Preaching the Gospel from Ecclesiastes
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Preaching the Gospel from Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 12:1–14  (ID: 0156)

Using the passage of time as a framework, Alistair Begg preaches the Gospel against the backdrop of Ecclesiastes 12. What the Bible teaches us is that the beginning of life is not unknown, because men and women were purposefully created in God’s own image; nor is life a mysterious path to nowhere, because all mankind has been created with an innate understanding of eternity. The Gospel assures us that in Christ we will ultimately be free from the trauma of this life and discover a place marked by tranquility and beauty.

Series Containing This Sermon

Preaching the Gospel

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 26901

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the book of Ecclesiastes and to chapter 12. And as you turn there, I say thank you to Don for the upgrade that he gave me moving me from Cleveland, Ohio, to Toledo. But it’s a privilege to be back on this campus. I don’t think I’ve been here since 2006. I think I was supposed to come in 2007, and illness intervened. But it’s always nice to be invited back somewhere, and I’m glad of our continued fellowship in the gospel that is represented in more ways than this.

Ecclesiastes chapter 12 is essentially our text for this morning. I think it’s purposeful for us to read it, and if you follow along, I’m reading from the NIV:

“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;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
 and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
 and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
 and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
 but all their songs grow faint;
when men are afraid of heights
 and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
 and the grasshopper drags himself along
 and desire no longer is stirred.
Then man goes to his eternal home
 and mourners go about the streets.

“Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
 or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
 or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
 and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher.
 ‘Everything is meaningless!’

“Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find [out] just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

“Now all has been heard;
 here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
 for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
 including every hidden thing,
 whether it is good or evil.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

A brief prayer:

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For your Son’s sake. Amen.

Three weeks ago today I had the privilege of spending the day in London with one of my nieces. I have four of them in the United Kingdom, and the oldest, a girl who’s in her twenties, came to look after her ancient uncle as he was passing through on the way to destinations far and beyond. And rather than just fritter the day away, we made a plan for what we were going to do, the person with whom we would have lunch, and so on. And part of the plan was that we would go to the Tate Modern Gallery, because I was very excited to realize that the exhibition of the paintings of Paul Gauguin, who you will know was a postimpression painter in France in the twentieth century, was to be on display or was on display there at the Tate.

And so we went there at some considerable expense, both in terms of money and of time. And I, of course, should have done a little research before I got there, because there was only one painting that I was actually really interested in seeing. And I went very quickly through the whole exhibition and discovered to my great regret that that particular painting wasn’t even in the exhibition and that frankly, it was a bit of a bust. If I’d been less of a philistine, then I would have enjoyed it, but since I only had one objective in view, I really was quite disappointed.

The painting that I had in mind was painted in Tahiti. It was a five-foot-by-twelve-foot canvas, one of the largest ones he ever did. Gauguin himself said that the painting should be read from right to left. And in this particular painting there are three figure groups, and each of these figure groups represent the stages of life. There are three women with a child, representing the beginning of life; and then there is a smaller group, symbolizing the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group there’s an old woman, approaching death, apparently reconciled and resigned to her thoughts. And at the feet of the old woman, at the right of the old woman, there is a strange, white, ugly bird which Gauguin said represented the futility of words.

He actually completed this painting, and in the process of painting it, he said he would kill himself when he had done it. He actually died of syphilis at the age of fifty-four. His life was dissolute and dissipated. And on this particular painting—and this is what intrigued me always, because it gave me a chance to test out my high school French—he had put three questions in French. (He was French, so there’s no surprise in that.) And he had put them up in the top left-hand corner. You will find them when you get to view the painting, as I will, in the Museum of Art in Boston and not in the exhibition at the Tate in London. What a long way to go for such a disappointment!

And when you look up in the left-hand corner, it says, “D’où venons-nous?” Where do we come from? “Que sommes-nous?” Who are we? “Où allons-nous?” Where are we going? Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? Questions that are in the minds of men and women with relative frequency when they either lie in their beds, or fly in turbulence on a plane, or view the arrival of tiny children, or watch the encroachments of Alzheimer’s take a loved one into that strange place.

My brief in these three mornings is to think about preaching the gospel. It’s a strange thing, this lecture series, because one doesn’t know whether you’re supposed to give a lecture and talk about what you’re trying to do or whether you’re supposed to try and do it and then let people see if you’re doing what you think you’re trying to do or not. Frankly, the whole thing is thoroughly confusing. And so, I think what I’ll do is I’ll try and do what I think I’m supposed to do, and then you can figure out whether I’m doing it. And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, that’s fine, ’cause it doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

The challenge of preaching the gospel always is the challenge of bringing the divine content of the message into the human context in which that message is to be delivered.

But the challenge of preaching the gospel—and preaching the gospel this morning out of Ecclesiastes, tomorrow out of Acts, and the final day out of Revelation—but the challenge of preaching the gospel always is the challenge of bringing the divine content of the message into the human context in which that message is to be delivered. We have God’s Word to us by way of revelation. We have the immediate environment and world in which we live. And then we have the challenge, the privilege, the opportunity, the responsibility to try somehow or another to bridge those two islands and to make contact with those who are our listeners.

And what I want to suggest to you this morning is that Gauguin is very helpful in this. And we might use his three questions as a means of unpacking what is essentially the message of the Preacher, or the Professor, here in the book of Ecclesiastes. And so, what I want to do is look back with you at the passage that we read using, essentially, as a framework this developing notion of the passage of time, the beginnings of life, and ultimate destinations.

Where Do We Come From?

So, first of all, we think in terms of the very question of origins. The question of origins. Origins, if you like, and the issue of personal identity.

Einstein—whom I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, because I’m reading a book on Gandhi, and Gandhi was impressed with Einstein, apparently—Einstein says in his credo, “Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore[s].”[2] It’s a strange life, he says; we’re all here, we weren’t invited, we’ve shown up involuntarily, and frankly, we haven’t got a clue what’s going on. It’s a nice thing to have on the front of a T-shirt, don’t you think? You could put on the back, “Have a nice day!”

In contrast, the Teacher here says, “No, that’s not the case at all.” The Teacher says, “You’re not the product of some kind of chance evolutionary process. You’re not a collection of molecules held in suspension. You have actually been created in God’s image, and you’ve been created in God’s image with an innate understanding of eternity.” And you have that, for example, in 3:11, where he says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from [the] beginning to [the] end”—so that you have this great duality, this amazing paradox in man by means of God’s creative purpose.

And for your homework, you can read the whole of Ecclesiastes, and you will find that this truth concerning the origin of man is reinforced. For example, 11:5:

As you do not know the path of the wind,
 or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
 the Maker of all things.

Which ties in with our reading from Psalm 139: “You have been fashioned intimately, intricately,” says the psalmist, “in the womb of your mother.”[3] You’re not a random, chance event. You don’t exist as a result of time plus matter plus chance.

There is a reason why so many in the contemporary generation look, feel, and act as lost as they do. Because they’re lost! Because they have had dismantled for them any notion of the creative handiwork of God. So they do not know where they come from. And in that respect, the question of Gauguin is not only an interesting thing on a Postimpressionist painting but is a question of a teenage mind.

Paul Simon had it all years and years ago. You have to be a grandfather now to even know who Paul Simon is. But he had a song. It just comes to mind as I’m thinking of it now:

Up a narrow flight of stairs
To a 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.[4]

The contemporary generation has no picture on the front of the box—just random pieces and no means of putting them back together again.

No, the approach of the Preacher here is the approach of Paul, interestingly, when he addresses the highbrowed people in Athens. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, that when he starts off his address—and presumably what we have there is Luke’s summation of it or his summary of it. If you read it, it only takes you about three minutes to read. I can’t imagine that he preached such a short sermon in such a terrific place, and so you imagine that they’re all manifold pieces that are not written in there. But it’s absolutely clear. He starts off, “The God who made the world and everything in it…”[5] That’s his opening line. Well, I know he does an introduction: “I see you’re a religious people. You have nice statues” and everything else.[6] But as soon as he’s done that and told them that the God who made the universe doesn’t live in temples built with hands and “he’s not in need of any one of you; in fact, you’re in need of him,”[7] he has now established an entirely different view of the world from that was represented by the philosophers there in Athens. And that is what the Bible does.

Man cannot know. There is ultimately no intellectual road to God. That’s why apologetics can only unsettle the worldview of those with whom we talk. It cannot lead a person to Christ. Only God does that. It may chip away at their view. It may undermine their convictions. It may do all kinds of things to establish it. But if that was the case, only people who could follow the rational argument of apologetics would be able ever to come to faith in Jesus Christ. And if you think about that, some of you are so daft you could never follow the arguments, and you wouldn’t even be a Christian today were it not for the fact that you understand:

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me has been made known,
Or why, unworthy as I am,
He bought me for his own.

But I do know whom I have believed.[8]

And at the very core of that conviction is the fundamental biblical answer to this question: Where do I come from?

The fact is that this life that we live, originated in God, made in his image—before there was time, before there was anything, there was God—is a life which is also unsatisfactory. And that’s why in the early chapters of Ecclesiastes the Professor takes us down all the dead-end streets. And I’ll leave you to go down them: the road of intellect, the pathway of pleasure, the avenue of cynicism, the dead-end street of materialism. They’re all there. “There[’s] nothing new under the sun.”[9]

If I’m not a moral being made in the image of God to whom I am accountable, then who am I? Am I my genes? Am I what I wear? Am I just my genetic code? If I’m not a moral being made in the image of God to whom I am accountable, then who am I?

Now, when we’re thinking in terms of preaching the gospel from Ecclesiastes, this is the kind of thing that we can be doing. And we can speak with a measure of conviction and, I hope, kindness concerning origins.

Who Are We?

Secondly, we can speak also with equal conviction concerning the transience of life, the ephemeral nature of life, the brevity of life, the frailty of life. You don’t have to work very hard to do this, because if the person with whom we’re speaking, with whom we’re sharing this good news, is honest at all, then they know that change and decay is represented in them. All they need for this is a mirror and an honest friend.

Que sommes-nous? What are we? What are we? Well, what are we? But see, he addresses this here, doesn’t he? Nothing confronts us as our creatureliness more than the watch on our wrists. All you need to know that you’re a creature is a watch. Every time you look at your watch, you go, “I’m older than I was when this started.” Every time you look at this, you go, “I’ve got less in front of me than I’ve got behind me.”

You remember the story of Chesterton, big Chesterton, living in London, wearing his cloak, moving around the city in a boisterous fashion. He comes around a corner on a windy day in London, bangs into a man carrying a grandfather clock. Chesterton is laid out on the ground, and he looks up at the man who’s holding the clock, and he says, “Why can’t you wear a wristwatch like everybody else?” What an amazing confrontation with the issue of time! Does anybody know what time it is? “Does anybody really know what time it is?”[10] You have to be born in the ’60s to know what I’m doing here, but there you have it. Does anyone really know…

Augustine said, “What is time? If no one asks me, I know, but if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not.”[11] “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.”[12] Our lives are faster than a weaver’s shuttle.[13] They’re like a breath in the morning air, and they’re gone. And the writer makes this clear, and he says, “You better pay attention to the God who made you before the days of trouble come.”

And then, in masterful poetry, he works his way through this. And I guess you’ve all heard sermons on this, and it can be quite tedious working your way through this picture of decay, verse 3 and on, “when the keepers of the house tremble,” and usually people take ages working through this, trying to impress you with things. So I’ll try not to do that at all.

Essentially, what he’s doing here, he’s bringing to the mind of the reader the dawning realization that the aisles of the drugstore that we have so far managed to avoid are now beckoning us. That’s what he’s saying. “You’ve lived your life, being able to go into the pharmacy and, you know, get yourself a Diet Pepsi and look and say, ‘Oh, I wonder what’s up that aisle. I wonder what you do when you go up there.’” Now you’re up there! Now people are meeting you up there. Now you’re actually reaching out for products that you thought, “Who uses this? This is weird. Why are you doing this? Why are you up there? Why do you need that thing that goes round the elbow, that stupid looking piece of bandage? You’re really going to wear one of those? Or the knee thing when you do your exercises. That’s embarrassing.”

I used to be able to say, “I’ll never wear that stuff.” I used to. But the house of my life is making sounds in the night. The house of my life is thwarting me in the day. I understand what he’s doing here in his dental analysis, describing inadequate occlusion. The “grinders” are starting to “cease.” Your wife says, “Well, why don’t you have something a little milkier or a little softer, or just a little, you know…” “What do you think I am, a hundred and ten, for goodness’ sake?” “No, but you will be if you keep going.”

Fearful of heights. I could stand up here and jump off, years ago. I wouldn’t jump off here for a $150 today. I used to be able to just open the car door and fall in, because I wanted to. Now I open the car door and fall in because I have to. That’s what he’s saying!

Now, what is the writer doing here? He’s establishing points of contact with his readers. He’s not just having a fun time. You see, humor is engaging, isn’t it? The divine content of the message, the context in which the message is delivered, and then contact. Contact. Some of us as preachers, we don’t make any contact. We’re like firing arrows. We fire them up in the air, they go up in the air, and they land who knows where. Our preaching is akin to the fellow who preached in his homiletics class. He preached to astounding palpable silence as he ended. And as he stood, he looked forward at his professor of preaching and he said, “It will do, sir, won’t it? It will do.” And the professor called back, “Do what?” “Do what?”

Where Are We Going?

Actually, the description here is quite remarkable, and it leads eventually to the fact that man is going to his eternal home.

We don’t have time to delay on this, but here’s an avenue down which you might go to explore: the straightforward and honest acknowledgment of our inability to control time stands, at this point in history, in direct contrast to the preoccupations with time travel and the control of time. And if you pay any attention at all to what’s going on, you know this to be the case.

If you followed, as I did, your way all the way through Lost, the TV serial—one of the most bewildering experiences of my life. Because they were monkeying with time all the time. You didn’t know where you were. Are we in the now? Are we in the then? Where in the world are we? And that’s nothing compared to the attention-deficit-disorder program called [24], where the key is that you don’t have to worry about any linear progression at all; you just existentially absorb it, apparently. I don’t know. I don’t have enough attention deficit disorder to make any sense of [24]. Or Avatar! Or Avatar! The vastest grossing movie of all time, set in where?— 2154. We can’t control time now, but if we push forward, maybe we can control it then. Maybe in that realm we will be able to do what we can’t do now, because time is confronting us all the time.

So, for example, in the Life section of today in the USA Today, “Your Life, Thrive, Care, Nourish, Shine: A Young Girl’s Story of Losing Weight”: “The health ranch founder, 89, refuses to ride into the sunset.” She refuses to ride into the sunset. Well, good for her. You don’t have to throw in the towel yet, madam. That’s fine! “Deborah Szekely’s philosophies never changed: After sixty, move a lot more or eat a lot less. Exercise more, never stop learning, meditating, climbing mountains, and look for a meaningful way to give back.” I love all that. That’s good.

When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
Birthday greetings, [and a] bottle of wine?[14]

You know? I’m gonna keep going. But here’s the fact of the matter: I’ve got less in front of me than I’ve got behind me. And when I ask the question “Where have I come from?”—I want to know. And when I ask the question “What am I?”—I need to know. And finally, when I ask the question “Where am I going?”—I need to know. And so do our friends and neighbors if they are to make sense of their human existence.

There will be a time when you kiss your kids or your mom or your spouse goodbye, and you will never kiss them again.

Origins, the middle, the end. What does he do? Well, he speaks concerning the reality of death. He says our lives are fragile; they’re like earthenware. Our lives are transient; they’re like the broken wheel at the well. There’s a last time for every familiar journey.

We can say honestly, without any sense of overreaching, to people when we talk with them, when we share the gospel with them, “There will be a time when you reverse your car out of your garage, and you will never drive it back in again. There will be a time when you put your key in the lock for the last time. There will be a time when you kiss your kids or your mom or your spouse goodbye, and you will never kiss them again. You may bank on that.” It’s the great taboo, the only remaining taboo. The only thing that America is unprepared to be absolutely provocative about is death. You can talk about absolutely everything. But the great coverup of American society is this coverup.

Oh, the games people play now,
Every night and every day now,
And never thinking what they say now,
And never saying what they mean.
And they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine.
Na-na-na, na-na na-na.
Na-na-na, na-na, na-na.[15]

It’s not my place to criticize American funerals, but they’re no good. The only decent funerals I’ve attended and participated in, with minor exceptions, have been conducted in the Amish country. For there they know what they’re doing. They dig the grave. They throw the dirt on. The family themselves take shovels and shovel the dirt on top of the coffin. The average American funeral is a viewing. Now, there’ll be videos there of Uncle Billy when he was, you know, a quarterback for Notre Dame and everything. He’s lying there looking better than he ever looked in the last forty years of his life, wearing spectacles that no one’s ever seen. And everybody walks past and says banal things about him. And eventually they put him up on a plinth and try and drive out of the graveyard fast before any unsuspecting little great-grandchild says, “But what do they do with him now, Uncle Bill? What do they do now?” “Oh, don’t worry honey. He’s gonna be fine.” That won’t do, will it?

“Remember your Creator before the days of trouble come and you find no health and enjoyment in them.” “And remember this: that death is the destiny of every man. Therefore, the living must take it to heart.”[16] “It is better,” he says in chapter 7, “to go to a house of mourning than to … a house of feasting,”[17] because death is our destiny. And he doesn’t stop there. This is not Hinduism. He’s not suggesting that you can go down and then you’ll be back, hopefully in a better form.

I just came from India. Last week I was there in these great, huge Hindu temples, watching as people, nice young couples, came and held onto the feet of the monkey god or held onto the feet of the elephant god or went into the shrine of Krishna. Now, what do they hope for? They hope for another chance, and another chance, and another chance.

Christianity says, “Here’s the deal: you have one final appointment to face. After death comes judgment.”[18] We don’t need to say that in a way that shouts, as it were, from up on high. We can say it in the way that he says it here. Kidner puts it masterfully. He says, “Death has not yet reached out to us: let it rattle its chains at us and stir us into action.”[19] We can say to people, “Therefore, we shouldn’t succumb to complacency.” Nothing goes unnoticed. Nothing goes unassessed. Not even the things we disguise from ourselves!

But also, this means that nothing is ultimately futile—that the God who has made us cares enough to intervene in this way, so nothing can be pointless or need be pointless.

And so he says, “Well, let me give you the end of it: fear God.” “Fear God.” Again, Kidner: “A call that puts us in our place, and all other fears, [and] hopes and admirations in their place.”[20] “Fear God.” You say, “Well, that’s a kind of Old Testament thing.” It is an Old Testament thing. It’s a New Testament thing as well.

You remember what Jesus said? “I tell you, friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body. But be afraid of him who can cast your soul down into hell.”[21] And on that occasion, Luke says that a vast crowd had gathered when Jesus said that:[22] soldiers, traders, lovers, friends, criminals, all working the crowd—pickpockets, like in Oliver. And all the people are there, and this Nazarene figure is speaking: “I tell you, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body. If you want to be afraid of someone, be afraid of him who has your eternal destiny in his hands.”

Do you ever wonder if in the crowd there were the criminals that ended up on either side of Jesus? That somehow or another, in the midst of his day, that man just heard the phrase “Don’t be afraid of the person who kills you. Be afraid of what happens after that.” Because it is interesting, isn’t it, that when they are hanging on either side of Jesus on the cross, the one says to his friend, who is verbally abusing Jesus… Do you remember what he says? “Don’t you fear God?” “Don’t you fear God? We are up here getting what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.”[23] And then, suddenly and somehow, wonderfully and mysteriously, the penny drops for him. And he speaks to Jesus and receives that wonderful reply.

Into our brokenness and into our alienation has come one in whom the answer to our alienation is found.

Now, we must stop. But when we speak in these terms, we need to understand that the fear that is represented here is a fear which arises from the discovery of God’s love for us in our sin and in our weakness. When I realize that this God who made me knows me thoroughly, means to destroy everything that is sinful in me, and yet he does so because he loves me with an intensely faithful love, that fear is a fear which is only known to God’s children. Hence Newton: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”[24]

Now, it’s at this point—which is where we stop—that we would then, if we had the opportunity to go for coffee with the person that we had been either dialoging with or who had been listening in on our talk, it’s at this point that we would then tell our friends the gospel. ’Cause we haven’t yet told them the gospel, have we? We haven’t done the gospel. You say, “Well, it’s all gospel.” Yes, it is. And even when we have pointed out the dangers of neglecting the gospel or the benefits of accepting the gospel, we still haven’t told them the gospel: what God did for us in Christ in order to save us from sin, from the devil, and from death; that another true and obedient human being has come on our behalf and has lived for us the kind of life we should live but can’t, and that he has paid fully the penalty we deserve for the life we do live but shouldn’t; that into our brokenness and into our alienation has come one in whom the answer to our alienation is found.

It’s interesting, when you go down this line—and with this I will close—that there are so many avenues of opportunity. If you went to see Avatar, you know that it is a quite remarkable piece of work. Cameron knew what he was doing; there’s no question of that. There you have the story of Pandora, a holy tree where tribal memories and ancestral wisdom are there for the asking. If you’re in need of a little… It’s a bit like driving a Prius: you know, you’ve got a tail, and you can plug your tail into the power source, and it’ll keep you going for another little while.

And I was amazed having seen that—people coming out and going, “That’s fantastic. I really love that idea.”

“What? You mean having a tail and plugging it into the tree, or what do you love about it?”

“No,” they said, “I love the idea that we’re free from all this trauma and all this hatred and all this animosity and that there is a place somewhere where you can live in tranquility and in beauty. And I love the idea of that tree, and what a fantastic garden, and free from all of that horrible, dreadful, ravaging, big creatures and things that are crushing everybody to bits.”

Say, “Well, I’m glad you feel that way, and I understand your longing. You ever read the Bible?”

“No, you crazy? What would I read the Bible for? Stupid old book like that.”

“Well, you know, there’s a bit in the Bible that actually starts off with a really beautiful garden and a tree.”

“It does?”

“Yeah. Oh, it’s good, it’s good. You might like it. And you know what? It addresses the desire for a better place. And it actually explains all the disablement and the disgruntlement of life.” And we might say to our friends, “And I think I can understand the sense of depression that some have expressed in coming back out into this ugly world in which we live, away from that beautiful garden.”

And then we might say to them, “And did you ever read Mere Christianity?” And they’ll say, probably, “No.” And then you’ll say, “This is what C. S. Lewis said: ‘If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy …, that does[n’t] prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy …, but only to arouse …, to suggest the real thing. … I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.’”[25]

Let us, then, press on to that other country and help others to do the same.

Maybe this will be helpful in thinking about dealing with the gospel from Ecclesiastes.

Father, thank you for your Word and for the opportunity to turn to it. Write all that is of yourself in our hearts, and help us, we pray, as we seek to take the divine content of the message and bring it to bear upon the human context in which we live. Help us not just to be talking heads; help us to make contact with our friends and neighbors and from our pulpits so that in everything Jesus Christ might be honored and praised. For it’s in his name we ask it. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] Albert Einstein, “Mein Glaubensbekenntnis” [My Credo] (speech, German League of Human Rights, Berlin, 1932), quoted in Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (New York: Dutton, 1994), 262.

[3] Psalm 139:13 (paraphrased).

[4] Paul Simon, “Patterns” (1965). Lyrics lightly altered.

[5] Acts 17:24 (NIV 1984).

[6] Acts 17:22–23 (paraphrased).

[7] Acts 17:24–25 (paraphrased).

[8] Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883). Lyrics lightly altered.

[9] Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV 1984).

[10] Robert Lamm, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (1969).

[11] Augustine, Confessions 1.11.14. Paraphrased.

[12] Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (1806).

[13] See Job 7:6.

[14] John Lennon, Paul McCartney, “When I’m Sixty-Four” (1967).

[15] Joe South, “Games People Play” (1968). Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Ecclesiastes 7:2 (paraphrased).

[17] Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV 1984).

[18] See Hebrews 9:27.

[19] Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1976), 104.

[20] Kidner, 107.

[21] Luke 12:4–5 (paraphrased).

[22] See Luke 12:1.

[23] Luke 23:40–41 (paraphrased).

[24] John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).

[25] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 136–37.

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.