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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:The Lord lovingly sustains the elderly, now and into eternity
Text:Ecclesiastes 12: 1b-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 25: 2, 3, 6
Psalm 90: 2, 3, 5, 7
Hymn 42: 1, 2, 5, 8
Hymn 51: 2, 4, 6, 8
Hymn 56: 1, 2, 3

Read: Ecclesiastes 12: 1-14

Text: Ecclesiastes 12: 1b-8
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

The preacher is quite the artist. He describes life the way it is, observing life from man’s perspective, seeing things the way they are seen through the eyes of men. But he does so in a very unique and creative way. One commentator compared the style of writing of the Preacher to the other inspired authors of the Scriptures. He said, “The author of the book of Job was a consummate dramatist. The psalmist was a lyrical poet. The author of Jonah knew how to tell a fascinating short story. The author of Genesis and Exodus was a historical novelist who could recount powerful sagas of epic proportions. But Ecclesiastes? Ah… The preacher was also no mean poet, but fundamentally he was an artist of another sort. He was a photographer.”

He is right. The preacher takes snapshots of life. That is also what we see here in chapter 12. The preacher gives us a picture here about old age. He gives that snapshot in poetic and beautiful language. He artfully describes how our bodies break down as we become older. What he describes does not apply to everybody. But, he does not hide anything. The elderly in our congregation can all identify with a lot of what he is saying.

Previously, in chapter 3, the teacher said that there is a time for everything. Each season of life has its own beauty. And now he shows that old age, in spite of its limitations and frustrations, does as well. In spite of the many challenges that come your way, there are many things you can enjoy in old age that you cannot enjoy at other times of your life. God is good. God’s gift of life is good, also when you are old. That’s what I will preach to you about this morning. We will see that:

The Lord Lovingly Sustains the Elderly Now and into Eternity.
1. The frailty of earthly life;
2. The certainty of eternal life.

The teacher says in the first two verses: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them' - before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain.” In this snapshot of old age the Preacher begins by painting somewhat of a sombre picture. He speaks about old age as the dark age, the days when the sun no longer shines. In old age there is a diminished capacity to enjoy the things when you were young.

He also speaks about the returning clouds after the rain. The elderly are typically quite busy with health concerns. That’s understandable, because their bodies are deteriorating. There are many aches, pains, & worries with that as well. It is remarkable the way in which the preacher describes such deterioration brought on by old age.

Ecclesiastes gives us a picture here of a house falling apart and finally turning to dust. It reminds us of the way Paul describes our body as our earthly tent. In 2 Corinthians 5: 1 he writes about the earthly tent we live in and then says in verse 4, “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened.” He says that therefore we “long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” The Lord God wants us to understand that our bodies are only temporary dwellings. That is why he gives us the image of the tent. The nomadic Jews used tents for their dwellings and moved around with their animals looking for grazing grounds. Nowadays we only use tents during the summer when we go camping, moving it from the one campsite to the next. Tents are only dwelling places for a little while. Compared to houses tents are also fragile. They are subject to the elements, and therefore in constant need of repair. You have to continually mend or replace worn or broken parts. But you can only repair a tent so many times. In the end the tent becomes unusable and then you throw it out.

That is also the case with regard to our earthly tents, our bodies. Our bodies are only temporary abodes. Our bodies too, like tents, deteriorate as we age. We need to repair and replace certain body parts – teeth, hips, kneecaps etc. Other body parts we throw out altogether. We don’t need them anymore, such as your appendix, your uterus, unwanted hair, varicose veins and the like. But, you can only throw away so many parts, and you can repair other parts only so many times. In the end our bodies are of no use at all anymore and then we die. Our bodies turn to dust. It’s a bleak picture, but it is the lot of everyone who is blessed enough to reach old age.

Listen to how the teacher describes the manifestations of old age. The poetic language that he uses is difficult to translate and therefore not all commentators agree as to the exact translation of each expression used. But that doesn’t matter. We get the picture nonetheless. In verse three he speaks about the trembling of “the keepers of the house.” The keepers of the house are the hands. As you get older your grip is no longer as firm and the hands begin to tremble. “The strong men” are the legs. As you get older you begin to stoop and your knees become weak. The grinders, of course, are the teeth. Nowadays our teeth can be replaced by dentures but in the end they just don’t cut it anymore either.

The teacher also mentions “those looking through the windows.” That’s a reference to the eyes. As you age they grow dim. As a matter of fact our eyes are one of the first body parts to start deteriorating, beginning at the age of 18. It is a blessing that today we can compensate for a lack of vision through eyeglasses. That wasn’t the case during the preacher’s day. But as you get older you still get all kinds of other problems with your eyes, often needing surgery because of cataracts or other concerns.

The “doors to the street” are either the ears or the lips. They no longer function as before. If your ears get bad enough you need a hearing aid. And when you get older you rise up at the voice of a bird. In other words, you no longer sleep as well as you did when you were young. Young people can sleep through anything. They can sleep through loud fire alarms and shrill alarm clocks and all kinds of other noise. That is no longer the case when you get older. Then the slightest sound wakes you up and you have a hard time getting back to sleep.

The NIV says in verse four that the songs of the birds grow faint. The original refers to the daughters of music, as also some other translations have it. The daughters of music refer to the vocal cords. The teacher is actually saying that as you grow old your voice is no longer as strong as before. Singing becomes more difficult.

The preacher also states that in old age the almond tree blossoms. That is a reference to grey hair. The blossoms of the almond tree are a beautiful silvery grey.

It also says that in old age you drag yourself along like a grasshopper, meaning that when you are old you no longer move as quickly as before. Further we read that in old age desire is no longer stirred. The King James Version and other translations state that desire shall fail. This phrase is difficult to translate. According to an old Greek translation the Hebrew says that the caperberry becomes ineffective. In other words, in old age you are no longer able to bear fruit, to bring forth offspring. Indeed, many older men become impotent and older women no longer ovulate.

Verse five also speaks of men being afraid of heights and dangers in the street. When you are no longer as mobile as before then you see dangers all around. It is no wonder that the older people always tell the young people to be more careful. The silver cord refers to the silver chain that holds the golden bowl, which is a lamp. Life, like gold, is precious. If a link of the silver chain breaks, then the lamp will shatter and go out. It refers to how fragile life is.

In old age we also have many other things to deal with. The elderly are often afraid to be too much of a bother to others. They are afraid that they are in the way, over the hill, and that others are waiting for them to die. They also harbour feelings of guilt. We sang from Psalm 25 stanza 3: “Sins of youth remember not, nor recall my hid transgression.” David wrote this song in his old age. He remembers his sins and his many shortcomings. The Lord God had already long ago forgiven him. But David cannot forget. There are too many reminders of the things he has done wrong all around him. When you are old you look back on your life and remember the many ways in which you blew it, with regard to the bringing up of your children; the way you dealt with money; the lack of vacations you took with your wife and children.

The elderly also often have feelings of bitterness and resentment. There are those who think that they have been given a raw deal. “If only I had married another person. If only my marriage partner, my children, my business partner, my colleague, had treated me better.”

There are other concerns as well. There is the fear of deteriorating health, of poverty, of being alone, of losing one’s mind. There are concerns about backsliding in church. The elderly are afraid of unfaithfulness. The fear of losing one’s memory is one of the greatest fears.

All this sounds somewhat sombre. It is a bleak picture. The bleakness is further accentuated by what the Preacher states next. He says, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The NIV translates this as everything being meaningless. That is the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes. What does the preacher mean with that? That when it comes all down to it life is not worth living? It’s not worth all the pain and heartache? No, that is not what he is saying at all. He is saying that life is not worth living if you do not remember your Creator. For that reason he repeats the command to remember your Creator. Remember where you came from. Remember why sin and the effects of sin came about in the first place. It is because of your willful disobedience already in Paradise. For those who do not know God, their lives are futile and meaningless. Although we all experience the frailty of earthly life, the believer experiences the certainty of eternal life. That brings us to our second point.

2. Why do you think the Lord God inspired the author of Ecclesiastes to put this specific chapter in the Bible? Do you think he did that to make us depressed? To rub salt in the wounds? To remind us what our fate is because of our sin? No. The main reason why he put this in the Scriptures is to show us that he knows what it is like for us to grow old. He knows about the many pains and heartaches, physical and spiritual, that we have to endure in this life. God is the creator of all things. We only have an inkling of his great mind. He created everything with just one word. With one word this complex and intricate world came into existence. This world is marvelously put together. We have only begun to scratch the surface as to the knowledge of God’s creation. That is the way it is now after the fall into sin. Can you imagine what it would have been like before the fall into sin?

But, the moment that man sinned, God stated that everything that he has made will be turned into dust, including man. Everything became subject to decay. And so with his great mind he also orchestrated the process of dying. He did that by putting a curse on everything. Again one word: “cursed.” But at the same time he also announced that man would be able to overcome death and dying and everything associated with death. At the same time that he gave his curse he also promised a Redeemer, a Saviour. He promised that Satan would be destroyed and with him the process of dying and death itself.

In describing the process and certainty of death, he also describes the certainty of eternal life to all those who believe in him. In Chapter 12 we see how close God is to his creation. He shows his great love. For please do not think that he wanted the process of dying. He does not want death. He does not want you to suffer mental and physical anguish.

It is for that reason that he sent his Son in the flesh. The Lord Jesus Christ was also physically subject to decay and destruction. He also keenly felt the process of dying. Oh sure he died at a relatively young age. With him it was not a slow process of deterioration as when you’re aging. But he suffered in a way that you and I would never have to suffer. He felt the weakness of the flesh like no other.

It is for that reason that the verses in the text are so comforting. The teacher, the inspired author, says that the dust returns to the ground it came from and that the spirit returns to God who gave it. Again, the teacher brings us back to the beginning, to Genesis. He repeats the words of the curse that God pronounced upon man, namely that we must return to dust, for dust you are and to dust you must return. The preacher is not telling us anything new here. But he does add a beautiful element. He says that the spirit will return to God who gave it.

The same word that is used for both the spirit of man and the Spirit of God is the word “breath.” When God created you he did so by giving you his breath. That is how Adam was created. He breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, at which time he became a living being, as it says in Genesis 2:7. The man became alive.

But now the inspired teacher says that even though the breath goes out of you at the time of death, nevertheless you will continue to live with God. Your spirit will return to God who gave it. That doesn’t mean that our bodies have some invisible zipper that opens up the moment you die, allowing your spirit to escape and to fly up to heaven. No, that our spirit will be separate from our bodies means that those who belong to the Lord God will continue to live. For a while it will be a bodiless state. But there’s no doubt that you will continue to live and that your life with Christ will never end. For the Lord will continue to give you the breath of life. And that breath, that life will never cease. The believer may look forward to an existence without deteriorating bodies and without deteriorating minds. He has been given God’s eternal breath.

Brothers and sisters, that is what the Lord God is preparing us for. He is preparing us for eternity. As the catechism so beautifully puts it in Lord’s Day 16, our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life. Our death puts an end to all the effects of sin as well. Our death puts an end to the deterioration of our bodies. It puts an end to the aging process. It puts an end to all the pains and sorrows that are associated with this life. Oh sure, death is still our enemy. Even when you are old you still do not want to die. But we all know that our death is inevitable but we also know that Christ has taken away the sting of death. That is what the preacher is alluding to. It’s a great comfort to all of us.

As we heard in the beginning of the sermon the preacher gives us snapshots of life here on earth. He describes things the way we see it from our earthly perspective. That is why he says, for example in Chapter 9:5, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.” There he gives an earthly perspective. From our perspective dead men can do nothing. But here, at the end of the book, the preacher gives the heavenly perspective. Our spirit returns to God who gave it to us.

There is a great comfort in his book of Ecclesiastes. He gives us beautiful snapshots of life here on earth. But then, like a bolt of lightning in the night, the preacher gives us a snapshot of heaven. Isn’t it wonderful? That’s where God is leading you and me. God is preparing all of us for eternity.

Are you allowing God to do that? Do you allow God to help you transcend this earthly life of yours, so that you have a heavenly perspective? It’s so easy to be busy with what goes on here on earth. When we are old we can think and commiserate about the poor state of our health. That’s all we want to talk about when loved ones come to visit. But what about your spiritual health? Are you able to think beyond your earthly existence? Do you see what God is doing? By describing the ravages of old age he shows how close he is to us. Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ he has overcome death. He wants to remind us of that. It is for that reason that this chapter about old age is in the Bible. It is there for our comfort. For God shows us that he cares and that he understands our aches and our pains.

Such understanding must drive us to the Lord Jesus Christ. He came in order to bring about renewal. He is the great healer. He makes us look forward to the New Jerusalem, as described in Revelation 21, where it says, that “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Have you ever seen a photograph of a beautiful and serene and peaceful setting and wish that you were also in that picture? Well, that is the final snapshot that the teacher is giving us here in Chapter 12. Our spirit will return to God who gave it. In other words, the believers are going to be in the most beautiful setting that you can ever imagine. For with God there is only peace and well-being and eternal bliss. Let’s hang on to that picture, brothers and sisters. Amen

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

(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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