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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:The comfort we receive when we see life ruled by God's hand.
Text:Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Eccl. 1, 1-11; 3, 1-15
Text : Eccl. 3, 9-15
Ps. 65 : 1,3
Ps. 65 : 2
Hy. 51 : 4,8
Ps. 30 : 4,5,6.7
Ps. 90 : 6,8
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

This morning in the preaching I would like to give some attention to a passage taken from the book Ecclesiastes. As regards this book of the Bible, a superficial reading of it may cause us to wonder what comfort it has to offer. Often the general feeling is that the author of this book has a very pessimistic outlook on life. The message seems to be: everything man does is in vain, no lasting effect whatsoever. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Yes, "What profit has a man from all his labour in which he toils under the sun?" Looking at the net profit of it indeed seems to be all in vain. Vanity of vanities!
Because of this refrain, which comes up repeatedly throughout the book Ecclesiastes, many find it difficult to understand what significance this book has within God's revelation as whole. What does the Preacher want to teach us?

In answer to this question, for a start it should be noted that the Lord has given also this book a place in Scripture to give us guidance on the pathways of salvation. One may say, this might be true but what is that guidance which this specific book has to offer?
Briefly, beloved, the answer is: the author of the book of Ecclesiastes wants to point us to the providence of God. In more practical terms: this book will give us guidance so that we may see God's hand in all that we experience in this often so broken life.

Yes, beloved, how broken this life is at times. The Preacher speaks about it in detail. He surely does not cover up for it. On the contrary, when reading this book of the Bible, at times one wonders, "What joy is left in life? If any it is but only short-lived." Since the fall into sin in Paradise, man works and lives in the sweat of his face. The earth brings forth thorns and thistles. Of course, one cannot deny that there are also happy moments at times, yet generally life is full of disappointments. Often sor-row, grief and hardship overshadow the happiness. The burdens we have to carry sometimes become so heavy that it takes away all the joy that is left. Depression sets in and as a result life becomes very gloomy. What is the meaning of life, where do we live for?
Moreover even in case one belongs to those who live at the greener side of the fence, healthy and well off, still sooner or later the day comes that death breaks life down and at that moment you can't take anything with you of the riches you have enjoyed on this side of the grave. Today you are healthy, but tomorrow you might be confronted with a terrible disease ruining your body or an accident in which one of your loved ones is killed. A few weeks ago with the car accident in Tasmania, we were once again confronted with the fact how soon life can come to a sudden end. At such a moment, the question may come up: what is the line in all this, the direction?

Beloved, one will start to see this line, only when directing his eyes on high to God about whom we read in the text chosen for this morning's sermon, "He has made everything beautiful in its time." I realize a sentence like this does not in a simple way answer all the questions we may struggle with when confronted with difficulties, hardship, or death. Nevertheless it points us to God's hand and there lies our comfort in this often so broken life. That's the gospel I may preach you this morning:

God who in Christ
1) has redeemed our life from all vanity
2) so that it may bear fruit for Him

I In the first chapter of the book Ecclesiastes life is portrayed as seeming to be no more than just one tiring vicious circle. Someone builds something up yet another breaks it down. So when a third one who comes around he has to start all over again. Isn't that often what life is all about? Think about the international scene, for example, warring factions strike a peace deal, but only a little thing has to happen and everything is back to square one. I only have to refer here to the conflict in the Middle East. Over the years how often have we not seen a picture of an American president shaking hands with PLO leader Yassar Arafat and an Israeli prime minister? At such a moment it was said, this is a real breakthrough; a real break through in this conflict, which has gone on now already for so many decades. Time and again hopes were high. But look at it today, has there really been any progress over the years. In a similar way I could refer to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
So it's not all that difficult to sympathize with the question of the Preacher: What is the net profit of it all? Isn't it all in vain? All our toil and labour does it ever produce anything permanent? After all the sweat and struggling isn't the result often very minimal.

See there, beloved, the question addressed by the Preacher. What profit has a man from all his labour in which he toils under the sun? Isn't it all vanity? Generations come and go. The sun rises and goes down. The wind turns from the north to the south and back again as it always has. Man goes out to his work, but he is never finished. When there is some-thing new, it shines for a moment, but after a while it becomes old again, dies away and is forgotten. Isn't that what life is all about? In the end aren't all our efforts fruitless. Yes, what lasting value does life under the sun have? For a while one may enjoy life, but then death brings every-thing to an end again. It indeed seems all very pessimistic. At first read-ing the Preacher indeed seems to have a very negative outlook on life.

Yet when continuing reading this book of the Bible we learn that the Preacher not only wants to go by experience, but to come to an answer to the questions he struggles with he also wants to listen to God's divine revelation. In this context it should be noted that the Preacher, living as a child of God in the time of the OT, had not yet received that clear insight as we as the church of the NT have it. He did not yet know about Christ who - by His sacrifice on the cross - redeemed a creation groaning in travail from its bondage of decay, as the apostle Paul writes it in Ch. 8 of his letter to the Romans. The Preacher had not yet that clear insight, nev-ertheless as a covenant child he knew that this redemption would come and that therefore life was not in vain.

In addition, he also knew about God's providence, which brings us to the text chosen for this morning's sermon. In this passage the Preacher gives an answer to that question he also started his book with, "What profit does a man have from all his labour in which he toils under the sun?" The answer to this question is given in Ch. 3,10, "." And - so we may add in light of what follows - it was not in vain! It was not in vain, since, vs. 11a, "."
In more practical terms the Preacher is saying here: Oftentimes we look at things only from the outside, not looking any further than what we can see with our physical eye. When doing so it indeed seems that many things in this life come to an untimely end. And so what was the purpose of it? Yet as God's children we should look further, opening also the eye of faith, recognizing that all those passing moments of laughter and sor-row, of building and breaking down, are all necessary links of God's plan of salvation. Within that plan of God every human activity has its appro-priate time, says the Preacher. There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted, a time for war and a time for peace. God indeed made everything beautiful in its time. Even more precisely, there is a system in all this. In faith I may believe that throughout all the happy and the sad events happening both in this world as well as in my personal life > throughout all these events God is work-ing out His divine program. No, then we cannot always understand the way in which God does this. At times we may cry out, "Why, o Lord?" We may struggle with difficulties, hardship, sorrow, grief. Yet, also of these things the Preacher says, "God has made everything beautiful in its time." In other words, he acknowledges God's hand not only in health, but also in sickness, in death; God's hand in rain and draught, fruitful and barren years. It's all in the hands of our almighty God and Father. He ap-portions all these things to us, to us and to this world in the most excellent manner.

Thus despite the fact that at first reading the book Ecclesiastes may come across as having a somewhat negative outlook on life, in fact it will point us to God's hand in history. It will open our eyes for the fact that indeed God made everything beautiful in its time.

That's also a calling, beloved, to open our eyes for this, since - as it says in the second part of vs. 11 - God has put eternity in man's heart. What does this mean? An answer to this question is not all that simple. The word translated with 'eternity' literally means 'the furthest in time', and can be used in a twofold way: either the furthest in time far back in the past, or far forward in the future. As far as our text is concerned, the best possible translation would be 'understanding with duration'. The Preacher is then saying here: God has put in man's heart the desire to gain knowledge about the beginning and the end of life and all the events in between. In other words: a desire to know about the meaning and purpose of life, to discern the pattern of events. As such there is nothing wrong with that desire, God Himself gave it to man, put it in man's heart. Yet the Preacher also says, in trying to discern the pattern of the events of life one must also realize that in the end no one can find out the work God does from beginning to end, vs. 11c. In other words, there are also things we have to leave to God. There are also times that so to speak we have to put the hand on our mouth and stay silent, trusting that God is control and has a purpose for everything. We cannot always answer all questions, why God does do this or that, like that accident of a few weeks ago, in which a young member of the congregation of Mt. Nasura was killed, and another one of the congregation of Kelmscott seriously injured. Why o Lord? Only God knows and there do I leave it. Then at moments like these - and so many other occasions in life: the birth of a handicapped child, the loss of a job, and you name it, we indeed struggle to come to terms with it: why? Yet God is control and there lies my comfort. In faith I trust God's good and wise purpose.
In Art. 13 BC as church we confess regarding the divine doings of God,
"As to His actions surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire farther than our capacity allows us. But with the greatest humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, and we content ourselves that we are pupils of Christ, who have only to learn the things which He teaches us in his Word, without transgressing these limits."

The Preacher, beloved, teaches exactly the same, vs. 14, "." This verse is a very central verse in the book Ecclesiastes. It teaches us how to over-come that idea that at times everything seems to be in vain. Not through experience but through wisdom from above the Preacher has come to the insight that what God does is eternal. He has all things in His almighty hands, unchangeably fixed and messianically determined. Both through-out the events of history as well as throughout the events in our personal lives God brings to fruition His plan of redemption in Jesus Christ. No, then we do not always understand why God does things in a certain way and at specific times, but in faith we have the assurance that it all happens to God's plan and this with the aim that men should fear before Him.

"That men should fear before Him ." This too is one of the central themes of the book Ecclesiastes. It's also the conclusion with which the Preacher closes this book off, Ch. 12,13, "."
Fear God . > no, this does not mean that we are to be scared of God, afraid of Him. But it means we must trust Him. It means as God's chil-dren we find rest in the fact that God is in control. Then we don't ask cu-rious questions beyond what we are allowed to ask, but then we leave things to whom they belong, trusting that God has indeed made every-thing beautiful in its time. Only in this way we are able to look beyond the vanity of this life, able to look further than that vicious never ending circle within at times there seems to be no progress at all. Also, then we start to enjoy life as a gift of God, even though things do not always go our way. For in faith I believe that God is at work fulfilling His plan also with my life.

Then I no longer say it's all vanity, grasping for wind. But then I start numbering the days of my life in faith, realizing that in Christ my life has been freed from all vanity. Then I know that despite all the sweating and struggling that is going on in life, nevertheless it has a glorious perspec-tive, since from this broken world I may direct my eyes on high to God in heaven, who once created all things good and perfect, and who even after the fall into sin did not leave this world to its fate but kept sustaining all things by His almighty hands still making everything beautiful in its time, and who finally will bring about a perfect redemption, which will last forever.

Living in the midst of a world in which on a daily basis we are confronted with so many crooked things, it's this knowledge of faith that gives rest, security. Society is full of corruption, corruption at times even among the leaders of our country. Sometimes this may cause one to think, if even our leaders are corrupt, why should I still be honest in my dealings with other people. Yet, beloved, God asks us to do right in the midst of a crooked generation. We are to fear God and should live joyfully in accor-dance with His commandments, accept life with all the difficulties it may involve as coming from God's fatherly hand. That calling runs as a golden thread through the book Ecclesiastes.

Of course living this way does not all of sudden cause all questions we struggle with to disappear. The book Ecclesiastes itself is a clear testi-mony of a child of God who struggles in trying to understand God's hand in life. But at the same time we see the author of this book holding on to his faith in God.

As regards the author of this book, because of the introduction (son of David, king in Jerusalem) as well as the wisdom and wealth spoken about in this book, many say Solomon must be the author. Yet looking at the book as a whole, in particular the negative view of rulers suggested in it, it's more likely to think of a work written after Solomon's time, which then was presented as a legitimate voice of the wisdom tradition that had Solomon as its most famous exponent, therefore going by his name.
Reading the book one get the impression that the author was living in a time during which David's royal dynasty had come to a decline, a time during which from a human point of few little could be seen of the fulfil-ment of God's mighty promises once given to Israel. And yet the author of this book holds on to the knowledge that God has made everything beautiful in its time.
No, then the Preacher could not fathom the problems of his time any bet-ter than the church today can fathom the problems of our time. Yet what he did is: in faith he submitted himself to the sovereign God, the Shep-herd of Israel, who deals wisely with His people, always!

As I said before, as a child of God living in the time of the OT the Preacher had yet no clear insight in how to overcome the vanity of life. This book of the OT also calls for the coming of Christ, the Redeemer, who would free this creation groaning in travail from its vanity. Well, we know that this Redeemer has come, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We may know that because of His accomplished work life on earth is no longer an exercise in futility, but bears rich fruits when we live life in Christ. This brings me to my second thought.

II The text chosen for this morning's sermon, Br. & Sr., encourages us to enjoy life, vss. 12 & 13, "." In these two verses we are indeed en-couraged to enjoy life. Yet at times one may wonder whether this is really possible, especially in view of the fact that the happiness I enjoy today, tomorrow it might be broken to bits. Often happiness is so short lived. Nevertheless, the Preacher says, "Enjoy the good!" Of course, not like the people around us who live with the slogan, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." No, we rejoice, knowing all that we receive comes from God, is a gift from above.

So we are indeed allowed to enjoy life. But so one may ask, though at times there are indeed also good things to be enjoyed, nevertheless it does not break that vicious circle: joy today, sorrow tomorrow. So in the end what do we actually gain with all our slaving and sweating. Sometimes we build something up, but later on someone else comes and breaks it down again. Thick books can be written about progress in technology and culture, but in the end isn't this all very relative? Doesn't the Preacher himself also come to that conclusion? There is little new under the sun, vs. 15a, "." Although there is progress in technology and therefore we use machines where people a century ago may have used their hands, yet at bottom we are still busy with the same things. Adam received from God the cultural mandate and was busy working on the land. Today peo-ple are still working on the land and this will go on until Christ returns on the clouds of heaven, which begs the question, "Do we really come any further with all our slaving and sweating?"

Yes, we do! But again, we can only see this when working on the land we look on high to God in heaven about whom we read in the last line of vs. 15, "He requires an account of what is past." A better translation of these words is, "He seeks of what is pursued." In other words, God, who has the past, the present, and the future in His almighty hands and con-trols history makes progress, in spite of what we may consider to be a needless repetition. Sometimes we may think: what did we achieve, was it not all done in vain, especially when things fall to pieces. And yet God made progress, even though we can't see it. God moves ahead throughout all the turmoil we see in this world. He moves ahead even when peace deals, like in the Middle East, fall to pieces again. God moves ahead throughout all the corruption, crime, terrorism and you name it. He moves ahead also throughout all the ups and downs in our personal life, fulfilling His plan of salvation. Then at times we may have difficulty in under-standing the connection between the joyful days we may enjoy and the sad days when we are broken down by sorrow or grief. Yet according to our text God gives them both, joy and sadness, beautifully in its time, to make progress also with your salvation, beloved.

Summarizing, we are to look at things not from an earthly but from a heavenly perspective. Yes then in faith we may look at the history of sal-vation of which we know so much more than the Preacher did in his day. In the day of the Preacher there was but very little that pointed to the ful-filment of God's promises. Yet we know that even during those dark days of Israel's history God worked towards the coming of the Messiah. Even though it did not look like it, God made progress. It became Christmas, Good Friday. Good Friday - again such a strange day! Israel's King died on the cross. From a human point of view again it seemed that everything had been in vain. This was the one of whom many had expected so much. Good Friday - mourning many had lost their hope, in vain! But then it became Easter, which showed that Good Friday had not been in vain, in-stead the vicious circle of life and then death was finally broken. Con-quering death Christ redeemed life from its vanity. Therefore all our slav-ing and sweating is no longer in vain.

I may refer here to what the apostle Paul has written in his first letter to the Corinthians. At the end of that wonderful chapter about the fruit of the resurrection of Christ he writes, I Cor. 15, 58, "." Not in vain in the Lord! What a wonderful message this is, beloved. All our toil, all that sweating every day again as mother in the family, as husband in the workforce, as student at school, it's not in vain when we serve the Lord in it.

Not in vain! This seems to contradict the message of the book Ecclesias-tes, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labour in which he toils under the sun?" And yet Paul says, not in vain! Is that not contradictory? No, it is not, since between the Preacher and Paul stands Jesus Christ, who with the power of His resurrection has en-tered also your and my life, beloved. It is through Him that all our labour is no longer in vain, but bears fruit everlastingly.

Hold on to that, beloved. Hold on that that when tomorrow you start working again, as mother doing the washing or vacuum cleaning, as fa-ther behind your desk in the office or in the factory or at the worksite. Hold on to that, also you young people, when you start a new school day again. Hold on to the fact that all these things of every day life serve a purpose. The Lord uses them to come His great day, to come to a new heaven and a new earth, where everything will be perfect again. One can indeed long for that day. But realize then, beloved, that everything in this life serves that purpose, is working together for coming of that day.

I realize this is the language of faith. Closing the eyes of faith, looking at things only with our physical eyes at times one might indeed sigh, "How can I go on, it's all so hard and often so meaningless." Yet in faith I have the assurance it's not in vain, not in vain even when things break down in my hands. It still will bear fruit when it is done in the Lord.

And so this morning's sermon will encourage us again to live by faith. For in faith I may know, even through sorrow, anguish and pain my life bears glory, the glory of the victory of Christ. Beloved, Christ indeed shares this victory with us already today, having freed our life from its vanity, whilst I may also know we are counting down towards the com-plete victory. Every day in this life brings me closer to the final and per-fect redemption in Christ. Therefore, beloved, and you too, young people, "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord - and note well when the apostle Paul speaks about the work of the Lord this does not simply relate to church activities, but it relates to all that we do in every day life, at home, at school, or at work, even in our leisure time - yes all that we do, if we do it in and for the Lord, says Paul - and He says it inspired by the Holy Spirit - it's not in vain.
To phrase this in different words I may conclude this sermon as follows assuring you that in Christ life - no matter how hard life can be at times - in Christ life is worth living; worth, for as a child of God I live life for the Lord, who also for me has made everything beautiful in its time. And therefore praise be to Him, to God.
"For what He in His good pleasure
To me in wisdom may impart
Is given me in perfect measure - beautiful in its time
Therefore I will be content within my heart."

Content - for in Christ my life, how troubled it might be at times - in Christ it has meaning; meaning so that I am able to rejoice always, to re-joice even through the tears I cry, through sleepless nights. It's not in vain, not in vain in the Lord.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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