. Well, in an escape room, again, this means that you've overlooked something and perhaps something very simple that's been in front of you the whole time. What the Bible tells us about the wisdom of God, is that what's in front of us the whole time. What the Bible declares everywhere, but that we overlook it because we don't realize it for what it is, is the principle that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If you want to understand your life, if you want to understand who God is, you've got to start your first principle, your first step must be toward the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That's our big idea for today. In fact, the Bible says that you actually can't solve any of those simple puzzles at the beginning in life. You can't navigate your way well through life at the beginning until you get stuck. You are stuck until you realize this fundamental principle, that's the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and nothing else can happen until you start there. So this morning, as we consider wisdom, we will see three points. 1. Wisdom is not in Pretense. 2. Wisdom is not in Pragmatism. 3. Wisdom is not in People. Wisdom is not in Pretense So let's start with this idea. That wisdom is not in pretense. It's not something that you can pretend to possess, in verses 15 through 18 of our passage. 15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, ESV The preacher says, "In my vain life, I have seen everything." Then he gives us two examples that's supposed to summarize both the examples and everything in between. He says on the one hand, "there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness." Then on the other hand, "there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil doing." Now, part of what the preacher is saying is that all people must die. Whether you are righteous or whether you are wicked, everyone dies. He said this at many times in many ways. In this book, for example, in Ecclesiastes 6:6, "do not all go to the one place?" No matter who you are, everyone must eventually die. He's addressing two groups of people, those who are "righteous", and I'm going to put that in quotation marks because he's not using it in a genuine way. These are people who put on righteousness as a pretense, who pretend their righteousness. Then on the other side, the wicked. He's saying that those who put on righteousness as a pretense, and I'll explain to you why I don't think this is a genuine sense of the people who are in the Bible called righteous in a little bit. Those who put on righteousness as a pretense don't have protection in this life. Sometimes we think if I just do the right things, if I go to church, if I pay my taxes, life will work out well for me. I will have a good life and people will be happy with me and I will prosper because I do the right things because I am righteous. But the preacher says even the righteous one will perish in his righteousness. That doesn't mean that we can just ignore God's rules. It doesn't mean that we can do whatever we want as we try to chart our own path through wickedness, even if it requires it to get to our goals. Because those who do so, they may prolong their life in one way or another, but they do so in their evil doing. That is the length of their life will be characterized by the suffering that comes from sin. You don't find protection from dotting all your i's and crossing all your t's in righteousness. You also don't find safety and security by doing things your way, even when it involves a wickedness. So the preacher addresses both of these groups and versus 16 and 17. In verse 16, he says, "be not overly or be not greatly or much righteous and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?" Now the preacher, this is one of the clues we have that the preacher isn't talking about real righteousness. He's not saying here, by the way, why don't you try to sin a little to balance things out? That's really the way to wisdom. He's not saying that at all. That's not the point here. That's the way one commentator puts it and I think that really captures the idea of what the preacher is not saying. He's not saying sin a little to balance things out. Instead, what he is talking about is someone who puts a righteous or a wise face to the world. Who tries to conduct everything that people can see externally in their life to project righteousness to the world, but someone who does it from a pretense where it is not genuine and coming from the heart. This is the belief that outward religious show, if I just come and I walk through the worship service and I stand what I'm supposed to stand and I bow my head what I'm supposed to bow, and I sit through the whole thing, that will make me safe and secure with God. The preacher says, don't believe it for a moment. That's not where your safety and security rests. Then he turns to the wicked in verse 17, he says, "be not overly or greatly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?" The wicked are not granted long lives just because they are wicked. The wickedness, in fact, that they live their lives by will very often lead them to die before their time. The preacher is saying, look as long as you may get on and feel like you are getting off and getting by your wickedness, understand that at the end of the day, the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1:6, "the way of the wicked will perish." So don't live by thinking that your wickedness can be a shortcut to success in this world. Instead, verse 18, he says, "It is good that you should take hold of this." This being the warning to those who are righteous in their own eyes or righteous outwardly. "And from that the warning to the wicked withhold not your hand for here's the better way. the one who fears God shall come out from both of them." Listen to the warning to those who make themselves appear righteous to those who are outside of them. Listen to the warning of the wicked, but instead fear God. The fear of God, as the Bible says everywhere, is the beginning of wisdom. We read this in Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding." Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction." Then Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy one is insight." Don't try to make righteousness or wisdom, a pretense, a show. Don't try to live according to your wisdom or your wickedness, instead live by wisdom, which is characterized by a fear of God. A fear of the Lord. So what then, is this fear of the Lord? Why is it so important? Well, there are two factors that characterize what the fear of the Lord is. First of all, the fear of the Lord requires recognizing and acknowledging your helplessness, your hopelessness, your vulnerability and your guilt before Almighty God. It's recognizing that and dealing very seriously with that. But second of all, it means entrusting yourself to the Lord anyway, realizing that that God is the righteous judge of all the Earth. He is almighty God and you stand condemned before him. Yet, entrusting yourself on the basis of the promises of his mercy and love sealed for us in Christ Jesus anyway. In a word, the fear of the Lord is what the Bible otherwise describes as faith. The fear of the Lord is faith. A few weeks ago, someone very generously gave me four tickets to the Nebraska v. Fordham football game, and I was very excited about this because I had been thinking that might be a good opportunity to take my three older children to their first real football game. I was we were excited about it. They were as excited about it. But I was personally a little frightened by the thought because I know the waywardness of my children and that all they like sheep are very prone to go astray. I know how crowded it is in that stadium. And so I was terrified that at some point one or all of my children might become separated from me. So we took a few precautions. I gave them all a copy of my business card. My third youngest son, the one that I was really most concerned about, wore pants without pockets that day. So he just held it the entire day, but he had it the whole time. It had my contact information. The other thing we did is that as soon as we arrive, I began pointing out the police officers to my children. I said, "Do you see that man? That's a police officer." Now police officers understand our frightening to children. They're usually really big, strong people. They have these official scary looking uniforms and they even carry guns. Police officers are terrifying. I mean, I don't want to get pulled over, so not only to me, but also to my children. Yet the first thing I began to do is to say these are people who are here to help you. If you get lost, you find someone in this uniform and he wants to help you. I know he's scary, but you can entrust yourself to this person anyway because that is his heart. That's what he's there to do. He's there to help you. Understand our God is the awesome, terrifying, holy holy, holy God. He is the one from whom the angels in glory must cover their faces and from whom they must divert their eyes. He is the consuming fire, the God who brings wrath and desolation on the Earth. Yet he is the loving, gracious, compassionate God who tells us to approach him as children approach their fathers. You cannot fake your way to security with this God. You cannot live as though wisdom were a pretense, something you could pretend. You cannot scheme your way to success in life. Why should you die early by living according to your wickedness? Neither by adopting the forms of righteousness and wisdom, nor by pursuing goals through whatever wicked means that will take you will you find success in life? The only safe path is the straight and narrow path, which begins, the first step begins with the fear of the Lord. That's the beginning of wisdom on this path. Wisdom is not in Pragmatism So what then, is this true wisdom? Well, this brings us to our second section. Wisdom is not in pragmatism. Pragmatism is putting the highest value, deciding what you are going to do, based on what seems like it will work in this life. I say seems because even what seems to work in this life does not genuinely work in the eyes of God. So wisdom is not in pragmatism. 19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. . Wisdom is true power. It is more power even than those who possess genuine power over life and death, those who are in charge of governing cities. Wisdom is real power. Then in verse 20, it is easier said than done to possess this wisdom. Now understand that in the wisdom literature. So in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the righteous are the wise and the wise are the righteous. The wicked are fools and the fools are wicked. To be righteous is to be wise. So if there is no one who is righteous, that is the same thing as saying that there is no one who is wise. Wisdom is real power, more power than 10 rulers over a city, but there is no one who possesses this kind of wisdom. It's easier thing to say than to do it, to possess it. So then the preacher begins to give us a practical example of what this wisdom would look like. 21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. . Now this is a very straightforward, practical bit of wisdom. When you hear someone who is cursing you, whether you overhear them directly or it comes to you as reported from others who overheard it directly, the preacher saying, don't take that to heart. You know that sometimes you've blown off steam. You know that sometimes you've said more than you intended to do. So don't take it to heart when someone does the same thing against you. Now this is great. This is practical wisdom. This is true. We should follow this. We're tempted to say this is great. I've got this. Check that off. Preacher, what else you got for me? This is when in verse twenty-three and twenty-four, he says, not so fast. Wisdom is not just a set of tips and tricks and life hacks and strategies for living your best life. Now, wisdom is something that's beyond your comprehension. It's a mystery that you can understand until God reveals it to you. 23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? . Again, wisdom is not tips and tricks and strategies. Wisdom is something much deeper and much more mysterious. He's talking about the very wisdom by which God created the world. We read this in the Proverbs Chapter eight, that wisdom, God worked through his wisdom to create the world. We even read wisdom speaking to us, "wisdom says I was beside him the Lord at creation. Like a master workman, and I was daily the Lord's delight, rejoicing before him, always rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man." Because wisdom preceded creation, because wisdom was what God used to create creation, wisdom understands creation, but creation cannot understand wisdom. Again, if wisdom preceded creation, wisdom understands, wisdom knows the origins of creation, it gets creation, we must listen to God's wisdom to understand creation. But creation cannot fully understand wisdom. This is why the Bible also tells us that wisdom cannot be found in creation. It wasn't a part of creation. It existed before creation. So in Job chapter twenty-eight, we have this incredible passage on the way to find wisdom. In Job 28:12 we read, "But where shall wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? Earlier in this chapter Job wrote about how there's a place for everything. Everyone knows the place to find the hidden ore under the earth, to mine that out, and everyone knows the path of the birds. But where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding? Verse 13, "men does not know it's worth, and it's not found in the land of the living. The deep the seas say it is not in me, and the sea says it is not with me" “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know it's worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,' and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.'Job 28:12-14 Then in Job 28:20, “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.'Job 28:20-22 . Creation cannot understand wisdom because wisdom came before creation. It's like when you're a child and you feel like you know everything about your parents because you're with them every day, day in and day out, you certainly know more about your parents than anyone else that you know about. Then you understand that there was a time before you existed, and so you hear about their childhood, a time when you weren't a part of their consideration, a time before you existed. Years when you were not even alive. Then You realize there's so much more about your parents because they came before you. The same thing is true when creation tries to understand wisdom. So where is wisdom? Well, Job 28:23 says this, "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place." And then at the very end of the chapter in Job 28:28, here's the answer we get, listen carefully, "And he God said to man, behold the fear of the Lord. That is wisdom. And to turn away from evil as understanding." If you are stuck. It is because you are trying to find wisdom in this world. If you were stuck, it's because you haven't guided your first steps according to the fear of the Lord. This is the clue you were looking for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is not in People Well, the preacher searches one more place in this world to find wisdom, and that's in people and so in the third section, we find that wisdom is not in people and verses 25 through 29. Now, remember, the preacher says that wisdom has been far off and deep, very deep, who can find it out. But in verse 25, he says he's going to try anyway. 25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.Ecclesiastes 7:25-29, ESV . You can also translate in verse one the sum of things like when you add two numbers together to get the sum. There's a lot of mathematical language here. So he wanted to know the sum of things and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. Because the value of wisdom is so great, even though it's far off and deep, very deep, the preacher wants to find it. In verse twenty six, he identifies the first stumbling block, the first obstacle. The main thing that can lead him astray from this pursuit of wisdom and namely that's sexual immorality. In verse 26, he says, "And I find something more bitter than death. The woman whose heart is snares and nets and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her." Now, this is probably not something that would be written in the 21st century but let me explain to you what is going on here. The preacher is not giving a blanket condemnation about women. First of all, understand Ecclesiastes is a book that was written originally to men. The warning here, then, for men is to beware the adulterous woman who might lead them astray into sexual morality. If this book's primary audience had been women, he would say the exact same thing about the silver tongued, manipulative men who would lead women away into this form of sexual immorality. The other thing here is that he's echoing language we find in other wisdom literature, especially in the book of Proverbs. If you look at the first nine chapters of Proverbs, you find not one woman, but two women. One of the women is this woman that the preacher is talking about here. She's called the Woman folly or Dame Folly foolishness. We read that she's seductive and she is adulterous and she's very persuasive, and she's trying to draw the fool into death by sexual immorality with her. She's not the only woman. The other woman is lady wisdom herself. The Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine, and so she's depicted as a woman. The idea is, be like this woman, Lady Wisdom, not like this other woman, Dame Folly, as she leads you away into death in sexual immorality. The point here is that as we pursue wisdom, as we pursue Christ, who is to us wisdom from God, sexual immorality the Bible teaches us everywhere is a unique sin that uniquely separates people, draws people away from Christ. Paul talked about that in our sermon series a couple of years ago in First Corinthians 6:12-20. He makes that point very plain. You see, the thing is, it's common knowledge to pastors, if you hear many pastors talk about this, everyone talks about it among pastors, circles. That when you see people apostasy and turning away from Christ, especially those who've grown up in the faith, and then suddenly they turn away from Christ. It's never just an intellectual thing. It's not just that they go to college and take a class on philosophy, and they suffer, oh my goodness, this is all just mistaken. It always has to do with sin. It's not just to think something different, but it's the desire to go a different direction than what the scriptures lay out. And almost always, this is bound up in sexual immorality. Time and time again, not always, but very often when you see this happen, this is so common knowledge to pastors, that it all almost always involves some kind of sexual morality, pornography or fornication or homosexuality. Young Christian man and young Christian women, you need to listen to this and listen carefully. Sexual immorality will destroy you. It is more bitter than death. It will bind you with snares and nets to keep you from finding the pure wisdom of Christ. Let me also say that's not the whole story. If you are bound, there's freedom in the gospel. If that is where you are stuck, there is freedom in the lavish grace of Jesus Christ. Please come talk to me. Please come and talk to me so that we can talk about how the gospel of Jesus frees even those who are bound in this particular sin to walk in newness of life through Jesus Christ. while the preacher then in verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight continues his search. He says, "Behold, this is what I found, says the preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme or the sum." There's that mathematical language, he's trying to add things up to find the sum of things. "Which my soul has sought repeatedly. But I have not found one man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found." Now, once again, he's not saying something misogynistic. He's not making a blanket condemnation against women. What he is saying is that he's tried to understand things, he's tried to understand people, and he's saying he hasn't gotten very far. He can barely understand one man among a thousand, and he hasn't understood even one woman in all his time of trying to wrap his head and get to the bottom of things. That's the understanding of a particular commentator that I was most persuaded by as he tried to work through the difficult language here. There's more information in the sermon notes if you want to dig a little bit deeper into that language. What the preacher says in verse twenty-nine he says, "See this alone, I found that God made man upright", originally, God created man upright, "but they sought out many schemes." Now here's where I think schemes captures the better, but the same word used throughout. People go in different direction. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way. All of us are trying to find different schemes, paths where we think that we will ultimately find safety. Maybe it's righteousness as a pretense, or maybe it's wickedness by which we think that we will chart our own course. Living without wisdom, the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord is like trying to solve a complicated math problem. I talked about this with the youth group this week on Wednesday night. It's like trying to work your way through a complicated, lengthy math problem, but where you make an early mistake. Do you ever do that on your math exams or you made an early mistake? It doesn't matter how brilliant your mathematical prowess is from that point on, you will end up with the wrong answer. You'll work and work and try to recheck things and try to add things together again, but if you made an early mistake, you will invariably come to the wrong answer. Scheming, then, is when you can tell that you've got the wrong answer in life because of your misery, because of your dissatisfaction, because of your sorrow. You can tell that something is wrong and you're stuck there. So you try different approaches. But you keep making the wrong answer with the same early mistake, it's like being desperate to try just random combinations on the escape room locks. Living by scheming doesn't work, as Warren Wiersbe says, "Faith is living without scheming." Faith is living without scheming. It's to live according to the fear of the Lord. Application Well, again, our big idea today is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Our application then, is tremble before the Lord. Tremble before the Lord. We are directly commanded to do this at several points in scripture. Psalm 9:9 says, "Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness, tremble before him all the Earth." First tremble before the consuming fire of the Lord's holiness. Why should you fear the Lord? Because he is the almighty king over all the Earth and you stand guilty and condemned before him. Psalm 99:1, "The Lord reigns let the peoples tremble. He sits enthroned upon the cherubim, let the Earth quake." Psalm 114:7, "Tremble, oh, Earth at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob." You see in the Bible, the Lord is calling to you with true wisdom. The Lord is calling you to organize your steps according to the fear of the Lord. It begins with considering the wrath of God that is against us for our sin. The scriptures gives us the language, it teaches us to lift up our voices in prayer like this, Psalm 90:11, "Oh Lord, who considers the power of your anger and your wrath according to the fear of you?" Or Psalm 119:120, "My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments." That fear of the Lord begins with acknowledging our vulnerability and our helplessness and our hopelessness and our guilt before the Almighty God, the judge of Heaven and Earth. And in light of this, the scriptures call us to fear the Lord that we might be saved from his wrath, the wrath for those who persist in disobedience against his counsel, his wisdom. Psalm 2:10-12, "Now, therefore, O kings, be wise. Be warned, or rulers of the Earth, serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son lest he be angry and you perish in the way for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed or all who take refuge in him." To recognize this is the great God who is the one whose wrath is quickly kindled, and yet it's to find a course of throwing ourselves at his mercy anyway, based on the promises that blessed are all who take refuge in him. Tremble also then before the Lords unsearchable wisdom. Do you think yourself to be wise? Do you think yourself to be clever? Do you imagine that you have found a shortcut to success and safety in life that bypasses God? Proverbs 3:7, "Be not wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and turn away from evil." You see, the Lord vows that he will humiliate the wisdom of this world that exalts itself in opposition to him. 1 Corinthians 1:19, "It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than that." The Lord is warning you in his word, do you hear him calling to you? Why should you destroy yourself? Why should you die before your time? And the answer that the Bible gives is, the only answer is because of stubborn rebellion. Why should you persist in your foolishness? Proverbs 1:29-32, "It's because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof. Therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their way and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away and the complacency of fools destroys them." This is the sovereign God, and he calls to you, warns you turn from your sin. Tremble finally before the love, the grace and the mercy that the Lord is extended to you as a compassionate father in Christ Jesus. Throw yourself at his mercy anyway based on the promises he makes to you, because the Lord promises his goodness toward those who fear him. Psalm 31:19, "Oh, how abundant is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind?" The Lord promises his protection for you. Psalm 34:7,9 "the angel of the Lord in camps around those who fear him and delivers them. Oh, fear the Lord, you were saints. For those who fear him, have no lack." The Lord promises compassion Psalm 103:13, 17, "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him and his righteousness to children's children." These promises are not in vain. The preacher says the wisdom of this world is vain. He's considered everything in his vain life, but the promises of God are not in vain. God as fulfilled every one of these promises in his son, Jesus Christ. Who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption so that as it is written, "let the one who boasts boast in the Lord", First Corinthians 1:30. Understand Jesus Christ may indeed be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles, but First Corinthians 1:23-24 "To those who are called. Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God." So therefore, live your life without scheming. Trust the Lord, start with the fear of the Lord. The Lord who loves you and the Lord who died to purchase you back from the power of sin, death and the devil. Put your faith in Christ for it is by grace. You've been saved through faith, that is through the fear of the Lord. For, as it is written, Psalm 147:11, "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him and those who hope and a steadfast love." Let's pray. Heavenly Father, you are the good God who gives us hope and who cares for us in the midst of our sin and our rebellion and our foolishness. I pray that you would lead us once again to despair of our own righteousness. To tremble at the thought of where our paths of wickedness may lead us and instead. To organize our steps, according to the fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom we have in faith in Jesus Christ. It's in Jesus Christ's name that we pray. Amen.

    “Seeing Good in the Day of Adversity” – Ecclesiastes 7:1–14

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 19, 2021

    Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 7:1-14. A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. 7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. 10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. 13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. Well, my wife and I have several children and we've had children in our home through foster care at various times. One thing that we've learned about children is that you love them so much. Yet sometimes it can be frustrating to watch the way that they live their lives, because they don't always know what is good for them. Sometimes, for example, children want to play rough and they're in a good mood and want to play rough, and they're excited about playing rough and the rough game escalates and you warn them, say that's not going to end well. They play rough and suddenly someone gets a scratch or a bump and then the world is over. It seemed good in the moment, and yet it was a bad choice when they look back on it. Sometimes the rule is you can't have dessert without eating the vegetables and they don't want to eat the vegetables. The vegetables don't seem good to them. So, they sit at the table and refuse to eat the vegetables, and then they are upset and can't fathom why they wouldn't get the dessert. It's hard to learn what is good in life. Indeed, as I consider my own life, I'm still struggling with these basic lessons. I usually eat my vegetables, but I think of the fact that I want to grow in wisdom. The Bible is very clear about how to gain wisdom, about the good things to do to gain wisdom. So, I have to ask myself, is my delight truly deeply from the soul in the law of the Lord? Do I meditate on God's word day all the way through until night? Or I want to be someone who is characterized by peace? I want to be anxious for nothing. Again, the Bible tells us what is good, how to pursue that. But I have to ask myself, is it true that in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, I make my requests known to God? So, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. You see even for what we know to be good? Sometimes in the moment, we struggle to truly believe that it is in fact good. The Bible tells us why this is, that there is a corruption deep in our souls that bends us or inclines us or orient's us or distorts our perception in such a way so that we don't always see good for what it is. We don't recognize it for what it is and sometimes we call evil good. Well, how do we fight this? Well, fighting this begins by an acknowledgement of our ignorance, to say, I don't know what is good for me and I need to help. It begins also by a refusal to trust our own intuition to discern between good and evil. It requires us then to be quick to remind ourselves that God alone knows what is good. That's our big idea for today that God alone knows what is good. So, in the passage that we're looking at today, the preacher is going to talk about good things. 1. Dying Well 2. Living Well 3. Trusting God in Life and Death. Dying Well So let's start with dying well in verses one through six. Before we get into the first six verse, I want to remind you about the verse right before the section that we're looking at in Ecclesiastes 6:12. We talked about last week that the first six chapters of Ecclesiastes really marked the first half of the book, and in the first half of the book, the preacher is essentially surveying absolutely everything under the sun to try to investigate whether there actually is lasting good that we can find in this world. He does this thorough, complete, exhaustive search of the world and discovers that there is nothing truly good in this world. So, the way that the first half ends in verse 12 is with two questions. Look at the first question. Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? Ecclesiastes 6:12, ESV Who knows what is good? Well, in the passage that we are looking at today, as if to answer this question and versus one through 14, the word good appears 11 times. Eleven times the word good appears in 14 verses. Do you want to know what's good? Well, the preacher is about to tell us what is good. However, it's not at all what we think it would be. So, in verse one, we find this principle, this proverb right out of the gate. A good name is better than precious ointment. We say, great, fantastic. I can do this. Pursue a good name, a good reputation. Got it. Check. What else you got for me? Then we go to the next half of verse one and Derek Kitchener and his commentary writes, "There's really nothing that prepares you for the body blow that follows in the second half of the first verse" A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. Ecclesiastes 7:1, ESV Well, there are a lot of attempts to explain how these two halves of verse one fit together, and some people don't think that they fit together at all. But I think Michael Eaton is surely right when he says that this is a comparison. As a good name is better than precious ointment, so the day of death is better than the day of birth. They're comparing it. You know, the one you don't have to be really instructed on the one that one sort of an easy principle, but the second one, you need to understand that this is just as good. In fact, more good for you to think about the day of your death and the day of your birth. But why is this the case? Well, it's certainly not that God prefers death to life, it's certainly not that death itself is better than life. God is the ever living one. God is the one who has life in himself. God is the giver of life. God sent his own son, Jesus Christ, into this world to raise up the dead to new life. God loves life, and he hates death. Death is the last enemy that will be defeated. Death is not better than birth. That's not what he is saying, but we get something of what he is saying in verse two. What is he really mean? Well, verse two he says, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV . This idea of laying it to heart means to consider it, to ponder it. When we think of our heart, we think of our emotions, our feelings. However, when the Old Testament talks about the heart by far most often, it's talking about the way that we think in the Old Testament. The heart is the seat of your thinking, not your feeling. In fact, many times when you read about the mind or the thoughts, you are really reading a word that in the original Hebrew actually is heart, and it's just translated into something that will better understand since we think about the mind as the seat of thinking. The heart is the seat of thinking in Hebrew thinking, and the preacher wants us to lay this to heart to grapple with this, to consider this that a funeral is better than the house of feasting. Well, what should we be considering? While verse three, Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.Ecclesiastes 7:3, ESV . There's again the heart. Now literally this is by evil of face, or sadness of face. This is the phrase that is used to describe when Joseph comes into the prison cell and sees the Pharaoh's cup bearer and his baker there. They've had this dream that's disturbing and they don't know what to make with it. Will they have evil of face, is what it says. They're disturbed, they're vexed, they're not sure what to make of this. So, Joseph asked them, what's wrong? the preacher says it's by this vexation, this disturbed nature of your face that the heart is made literally good. When we are disturbed by sorrow and we are disturbed by the funerals that interrupt our lives, this is good. This sorrow is good, not because death is good, but because this forces us to consider the end of all mankind, our own end, our own mortality, the fact that we too will die. That any good that we encounter in this Earth, the mirth, the feasting, the laughter, all of this, is fleeting, it's temporary, it's passing away, and it can't ultimately satisfy us. So, verse four, The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 7:4-6, ESV The preacher wants to make us think. The preacher wants us to grapple with not just in general big questions, but the ultimate questions, what is life and what is going to happen after death? You know, there's a common question that people ask each other. Maybe you've asked it, or maybe you've considered it. If you knew that a week from today, you were going to die. That next week, the next Lord's day, next Sunday would be your last day of living. How would you spend the next seven days? What would you do? Particularly, how would what you would do over the next seven days differ from the ways that you would ordinarily spend those seven days? If it was just another ordinary week where you got up and went to work and did everything else that you normally do? Well, probably you wouldn't spend that week doing ordinary, normal things. You'd maybe try to check things off of your bucket list. Things that are exciting and adventurous that maybe you've always wanted to do but have always been content to put off for one day someday. Well, there aren't that many one day, some days left seven to be precise, so you want to get down to checking off those items off your bucket list. Or maybe you'd want to have a conversation, a conversation to reconcile with someone with whom you've been estranged. Or a conversation where you tell someone you love them in a way that you're not sure that you've ever expressed to them, to let them know how much they mean to you. If you knew that you were going to die in a week, your life would change over the course of this week. The preacher here is asking a similar, but a very different question. He's saying if you laid it to heart that you were going to die someday, how would that change the rest of your life, whether you have a little or a long time left to live? Not just if I introduced you some concept that you didn't realize that you were going to die, probably you do know that you're going to die. All of us know theoretically that our days are numbered and then we must die someday. But if you laid it to heart. If that thought truly captivated your mind and your heart. How would that change the way you would otherwise ordinarily live? How would it redirect the course of life that you would naturally go upon if death were no consideration for your life? These are big questions, these are important questions, and as a church, we need to be a place where these questions are things that we are talking about. We want Harvest Community Church to be a place where we take these big questions seriously because they are of the utmost importance. These are very literally matters of life and death, and of eternal life and eternal death. The Bible instructs us we should be like the wise. The wise recognize that the things that appear to be good in this world are nothing but vanity. They're a mist, they're a breath. They are here today and they are gone tomorrow. They cannot provide enduring, satisfying joy. They can only distract us for a little bit of time, and we are left back with the utter dissatisfaction we have in life. No closer to finding the satisfaction and the ultimate good that we are looking for. Especially the celebration and the feasting and the laughter in the singing. These can distract us from the fact that we will die. Certainly, the preacher tells us elsewhere, there's a time and a season for everything. There is a time for celebration. There is a time for feasting and for laughter and for singing. The preacher doesn't want us to be miserable. But he's saying it is good, it is best for us to be considering our mortality. Again, these questions are more than simply trying to understand the fact that we will die. Once we lay it to heart that we will die, not just know about it, but lay it to heart. Well, that raises another set of questions. How then should we live? If we live with a view toward our eventual death, how then should we live now? Living Well This brings us to our second section. Number two, living well now in versus seven through 13. In the length of this section there are a number of proverbs, and some people just think these are just sort of random rapid fire proverbs, just considering one idea after another with no connection. But I think we can see some degree of connection and I characterized the connection in this way. The preacher is talking about our reactivity and specifically how we should prepare ourselves to react as the life and circumstances change around us. A reactivity? Then second, our proactivity, regardless of the circumstances, how should we proactively live in life? Then third, our counter activity, what should we press back against? How should we cut against the grain? How should we swim against the current of how we would otherwise ordinarily live, if we did not lay it to heart that we too must die? As our days are numbered and the clock is ticking. So, the preacher starts with reactivity, how should we react to the changing circumstances that we encounter in life? So he starts in verse seven saying, Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Ecclesiastes 7:7, ESV Now, the preacher is not simply saying don't oppress people and don't take bribes. That's obvious. We know that, he knows that, he knows that we know that, he doesn't need to say that. What he's rather saying is when you encounter corruption and when you encounter oppression, you should be prepared for it. It shouldn't drive you to madness because you should know that it is coming. Now again, this doesn't mean that we're passive about it, that we ignore it, that we just dismiss it or make justifications for it. But the preacher doesn't want us to be vexed about it. Prepare your heart to understand that this is a dark, sinful, broken world. Then verse eight, he says this, Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8, ESV At the end of something is not more pleasurable than the beginning. Usually when we start something, you know, we just started our children's ministry on Wednesday night, this last week, and it was a tremendous amount of fun. Everyone was excited. Everything went really well. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It's more fun to start things than to end things, because then things mean that it's done or it failed, or it didn't work out the way you thought it would. The preacher says it's not more pleasurable, but it's better because when you come to the end of something, you don't have the same blind optimism as when you start. I think this children's ministry is going to revolutionize our children's discipleship. Children will be impacted for eternity, and I think that's true. But the preacher says, slow your roll, don't have too high of expectations. This is a difficult dark world. It's better for you to think about the end of things and to be patient with whatever comes then to be proud and arrogant about what you were able to achieve in your life. Prepare your reactions accordingly. In verse nine, Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.Ecclesiastes 7:9, ESV Why is this? Why does anger lodge in the heart of fools? Well, anger comes with unmet expectations. When you want something, you expect something, whether you say it out loud or you just expect it because, of course that's what you would expect, you don't need to say it. When those expectations are unmet, that's when anger suddenly rises, rushes to the surface. Well, the preacher saying the wives don't have these kinds of high expectations. The wise know that this world is broken, they know that this world is full of vanity. When you have low expectations, it's much more difficult to become angry because you weren't expecting better. Ten in verse 10, the preacher gives us one more reactivity statement, preparing yourselves for your reactions to the changing circumstances of life. He says Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.Ecclesiastes 7:10, ESV Now this comes up a lot, we think a lot about the good old days. The French have this remarkable statement, "Oh, the good old days when we were all so unhappy." You see we tend to wear rose colored glasses about the past. Oh, I was so happy then, things were so easy then, because we've forgotten about how difficult things were then, just as things are difficult now. It's a lie to have nostalgic views that sugarcoat everything that happened in the in the past. Evil is always with us; vanity is always with us under the sun. There's another reason that there's a problem with nostalgia. It's that pining for the past won't fix anything in the present. It is not from wisdom that you say this. Well, again, this is the preacher coaching us on a life live well, of how we should train our reactions to the changing circumstances of our world. In addition to this, the preacher then goes on to talk about our proactivity. Regardless of what happens, regardless of what you face, how should you proactively build your life? What he talks here is about the proactivity toward stability in life and particularly he's going to talk about financial stability in life. Pursuing financial stability is not sin. It is wisdom, it is wise stewardship. Now he's not talking about success where you spend every waking moment toiling after the next dollar. He said already that that is an appetite that will never satisfy you. If you're idol, if your life is spent chasing after money. He's not talking about that. Trying to get as rich as you can so that you can live with the pleasures that you want to live with. He's talking rather simply about stability. So, verse 11, Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. Ecclesiastes 7:11, ESV When we think about inheritance, I think a lot of times maybe you don't, but at least I do, I think a lot of times about the way that very often inheritance means just sort of a transfer of cash. Even when there are assets like land or other property, a lot of times those are liquidated so that it can, so that the inheritance can be more easily divided between people. But in the ancient world, there was one thing to transfer down from generation to generation, land. Land was the source, the foundation of what you would do to be able to work the land to make money. You couldn't manufacture more land, so either you had land to be able to work and to make your wealth or you didn't. So, gaining inheritance was a big deal in terms of a foundation for stability to be able to grow your wealth and to become stable in that society. The preacher says wisdom is good with an inheritance. It's an advantage to those who see the sun. It's an advantage in some way. What is the advantage? Well, he tells us in verse 12, For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. Ecclesiastes 7:12, ESV You need both he's saying, you need wisdom to live wisely and you need some kind of financial stability. Again, it's not sin to seek financial stability, its wisdom, it is wise stewardship. Again, he's not talking about seeking all the money you possibly can to make yourself wealthy. He's talking about stability. One of the ways we know this is where he goes next. He talks about counter activity. How should we counter, how should we cut against the grain, how should we swim against the current, against the corruption of our souls that makes us desperate for good in this world that isn't to be found? Especially that we too often find with money. We see that as the good sometimes that will make us truly happy. But in verse 13, the preacher reminds us that we've got to keep our eyes on what is true. Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?Ecclesiastes 7:13, ESV God is the one who has made creation and he originally made it straight, but then he made it crooked. Now what's he talking about here? Well, he's not talking about God despite us messing up creation so that we suffer. He's talking about the just judgment that has come in the form of a curse against creation because of human sin, because the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We talked about this before, but I'll remind you the word that comes up so often in Ecclesiastes, the word vanity. That's a Hebrew word, Ecclesiastes written in Hebrew. Very early on before Christ came into the world the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek. The Greek word that they use to translate this word vanity is the word that Paul uses in Romans 8:20-21 to talk about the vanity of creation itself. That God has made crooked what was originally created straight. So Romans 8:20-21, For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.Romans 8:20-21, ESV Neither wisdom nor money nor anything else in this world can overcome the futility of the curse. So, the preacher says we need to live well by preparing our reactions to disappointment in this life. By proactively seeking not to advance ourselves to the stars financially, but stability to get through this life. Then always counteracting the impulse, the desire, the draw to try to put too much stock, too much hope, too much faith in this world. What the preacher is saying, part of living well, part of living with the end in mind with our impending death in view, is thinking in advance. That's part of it. Preparing your heart for your reactions in response to corruption and disappointment. To planning your finances proactively so that you know that the purchases you want today will not bring you the satisfaction that you are seeking. So, it leads you to rather prioritize savings and wise stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to you. It means fighting the impulses and the desires and the passions and the lusts of your soul toward foolishness and evil by counteracting the lurches of your heart toward what will not truly satisfy. Live well, the preacher says, live as well as you can. But even so, he says, fix it in your mind that living well will not be your salvation. This will not be the life hack that gives you perfect satisfaction and joy. That's what stoicism promises, not Christianity. You cannot ultimately make straight what God has made crooked. We are all waiting for the time when Jesus Christ will return to accomplish that, to make a new heavens and Earth, to make straight forever what has become crooked. So the preacher is telling us to live then, well. Live from the first principle that everything in this world is vanity. He's not preaching simply self-denial, just live a really difficult life. He is rather telling us, deny yourself what is vanity in this life and exchange what can never be lost, what can never be corrupted for the eternal good that will come by the promise of God through faith. Trusting in God in Life and in Death The preacher underscores this point in verse 14, where he summarizes what he's getting at in this first half of the chapter. The preacher says this, In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:14, ESV Now, here are a couple of more instances of that word good that appeared 11 times in these 14 verses. We didn't look specifically at all of them, but in verse 14, it says in the day of prosperity, literally in the day of good, be joyful or literally be in good, in good spirits, be joyful. In the day of adversity, here it's the opposite of good, in the day of evil, consider God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. God has made the day of good, and he has made what the preacher calls here the day of evil. It's important to note we've mentioned this a couple of times, evil in Hebrew does not always mean moral evil and it doesn't mean moral evil here. The preacher is not charging God with moral evil. Evil means calamity or disaster. It's the ultimate extent of what it means that there is vanity in this world, that everything has been subjected to futility and frustration. What the preacher is saying is that God has ordained both from the hand of God, both good and bad come. Why? So that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Now, I mentioned that much of this chapter is written to answer the question that was raised at the end of the last chapter. The first question of chapter 12, who knows what is good for man? There's a second question and that question was this in Ecclesiastes 6:12 for who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Well, now we find an answer to that question, too. God is established both good and the disaster, the calamity of this world, so that no man may find out anything of what will be after him. We are utterly helpless. We are completely dependent upon God. This is where God has put us to lead us to trust in him. The wise live, according to two fundamental truths. Number one, the day of good is not permanent in this life. We don't chase it. We don't cling to it as it comes. We enjoy it as a gift from God. Recognizing that very soon life will change. Number two, that while we are not in control of what comes each day, God is. The wise live according to a principle not of control, of trying to live my best life now, but a principle of trust that God alone knows what is good. That's the big idea, God alone knows what is good. One of my favorite books is a book by C.S. Lewis. It's a book called Perelandra. It's maybe not one of his better known books, not like The Chronicles of Narnia, but it's a fictional book. It's in the space trilogy, it's the second book in the space trilogy. In Perelandra C.S. Lewis imagines what would it be like if God created a new humankind on another planet? So he creates the first man and the first woman on another planet. This is assuming that everything that's happened in the Bible, everything that has happened in our history has already happened. What would it be like if God started with a new human race that was related to ours? So as a part of this interrelation, God sends a Christian from this world, a man named Ransom, sends him to this other world, this planet named Perelandra. Perelandra is a planet that's covered with water, oceans everywhere. For them, the forbidden sin is not to eat from a particular tree, it's that in this world of water, they have to trust God for where they are going to sleep. They have to sleep on the vegetation that floats on the oceans. What they are forbidden from doing is to try to seek security and stability for their own by sleeping on the few set of fixed dry islands that are in that world. That's the constant temptation whether they should rebel against God in that way. So, this Christian ransom has to convince and talk and plead with the Eve of that planet, she's called The Green Lady, to tell her not to commit that sin. What's so interesting about this book is how her perfect innocence and absolute ignorance of anything related to sin or death often teaches Ransom. Then Ransom from his knowledge of sin and death is teaching The Green Lady. So, one of the best scenes in this is when The Green Lady, talking about all the swimming she does in her life says, "How can one wish any of those waves not to reach us, which the Lord is rolling towards us?" How would you not want, if the Lord is rolling it toward us, how would you not want one of those waves to reach us? Then Ransom, knowing the difficulties of his own life in this world Earth says, "Have you no fear that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to, the thing that the Lord sends? The Green Lady learning says, "I see, the wave you plunge into and be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim in it." You mean, hey, the Lord might send me a good like that? She doesn't see it as anything that would harm her. She sees it as a good to be stretched in that way. But Ransom, something of a pessimist here says, "Yes or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little." The Green Lady says this, "But it often happens that way in swimming. Is not that part of the delight? That sometimes we are sent waves that are too much for us?" The only reason she can say this is because she knows from whose hand every wave comes, and she trusts that if the Lord sends that wave to her, even if it overwhelms her and her strength is not enough, that's part of the delight. Application The application from this passage, keeping the end in mind the eventual day of our death and trying to live well in light of that, trusting the Lord is this seize the day. Seize the day by specifically relinquishing control over your life. Many commentators in Ecclesiastes observed this theme of carpe diem, seize the day, throughout Ecclesiastes. There's always a twist. Usually, when people talk about seizing the day, they talk about living for today, seize the day, live for today. But this theme in Ecclesiastes means seize the day by refusing to live for today. So, the first way we see seize the day, is seize the day by living with sober recognition that you will die. Don't wait another day to contemplate your mortality. The fact that you must die. If you ever have a chance to look at art from the 16th and 17th centuries, especially portraits and paintings of people, you will frequently find a human skull painted into the painting. Sometimes it'll be on the desk of the person being painted. I mean, these are nobles or kings or scientists or philosophers, great men and women, and they're painted with a skull, either on their desk or on a shelf, or sometimes they're holding it in their hands. That was called a memento mori, Latin for a reminder of death. What they wanted to say is as significant as my life feels to me right now, as great as my accomplishments or achievements or position may be, I too will die. Well, we need a memento mori in our lives. We need a reminder of death now. I'm not saying you have to get a human skull and put it on your nightstand. That might be creepy when you wake up in the shadows of the night. But nevertheless, we need reminders that we will die. Indeed, this is part of the reason that we call this day the pinnacle of our week, the Lord's Day, when we are gathered together. Part of what we are gathered together is to remember that this world is not our home, this world is not all that there is, and then we too will die. Over the years, as we see beloved saints die and we bury them, and we were reminded again of our own death. Lord's day by Lord's Day, we gather together to remember the timeless one. Who entered into this world, who took on flesh so that he might suffer under all of the vanity and the frustration, the futility that we must undergo. That the Lord Jesus Christ might take upon himself our sin so that we might be saved. We gather week by week to remember him and to worship him. Seize the day. The Bible says that because of our sin, God's wrath is against us, and God's wrath is infinite and it is everlasting so that unless you make peace with God, the Bible says that you will suffer in hell forever, bearing the curse of God's infinite wrath for all eternity. Oh, sinner, don't live for today. Don't live for pleasure and feasting and laughter and mirth and partying and entertainment. Do you not know that one day your soul will be demanded of you? Do you not know that the righteous judge of all the Earth will surely demand that you give an account for how you have stewarded not just the wealth he is entrusted to you, but your life itself? God sent Christ, his son, the sinless one into this world. In your despair as you think about what am I going to do? Where will I run from the Lord? How will I escape his judgment? Christ the Savior calls to you. There is hope. He excuses nothing of the heinousness of your sin, He doesn't minimize it, He doesn't sweep it under the rug. Christ came into this world to take all of the wrath of God against you, upon himself. To drink to the dregs, the cup of God's wrath against you. He went there out of love and mercy for you. You don't have to despair, you don't have to be without hope, because Christ alone has satisfied every bit of God's wrath. To show you the great love of God for you. Will you flee from the calamity and disaster and evil of your sin to find refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you turn away from the vain laughter of this world and turn to the true and solid lasting joys and pleasures of the master? Seize the day. Turn from your sin. Trust in Christ. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us Jesus Christ. We pray that he would be the hope that every Lord's Day he the potentate of time, the one who set apart one day out of seven each week that we might gather in the pinnacle of our week to rejoice in the presence of the Lord. We pray that you would give us Christ, to know him, to love him, to embrace him as our eternal, everlasting good from this time forth and forevermore. It's in Christ's name we pray. Amen.

    “Who Knows What is Good?” – Ecclesiastes 6:1–12

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 12, 2021

    Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place? 7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind. 10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?Ecclesiastes 6:1-12, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. I recently came upon some rather disturbing information. I was reading about a company who said about a study, a research study to determine how much time people in the United Kingdom spend trying to find something to watch on television. This is not the amount of time they spend watching television, this the time they spend trying to find something to watch on television. When they added up the average amount of time that someone would spend in the United Kingdom doing this, and they calculated over the course of an adult lifespan from 18 years to 80 years. They discovered that people in the United Kingdom spend 55 days of their lives doing nothing other than scrolling through television channels, trying to find something to watch. Remarkably, that's not what was most disturbing, because then they turn the study of the attention to the United States and in the United States, it's sadly much worse. The average American adult spends 45 hours every year trying to find something again, not just watching television, trying to find something to watch on television. Over the course of an adult lifespan this would mean 116 days, nearly a third of a year of your life spent trying to find something before you actually settle in to watch it on television. I think this is a really interesting story because of what it says about who we are as human beings. Every time we turn on the TV, we want to find something good to see. We want to find something to entertain us, something to encourage us, maybe something to enlighten us. Maybe we want something to distract us, distract us from our toil, from our problems, from our pain. And every time we turn on the TV, we know that we're not going to find what we're looking for, right? We know we're not going to find that source of satisfaction. And yet we keep looking for it. If we can't find it the first time we scroll through the channels, we'll go right around again, trying to find something to watch. Even up to a third of a year of our lives looking to see something good on television? Well, our passage this morning deals with three questions about how we find good in this world under the sun, not just on television, but anywhere in the world. And really, this passage is revolving around three questions. 1. What kind of good are we looking for? What? What is the good that we are looking for in life? 2. Why are we so desperate to find this good? 3. How will we even know if we find that at all? Well, we are coming in chapter six here to the very end of the first half of Ecclesiastes. We're halfway through and this is really marking a shift in the book in Ecclesiastes six. Here, the preacher is summarizing everything that he has said in the first half of this book. And you'll notice that as we look through this passage, we're going to see a repeated emphasis on what is good. This word good is going to structure and organize and guide and and unify this whole passage. So our big idea today, then, is this that God alone is good.. Jesus said that from Mark 10:18, God alone is good. So our three points this morning are; 1. Nothing Good 2. Needing Good 3. Knowing Good. Well, we are going to find by the end of this passage, it's not only do we spend our lives searching in vain for good, but even if we found it, we wouldn't recognize it for what it is. So let's start with this passage. Number one, nothing good. The first part of this passage in verses one through six. The preacher, again, he's summarizing everything he said up to this point. He says, There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: Ecclesiastes 6:1, ESV Now, one commentator notes that this could be a qualitative sense of lying heavily. This is very grievous, very heavy, but really, this word is has to do with frequency. You could just as easily say there's an evil that is very common under the sun. That's very frequent. All of us have experienced this in one way or another. What's this evil? Well, he gives a specific example to illustrate a broader principle. He says, A man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2, ESV Now what's going on here in this illustration that's illustrating the broader principle? Well, probably there are a number of suggestions given as to how this man may have lost the enjoyment of all the good gifts in his life. I think Benjamin Shaw is right when he says, you really have to understand this verse in connection with the next verse, verse three, because the preacher is drawing a contrast. So let's move ahead, and then we'll try to answer what's going on in two and three together. The preacher continues If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.Ecclesiastes 6:3, ESV Verse two contrasted against verse three. Verse three is talking about a man who lives for a long time and has many children, whereas in verse two, you're talking about a very wealthy man who never enjoys the good things of his life. You're probably talking about someone who died very young. The point here is that whether you die very young or whether you live for a very long time, either way, you will not find satisfaction in life. You will not find the joy, the lasting goodness, the soul satisfying good that you are looking for in your life. He is so despairing of this point that he goes on to make a very stark statement at the end of verse three. He says whether you die young or whether you live for a long time, I say, at the end of verse three, that is stillborn child is better off than he. This is a horrifying thing to say. Understand the preacher is not making light of the grief and the desperation of what it would be to lose a stillborn child. Rather, he's very aware of this, he's facing this grief very squarely. He's pointing to that kind of grief and say, understand, even as grievous as it would be to have a child born stillborn. That's how bad life is under the sun. That it would be better never to enter into this world and see the land of the living, then to live either a short time or a very long time in this evil world under the sun. Now why is that? For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?Ecclesiastes 6:4-6, ESV Even if you lived two thousand years, you would enjoy no good or literally that he would see no good, there's that word for good. You wouldn't find good, you would never come across this good that you were looking for and at the end of the day, whether you were born stillborn, never seeing light in the land of the living or whether you live a thousand years twice over, it will never be enough time to find that good that our souls crave. If there's nothing good to see in this world, though, what hope do we have? This ends on a point of despair. What hope do we have? Well, in January 2016, a 10 year, $100 million project was launched. It's called Breakthrough Listen. It's still an operation, as far as I know. The purpose of Breakthrough Listen is to dedicate an extraordinary amount of scientific and technological resources just trying to listen to outer space, trying to maybe hear if intelligent life in the outer space is trying to communicate with us purposefully, or whether we just overhear chatter to try to find some evidence of life out there somewhere in the universe. One of the biggest proponents for bringing this project about was the the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who said this. He says, "In an infinite universe, there must be other life." Then he says this, "there is no bigger question. There's no bigger question about whether there is other life." He thinks it's certain that there must be other life. Now, Stephen Hawking did not live to see the success of his project, and he died in 2018. So far, as I know that we have not yet discovered signs of intelligent life out in the universe. This is an extraordinary thing that Stephen Hawking says. There is no bigger question. It's extraordinary for two reasons number one. First of all, it ignores the possibility of finding God. You would think that finding God would be the biggest question. If that were possible, that would be the most important thing. The biggest question that we could come across. He just sets that aside. He doesn't even consider that. What a tragedy. One of the most brilliant men who has ever walked the face of the Earth, and he doesn't even consider the possibility that God may be out there and readily communicating with us through his word. We don't have to listen with telescopes and all that kind of thing. God speaks to us in his word. The other reason this is such an extraordinary statement is this. There's a presupposition behind this, you can't say that there's no bigger question unless you already believe, even if you haven't stated it this way, that there is no lasting, satisfying good in our world. He's echoing the conclusions of the preacher. You see, you only look for something as long as you need to. If you if you lose something, say you lose your keys. You only look for your keys until you find your keys after you have found your keys. There's no point in continuing the search. You've already found what you're looking for. Well, if we spend our lives looking for soul, satisfying good. We can't find it in this world, of course, we're going to look elsewhere. Of course, we're going to be driven to say there's no bigger question than to find something to give me hope if it's not here in this world, that we must look to the great expanse of the universe. That's what drove Stephen Hawking, even though he wouldn't go to God to look for this biggest question in his mind, to try to find extraterrestrial intelligent life. Well, at the end of the first half of Ecclesiastes, this is a very bitter conclusion that the preacher is drawing. There is nothing good to see in this world. You can have all the wealth, you can have all the children, you can have all the time in the world and you will never, ever find true, lasting good. Soul satisfying satisfaction. Now, the first reaction the preacher gives us is one of despair, if this is true, it would be better to have been born stillborn than to see even a moment of the vanity and the grievous sickening evil of this world. There's another possible way to respond to this, and that's what the response of denial. To believe, well, that can't be true, certainly, there must be good somewhere in this world. Denial would engage then on a endless, fruitless quest to try to find good somewhere no matter what. And the preacher turns to the issue of denial next in the second section where he deals with the need that we have for good and needing good. Needing Good He says this in verse seven. All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7, ESV Very literally, the word for appetite is the word for soul. He's saying all the work we do with our hands is to feed our mouths, to feed our bodies. Yet our soul, we're not talking about physical hunger. We are talking about the appetite, the hunger of our soul for something good. This is not filled. This is not satisfied. No matter what you're able to do in life, you will not satisfy the depths of your soul's craving for good in this world. So is there a fix for this? Is there a life hack where maybe we can side skirt this inconvenient reality? And the answer is in verse eight. Well, wisdom isn't the answer. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?Ecclesiastes 6:8, ESV Whether you're wise, whether you're poor, whether you have street smarts or whether you have very studied wisdom, any kind of wisdom is not going to be able to get you out of this jam. You're left at the end of the day without being able to satisfy your soul. Verse nine, Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.Ecclesiastes 6:9, ESV Now remember, I said good structures, this passage. Better doesn't look like the word good, but think about what better means. It means more good. In Hebrew it's very obvious, it's good more than these other things. IT says better, more good is the side of the eyes to see something, to have the object of good held in your hands and to see it. That would be better than the wandering of the appetite, the wandering of the soul. If you cannot find the good that you were looking for, you will be doomed to a life spent wandering anxiously, desperately to find some kind of good somewhere. The good that we seek is not in this world, but because we crave it.. we're never going to give up the search. It's that deep of a need in our souls. This is why we spend 116 days of our lives simply trying to find something good to see on television. This is why we move from experience to experience trying to find lasting joy. It satisfies for a brief, fleeting moment, and then we've got to find our next fix. This can lead people from relationship to relationship, from job to job, or to pursue after achievement to achievement, or to follow purchase after purchase. There is nothing good enough to satisfy our souls, but because this is such a deep need of ours, we keep looking and desperation. Our souls then anxiously wander through this life, searching everywhere to find good. Since there is nothing good in this world, we'll never find it. We're doomed to continue flipping through the channels. But there's one more problem of the preacher wants to address here, as he summarizes the first half of his book. That even if we did find good, we wouldn't recognize it. Human beings are notoriously bad judges of what is good. We're notoriously bad at estimating what is truly good. Knowing Good Knowing good and versus 10 through 12. Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6: 10-12, ESV . So what are we talking about here? Well, it's probably important, as a lot of commentators who point out to remember that the word man is the word Adam. The word Adam, the name given to the first man created, is the same word that's used, one of the words, at least, that refers to men in the rest of the Old Testament. So when you're talking about Adam, we were talking about the head of all mankind. A similar thing happens when Jacob is renamed to Israel. Israel is one man, and he is also the head of all the nation of Israel. So Adam is the head of all of mankind. It talks here about whatever has come to be has already been named. Well, in the context of talking about man, it is known what man is talking about Adam and the naming of Adam, this is drawing us back to Adam's commission, given in Genesis 2:19 to name all of the animals. Now this is an important story that helps us to understand what the preacher is saying here is tempered. Longmen, in his commentary, points out to name something is far more than just affixing a name tag or or telling other people the sounds that we should pronounce when we're referring to something. To name something in the Old Testament is to recapture something of the essence. To understand what something truly is. For Adam to name the animals meant that he alone understood what all of these creatures were, in the sense of what role do they fit into God's larger creation? What part do they play? What had God created them for?. Understand there is no zoologist who will ever live, who will have a better understanding of the essence of these animals than Adam did when he named him in the garden. He had perfect knowledge of what these were, of their essence, their deep essence of these creatures. He may not have known their feeding patterns and life patterns and all of that and their cellular biology, but he knew what they were at a deeper level than anyone ever will. This is what the preacher saying, what has come to be has already been named. Adam had perfect knowledge of this. Adam had perfect knowledge of all of creation. But and here's the important thing the preacher wants to remind us, Adam's knowledge failed him. Adam had a perfect knowledge of all the creatures, but Adam's knowledge failed him. How did it fail him? Well, this is what the preacher means when we read, "It is known what man is and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he." Adam had a perfect knowledge of creation, but he mis estimated the Creator. He knew everything about every animal in their essence, but he did not really understand God when he defied God. So in the story of the Garden of Eden, we know that Adam set aside God's word. God gave him wisdom that would have given him true happiness, but he set aside God's word, and he instead trusted an animal to undermine God's word. Indeed, the serpent was the one who came to Adam and told him in Genesis 3:5 to Adam and Eve, promising that if you would eat off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will be like God knowing good and evil. That sounds a wonderful promise, doesn't it? You will know what is truly good, but you must set aside what God has said that you must do and must not do. Indeed, when we read Genesis 3:6 about the original sin we read, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, Adam and Eve used their own ability, their own wisdom, their own knowledge to try to estimate for themselves, to judge, for themselves, evaluate for themselves what is good. The problem is we are notoriously bad judges for ourselves of what is good. We wouldn't know a good thing if it bit us like a snake. Which brings us back to our original big idea that God alone is good. Adam obeyed the creature rather than the creator who is to be blessed for forever. Then verse 11 records something of his response, "The more words, the more vanity in what is the advantage to man?" You remember Adam in the garden blubbering, trying to make some excuse or justification for his sin? It was that woman that you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it. More words, more vanity, Adam. This refers to his feeble excuse making. Then in verse 12, the preacher ends the first half of this book this way, he says, "For who knows what is good for man? While he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow." This is the question, isn't it? We all want good, but we can't even define it. We don't know what it is. Again, we wouldn't know good if it bit us like a snake. Who knows what's good for men while he lives the few days of his life? We're chasing after what we think will make us happy, what we think will satisfy us. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, what we think will give us the knowledge of good and evil only ends up bringing us into more misery and heartache. Then the final question is for who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Adam certainly didn't know what the consequences of sin would be. If Adam didn't know all this, then how possibly can we can we know this? Over the last few weeks, I was contacted out of the blue by one of the people that I went on my trip to Africa, to Kenya and Rwanda last year, in February and March of 2020. I went on a group with a group of one of my best friends and his parents, and then some friends of his parents, and it was from this group, I knew his parents, but it was the friends of his parents that I met. And so the woman, she was very kind. She was an older woman. She was very traveled. She had done a lot of things, very friendly. She had a lot of experiences of things, and she was always telling interesting stories going along. Well, she contacted me out of the blue to catch up. You know, we hadn't talked, certainly because of everything that's been going on for almost a year and a half. So she messaged me over Facebook Messenger. So we were kind of texting back and forth what's going on, hearing things have been going on in her life and it was really good to catch up with her. Well, in the course of the conversation, you know, again, this is a woman who's done a lot of things in life. She mentioned that she had recently gotten this grant to do some of the interesting things that she does in her life. A grant from the government and, you know, the government's opening all these new grants and ways to get money right now. She starts telling me, you know, have you ever thought about getting a grant? You could get a grant and do all kinds of sorts of different things. She gave me the contact information for the attorney who had helped her to apply for this grant. Now, here's the thing, if I had needed a grant that might have been too good of an opportunity to pass up. As it happened was this wasn't my friend I was talking with. I had had a long, multi-week conversation with her and it wasn't my friend. It was at that point, what saved me from fraud or identity theft or whatever would have happened is that by God's grace, I didn't believe that a grant would be good for me. I didn't think I needed it. So it was in that moment where I realized maybe something is going on here that I haven't fully appreciated. It helped me take a step back from the situation, and I called my parents friend or I texted her, my parents, mom and I said, "Hey, would you call your friend and see if I'm actually the one talking with her?" A couple of hours later, I got a call from the real woman and she said, it wasn't me. I had nothing to do with this. So then I reported this imposter to Facebook. Because I didn't believe that what was being held out to me was good. It gave me enough distance to take a step back from this, thoroughly convincing conversation in every other way, to recognize that I was being deceived. Well, in the same way, the preacher has spent the first half of Ecclesiastes trying to tear every possible way that we could look after good or seek after good in this world because he wants to equip you. He wants to teach you. There is nothing good in this world and you can keep looking for it. You can keep flipping through the channels, trying to find something good to see in this world, but understand you are being deceived. Unless you have the distance from that to realize I don't actually want that, I might not being dealt with honestly here, I might be being deceived. Unless you have that perspective given by the first half of Ecclesiastes, you're very likely to get sucked up into whatever convincing conversation that you're going to enter into this world. Application Our application point then today is this trust in God who alone is good. He said the deepest craving in all of our hearts is to find this true good. Instinctively, we will all spend our lives searching for what is good. You were created for good. Your soul craves good. Wherever you look in this world, your appetite will not be satisfied. It cannot be satisfied by any good in this world. Why? Well, two reasons. Number one, there's nothing good to see in this world. Just like on TV, there's nothing good to see in this world. Number two, even if you came across good, you wouldn't know it. You wouldn't know it if it bit you like a snake. To know good requires wisdom from God. That was the promise of the Serpent. You'll know this good for yourself. You'll be able to make your own decisions. You will be able to find your own way, to discover your own good, to be your own person, to live by your own rules and to make yourself satisfied according to your own terms. To know good requires wisdom that can only come from God. God gave Adam this wisdom. Adam ignored it again. He listened to the creature rather than listening to the creator. Later, Solomon prayed for this wisdom that was good. He he should have sought wisdom, and he sought for wisdom to discern between good and evil. It reflects the the language right out of Genesis three. He wanted to know good and evil, and he went to the right source. He went to God. This was good. And by that wisdom, Solomon flourished, until he too ignored this wisdom to ignore God, to do what God had forbidden him to do and worship all of these false idols. Ultimately, when Jesus Christ came into this world, Paul tells us in First Corinthians, 1:30, that Jesus Christ was for us wisdom from God. Wisdom in the flesh stood in our midst. When Jesus Christ came into this world, the world absolutely rejected him. Paul meditates on this in First Corinthians 2:7-8. He says, We do teach wisdom, not the world's wisdom, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages unto our glory. Then in the very next verse, First Corinthians 2:8, he says none of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. Wisdom was in their midst, and not only did they not understand him, not only that they simply just walk away from him. Wisdom was in their midst and they hated him so much they crucified him. We are horrible judges of what is truly good of what is truly wise. We still do this, why do we ignore God's wisdom, because to our site, it doesn't seem like a good thing. We judge according to what we can see. Indeed, the preacher says it's better to see. Better is the sight of the eyes and the wandering of the appetite we want to see good. But the problem is, there's nothing good to see in this world, verse six, "Even though he should live a thousand years twice over yet, see, no good, there's no good to see, cannot all go to the same place." Yet, despite this, despite the knowledge of this, sometimes we keep chasing everything that remotely appears to be good. Brothers and sisters, we must not live according to outward appearances, if we do, we will be doomed to live a life chasing from one shiny object to another. Always trying to satisfy the cravings and the desires of our souls. Instead, the Bible says, don't do this. You are a horrible judge of what is good for yourself, and you know this intuitively by all the misery that you have brought on your own life. Instead, the Bible says we must walk by faith, not by sight. True wisdom means trusting in what God says is good. Now what we see for ourselves to be good, it means setting our eyes above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, rather than setting our eyes on the things of this world. So how do we do this? Well, the Bible doesn't give us the seven steps to the good life. It's not that simple. Let me give you some questions to ponder. I've used these before, we've talked about these in classes and things before here. When I ask you what would make you happy right now? Maybe you are looking for that government grant and that would solve a lot of problems that you're looking for. Maybe you're looking for a new job, maybe you're looking for a new relationship. Maybe you're looking to be happy. What would make you happy right now? What's the first thing that comes to your mind? That's the thing you love. What preoccupies you're thinking when it's just you alone, what are your what is your mind tend to? Where do you start planning in a certain direction? What do you fantasize about? What do you wonder about? What are you googling to try to find more information about? What are the things that make you most angry or what are you afraid and terrified to lose? That's where you think good is in this world. Those are the things that preoccupy your heart and your soul. So the question is, is it Christ or is it something in this world that cannot truly satisfy you? The Bible says the only good, the truly good thing in this world and beyond this world and the one who created this world is God himself. Jesus says this God alone is good. So if you're setting your hopes, if you're pinning your life's goodness and satisfaction on anything in this world, it's always going to let you down. You'll keep flipping the channels to something else in life. The Bible calls us to repent of trusting in all of these false goods and instead turn to Jesus Christ and so to be saved by him. He's the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the one who loved you so much that he gave up his life for you. He is the one who promises that at his right hand are pleasures forever more. God alone is good. Are you looking to Jesus Christ to satisfy you or someone or something else? Christ alone has entered into this vain world, has suffered, has given up everything that he enjoyed as the Crown Prince of Heaven in order to suffer and die in your place for your sin. He was raised up from the dead as the possessor of all things, as the one who has conquered sin, death in the devil forever, who extends his salvation to all those who are pent from your sins and look to him in faith are you looking to Christ in faith? Brothers and sisters, there is nothing good in this world, the one who is good is seated at the right hand of God, and there will come a day when he will return. Just like we talked about it, the call to worship, and that'll be a day when there will be a new heavens and a new Earth and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will dwell with God as our God forever and we will be with him as his people forever. That's what's good. Is that what preoccupies your heart, soul and mind? Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us good through Jesus Christ. We pray that he would preoccupy us, that he would be our joy and our satisfaction, and that we would repent of all lesser satisfactions and joys that we chase after in this life. We pray this that Christ would be glorified as we look more and more to him, and we pray this for our good. That we know in Christ would have peace and joy and satisfaction in this life, even as everything is wasting away in our outer bodies and in this world that we would be satisfied in Christ until the day comes when he can make all things new. We pray this in Christ name. Amen.

    “Occupied with Joy” – Ecclesiastes 5:8–20

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 5, 2021

    Please open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 5:8-20. Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes chapter five, starting in verse eight. 8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields. 10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. 18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:8-20, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. Well, on May 18th, 1860, it's about one hundred and fifty years ago, in the city of Chicago, Illinois, the very young Republican Party was gathering for a presidential primary election for that year. Far and away the expected winner that year was Senator William Seward from New York. He was widely expected to win the presidential election for the party that year. On the first ballot, it reflected that fact. He received one hundred seventy three and a half of the electoral votes. He almost doubled the number of votes that were received by the runner up. The runner up only received 102. So those top two candidates received more than the majority of votes because there was 466 delegates. But one hundred and seventy three was not a majority in itself. And so there had to be a reballot and the favorite then had to go up again against all of these other candidates who were competing for his elections. Well, you've probably heard the name of the man who was second place on that first ballot. His name was Abraham Lincoln. As his biographer tells the story, Lincoln's strategy was quite interesting. His goal was not to win the election outright on the first ballot because he knew if he had to do that, if he was going up directly against all the challengers who were vying for the presidential nomination that year from the party that he wouldn't win. In fact, he would burn a lot of bridges along the way by having to go against these other candidates. His strategy was not to win the election outright. His strategy was to be everyone's second choice. Now that requires a lot of humility, not to want to go and be the best, but it was a very wise and cunning political calculation. Because in the second ballot, when everyone who didn't want Senator William H. Seward from New York to be the presidential nominee for the party saw that he had far and away the most votes of that presidential nomination cycle. On the second ballot, many of the votes shifted to Lincoln. Lincoln went from 102 votes to 181 votes on the next ballot. Then the third ballot, he received 231.5. Until a number of people finally switched their votes to fall behind Lincoln, winning 349 out of the 466 electoral votes, winning the nomination and eventually the presidency. Now there's a really interesting paradox here. I mean, think about this. Lincoln's strategy to win the presidential nomination was to try not to win the presidential nomination. He was trying to win it and his strategy for winning it was to try not to win it outright, because he knew that was a strategy that he couldn't win, that he couldn't pull off. Again, it's a very difficult thing to do. It requires a lot of humility not to just go for something. Indeed, if we have our eyes on a prize in life, the very natural temptation is to go directly for it, to try to take hold of it right away. But in life, the Bible says that what we want we cannot pursue directly. If we want to gain the things that we want, we cannot walk by sight. We must instead walk by faith. We can't go straight after the satisfaction that we see in front of us with our eyes, the things that by all outward appearances we believe will satisfy us. Instead, we must walk by faith, trusting that the promises of God will provide to us the enduring, lasting joy and satisfaction that our hearts so desperately crave. Well, the problem is from God's word that we are considering together today is our big idea that God provides paradoxical joy. Joy that we don't go after directly and try to take it by the horns on its own. But joy that we seek by trusting and depending upon God's promises, by faith. So the three points this morning, 1. Public Injustice 2. Painful Wealth 3. Paradoxical Joy. Public Injustice Well, the first section marked the first two verses where we see public injustice. Now versus eight and nine of chapter five are both very difficult to translate, we'll talk a little bit about that. But the general idea is very clear in both cases. The preacher is talking about breakdowns in public life. And so first, he talks about breakdowns in public justice. So in Ecclesiastes 5:8, he writes, "If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them." Now again, this is a little bit difficult to translate, but the basic sense is clear. When you see injustice, when you see oppressions, don't be surprised by that. Don't be amazed by that. Don't be vexed by this. Why? Because corruption will be a fixture of life in this broken, sinful world. It will be the norm. It will not be the exception. Now, the preacher points to something that maybe helps to some degree with this. He points to the high officials overseeing the corruption and the higher officials overseeing the officials over the corruption and the still higher officials overseeing everyone. He says it's good and right for there to be accountability, for there to be oversight. It's necessary for there to be in light of the corruption that's so prevalent in this world. But he's also saying that doesn't solve the problem. We need this ever increasing bureaucracy in an attempt to solve the issue, but even that can't fundamentally fix the issue. Now, one commentator says it is very possible that the very last section of high officials, high officials yet higher ones over them, the very end of that verse. It's possible that that's referring to the final authority the final judge got himself overseeing all this situation. Now Benjamin Cha, the commentator who writes this, acknowledges that that's not necessarily the clearest way to interpret this again. It's a hard verse to translate. If so, if that were the case, it would certainly fit in with the larger message of Ecclesiastes. If you remember in Ecclesiastes 3:17, the preacher said in his heart, "God will judge the righteous and the wicked for there is a time, for every matter and for every work." But the point is that will not come in this life. That final justice will not come in this life, and we shouldn't be surprised when we see the corruption that pops up in this world. Well, he moves on from public justice to issues of public productivity, In verse nine, he says, "But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields." Now, the difficult part of translating this verse is that word cultivated. The word is simple enough, it's the word that's often translated as served. When you're talking about a person being served, you would use that word, but when you're talking about a field, you could talk about the field being served or it being worked, or it being cultivated as the English Standard Version has it here. If it's the first sense that the king is the one being served, then this is a statement that the king's power is dependent upon agriculture. No matter how much power a king seems to have, no matter how big his army is, no matter how wealthy he is, if he can't provide food for his people, then his power is severely jeopardized. But more likely, this word for served, like the ESV has, it doesn't refer to the king and you really can't tell totally just from the verse itself. More likely, it refers not to the king, but to the fields. So in this case, it would refer to something like a king for or over a cultivated field, or as the ESV has it, a king committed to the cultivated field. Here this would mean that the king's proper role is to ensure freedom for people to cultivate their fields for the flourishing of the whole population. And part of the reason I think the second meaning is more likely in trying to interpret this is it makes a little bit of sense in context with verse eight. He's saying that in light of all the public injustice, the final say, where the buck stops in this life, is the king. He is the final corrective to worldly injustices. The goal there is to make sure that people have the freedom to cultivate their fields for the productivity and the flourishing of that whole population. So why is he saying this? Well, the point is not that the preacher wants to look at this and lament. The point is not that we should be passive and fatalistic. Well, I guess there it goes again, it's just going to happen. The point is that the preacher wants us to be realistic, to not be surprised, not to be amazed when this happens. Why does he want us not to be amazed, not to be surprised? Because there's a warning here. The more we're trying to find some kind of satisfaction, some kind of stability, some kind of hope. We should not put our hope in the public institutions of this world. Not in public figures and not in public institutions, because human figures, human institutions will always let us down. As stable and as secure as they seem, they will always let us down. Ten years ago, a long time before I came to Harvest, I served a time as an interim pastor for a church whose previous pastor had to resign because of moral failure. And I remember the early days of serving in that church and talking with a lot of people and how hurt and disillusioned and distraught they were. Hearing stories about people who had already left the church so frustrated by what was happening. To some degree, I remember at the time thinking, I don't understand it. Why are they so surprised? Sinners, sin? Corruption exists in this world. They shouldn't be amazed by this. I talked to someone and expressed this, and this person said, Well, look, this is a pastor who's led them, a pastor who's preached to them about how to live. Here they're discovering that this is in fact, in large case, a lie in the way that he had been personally carrying out his life. That helped to make a little bit of sense, but where this message really came home was about a month later. You see, my wife and I did not leave our church at the time. We continued in our normal church while I was serving. Our normal church meet in the evenings and this other church meet in the morning, so I could preach in the morning and then go to our normal church in the evenings. So we stayed involved in both churches. About a month later, my pastor at that church confessed to a sin that was morally disqualifying and he was deposed from ministry. So in about a month, suddenly I was the one who was blindsided. I was the one who was shocked and amazed and vexed by all of this. I was amazed. How could this happen? Now, the point is not to stir up distrust against pastors. The point is not to excuse sin. The point is not to harden our hearts so that we never let anyone close to us lest they hurt us. The point is not to withdraw from relationships to people, or certainly not from the church. The point of all of this is that the preacher wants us to be wise in a very particular way. To be wise, not to put our ultimate hope in human beings or in public institutions. Why? Well, corruption should grieve us and corruption must be dealt with. And corruption needs to be preventatively addressed by healthy oversight, healthy accountability. As a pastor, I desperately want oversight in my life. As a pastor my job is to help give you oversight in your life. The preacher wants to make sure that corruption in public life will not sink our faith, will not leave us disillusioned so that we turn away from God forever. He's saying, don't be amazed by this, but by all means, don't put your hope in something that can and will let you down. Painful Wealth The preacher also doesn't want to leave us thinking that the only sins in this world are the sins of corruption for those who are in authority, whether civil authority or whether authority in the church. The preacher then brings his critique and his warnings much closer to home. He stops talking about those in public and he starts talking about you where you are in your heart, especially in your relationship to wealth in life. He has serious warnings for us about the bitter pain of the pursuit of wealth can bring. And so this brings us to our second section painful wealth in Ecclesiastes 5:10-17. The preacher says this, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity." What the preacher saying here, is don't look to wealth? Don't let that be your hope. Don't let that be the place that you put your trust. Don't depend upon that for your salvation and satisfaction, because money is not something that can ultimately give you joy, that can ultimately satisfy you. Charles Bridges, in his commentary, pushes this in in language that I think helps to explain what he's saying. He talks about appetites. Think about the appetites that you have in your life. You have an appetite for hunger, but when you eat food, that appetite is satisfied. It's satiated. You're no longer hungry after you eat food. That's the proper way that God has created that appetite to address food. What about the appetite of thirst? When you're thirsty, you can drink some water, and that appetite of thirst will be addressed. Here's the thing about money. Money is an appetite that when you get what you are hungry for, it doesn't satisfy your appetite. In fact, it creates more of an appetite. You get some money, you want some more money. You're hungry for that money and you get it, that only creates an appetite for greater money, and more and more and more. You're just as unsatisfied, in fact, more unsatisfied as you were before you got the thing that you were trying to gain. Because you can't go directly for joy in this life. The paradoxical joy is what we gain, not by sight, but by faith. Instead, the preacher warns us, life in this world, if you're chasing after money only will mean more problems in life. Look at verse 11, he says, "When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?" Now, a lot of wealth in our day and age is sort of created at a distance. Sometimes, you put money in a stock market and some company that maybe is on the other side of the country or the world and whatever's happening there, you don't know, but at the end of the day, it provides a dividend and wealth is created. But in these days, the way wealth was created was much closer to home. It was with a farming operation. It was in flourishing of trying to get the field tilled and the crops grown and the agriculture the animals raised and livestock which are growing and reproducing and healthy. That takes a lot of people to keep that farming operation going. Well, when you have all of these servants that you hire to do this work, that means more mouths to feed. So when goods increase, when you have this flourishing operation with lots of employees. Well, the ones who eat the goods that you're producing also increase. More money, more problems, more complications. Then he says, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? What advantage does this owner really have but more problems and the ability just to see the expressiveness of the operation that he's trying to keep all the plates spinning for that? Instead in verse 12, the preacher says, "Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep." Those who labor in common simple ways sleep sweetly, but those who are anxious about their money have difficulty entering into the most basic of human activities sleep. Now some of you employ people and I don't want to dissuade you from doing this. The preacher doesn't want to dissuade you from doing this. That's a good and a noble calling. But he wants you to make sure that you're not looking to this operation, this business as the place where you will find satisfaction and the place where you will define yourself and to lift yourself up. It will let you down. If you're looking for satisfaction there, you will only find toil. Then he says in verses 13 to 17, he gives this story this parable of the way in which money cannot just provide complications, but he it creates what he calls a sickening evil. It's called a grievous evil, but literally it's kind of a sickening evil. This is a gut punch. He says, "There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture." All this toil to build up this wealth and all of those riches were lost in a moment in a bad venture. This is a gut punch. This is a sickening evil, but it gets worse. "And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger." Don't look to money as your source of satisfaction. Don't look to money and wealth and the business you can build as the way in which you will satisfy your soul. Because more money will only invariably mean more problems if you were looking to them to be your salvation. Paul says the same thing in 1 Timothy 6:10, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." You see, here's the deal, when we think about money, we think about all the pleasures that money can buy. Money in many ways can be thought of as buying happiness because money can buy all the things that give us so much enjoyment in this life. With all the pleasures that money can bring, ultimately money cannot buy lasting real happiness. If you say I get a little bit of joy after spending money in this area, I will get ultimate joy if I put all of my efforts behind getting enough money to satisfy all of the cravings that I want in my life. It doesn't work that way. The appetite it creates doesn't get satisfied. It only grows larger and more unsatisfied the more effort you put behind it. It's like drinking seawater if you're lost at sea. It's like what it would be to look around and water water everywhere and who says I can't drink it and to slake your thirst, to try to reach and and dip down into some of that cool water in the sea? But what happens there is your body is built, in God's good providence, where there's a process of osmosis, where your cells are trying to balance the the water and saline content inside and outside your cells. So if there's a lot of water and salt in your body, the water inside your cells will try to leave the cells to try to compensate and dilute the salt outside the cells. When that happens in water leaves your cells, then your body says you're more thirsty and you become more thirsty and you drink again and more salt goes into your body until your cells are more and more dehydrated until your kidneys shut down and you die a slow and horrifying death. That's the kind of picture of this, of an appetite that cannot be satisfied. It will ultimately kill you if you drink from the salt water that wealth can give. You can't put your hope in public life. You can't put your hope and your private stocks and in your wealth and in your business and in your toil, you can't find any hope for satisfaction in this world under the sun. So where then can you turn? What can you look for for satisfaction in life? Paradoxical Joy Well, it's not in the things of this world or in the systems and institutions of this world, but it's rather in God. Where this passage leads us into our big idea that God provides paradoxical joy. The third section, then, is about this paradoxical joy and versus 18 to 20. How then shall we live? Well, verse 18, "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot." Now wait a minute, you say just a moment. You said there isn't satisfaction, there isn't enjoyment in your toil and in your life. Why are you now saying that it's good and fitting to find enjoyment in your toil? Well, the point is not that we can actually, after all, find our enjoyment in pleasure. Remember the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:1-8 tried to explore all the pleasures wine, women and song, and tried to find some lasting satisfaction somewhere in there and he experimented with everything, and none of it would provide this lasting satisfaction. What the preacher is saying here is it's not that you were looking to the pleasures, it is that you were looking to the God who gives them not to the gifts of this life, but to the giver. It's a fundamentally different way to look at how we enjoy life. In verse 19, he goes on. He says, "Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God." Again, the point is not to tell you to try to find satisfaction in your possessions. The preacher is counseling us to find joy and contentment and satisfaction in God, who is the giver of all good things. Derek Kidner, a commentator, writes " At first sight, this may look like the mere praise of simplicity and moderation, but in fact, the key word here is God, and the secret of life held out to us is openness to him, a readiness to take what comes to us as heaven sent, whether it is toil or wealth or both." And so in verse 20, the preacher says for, explaining what he has been saying, "For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart." There's a promise here. That if you live in this way where you were looking to God to find enjoyment and satisfaction in your life, whatever injustices you endure at the hands of public officials, whatever toil and hardship that you find that you have to enter into in the grueling parts of your life, that nevertheless, through it all, you will be occupied with joy. That's a promise from God. You won't grow bitter and vexed because of the injustices of this world. You will rather be thankful for the freedoms that you do have. You won't be consumed by the riches that you gain or when you lose them, consumed with those. You will rather enjoy everything as a gift from God and able to hold it open handed for whenever he see fits to take it from you. God will keep you occupied with joy in your hearts. Now, remember the strategy of Abraham Lincoln. It wasn't by directly pursuing the prize that he was able to gain. He had to go a different way. He had to depend not on trying to win outright, but he won outright by trying to be everyone's second choice. Well, in the same way in life, if we pursue satisfaction by a direct pursuit, if we pursue the stuff of this world, or put our satisfaction in the institutions of this world, we won't ultimately be satisfied or enjoy our life. If we live through this life and look at everything that we have as a gift from God, the attention not on the gift but on the giver, then we will find deep joy and our hearts will be occupied with joy. Well, a few years ago, my wife and I went on vacation to Phoenix, and while we were there, we drove to the Grand Canyon. It's about a three and a half hour drive north to the Grand Canyon. Now here's the thing, the Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen with my own eyes. The Grand Canyon is more than everyone had even told me it was. It was absolutely breathtaking. But the drive in Arizona? Let's just say it's not. It's not really a very attractive place to drive through Arizona. I once drove through Arizona in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, this wasn't then, and I felt like I was driving on the planet Mars. There was just death everywhere, just a long, extended journey of death. Well, so this wasn't a particularly nice place to drive, but I will tell you, that's one of the favorite drives that I've ever made in my life. My wife and I had a few children by that time, three children, and this was three and a half hours there and three and a half hours back that we were able to talk uninterrupted because it was just us there. We were able to talk about so many things. We talk a lot, but that was a particularly enjoyable, engaging conversation. The circumstances weren't great, who wants to be in a car for seven hours in a day? The scenery wasn't great again, most of it looked like a winterized form of Mars. Yet I was occupied with joy in my heart through this conversation because of the companionship that was a gift from God in that time. That's what the preacher is telling us about here. Don't look at your circumstances. Don't look at your life and expect that in itself your life will give you joy and satisfaction and meaning. You can't gain the prize that you seek by going after it directly. You must go at it slant. You must come at it by a different angle. You must not look to the gifts and number of them up and see what's there and not that. You must instead look to the giver to be occupied with God's paradoxical joy. Application That then, is our application today, be occupied with God's paradoxical joy. Don't chase after joy. Don't chase after happiness directly. We all want to be happy. We all want to be satisfied. But the Bible is warning us, especially the preacher who's tried everything under the sun, is warning you that wherever you look in this life, in this world, you will not find it. Everything and everyone will let you down, unless you start to look at this world, not by fixating on the gifts, but you start looking to the giver. I was reading a theologian this week named John Webster, a theologian who's recently died, and he was talking about the creation of the world and the creation of the world out of nothing. It was very technical, a lot of it was over my head, but I was reading it and he made one point that was so interesting to me. He said the reason why people cannot get their heads around believing that God created everything, the heavens in the Earth and everything in them out of nothing, is not because of some reason from science, it's not because of some philosophical commitment. He says the reason that we struggle to believe that God created everything out of nothing is because we love this world. We love creation. Our hearts are bound up in this created thing, and we can't bear the thought that there may have been a time when this world did not exist, and there will be a time when this world will be destroyed by fire. We cannot bear to think that they would have to be a creator to bring about this world that we so often look to for satisfaction. No matter how many times in our life, we have to get beat down by this same world when we are let down again and again and again. Our hearts don't have room for believing that there is a creator. Jesus Christ tells us instead, and Matthew 6:33, he says, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you." Don't seek the things. Don't seek all these things. First, seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Seek God's paradoxical joy. He says the fundamental problem of the human heart, as Paul explains in Romans 1:25 is that we have all exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and we have worshipped and serve the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever. Amen. We love this world. We love what we can see. We want to bow down to the idols that we can see in front of us in our world, the things that can capture our hearts and our affections and our attention. God says there is more than that. There is something beyond this world. There was a time when this world did not exist, and I, the Lord and the one who brought everything to pass. I the Lord and the only one, God says, who can satisfy the deepest cravings of your life. But what this means is that you cannot walk by sight. You can't chase every shining object that your eyes catch a hold of, a glimpse of in this world. Do not walk by sight. We walk by faith, not by sight. We don't look for satisfaction based on what we can see. We trust in what God teaches us, what promises God makes to us in his world. This is a paradoxical joy. We cannot pursue happiness directly. To find joy, w can't give ourselves over to pleasure. We can't give ourselves over to public activism. We can't give ourselves to toil in order to amass for ourselves more stuff. The things that you enjoy cannot give you lasting joy. We all have this creation orientation when we must instead have a creator orientation, a redeemer orientation. Where our hearts are looking, not to this world, not to everything under the sun, but to the one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God above the sun. The one who created the sun, the heavens and the Earth and everything in them. As a pastor, my biggest burden, what I pray for you all most often, is that you would set your heart not on the things of this world, but on Christ, who is seated above in the heavenly places. As a Christian, my biggest burden for me, what I pray most of all for me, is that I would not set my heart on the things of this world, but on Christ, who is seated in the heavenly places. God promised us lavishly that that is where we will find true satisfaction. Psalm 16:11 declares, "You make known to me God the path of life in your presence there is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore?" Not in this world, but in the presence of God. God is gracious and he is merciful, and he gives joy and life and peace and satisfaction in super abundant generosity, because he loves you. The one who created the world and everything in it, he loves you. The all consuming fire. The Lord of all the hosts, the Armies of heaven. The one who created all things effortlessly by the word of his power. This one has set the full fury of his love on you. So much so that he was willing to send his only begotten, his beloved son into this world to die for you. To go to the cross and bear the curse of your sin and your shame, to take your place on the cross so that you could be forgiven of your sins and go free. Not only that, but so that you could be raised up to newness of life, to resurrection life, when Jesus returns on the last day to live and eternity with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever. All of this comes to those who walk not by sight, but who walked by faith. Who trust not in this world and the things of this world and the promises of this world and the institutions of this world, but trust in the promise of God held out to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The more you seek directly after joy, the more elusive it will be, the more it will slip right through your fingers. The more you will want it, that appetite will grow and the less satisfied you will feel. Don't be amazed by this. Don't be deceived by this. Do not walk by sight, rather, let this wisdom of God set up clear boundaries in your mind and in your heart. Leading you to abandon any hope that you might put in this world so that you can invest all your hope in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and resurrected for you and for your sins. This is the hope of the gospel that is held out to all those who look to Jesus Christ in faith, turning from their sins in sorrow. God promises that if you look to Christ for forgiveness, you will be saved. Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us Christ. That this hope would not just be a theoretical thing in our minds, but that we would depend upon him for our salvation. That we would look to Jesus Christ recognizing that everything in this world will let us down and that we must not set our hearts on it. We pray that you would give us Jesus Christ and him crucified, through faith by the power of your Holy Spirit in and by the word of God given to us. We pray for Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.

    “Who May Enter into Holy Places?” – Hebrews 9:1-14

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 29, 2021 41:01

    The post “Who May Enter into Holy Places?” – Hebrews 9:1-14 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Who May Enter into Holy Places?” – Hebrews 9:1-14

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 29, 2021

    If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Hebrews 9:1-14. As always, I'll be reading out of the ESV, the English Standard Version. And so hear now the word of the Lord. 9 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. 6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Hebrews 9:1-14, ESV Well, earlier this week, I stumbled across an attention grabbing headline that stated this. It said, "More than 60 percent of born again Christians in America between the ages of 18 and 39 believe that Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus are all valid paths to salvation." Now, this was based on a study on religious pluralism in America that was conducted by some Christian ministry. But after digging into the data a little bit that was provided, I discovered that while the headline singled out the 18 to 39 age bracket, those in the older brackets didn't really fare much better either. And in some cases they were actually worse. In short, it seems that among self-professed evangelicals, regardless of age demographics, pluralism that is the view that there are multiple valid religions in the world is a serious problem. This study also fits with a similar survey that was conducted by another Christian ministry last year, where respondents were asked to respond to the phrase, "God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam." And respondents to that statement, fifty-two percent, in fact, of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 34 either agreed or strongly agreed with that statement. Now, assuming that these results are truly representative of the religious landscape among self-professing evangelicals in America, it goes to show, I think, just how well the world has catechized and discipled the church and her members. After all, when the world happily elevates such values as plurality, as the supreme values that we should live by, but downplays values such as truth. Well, it's no wonder why so many of our neighbors and people we love and maybe even you have followed suit in rearranging values more in line with what the world treasures and less in line with what the Bible affirms from start to finish is true. But when we turn to the Bible, we find the unmistakable claim that our God is in fact unique among the so-called gods of the world. Rather than being just one God among many in a buffet of religious options, the Bible tells us that our God isn't anything like the so-called gods of the world. Our God, for one thing, is a triune begin. For another thing, our God, we learn, is infinite, eternal, all wise, all powerful, love, merciful, gracious, majestic, good. And he's the perfection of all of his attributes. God just isn't like the so-called gods of the world, and as a consequence, how we approach this one triune perfect God really does matter. We can't approach this God through the values or systems of any world religion we choose, and neither can we approach this God as the weak and morally troubled people that all of us are and think that he'll smile upon us all the same. Whether the Bible tells us that to approach a holy holy Holy God, that is a God who's set apart from what's common in every way, to be received as children and people of this holy God, and to have our worship accepted by this holy God requires nothing short of holiness. Holiness, according to God's standards ourselves. And so our big idea this morning is this, Holiness lies at the heart of our worship.. Again, we need to know that the one we worship, the one that we cling to for life is holy and therefore how we approach the holy God requires holiness ourselves. So two points as we walk through this passage. 1. The Problem of Holiness. Yes, it requires holiness to approach a holy God, but we have a problem and it's a holiness problem. That's the first point. 2. Access Through the Holy One - And then second is how we nonetheless gain access to the Holy God through a Holy One. The Problem of Holiness So let's start out for this first point. First, the problem of holiness. And notice that when we turn to our passage, our author begins picking up where he left off in chapter eight. In chapter eight, you may recall a few weeks back when we spent some time studying that passage, our author spent some time comparing and contrasting the so-called old covenant. The old covenant was this covenant that God made with Moses to the nation of Israel. And he contrasts this old covenant with the new covenant, the new covenant, the covenant that God has inaugurated through his son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. After comparing and contrasting these two covenants the old covenant and the new covenant, or the first covenant in the second covenant in chapter eight of Hebrews, arguing all along the way for the superiority of the new covenant. Now, in chapter nine, our author focuses on just one aspect of these various covenants. Namely how one worshiped in the old covenant versus how we worship in the new covenant. In fact, that's his focus throughout this passage. And to begin, he spends the first 10 verses or so focused on what worship in this old covenant with Moses looked like in its own day. So to begin our survey of the contrast that our author draws in our passage, look with me at versus two through five of our passage. There our author begins by going back well over a thousand years from the time in which he writes, to explain to us the system of worship in the old covenant with the so-called tabernacle. Notice that in the first five verses or so of our passage, our author spends a lot of time here describing to us this earthly place of holiness that was known as the tabernacle. So to give you a little bit of background to this thing called the tabernacle. After the Exodus event, and you can read all about this in the Book of Exodus, when God, through his servant Moses led his people out of slavery and captivity in Egypt. He gathered his people in the desert to himself at a place called Mount Sinai. This is an event you can read about beginning in Exodus 19, where the people of Israel were wandering through the desert and God led them to this mountain called Mount Sinai. It was at Sinai where God called Moses up on the mountain, and he gave him the Ten Commandments. God entered at that point into a covenant with Israel. He secured a relationship with his people. He promised at that point to be their God. He promised that they would be his people. He gave them laws, and he promised that if they lived according to those laws, that they would be blessed. Well, after articulating that the essence of these laws in the Ten Commandments, much of the Book of Exodus, the second half of Exodus that is, is taken up with describing to us the construction and design of this thing called the tabernacle. Now, the tabernacle was this large mobile tent in the old covenant where God's people would go in order to worship God. They would come into the tabernacle and they would offer bloody animal sacrifices when they sinned. The priest of Israel, a special group of among the nation, would also minister day and night in the tabernacle complex. So with that background in mind, when we look at versus two through five of our passage, we noticed that our author is concerned here with describing to us the various sections of this mobile tent called the tabernacle and some of the furniture or the equipment that was in the tabernacle. And by the way, if you're using a sermon worksheet this morning, the ones that we normally hand out or place in the back, I've included a schematic of the tabernacle in that for you to follow along as we work through these verses. Nonetheless, let's point out a few features of this tabernacle, according to our passage. Well, for one thing, our author tells us that this tabernacle had various sections to it. When a worshipper would come into this tabernacle with a sacrifice, he would have to go into, first of all, this outer portion called the outer court of the tabernacle. That was as far as he could go. A worshipper could bring an offering a bull or a goat or a bird, depending on whatever the kind of sacrifice he came to offer would be. He would then have to kill the sacrifice himself in the outer courtyard. It gets a little bit graphic. He then had to chop up the sacrifice accordingly and then let the priest do the rest. Which often involved taking a portion of the sacrifice or all of the sacrifice, and then burning it all up on this thing called the brazen altar or the altar of burnt offering that was in this outside, outer court kind of complex. Then towards the back of this tabernacle complex was a smaller tent, which was called the tent of meeting. This tent of meeting this enclosure in the back was divided into two sections, and only the priests of Israel were allowed to enter that tent. Average Joe Israel worshipper couldn't go in it. Only the priests were allowed to go in that tent. So our author and Hebrews tells us that in this first section of the tent, this was known as the Holy Place, there was a lamp stand that was kept burning continually. If you've ever seen a menorah that represents this lamp, stand in the tabernacle, the lampstand was known as a menorah. There was also a golden table which had these 12 loaves of bread on it called show bread that were replaced every Sabbath day. Then in front of the second curtain, so there was another curtain inside, there was an altar known as the Altar of Incense, on which the priests would crush up incense every day, and they burn these incense on this small Altar of Incense. This was located right in front of the second section, which is called the Most Holy Place. You have a Holy Place, and then the second section is called the Most Holy Place. So let's talk about that second section for a moment. Again, after you entered the temple or tabernacle complex, then you walked into the tent of meeting, you'd arrive at the Holy Place. We just talked about that. Then there was a second curtain that opened into this Most Holy Place, and it was in that central most interior room that God's people held it to be the Most Holy Place on Earth. Because that in that Most Holy Place was where God in a sense, dwelled on Earth. Now, the whole tabernacle complex was holy, but as you drew further and further into the tabernacle complex, you get into the courtyard, then the Holy Place, then the Most Holy Place. The idea was that you were drawing closer and closer to the glory and the presence of God. So what was in this Most Holy Place? Well, our author points out, at least one thing. He tells us that this thing called the Ark of the Covenant was in there. Now this Ark of the Covenant was this ornate golden box that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Then there was a jar of Manna and Aaron's staff that were placed nearby. This Ark of the Covenant also had on it something called the Mercy Seat, which is just a fancy name for the lid of this big thing called the Ark of the Covenant. Then above the ark, there are these two golden cherubim. These images of heavenly creatures who overshadowed the mercy seat and they themselves represented the glory of God looking down upon the people. Now, this is only a short summary of all of the various items that were in the tabernacle and what the tabernacle looked like. And you could go to the Book of Exodus or Leviticus, or to a lesser extent, Numbers and read about all the details that you ever would want to know about tabernacle and tabernacle worship. Bear in mind that there were author gives us these these many details in verses two through five, and we could probably spend an entire sermon just talking about all those details and what everything represented. Our author gives us these details not to just give us some information, right? He does it with a particular purpose in mind. He wants us to see that though the tabernacle and all the furniture in it was arranged with with purpose and meaning and thought in mind. Though, this whole thing was carefully crafted by the best craftsmen in Israel, and it must have been a sight to behold in its own day. Pastor Jacob reminded us that it was a glorious place to be and in fact it was. It was nevertheless limited, incomplete and imperfect in what it could actually do. For as elaborate and ornate and as glorious as it must have been to be in the tabernacle in its own day. There was something about it that was always wanting. Over in San Jose, California, there's a historic landmark known as the Winchester Mystery House. It's this massive mansion that's about twenty-four thousand square feet. One hundred and sixty rooms, ten thousand windows, forty-seven staircases and six kitchens. Now, as the story goes, Sarah Winchester, whose husband was the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. They made the Winchester rifles. She tragically lost, in a short span of time, both her husband and her infant daughter to various diseases. So widowed and alone and severely depressed, Sarah Winchester moved from her home in New England to California. At some point along the way, she became convinced that her family was cursed by the people who had fallen dead to the Winchester rifle, and that the only way to find relief from this supposed curse was to continually nonstop build a house. And so in 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased this very small farmhouse, and between the years of 1884 and until her death in 1922, this farmhouse was subject to round the clock construction. As Sarah frantically sought to expand the house to what it is today. She spared no expense in the process. Now, if you were to visit the Winchester mystery house in its own day, I would imagine that you would probably encounter a beautiful, though still unfinished building. Although it probably looked majestic during its expansion. You nevertheless be faced with the fact that it was still incomplete. Regardless of how well it looked, there always seemed to be no end to the constant work and construction and expansion that was directed by Sarah Winchester. Now, well, the tabernacle never underwent endless construction like the Winchester house. Worshippers nevertheless still had to face a similar reality to the one that onlookers and visitors to the Winchester house had to face in its own day. And that is, it was incomplete. In one sense, the construction of the tabernacle may have been done, but the tabernacle itself could never achieve what it pointed towards. It may have looked beautiful. It may have been this glorious place where God's presence dwelled, but its outward appearance couldn't make up for the fact that it was only provisional and limited, imperfect and incomplete, and it would never see the end to which it looked. Just as this earthly place of holiness was limited, provisional, so too the holy regulations that governed what happened inside were likewise limited and incomplete. Notice that when we proceed in our passage to verses six through 10, our author tells us how the priests of Israel ministered inside the tabernacle. So we hear a lot about the furniture and the construction and verses two through five. And now we learned what happened inside the tabernacle. Our author tells us a few things. First, he tells us that it was the priest's job, like we already said, to enter into this first section of the tabernacle regularly, what we call the Holy Place, to perform their ritual duties. Now, these duties would have included things like trimming the lamps on the menorah, which was constantly lit up. It would have included crushing incense and burning incense, always at the altar of incense, Among other duties that they had to perform. While these priests had the weighty job of drawing near to God, of drawing into the Holy Place, it was only the job of the High Priest, one select priests out of all the priests, who got to go into the Most Holy Place once a year and have as close to direct access to God as one could ever hope to have under the old covenant. On the so-called Annual Day of Atonement and this is described for us in Leviticus 16, the High Priest got to draw near to God in the Most Holy Place. To do so required quite an ordeal to unfold. First, the high priest before he would enter in, he had to dress himself in pure white linen. A special vestments had to be procured and put on. Then after clothing himself accordingly, the high priest had to go outside. He had to slaughter a bull and then come into the Most Holy Place with the blood of a bull and was required to sprinkle it on the mercy seat, the mercy seat being that lid of the Ark of the Covenant that we already mentioned. In doing that, he would take care of his own sins and the sin of his family. But all wasn't done because remember, a priest was supposed to represent the nation of Israel. The high priest supremely so. So after atoning making up for his sins and the sins of his family, he then had to go out to the courtyard and he had to get a goat this time. Slaughter a goat, bring the blood of the goat in in order to deal with the sins of the people of Israel, those he represented. Now you only need to read a few chapters in the Book of Leviticus to know that this day, in particular, the Day of Atonement and tabernacle worship in general was a bloody affair. If you're the kind of person who gets queasy at the sight or thought of blood, I apologize. I do too just ask my wife. But the whole system revolved around the offering of blood in order to take care of the sins of our people. Notice that in our passage our author reminds us that when the High Priest went in to the Most Holy Place, he did so not without taking blood. Blood was central to these offerings because blood was seen as representing the life of an animal or person. And so when you offered the blood of an animal, you are offering life in your place. Because the wages of sin is death. Understand that sin is so serious, even one sin is such an affront against a holy and eternally Holy God, that life has to be taken. Blood has to be spilled in order to pay the debt that our sin incurs. In a sacrificial system, this is what you'd be reminded of over and over again. You'd be reminded every day about the seriousness of sin and about how costly rebellion against a Holy God really is. One the things we should take away from this curious study of the tabernacle is exactly that. That sin is serious and sin, brothers and sisters is quite costly. I can recall the first time in my life. Unfortunately, the only time up until now in my life where I got into a car accident. When I was in high school, I was driving through a parking lot and upon turning down one of the rows, I took to turn a little bit too tightly and ended up clipping the front end of a car with my parents minivan that I was driving. Apparently, I took the turn too tightly and in the aftermath I was quite embarrassed by it all. I was afraid of the consequences of my parents, but other than that, I didn't think too much about the fender bender, because outside of a few dents and scratches, the minivan seemed OK. It was still running fine, so no harm, no foul. But a week or two later, after the minivan got repaired, my dad reported to me the damage that was incurred to the minivan. Fortunately, insurance covered it, but he told us that he told me that the insurance claim was as far as I can recall, it's been a while, several thousand dollars. At the time that was shocking to hear because it just didn't look that bad. As a naive high schooler who admittedly had no conception for what things cost, it took me quite by surprise to hear that dents and scratches and bodywork could cost that much. It took that event for me to come to terms with just how costly it can be to scratch up your vehicle a little bit. It might not look that bad on the surface of things, but the cost can be quite steep. In the same way, friends, we often just don't get the costliness of our own sin. The only reason that such a pervasive belief exists even among Evangelicals, that there are many paths to God and that God accepts a variety of worship is because the need for holiness isn't held in as high regard as it needs to be.God just isn't elevated in our thoughts or affections as the one who is utterly holy, and we don't view ourselves very often through the lens in which the Bible sees us, as utterly unholy in our human nature. The only reason that belief that I mentioned at the outset, the only reason that gains a foothold in the world and in the church is because we have a severely distorted view of holiness. But even if you're on the right side of orthodoxy on that issue and you're part of the apparently 40 percent of evangelicals who rightly confess that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ and him alone. Well, we too, can sometimes carry a functionally naive view of our sin. After all, how often do we see ourselves completely justified and unstained in the midst of conflict? Or how long do we harbor grudges and bitterness when somebody sins against us in the most minor of ways? Or how many times do we relativize our sin to comfort ourselves in view of the apparent graver infractions of others? Friends, we need to understand that even the smallest sin is rebellion against God and his law, and even the smallest sin requires that blood be spilled and that life be paid to shield us from the righteous wrath of God. Do you understand that? Do you get that? And if you're a Christian, do you grieve your sin accordingly? Or are you humble when your church family graciously calls you to confession? And more importantly, are you looking to Jesus every single day as the only solution to your sin problem? And if you're not a Christian, if you don't even consider yourself a Christian, know that you have a serious holiness problem. God is more holy than you ever dared imagine, and you are less holy and less well off than you imagine that you are. The only solution, the only solution to our holiness problem and the only way any of us could draw near and stand in the presence of a Holy God is through a priestly representative who himself is the perfection of holiness. Access Through the Holy One This leads to our second point where we discover that though our sin makes access to God into Holy Places, tenuous at best. Through the Holy One of Israel, the doors to God's throne of Grace have been swung wide open for you and me. So second point, access through the Holy One. Know again, there were a couple of big issues with the tabernacle in the old covenant. For one thing, access we already mentioned this, was extremely limited. Remember only the High Priest and only at that once a year got to enter into the Most Holy Place. Another issue was that the entire sacrificial system couldn't, as our author tells us, quote, perfect the conscience of the worshipper. These sacrificial offerings may have been able to deal with external issues and ceremonial issues, but they couldn't get at the sin issue that's lodged deep in the human heart. But when the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ, our Lord came into the world as our better high priest. When he lived as an unstained priestly representative on our behalf and then died as a perfect and final bloody sacrifice for sin. What we learn in our text and Hebrews returns to this theme a number of times, that when that happened, Jesus entered in to the real heavenly tabernacle so that as a holy cleansed people, we could follow in his train. Down in the swamps of Central Florida lies what many people would believe to be the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. At one of the parks in Disney World Epcot Center, you can immerse yourself if you so choose in the culture of a variety of different nations. You see at Epcot, there's this large lake, and around this large lake are 11 pavilions, which feature 11 different nations. The architecture of each of these pavilions is designed to reflect the respective nation they represent, as well as the food they serve and the items they sell. It's supposed to be this cross-cultural experience in the heart of Central Florida. So take France, for example, if you spent some time at Epcot Center and in the French Pavilion at Epcot, you could feast on authentic French pastries. I think they call them patisserie in French. You could speak with employees in French, even if your French is broken and they'll happily converse with you rather than rolling their eyes at you like a Frenchman did to me once in Paris, but that's another story. There's even a miniature Eiffel Tower at the French Pavilion in Epcot, too. Despite journeying to the French Pavilion at Epcot, you can't say you've been to France because it's not the real thing. It may have the look and feel of authentic French culture. People might speak the French language, but you'd be fooling yourself if when you return you said, I have been to France, because the pavilion is only an imperfect replica of the real thing. This is what the tabernacle of the old covenant was. We've already said that it was imperfect, it was incomplete, but in saying that, bear in mind, it was never going to be complete because it always represented something better. Heaven itself. When Jesus spilled his blood, we learned in Hebrews 9:12, he entered once for all into Holy Places. He didn't enter into the physical tabernacle or the physical temple in Jerusalem. Not at all, he entered into heaven itself, and in doing so, he opened up the way for you and me to truly fellowship with God in the present that no one, not even the high priest of the old covenant, was privy to. Friends, the benefits we receive from Christ's ascension into the better and more perfect tabernacle are benefits found in no other world religion and no other institution on Earth. The Heidelberg Catechism, one reformed confession catechism that we look at from time to time, ask the question at one point, how does Christ's ascension benefit us? It's a good question to ask. What should we gain from Christ ascension? And it answers that question by reminding us that because of Christ ascension, we have three things. We have one someone who advocates for you and me at the father's right hand. Because of Christ ascension two, we have the promise that we one day when we die and finish our sojourn on this Earth we will be taken to heaven too. Then three, because of Christ's ascension, we receive the spirit of the risen and ascended Christ right now, who, according to Heidelberg Catechism, who by whose power we seek, the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God and not things that are on Earth. So are you doing that right now? Are you seeking the things of heaven and not the things of Earth? Brothers and sisters, because Christ entered into the heavenly tabernacle, we have been granted the spirit of the risen and ascended Christ, who, among other things, directs our gaze heavenward. Who Directs our gaze from thinking about and concerning ourselves from day to night with the things of this Earth and instead directs our gaze to the heavenly places where Christ is seated. Is that where your mind, is that where your heart, is that where your affections are focused as you sojourn in this life under the sun? Ask yourself in relationships with people who you love, who don't know Christ, is it your desire above everything else that they would become citizens of this heavenly kingdom through faith in Christ? Is it your hope above everything else that the Kingdom of God that the will of God would be done on Earth as it is in heaven? And does your speech reflect that in the way you talk about God and in the way you talk about things? Does your schedule reflect that in the way you prioritize things? Or are you really more focused on building and preserving your own kingdom here on Earth? Friends through Christ's ascension into the real deal, the real heavenly tabernacle, we have access to God in the present. Access that no priest under the old covenant administration had. Access to better heavenly food and spiritual gifts and the great hope of one day joining Christ in the heavenly places, too. As our passage prepares to close, we're reminded once again that the only reason at all that we have these benefits in the so-called new covenant, which is where we live in and what we enjoy, is because of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Now we've already heard quite a bit about blood in our passage. But the reality is that animal blood could never do anything about the problem of sin. It could purify the flesh as far as externalities were concerned, but it couldn't do anything about the human heart. And yet, Christ's blood does and can. First, we learn that Christ's blood didn't deal with temporary uncleanliness. Remember, the tabernacle blood had to be offered again and again. A worshipper sins, they come into the tabernacle, they offer blood. The next week, they sin, they come into the tabernacle, more blood and on and on and on. But with Christ, our author tells us, when he offered up his own blood, he secured an eternal redemption. This is why Jesus could say on the cross it is finished. No more laboring and never arriving, no more longing and never receiving. In Christ and it's finished and it's finished for good. Christ's blood, we read, redeems us, which means that it frees us from the slavery and bondage of sin. Understand that if you don't know Christ, the Bible tells us that you are not free. The Bible tells us that you are a captive, that you are enslaved by your own sin nature. You're not free in the way you might think. Yet Christ offers for us the perfect price to emancipate all those who find refuge in him from the slavery of guilt and sin, that apart from Christ, holds all of us captive. Then we learn that through the very same blood of Christ, it also purifies our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. Through Christ's blood our hearts are cleansed, our souls are cleansed, all of our spiritual faculties are cleansed whiter than snow. In telling us that Christ purifies our consciences or authors getting something specific here. Understand that in the Bible, the conscience is what gives us our sense of guilt. When we feel guilty about something, it's because our conscience has been pricked. John Owen, for example, notes that when Adam hid from God after he sinned, it was because of his conscience. His conscience produced in him a sense of guilt and shame. And so too, when our consciences are overwhelmed with a sense of guilt of our sin, it's often our tendency, we do this in various ways, to hide from God. Yet through the blood of Christ, our consciences, we hear have been purified such that we have no reason to hide from God. We don't need to hide our sin or try to hide our sin from God as if we ever could. We don't need to be apprehensive about coming to our Heavenly Father. Though we often do and should grieve our sin when we sin, we need not be haunted by the sins of our past. Christ has cleansed our whole being through his blood, including our consciences. As a consequence, we have been not only free to approach God regularly and boldly, approaching, as the author of Hebrews tells us earlier the throne of grace with confidence, but we've also been invited and this is where our passage ends to serve him too. This is the direction this whole passage drives. That having been cleansed, having been redeemed by the blood of Christ, we are urged then to serve the living God. As Christians, we serve God in a number of ways. First and foremost, we serve him in our worship by giving him the praise that he's due. We serve him in the world by bearing witness a salt and light in every opportunity that we're given. We serve him in the church by serving his body. We serve him at our homes by disciplining those in our household. Christ has set us free so that we might boldly do just that. That we might boldly serve him in all of the various ways and opportunities he's given us to do so. That's the call that this passage ends with. Application What should we take away from all this? Well, in conclusion, I just have one thing for us to think through. One thing for us to maybe apply, if you will, and that is be holy. By this, I mean two things. First, be holy positionally. That is if you don't embrace the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ as savior and king know once again that you will have no hope to enter the Holy Places where Christ is seated. Unfortunately, one of the typical tropes we hear in our pluralistic culture is that just as there are many ways up a mountain, theoretically, so too there are many ways to God. Yet the Bible tells us that the only way to ascend the mountain, the mountain which belongs to God, is with clean hands and a pure heart. Now, in our human nature, none of us meet those criteria spiritually. All our hands are dirty, and all of our hearts are stained with sin, rotten to the core. But Jesus Christ does meet those criteria. The plea from our passage is that you would therefore know him, that you would identify with him, that you would place your trust in him, and that when you do so that you know that you will be a member of the holy people of God. Who are holy, not because of anything we've done, but only because of Jesus Christ our Lord. Yet the starting point for all of us is to be holy in this positional kind of way through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible still calls us to be progressively holy, too. After all, Peter tells us, "Just as he who called you as holy, you also be holy in all of your conduct." To be holy simply means to be set apart from that which is common. As it applies to our lives as Christians, holiness calls us to recognize first and foremost where our citizenship lies and to live as citizens of that kingdom during our sojourn on Earth. It's an appeal to learn the language of that kingdom, the customs of that kingdom, to grow in fellowship with the people of that kingdom, and to resist being discipled by the kingdoms of this world. So grow and holiness, because in Christ Jesus, you are already holy. Trust that the Holy One of Israel will welcome you into his holy, heavenly tabernacle through Christ and Christ alone when he calls each of us into our glorious home. Pray with me. Gracious, Heavenly Father, Lord, we are challenged in some ways by this appeal to holiness because we know in our flesh that we often don't live as holy people that we are. And we also take hold of the promise, the promise that through Christ Jesus, we are the holy people of God. Through the Holy One of Israel, we have become positionally holy so that we could draw near to you regularly and boldly and with confidence. Lord, I pray that we would remember that. That we would do that regularly. That we would not shortchange the benefits of the new covenant that are ours in Christ Jesus. That you would help us remember these things by your Spirit as we live, move and have our being. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen.

    “Pay Much Closer Attention to the Gospel” – Hebrews 2:1-4

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 22, 2021 32:51

    The post “Pay Much Closer Attention to the Gospel” – Hebrews 2:1-4 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “God is in Heaven, but You are on Earth” – Ecclesiastes 5:1–7

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 15, 2021 37:57

    The post “God is in Heaven, but You are on Earth” – Ecclesiastes 5:1–7 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “God is in Heaven, but You are on Earth” – Ecclesiastes 5:1–7

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 15, 2021

    Hear now the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. 1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. When I was in college I worked for two years as a page in the Nebraska legislature, which essentially meant that I was an errand boy. I would go to make photocopies, I would pass messages to the offices of the senators, I would get them food and drink as they wanted it and requested it. I'm even told back in the day before my time, this would involve pages going and placing bets on horse races for the senators. I don't know if that was true or just a rumor, I certainly was never asked to do anything like that. Ye it was a lot of menial tasks; go do this, go do that. Now what was interesting to me, among many other things of working there, was that in many contexts of my life both before and and afterwards it was a very different approach to those activities than I had to approach that particular job. Most of the time in life there's sort of an unspoken understanding that the way to distinguish yourself, the way to do well in any activity, is by really working hard to excel as much as you can in what you do in your speech or in your action. It was a very different kind of thing in the legislature. In the legislature no one cared in the least what I had to say about any of the bills that were going to be introduced. There were elected representatives there who were supposed to deal with that for me. To spout off my opinion would have been a fireable offense. So my words mattered not in the least in that context. Also, the work wasn't particularly difficult. There are only so many ways that you can bring someone a cup of coffee. In that particular environment we were simply unworthy servants doing our duty. Let me say that was one of the most interesting things I did in my life, because it was a joy to be a part of something bigger than I was. Even though I had the smallest role to play in fetching photocopies and glasses of water, I had a part to play in what was going on as the Nebraska state legislature was convening for the business in front of them. Well in religion, in faith, even each week as we gather for worship, it's very easy to fall into some of those unspoken understandings that I talked about that affect most of the contexts of our lives. It's easy to think that here, when we gather together, the thing to do is to try to say the right words or to do the right things. The preacher here is reminding us and trying to draw our attention back to what the rest of the scriptures say. Namely that when we come before the Lord, when we come into worship, you are not what is important, God is. When our attention is shifted away from me, myself, and I to the Lord, that's when true worship can happen. Our big idea today as we look at this particular text is do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Now you probably recognize this is the third commandment, “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” A couple of things I want to say about that. This is the third commandment and we're going to see that from this particular text. I do want to note that that word for vain, “don't take the name of the Lord in vain”, is not quite the same word that the preacher is so often using in Ecclesiastes when he talks about, “vanity of vanities, all this vanity.” They're different words, but they do have overlapping meanings which is why they're translated into the same word in English. So there's two points to our sermon today. 1. Hear God 2. Fear God Hear God So let's start with hear God. This passage is set up into these two sections, the section about emphasizing hearing God is in verses one through three. So look at what the preacher says. 1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Ecclesiastes 5:1, ESV Now the house of God refers to the temple. This phrase is used throughout the Old Testament to talk about the temple the house of God is the temple. Remember Solomon is the author of this book in Ecclesiastes, now I do want to say that's somewhat debated, but that's my view that Solomon wrote this. We should note that Solomon is never explicitly named in Ecclesiastes, but someone either wants us to think about Solomon or it is actually Solomon. So in either case thinking about the temple, in Solomon's relationship to the temple, Solomon was the one who built the temple. He was the one who offered the prayer on the day when the temple was consecrated. He has a special front seat insight into the holiness of the temple. How should we approach God when we go to worship him in the house of God? He says specifically that we should guard our steps. Now this word for guard is very important in the Old Testament, especially as we talk about approaching the holy places of God. This was one of the words that refers to a word that God used to command Adam in his task in the Garden of Eden. On the one hand he was supposed to work or to cultivate the Garden of Eden. He was supposed to expand the borders of the Garden of Eden so that as he and Eve bore more children, who were going to bear the image of God like they did. As the borders of Eden would expand over the whole earth, it would be filled up with more image bearers, and then the glory of the Lord would fill the whole earth. He was also supposed to guard it, to keep it, to protect the Garden of Eden, to protect the holiness of the Garden of Eden. God commanded him to do this, but then Adam failed, that was in Genesis 2:15 where that charge comes to guard the Garden of Eden. When Adam fails, when he sins, when he permits the serpent to enter into the Garden of Eden, when he doesn't cast the serpent out, when he lets the serpent engage in this conversation to lead him and his wife astray into sin, well God has to expel Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. We read that two angels, true cherubim, God stationed them at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life. That's that same word, they were to guard the way to the Tree of Life, they were to protect its holiness and its sanctity. Later on when the tabernacle, the movable tent structure that was used for the temple in the days of Moses, we read that the Levites were encamped around the tabernacle. Their job, again, was to guard the tabernacle. If anyone who was not authorized to enter into that tabernacle tried to make a break to enter into the tabernacle, their instructions were clear, they were to put that outsider to death. In that case it's a very serious thing to guard the holiness of the Lord. The preachers reminding us of this, don't treat this as a light thing, as a vain insubstantial thing to come into the house of the Lord. So, what then does this mean for us? How do we guard our steps? What are we supposed to do? Well he explains this in the next half of verse one, and it's interesting the direction he takes. He says, “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” What does it mean to guard your steps is to listen to God? Now this word for listen, Derek Kidnapper points out in his commentary, this means first of all you have got to pay attention to this. Sometimes this word is translated as hear. My children I know are hearing me sometimes but they're not listening to me and you have to get their attention and make sure the sound isn't just going over their heads, but they're paying attention to what's said. I'm the same way in my relationship with God, I hear him and don't always listen. The preacher's saying don't do that, pay attention to God. Also this idea of listening has to do with obeying. It's not just to say, got it I heard you, message received and then to turn a different way and to disobey God. This idea of listening carries the idea of obeying what God has called us to. Now at Harvest we talk a lot about the fact that when we are entering into worship, if you want to boil down what we're doing here we're having a dialogue with God. We're having a conversation with God. He is the one who leads this conversation, he speaks to us from his word and our job as the gathered congregation is to respond back to him, speak back to him. God speaks to us and we speak back to him again and again and again. All of this is guided by God's own word to us. So, what it means to offer the sacrifice of fools? “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” There's a couple of thoughts on this. The first would be to offer sacrifices without faith. So if you're familiar with the story of Cain in Genesis chapter four, think about how he offered sacrifices before the Lord but God did not accept them, because he didn't offer those sacrifices by faith. God says if you do well, will you not be accepted? That's one option. Another option, and this is probably where I would lean, is to think that this sacrifice of fools refers to idol speaking people who are just running their mouths in worship. It stems from an idea of trying to please God by multiplying our words. Jesus talked about that, don't be like the Gentiles and build up and layer upon yourself vain words. The Lord knows what you have to say before you even speak it, you don't need to yammer on with this idol speaking. That would be the sacrifice of fools. Now one of the reasons I think that's probably the direction that he's going is what he says in the very next verse in verse 2. He says, 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV This is sort of the follow-up. What is the sacrifice of fools? It's to be hasty with your words before God. So when we come into this worship, this dialogue of worship, our side of the conversation isn't open-ended, it is an open mic day at church for all of us to just vent whatever is on our mind. We're in a very strictly regulated conversation, where God is guiding it from beginning to end. God gets the first word, God gets the last word. When God speaks we respond appropriately and therefore God is dominating this conversation. It's in that sense that we should be guarding our words. Why? Because God is in heaven and we are on earth, therefore let your words be few. The point is not that God is so distant that he doesn't even hear you, why are you wasting your breath with all of those words. That's not the point, the point is rather God is exalted in heaven and you are a fool if you come in and just vent whatever is on your mind. You must not approach God casually. Again, why do people try to do this? Why do we try to multiply our words? It's because some part of us thinks, according to the unspoken understanding in so many other contexts of our life, that we distinguish ourselves by speaking well or doing things well. So we want to sound impressive and wise and spiritual and so we multiply these words thinking it's on that basis that God will be pleased. The preacher reminds us don't do that. God is in heaven and you are on earth, therefore let your words be few. Well then in this section, and we'll see the same kind of pattern in the next section, the preacher closes with a parable, something for us to consider. He says, 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words. Ecclesiastes 5:3, ESV What kind of dream is he talking about here? We just did a sermon series, if you were here for it, through the story of Joseph's life and in Joseph's life it was punctuated by several really important revelation giving dreams. In Genesis 37 Joseph has dreams where God is revealing Joseph's fate, his future. Later on Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. Then later Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh himself. These are all giving revelation about what is going to happen in the future. Well that's probably not the kind of dream that the preacher is telling us about. Here he's talking about dreams in the sense of the unsubstantial fleeting dreams that we all have at night. Do you ever wake up with your heart pounding because you did something or forgot to do something? You wake up and think oh my goodness what's going to happen and you realize even though your heart is troubled by all the business that's been raised in that dream, it's just a dream. It's no big deal, it's insubstantial, it's fleeting, it doesn't make a difference in real life, it was just a dream. Well the preacher is saying in the same way that a dream multiplies your business, there's much heat behind it, so also a fool multiplies or comes with many words. There's a lot of heat to them, a lot of business to do with them, but at the end of the day it's all vanity. Those words are insubstantial. We must come and worship to hear God. So to summarize this first section, we come not to speak but to listen. Certainly we speak in response to God, but we're not coming here on open mic morning at the church. So why is listening so important? Well again we talked about this a couple of times in Ecclesiastes, the preacher doesn't give us the solution to questions he raises that's sort of tied up in a nice neat little bow for us. The preacher is more often clearing away error so that we can see with greater clarity what the rest of the Bible is telling us as a solution. So why is listening so important? Well let me tell you two reasons why listening is so important that the rest of the Bible tells us about. The first reason is this, unless we come with a listening attentive ear to God we won't give God what he wants in worship. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, he's retired now, but he's written a very good book on marriage. I've used it sometimes in my premarital counseling classes that I've done with people. Tim Keller gives a story of another theologian R.C. Sproul. He tells a story that R.C. Sproul relates where R.C. talks about his own marriage with his wife Vesta. So R.C. says that early on in their marriage he and Vesta really talked past each other, didn't listen to each other, didn't understand what each other wanted as gifts on their birthdays. So R.C. wanted something that he wouldn't buy for himself he was really hoping on the first birthday when they were married for golf clubs. That'd be a fun thing that he wouldn't be able to justify in his own mind spending on himself. His practically oriented wife Vesta instead got him six beautiful white shirts. He had to hide his disappointment. Well then when it was Vesta's turn R.C. wanted to go all out and to show this is what you do on a birthday, you give someone something lavish. So he gave her this beautiful fur coat, when what she wanted was a new washer and dryer, something practical that she could use every day. It's not honoring to God when we don't listen to him to give him what he wants in worship, when we try to order off the registry. What God has told us he wants in worship and to give him something that we really think he would like, that does not honor God, that dishonors him. Unless we listen we won't give to God what he wants in worship. The second reason is that unless we listen we will miss the free grace of the gospel that God promises us in his word. You may be familiar with the nursery rhyme that goes like this, “I met a man with seven wives, Each wife had seven sacks, Each sack had seven cats, Each cat had seven kits: Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, How many were there going to St. Ives?” It's a riddle and if you listen very carefully to the riddle you know that the answer is very simple. The answer is one. As I was going to St. Ives. I met these people coming from St. Ives, this very strange group of people and animals and sacks, but only one was going to St. Ives. The answer is very simple if you're listening, but if you're not listening the answer becomes very difficult. You try to do all of the math and calculate seven times seven times seven, plus I guess this guy and the person who was going to St. Ives and all of that and you come up with I think 2,802. No I didn't add that up, I looked it up on the internet, it's too hard of a question for someone like me to answer. If we don't listen to God we totally miss the free grace of the gospel that he offers through Jesus Christ. This is simple and it's good news that Christ has done everything and you don't need to do anything. Christ has perfectly obeyed for you and he has perfectly suffered and died for everything that you have done wrong. Christ is your whole righteousness and your sole righteousness, the entirety of your righteousness, and your alone righteousness before Christ. You receive him as your righteousness, not by works but by faith. I think about man-made religion when we just intuit and try to think about what we think God would want from us. The direction our minds go always makes the problem harder, always tries to calculate seven times seven times seven what do I need to do to please God? If we listen to what God says, he announces better news than we could ever imagine. That God has done everything required for salvation through sending his son into the world to die for us. We must take care of how we approach God in worship. We must take care that we come to hear him, to pay attention to him, and to obey him, and to respond to him by faith. Especially because what he has to tell us in the gospel is better news than we could think or imagine. God is in heaven and he summons us into his presence. As our king we dare not yammer in his presence like fools. We must listen to him with reverence. Fear God It's not only that we operate off of these unspoken cultural assumptions that we need to speak. Very often we are guided by a desire to do something big and extravagant to prove ourselves. That's what the preacher talks about in the second section. Remember the second section is characterized by the command that we must fear God. So to get into this let's read again verses four through six. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, ESV Now we have to ask this question, what's a vow? He's talking here about when in the Old Testament law there were some tithes that were commanded, every Old Testament Israelite worshiper was commanded to give several tithes each year. Beyond what was required Old Testament worshipers could make vows to go above and beyond what God had commanded them, they could offer these vows to the Lord. That's especially noted for us in Deuteronomy 23:21-23 21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23, ESV Well again in Deuteronomy, Moses is telling us essentially the same thing as the preacher is saying here. If you say something you better be willing to pay it up and if you're not why would you say it in the first place? That's a good question? Why would we be tempted to let our mouths run ahead of us, to promise to do something big and extravagant? Well it's based on that idea that if I can do something and prove myself that will impress you and that will impress God. That is a fundamentally foolish view of what God requires of us. God doesn't want us to prove ourselves by what we say or about what we do in his sight. He calls us into his presence to respond to his word. However if we do let our mouth speak, we'd better be willing to pay up what God has called us to do. Well again, like in the first section this section is concluded with a parable, something to think about. Again the preacher is talking about dreams. So verse seven here's the parable, 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. Ecclesiastes 5:7, ESV Think about how many dreams you have over the course of the night. Maybe you remember them, maybe you don't remember them, but your mind is sort of always going through these dreams and running through all of these scenarios that are multiplying. Yet they're all just like vapers. They're vanity, they pass away. So is the one who lets his words increase and lets his mouth outrun what he's actually capable of backing up and fulfilling. We can't promise God by what we promise to do, that's foolish. What we're really getting at here from the preacher's words is that it is doubly foolish to promise something extravagant that we can't actually pay for. The preacher concludes this with the final exhortation, and this is the summary of this whole passage of verses one through seven, he says, “but God is the one you must fear”. The Old Testament talks extensively about the fear of the Lord. When it talks about the fear of the Lord, that isn't talking about a terror or a phobia we should have about God. As Benjamin Shaw points out, the fear of the Lord in the Old Testament refers to faith. We're talking about faith. It's not the multiplication of our words and promises before the Lord, but it's responsive trust and obedience to God's word and his promises to us. The foundation of what it means to fear the Lord is to recognize that your standing before God has nothing to do with what you can say and nothing to do with what you can do to impress God. It doesn't have anything to do with you, your standing with God is entirely dependent upon what Christ has done for you in your place. If it isn't dependent upon you, well that moves you out of a dread or a terror where you are plagued by the sense of needing to justify yourself before God. Then it lets you stand before God in freedom. You think about other contexts, you think about the context of a date. No one wants to go on a date with someone who is endlessly talking and bragging about himself or herself. Why? Well because what that means is the other person is so insecure or that they need to justify being on that date with you. No company wants to hire people who brag endlessly about their abilities. Why? Because again that says this person is trying to justify something or trying to hide something. I've been in job interviews where I didn't speak from the beginning to the end of it, because the one I was interviewing talked the entire time and it didn't make a good impression. When we stand before the Lord we don't have to try to justify ourselves. It's interesting, as unworthy of a servant as I was in that Nebraska legislature, I had a unique privilege. I could walk wherever I wanted in the entire capital. Really I could certainly walk onto the floor of the legislature where things were in session. Is that because I was important? Absolutely not, I was an insignificant unworthy servant on the floor there. I was just there to get them their coffee and their photocopies. When I was brought in, I was accepted. My standing was dependent on the fact that I was brought in there as an official capacity and so because of that I didn't have to justify my presence there, I could just go about my business. Don't be so vain that you probably think that worship is about you. Far better worship is not about you, it is about God. That is why we come into his presence, we must listen to him because this God not only calls you but he loves you and sent his son Jesus Christ to die for you. This is the wonderful news in the gospel. Application So how do we apply this? 1. Well the first application that we should get, following what the preacher is telling us, is that we must come to hear God's words. In every other human man-made religion the main thing is what we say or what we do. Everything depends on our words or our performance. Christianity is fundamentally different because Christianity isn't a human-made religion, it comes to us from God. It's not about what we say, it's not about what we do, but it's about what God does and what he says about what he does. It's about the facts of what God has done in history, that he created the world, the heavens and the earth, and everything in it. Then not only is God our creator, but he's the one who providentially upholds everything that happens, including that special area of his providential upholding of the world in the area of redemption. This is where God chose to send his only son into this world in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was born in history, lived in history, died in history ,and was raised bodily from the dead in history, and who now is ascended to the right hand of the Father where he is reigning even today until he brings history to its completion and consummation at the end of time. We need that story, those facts. We need to hear it from the Word, but we also need it from the Word because it's there that God interprets those facts. It's really not enough just to know that some man named Jesus lived and died, we have to know why that's significant. We have to know that not only that he died, but that he died for our sins according to the scriptures, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. So what this means is that when we come to worship, we come not to perform before God. We come to listen to God. Yes this is a dialogue and we have our own speaking part, but God is the one who is guiding this conversation. He gets the first and last word. When we speak, we speak in response to what God has said. So at the beginning of his service, what we heard from Psalm 95 was God declaring that he is our glorious creator, and we responded with songs of praise. When God tells us that we have sinned, especially in breaking the fifth commandment that we considered today, we respond in confession to God, confessing the ways in which we've fallen short. Then when God assures us that he forgives us by the promises of his word, because of Christ's sacrifice, we respond by faith and thanksgiving. Then when God urges us, like a father, to bring our needs before him, we respond by prayer. As we consider God's word in the sermon, as God teaches us his precepts, his statutes, his gospel from his word, we respond with repentance and faith and obedience. God is in heaven but the Father and the Son have poured out their Holy Spirit from heaven to meet with us here in this place on the Lord's day on earth. Therefore we must let our words be few. We must not come yammering on. We must come to hear the word of the Lord, to pay careful attention to God's word, to believe his gospel promises, and to respond to God's law with repentance into God's gospel with faith. Then to obey God's words from the gratitude of unworthy servants who've been reconciled to a holy God. This is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. This is the worship that's pleasing to the Lord. 2. The second application of this is to keep your vows. Most vows that we see in the Bible come in the Old Testament. The Israelites could vow to offer special sacrifices or someone like Hannah vowed to devote Samuel, her son, to the Lord all his life, in 1 Samuel 1:11. We still make vows today, most prominently husbands and wives make vows in their marriages or officers in the church take vows to discharge their duties. Two weeks ago we had the ordination of a ruling elder and he took vows to discharge his duties faithfully. Last week we saw another kind of vow, the vows of a covenant child taking her vows to become a communing member, to enter into the fullness of fellowship in the church. It's those vows that I want to focus on. If you're a communing member if you've taken these same vows. I want to remind you what the preacher says about vows, these are vows we have taken before the Lord. When you vow about God, do not delay in paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you owe. In the consumeristic world we don't always think about the significance of our vows, of our word. We sometimes look at these as formalities and therefore they can be dismissed at our pleasure and put aside at our convenience, or when we think that something better comes up. So I want to reflect with you the vows that we've taken as members of the church. There are two vows about what we say or we confess before God and there are three vows about what we promise to do. These are not us lavishing our words before the Lord trying to gain his pleasure, these are what God commands us to do, what listening to the word of God would drive us toward. The first vow is, do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure and without hope saving his sovereign mercy? Do you say that about yourself? Number two, do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the son of God and savior of sinners and do you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as he has offered in the gospel? That must be something that you believe in your heart and that you confess with your mouth, as Paul writes in Romans 10. This is what God wants you to say, to confess that you're a sinner and to confess that Jesus Christ is your only hope in this life and the next. Then there are three vows about what we promise to do. The third vow is, do you now resolve in promise and humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit that you will endeavor to live to behave as becomes the followers of Christ? Number four, do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability? Number five do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and peace? This is what God calls us to do. The Bible says if these are vows that we have made, keep your vows. Be serious about this, this is not something to lay aside at your pleasure when it's convenient. 3. The third application is fear God. Hear God's words, keep your vows and then fear God. Remember our big idea, I'll circle back around to this, do not take the name of the Lord in vain. That does not only refer to curse words that you might say using God's name, but the third commandment says that you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. A name in that context refers to more than just what we call God, it refers to everything surrounding God, everything that belongs to God and to his character and to his reputation. Jesus teaches us part of what it means to keep this commandment in the Lord's prayer, which we prayed earlier. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. To pray that, to pray that God's name would be hallowed and kept holy, is a part of how we keep this. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question number 54 fills out some of these requirements of what's required in the third commandment. The catechism says this third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God's names, everything is called in scriptures, his titles, his attributes, his ordinances ,everything that he commands for us to do in worship, his word, and his works. When we approach these we must do this with absolute reference. Don't come into the ordinance of God of worship casually, yammering on like a fool. God is in heaven and you are on earth, let your words be few. The preacher reminds us that God is the one that you must fear. Again to fear God is the opposite of treating him as though he were a vanity, something that's here and then just immediately passing away. To fear God is to treat him as though he is weighty, because he is the word for glory. The Hebrew word for glory really has the idea of heaviness or gravity or weightiness. We must give God the glory, the weightiness, due his name. That means again not to treat him as though he were light and insubstantial, like a dream that you have for a moment and then it fades from your memory. By recognizing that his value as infinitely weighty and infinitely valuable, again this is fear of the Lord. I think Benjamin Shaw has it right in his commentary when he says we're talking about faith. Now here's why we should say this, here's another way to look at this. Faith has three parts. It requires knowledge, we have to know something about God. It requires a sense, we have to think that knowledge about God is true, but even the demons have that much and they shudder. The third part that saving faith requires is trust that we know who God is and what he has said about who he is. We know that he sent his son Jesus to die for us and we don't only agree that that's true, we trust in that. We're depending upon that with everything in us. We're trusting that he is the almighty creator of heaven and earth. We're trusting that he upholds creation providentially so that everything is being worked out by God for our good. We trust that he's provided salvation for guilty sinners like you and me through the birth, life, death, and resurrection through his son Jesus Christ. This means that when we come into worship we stop trying to justify ourselves by our words or our deeds and instead we are trusting Christ and him alone to justify us by faith. Don't treat the gospel of Jesus Christ as a vain, light, insubstantial thing. Fear God, which is to say believe in Christ, trust in him, and entrust yourself to him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would lead us to fear you. That we would come to Christ by faith and love him and entrust ourselves to him. That we would come not to multiply our performance of words and deeds before you, but that we would come on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ's blood and righteousness. In his name we pray. Amen.

    “Vanity in Life and in Death” – Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:16

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 8, 2021 37:54

    “Vanity in Life and in Death” – Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:16 Listen to the Sermon: The post “Vanity in Life and in Death” – Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:16 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Vanity in Life and in Death” – Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:16

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 8, 2021

    “Time and Eternity” – Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 1, 2021 39:07

    “Time and Eternity” – Ecclesiastes 3:1–15 by Pastor Jacob GerberAug 1, 2021Sermons0 comments Listen to the Sermon: https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/xzwws8/2021-08-01-Ecclesiastes-3-1-15.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | Download The post “Time and Eternity” – Ecclesiastes 3:1–15 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Time and Eternity” – Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 1, 2021

    Hear now the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. 3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. Well this week we've experienced some of the dog days of summer. That time of year when things become extremely hot oppressively. So it's a little cooler now, but I think it's going to spike up in about a week again. So maybe you, like me, are starting to look forward to the change of the seasons to the cooler temperatures coming in this autumn. The fall is my favorite season of the year for many reasons, partially because of the weather, but also because there are so many things that I enjoy doing during that fall season. For example, every year our family goes to the pumpkin patch once or twice during the fall time, it's a wonderful time. A couple of years ago we went to a particularly impressive pumpkin patch by Chicago when we were visiting family. This one just had all kinds of activities to do, including a racetrack. This was an impressive area where there were obstacles and there was a set of bleachers that could accommodate a large crowd. Yet it wasn't a race for human beings, it was a race for pigs. So, there we were shouting and cheering on different pigs who had no idea what was going on. The narrator was announcing things as though they had meaning, but we were all just yelling and shouting and what an exciting time. I have no idea which pig actually won, whether it was my pig or not, but it was entertaining. Yet ultimately it was really pointless. It was vanity, as the author of Ecclesiastes might say. Now those kinds of animal races are not new, in fact they've been going on for a very long time. As I understand it, a hundred plus years ago the same kind of animal races were held in carnivals. They were not using pigs, but rather using rats. They would construct elaborate mazes and they would put rats in these mazes and people would cheer to see which rat would be the first to find its way through the maze to find the crumb of cheese in the middle of the race. They'd do this over and over again and it was entertaining, but ultimately pointless. Now as I understand it, and you can use Google as easily as I can, that is the origin of the term rat race. When we talk about our lives as a rat race, that's what we're talking about, we're talking about rats put in a maze that are endlessly in an exhausting pursuit trying to find not that great of a prize, the equivalent of a crumb of cheese. We have so much time in our lives and during that time we're pouring toil into both our work and into our relationships. As we continue our study in the book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher asks us what do we really gain from all of this time that we spend? What do we get from it in this rat race? What comes out of this? We're always moving and yet we're never arriving. Now in the in the previous passage, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago, the preacher was asking us to consider all the various pleasures in which we might try to find lasting satisfaction and all the ways we might try to live according to wisdom, to try to find a way to get above the curse of sin in this world. Well today he's going to talk about activities, but not so much about the activities themselves. He's talking about time and he's looking at the fact that time is always moving; the clock is always ticking, we can't press play or we can't press pause, we can't press rewind, we can't fast forward through parts we'd rather get through quickly. Time is always moving and yet we are not gaining what we hope to be gaining from all the toil in work and relationships that we're pouring into our lives. We are never achieving the rest that we spend our lives chasing after. Well as we come to our story or our passage today, the big idea is not as directly reflected in this passage as normally, but again I want to remind us of something that I've said a couple of times as we've studied Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is often not giving us the solution, the preacher is often clearing away errors to uncloud our vision so that we can see the solution when we look at what the rest of the Bible teaches us. So with that in mind our big idea this morning is this God gives sabbath rest. I'll defend how we're getting to that big idea as we work through our sermon. We have three points this morning. 1. Time 2. Toil 3. Trust Time The first section is about time. In verses one through eight, where we have a poem that probably is the most famous part of the book of Ecclesiastes and perhaps one of the more famous parts of all the Bible, even though most people probably don't realize this is from the Bible. This is because of a very famous song that was written by Pete Seeger as a protest against the Vietnam War. This was turned into a peace anthem, probably the version that you're familiar with was recorded in 1965 by The Birds. As we'll see, Pete Seeger really focused on the very last line of this, “there's a time for war and a time for peace. I pray it's not too late.” As we'll see, pacifism is not the point of this particular passage. In fact what the preacher is getting at is this issue of time that everything has a time and a season, there is a time for peace, but there's also a time for war and there's a time for everything else under the sun. That's what the preacher lays out in the very first verse, which tells us what we're going to be reading in this poem, for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Now this is setting up a poem where we're going to have three considerations. Let me just tell you the three ways to look at what's happening in this poem. The first consideration that the preacher wants us to have in mind is that the business of life is endlessly changing and it's never standing still. That's what is meant by these times and seasons that everything has. Sometimes there are big changes in life. We read in the very first part of this poem, in verse 2, that there is a time to be born and the time to die, those are the big parts of life. Then if you look at the next part of it you get to some of the smaller parts of life, there's a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, the smaller parts of life. If you look at all of the pairs this poem is formed along, they're all pairs of opposites where they're talking about something on one side and then something on the exact opposite side within the course of life. Now these are what are called mirrorisms. The idea is that when you're talking about these opposites you're not just talking about the one thing over here and the one thing over here you're actually talking about everything in between those two. So if I say that I am at heart an Nebraskan from womb to tomb, I'm not talking about only the time when I was in my mother's womb and only the time after my death. I'm talking about the entirety of my life. So we have here time to be born and a time to die and we have all of these opposites in life. The point of all of this is that every last moment, every possible conceivable thing that happens in life, has a time under the sun. but that time is short because that time is only until the next time comes along. Everything is always changing. The business life is endlessly changing and never standing still. The second consideration is that this constant fluctuation makes it impossible for us to find lasting peace and rest in this life. Because the disastrous painful parts of life have a time appointed for them, just like the good delightful parts of life. Again we can't fast forward through things and neither can we hit pause or rewind to replay or to linger over things that we want in life. We're prisoners of time. We're captive to time. So that we're constantly reacting to every new circumstance when it arrives. More than that our own lives are temporary, we don't get to do this forever. We will be born and there will also be a time to die. So this makes it impossible to find lasting rest and peace in this life. The third consideration though is perhaps most important, and this is where we're going to see this passage is eventually going, that God is the one who controls the times and the seasons. That while we have no control over the times and the seasons of our lives, we are entirely subject to them, we are affected by them, we are captive to them, God is the one who appoints every time and every season. That's a special comfort for Christians who know in Romans 8:28 that God has not only appointed all times in seasons, but that he is actively working together all things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purposes. So what does this poem encompass? Well as I said in verse two we have life and death, time to be born and a time to die, also our toil in this world. It's interesting in the second part of verse 2 the examples that he gives of opposites. He says there is a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted. Now that, you would think, refers to the harvest season, you plant and then you harvest. However this idea of plucking up is not the word for harvesting. It's the idea of weeding something, getting something out that isn't growing in the way that you need it to go. It deals with getting rid of the failure of your work, of the thorns and thistles in your work. That's why when he talks about work, so often he talks about our toil, this is hard, difficult work. In verse three he deals with human actions toward life and human actions toward work. He says there's a time to kill and a time to heal. He's not commending murder, but he's saying there's a time for this, this happens under the sun. In the same way there's also a time for us to seek the healing of people under the sun. Then work there's a time to break down and a time to build up. Again that's getting to the whole entirety of the work cycle. In verse 4 we have emotions, there's a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Again not just happy emotions and sad emotions, but he's talking about everything in between those things. In verse five and seven we are dealing with work and relationships, one line deals with work one line deals with relationships in both five and seven. Five talks about a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together. In an agrarian society that's a lot of your work, you're picking up stones to get them out of the field or sometimes you're gathering them for another purpose. The Bible is filled with stories of gathering stones for the purpose of building an altar or a memorial to something. There's a time and a season for both. Then in verse seven the work is a time to tear or a time to sew, and fabric making or garment putting together. Then also relationships the second part of five is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. The second part of seven is a time to keep silent and the time to speak, in your work and in your relationships there's a time for everything. Verse six deals with possessions and achievements, a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away. Then in verse eight you have your relationships in both private and public spheres. Privately there is a time for you to love and a time to hate. Publicly there is a time for tribes and nations to enter into war as well as a time for peace. Now this poem encompasses absolutely everything. Again when you recognize that it's not just talking about the things on either end, but everything in between, you realize that he's saying all of life has its own time and its own season for everything under the sun. So that life is always moving but we are never arriving. Now this seasonality can be a very good thing. After a cold winter, it's a wonderful refreshing thing to have the warmth of spring. After these dog days of summer and the heat of this past week, we're very much looking forward to the cooler temperatures of the fall. Seasonality teaches us to appreciate things when they come along because we know that each time and each season is so fleeting. I know for myself in some of my earlier children I didn't realize how quickly their infancy would pass by, that's such a fleeting time, it's here today and gone tomorrow. Enjoy it while it lasts. In my later children I realized that and I was able to really appreciate that when their infancy came along. Also the seasonality of things is a great comfort in difficult times. We know that this too shall pass, that this is temporary, and that helps us in our lives to get through the most difficult times in life. Toil The preacher says, as well and good as that is in this natural order of life there is still a sense of dissatisfaction and even bitterness in this seasonality. Why is that? Well it has to do with the nature of our toil and this brings us to the second section, toil in verses 9 through 11. In verse 9, and some people would actually say that this is just the conclusion of the poem, the preacher asks what gain has the worker from his toil? From all of this, our toil in relationships and our toil in work, what gain does the worker have from all of this? As we talked about last time, you definitely can see modest games here and there and you can make a little progress in this or that area of your life. At the same time this poem reminds us that some of our work will need to be plucked up or broken down or wept over or cast away. Other times this work will be entirely paused due to the ravages of war or other distractions. Our work, even though we're always engaged in toil, is not building piece by piece into this ever growing area of flourishing. Rather much of our work yields thorns and thistles in this life. So in verse 10 the preacher really puts a point on this and he says, “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” Very literally this says I have seen the business that God has given to afflict the children of man. This is a word that deals with the affliction of the afflicted. Now in the second half of Ecclesiastes chapter 1, we talked about that last time we were looking at Ecclesiastes, he talked about what he means. He means the curse that comes from sin. God has imposed futility and frustration on creation. He has afflicted us with frustration in our toil, not because he is cruel but as a just, a righteous, a proper response to the horrors of human sin. Another part of what he's saying, he's not just saying that this has to do with the curse of sin, he's also saying that there's something in time itself that frustrates us. So in verse 11 he says this, “he (God) has made everything beautiful in its time.” Now this word beautiful I can refer to physical beauty like the you know I think my wife is beautiful that sort of beauty, but it also can think about something that's more along the lines of fitting or appropriate. Death and war are not beautiful, but there is a time for both things under heaven and it's fitting and it's appropriate for those things in their time. Then it's in the second section where he raises this issue, the second part of verse 11. There he says also, “Also, he (God) has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” God has put in our hearts some deep sense of eternity, a sense of it, an awareness of it, some intuition about eternity, some knowledge that there must be an eternity. There must be time and there must be something that is beyond time. C.S. Lewis talked a lot about this sense of eternity that we have. If you've read his books especially “Surprised by Joy”, you'll know that he sometimes talks about this sense of longing in his life or this joy that he felt. He was always chasing after and it was thinking about this longing or this joy that eventually led him to find Christ. It's a desire for something beyond the limitations of this life under the sun. We have that sense in our hearts, you might call it the God-shaped hole we have in our hearts. We're wanting, yearning for something more than what we can find in this world. Yet we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. We long to make sense of this world, but the scope of our vision is so limited that we can't make sense of it. What's interesting is in Genesis chapter one, when it talks about the creation of human beings and the animals, it uses the same term, a living soul, to describe both humans and animals. Yet of only the human beings themselves does the Bible say that we were created in the image of God. We were created the image of God in a way that the animals were not. So, animals share our time-boundness. Many of the things written about in these poems are shared by the animals, but it doesn't frustrate them, it doesn't bother them. No animal is bothered by this nagging sense of eternity. They are born, they live their lives, they go through their seasons, and then they die, oblivious to the stretch and the scope of eternity. We don't. As human beings made in the image of God, where God has put eternity into our hearts, we live with this consistent frustration of our sense of eternity that we're not quite able to grasp. Twenty-five years ago, in the year 1996, Dan Herman began a research project that was about four years long until he published his results in the journal of Brand Management, of all places. In the year 2000 and he was the first person to identify what has come to be called the fear of missing out. A few years later this turned into the acronym “FOMO”. You may know this, the fear of missing out, it talks about an anxiety that right now I'm worried that I'm missing out on something else that might make me happy in life. There might be something better out there that if I could just have that I would be happy. It's this crippling sense of anxiety that makes it impossible for people to enjoy any time, any season of life, because they're always worried that something somewhere else might be better. Now what the preacher is telling us here is that there's actually a sense in which we should be having this fear of missing out. In fact, that idea of the fear of missing out is far too narrow, because the fear of missing out really just deals with a very narrow scope of my right now. It also deals with just me, I'm really not worried if you're missing out on something, sorry about that, I'm really worried and anxious about me. Am I missing something? What the preacher says is we should be fearful of missing out on eternity. What God has done in every time, in every life, in every place from the very beginning to the very end. We have a yearning to know this and yet we can't. We have a sense that it's there and that it's meaningful, but we're helpless to make sense of it all. This is why philosophers never tire of wrestling with what is the meaning of life, because they're trying to grapple with this. Trust So how should we evaluate this? What does it mean to be people who live with this constant frustrated sense of eternity, even though we are creatures bound and trapped in time? Well in verses 12 through 15 the preacher makes two judgments. One we might see is a very zoomed in view, an answer to the problem. Then the other one is sort of a zoomed out big picture view of what's happening and how to understand it. Both of them boil down to one thing, namely to trust in the Lord. So this is our third and final section, trust in verses 12 through 15. The verses 12-13 is where we have this zoomed in answer asking us how do I live today? Here's what the preacher writes in verses 12-13, 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, ESV Now it's important to understand the preacher isn't commending hedonism, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. He's actually commending the pleasures of life as gifts from God. Recognize these as God's gift to man. We cannot slow the earth's rotation and lengthen a day, we cannot slow the revolutions that our planet takes around the sun and lengthen a particular year, or speed it up as we may wish to do. Again we can't press pause or fast forward or rewind to get through, to linger on the bad or the good parts of life. All we can do as prisoners of time is to simply enjoy life as it comes. That's a skill that's an acquired wisdom that we must grow into as we grow in life. Part of that enjoyment means learning that every season won't last long. Now this is a comfort during bad times, this too shall pass, this is temporary. It's also a warning during good times; don't cling to this, don't hold to this because it will not last. Your hope has to be in something else. In everything, what the preacher is calling us to learn, is to see each season as God's gift to us. Well what should we do then in the big picture? Well the next part is the zoomed out answer in verses 14-15. What's the grounds of the foundation or the big picture that gives us confidence to enjoy each season as God's gift? Well here we see the unfolding of God's plan that should give us comfort. Everything happens in the unfolding of God's plan. 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:14-15, ESV In eternity past, before time began, the Bible tells us that God consulted the most wise and holy counsel of his own will. Alone God freely and unchangeably decreed to ordain everything that will come to pass in human history. Everything that is happening is the unfolding of the plan that God made from before the foundations of the earth were laid. He appointed every time, every season for everything that will take place in this world. Nothing can be added to this plan and nothing can be taken away from it. So why did God make this plan? Well we read in verse 14, so that people fear before him. If we truly grapple with the fact that we are mists passing away, that we are here today and gone tomorrow, that that time between being born and death is so rapid in the scheme of history, and if we also realize that God is the one who endures forever, “our God our help in ages past”, as the hymn declares, well that helps us to fear him. That puts us in proper perspective not to be afraid of him, not that sense of fearing him, although it's not less than that, but it's to fear him in awe and reverence and especially in trust. To trust that each season comes down as a good gift from the unchangeable Father of Lights and to trust in all of this. We can trust him because he is perfectly working out the plan that he has appointed for our good in a constantly changing world. Nothing gives more confidence to those who love God and are called according to his purpose than to know that he is working all things together for our good. Application So how should we apply this then well? 1. The first application is that we must meditate or give thoughtful consideration to our time-boundedness and then on the flip side to God's eternality. You are a prisoner of time whereas God is free and eternal. You did not exist before you were born and one day you will die, whereas God simply is that's what he gives. His name “I am what I am”, means there is never a time when God did not exist and there never will be a time when God does not exist. He is eternal. Yet God created you as more than an animal. You don't just go through this oblivious to God's eternality, you're aware of it and it weighs on you. Now that longing for eternity is meant to lead you beyond the temporality and the time-boundedness of this life to the eternity of God. Again I said earlier that C.S. Lewis found that seeking after this sense of longing, this joy, was what eventually led him to come to know Christ. So he writes in Mere Christianity this, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so I must take care on the one hand never to despise or be unthankful for these earthly blessings and on the other never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of copy or echo or mirage. I must keep them alive in myself or I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death. I must never let it get snowed under or turn aside. I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others to do the same.” That's exactly what the preacher is telling us in this passage. He's clearing away the errors so that we can look upon what the rest of the Bible tells us about this other country. This country that is eternal that we were made for, that God is bringing us into. Of course C.S. Lewis wasn't the first person to think about this. 1500 years before a man named Augustine wrote this, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our restlessness is for eternity, we want to know eternity and yet we cannot see the whole picture at once. We want to understand what God is doing from beginning to end. Understand, the Bible gives us the big picture for all of this but we have a longing in our hearts to see everything. We long to understand how even the deepest pains, how these difficult painful times that are appointed a season in our lives, how these truly were fitting and appropriate and beautiful in their time. That God had appointed for us to discover how God is working all these things together for our good. Understand you cannot find the meaning to your deep questions in this world. Under the sun you can only find answers by faith in God. Not a blind leap of faith that ignores facts, but rather the humble recognition that you don't have all the facts and you can't have all the facts. You can't see what God has been up to everywhere in all people's lives from beginning to end. Faced with that utter inability to make sense of it all we must turn instead to the one who holds time in his hands. As the hymn declares, “Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time.” The Christian gospel tells us that the timeless one, the one who has always existed, so that there never was a time when he did not exist. This eternal son of God took upon himself a human nature precisely so that he could enter into our time. Indeed the Bible tells us that Christ came into the world in the fullness of time. There was a season and every season before that was leading up to the fullness of time when Christ would enter the world. Even he had to endure the circumstances and the seasons of life for 30 years until his time arrived. That's what it says the time arrived for his three year long public ministry and then when his time was at hand. So we talked about it when his time was at hand he gave up his life on the cross because even for Jesus there was a time to be born and a time to die. Now our resurrected Lord declares, “Fear not I am the first and the last.” That's amirrorism. That's not just the first and then the last with something else filling the gaps, it's from beginning to end. I am this one, Jesus declares, and I am the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and hades. Your longing for eternity cannot be fulfilled in this life but your longing can be fulfilled in the one who lives forevermore. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. 2. The second application goes back to our big idea. This application is to seek the sabbath rest that God gives. Remember our big idea is that God gives sabbath rest. We've talked a lot about time and we should reflect upon the fact that the God who created time also gave regular order to that time. Where from the very beginning of creation he set apart one day in seven to serve as a sabbath day. Whereas six days of the week we find ourselves drowning in the rat race of life, giving ourselves that to work that can never transcend the time-bound limitations of this world. The sabbath day is given by God to us as an embassy of eternity that we can enjoy from week to week. You know what an embassy is? An embassy is the sovereign territory of one nation that is set up in the boundaries of the territory of another nation. So if you go to any country in the world that has the United States embassy, at one moment you'll be standing in the territory of that country but to enter into that embassy is to step upon the sovereign soil of the United States of America. There you have all of the rights and the liberties and the responsibilities conferred upon you by the constitution of the United States. It's an embassy that's a little piece of the United States of America in all of those foreign countries. The same thing is true of the sabbath day. It is an embassy of our eternal rest when we are surrounded by the rat race of life. Not a territory of a place, but a territory of time. This is a day where we have set apart, where God has given us to enter into his territory of eternality and this is told to us in the Bible. The author of Hebrews reminds us of this truth and urges us toward it in Hebrews 4:9-11. He says, 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11, ESV There's a tremendous hymn that celebrates this about the sabbath day, it's called “O Day of Rest and Gladness.” You may have heard this because Indelible Grace did a cover of it a few years back. I want to read you verse 3 of this hymn singing about the sabbath day, the hymn goes Thou art a port protected From storms that round us rise; A garden intersected With streams of paradise; Thou art a cooling fountain In lifes dry dreary sand; From Thee, like Pisgahs mountain, We view our promised land. O Day of Rest and Gladness Mount Pisgah was the mountain that Moses stood on top of to look across the Jordan River at the edge of the Promised Land that he would never enter into during the course of his life. From there he could stand to see it all and to take it all in in a moment, to enter into that sabbath rest by faith from a distance. If this is true, if the sabbath day is an embassy of eternity, then why would we waste our time on the Lord's day by re-entering the rat race before the day is over? When we spend the Lord's day slipping back into the office to tie up a few loose ends or to try to get a jump start on the week ahead or even planning out the next week's work in our minds, understand that we're believing a lie. We are believing that what we gain from our toil is better than what God gives in this embassy of eternity, in the sabbath rest that he gives to his people. It's just not true. What does the worker gain from all his toil? When we spend the Lord's day pursuing our own pleasure or filling it with idle conversations about common things, with sports or entertainment or television or movie,s then we're believing a lie that we have something better to gain from our pleasure than from the sabbath rest that God gives to his people, in the enjoyment of himself in his eternal salvation. I don't say this to scold you, I say this to encourage you to enter into the joy and the pleasures of God's rest. Not temporal pleasures, not worldly pleasures, but the pleasures that God promises us on the sabbath day. One of the greatest promises of the Bible is in Isaiah 58:13-14, 13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14, ESV Brothers and sisters, God gives sabbath rest to his people. Let us then strive to enter that rest by resting from our toil in the same way that God rested from his works at the beginning of creation. The Lord's day is the pinnacle of our week, brothers and sisters, because the Lord's day is an off-ramp from the rat race of life and it's an on-ramp into the strong eternal rest that God gives. We have an embassy here of eternity. This day is the sovereign outpost of God's eternality. Don't waste your time today, use this day to worship the eternal God. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us Christ this day. That this day above all days that you've set apart your sabbath day the Lord's day, the day that commemorates the resurrection of the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that this would be our soul meditation and focus today. Not that we have to legalistically follow rules but that we would be wise and seek after the true eternal pleasures that you have at your right hand forevermore. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen.

    “The Goodness of Worship” – Psalm 92

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 25, 2021 29:00

    “The Goodness of Worship” – Psalm 92 Listen to the Sermon: The post “The Goodness of Worship” – Psalm 92 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “A Better Ministry and a Better Covenant” – Hebrews 8:1-13

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 25, 2021 40:40

    “A Better Ministry and a Better Covenant” – Hebrews 8:1-13 Listen to the Sermon: The post “A Better Ministry and a Better Covenant” – Hebrews 8:1-13 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “A Better Ministry and a Better Covenant” – Hebrews 8:1-13

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 25, 2021

    “The Goodness of Worship” – Psalm 92

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 25, 2021

    “What God Gives to the Children of Man” – Ecclesiastes 1:12–2:26

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 18, 2021 38:11

    The post “What God Gives to the Children of Man” – Ecclesiastes 1:12–2:26 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “What God Gives to the Children of Man” – Ecclesiastes 1:12–2:26

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 18, 2021

    Hear now the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes, starting in 1:12 and we're going to read through the end of verse or of chapter 1, and then we'll pause and talk about that before moving on to the rest of our passage. 12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, ESV The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. Well, in 1859 a man named Samuel Smiles published a book titled, “Self-Help”. Now this book launched what has now come to be known as the self-help industry. This book was very influential in popularizing ideas that are still with us to this day. It was in that book where came the idea that God helps those who help themselves. Interestingly a Barna research study found that 52 percent of professing Christians think that the line, God helps those who help themselves, is from the Bible. In fact it's from Samuel Smiles book from 1859 called “Self-Help”. Well today as we fast forward, this self-help industry is huge and it's expanding. Year by year it grows and grows and grows. Today books and podcasts and courses and products in the self-help category make up an $11 billion, billion with a b, dollar industry. Still it's growing year after year after year. Now why is there such an insatiable hunger for self-help information? Well it's because all of us, I think, hunger for some principle or some set of principles that will help us to help ourselves as we work our way through this broken frustrating world. It's interesting if you just look at the fact of the ongoing, ever increasing growth of this industry. Part of what that tells you is that no one has yet found the right answer. No one has yet provided the one-stop self-help principle that solves all of our problems. Certainly we might be able to make modest gains through some of this material in our health and our wealth and our productivity and even to some degree in our happiness on a day-to-day basis. However, all the self-help advice in the world can't really solve our deepest problems. It can't really answer our biggest questions. It certainly can't provide us lasting, enduring, eternal satisfaction that all of us are seeking out. If that's true, if the answers aren't there in some self-help podcast, well how then should we live? Well our big idea, as we study the second half of Ecclesiastes 1 and into Ecclesiastes 2, is that God gives enjoyment to those who trust in him. Our sermon this morning is going to have three parts. 1. The Curse 2. The Counter Efforts 3. The Conclusions The Curse So in this first section, what I read at the beginning of our reading time was verses 12 through 18. This deals with the curse that we see in verse 12. As this section starts off, we have a second identification of who the author is of Ecclesiastes. He writes, “I the preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.” Now this is very similar to the first identification we got of who the author is back in Ecclesiastes 1:1, “The words of the preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Now there's overlap. We have read that he is the preacher, that he's king in Jerusalem, but in verse 1 we had that this is a son of David. Now that phrase could apply to any of the sons descended from David, who reigned as king over Israel. Then here in verse 12 we see, “I the preacher have been king over Israel and Jerusalem.” Now what's interesting is there was really only one king, who is king over all Israel in Jerusalem, who is also the son of David. David reigned over all Israel in Jerusalem and then Solomon the son of David reigned over all Israel and Jerusalem. When Solomon died his son Rehoboam had not yet begun to reign over all the 12 tribes of Israel. They had gone to make him king, but had not yet made him king when Rehoboam acted very foolishly. So foolishly that the ten northern tribes of Israel broke off to form the nation of Israel, composed of the 10 tribes. Whereas the two southern tribes formed the nation of Judah, over which the rest of the sons of David reigned over. So there's only one king who reigned over Israel in Jerusalem and that's Solomon. Again I would argue this is written by Solomon, although some would dispute that. Even though I also acknowledge that there is not an explicit naming of Solomon like in Proverbs, “These are the Proverbs of Solomon”, or in Song of Songs, “This is a Song of Songs which is Solomon”, I would say this is indeed Solomon from all the clues that we have. Continuing on, what does Solomon want to tell us when we come to verses 13 and 14? We see that the preacher wants to set out a test where he says, “I applied”, or literally, “I gave my heart.” That's important because that word give comes up at the end of verse 13. What did he give his heart to find out? Well he wanted to discover what business that God has given to the children of man. He gives his heart to find what God has given to the children of man. What he discovers in the course of this test is that God has given to the children of man an unhappy business. Very literally this is an evil business God has given to the children of man. Now in the Bible evil does not always refer to something that is morally evil. He's not charging God with some kind of sin, but evil often means a misfortune or a disaster or a calamity. He's saying it's this disastrous calamity that God has given to the children of man. Well, what's he talking about? When did God give this calamity to the children of man as business to be busy with? Well he's talking back to Genesis 3, about the curse of sin. After our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned against God's word, God set a curse over all of creation that wrecked relationships and that caused all of our work not to be fruitfully productive, but to bear thorns and thistles. You may remember that last week when we talked about the word vanity that shows up all throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, we saw it in verse two, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The word for vanity in the Hebrew was translated into a Greek word, in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. That word which was what the apostle Paul would have used for his Greek Old Testament. Well he used that same word in Romans 8:20, which talks about unhappy business that God gave to the children of man. In Romans 8:20 Paul wrote this, 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it Romans 8:20, ESV “Futility”, that's the Greek word that translates this Hebrew word in Ecclesiastes for vanity. God subjected creation to futility, to vanity, to frustration. Again, to relationships that are broken and to work that bears thorns and thistles instead of good fruit. Everything in this world is vanity now, because of the curse from sin. Well what's wrong? In verse 15 the preacher gives us the fatal flaw of this world he says, 15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. Ecclesiastes 1:15, ESV Because something is fundamentally broken, something is fundamentally crooked, something is fundamentally missing, we are in a state where this world cannot be put right by our own efforts. So in verses 16 through 18 the preacher sets out this test. He says I'm going to search this out, I'm going to figure it out with, all of the great surpassing wisdom that he has. Again if this is not Solomon, this is greatly weakened. He's saying 16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 1:16-18, ESV The wisest man who ever lived, apart from Jesus Christ himself, says that in all of his wisdom he was not able to find anything in this world that was more than just chasing after wind. He says that in fact as he increased in wisdom he increased in vexation and the one who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Given the reality of the curse from the fall because of sin, there is no place we can look to, there is no principle or set of principles, there's no self-help book we can read that will bring us true happiness and lasting satisfaction in this world. Sometimes problems cannot be solved. When I was a junior in college I took a computer programming class. I had been pretty interested in computers when I was in middle school and high school, but I knew that I didn't want to be a computer programmer. I knew at that point I wanted to be a pastor. So I was a different kind of major when I got into the computer programming class just to try it. I remember that first day I was the only humanities major in the room. They asked what are the majors of everyone in this programming class? We went through the mathematics and engineering and computer science and computer engineering, all these majors. Then the professor asked, “Did I miss anyone?” and I raised my hand and said I was an English major. The whole room turned around to look at me like, “Are you lost kid?” What I really enjoyed about being an English major didn't serve me well in that class. If you're an English major, and children if you're looking at it for a major in college take note of this, the benefit about being an English major is your homework is to write papers on literally anything you want to. As long as you give some evidence and make a compelling case you can write about anything in the world you want to and get good grades for it. I loved being an English major. The difference in computer programming is that if you don't write the right code, it is terribly unforgiving. Either your code will compile from what you have written into a program that will run or you'll get an error. Either your code will do what you want it to do or it won't. Either it will give you the correct answer or it won't. These things, when they are broken, are absolutely unforgiving. I remember two times when major assignments came where I felt absolutely helpless. Here I was an English major trying to hack my way through this and I could not figure it out. It's a terribly helpless feeling. I couldn't just riff off the rest of an English paper and turn it in and hope for the best. If this didn't work I was going to get a zero for the assignment. Well the first time I got help, I talked to a friend of mine who was a senior computer science major. He found instantly what I had done wrong and he pointed me in the right direction so that I could fix what I had done wrong. The second time I remember, toward the end of the semester, when I was handing in my final project, I remember for days I stared at the computer screen and could not figure out what was wrong. It was so helpless, I felt like I could never fix it. Now eventually I did find the solution, I fixed it. I remember triumphant on that morning turning in the assignment. I think about that time when I think about the problems of this world. See, very often we want to think that this world is like that. We might encounter challenges that are very difficult at first. We might not know how to solve them, but either we can turn to a friend who has a little bit more experience in this area or if we just keep at it and find the right information online or something like that. Some self-help product perhaps then there is a solution. We can find the solution, we can rise above the brokenness and fallenness of this world from the curse of sin. Where that may have worked in my computer programming class, the preacher tells us that there's no solution in this world. What is broken cannot be fixed? What is crooked cannot be made straight? What is lacking cannot be counted. Is this really true? Surely there's got to be something that we can apply to our lives to help us rise above the curse of sin. Well the preacher says he tries everything, his test is to try out the entire world to try to find some place where we can find lasting satisfaction in this world. He tests two areas, number one pleasure and the number two wisdom. The Counter Efforts So this brings us into the second section, the counter efforts. Trying to resist the curse, apply counter efforts to rise above the curse. Now the first test, the test of pleasure comes in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. So, we'll read that now for the very first counter effort. 2 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.[a] 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines,[b] the delight of the sons of man. 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, ESV So this is the first test, the test of pleasure. At the end the preacher discovers it's all vanity. So, first he tries direct pleasure. He tries going after laughter, he tries going after wine, and he doesn't party for partying's sake. He says he's guided by wisdom. This is a test, an experiment, he searches to the farthest extent of pursuing pleasure directly. Yet in verse one he says this also was vanity. Well then he tries finding pleasure by great achievements and understanding. Verses four through six, it's very clear that what he is doing is what Derek Kidnap calls building a secular Garden of Eden. There was a scholar named Ariane Verhaes, and forgive me if I've pronounced that name wrong, who points out all the words that appear in verses 4 through 6, also appear in Genesis 1 and 2, to describe the original creation of the world. The words to plant in verse 5, and the garden in verse five, and to water something in verse six, and growing in verse six, and to make in verses five and six, all these are words about God's work in creating the world and especially the Garden of Eden. Beyond this there's another important word in verse 5, that word that's translated parks. There's a Persian word that we have in English that also went into Hebrew it's the word paradise, he created paradise. This word is Pardesim, you can hear it in Hebrew, it's the word for paradise. It's a Persian word, both in English and in Hebrew, this is a paradise. He created a new Garden of Eden. Yet where God saw that everything that he had created was very good, the preacher says all of this is vanity. Then in verses 7 through 8 he tests pleasure from great wealth, with servants and livestock and money and singers and concubines. In verses 9 through 11, while he acknowledges the greatness of his pleasure surpassed all who came before him. Then, this is important, he has modest success. In verse 10 he says, “My heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.” That's important, we'll come back to that idea. Nevertheless in verse 11 he says that all of this is a vanity and a striving after the wind and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. That's the first test, the test of pleasure and it fails. Well the second test is the test of wisdom. In verses 12 through 17 this is the second counter effort. So let's read verses 12 through 17. 12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:12-17, ESV Well the second test, the test of wisdom and its contrast madness and folly. Once again, the preacher acknowledges there is modest gain from wisdom, just like there's modest gain in pleasure. You can make gains in these areas. You can also make modest gain in wisdom, because wisdom is like light or it's like having eyes to see. The fools don't see the fact that they're about to walk over the side of a dangerous cliff, but the wise have eyes to see and they're able to avoid the most perilous pitfalls in this life. What the preacher says, look then I realized just like the fool dies, so I will die. Both of us are going to die together and both of us very quickly will be forgotten. So in verse 15 he asks a question, why then have I been so very wise? That's an interesting question. He's saying, look if wisdom is much more difficult to live that way, if it requires a tremendous amount of effort and exertion and time and carefulness, yet it can't get me past death, is it really wise to spend your days living wisely? If everyone's going to die is it wise to live wisely? He's saying in itself wisdom is not the answer. All of this is deeply distressing. “I hated life,” he says verse 17, “because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Now it's interesting in these tests, the tests of pleasure and the tests of wisdom, the preacher may not do precisely what you or I would do in 2021. However, understand that these categories are still exactly the same. The details may look different, but the categories are the same. Think about how much we look to pleasure to find satisfaction and joy. We look to entertainment, to television, to movies, to music, to sports, to video games, to social media, to parties and social events, to pop culture, to alcohol or other substances, to gambling or to achievement. Think about all the academic and business and career and health achievements we chase after. The money or investment success that we long for. Understand there are so many self-help books that can give you modest gains in these areas, but all of it at the end of the day is vanity. What about wisdom? There's self-help resources abounding to help you improve in your leadership wisdom and your productivity wisdom and your political wisdom and your parenting wisdom. In fact if you Google stoicism, you may or may not know this but stoicism is an ancient Greek form of philosophy and it's making a huge comeback right now. People are trying to take these ancient Greek principles of enduring life like a stoic and thinking that's the way to navigate life. It's a huge industry right now, all kinds of material on it. There's nothing new under the sun. Whatever it is, pleasure or wisdom, the preacher has identified the problem; the curse of sin. He's conducting this experiment where he's trying to make these counter efforts to push back against the effects of the curse. The Conclusions What then are the conclusions of this thorough long-term study? He's given us provisional conclusions along the way, but in the third section, the conclusions come in this last part verses 18-26. Read with me first verses 18-23 where we come to the first conclusion. There are two conclusions. The first conclusion was, we will see, is despair. Look at what he says, 18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 2:18-26, ESV The preacher looks at his life and he says, all the toil with which he toils, he can't keep it. When he dies he has to give it away and you know who might inherit it a fool who has done nothing to gain it. He scrimped and saved and scraped together his resources over his life, living every bit of his life by every ounce of wisdom he possesses, and the fruits of his toil may go to a fool. This is a grievous evil and he despairs over this. In fact, he says living this way even nights are not restful, you can't even get a good night's sleep. If you're trying to find meaning in the toil of this world because the greatest accomplishments of this world are all vanity. Well, this isn't the only place in the Bible that says this. If you listen to the world you hear this despair everywhere, because all you have to live for is this world. There is no logical conclusion other than despair. One of the clearest illustrations of this, it's a little dated, but you still hear this song on the radio a lot. It is by Queen, the song Bohemian Rhapsody. They say nothing really matters to me. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. This is a very common, very clear conclusion to draw from looking at everything to be gained under the sun. Solomon sees it and this world is aching because of the despair that fills it. This isn't the only conclusion that Solomon draws. You might think that our study in Ecclesiastes is just dour and sad and nothing but depression, but that brings us to verses 24-26 where we see the second conclusion, a conclusion of faith. Now this may not seem like it would stand naturally with despair, despair and faith. However, remember sometimes the preacher is clearing away errors for us so that we can more clearly see the only truth and hope that we have in this world and the next. Here we see it is faith. Hear the word of the Lord from verses 24 through 26. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, ESV What the preacher is saying here is that if we stop treating the fruit of our efforts, if we stop looking at this world as ultimate because it can't bear that weight, if we stop looking at this world as ultimate we can start to enjoy this world for what it is. The enjoyment doesn't come from trying to squeeze every bit of enjoyment from this world as though it is our only hope. Our enjoyment rather comes from God himself, because God not only gives us, remember that word gives us is for evil unhappy business in life, but he is the one who also gives us enjoyment, it comes from the hand of God. For to the one who pleases him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy. Yet there's a warning here to the one who does not please God. Tothe sinner God gives only gathering and collecting, just work, just toil, just efforts in this life, only to ultimately lose it. Alife of vanity. Well how can one please the Lord? The Bible answers this question in Hebrews 11:6, that without faith it is impossible to please him. This is a life lived by faith, a life that's not looking to this world to satisfy every desire you have, but rather looking to God. So, two people who are under the exact same conditions, toiling in the exact same work side by side, can be doing the same thing and yet have a very different experience. If both are scuba diving, it's as if only one has an air tank. If both are skydiving, it's as if only one has a parachute. If both are toiling, only one can find enjoyment and satisfaction in this life. Same conditions, very different experience. Why? Because the joy isn't in the work, the joy isn't in the achievements, the joy isn't in the pleasure itself, the joy isn't in anything under the sun. That means no amount of self-help can help you to help yourself to find joy. The joy is rather with God who gives enjoyment as a gift to the one who trusts in him. If you seek for and cling to joy directly you'll never find it, but if you seek God and his kingdom first, then all these things will be added to you. Applications Well how then should we live? Well two applications from this text. 1. The first is this, give up trying to find enjoyment in pleasure or in wisdom. Give up trying to find enjoyment, satisfaction, joy in pleasure or wisdom. The Bible warns us often about worldliness. When the Bible does warn us about worldliness it's a warning about seeking ultimate enjoyment in the vain things of this world that are under the sun. When God continually warns us again and again through the Bible about this worldliness, we need to understand it's not because God wants us not to find enjoyment. He warns us against worldliness because he wants us to find true enjoyment. This is so vividly declared for us in the prophet Jeremiah 2:12-13 God says, 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:12-13 You dig for yourself in your toil and in your pleasure and in your wisdom. If you dig these for yourselves, these are broken, they cannot hold the refreshing water that you are seeking to drink from to satisfy your great thirst. So if you spend your life seeking laughter, ultimately that laughter will lose its pleasure. It's so interesting there there's so many psychological studies, both scholarly studies and case studies, that prove this over and over again that laughter does help to relieve tension and sorrow. In the moment there are modest gains to be gained from laughter. Yet in an ultimate sense laughter is vanity. Some of the most miserable people in this world are the people who make us laugh the most. When one of the great comedians of all time, Robin Williams, tragically committed suicide, a comedian who worked with him, a man named Jim Norton published an opinion piece in Time Magazine. There he said, “The funniest people I know seem to be the ones surrounded by darkness. That's probably why they're the funniest, the deeper the pit the more humor you need to dig yourself out.” Ecclesiastes is a warning that laughter can never get you out of the pit. What is crooked cannot be made straight and what is what is lacking cannot be counted. It's all vanity. Though it's not just laughter. If you spend your life seeking pleasure through wine or other substances, these will turn from a servant, to try to help you get through the emotional pain of what you're dealing with, to your master. Substance abuse is a classic example of how C.S. Lewis described all sin, as an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure. You'll want it more and you will get less pleasure from it because it is all vanity. So if you spend your life also pursuing achievement or wealth, in the same way you must all give it away. Solomon recreated the Garden of Eden, I don't care what you're doing it's not as impressive as that, but all his toil was nothing more than vanity and a striving after the wind. There was nothing to be gained by it. If even the richest man in the history of the world saw the grievous evil that he would lose everything he had after his death, then what are you hoping to gain from your toil? What do you hope to gain from your anthill-sized kingdom? Do you see that you can never really gain it? Give up trying to find enjoyment in pleasure or wisdom. 2. The second application then is this, seek enjoyment in God through faith in Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters God makes no secret of the fact that he desires to give us enjoyment, to give us pleasure. It's all over the Bible. Psalm 16:11, “you make known to me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy at your right hand and pleasures forevermore.” We're Presbyterians the very first question of our shorter catechism asks what is man's chief end? What is the reason you were made and created to exist? Well, man's chief end is to glorify God. You are here to bear witness to the eternal infinite glory of God, but not only that you are here to enjoy him forever. God created you to enjoy him forever. Again, God makes no secret of his desire to give us pleasure and enjoyment. The problem is not in what God has failed to tell us, he's told us what the problem is. Rather the problem is that we simply don't believe him. Every time we sin we're making a judgment, we're making an evaluation. In fact we're making a wager, placing a bet that what we think will bring us pleasure will be a better pleasure, a more lasting pleasure, a more enduring pleasure than the pleasure that God provides to those who trust in him. Now this is foolish, but it's not only foolish. God says that it is an appalling, shocking, desolation, bringing evil to forsake him the fountain of living waters in order to dig for ourselves these cisterns that are broken and cannot hold water. It's the horrifying sin of turning away from the glory of the creator in order to pursue happiness, in to worship what is created. The gospel announces that though that God has made a solution. Where this world is broken and cannot be fixed from the inside out, God sent Jesus Christ his only son down from heaven to bring about the healing and the repair that we could never do for ourselves. Jesus Christ came into this world and suffered under the brokenness and the sin of this world, bearing our sin and our shame upon himself at the cross, dying for our sins and raised up to a resurrected life. So that one day he might usher in a resurrected world where nothing is crooked and where nothing is missing and we will enjoy God face to face forever. All those who trust in Christ will be saved through the forgiveness of their faithless worldly evil when they look to Christ by faith. If you've spent your life up to this point seeking happiness apart from Christ, let me plead with you turn to Christ in faith today. Don't wait a moment longer, you're only bringing yourself more heartache from the vanity of this world. This passage is teaching us also not only about how we can be saved, as critical and as foundational as that is, this passage also teaches us wisdom for the daily lives that we must lead through faith in God. God gives us enjoyment in our toil. That's the only way you can enjoy your toil. If your life and your achievements and your wealth have to bear the weight of your soul's insatiable appetite for satisfaction, then you'll never find joy. If they don't have to bear that weight, if you have put that weight on the shoulders of Jesus Christ who can bear that weight, then you don't have to treat this world as an end in itself. You can simply enjoy everything in this world for what it is. If God is the foundation of your soul's happiness, then you can see everything that comes to you as a gift coming down from heaven from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. He never changes. He gives nothing but good gifts to his children if we are looking to him in faith to receive them. This is the secret to living well. It's not about self-help promises to give the right principle to find enjoyment in the things of this world. It's an approach to everything in this world, to live by faith, believing that it is God and God alone who gives enjoyment to those who trust him. Are you seeking enjoyment in God through faith in Jesus Christ? If so then you will find the sweetness of joy even in the most bitter moments of your life. Or are you vainly seeking enjoyment in this world for itself? If so, you will only toil in this life. You will never find the satisfaction you were looking for, all the way up to the day that you die and someone else gains the fruit of everything you have worked for. Don't be a fool, seek enjoyment in Christ that lasts for all eternity. Let's pray. Lord you've promised that at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. You have told us that you are the fountain of living waters and we'd be fools to dig for ourselves at broken cisterns to replace the joy that you provide. Father help us turn from our sin of looking at your creation, your handiwork, and worshiping that. From seeking good and satisfaction in creation rather than looking to you the creator and the redeemer of all things. We pray that you would turn our eyes, by the power of your Spirit, to Jesus Christ. That in faith we would look in him for the forgiveness of sins and for the satisfaction that we will gain in life everlasting. It's in Christ's name we pray. Amen.

    “Nothing New Under the Sun” – Ecclesiastes 1:1–11

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 11, 2021

    Hear now the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 1:1-11. 1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, ESV This past December when my family and I were decorating for Christmas. It was my job to hang out the outdoor Christmas lights and get them working. A big chunk of those lights were not working and they were not lighting up in the way they should. Well in that moment, on the spur of the moment decision, I decided something very uncharacteristic for me. I decided that I was going to fix that set of lights. I don't fix many things very often, but I decided you know what I'm going to do. So I pulled up a Youtube video, I went to Menards, and I bought a circuit checker. I bought some replacement light bulbs to figure out where the burnt ones were so I could replace those, to let the broken circuit be repaired so that it would work. I've got to tell you it felt really good. I understand why people like to fix things. However, I made no progress whatsoever in this work. I spent hours on this and it was all for nothing. Vanity of the vanities. Now life often feels that way, whether we're doing a small project or whether we're after a bigger ambition. When we feel like we pour in tons of time and energy and effort, and if we make any progress whatsoever, which is never guaranteed, that progress always seems too little. Was I really investing this much of who I am in getting that small of a return? We're starting this sermon series this morning on the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that wrestles with that issue. How do we live, how do we go on in a world that is so broken? In a world where we are trying to cultivate good things and instead of spring thorns and thistles. I want to warn you and maybe you've got a sense of this as we read this introductory passage though, that this is a book of wisdom. A book that doesn't give us tidy, neat answers that we can just sort of have and receive wrapped up in a little bow, and it's just a wonderful thing that gives us ten principles for living a victorious life today. What we are instead seeing is the preacher here, largely engaged in the work of clearing away errors. Error in ways when we look at this world. Clearing away all of this error in the way that we live our lives, either consciously or unconsciously, to try to give us a view of what the truth is. He's not going to give us this tidy neat answer, he's going to clear away the error so that we can clearly see what the rest of the Bible tells us about what the truth is. So in this passage our big idea, and this is a theme that will be unfolded through the rest of this book as we study it, but the big idea this morning is this there is no salvation under the sun. 04:43 So this morning our three parts to consider this passage. 1. The Preacher's Motto 2. Perpetual Motion 3. No Progress, No Memory The Preacher's Motto So the first section, the preacher's motto, look at verses one and two. In the very first verse we have the author identified for us. We read, “the words of the preacher the son of David king in Jerusalem.” Now this word for preacher is going to come up a lot as we study the book of Ecclesiastes so we should say a word about it as we get started. This word is very difficult to translate, but it comes from a word that means to assemble or to gather. This word that's related to the Old Testament word that when it's translated into Greek it becomes the word that in the New Testament is commonly translated as church. So this is the one who gathers or assembles together the church. So when we read about the words of the one who's gathering together the church, this idea of translating this as a preacher is a very good translation. It doesn't capture all of the nuances of what's included here and some people translate it differently, but the preacher is a very good way to translate what is going on here. Who is this preacher? This is the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Now when we read this is the son of David, this could be any of the sons of David. Remember David was the great king of Israel. This could be any of his sons, any of the sons who ruled over Jerusalem, over the nation of Israel, but then over the smaller nation of Judah. Normally if we read someone described as the son of David, we are talking about Solomon. Now if you have a study Bible or if you're maybe familiar with Ecclesiastes, you may know there's actually a pretty big debate about whether Solomon in fact was the one who wrote this. Many of the arguments are very technical, they deal with the vocabulary and the style of the Hebrew. The thinking is that this was a style of Hebrew and a vocabulary of Hebrew that wasn't spoken and written until after Solomon actually lived. I don't think that those arguments are all very well founded. I think many of them have been answered, I'll give you some information about those objections in the sermon notes if you want to read more about it. I will say this, I do think this is Solomon but I will say this, it is interesting that he never identifies himself, he never names himself explicitly as Solomon. This is different from Proverbs where we read, these are the Proverbs of Solomon. Or the Song of Songs, this is the Song of Songs which is Solomon. Solomon is very explicitly identified as the author of Proverbs and Song of Songs in a way that Ecclesiastes never quite comes out and directly says it's Solomon. On the whole I think it's very clear that this is Solomon speaking so that's the way I will be approaching this as we read this great book together. Well Solomon, the preacher in verse 2 then gives us his motto. This is really the theme of the book, this is what Solomon wants to communicate to us in verse 2. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2, ESV So what is vanity? We are not talking about a mirror that you might have over your bathroom sink or something like that. When we are talking about vanity, this means a mist or a breath or a vapor. It's something that is here today and gone almost immediately afterwards. In Ecclesiastes we might triangulate this meaning, for understanding what's happening in the book of Ecclesiastes, by looking at sort of three parts to this. In the book of Ecclesiastes sometimes this word vanity refers to something that is empty or futile. That no matter how hard you work at it, it will never bring you the happiness or the satisfaction that you were looking for. Other times this word refers to something that is insubstantial, no matter how much you work at it you don't gain much from it, or the gain you have is very short-lived. Other times this refers to something that is grievous and evil, something that is a tragedy of living in a broken sinful world. Things just happen, even this week we had a terrible storm out of the blue. That would be a grievous vanity that Ecclesiastes would talk about, there was no real rhyme or reason it seems, it just happens and it brings misery. In addition to all the other horrors that fill this broken world. We might also look outside Ecclesiastes to understand what this word vanity means. Outside of the book of Ecclesiastes this word for vanity appears 32 times, nearly half of those times, it's really interesting 13 of the 32 times, this is a word that refers to idols, false gods that people worshiped. That's not the only word for idols in the Old Testament, but it is the main word that refers to idols. They are vanity, they are insubstantial, they can't accomplish anything for you, they aren't alive. Also in other parts of the Old Testament we have something like the vanity that we see reflected in Ecclesiastes. For example in Psalm 144:4 we read, 4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow Psalm 144:4, ESV He's a breath, he's a vanity, he's a vapor or a mist. That is very much what the author of Ecclesiastes wants to get across to us. There's one other place that we should look to triangulate what this word vanity means. It's in the New Testament. You may be aware that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, whereas the New Testament is written in Greek. So they're not quite the same language, but there was a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was very common in use in the days when the New Testament was written. So if we look at the word that the Greek New Testament has translated this word for vanity it's interesting to see where that word pops up in the New Testament. There's a particular place in Romans 8:20, where the meaning very much captures what the author of Ecclesiastes wants us to see when he talks about vanity. In Romans 8:20 Paul writes, 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:20-21, ESV Another way to translate this is “For the creation was subjected to vanity”. This is the word that describes the world in which we live. A world that is broken, a world that is fallen, a world where you cannot make real progress. This is a book that is wrestling with how do we live if that's the reality of the world that surrounds us? We can't cling to this world, it is a vapor, it's a vanity. We can't find satisfaction, this world is empty, futile, and frustrating. Ultimately, and here's what the author of Ecclesiastes wants us to hear, the preacher wants us to know that we cannot find true wisdom in this world under the sun. It's broken, it's sinful, whatever wisdom we may find will not come from this world. It's important to understand that as we study this book, what the preacher tells us is not entirely bad news. This sounds thoroughly depressing, this sounds very dark, but really this isn't entirely bad news. We're going to see the hope that comes out of this book. Martin Luther actually considered this to be a thoroughly optimistic book, one of the most optimistic in all the Bible, because it clears away the false paths that we might take. It clears away the error in order that we may find the truth of the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now let me explain what this book is trying to do in clearing away error. The story I mentioned a little bit earlier about hanging up Christmas lights probably illustrates a persistent character aspect of who I am, but probably it's a character flaw. Mainly that I am a hopeless packer, I love to keep things. I rationalize it to myself saying someday I will find a use for this. If it's broken it doesn't matter, if I need it I'll be able to fix it. I don't want to get rid of it, I want to hold on to these things. My wife on the other hand is not a hopeless packrat, she's the opposite, she's a ruthless purger. So in our marriage we have something of the immovable object, don't get rid of it versus the unstoppable force, throw it away. I rationalize that someday I'm going to need this, but let's be honest my wife is far more realistic about this. She knows that in all likelihood I will never find a use for the junk that I'm trying to cling to in our home. It's just going to be clutter, it's just going to take up space. Even if I do potentially someday find a use for this object, she also knows that just like in the case of the broken light bulbs, I probably won't be able to fix whatever is broken to the point where I'll just have to throw it away and start over. If I would just do that and get to buying something new when I need it, I'd be in much better shape. One thing I've learned in 12-plus years of marriage with this immovable force of the ruthless purger with whom I live, is that there is something freeing, something wonderful about letting go of things. It's hard for me as a hopeless packrat, but there's something freeing about letting go of things that are broken. It removes clutter from your life. It lets you move onto something better. That's what the author of Ecclesiastes is trying to tell us. This preacher is not so much worried about minimalism and what we consume in the stuff of this world. He wants to get what we're thinking. He says you've got to clear away this error, you've got to get rid of it, don't cling to this world, it cannot ultimately offer you what you are ultimately hoping to find. The preacher is helping us to clear away error so that we can find something better. That's where this bold thesis begins. He wants us to know from the beginning that vanity of vanities, all is vanity. That's bold. As packrat people like we are spiritually, we want to cling to the stuff of this world, the promises of this world. We don't want to believe this at first. I'm pretty sure I can find some use for this or that that I find in this world. Knowing that this would be a controversial motto, the preacher immediately begins to give arguments to back this up. In this first argument he wants us to observe and consider the world around us creation. To see the way in which the world is always moving but never arriving. Perpetual Motion This brings us to our second point, about the perpetual motion of life and the perpetual motion of creation in verses three through seven. The preacher moves on in verse three to ask what does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? What does man gain, that is a financial word that references financial gain from business dealings. What do you gain from all of the toil with which you toil? We live our lives in so many different areas and circumstances, what do we really profit from it? Of course our Lord Jesus echoed that same question in Mark 8:36 when he says, For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36, ESV He says imagine that you're not just trying to fix a $4 set of Christmas lights. Imagine that you can gain the whole world, it still won't prophet you much in comparison to forfeiting your soul. To underscore the foolishness of trying to find substantial gain in this life, in this world, but the preacher then asks us to consider creation itself. So in verses four through seven, we have a contrast from creation and an illustration from creation. The contrast comes in verse 4. In contrast to us, who come and go, the earth endures forever, creation endures forever. James 4:14 echoes this point. 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14, ESV In contrast to the enduring sense of creation, your life just continues for a brief time and then is gone forever. So our generations are in contrast to creation. Then the preacher moves on to illustrate the vanity of the way in which we toil by pointing to the way in which creation is always moving but never arrives. Look at verse five, the first place that the preacher points us toward is the sun. He says the sun rises and the sun goes down and hastens to the place where it arises. So the sun is always in this great orbit, and I understand that it's actually us not the sun but we still call it the sunrise and the sunset too so the point remains. The preacher is saying think about the sun, how it's always moving across the sky. As soon as it's done ,what has it done, what is it accomplished? Has it fulfilled its course? No, it hastens back to the point where it started to start the whole process again every single day. The word for hasten there is pants. You ever run late for something, maybe to catch a plane or a train or try to catch up to a meeting. You're running, running, running and you finally burst in finally barely on time and you're panting. Well that's the sun, always moving but never actually accomplishing anything lasting, the whole thing starts again the next day. It's not just the sun, in verse six it's the winds. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, Ecclesiastes 1:6, ESV You have the wind that is always flowing here and there, it's always moving, never stopping, always going somewhere. What does the wind accomplish? For all it's blowing here and there and everywhere, it never stops, it's always working and always moving. In verse seven, All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. Ecclesiastes 1:7, ESV Think about all the work that rivers do. Always pouring, always carrying, always moving this water into the ocean. The ocean is never full, the ocean is never done. It's always happening again and again, everything is always moving and it is never arriving. Now this is bad news. In the endless activity of your life, what this tells you and we have to face this, is that you will never make any real progress. Whatever you think you are accomplishing in your life, the preacher tells us we will never make any real progress. We will always be moving but we will never actually arrive. It's bad news also because when the ceaseless cycles of creation will repeat forever, they at least get to keep moving. Your life is short. You're here and then you are gone. There's also good news again: the preachers are trying to clear away the error to help us to see the truth about this. In part as we think about creation we have to be reminded this is a part of God's good order for this world. It is good news that the sun rises every morning. It is good news that the seasons continue. If the sun didn't rise, how would we live? If the seasons didn't continue, how would farmers grow food? How would we go through the normal course of our life? In fact God promised after destroying the entire world with a flood in Genesis 8:22, that while the earth remains seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease. The fact that these cycles continue ceaselessly is God's good provision for our lives. There's no progress, but there is stability. This idea of stability is an important part of what the preacher wants to point us toward in this life. Again, the preacher is clearing away error. It is easy to think when we are making progress in our cooking and cleaning and yet the work still remains. It is easy to think that we are making progress when we make a dent in the laundry in our houses, yet somehow the clothes get dirty again. It's easy to think that we're making progress when we get to inbox zero or when we clear away our work assignments and yet things keep piling up. Or landscaping, no matter how many times I mow my lawn it keeps growing back. Ceaseless, always moving, never arriving. We have to ask, this is kind of harsh, is it really true that there's no progress to be made? I mean that seems dark, that seems hopeless, is that really really true? Especially when we live in the year 2021, where we've seen all manner of technological and scientific advances in so many areas. The preacher in this book is going to acknowledge that there is real possibility for growth for development and for improvement, but in spite of all that he still sticks to his point. That real progress, true progress to bring about something genuinely new is not actually possible. We need to hear him for what he says. No Progress, No Memory This brings us to the third point. There is no progress and no memory. No matter how much more wisdom or pleasure or work or wealth we gain in this life, we will find no ultimate satisfaction. All of it will be vanity, all of it will be emptiness. 22:59 In verse 8 the preacher says this, All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Ecclesiastes 1:8, ESV It's just perpetual motion that we're engaging in our lives, it's weariness. Our eyes will not be satisfied, we will not see one last thing and that will be enough. We won't hear one last thing and our souls will be filled. All of it is simply weariness, it keeps going and going and we are never truly satisfied. Then in verses 9 through 10 the preacher says that in spite of our accomplishments, there truly will be nothing new under the sun. Verse 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a saying that says, “See, this is new”? Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, ESV It has already been in the ages before us. With all of our science and technology, we can maybe accomplish more or do it better, we can perhaps bring it about faster. Yet in everything that we have accomplished there is nothing truly new. We are still trying to live our lives just as those who came before us did. We're still trying to find satisfaction in our work, just like those who came before us did. They didn't succeed and we aren't succeeding in finding lasting satisfaction. We're trying to raise our families, we're still trying to pass the baton on to the next generation. Even there as we are thinking about the next generation, verse eleven reminds us that the next generation will not even remember us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. Ecclesiastes 1:11, ESV We don't remember the past and those who live in the future won't remember us. How many of you know the names of your great-great-grandparents and if you do, do you know the names of your great-great-great-grandparents? People who were literally responsible for making sure that you are here, do you even know their names much less anything significant about their lives? We don't remember the people who came before us. Only the greatest of all achievements are preserved in our memory and even those are only the smallest slices of the lives of the people who work to accomplish them. One of my favorite poems is by Percy Bysshe Shelley, it's a poem called Ozymandias. You may have heard this one. It's a poem about a man who brings back word from a distant land about seeing the remains of an ancient empire that was glorious in its day. The poem goes like this, it's very short. I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear — “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.' No matter how great your achievements are, even those whose accomplishments cause others to look on them in despair, ultimately time will bring them to nothing. Ultimately time will bury them in the sand and they will be forgotten forever. This is not positive and encouraging as we might hope it would be, this is heavy. We have to ask ourselves, in this word of inspired scripture what error is the preacher clearing away for us? Beyond this, what truth is he trying to lead us towards? Application The two applications. The first has to do with the error, the error to expose. 1. Brothers and sisters we must consider well the vanity of this life. That's the first application, consider well the vanity of this life. This is so painful, maybe it's not what you came to hear this morning, because we want our lives to have meaning. We want all the things that we are doing to count for something real in this world. Because of this we so often deceive ourselves into believing that our lives are at the center of the universe. Now we might not say it this way, but the way we live and the way we think and the way we act expose what we believe, we become self-absorbed. We look after our own interests alone and not after the interests of others. We believe that we are making real progress and that we are on the brink of finding true satisfaction, on this Ecclesiastes pours the coldest of buckets of water. The preacher forces us to consider the incredibly short duration of our lives. To reckon with our inability to make any real progress. Then the fact that all of our toil will be forgotten anyway.It may feel satisfying now to inflate ourselves for importance but what will that ultimately gain us? The preacher is in fact, whether it feels like it or not, he is doing us a great kindness by stripping away our vanity by clearing away our errors. Because brothers and sisters, if we have hope in this life, and if we think that we can find satisfaction and meaning in this life only, then we are of all people most to be pitied. Where then are you tempted to feel self-important as though everything revolved around you. Where are you tempted to worry, as though everything depended on you? Where you attempted to obsess, to obsess as though your toil will gain you lasting satisfaction? If only I could accomplish what I'm after. Brothers and sisters consider the vanity of this life. 2. We have to not only clear away the error. As the book of Ecclesiastes will do, we have to have that error cleared away so that we can more clearly see the truth that we must consider and that is our second application. Look for salvation above the sun. There is no salvation under the sun, we must look for salvation above the sun. Again, stripping away the errors of thinking that this world has something to offer us, so that we can find what is truly substantial. What is not short lived by what is lasting. What is not grievous and evil but what is good and from God. If you're following the news right now you may know that there are three billionaires who are trying to do something new. Now it's not new, it's just one more extension of what human beings have always been doing. But three billionaires are trying to be the very first to get into outer space. Now some of this is because they want to start a brand new industry of space tourism. For the low low price of $200,000 even you can take a round trip to outer space. More than this, they want the fame of being the first private people, not professional astronauts, but the first private people who pay for the experience of getting into outer space. If you've also read they've explained, a part of this has a very deep humanitarian need, because this world is being destroyed. There's pollution and there's sickness and we need to find a Plan B if we've screwed up earth so badly. Through this, in the Los Angeles Times, there was an editorial this week by Michael Hiltzik that recognized this project for what it was, a mere vanity project. Well that so much echoes what the book of Ecclesiastes would tell us. Now to be clear I would take a trip to outer space if I could, I'm not going to spend $200,000 on it, but I'm not opposed to going to outer space, this is a remarkable thing. Yet the idea of being the first to do it and the thinking that we will find a Plan A for the brokenness and the futility of this world is entirely misguided. We do need a Plan B, we do need to ascend above the sun to do it, but we won't accomplish this by interplanetary space travel any more than in Genesis 11 that the builders of the Tower of Babel were able to build a tall enough tower to reach up into the heavens where God is seated on his throne. The goal then was the same as the goal now, we are trying to escape our problems. We are trying to escape the futility and the vanity of this world. No more can we build a tower to escape it, then we can fly high enough into outer space to escape it. We cannot get high enough. We cannot lift ourselves above the sun to escape the problems of this world. We need someone to come down from heaven for us. This is what Jesus Christ has done for us. He says, don't look at what this world offers to you, you cannot descend into heaven on your own strength. He says in John 3:13 that no one has ascended into heaven. All the efforts in all of human history, including what came after Jesus, all of these efforts to ascend into heaven have been failed attempts. No one has ascended into heaven, except he who descended from heaven, that's the son of a man. Jesus descended, he came down from heaven. All the creation, the vast reaches of the created universe included, cannot provide ultimately what we are wanting. Eternal life, our lasting satisfaction, there is no salvation under the sun. No matter who travels in outer space, no matter how far they are able to travel, they too will ultimately die. There is nothing new under the sun by getting into outer space or anywhere else. What we need is Jesus Christ who came down from heaven. He came down from above the sun in order to raise us up to the heavenly places, where we can be with him. He did this by coming to die in our place so that our sins might be forgiven, so that he might raise us up spiritually today, even in the midst of this broken dying world. We are raised now to the newness of life spiritually. At the end of time to raise even our bodies from the dead to live in a resurrected new heavens and new earth with him forever, a world that will not be marked by futility. A world that will not be marked and plagued by thorns and thistles. A world in which we will enjoy lasting satisfaction in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You cannot find what you're looking for in this world. The preacher clears that away and we will see that so clearly as we work our way through this book. You can't find what you are looking for in this life under the sun, vanity of vanities, all is vanity here. But the gospel of Jesus promises that for all those who trust in Jesus you will never be put to shame, your life will not be vanity. You will be raised with the sons of God on the last day, in the days of resurrection. Beloved do not put your hope in the vanity of this world, put your hope in the solid hope of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let's pray. Heavenly Father we pray that as we study your word, you would help us to repent of areas where we have attempted to put too much faith, too much hope in this world. We pray now and instead you would lift our eyes to the heavenly places where Christ is seated at your right hand. With the eyes of faith we would see him there, seated by your throne. And there we would believe in him and trust in him and live lives even as our outer man is wasting away that we would be renewed in him day by day and as we await the day when the vanity of this world will pass away forever and then we will be resurrected to solid lasting joys through Christ Jesus our Lord. In his name we pray. Amen.

    “Nothing New Under the Sun” – Ecclesiastes 1:1–11

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 11, 2021 35:49

    The post “Nothing New Under the Sun” – Ecclesiastes 1:1–11 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “The Perfect Work of a Perfect Priest” – Hebrews 7:11-28

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 4, 2021 44:41

    The post “The Perfect Work of a Perfect Priest” – Hebrews 7:11-28 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “The Perfect Work of a Perfect Priest” – Hebrews 7:11-28

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 4, 2021

    “The Paradoxical Wisdom of the Cross” – Isaiah 52:13-53:12

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 28, 2021 30:40

    The post “The Paradoxical Wisdom of the Cross” – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “The Paradoxical Wisdom of the Cross” – Isaiah 52:13-53:12

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 27, 2021

    “God Meant it for Good” – Genesis 50:1–26

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 27, 2021 39:28

    The post “God Meant it for Good” – Genesis 50:1–26 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “God Meant it for Good” – Genesis 50:1–26

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 27, 2021

    “Melchizedek the Priest-King” – Hebrews 7:1-10

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 20, 2021 45:53

    The post “Melchizedek the Priest-King” – Hebrews 7:1-10 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Melchizedek the Priest-King” – Hebrews 7:1-10

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 20, 2021

    “The Final Blessing of Jacob” – Genesis 49:1–33

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 13, 2021 37:08

    The post “The Final Blessing of Jacob” – Genesis 49:1–33 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “The Final Blessing of Jacob” – Genesis 49:1–33

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 13, 2021

    “Blessing for Joseph’s Sons” – Genesis 48:1–22

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 6, 2021 38:13

    The post “Blessing for Joseph's Sons” – Genesis 48:1–22 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Blessing for Joseph’s Sons” – Genesis 48:1–22

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 6, 2021

    “Buried in Canaan” – Genesis 47:13–31

    Play Episode Listen Later May 30, 2021 33:47

    The post “Buried in Canaan” – Genesis 47:13–31 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

    “Buried in Canaan” – Genesis 47:13–31

    Play Episode Listen Later May 30, 2021

    “Few and Evil, the Days of our Sojourning” – Genesis 46:28–47:12

    Play Episode Listen Later May 23, 2021 32:48

    The post “Few and Evil, the Days of our Sojourning” – Genesis 46:28–47:12 appeared first on Harvest Community Church | Omaha, NE.

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