Eternity in Our Hearts
March 19, 2017 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: The End of the Matter
Topic: Life Passage: Ecclesiastes 3
The End of the Matter: A Study of Ecclesiastes
Grace Community Church
March 19, 2017
Eternity in Our Hearts
Let's turn together to Ecclesiastes 3 as we continue our study of this very unusual book. If you're not sure where it is, just open your Bible to the middle, which is Psalms, and then go two book to the right.
Before we read, a quick reminder that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes from a viewpoint that is unique in the Bible. The Bible says that God gave Solomon more wisdom than anyone ever had, and being the wisest person in the world must have made Solomon bored with just doing normal, everyday kind of stuff, so he decides to conduct an experiment evaluating the purpose and meaning of life, but to do it from a "under the sun" - that is, from a earthbound perspective. If a naturalist, or an atheist, were to look for meaning in life, leaving God and the afterlife out of the equation, what real meaning in life could he or she find? What do all the activities and achievements and events of life amount to, when evaluated from an under the sun perspective? With that in mind, let's read chapter 3 verses 1-8 (NIV)
Andre-Francois Raffray congratulated himself on getting the bargain of the century. In 1965 the 47 year old lawyer entered into a kind of "reverse mortgage" legal agreement with Jeanne Calment in which he would pay her the equivalent of $500 a month until she died, at which point her coveted apartment in the south of France would become his. Jeanne Calment was already 90 years old, and so even if she lived another 4 or 5 years, the 47 year old Raffray would end up getting the sought after apartment for a fraction of what it was worth.
But Jeanne Calment refused to die. Ten years went by, and Jeanne Calment was still going strong. Twenty years went by, and it was at this point, at 110, that one of her doctors said she began to age. Andre-Francois is now 67 years old. Ten more years went by, Calment is now 120 years old and finally death intervenes…only it wasn't Calment who died! Andre-Francois died at the age of 77 yrs old, having paid over $184,000 for the apartment he never got to live in - more than twice what it was worth. Even after he had passed away his family was legally obligated to keep paying for the apartment until Calment died. Jeanne would go on to live to the age of 122 years and 164 days and still holds the Guinness World record for living the longest life.
Solomon says that life comes in seasons. There is a time to plant, and a time to uproot. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to be born, and a time to die. We don't control these seasons - they are imposed on us. Andre-Francois gambled that 90 year old Jeanne Calment's time to die would come a lot sooner than it did and lost the gamble.
The first 8 verses of chapter 3 are by far the best known verses in Ecclesiastes. The Byrds recorded a hit song using this passage almost word for word. It's also the most preached on passage in Ecclesiastes but a lot of those sermons approach these verses as if the lesson is "there's a right time and a wrong time for everything so choose your timing carefully. Don't tear when it's time to mend. Don't speak when it's time to be silent." Now, that can be good advice, but that really isn't what Solomon is concerned with here.
Remember that as Solomon observes the endless cycle of life under the sun, he says that everything is meaningless. The Hebrew word for meaningless is heber and it means a vapor or a mist. Life is fleeting, life is mysterious, you can't ever quite get your arms around what life is meant to be. But one thing he says - and remember he is looking at life from an earthbound, under-the-sun, perspective - is that there is nothing new under the sun. Things go on and on and on and on and never change. Generations come and generations go and nothing really changes.
But here he speaks of constantly changing seasons: there is a time to plant, and a time to uproot. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time to love and a time to hate. The journey of life is a cycle of constant change within a system of no change. It's kind of like the more things change the more they stay the same. There are seasons of life and we really don't have control over these seasons. No one chooses a time to weep. It's imposed on us. Seasons come and seasons go and we have no more control over them than we have control over the four seasons, and that can bring a deep weariness to our souls. Look with me at verse 9-10
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
Solomon lists 14 pairs of opposites that cancel each other out. You plant today, but the day will come when it will be uprooted. You laugh today, but the day will come when you weep. You mend, but it will be torn. What do we gain from our work? If what I do will only be undone, why do it? What good are my feelings today if I know that in a matter of time my feelings will swing to the opposite end of the spectrum?
I think this weariness in the endless cycle is reflected in how we tend to complain about life. I'm paraphrasing, but bumper stickers that say something to the effect of "same stuff, different day". In the 1980's the Washington Post was doing a profile on a precocious 15 year old girl and as she and some high school friends were talking about the meaning of life she said, (again I'm cleaning it up a little) "life's hard, then you die." That saying also became a bumper sticker. But 15 years old and she is already weary of life!
We hear that endless cyclical sameness in how we complain about the weather. We're like meteorological Goldilocks: we complain about it being too cold, we complain about it being too hot. But even when it's just right, we complain that it won't stay perfect forever. Say "what a beautiful day!" or "it doesn't get much better than this!" and I guarantee you that half the time people will say something like, "yeah, but it's supposed to rain this weekend." Or, "yeah, but we're going to pay for it next week!" It's like we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the good to be canceled out by something bad. For the positive to be canceled out by something negative. And from a purely under the sun perspective, it will. And that's a heavy burden.
Maybe that's where you're at right now. Maybe you feel discouraged, hopeless, and weary. Not the good kind of weariness at the end of a long day of hard work, the kind of weariness that hits you the minute you wake up. The "what's the point?" kind of weariness. Maybe you feel like you've been stuck in the negative spin cycle far too long: weeping, mourning, uprooting, and tearing down. If that's the case, Solomon quickly lifts our gaze above the sun and gives us hope and strength. Let's read beginning in verse 11:
11 He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Yes, life comes in seasons, and we can't control those seasons, but God can and does. And God has a way of making every season beautiful in its time. There is beauty in every season. There's beauty and purpose in being born, and planting, and healing, and laughing, and dancing, and mending. But God also infuses beauty and purpose in mourning and weeping and tearing and uprooting, and even dying. Psalm 116:15 says Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Life comes in seasons, those seasons are played out in time, but God who transcends time, weaves every season into a beautiful tapestry that brings glory to His name, and meaning to our lives, if we will but trust Him. Will you trust Him in the season of life you're in right now and believe that He makes everything beautiful in its time.
Verse 11 goes on to say something really amazing about how we as human beings are wired: God has set eternity in our hearts. The first 8 verses talk about the stages and seasons that our lives all go through but all this takes place within the context of time. Verse one opens with this: There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens… But God has placed deep within our hearts a yearning, a vision, of life outside of the constraints of time. A life that doesn't have the bookends of being born and dying. We have never seen anything beyond this brief life with our eyes, but God has eternity in our hearts. We know there is more than this life.
The other day I saw my first robin of the season. I enjoy watching robins and for two years in a row we had robins make a nest in a little bush outside our front door, so we could watch them come and go and watch the eggs hatch and the little ones get fed about 10 million times a day. So the robin I saw the other day might be an old friend because robins tend to come back to the same place to nest year after year. They travel south in the winter but somehow they have this built in GPS that enables them to return to the same exact place they nested the year before.
Even more amazing is the migratory instincts of the Monarch Butterfly. Every year they don't just fly south - they fly to the same tree groves in Mexico year after year. That alone would be pretty incredible, but it's even more mind boggling when you realize that butterflies who fly there have never flown there before. Monarch's fly up from Mexico (presumably over the wall) begin to lay eggs in March- April. Their life span as a butterfly is only about 2-6 weeks so by the time you get to September-October when Monarch Butterflies fly south, it's the fourth generation. And this fourth generation has a different life span than the first three generations. The fourth generation, rather than having a 2-6 week life span, has a six to eight month life span, which enables them to fly to a place in Mexico they have never been to and then fly back north in the early spring. There is a built in compass that knows exactly where to go.
God has placed that compass inside of us. We can ignore that compass, we can suppress that compass but it's there. As one commentator put it, the consciousness of God is part of our nature. The suppression of that consciousness is part of our sin. The fact is that deep inside we know there's something more than our short life span here on earth. Life is a vapor, as Solomon observes, but we long for there to be more because God has set eternity in our hearts. While trapped here in time and the uncertain mist of life, like the caterpillar, we hope for something more glorious. That hope is the hope of the resurrection - where our dead bodies are raised in newness of life, not like these old, decaying, weak bodies, but transformed into something very different and powerful, able to stand before God without being destroyed, and able to live eternally without getting old and frail.
Until that day, we recognize with Solomon that while our compass points to eternity, we can't understand what God has done or is doing. We can't figure out the why's of the seasons we go through. We can't always see what God is doing. The Bible promises us that all things are working together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes, but a lot of times we aren't able to identify the good. God makes all things beautiful in its time which means that some things don't look beautiful or fruitful or beneficial before their time. When a farmer plants a field, it just looks like upturned dirt for a while. It doesn't look like anything good is happening..until its time. That's why faith is so important to the Christian. We trust in God's sovereignty even when we can't understand what He is doing. We place our faith in Christ and believe that we are forgiven of our sins even though at times we don't feel forgiven. Hard times come, things happen that we couldn't imagine happening, and it feels like God has forgotten us, abandoned us, or just doesn't care about us. But faith gives us a perspective that isn't limited to an under the sun perspective. Faith gives us eyes that see above and beyond the sun to see the glory and goodness and faithfulness of our God at work. The Christian has a compass that is leading us to our eternal home - even though we have never been there before.
12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 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.
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.[b]
We'll look more at this in chapter 5 but many times Solomon talks about the gift of being happy and enjoying the little things of life. The connection I want to make this morning is that having eternity in our hearts doesn't rob us of the ability to really enjoy life here under the sun, it actually makes it possible to enjoy it more. We can and should enjoy the little pleasures of life all the more because we know that they are gifts from God. And we aren't trying to derive the meaning of life from those pleasures.
Knowing that everything that our sovereign God does lasts forever, we live with confidence that the seasons of this life may change, but the good that God does in us and through us during all those seasons will never change. There is an eternal good being hammered out in the temporary joys and sorrows, pleasures and hardships of life. Living with this awareness of God, His greatness and glory and power and holiness and faithfulness, is called living in the fear of the Lord. For believers the fear of the Lord isn't terror, it's awe and reverence. It's healthy to live knowing everything we do is done in the sight of God and one day we will answer to God for it. This brings us to the closing thoughts of chapter 3:
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
17 I said to myself,
“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”
We live in an incredibly broken and evil world. People twist and distort justice for their own wicked ends. Innocent people are abused and guilty people are promoted. But God will eventually judge everyone with a righteous judgment. One day we will all stand before God and the Bible says no one will get away with anything.
The last few verses are hard to understand. Let's pick up in verse 18:
18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 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[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
22 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?
Chuck Swindoll thinks that Solomon's questioning of what happens after we die is the musing of a miserable man. That Solomon's cynicism and weariness caught up to him and in a moment of weakness, he questions if there is any difference between what happens between a person and an animal when we breath our final breath.
I don't think that's what's happening here. I think that after looking God-ward for a bit Solomon is repositioning his perspective to the earthbound. We really do have this in common, when we come to our last breath what happens to human and an animal isn't that different physiologically. And from this side of death we can't observe what happens to the souls: who knows if the human soul rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? What we do know is that the cycle of seasons coming and going under the sun come to an end whether man or beast.
The Old Testament revelation of the afterlife is not anywhere near as developed as it is in the New Testament. But there are glimpses, and Solomon already gives us a glimpse saying that everyone will be brought before God in judgment. What Solomon questions when he says, For who can bring them to see what will happen after them, Christians can answer with confidence based on the word of God:
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7For we live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Cor. 5:6-10
For the Christian, when we breath our last breath, we leave this body and are immediately at home with the Lord. And we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due us. And this is the most important thing for you to hear: what is due all of us is for Jesus to say, "depart from me" and cast us away from him forever. That's what I deserve and that's what you deserve.
How can we survive a Judgment Day where the only passing grade is absolute perfection? Well, one way is for you to live an absolutely perfect life from the moment you were born to the day you die. Perfect by God's standard - no sin, no selfishness, and perfect obedience to everything He commands. None of us can do that. Not even close.
The only other way is through Christ. On the cross he took the punishment that we deserved so that everyone who really and truly places their trust and faith in him will be saved. You will never be saved by being good enough. You will never be saved by going to church, giving to the poor, or being better than most other people, as if God graded on a curve. Only by trusting in Jesus, only by believing in Jesus, only by giving your life to Jesus can you be saved.
We don’t know when we're going to breath our last breath - only God knows that. If you haven't trusted in Christ, will you trust in him today?
More in The End of the Matter
June 4, 2017Remember Your Creator
May 28, 2017Investing Our LIves Wisely and Boldly
May 21, 2017The Danger of Foolishness