In Search of Meaning
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In Search of Meaning

Just as we brought nothing into this world, we will take nothing out. All of the money we have toiled a lifetime for is worthless to us when we are dead. Alistair Begg teaches that a perspective shaped by God’s Word will make all the difference in how we live each day. A man who fears God will avoid earthly snares because he understands that a good name and honor are much more valuable than riches.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ecclesiastes

Chasing the Wind Ecclesiastes 1:1–12:14 Series ID: 12101

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to turn again to Ecclesiastes 5. It’s page 474. And just a prayer as we study together:

O God our Father, we come now again to you, having sung your praise. We believe that in these precious moments we may hear your voice as you speak to us by the Spirit and through your Word. This is certainly our earnest expectation and longing. We are not focused on a man; we are focused on your Word. The melody line of your Word is that which you have given. And we don’t congratulate the violin; we congratulate the composer. And so, let us hear from you now, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

You’ll be helped if your Bible is open this morning at Ecclesiastes 5, at the portion of Scripture that was read some moments ago, and I encourage you to turn there with me.

We’re going in these mornings down the corridors along with the Preacher, or the Professor, or the Pundit, as we’ve referred to him. He’s wandering down darkened avenues, groping, searching for the meaning of life. There is apparently nowhere that he won’t go. There is nothing that he’s unprepared to try. But what we’re also discovering along with him is that none of the things that hold out hope for him seem to deliver what they’ve promised. And he ends up again and again, as it were, against a brick wall at the end of a street leading to nowhere. Nothing seems to deliver what’s been promised.

And I’ve been imagining him going back to his room, the words of the ’60s song reverberating in his ears:

Up a narrow flight of stairs
[To my] narrow little room,
As I lie upon my bed
In the early evening gloom,
Impaled upon my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The [riddle] of my life
And the puzzle that is me.[1]

In that sense, he’s a very contemporary individual.

Woody Allen, in the New York Times just a few days ago from now, in an interview that he gave concerning regrets and family life and so on, was asked if he had any interest in religion, and he replied accordingly: “‘I’m deeply interested in religion. I’m not interested in the religions that we have. I’m not interested in Judaism, Catholicism, or Protestant religion.’ There is, of course, still existential curiosity: ‘Why are we here? Is there more? Is there a greater power out there?’ But these questions, he said, are ‘unsolvable and unsatisfying and ultimately depressing.’”[2] Now, it’s no surprise that he’s a cultural icon, because he speaks very much out of the wealth or poverty of contemporary life. And it’s almost as though he’d been reading the book of Ecclesiastes for himself.

Now, our author, apparently, at the same time as experiencing this deep darkness, has moments, however fleeting, that create the impression that he is being haunted, if you like, by the shadow of God—that into his experience comes this awareness somehow or another that God, to whom he’s paying very little attention and to whom he’s giving very little credence, somehow or another that God is not simply way out there, but he is actually imminent with him, in much the same way that we experience moments—fleeting moments, perhaps—in the mall, sitting, watching tiny children, and suddenly, as they traipse across, it gives to us a shiver up our back, an awareness of the creative power of God; it breaks in upon us. Laying down the telephone after a conversation with a loved one, and that sense of immanence between us speaks to a power higher than ourselves. Walking out of the doctor’s surgery with a bad report and the shadow of God falling on our path.

Browning, in one of his great poems, speaks, in a poem actually called “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” as he argues— apología—as he argues for the defense of the faith and as he speaks to a guy called… I think it’s Gigabigs or something like that. He had a funny name. But he writes in this way:

Just when we[’re] safest, there’s a sunset-touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one’s death …
To rap and knock [on the door of] our soul[s].[3]

Just when we think we’ve got it all under control, just when we think we’ve got life circumscribed, just when we think we can handle it all now by ourselves, suddenly, knocking on the door of our souls comes the awareness of the shadow of God. And what this individual is portraying so very clearly is this: that there is no exit on the freeway of life which, when taken, allows him to escape from the reality of the creating and sustaining power of God. There is no exit on the freeway of life up which you can shoot and then into the safety, away, as it were, from the invasion and interference of God. No such exit is possible.


Now, “freeway” is an important metaphor this morning. It’s a far more useful metaphor than “garden path” or “pathway.” And the reason is because I want to go at great haste and cover a significant distance. And therefore, I want to encourage you to fasten your seatbelts, and we’re going on at the entry ramp of 5:8, and the entry ramp reads, “Money.” “Money.” Therefore, you will all be able to identify with it, whether you have a lot or whether you have a little. And in addressing the issue of money, the writer tackles three accompanying factors. I can’t delay on much this morning. I’ll point them out as we go along.

First of all, in verses 8 and 9, he says where there is money in abundance, you will always find injustice. Injustice. “If you see the poor oppressed,” verse 8, “in a district, and justice and rights denied, do[n’t] be surprised at such things.” Don’t be surprised by that, he said. It’s a feature. It is a fact of life. The fellow on the eighth floor looks down at the fellow on the seventh floor, and the occupants of the seventh and the eighth floor are overshadowed by the bureaucracy on the tenth floor, which actually has them under control. And whether it’s Enron or whether it’s Tyco or whether it is bureaucracy in government, the fact of the matter is that the individual often feels themselves completely paralyzed, completely tyrannized. Following the number that is given on the sheet, they encounter electronic answering. They’re told to punch number five if they want four, three if they want eight, eight if they want nine, twelve if they want to speak to their mother-in-law, seventeen if they want a pizza, whatever it is; and eventually, they hang the phone up, and they say to themselves, “I obviously have drawn a number far too low down the list, and justice is for me an unafforded luxury.” Now, the writer says, “Just look at things, just face life: where money abounds, injustice is present.”

Secondly, where money abounds, indigestion is equally present—not only physical, but spiritual as well. The indigestion of an unsatisfied appetite, verse 10: “Whoever loves money never has [enough money].” If you love money, you can never have enough. Okay? Because it is an insatiable appetite.

Now, you can learn this by experience. You can learn it by reading. Somebody in between the services this morning gave me a note from their own personal experience, scrawled to me a little thing saying, “Here is an illustration of Ecclesiastes 5:10.” They gave me the record of a member of their family, a multimillionaire somewhere in the area, with homes in Florida and other places in the world, with a jet aircraft of his own, with servants and land and property and everything. And they were over at the house, and the owner of all of this was in his study, sulking. Sulking. And when the individual inquired whether it was problem of health, which had been present twelve months prior to this, the wife answered, “No, it has nothing to do with his health. It’s his sixtieth birthday, and he has failed to reach his goal of becoming a billionaire.” That’s not a joke. That’s a fact. You see, whoever loves money never has enough money. For those who don’t have money, we always think, “Just a little more money. That must be the answer.”

If there is anything worse than the addiction that money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves.

They asked Rockefeller, “Which was your favorite million to make? Which million did you enjoy making most?” He answered, “My next million.” The Duchess of Windsor on one occasion said, “You can never be too thin or too rich.” She speaks to the issues of our day. But it doesn’t satisfy. Whether you’re a gambler or a tycoon, whether you’re a materialist… I’ve been to Las Vegas—once! I don’t plan ever to go back again. I was really taken there by a friend. Badly influenced. You make choices along the way. We stayed at some gigantic place like a rat’s nest with four thousand rooms. Couldn’t get out of it fast enough. Went downstairs, and I decided as we walked out of the building, “I definitely am going to try this gambling thing at least once.”

So I reached in my pocket, I took a quarter, and I put it in—as a Scot, last of the big spenders. Put the quarter in, pulled the handle, all the lights flashed and dinged and everything else. Nothing at all happened! I just walked right out the door. Kept on my way. Went out to dinner. Came back. But the poor souls were still there with cardboard pails, cardboard somethings. Interestingly—and I may be wrong, but it looked to me to be the same pail that I was given post-operatively at the Cleveland Clinic in case I threw up on the way home after surgery—the exact same kind of cardboard!

And there they sit, with the coins going in and the coins going out, and you can multiply it in terms of the stakes; it doesn’t make any difference. It’s the same issue: if you love money, you’ve never got enough. “I just won the jackpot! Yeah, but I’ve got to go to the jackpot number two. I’ve got to go to the next machine. I’ve got to go on from here.” The Bible speaks to this. It’s a mirage! Now, there’s a good name for a hotel in Las Vegas, isn’t it? If there is anything worse than the addiction that money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves. If there’s anything worse than the addiction money brings, it’s the emptiness it leaves.

The real issue, you see, is not actually going for more and more money. It is the sadness of going for inward fulfillment which we have been told is to be found in money. When you have money, you have an unsatisfied appetite. Verse 11: you have an increased crowd of dependents, hangers-on: “Hey buddy, could you give me a dime? Hey, could you loan me this? Hey, could I borrow your truck? Hey, could I stay in your house? Hey, could I have a fiver? Hey, could you help me with this?” As soon as you have money, you know: all the letters come, all the envelopes come. Suddenly, you’re on everybody’s Christmas list. Presumably, very wearisome.

And verse 12: where money abounds, it’s a case of “Pass the Pepto-Bismol.” “The sleep of [the] laborer is sweet,” whether he has a big lunch or no lunch. “But the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” “No sleep.” “Pass the Tums! Where are the Tums?” he cries to his wife. “I don’t like the pink ones. I don’t like the white ones. I only like the yellow ones and the orange ones. Why are there no yellow ones and orange ones?” “Because you ate all the yellow and orange ones.” Affluence plus indulgence equals sleeplessness. Welcome to the American Dream! Get there and spin on your bed. Get there and lie awake at night. Get there and suffer indigestion, hangers-on, and an insatiable quest for more.

Do you think the Bible’s relevant? I mean, you can do what you like with it, but it sure has a contemporary ring, doesn’t it?

And along with indigestion and along with injustice comes insignificance. Verse 13:

I[’ve] seen a grievous evil under the sun:

wealth hoarded to the harm of [his] owner, 
 or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when he has a son
 there[’s] nothing left for him.
Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
 and as he comes, so he departs.

Naked in, naked out. You didn’t come down the birth canal wearing Adidas sneakers or Nikes or whatever it was. You didn’t come down the birth canal holding little Nordstrom packages on your fingers. Naked in, naked out. And unless you invest in the bank of heaven, the Bible says, it’s a zero-balance budget. Zero in, zero out. Read the obits tomorrow about the next wealthy man that died. And as you sit there reading them, sipping your coffee, remind yourself, “I am now richer than him,” ’cause he’s got nothing. His heirs may have picked it up, but he has nothing. Zero in, zero out.

And into chapter 6, that’s the whole emphasis. Graphic illustration of the meaninglessness of this grievous evil: the awesome picture of this stillborn child that has more significance and is a better prospect than having a hundred children and living many years. What an amazing picture! And in verses 10–12, the same emphasis: “Who knows what[’s] good for a man,” verse 12, “during the few … meaningless days?” And “who can tell him what will happen” after the sun is gone?

In other words, he’s asking two essential questions: Who knows? Who cares? The rat race of life in itself makes no sense at all. With no absolute values to live for and no practical certainties to plan for, you’re like a soccer player running around on a field that has no goals, no lines, no penalty spot. It’s a complete, total waste of time. Only do we understand what’s going on when we lay down the goals, when we mark out the eight-yard box, when we put into the penalty, when we discover where the corners come. But played without certain plans and played without defined rules, nobody really knows, and frankly, nobody really cares.

Now, when you get to chapter 7, instead of arguing his case at all, it’s a kind of staccato burst of insights which just hit us from all kinds of angles. And what I want to do is just run through them with you.

First of all, in the opening phrase of the chapter, “A good name is better than fine perfume.” What does that mean? Well, perfume could only be purchased by the affluent. Therefore, fine perfume was an indication of wealth. It largely is today, inasmuch as you don’t find poverty-stricken people spending a hundred and fifty dollars on a half-ounce or a quarter-ounce of very expensive perfume. That is a luxury few can afford, and it’s a luxury probably few should enjoy. But anyway, that’s a separate issue.

And what he’s saying is, a good name is a better legacy than the fragrance that is dispensed in the mall as a result of you being able to skoosh yourself. So whatever you do in your life, remember this: that your legacy, irrespective of money in the bank, the best legacy you can leave your children is to allow them to walk with confidence down any High Street in the country. And if someone meets them, says, “Oh, are you X’s son? Are you X’s daughter?” “Yes, I am, sir. Yes, I am, ma’am.” And then they bless the memory of your parents, and your memory too. It doesn’t matter how much cash there is. It doesn’t matter out of which home we have come. A good name is far better than riches. Honor is the issue. Honor.

Now, in verses 2–6, he just gives us some pithy common sense. Essentially what he’s saying is this: “Face the facts.” “Face the facts.” The bumper sticker is not all wrong: life is tough, and then you die. It doesn’t sound very happy, does it? But it’s actually fairly accurate! Life is tough, and you are going to die. And what he’s saying is, when you face up to that, then you will realize that it’s better, actually, to go and have a coffee in the graveyard in Chagrin Falls than it is to go to some dumb party with a bunch of your high school friends.

You say, “The pastor’s completely weird, Mom. He said that he drinks coffee in the Chagrin Falls graveyard. You’ve got to watch out for people like that.” Well, I don’t do it routinely. But I do it. And I do it to remind myself that the dates are catching me. The dates are catching me. See, when I was your age, I used to go in there. There’s no sweat. You can go in the graveyard, and you can do what you like. You can run around and hit tennis balls off the graves, because the dates are all, like, wacko. But when you get to my age now, they’re your dates.

Now, you can run away into a party in an affluent neighborhood and kid yourself that life will go on forever. That is time ill spent. Or you can go sit and park your car in the graveyard and surround yourself in a house of mourning and say, “Now we’re getting to the issue. Now we’re being sensible. Now we’re facing facts.” That’s what he says. Look at it. You’re sensible people. Read your Bibles. It’s on the hard days, it’s in the tough issues, it’s in the sad events that we learn and we grow. That’s why it’s better. That’s why “sorrow is better than laughter.” “A sad face is good for the heart.” Why? Well, we said it before, when we talked about going to a comedy or going to a tragedy. A comedy is ephemeral. You can’t remember the jokes. You come out, you say, “It was funny, but what did it mean?” A tragedy does something inside of you.

Spurgeon in writing says, “I[’m] afraid that all the grace I[’ve] got[ten] out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny.” And “affliction,” he said, “is the best bit of furniture in my house.”[4] In other words, life confirms what the Bible conveys: that more spiritual progress will be made through failure, disappointment, hard times, and tears than will be discovered as a result of success, laughter, easy times, and trivialities. But our whole culture holds out to us Vanity Fair: “Come down here! Let the good times roll!” So this is countercultural.

More spiritual progress will be made through failure, disappointment, hard times, and tears than will be discovered as a result of success, laughter, easy times and trivialities.

In verses 7–10, he says, “It’s important that you exercise self-control”—self-control, as we’ve seen, in the matters of money, verse 7, because “extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” Some of us know that to our pain. We should never have taken that envelope. We should have never accepted that gift. We should never have signed that contract in that particular way. We lost our credibility. We lost our ability to do business with a clear conscience and a crystal-clear gaze. Be careful!

Be careful also in the snare of unguarded talk: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, … patience is better than [proud]. Do[n’t] be quickly provoked in your spirit.” In other words, don’t just be bursting out all of the time. Don’t let your mouth run ahead of your mind. Now, I can speak to this with a measure of confidence. As I was driving on the freeway the other day, my daughter, who was in the back seat—our youngest child—said to me, “Dad, you just get upset far too quickly.” So I just turned around, and I slapped her. [Congregation laughs at joke.] You know, at first I was going to defend myself about the freeway and everything. Then I said, “You know what? You’re right.” And she said, “Dad, deep breaths. Deep breaths. Slow it down.” Self-control. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit.[5]

Self-control in not becoming a crusty old fool that walks around all the time saying, “Man, the good old days. We love the good old days.” Verse 10: “Why were the old days better than these?” That’s a silly question. It happens in churches more than anywhere I’ve ever been. We’re very fortunate here at Parkside that we don’t have a lot of the “good old days” brigade. There are some of you. You temper it very well, for which I’m very grateful. If you ever get out of control, we’ll have to talk further, because it really is a waste of time. The idea of taking a holiday in history to prevent us from putting our shoulder to the plow in the present is something that isn’t held out to us as an option. And when we’re always harping on the good old days, it’s because we’ve forgotten about the disappointments and the disadvantages that were part of those same old days. There are good days. There are bad days. Today is the day. Let’s go!

Freeway exit 11 and 12 is marked “Wisdom”—added insurance against the risks of life. We’ve stopped here before; we will stop here again. For now, we move on.

Verses 13 and 14: “Consider what God has done.” I just wrote one word against this, the word trust. Because these verses are a reminder to us that life is not blind fate. It’s not random chance occurrences. Rather, God is over all, and he’s in control of all. This God, whom the writer meets intermittently, is able to turn our difficulties and our problems and our bad choices and our foolish wanderings—all of them—into good, sweeping them all into his plan and purpose for us.

And so his advice is straightforward in verse 14: “When [the] times are good, be happy; [and] when [the] times are bad, [be thoughtful].” Think about the fact that God has made the one as well as the other. Don’t be so silly as to go out on a sunny day and say, “Oh, well, God has done a wonderful job today,” and then you go out the next day, and the clouds are at four hundred feet, and visibility in landing is about four hundred and fifty yards, and so you say to yourself, “Well, God must have taken a vacation today.” No! God is as much in control of the rain and the clouds as he is of the sun and the beauty. He actually is in control of the good days and the bad days in our lives.

It’s hard to work out. There are secondary causes. We are the causes of so much of our discomfort, bad choices. People come to me all the time, say, “Could you put these eggs back in the shell for me?” The answer is “No, I couldn’t. I couldn’t. And no one can. You smashed the eggs. You drove the car of your life foolishly. You made foolish choices. God is able to restore you to usefulness, his forgiveness is unmitigated, and so on. But I’m sorry. You’re going to live with the implications of this.” That’s why it’s important to think these things out while you’re still young.

His perspective in verses 15–22 is tremendously helpful. Look at what he says: “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: [I’ve seen] a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.” Well, there’s an honest man, isn’t it? This won’t play well on Christian TV, I can tell you right now. You daren’t get on Christian television late in the night and hold this out: “I have seen a righteous man take it in the head, and I’ve seen a wicked man live a long time.” It tears the carpeting and the substructure out from underneath their notions: health, wealth, happiness. “Trust and it’s all fine. Come here, and everything falls into line.” It’s not true to life. It’s not true to the Bible. The idea that the righteous automatically prosper and the wicked automatically suffer isn’t true. Ultimately, in the light of eternity, God will right all wrongs; justice will all be settled. He has dealt with this at the cross. But the experience of life is straightforward: “I have seen … a righteous man perishing in his righteousness.”

Did you read the newspaper this week? Did you see the New York Times yesterday? Did you see the pictures that they carried from Moody Bible Institute and the story of the young girl who was shot—the nurse—in Lebanon this week, three times in the head at close range, for her faith and trust and commitment to Jesus Christ? A student at Moody in the ’90s, married an English boy. Both of them went off with Operation Mobilization to serve Christ in the extended medical world in Lebanon. And this week her life came to an immediate end. Now, are you suggesting for one split second that you would be prepared to go to her mom and dad and say anything other than “I have seen a righteous girl perishing in her righteousness”? That’s the only thing you can say. And the idea that if you’re righteous, you don’t suffer—of course, the person with that story to tell is going to have to do some unbelievable theological gymnastics to get themselves out of that equation.

Perspective needs to be there in relationship to righteousness and wickedness—and also, in verse 16, in relationship to overrighteousness. It’s interesting, isn’t it? “Do not be overrighteous,” he says. And don’t “be overwise.” He’s describing here a kind of spiritual intensity which is pushed so far that it gets to the realm of unreality. When I looked at this phrase, “Do not be overrighteous,” it made me think of the Pharisees, who had come up with all these kind of rules and regulations. They came down on Jesus and his disciples like a ton of lead, not because Jesus and his disciples were disobeying the law but because they were breaking all of the Pharisaical exactitudes that they had loaded onto the law—all of the little additions that they had made. And there are people like that everywhere.

In the course of my life, I’ve had people come and tell me that they don’t think it’s right for a Christian to go on vacation, because life is too hard and too tough, and it would be wrong to squander money on a vacation. They’ve come to me, and they’ve suggested that it wouldn’t be right for a Christian to go to a doctor or to take a blood transfusion, because after all, we trust God. This is a very sort of “righteous” posture.

The same people have the view that if you have a Christmas tree in your house—and you may not have met these people; I’m not fabricating them—if you have a Christmas tree in your house, you’re endorsing a pagan celebration, and therefore, it is a violation of everything that the Bible teaches, and therefore, “You’ve got to get that dreadful Christmas tree out of your house!” They are overrighteous.

They’re the same people who lambasted me because I’m going around the neighborhood getting as much candy as I possibly can on Halloween night, wearing whatever I jolly well choose to wear within the bounds of propriety, so that I can come back and eat like a pig along with my kids in front of the fireplace. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no! No, you can’t do that!”

The same individuals who will not allow me to read my children fiction stories, because fiction stories are fiction, and fiction is not nonfiction, and nonfiction is true, and fiction is untrue, and imagination, and so on.

Hey! Hey, hey, hey! You’re about to blow the lid off your pressure cooker! It will blow off, and it will make a dreadful mess all over your kitchen. Listen to the Word of God: do not adopt this strange, unreal, overrighteous nonsense!

“Well,” you say, “what are you endorsing, overwickedness?” No. Verse 17: “Don’t be overwicked. You’d be a fool to do that. You want to die before your time?”

So what’s the answer? Is it to walk the tightrope in between them? No. It’s the answer we discovered last week: “The man,” verse 18, “who fears God will avoid all extremes.” You want to know how to operate? Ask the question “Will Father approve?” “Will Father approve of the time I’m going to spend with this girl, of the decision that I’m about to make in business, of the plans that I’m about to endorse in terms of investments?” One question and one question only: “Will Father approve?”

Now, it’s that kind of insight that then closes out the chapter. Verses 23–29. Look at verse 29: “This only have I found: God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” “Men have gone in search of many schemes.” I had a letter in recent days from far away from here: a young man, well educated, both in American and British universities—indeed, at the highest level. And in the course of the letter, he said this to me: “I must say, all the education in the world has made me the most stupid and unenlightened man.” “All the education in the world has made me the most stupid and unenlightened man.”

How can he possibly say that? Because foolishness, when the Bible speaks about it, does not have to do with mental faculty. It has to do with moral rebellion. He’s lost his wife. He’s lost his children. He’s lost his self-respect. He is the man described in an earlier chapter, who is all alone, with neither brother nor sister nor family member—and he knows it. And his letter finishes, “In faith that you may say something to me that would help in my time of need, I am cordially yours.”

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down,
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?[6]

He’s your neighbor. He’s your traveling companion on a 757. He’s your professor.

And in that insight, it points us ultimately to the fact—and with this I finish—that all of our folly is found in our sinfulness. Sin is foolishness, because it is disobedience to and rebellion against the will of the one who made us, who loves us, who sustains us, and who one day will assess us. What the Bible says is that all of these journeys, all of these dead-end streets, all of this consideration is moving, pointing forward to, ultimately, the way in which God has made wisdom known to men and women, if they will only find it. And we’re not only foolish, says the Bible, but we’re also alienated, and we’re also condemned.

“Oh,” you say to yourself as you finally move in your seat for the last time, hoping that the wheels are down on this sermon for a fast landing, you say, “Did I really come out here this morning to hear that I am foolish, that I am alienated, and that I am condemned? I mean, Alistair, can we possibly finish on a slightly higher note than this?”

Well, you see, I can’t go to the good news without we’re confronted with the bad news. Because the good news makes no sense without the bad news. Like me saying to all of you just now, “I’ll rescue you! Let me rescue you!” You go, “He’s now finally taken leave of his senses. We do not need rescued.” But if you’re on the upper building and the thing is on fire, and I bring a ladder and I set it against your window, and I say, “I have come to rescue you,” suddenly, the awareness of your condition makes the rescue seem so amazing, so wonderful, and so necessary.

Sin is foolishness, because it is disobedience to and rebellion against the will of the one who made us, who loves us, who sustains us, and who one day will assess us.

So first I need to understand that the foolishness of which the writer speaks is a foolishness that exists because of sin—disobedience against God’s law. That brings alienation from God, from others, from myself. That brings condemnation, because God must punish sin. So what in the world are we supposed to do with this?

Well, listen. Listen! Here is the good stuff: God has provided the way of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, all of his love and all of his justice is expressed, and in that, he meets all of our needs precisely. You see, there’s nobody in this room this morning that knows your needs. Nobody! Even the person that loves you most, lives with you most, understands everything about you, they don’t really know your needs. There is only one person who knows them and can meet them precisely.

And the wisdom of God is expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that wisdom and that reality may become yours when you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, your only Savior—and when, in believing that Jesus came to be the answer to that dilemma, then, with Christ’s help, you’re enabled to give up an old way of life and, by the help of the Lord Jesus, to begin a wonderful new way of life. The Bible calls that repentance: a reversal of our old ways, and a making amends and restoration where possible, and a starting out on a brand-new journey.

Salvation is a gift! And faith comes as we hear the Word of God, and as we turn to Christ in our sinfulness and in our emptiness, and as we receive his fullness and his forgiveness. Repentance, the desire to turn away from sin, is born in the heart of a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, only when we realize that in coming to Christ, he will receive us in forgiveness. He will accept us, even in our sinfulness. And then, by his power, he will take and change us by his grace.

This is God’s wisdom. You can’t find it in Chopra, or Chuckra, or whoever that character is. You can’t find it in Seven Helpful Steps in the New Age section of your bookstore. Those are dead-end streets, my dear friends. They’re amalgamation of moral philosophy, Eastern mysticism, a scattering of biblical notions, and all stirred together like a gigantic pot of distasteful stew. You cannot find it there. You cannot find it in religion. You can find it in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has become our wisdom and our righteousness.[7] That’s what he says in Corinthians. The person who has discovered this has prayed a prayer like this. I’m going to tell you the kind of prayer, not the actual prayer. God’s not interested in our words. But listen carefully, and have one question in your mind as I read this. And here’s the question: “Have I ever come to God like this?”

“Lord Jesus Christ, I am so foolish. Give me your wisdom to see and follow your truth. Lord Jesus Christ, I am so full of guilt and have no peace, but you have died to bring forgiveness and the assurance of pardon. I trust you to be my Savior, and by your grace, I turn away from my sin. Lord Jesus Christ, I am weak and ruled by sin. Give me your power, and rule in my heart, and take charge of my whole life.”

Have you ever come to God like that? Have you ever prayed like that? Are you a Christian? Are you? And what prevents you? Pride? Ignorance? Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.[8]

Let us pray:

O God our Father, we thank you that in the Lord Jesus Christ, all of your loving wisdom has been expressed; that in the death of your Son, all of your justice is exercised and all of your love displayed. It is an amazing thing, when we think about it, that we’re actually more sinful than we ever care to acknowledge, and yet that we are more loved in the Lord Jesus Christ than we ever dare to imagine. So then, help us, Lord, to move by your grace from an interest in religion to a relationship with your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to believe. Enable us to turn. Grant us the gift of faith, we pray.

And may grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Paul Simon, “Patterns” (1966).

[2] Sarah Boxer, “So, Woody, Do You Feel Like Talking about It?,” interview with Woody Allen, New York Times, November 11, 2002,

[3] Robert Browning, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology” (1855), lines 182–183, 187.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Trial of Your Faith,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 34, no. 2055, 657.

[5] See Galatians 5:22–23.

[6] Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “Help!” (1965).

[7] See 1 Corinthians 1:30.

[8] See Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:15; 4:7.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.