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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:No Perfect Justice Under the Sun
Text:Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 55 - To God Be the Glory
Psalter 179 - Invocation and Praise
Psalter 170 - A Celebration of Divine Grace
TH 108 - Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

In the 70s, a woman assaulted by two men identified her neighbor as one of them. He was 22 years old at that time. Because of her testimony, he was convicted in 1978 and sentenced to 115 years in prison. 31 years later, DNA evidence cleared him but he wasn’t released until a year later in 2009. He wasted 32 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And to add insult to injury, the department of corrections compensated him $75 to restart his life. They gave him a check. But because he had no ID, he could only cash that check 3 months later. When we hear this injustice, we boil with anger. But it gets worse. 10 years later in his 60s, he requested the state to exonerate him. Exoneration was a step further than having the charges dismissed. His request was initially denied. Why? If he was exonerated, he could receive $1 million in compensation. But this works out to only $32,000 a year or $2,600 a month for 31 years. In the end, he was exonerated. He got $353,000 upfront to pay legal fees, but the balance would be spread out in monthly payments of $3,350 over at 10 years. How about the rest? Did it go to taxes? What if he died prematurely? What happened to his accuser?

There’s injustice in this world. It has always been, it will always be. The guilty may be acquitted. Accusers are afraid to speak up. The innocent are wrongly charged. The guilty may get too lenient a penalty. Or get too harsh a penalty. Or they complain it’s too harsh when it’s not. Cain bore the mark of killing his brother, but complained others would hate him - when he should’ve died. There’s injustice; and while justice prevails, it’s too harsh for some. How should this make us feel? Anger is a wholly appropriate emotion to feel. Truth be told, there is no perfect justice under the sun.

This is what Solomon tells us in this passage in two realizations. Firstly, earthly justice is vain because it is imperfect. Secondly, we can experience joy through humility when we accept the injustice.

Firstly, earthly justice is vain because it is imperfect. We learn in verse 16 - “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.” Solomon asserted a truth that he realized - there was injustice in the world. Under the sun, everywhere on earth, even in the courts of law — the place of judgment — there was wickedness. And in those places of supposed righteousness, there was iniquity. Not only was Solomon saying that there was injustice in the world, but in the very places of justice - in the courts of law.

And what is amazing about this realization is that it has come from Solomon - the king of Israel - a man that was so renown for his wisdom in judgment. His execution of justice was sound, fair, just, and equitable. He was known to be the wisest king in making judgment. We all know about his wisdom in dealing with the 2 mothers who claimed the same child. We also know that because of this reputation, the Queen of Sheba came all the way to see him. And her conclusion was this - he had a reputation of being wise - but in person, he was actually wiser than what she’d been told. This caused her to praise God that his kingdom was blessed, and that God himself would be delighted in Solomon’s judgments.

So how could Solomon say that the courts of law were perverted if he was the law? Well, he knew the people under him. There were judges under him who were not like him. And even as king, he couldn’t right every wrong - he couldn’t preside over every case. Imagine, Solomon in his splendor - could not right the wrongs in his kingdom. 

But he wasn’t only talking about his kingdom. He was talking about all places under the sun — places where he had no jurisdiction — other courts had injustice. The Roman courts of law were considered very advanced for the time, but there was injustice. Pilate washed his hands - better to appease the Jews, release a criminal, and kill Jesus than to have a riot. Felix kept Paul in prison for 2 years without trial - calling for him periodically, hoping for a bribe. Why? Solomon concluded - wickedness and iniquity. In the world, there are bad systems. Joseph was cast into prison without a trial. Mordecai’s people were reserved for judgment because Haman promised the king a cut of the plunder. Injustice even happens at home. Siblings are not treated equally. Good explanations by children are dismissed by unjust parents who don’t listen. Or just punishment by parents are not accepted by stubborn children.

Yes, the Bible tells us that as believers, we are to work for justice. Psalm 82:3 says, “Defend the poor (or weak) and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” This is why all over the world, Christians have advanced the cause of Christ by the gospel. Christians have abolished slavery. They have set up hospitals. Even the SPCA was started by Christians to protect animals - God’s creatures. But when it comes down to it, we can only do so much. Let us not stop fighting for justice - but let us realize there’s no perfect justice this side of eternity. Solomon in all of his wisdom and power, realized that there was only so much that could be done. And even if he could execute justice, who knows if justice would continue with the next king. If you recall, it didn’t. Bad guys will prosper while good guys suffer. And the good you do now to overturn injustice, someone may come after you to overturn justice. Verse 22 says, “for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”

Solomon cried out for justice but there’s no perfect justice. We see in verse 16 the word “and moreover.” In other words, it continues what we learned in chapter 3. There is an appointed time under heaven for all things that happen. People live, they die; there’s war, there’s peace. And here, there’s justice, but there’s also injustice. This is the way it has always been. This is the way it will always be under the sun. God allowed it, he appointed it.

But then Solomon said that there will be eternal justice. Verse 17 - “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” There is a time, not under heaven - but there is a time there. Where? There in eternity. Under the sun, no justice. But there will be a time for eternal justice. Solomon said that God will judge. Sometimes in this life, sometimes not. But payday is coming one day. In the end, Jesus Christ will judge all people. While we may not see it in our time, justice will be carried out in eternity.

But to be sure, sometimes justice happens here. We’re all familiar with Mordecai. Haman wanted to kill Mordecai and the Jews. He tricked the greedy king to allow genocide. He built a gallows to impale Mordecai. But through the perfect providence of God working, the very gallows built for Mordecai were used on Haman. Shimei was of the household of Saul. He insulted David by kicking and throwing stones at him. For a time, he got away with it. David left the punishment to Solomon. During Solomon’s time, Shimei was spared execution provided he didn’t leave Jerusalem. Well, he broke this condition and was executed. There is a time for justice. Sometimes, what’s coming to a person comes to a person. This was Solomon’s point. The guilty seem to escape judgment, but it’s only for a short time. Sooner or later, God will call them to account. Solomon’s point is clear - for the majority of people on earth, there will be no perfect justice - from having your place in line cut into, or you’ve been wrongly accused, or everyone believes your false accuser. That’s life under the sun.

But the question before Solomon is this - how does this injustice on earth affect us? Solomon’s conclusion has always been life is frustrating, then we die. And here it’s the same - life is not fair, then we die. Now, we can despair - we can throw our hands up and heave a great sigh. We may even shut the alarm off in the morning and cover our faces with the blanket and go back to sleep. But for the Christian, rather than being pessimistic about it, it should give us a godly perspective. And what perspective is that? 

We can experience joy through humility when we accept the truth of prevalent injustice. That’s the second point. Now, to be sure, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t advance justice or fight for justice. We can and should. But in this world of mice and men, we won’t always achieve it. Not even Solomon was able to. And if we are confronted with all of this injustice, how should we be affected? We should be humbled. We should be reminded that we are mortal. You advance justice — good — but be realistic - in your life time, you may not achieve it. Humble yourself. In fact, Solomon says, that when it comes down to it, we are like the animals. There’s no real difference. We all die. That’s our fate. 

In verse 18, Solomon reflected on the injustice and he concluded that this injustice was God’s way of proving to people that they are like animals. How? Verses 19-20 - whatever comes on the beasts come on the the sons of men. Even as animals die, people die. Man is no different. He’s not superior. All will go to the grave - we’ll all be dust. Man and animal. Think about it - that’s what it is. You are born, processed in a hospital, given injections and discharged. Animals are born, delivered, given injections. You nurse and drink milk, like a baby calf. You are herded through school until you grow up and then you work. In your cubicle. 9 to 6. Where your organization extracts every ounce of blood from you. Then when you’re too old to work, they retire you. Sometimes unfairly. As for the beasts, they turn them into glue. So, God allows injustice to exist so that you and I might know we are mortal. It humbles us. To many of us, we find it utterly meaningless that injustice happens and that we can’t do anything to ensure that justice lasts. 

Joseph was treated badly. He was thrown into a pit like an animal. He was bound and sold to slave traders - like he was a piece of meat. In Egypt, he worked hard — he advanced, things seemed to take a turn for the better. He was put in charge of the whole household. Then he was falsely accused by the boss’ wife. He was cast into prison and caged like an animal. His life in there ticked by. And he did a favors for the cupbearer - but was forgotten. He was like an animal. That’s the reality for many — we happen to be blessed in Singapore, but even so, most of us here are not the elite. Most will be like beasts, herded around, until we die. We will face injustice in one way or another.

Even verse 21 gives a vivid picture of that unfairness - “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” This gives a picture of death - and how unjust it can be. Man may be a victim of war, left unburied, out in the open, breathing his last in the open spaces of the battlefield. His spirit, or breath, expiring. On the other hand, animals, may have the dignity of being buried in the ground. Case in point - in our country, pets are treated better in death than people in other countries are treated in life. 

This keeps us humble. This keeps it real for us. When we accept that this world is unjust, it gives us humility. Generally, we’re not saviors, we’re not movers and shakers, we’re not eternal. As verse 19 says, we’re no better than animals - and this is vanity. It’s vanity because we were meant to be much more! When God created us, he created us to rule — to have an impact — a lasting legacy. Psalm 8:5-8 — “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”

But why is this not the case? Because of Genesis 3. Because of sin, because of the fall. Things don’t work, things aren’t just, things aren’t perfect, things are frustrating because of the fall. This humbles us. But the other perspective we receive as believers is joy. Now, you might wonder how we receive joy?! If all things are unfair, if things won’t always work out, if there’s injustice, how in the world can we rejoice? It’s because we know that injustice won’t last forever. The preacher has already told us that God will bring justice - verse 17 - God will judge the righteous and the wicked. And we know that when we die, even terribly and in an unjust way - our spirit returns to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7 - “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

Because we have this perspective, there can be joy. Joy in accepting that injustice exists in the world. Joy is attainable despite injustice. You see, some of us are living in our unhappiness. And it seems like nothing can ever remove us from it. We cling onto the injustices of our childhood, of our recent past. I’m like that because my parents were like that. I wish I were never born in this time of history. If only I had that opportunity. If only I were born to a richer family. If only it wasn’t COVID now. Why was my child born like that? If only my children were like theirs. We polish our injustices like trophies and they affect every decision we make in life. 

But because we know that life is frustrating, because life is unjust - as God has intended for this time now - we can still rejoice because we know that one day, we won’t be like the animals; that there will be perfect justice; that this world is not my home - that whatever my God ordains is right. And that frees us to enjoy life on this earth. Verse 22 - “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” Because we don’t know when the next round of injustice will come, we enjoy life now. Who knows if you or your loved one will be struck by disease? Who knows if you will lose your fortune or your job? You don’t know what is next in life. Enjoy it now. That is the portion that God gives to you under the sun. 

What are some practical applications? Firstly, don’t let the injustices of the world prevent you from working for things which are right in your areas of influence. Do what is right. Work for what is good. Oppose evil where it is. Do what you can to defend yourself. If you succeed, praise God. But secondly, know this - injustice won’t disappear. If there’s injustice, praise God too. Because it will be made right one day. Thank God for his perfect justice. We also thank God for the reminder that we can’t change all things. Rest easy in your humility. Exult in Christ’s ability. Live with the injustices. Christ will right all things one day. 

Thirdly, remember the gospel especially in cases of injustice. Not everything will be righted and we must forgive. This is the gospel. Jonah could not bear this. The Assyrians had to be punished! They couldn’t receive mercy. He would run away before preaching to them. He’d rather be thrown overboard than repent. He waited three days before crying out to God. And when the Assyrians repented, he waited outside to see the destruction of God because he couldn’t bear the mercy of God. We must learn to forgive. 

But fourthly, let every occurrence of injustice drive you to Christ. Christ went through great injustice. The saints of old and even today in various parts of the world, go through great injustice. Why should you be exempt? They rejoiced. Like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4, we can rejoice in the Lord. Whatever situation we are in, we can be joyful and content. He made a tremendous claim in Philippians 4:10 - I rejoice in the Lord greatly. He learned in whatever situation he was in, to be content. He wrote from prison where he was wrongly accused, unjustly imprisoned. But why could he rejoice? He knew not his future — whether he would be executed or released — but he knew that he didn’t belong to himself but to his faithful savior Jesus Christ, who He had fully paid for all his sins with His precious blood, and had set him free from all the power of the devil. How did Christ do this? He did this for me by suffering injustice, by taking OUR sins upon him, being butchered like a sacrificial animal, mercilessly mocked, so that he could purchase justice for for us. That’s why we can feel liberated despite our injustices. Great freedom and humility by accepting they happen. Great joy comes by knowing they will be made right in his time. There will be a day when Christ comes with his angels; and he will bring justice. But until then, whatever he ordains is right, though now the cup we drink, may be bitter, we take it all, unshrinking.

Sermon Outline:

1. Earthly Justice Is Vain Because It Is Imperfect

    A. There is injustice

    B. There will be eternal justice

2. We Experience Joy, Humbly Accepting Injustice

    A. The fate of man and beasts

    B. The joy attainable despite injustice

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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