ECCLESIASTES-SERIES NR 1
This morning we are privileged to start with a series of sermons dealing with the book ECCLESIASTES. Some may think that it is not such a great privilege. Many people do not feel very positive about Ecclesiastes. They think: Well, what Gospel-message can there possibly be in Ecclesiastes? What comfort can there be when the writer is so pessimistic about life? “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind, everything comes to nothing. With much wisdom comes much sorrow, the more knowledge, the more grief”.
Wow, it sounds so dark, so sombre.
It is interesting however, that the OT church of God (Israel) did not understand this book as dark/sombre. Besides, it was exactly this ECCLESIASTES book that Israel joyfully read every year during the Feast of the Tabernacles. They must have seen something in Ecclesiastes that we cannot see, but which we have to discover here in 2020.
I do not think that Ecclesiastes is pessimistic. It is merely absolutely realistic. What king Solomon wrote, is so intensely true. These are the kind of questions that everyone struggles with from time to time.
Remember: All of us have a vague idea that a piece of the puzzle of our lives has been lost somewhere. We know that we are supposed to live meaningful lives for all eternity. But we do not always experience our lives as meaningful/eternal. There is a short-circuit somewhere.
This short-circuit took place at the Fall. Indeed, man was created with eternity in his heart (Ecc 3:11). Meaningful lives with the Lord on the Lord’s earth. After the Fall? Man still has eternity in his heart, but nothing realizes any longer. Thorns and thistles. Death entered. Adam and Eve soon realised how difficult life is without God. They call their child ABEL = futility.
Therefore, the short-circuit that we are still experiencing today. And Ecclesiastes describes it all so realistically. Hides nothing. Blatantly honest. Especially chapter 1 which is written so truthfully. It feels as if life is a soul-destroying merry-go-round…
Theme: Whoever stares himself blind at the Fallen creation ends up in a cul-de-sac
1. How realistic this dead-end street is
2. How the dead-end street calls out for Christ
1 How realistic this cul-de-sac is
What am I actually living for? Why do I do what I do? What is the benefit of it all? Who of us do not know this struggle? Some are driven to madness. Others decline into depression.
Keep in mind: All of us are created with the built-in need to know that life is meaningful. But somewhere there is a serious short-circuit…
Solomon (throughout the centuries the church has accepted that he was the author) personally experienced something of this short-circuit. Interesting that it was particularly Solomon. He who possessed everything one’s heart could desire. One would think that such a man would experience the fullness of life. Everything that humanity thinks that gives meaning to life, Solomon possessed. Wealth, possessions, power, women, status/distinction, super-intelligence. The model of a made man. Demands respect.
Yet he remained a seeker. Everything he possessed could not fill the empty space in his heart. In spite of everything, he was experiencing his life as a chasing after wind/nothing. Utterly, utterly meaningless.
Ecclesiastes says that at one stage he sat down and studied life carefully. Then he saw that life is a cycle that leads nowhere. People are born, live, die, and are forgotten. It seems so pointless. While one family is sitting at the deathbed of a loved one, another family rejoices over the birth of a baby. Life is a cycle where the same things return over and over. The sun rises and the sun sets. The wind blows from this direction, then from that, tomorrow the other way about. The same things occur over and over. Generations come and go, but the world remains the same.
The eye looks and looks, and never gets enough. Nothing happens that has not happened somewhere before. What was, happens again. What is happening now, will happen again. It causes man to become restless/bored. What has gone past, is soon forgotten. To think that I too will disappear into nothingness!! When I am gone, I will be forgotten reasonably soon.
Therefore Solomon asks: “What does man gain from all his labour?” What is the point of it all? The only answer that Solomon could find: ”Everything means nothing”. The word “nothing” in Hebrew is difficult to translate. It means something like “mirage”. A “vapour “.
Is it not exactly how one feels when you look at this life only ? The unbeliever is supposed to look at life that way – if he is honest. You find yourself literally in a dead-end street. You become discouraged. You think: Well, the only alternative is that I must live only for myself. What else can I do? “Let us eat and drink and be happy, because tomorrow we die…” (1 Cor 15:32). Why should I worry about anything? Today I am healthy, but tomorrow I could be told that I have a terminal illness, or while my husband/wife and I may be happily married today, one of us can be dead and buried within days.
Can you see how terribly realistic Solomon describes this dead-end street?
Now one wonders, how could the Israel read this Ecclesiastes book during the Feast of the Tabernacles with exuberant joy?
There is only one possible answer: During the routine course of their history as the Lord’s people, they EXPERIENCED how present the LORD is in the midst of it all. The entire OT testifies to it. Throughout the centuries they had God’s PROMISE. The promise that the Messiah/Great Saviour would come. That made the big difference. That caused Israel/Solomon to find MEANING within their experience of meaninglessness.
If one held a rose bud in your hand you can EITHER say: ”Tonight you will be wilted” OR “Look how beautiful you are now”. I can see the beauty OR the evanescence. I can allow the rose to pass me by OR I can praise the Lord for the wonder of His creation.
2 How the cul-de-sac is calling for Christ
Bear in mind: A specific passage of Scripture is situated within the greater entirety. One cannot read Ecclesiastes as if it is the only book in the Bible. You have to read it with the light that the rest of the Bible casts upon it.
Unstanding that, one will hear something important in Ecclesiastes 1. You hear how Ecclesiastes 1 is calling for the coming of Jesus Christ. Then you turn to the NT and you see how our Lord Jesus came to put exclamation marks behind all the questions posed Ecclesiastes 1.
It is actually the outcry of every unbeliever who cannot make sense of what life is all about. Remember: Our human wisdom and insight were mutilated by the Fall. Solomon says it in the last verses of chapter 1. With our insight and wisdom we cannot comprehend the meaning of life. We come to the wrong conclusions. Our insight is limited. WE NEED MORE THAN HUMAN WISDOM!!
Lots of people realise this but then they look for it in the wrong places, for example in the Occult. Supernatural knowledge and experience that satan gives. Unfortunately, evil consequently leads one away from the truth.
Can you see that all these things are crying out to the Lord Jesus Christ? He himself said in Matt 12:42: “The Queen of the South came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom – and – now one greater than Solomon is here!“ Referring to Himself! He/Jesus IS the wisdom that exceeds human wisdom by far. Colossians 2:3: “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…” And how does Jesus Christ come to us with His wisdom? When the Word and the preaching of the Word come to us. 1 Cor 1:23. “We PREACH Christ… the wisdom of God…” Note the word: PREACH. It points to teaching and proclamation.
The more difficult things become, the more we should set ourselves under the teaching of God’s infallible Word. The more questions you have. The more life buffets you. The more pointless everything feels. The more you should come under the teaching. Because in true preaching, CHRIST is proclaimed. And, He is the wisdom that far exceeds human wisdom. He gives hope and deliverance. He comes to stand within the passage of every day life that feels so soul-destroying and tedious. And He guarantees a better life. He adds eternity-value to the things that to us seem meaningless, a chasing after wind.
Can you hear the words of the Spirit this morning? One gets into temptation to live more and more for oneself when we feel the futility of life. You turn more and more into yourself. “Se incurvatus est” (to be bent into yourself) (Luther’s definition of sin).
But, that is not the solution. Living for oneself only leads to more frustration. Then you just don’t see the way forward any more. No. We must discover what Israel discovered. That one needs to be able to read Ecclesiastes during the FEAST OF THE TABERNACLES. Because you have discovered/met the REDEEMING LIVING LORD within the routine course of every day. The routine course/dead-end street sensation does not disappear when you become a Christian, but you discover the great wonder that He is present within daily routine.
Translated by Marthie Wilson