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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Ending Well
Text:Ecclesiastes 12:8-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-11-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Philippians 1:12-30

Text:  Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

 

ENDING WELL

  1. The Days When Nothing Matters

  2. The Day When Everything Matters

 

  1. Psalm 138: 1, 4

  2. Psalm 16: 1, 4, 5

  3. Hymn 45:1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 125: 1, 4

  6. Hymn 67: 1, 3, 5, 7

 

Words to Listen For: cows, peel, Sanhedrin, themselves, DNA

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What unique calendar did Martin Luther have?

  2. Is The Preacher regressing?

  3. How is Ecclesiastes like a math equation?

  4. How is the Apostle Paul an example of the lesson of Ecclesiastes?

  5. What 6 words should you put on your calendar?  What 7 words?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

What does your calendar look like?

As you may know, I am on the cusp of 2 weeks of vacation.  My parents are here to spend some of it with me, and our calendar is getting full.  Places to visit, people to see, hikes to do, restaurants to eat at.

Before too long, students will be getting their schedules for the upcoming school year, there will be to-do lists packed with due dates and meetings.

We live by the calendar.

And so, with agendas and calendars a’plenty, with planners and reminders galore, I would like to challenge you to find some wallspace, to find somewhere on your desk, and add one more calendar.  This particular type of calendar isn’t one that you can buy in a store, it’s a little too unique for that.  I tried searching for it online, Amazon came up empty…

Find, or make for yourself…a two day calendar.

A two day calendar is the calendar that Martin Luther had.

He said: There are two days on my calendar.  This day and That Day.

Martin Luther was speaking of TIME and ETERNITY.

This day, the present day, not living in the past, giving in to nostalgia, not living in the future, being anxious about tomorrow, but living in THIS DAY that we have been given, in the light of THAT DAY.  The time when the clocks all stop.  The day that will last forever because there will be no more night.  That moment in time when time itself gives birth into eternity, and our Lord descends with the sound of the trumpet on the clouds of heaven and this world passes away, the sky being rolled up like a scroll, this age passing like turning a page in a book.

It is with the knowledge of the imminent approach of eternity that we must live in time.  We must spend our time in service of eternity, keeping a weather eye on the horizon.  This is the end of the matter, and we must, like the Preacher, 

 

END(ING) WELL.  We will do this by examining two days - 

  1. The Days When Nothing Matters

  2. The Day When Everything Matters

 

The Day When Nothing Matters

Our text begins as the book began: Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.

And again, just like this last time, we might find ourselves confused by how The Preacher seems to be regressing.

At the beginning of Ecclesiastes, The Preacher followed his heart, he did not deny himself anything his eyes desired, and at the end, Ecclesiastes 11, he seems to encourage young people to do the same thing.

We HEARD that argument…we DEBUNKED that argument in the previous sermon.

And then here, once more, we must do a debunking.

Ecclesiastes 12:8…5 verses from the end, and it is Ecclesiastes 1:2 all over again.

What happened to the spark of hope in Ecclesiastes 3:11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart.

     There IS BEAUTY.

     There IS ETERNITY OUT THERE…and in here [point to heart]

The spark that seemed to fan into a flame in Ecclesiastes 5 - Guard your hearts when you go to the house of God…for when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear

     There IS MEANING…meaning in what is REALLY REAL

And then Ecclesiastes 7 - Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning

    There IS a way to gain wisdom

    There ARE real lessons to be learned on this earth, though they aren’t where you think they are…the only way out

     is through - cows and buffalos.

 

But now…the regression back to the beginning…this can make us a little disappointed with The Preacher.

But this is not what is meant here.  The Preacher has not regressed, we are not in exactly the same place at the end of the matter as we were at the beginning.

So, what has changed?  The words are exactly the same, in the Hebrew, in every English translation.  Not the smallest letter, not the stroke of a pen is different.

So then what is different?

Well, at the end, we are returning to the beginning, but we are returning as different people.  We are returning as those who have gone on a journey with The Preacher.  And, over the series, we haven’t had time to examine every verse, or even every chapter of Ecclesiastes, but I hope and pray that over the last 6 sermons, we have gained insight into this book, having a good sample of what is in it.  And hopefully, in your family devotions, or personal devotions, you have, or you will fill in the blanks yourself, seeing what is in the chapters we could not cover together.

But we are returning to the beginning as different people, and so these same words that greeted us at the beginning of the book hit a little differently at the end.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Kind of true.

The Preacher has systematically taken us through the pleasures and treasures of this life, peeled back the curtain on them, removing their sheen and their shine, showing them for what they truly are.

  • Earthly pursuits are vanity - growing crops, building a career…all vanity.

  • Time is vanity - everything happens.  Peace is replaced by war, birth is replaced by death.

  • Money is vanity - it can’t buy happiness…only rent it for a time.

  • Life is vanity, because no matter how young and strong you are, old age and death are coming.  Dust we are, and to dust we must return.

This is all vanity, The Preacher says.

The days that we spend here on this earth…ultimately accomplish nothing of any lasting value.

And when our vision is limited to the horizontal…when we stubbornly, steadfastly REFUSE to lift up our eyes…this is what we get.

This is my last chance to warn you, at least in this exact way, using these exact words - vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

The Preacher is taking one last moment to remind us…the things that seem SO REAL.  SO IMPORTANT.  SO DESIRABLE…the things we spend our nights dreaming about and our days pursuing…are just like VAPOUR.  Just like SMOKE.  Remember the image of the preacher, taking out a cigarette, lighting it, and blowing smoke over the congregation…this is your life without God.  This is your life if you refuse to look up.

If you put a pin in God, a pin in the church, a pin in Christian fellowship and then you go off searching for happiness and searching for meaning…you WILL NEVER BE SATISFIED.  This life, for the sake of this life is USELESS.  It is VANITY.

You can’t use money and power to buy happiness and fulfillement.  You can RENT THEM…but it’s a real short rental period.  If this world is only about this world, then we are most to be pitied among all creatures.

An animal doesn’t have the ability to think deeply, to think about existence and meaning, but we do.  And if this world is just about what we can see…then the ability to think deeply is nothing more than a cruel joke from God.  Making us desire something that we can never have.  We should curse God for making us like this, and wish and hope and pray that somehow we could become like the animals because then we would be too simple to know that this life is meaningless.

So let me warn you, let me plead with you…especially young people…the last sermon was about you, and you are the most in danger of doing this…DON’T WASTE YOUR LIFE!

As we heard, have those adventures, run fast, climb high, move to another city…but don’t do those things WITHOUT GOD.  REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR in the days of your youth.

Remember your Creator all through your life.

Remember what’s up there, just beyond the clouds.

The days that we spend on this earth accomplish nothing of earthly value.

This is the message of Ecclesiastes, this is the message of King Solomon’s life.  It’s already been tried.  Don’t be foolish enough to try it again, thinking that it will be different for you, and that you will be the first one in the history of forever to find true and lasting joy from weak and temporary pleasures.

This is how we can spend the first day of our two day calendar.  We can spend the first day pretending that the second day isn’t coming…for some reason.  Or we can live this day, these days, that, on their own mean nothing…in service of THAT DAY, which means EVERYTHING.  Our second point.

There are two ways that we can look at this life, and The Preacher shows us both.  He shows us the way that so many of us are tempted to look at life, and then he shows us the wise way to look at life.  Viewing this life in the light of what is coming.  Viewing this day in the light of that day.  Viewing time in the light of eternity.

This is all vanity…under the sun.  Vanity, under the sky.  But we must PEEL BACK THE SKY and take a larger view of reality.

For reality is not only what we SEE.

Reality is not only what we FEEL AT THE TIME.

Reality is so much more than that.  Reality is that which corresponds with TRUTH, not merely with FEELINGS.  Reality therefore, includes, not only life UNDER the sun, but life OVER the sun.

And this is why we see what is written in verses 9-14 of Ecclesiastes.  We see the hints at meaning finally spelled out clearly.  We finally see MEANING.  And it’s wonderful.  It’s been a long time coming.

Now, it should be noted that there are many who believed that The Preacher ended Ecclesiastes at verse 8.  Vanity of Vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity, and that a later editor added in verses 9-14, because the original ending was a little too depressing.

This is a very flimsy theory, built off of feelings rather than facts, but ultimately, it does not matter, for, whichever human hand penned verses 9-14, we know that the ultimate author of Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, like the rest of the Bible, is God Himself.

And besides, verses 9-14 are completely consistent with everything else in the rest of Ecclesiastes.  It has all been building up to this point.

“Under the sun.”  Repeated 28 times.

But there is more to reality than what is under the sun.

It is as Hamlet famously remarks, there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Our earthly philosophy, the Preacher’s philosophy for so much of the book is so human.  It is so limited.  It starts from the assumption that God, that an all-knowing, purely good, wise, and just all-powerful being DOES NOT EXIST, and goes from there.

Think of it this way.

Imagine your math teacher put this problem on the board - 2+2 = ______.

AND BEFORE YOU ANSWER, he says, BEFORE YOU ANSWER, know that I will not even ENTERTAIN, I will not even CONSIDER that the answer is 4.

And so, no matter how many answers are attempted, no matter how many roads are travelled down…2+2 will always equal BLANK.  Because the true answer has been removed!

So don’t go about claiming that you are seeking reality, claiming that you are seeking TRUTH and MEANING, while at the same time rejecting the Source of reality, the One who is TRUTH ITSELF, the One who infuses meaning into His Creation.

_____________

Verse 13 - The end of the matter; all has been heard.

All the numbers have been put into the equation, and it has come out empty.  2+2 is vanity if you refuse to see 4 as the answer.

 

The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

What is it all about?

What is the meaning of life?

How can we live content and comforted lives, instead of moving from existential crisis to existential crisis?

 

By focusing our eyes on Him who is the beginning and the end.  The Creator of everything seen and unseen.  The Creator and the Closer.

And this comes into focus more and more clearly throughout redemptive history.  As you go further and further into the history of God working with His people, further and further in your Bible, you see this clearer and clearer.

4000 years later, as Jesus Christ came, as the gospel began to be spread, both near and far, to Gentiles as well as to Jews, the same challenges of life still existed, the same difficulties, the same temptation towards hopelessness, but the people of God found their comfort and their meaning in things APART from this life.

They still lived IN THE WORLD, they still struggled, they still suffered, but they did not live FOR this world.  They did not live with the expectation that their desires would be fulfilled BY THIS LIFE, or even DURING THIS LIFE.

This, we heard in our reading.  Philippians 1

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel , so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

The Apostle Paul could REJOICE in horrible earthly circumstances - having appealed to Caesar, Paul would wait, languishing, either in a prison, or house arrest (he lived through both), waiting for his imminent execution at the hands of the wicked Emperor Nero.

If anyone could say vanity of vanities, all is vanity, meaningless meaningless, all is meaningless…it could be the Apostle Paul.  When he encountered Jesus Christ, the Lord and Giver of life, the One who promises life and life abundantly, Paul went from powerful persecutor to powerless and persecuted.  He went from someone firmly established, in the “deep state” of the Sanhedrin, to a wanderer, regularly going hungry and thirsty, without sleep, being rejected, insulted, whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked, eventually imprisoned and executed.

THIS is what comes from a faithful life?  The same that would happen to a criminal?

Wise or foolish, righteous or evil, treated the same?

This is meaningless!

But NO!

For Paul had learned the lesson of the Preacher!

The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Because of THIS, because the Apostle knew that no matter what anyone else says, no matter what anyone else does, the secret to being content, the secret to meaning, the meaning of life itself is standing with Jesus Christ.  One man with Jesus is the majority.  When we fear God and keep His commandments, we are standing on the side of reality.  We have bound ourselves to ultimate truth, and the author of ultimate truth.  We have decided that we will not shut our minds to the possibility of life above the sun  We have accepted the fact that 2+2 does in fact equal 4, no matter who tells us that it can’t.

Because, for the Apostle Paul, being faithful to God was the most important thing, everything else paled by comparison.

     If being faithful meant imprisonment, bring on the chains!

     If being faithful meant execution, then he would use the opportunity to preach to his executioner.

And he begins to see the fruit of his labour - what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel!

 

I’ll happily live thousands of meaningless days in the service of an eternity of meaning.

 

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Wow!  In this seemingly meaningless cycle of life and death, the difficulty of old age, Paul sees life, the monotony of the ticking clock, hour by hour, day by day…as an opportunity to prepare for eternity.

And death?  Every ache in his body, every gray hair on his head, not as something to despair over, but instead as little signposts along the road.  Not long now.  50 miles to eternity.

Oh, it’s a’coming.  Any moment now, and I can’t wait!  Eternity is closer now than it was before.  To die is gain, for then I can depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!

THIS DAY, beloved, THIS DAY must be used in service of THAT DAY.

These things, which by themselves are so foolish, so worthless, so meaningless, so empty…when we understand what is coming, we can begin to look at them with an eternal perspective.

BUT, this isn’t our natural inclination. Our natural inclination is to forget about the reality of “tomorrow” and simply live for today. 

God knows that, and that’s why He graciously gave us this book.

_______________

Backing up a little to verse 11 of our text - The words of the wise are like goads, like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings.

How wonderful, how nice.  Yes, the wise words of Solomon, here and in Proverbs are useful like nails firmly fixed.

But…think on that for a moment.  What good is a nail?  By itself, a nail can be useless.  A nail is empty.  A nail is foolish.

And so too, words.

You’ve heard it said: talk is cheap.

How true that is.  Talk is cheap.  Anyone can say anything.  Wise words, foolish words…The Preacher says the same: of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Talk is cheap, whether that talk is true or false.  It’s all the same.  Books can be useless, study can be useless, even nails, goads and Ecclesiastes itself can be useless, if you just focus on this life.

This book…of Ecclesiastes, but even more broadly, this book called the Bible…this book that is filled with wise sayings, goads, nails…if you simply read it for enjoyment, …or just look to it to give you some help for this life…that’s like single, solitary nail, pounded into the middle of a wall. It’s like one more in a heap of countless books, which ultimately is of no ultimate significance, or use.

Talk for the sake of talk

A book for the sake of a book…

MEANINGLESS!

Words, however wise, however true, are cheap, because you hear them, and whether they affect your life or not, you still die at the end.

Those who read Eccelesiastes will die.

Those who don’t read Ecclesiastes will die.

Those who sit under the preaching will die

Those who never step foot in a church will die.

 

BUT.

HOWEVER.

 

If the words teach that which is true, ultimately true, eternally true…then these words are valuable beyond measure.

If these words from God, affect, not only this life, not only THIS DAY, but THAT DAY…well then they are the most valuable things in the world!

A single nail in a wall is useless and foolish, but a nail that holds a house together, a nail on which is hung a beautiful painting…well the nail is essential.  We are SO THANKFUL for that little nail.  Because of what it does for that which is greater than itself.

 

The end of the matter; all has been heard.

After all this, a wise man, at the end of his life, after his searching, after all his pleasures and his pain, he has concluded that the end of everything, the ultimate conclusion is, ultimately, rather simple.

 

Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Literally - this is the WHOLE OF MAN.  Duty has been inserted by the translators.

Now…

Does “duty” make sense?

Yes.

Does “duty” fit?

Yes.

This IS the duty of man.  This IS the task of mankind.

But it’s deeper than that too.

The task of man is something that is GIVEN TO MAN.  It is something EXTERNAL.  Something PLACED ON US.

But to say, rather, this is the whole of man is to go deeper.  More foundational.  More fundamental.

WHY WERE WE MADE?  What is deeply ingrained in every piece of our DNA?

The whole of man - all there is to man, from head to toe…it is THIS.

Fear God and keep His commandments.

It is THIS, THESE SIX WORDS that make up the whole happiness, the whole business, the total sum of everything it is to be human…all that the Father requires of us, all that Jesus Christ has done on our behalf, all that the Holy Spirit impresses on our hearts, and works in our will.

This is what is written on every cell of our bodies, and this is what should be written on our handmade, unique, 2 day Martin Luther calendar.  THIS DAY and THAT DAY.

Under THIS DAY, write these 6 words - “Fear God and keep His commandments.”

And under THAT DAY, write 7 words - “Fear God and keep His commandments…perfectly.”

For this is the whole of man

This was the whole of Adam and Eve, before sin entered the world.

This was the whole of Abraham when he was called to be the head of God’s people.

This was the whole of Moses, the summary of the law that he received on Mt. Sinai.

This was the whole of Solomon, the wisest and richest and most powerful king.

This was the whole of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Fear God and keep His commandments - He did this PERFECTLY!  NO MATTER THE COST!  Every single day of His life on earth, He perfectly worshipped.  He perfectly obeyed.  To the point of death.

He lived the perfect human life, and He was rejected, despised and killed for it.  Meaningless?

NO!  NOT AT ALL!  NOTHING COULD BE MORE MEANINGFUL!

Through His holy fear, through His perfect obedience, He made the many righteous.  He paid the price for our arrogance and for our disobedience and rebellion.  He made us whole men once more.

This is the whole of you, this is how you were made, whether you recognize it or not.

This is what is promised to you in the cross of Christ.  You can be RE-MADE like this.

You were made to long for meaning, and you were given an answer to your longing.

You were made to live forever in a world of ultimate meaning, ultimate truth, with every single of one of your desires perfected and fulfilled.

This is what is coming for you.  This is the reality that is coming to invade our own.  Maybe later today.  I’m thankful, that, if it is coming today, that I was given one more chance to proclaim it to you.

 

Maybe today.

Maybe tomorrow.

Or maybe a thousand years from now.

I know, our lives our busy. We’re ruled by our calendars. But whatever’s on the agenda today I urge you, along with the whole book of Ecclesiastes, do it with this in mind:  Our Saviour is coming.

The one who came to save us from sin, from despair, from hopelessness, from existence away from the God of life, is returning to usher in an age like none other. There may be a lot to do today, but tomorrow is just on the horizon.

Tomorrow - the beginning of an age where the God of meaning will reign with justice and glory, a world where NOTHING will be fleeting.  Where NOTHING will be empty.  A world where everything will be true, and precious and meaningful.  A world that will never fade away, but will last forever.  A world with Jesus Christ as undisputed King over all.

AMEN




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

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