December 1, 2002
By nature, people are uncomfortable reflecting on life’s hardest realities, such as the uncertainty of the future and the certainty of death. Instead of considering our existence beyond this life, we often choose to focus on the fleeting pleasures of this world. Alistair Begg reminds us that despite our best efforts to ignore these issues, our hearts will remain restless until we find rest in the God who created us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I encourage you to take your Bible and turn again to Ecclesiastes chapter 8? And when you’ve turned there, we’ll pause and ask for God to help us as we study the Bible.
Father, we acknowledge again that every word we hope to teach and every soul we long to reach is only by your grace. And so, we look to the power of your Holy Spirit to enable us to think and to respond in a way that would welcome Christ to his rightful place within our lives. We seek you now in his precious name. Amen.
Well, once again, this morning, as last time, we’re going to deal not with the details of each of these chapters but rather with the broad sweep of the Professor’s argument.
In coming to these two particular chapters, I was reminded of some words by Winston Churchill many years ago, when he was referring to dialogue with the Communist regime. And he said this: “Trying to maintain a good relationship with the Communists is like wooing a crocodile. You do not know whether to tickle it under the chin or beat it over the head. When it opens its mouth, you cannot tell whether it’s trying to smile or preparing to eat you up.” And then he said, when negotiating with them, “it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” One only wonders what he would make of the present negotiations and dialogue and the arms inspections that are going on even in these few days. However, that’s not the issue. The issue is that final sentence describing the event as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
And it struck me that that phrase is very descriptive of life itself, at least as it is given to us here in the chapters that we’ve been considering in Ecclesiastes over these Sunday mornings. Our lives are very much like these Russian dolls that some of us have in our homes—that if you look on the outside, you think that you’ve seen all that there is; and you open it up, and it opens only to discover another layer of life; and then, when you’ve considered that for a moment or two and think you’ve unscrambled it, you open it again, only to discover that it reveals something else of yourself; and then you open it again and find that once more you are confronted by another layer and another dimension; and you open it again, and eventually, it seems you can just continue opening and opening and opening until you get down to the very core of things. But as we try and make sense of our existence, Churchill’s words seem very apropos. Life: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Now, what I’d like to do this morning is give you four statements. I’ll tell you what they are in a moment. But I’d like to begin at 9:7. The seventh verse of chapter 9: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.”
Now, at first reading, it may appear that the Preacher is offering us a prescription for a very happy Thanksgiving—that he has determined that it would be good for us just to have the broad outline of things, and so he provides them in the space of a few sentences. But if you read on, it’s clearly not so. He says in verse 9, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love.” That’s good. And then he adds, “all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun.” And then he adds again, “all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you[’re] going, there[’s] neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”
So, it’s as though he gives it with one hand and immediately takes it away with the other. Starts off so nicely: “Why don’t you have a wonderful meal? Why don’t you make sure you put on your best clothes? A little perfume would be very happy and helpful. And if you’re in the company of your wife, make sure that you enjoy yourself. And indeed, if you are involved in the endeavors of the time, do it with all of your might. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into it all. Because I want you to know that your life is, frankly, meaningless; that your days don’t mean much; and that just in case you are tempted to run away with some kind of forlorn notion of the future, remember that you are heading for the grave.”
You say, “Well, this is remarkable, isn’t it? What is he saying?” Well, what he’s saying is essentially what is said again and again and again in different ways at different times—namely, this: enjoy any pleasures that you may have before you while you can, because you never know what God, if he exists, may do to you tomorrow. That’s what he’s saying. From this perspective, he says, “You might as well go ahead and enjoy everything that you possibly can, because, frankly, you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, and you don’t know, if this God exists, just exactly what he might do.”
Now, this launched itself into the consciousness of twentieth-century America in Dead Poets Society. People understood it from philosophy before: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, which is the whole quote from which we get our T-shirt carpe diem. “Seize the present day. Trust tomorrow as little as possible,” said Horace. And who would want to gainsay anything said by somebody called Horace? The British poet put it a little more succinctly when he said, “Gather ye rose buds while [you] may, / Old Time is still a-flying.” “If you’ve got a chance to go out and get some lovely flowers, get them now, because time is passing. They’ll soon wilt, and you may wilt sooner than the flowers.”
Towards the end of the twentieth century, at its most banal level, the same philosophical posture was presented to us in Wayne’s World—a movie which I did not see but saw enough of, in various contexts, to realize that it sent out the great and telling observation that given life as it is, the best advice they could give to one another is “Party on, dude!” And that was it.
So, whether it is Horace (carpe diem), whether it is the poet whose name I’ve just forgotten—it may be Rankin (“Gather ye rosebuds while [you] may”), or whether it is Wayne’s World (“Party on!”), that’s all that the writer has to say from this perspective. Here’s life, he says. We’re looking at it. It confronts us. We ask ourselves the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And we’re forced, at the end of the day, when we put all of the pieces up on the table, simply to say that from the perspective under the sun, there’s really nothing for us to give a credible answer to. Indeed, the question itself is ultimately futile. Eventually, our sun will set, our time will come to an end, our day will be over, and nothing will be left. The orchestra will play, the crowd will disperse, some never to return to another performance. It’s all over now, nothing left to say, just our dreams and the orchestra fading.
Now, the reason that this is so striking is because although it was written thousands of years ago, it has such a contemporary ring. And some of us this morning, if we’re very honest, although we may not want to acknowledge to anyone around us, have been thinking along these lines. And the thing that we found most intriguing is this: that given that some of us have already concluded that there is no place for a personal God who made us and before whom we will stand, those of us who have concluded that still find ourselves asking the “Why?” question. And we know that the “Why?” question shouldn’t exist. Because if our existence is time plus matter plus chance, then it possesses no inherent meaning in terms of our understanding of it. Therefore, whether a person is run over by a car or picked up by a car, as Sartre said, it simply authenticates their existence, but it doesn’t give meaning in any way to the larger scheme of things. And yet here we are, realizing life as it ebbs and flows and still asking ourselves the “Why?” question.
Now, I can tell you why you ask the “Why?” question, even though you may deny your need of or choose to stand back from a relationship with God. Paul tells us that God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”—here’s the phrase— “who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” So God, he says, has created man, has stamped man in his image, has given him a sense of moral right and wrong, has given him a sense of oughtness, has placed within him eternity’s perspective. Man turns his back on all of that and yet cannot escape the “Why?” question: “Why do I feel as I feel? Why is this as daunting as it is? Why do I not have an explanation?” and so on.
Now, in addressing this in chapters 8 and 9, the writer essentially says four things. He actually says more than that, but four is all that we can handle in the time that is allowable to us.
The first is: life is unmanageable. Or, if you like, life is unfair. Life is as unfair as it is unmanageable. If your Bible is open to chapter 8, you will still have part of chapter 7 before you, and 7:15 says, “In this meaningless life of mine I[’ve] seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.” You say, “Well, we saw that last time.” Yes, we did. I’m reminding you of it, because I want to show it to you again. It reoccurs within a very short space of time, 8:14: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.”
Now, you imagine a schoolteacher. He gets his eighth-grade class and takes the eighth-grade class, and there are twenty-four students. He says to them, “Now, everyone on the left-hand side of the room gets an automatic A, and everyone on the right-hand side of the room gets an automatic F.”
And they say, “Well, wait a minute. We haven’t even begun the class yet.”
“Well, that’s not fair!”
“Well,” says the teacher, “why is it not fair? Where does the sense of fairness come from? What does fair mean? Why would you ever think that you deserve anything other than an F? Do you think you’re worthy of an A? On what basis?” And the teacher by that means begins to introduce his students to moral philosophy. And the very fact that they have a sense within them of the injustice of the F and the weirdness of getting an A without any effort speaks again to this vast “Why?” question and the nature of man as a moral being.
And when you look at life from this perspective, you have to say, “It isn’t fair.” It isn’t fair! Lovely girls are raped on their way home from school. That’s not fair! People cheat like crazy and live in big houses. That’s not fair! People do their taxes and walk with rectitude and apparently keep taking it in the throat. That’s not fair!
Now, that’s what he’s saying. Life, he says, is as unfair as it is unmanageable. Verses 17 and 18 at the end of chapter 8: “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man can[’t] discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” Now, you don’t have to be a genius. You just need to think about your life and think about all that you’ve read in the newspaper this past week.
And so the writer says, “I’ve got to tell you: life is as unfair as it is unmanageable.”
Secondly, people are as unreliable as life is unfair—which, of course, is a real burden, because our lives are all about people, aren’t they? Our need of people, our relationships with people, the importance of people, the importance of friendship. And yet, what do we discover? We discover that people can never unscramble for us the vastness of the human dilemma.
Back in chapter 7 again. We’ll just start there. “Do[n’t] pay attention to every word people say.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Your mother told you, “Make sure you listen to everything the teacher says.” Yes, of course! But “do[n’t] pay attention to every word people say.” Why? “You may hear your servant cursing you.” Don’t go around the office asking what everybody’s saying at the water cooler, because you may actually find out. And when you find out, it’s not going to make you feel very good. And if you doubt that, just remember in your heart the many times you’ve cursed others. So when you find the people talking behind their hands, don’t be too quick to say, “Excuse me, what was that? I didn’t quite catch that.” Because when you find out what it was, you’ll discover. And you’ll wish you hadn’t asked, because people are unreliable.
That’s the implications of verses 26 and following of chapter 7—the built-in propensity for infidelity: a “woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap … whose hands are chains,” and the “man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.” And here, in that kind of relationship, it proves the emptiness and sadness of it all.
But I think one little phrase in chapter 9 gets to the heart of it better than any. In 9:13, he has this little parable about “a small city with only a few people in it. And a [big] powerful king came against it” and besieged it. And there was in the city a poor man, he says. He was poor, but he was wise, “and he saved the city by his wisdom.”
So you say to yourself, “Well, I bet he got a big statue, didn’t he? Perhaps a big plaque at the entryway to the city?” No, look at what he says. One simple sentence: “But nobody remembered that poor man.” He saved the city! “You remember Mr., uh, Mr., uh, who saved the city? Remember that? The chap who…” “No, I don’t remember him. Well, I remember somebody saved the city. I don’t remember who saved the city.”
Don’t count on anything as fleeting as public gratitude to float your boat. Don’t count on anything as fleeting as public gratitude or acclaim to make sense of your life and float you. Don’t live with the illusion that everybody thinks you’re great, that you will be remembered and so on, and somehow or another, on the basis of that, it helps you go to sleep, helps you to wake up. They won’t remember us! They just won’t remember us!
People are as unreliable as life is unfair.
Thirdly, the future is unpredictable. You say, “Can this get any worse?” Well, actually, it can! And it will! The future is unpredictable.
Verse 7 of chapter 8: “No man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” Chapter 9 and verse 1: “I reflected on all this and [I] concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” Verse 11: “I[’ve] seen something else under the sun.” People who run discover that
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
I don’t know how the game ended last night between Notre Dame and USC. I care, but I don’t know. Who won? Good! But there was an interesting little period in the game, wasn’t there, where it went interception, interception, interception? It just went one, it went intercepted, back, intercepted, back, intercepted, and then finally a knockdown thing and the strangest of touchdowns. And all of the pundits are sitting there with their ties all nicely put together, and they’ve been talking for hours through the day, because I had seen them earlier: “And Mr. So-and-So will do such and such, and he will do this and that, and, of course, the so, and the Heisman,” and everything else. And they’re just sitting and they’re saying, “Can you believe this? Who would have thought this would happen, just like this?” First it bounces this way, then it bounces this way, then it bounces this way, and it doesn’t matter whether he’s a 285-pound gorilla, or whatever it was. The poor soul that got to the ball first on the knock down, he bobbled it all over the place, and the boy that knocked it down, he finally came and got there. Why was that? Why was that? It just happened!
And from this perspective, that’s life!
“Why are you in this office?”
“It just happened!”
“Why are you finishing this college course?”
“I don’t know! I just… I mean, I decided!”
“What are you planning on doing tomorrow?”
“I don’t know!”
“Are you sure of anything tomorrow?”
“No! I mean, the best I can do is go with Annie: you know, ‘The sun’ll come up tomorrow,’ apparently. But beyond that, I don’t know.”
Now, what is he saying? He’s saying there’s neither rhyme nor reason to the events of history. There’s neither rhyme nor reason to the events of history, from this perspective, viewed from under the sun. And there’s no rhyme nor reason to the events of the individual: “Why did this happen? Why have I experienced this? Why did I make such a hash of that? Why didn’t I turn right at that point? Why did she leave me then? Why did this…?”
Now, of course, this is a perennial question. It’s not new. But it’s very apropos, isn’t it? Some of you may actually have been asking these questions, in a strange way, during these particular days. Because there’s nothing quite like this holiday period to show up what we really believe about things. There’s nothing quite like this holiday period to come and haunt us in our minds, to uncover the enigma of our lives, to make clear to us that despite all of the loveliness that we felt in being surrounded by these people, that we’ve looked on it with a sadness, because we realized, this is another Thanksgiving gone by. That means it is one more Thanksgiving closer to death, or it is one more Thanksgiving closer to my daughter leaving home, or it is one more Thanksgiving than probably the last Thanksgiving, when I will have X or Y with me. And so it goes. And the unpredictability of the future can press in upon our minds. Indeed, it does press in upon our minds.
In the first century BC, a man by the name of Lucretius described life as “a fortuitous concourse of atoms.” Now, when you went around the table this week and somebody said, “And what are you thankful for?” I can pretty well guarantee you that none of you popped out Lucretius’s line, did you? You didn’t say, as you took your cranberry juice, “Well, I’m very thankful that I am a fortuitous concourse of atoms.” Well, what he’s saying was simply this: throw the dice of chance long enough and frequently enough, and the primeval slime will spit out a Milton and give us this wonderful Paradise Lost and Regained. And throw the dice again, longer and more frequently, and eventually, it may spit out for us a Shakespeare and all this wonderful material that can give to us insight into life. And it spits out Hitler, and we have the Holocaust. And it spits out Timothy McVeigh, and we have Oklahoma City.
Well, is that it? Well, my friends, you are sensible people. Will you think this through with me? Contemporary, sophisticated men and women choose in their sophistication to deny the notion of the existence of a personal creator God who has made them for the express purpose of knowing him and before whom they will one day stand and give account of their lives. So at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the people say, “No, no. I have no, no, no, no such notion.”
Well then, what do they fill the vacuum with? Just go in the bookstores. It struck me again this week, in a place—what do you call it?—like a sundry shop in a hotel. As I stood in there, I said, “Look at how much multicultural, religious claptrap there is in this place!” There was even a book on Zen as the key to your golf swing. Now, I’m not going to negate that, because… And neither is anyone who’s seen my golf swing! But the fact of the matter was, if you’d had a book in there that was, you know, The Christian Answer to Swinging a Golf Club, someone would’ve said, “No, no, no, no. We daren’t put that in there.” But there is every imaginable notion that is right there.
So, sophisticated man turns his back on God. And he believes in time. He believes in chance. He believes in Mother Nature. And we live at time where God is naturalized and nature is deified. So God is completely dethroned, and nature is enthroned.
When’s the last time you ever saw a Christian minister on the show from New York City or ABC or NBC or any of the major networks, and they said, “Just when we come back after the break, we’re going to have Reverend So-and-So on, and he’s going to be telling us about how we can prepare for eternity”? And as a side bar, they put up on the screen, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this comes judgment.” Well, of course you haven’t seen it, and you’re not about to see it. But when the music fades and they come back on site, what do they have sitting there? They have some strange-looking lady or a funny-looking man with piercing eyes who is an astrologer, who’s going to answer the riddles for contemporary American society about their future.
So, one thing we don’t want to do is allow anybody to come in here with any kind of divine word of authority, supposed or real, that would prepare us for an eventuality that we all know is true. There’s not a person who doesn’t know they’re going to die. So you would think, wouldn’t you, that if anybody had an answer for death, that they would just be constantly in demand? “Come and tell us how to die. Come and tell us how to get ready to die.” “No, no, no, no. We don’t want to do that. But we’ll have Mr. So-and-So, and he will come and tell us about how to understand our future.”
The future is unpredictable.
And finally, if life is unmanageable and unfair, and if people are unreliable, and if the future is unpredictable, then can it get any worse? Well, and from one sense, yes. Death is unavoidable.
Look at chapter 9, the opening ten verses. I’ll leave it for you. “Anyone who[’s] among the living,” verse 4, “has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” There you go! So you’re coming out of Dunkin Donuts, and somebody says, “Well, what do you think?” Just tell them, say, “Hey, a live dog’s better off than a dead lion!” It fits right in! That’s the kind of thing people say to me all the time. They don’t say that. I haven’t heard that one. But it’s the same stuff: “Well, hey, I’m vertical, aren’t I?” “Yeah!” “Ah, will it matter in a hundred years? Que será, será. Whatever! Who knows? Who cares?” It’s futility, actually. It’s stupidity. It’s really quite incredible.
The explanation I’m going to give you in just a moment. But it is phenomenal when you think about it from one perspective: that here you can have these human beings walking inexorably towards their death and being prepared to simply blow it off—just say, “Well, you know, it doesn’t really matter, there’s no concern here,” despite the fact that when their insurance guy comes around and sends the big, kindly, portly nurse, who takes all that blood and squeeze it all into the things, oh, they’re signed up for that! Of course they are! “Yes, give me as much as you can for the least premium as you can, and make it last as long as you can.”
“’Cause I’m going to punch out.”
“Yeah, well, let me talk about punching out.”
“Oh no, I don’t want to talk about punching out. I’m not really going to punch out. I was just doing the… You know, everybody has those things. But I’m not… No, no.”
What are you, crazy? You don’t know how to live until you’ve learned how to die. If you don’t understand how to get checkmate, what are you doing shoving all these pawns around on the chessboard? What do you think this is? I met a family one time that plays you could take the king! They would take the king sometimes in the first five moves of the game!
I told them, “You can’t take the king. You don’t take the king. Checkmate finishes this.”
“Oh no, we’ve always played you can take the king.”
“I don’t care what you’ve always played. You can’t take the king! It’s not the game.”
And people going through their life just in the exact same way: “I’ll just push the pawn here, push the pawn to king, pawn to, you know, bishop on the left, three over, and so on.” All that jazz.
You see, death makes nonsense of all of life’s distinctions. Without God, this is all there is. Therefore, all we can do is make the best of it. That’s what he’s saying. You might as well “eat your food with gladness,” “drink your wine with a joyful heart,” hang out with your wife, “clothed in white,” put the perfume on, because, frankly, you’re going to die.
Say, “Well, I don’t like this.” You should love it! You should embrace this! You say, “This is the most sensible, helpful thing I’ve heard in the longest time.” Because all of the rest of it suggests to me, “Oh no, we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. No, no. No, just don’t think about it, and it won’t be. Think warm, and you’ll be warm.” Bogus! “Think life, and you’ll be alive. Think…” Not true! Sure, we can influence our mentality in the way we conceive of circumstances, but we do not change the reality of life. We may change our perception of its reality, but we do not change it.
Well, is that it? Is he just going to leave us there? Death is unavoidable, life is unmanageable, people are unreliable, and the future is unpredictable. Well, have a nice day! And a happy Thanksgiving to you all, and I’m sure glad you dropped by. Well, no, I just have a word to get you out of your potential doldrums.
He’s about to turn a corner here into 10, 11, and 12, as we’ll see in the final two weeks of our study. He’s already given an indication of it at the end of chapter 7: “This only have I found: [that] God made [man] upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” It sounds a little bit like Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we[’ve] turned every one to his own way.” We’re all off from the main track. “God has made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Verse 3 of chapter 9: “This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.”
Now, notice this little insight here: “The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward[s] they join the dead.” Take that one to Dunkin Donuts with you! “So, what have you been thinking about lately?” “Well, I was just thinking about how the hearts of men are full of evil, and they’re really mad while they live, and then afterwards they die.” What he’s saying is this: that we have developed deep-seated flaws, and therefore, we cannot think clearly about God or about our relationship with God.
Anselm of Canterbury, in the eleventh century, wrote a very famous book called Cur Deus Homo?, Why God Became Man, or Why Did God Become Man? He wrote it in a dialogue form with his student, whose name was Boso. (Interesting name, I’m sure you would agree. He’s a rather slow character in the book.) And at one point, in asking a question about the meaning of life, Anselm says to this character, “You have not yet considered the greatness and the might of sin.” “You have not yet considered the greatness and the might of sin.”
And the reason why some of us are in the predicament in which we find ourselves this morning—unable to unscramble the riddle of life, aware of the fact that we are an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a riddle—is because we have never ever considered the weight and the significance of sin. We have never fastened on the fact that our minds do not operate in a spiritual and a moral vacuum. You this morning, sir, madam, boy, girl, you do not operate from a position of neutrality. You’re not in some neutral zone whereby you then decide either to enter into this way of conceiving of things or of that way of conceiving of things. No, what the Bible says is that we have gone astray, that our hearts are flawed, that sin pervades how we think and how we feel about everything. And that is why we can never understand why the world is the way it is.
Why is it that men and women can look at the exact same thing and say, “I can’t believe you’re even saying that! Where did you get that from?”
“Well, it’s in the Bible.”
“I never heard such nonsense in all of my life. Why would somebody say that kind of thing? That is bizarre and ridiculous!”
And you say to yourself, “Well, it seems so obvious to me. Why are they reacting in that way?”
They’re reacting in that way because of the weight and the seriousness of sin which enfolds our minds. From our birth, we think wrongly. And that’s what happens when the Bible is taught. The Bible comes and shines into that darkness and gives to us, by God’s grace, a moment where we all of a sudden go, “Oh! Oh! That makes sense! That makes sense!”
Now, the only reason you’ll ever say that is because God in his grace brings his Word, shines it into your darkened mind, and cracks open a little bit of a window, and all of a sudden you say, “This is amazing! For forty years of my life I have thought this way, lived this way, ignored God in this way. And here, in the strangest of circumstances, I find that the window of my mind has now opened to this truth.”
Well, the reason that we’re in the position in which we find ourselves is because we have suppressed the truth of God. We have repressed truth that we know. There are no genuine atheists. Every atheist knows that there is a God. Every atheist knows that there is eternity. Everybody who professes that does so by choice and goes against themselves. Huxley said, “I had a reason for not wanting to believe in God, because to disbelieve in God was for me the basis for sexual and political freedom.” “I don’t want to have to give account to anybody, so I will disbelieve him out of existence.” But you can’t do it!
And that’s why here you are this morning, and some of you are frustrated. And the reason you’re frustrated is because you’ll never be fully satisfied with anything that the world has to offer. There isn’t a Thanksgiving celebration that can answer the deep longings of our hearts. We were made for his pleasure, not for our own pleasure. Therefore, we remain forever dissatisfied until we find the ultimate pleasure in knowing that we were created by God, for God, and for his glory.
Are you prepared to admit to that frustration today? Are you prepared to face up to the frustration? You prepared even to admit the frustration? Then we can talk about whether you’re prepared to acknowledge the source of the frustration. And if you’re prepared to admit to the frustration, will you admit also that you’re a fugitive to your own destiny? You’re a fugitive to your own destiny! You’re not what you were supposed to be. God made you for himself, and you’re living for yourself. God made you for a grand purpose, and you’re just simply whittling away your days. God made you to experience all of his fullness and all of his blessing and all of the wonder of his love, and you don’t understand it. And furthermore, you’re angry about it, and you’re determined to disbelieve in this God. But still you’ll read those funny books. Still you’ll talk about Jesus as if he was some galactic superstar and believe all kinds of things.
Can I ask you: Do you understand why it is you feel homesick at home? Do you understand why it is you feel the way you feel when you look on your children, and you feel that time passes through your fingers? When you see your aging parents, and not only do you see all that is in them, but you see that all that is in yourself that is in them, and you know that you’re moving inexorably towards that end? Why is that? Why don’t we just feel like “Hey, hey! You know, can’t wait! I’m going to die soon! Can’t wait! My turn next! Me next! Me next! I’ll go next! No, let me go next!” No, you’re running from it, aren’t you? You got the blankets over your head. You are scared to death you might die. But still, in your sophistication, turn your back on God, ignore Christ, repulse his Word, close the door of your car, and drive off into emptiness.
Augustine put it well: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” There’s nowhere else we can go. There’s no other fountain from which we can drink.
When Jesus said to the woman at the well, he said, “You know, you come here every day for water. I’ll give you water. You drink the water that I give you, you’ll never be thirsty again.”
She said, “Oh, I’d love that, ’cause I’m sick of coming here.”
“No, no,” Jesus says. “I’m not talking about physical water you can put in a pot. I’m talking about spiritual water, which you drink, it will be like a well in you, and it will overflow from you.”
Well, she tried satisfaction. She had five husbands and a live-in lover. She was “lookin[g] for love in all the wrong places.” And here, from the lips of a Galilean carpenter, she hears about a drink that she can take that would change her life forever. Why could Jesus offer her the cup of life? Because he was about to taste the cup of death. He was going to the cross in order to die as the substitute for that woman, in order to bear her guilt, in order to take her shame, in order to bear all of the burden of God’s wrath and judgment upon her life. And because of her trust and acceptance in this Christ, she experiences life, and Christ experiences death. There is nothing as wonderful in all the world. There is nothing as strange in all the world! It’s referred to as the wisdom of God.
Well, let me finish with the dolls. Started with the doll, and back to the doll. (Ignore this man’s face. It is horribly ugly.) I just want to make the point.
Wouldn’t you love to write a Shakespeare play? Wouldn’t you love to be able to write
To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
You know? How you going to write that? Well, you can write that if you’re Shakespeare. But you’re not Shakespeare. But imagine that the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in you, and then you could write that. “To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub.” “Oh,” you say, “this is going well!”
Do you like to paint? Can you imagine painting like Turner, one of those great English landscapes? Wouldn’t you love to do that? You can’t do that. Neither can I. But if the genius of Turner could come and live in you, you could paint like Turner.
Wouldn’t you love to know the fullness and the forgiveness and the purpose and the reality and the joy that is found in the life of the Lord Jesus? But you can’t live a life like that, and neither can I. But if the life of the Lord Jesus can come and live in my life, then I can live a life like that. For, to turn it all around, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, [and] the new has come!”
Here is Christ. Here is me. By nature, I’m outside of Christ. To live in Christ is not something that you catch in the wind. It’s not something that is done as a result of a religious professional coming along… This little guy here comes along, and he says, “Okay, holum, skolum, nickem, tickem, you are now in Christ,” or whatever it is. Okay? Or, “I now baptize you; therefore, you are in Christ,” or “Say three of these and run round the block five times, and you’re in Christ.” None of that! Nobody can do that for you. But the Lord Jesus comes, and in his pursuing love and in his wonderful, amazing grace, he comes, and he gathers us to himself. He says, “Believe in me. Trust in me. Come and live in me, and I will live in you.”
And then, you see, your Thanksgiving totally changes! Then the verses with which we began, :7, make sense. Go ahead and have a lovely meal. Go ahead and put on your perfume. Go ahead and love your wife. Go ahead and cuddle your kids. Go ahead and welcome your neighbors. Do all of that! Because now that I’ve understood the overarching purpose for my existence, I can make sense of my days.
But until I’ve understood the overarching purpose of my existence, my days are ultimately meaningless. My life is flat. It’s a sterile promontory. And eventually, they will say of us as they said of others before us: “What was his name? What was her name?” Let me tell you where that never happens: it never happens in heaven, ’cause God never, ever, ever forgets the name of his children. And he writes them down in a book, and he seals them for all of eternity.
So I can walk through the whole of America, and nobody knows me. I can go to a party, and no one knows me. I can go to a new school, and nobody knows, and nobody cares. I can take a new job. I can fly on a plane. I can do all those things, and no one knows me. But what a difference it is to know that Christ, he knows my name, he knows my anxious thoughts, and he loves me with an everlasting love.
Listen, my dear friends: this is good news. Embrace it, and live in the light of it. And if you do embrace it, will you please tell some people about it this week? Will you please tell somebody about this?
God our Father, come now, and write your Word in our hearts. And may grace and mercy and peace from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be our abiding portion, now and forevermore. Amen.
 Winston Churchill, “The Russian Enigma” (BBC broadcast, London, October 1, 1939), http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/RusnEnig.html.
 Robert Herrick, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (1648), lines 1–2.
 Romans 1:18–19 (NIV 1984).
 Ecclesiastes 7:21 (NIV 1984).
 Ecclesiastes 7:21 (NIV 1984).
 Martin Charnin, “Tomorrow” (1977).
 Hebrews 9:27 (paraphrased).
 Ecclesiastes 7:29 (NIV 1984).
 Isaiah 53:6 (KJV).
 Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo 1.21. Paraphrased.
 See Romans 1:18.
 Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (New York: Harper, 1937), 312, 316. Paraphrased.
 Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1. Paraphrased.
 John 4:13–15 (paraphrased).
 Wanda Mallette, Bob Morrison, and Patti Ryan, “Lookin’ for Love” (1980).
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.
 Shakespeare, 3.1.
 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV 1984).
 See Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15.
Copyright © 2023, 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.