Monday, August 30, 2010

Who Knows?



Week 5 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 3:15-4:3


LIFE’S NOT FAIR!

From the very start of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher declares, “All is vanity” (1:2). This is his evaluation of life “under the sun.” Life under the sun could be described as life devoted to created things rather than the Creator. “Although [mankind] knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [...] They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21, 25). This kind of life, in the end, is meaningless.

Man is constantly laboring for “profit,” but he is never satisfied. He will always search for “something more” (more money, more pleasure, more time, etc.). Life under the sun is full of vanity, but life through the Son is full of hope. There is “something more” through faith in Jesus Christ.

In 3:16-4:3, The Preacher complains about two problems he sees “under the sun”:
  • Injustice. Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness (3:16).
  • Oppression. Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them (4:1).

RETURNING TO DUST

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return (3:19-20).

Are we just like the animals? No. (But the more we get away from God’s will, the more we behave like animals—survival of the fittest.) Humans were created in God’s image and were commanded to have dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:27-28).

Humans and animals are alike in one way: both die.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Death presents us with two big questions:
  • Will we live to see justice?
  • Will we live after death?
We can’t see what happens after death. When a person dies, we can’t tell (with our senses) what has happened. Is that the end? Or has the spirit left the body to go somewhere else?


GAMBLE OR BELIEVE JESUS?

“Who knows?” vs. “I tell you the truth.”

Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? (3:21).

“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:25-27 NIV).

Jesus declares that there will be:
  • Resurrection
  • Final judgment
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Seasons of Life



Part 4 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Let’s begin with a music trivia question. Question: What #1 pop hit has the oldest lyrics? Answer: The Byrds' version of Turn! Turn! Turn! (released on October 1, 1965). The lyrics are from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. If the traditional view on the authorship of Ecclesiastes is true, then Solomon should be given him lyrical credit for a number one hit.

In this passage, the Preacher gives us three conclusions about the seasons of life:
  1. God is in control; we are not. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (v. 1). Some people live in the past or the future and don’t enjoy the present. (Stores are always one season ahead.) “Making the best use of time” (Ephesians 5:16). Life is a vapor (“vanity”). It goes by so quickly. Don’t miss opportunities. We can’t determine the number of days, but we can determine if our life will be full or empty. How do we have full lives? (1) Enjoy God’s good gifts in the present (vv. 12-13). (2) Serve God and others, which has eternal significance. We see God’s control (sovereignty) in His perfectly-time plan of salvation: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son" (Galatians 4:4). "Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). "They were seeking to arrest [Jesus], but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come" (John 7:30). "Before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father…" (John 13:1). "[Jesus] said, 'Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples"'" (Matthew 26:18). "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). "[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). "…the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:14-15). "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). "So when they came together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to now the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority'" (Acts 1:6-7). Not only was God in control of the plan of salvation, but right now He is in control of my life. "My times are in your hand" (Psalm 31:15).
  2. God sees the big picture; we do not. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: (a) Each piece has its proper place. He has made everything beautiful [fitting] in its time (v. 11a). (b) We know there is a big picture. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart (v. 11b). C. S. Lewis wrote, "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." (c) We get frustrated by our inability to see the big picture. Yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (v. 11c). Only God can see time from beginning to end. We can see only a few pieces of God’s puzzle. We don’t see "the picture on the box."
  3. Let God be God, and stand in awe of Him. 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 (v. 14). “Let us offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Fire should not be taken lightly. “If you play with fire, you will get burned.” We must approach God (“a consuming fire”) with respect. He is our friend, but He is also the Sovereign Lord. Knowing that God is in control does not necessarily mean we always understand or appreciate His timing. Maybe you are going through a difficult season of life. It’s been said, “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” We cannot see the “big picture,” but we know that God loves us and that, in the end, His plan for us is good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life and Death



Part 3 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 2:12-26

Three truths about life and death:
  1. Life is fleeting. All is vanity (2:17). "Vanity" (hebel) = "vapor." Our lives are like the vapor rising from a boiling kettle. You see it for a moment, and then it's gone. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist [vapor] that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:13-15).
  2. Death is certain. 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. ...the wise dies just like the fool (2:14, 16b). 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, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? (2:18-19a). "And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, 'The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, "What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?" And he said, "I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God'" (Luke 12:16-21).
  3. Death is not the end. How should you approach life? Two ways: (1) Enjoy your life. 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, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? (2:24-25). Enjoy the good gifts that come from God. (2) Invest your life. After writing about the future resurrection of believers, the apostle Paul states, "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). What we do now has eternal significance. We will be rewarded by Christ for our service, and we may have a part in someone coming to faith in Christ. It's often said regarding money, "You can't take it with you." But we may be able to take someone with us to heaven.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Quest for Meaning



Part 2 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes


LIFE UNDER THE SUN

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind (1:14).

The Hebrew word for "vanity" is hebel. It literally means "vapor," "breath," or "wind." In Ecclesiastes, hebel is used in a figurative sense.

Life "under the sun" (without God) is:
  • Futile. Life is like a treadmill.
  • Frustrating. Life is a chasing after the wind.
  • Fleeting. Life is a vapor.
What is crooked cannot be made straight (1:15).

We can’t fix life. We can’t change it.


SOLOMON’S QUEST FOR MEANING

How would you fill in the blank? "I’ll be happy when _________."

Solomon was like Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Hugh Hefner all rolled into one. If anyone could find fulfillment from life under the sun, it would be Solomon.

King Solomon searched for meaning in the things we often put in that blank:
  1. Power. I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:12).
  2. Pleasure. I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?" (2:1-2).
  3. Alcohol. 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 (2:3).
  4. Work.I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees (2:4-6).
  5. Comfort. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house (2:7a).
  6. Wealth. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces (2:7b-8a).
  7. Music. I got singers, both men and women (2:8b).
  8. Sex. And many concubines, the delight of the children of man (2:8c). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3).
  9. Fame. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem (2:9).
What was Solomon’s conclusion at the end of his quest for meaning?

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 (2:11).

Two quotes from The Simpsons (not an endorsement of the show) demonstrate the vanity of life under the sun: (1) “The road to the Super Bowl is long ... and pointless—I mean, when you really think about it.” (2) Homer Simpson says to Mr. Burns: “You’re the richest man I know.” Mr. Burns replies, “Yes, but I’d trade it all for more.”

Searching for meaning from life under the sun is like a wild goose chase with no goose. "I’ll be happy when..."


MADE TO WORSHIP

"Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ... They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:21, 25).

What are you worshiping?
  • We are all worshipers.
  • If you are devoted to things under the sun, you will always search for "something more."
  • If you are devoted to God, you will be satisfied.
With God, there is “something more.” There is hope—not under the sun, but through the Son.

Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

We can enjoy the "treasures" of the world, but we must not be devoted to them. The first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).


"ROSEBUD"

One of my favorite movies is Citizen Kane, released in 1941, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is often considered the greatest film of all time.

The film begins at the end. Charles Foster Kane, is dying. Once extremely powerful and popular, now he is all alone. Holding a snow globe, he utters his final word: “Rosebud.”

What did “Rosebud” mean? In the film, a reporter becomes intrigued by the mystery of “Rosebud” and attempts to discover its meaning.

In a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Kane’s childhood was spent in poverty. But his life changed when the world’s third largest gold mine was discovered on a property owned by his mother. Kane is then sent away from his parents to be educated. To make a long story short, he becomes an incredibly wealthy man, but never finds true happiness.

At the end of the film, the reporter gives up trying to solve the meaning of “Rosebud” and concludes that it will forever remain a mystery. However, the film’s audience is shown the meaning of “Rosebud.” In the final scene, several workers are throwing into a furnace some of Kane’s possessions that are considered “junk.” One of the pieces of junk is Kane’s childhood sled—the same sled he was playing with on the day when he was taken from his home. The camera zooms in toward the sled and reveals that its name is “Rosebud.”

Charles Foster Kane had gained everything under the sun. But the only time he was ever truly happy was as a child, sliding down the snowy hills on Rosebud.

"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" (2:11).

What are you worshiping? What are you devoted to? If you are devoted to things under the sun, you will always search for something more. If you are devoted to God, you will be satisfied.