Updated: Nov 15
Ecclesiastes is one of those short, hard to find, books in the Old Testament. Sadly, we rarely hear it in church; it's included only twice in the three-year lectionary cycle.
Ecclesiastes is book for unbelievers as well as believers. There is simply no other book in the Bible like it. Many Christians are shocked when they open to Ecclesiastes. “What's this doing in the Bible?” they may wonder, or even ask out loud.
This morning we continue our summer-long sermon series: Why I am a Christian.
A SECOND REASON
Ecclesiastes gives you and me our second good reason: God has set eternity in our hearts.
Let’s turn now to the book of Ecclesiastes.
I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:10).
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Ecclesiastes is a book that has long puzzled, challenged, and even confounded Biblical scholars. It has troubled Christians who take the time to read and ponder it.
I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
At times Ecclesiastes makes perfect sense to us. Whatever joy we have in life comes from above. Our daily bread comes from the hand of God.
I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
This also makes sense to us.
What's the problem then? The problem is that Ecclesiastes doesn't quit while he's ahead. He is deeply disturbed by what he sees and experiences:
Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account. And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
This is the way the world often works. There is no denying it, not if we're honest with ourselves.
Ecclesiastes has more to say: As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?
WHAT'S HIS PROBLEM?
What is going on here? How did Ecclesiastes make it into the Bible? What is the Teacher’s problem?
Some philosophers believe that there is really not much difference between humans and animals. After all, didn’t we all evolve over time? For many people, a monkey is their uncle, or maybe it's our cousin. We have no advantage over animals. From cosmic dust we somehow sprang. And to cosmic dust we shall all one day return. This is the nature of life. Ecclesiastes and modern science are seemingly in agreement.
Maybe the modern existentialists are right. Life has no meaning. The Teacher himself says it is so: Meaningless, meaningless. Utterly meaningless, he proclaims.
The Teacher takes a cold, hard look at the world, and this is what he sees: The fate of human beings is like that of other animals. The same fate awaits us all: As one dies, so dies the other.
There is just one difference: it's the burden God has laid on human hearts.
What burden is this? It is knowledge of eternity.
THE BURDEN GOD HAS LAID ON US
Apes and monkeys aren’t concerned about this. Neither, for that matter, are cats and dogs. Only humans are burdened with the knowledge of eternity.
Why is this? Does evolution have a satisfactory answer? What about an atheist?
Where does human consciousness come from? Did we just get lucky as a species? Did we win some sort of cosmic lottery?
If this is the case, life is meaningless; utterly meaningless.
But the human heart longs for more. Why is this particular to our species?
Our hearts long for more? Why is this isolated to humankind?
The Christian faith gives us the answer. We are God's special creation; in addition, he has set eternity in our hearts. There is more to life than the here and now, under the sun.
Listen once more to Ecclesiastes. His words echo down through time: So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
Some, like my now deceased neighbor, Herta, hope there is no eternity. Some are convinced that this is the case. Still, even the unbeliever can’t escape the question of eternity. God has set this burden into our hearts.
In the end, the old Teacher challenges all who dare to open his book. Ecclesiastes' question still haunts our species: Who can bring himself to see what will happen after him?
AS HARD AS IT IS TO BELIEVE
The New Testament answers this haunting question with the person of Jesus Christ. Not only will the spirit of believers live on; their bodies will be raised as well. Because Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we at the end of time.
Paul wrote about this to the Christians in Corinth. As hard as it is to believe, the Corinthians appear to have lost their faith in the resurrection, leading Paul to write:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied….
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:29-45)
Ecclesiastes shows us the limits of reason. Our intellects can only take us so far. What we need to know about eternity, God must reveal to us. Otherwise, we remain in the dark.
What we need to know most about eternity God has made clear to us:
The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36).
This is the Gospel of the Lord.