VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes PART I | What’s the Point | Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
September 5, 2021 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: VAPOR: Finding Meaning Under The Sun | Ecclesiastes
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:1–1:11
Christopher Rich – September 5, 2021
VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes
Week #1 | What’s the Point | Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
Introduction | What’s the Point? - Walking with Grandpa
Good morning! Welcome to Mercy Fellowship where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. This week we are beginning a sermon series walking though the book of Ecclesiastes called VAPOR: Finding Meaning Under the Sun. What’s the point? What’s the point of life? What are we pursing? Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom?
Why are we preaching through this book now? | It helps us ask real questions. How can a good God let bad things happen? Why are there aspects of life that don’t seem to resolve. Work is difficult and can even seem like a drag, government is corrupt, everything that brings temporary pleasure never satisfies and can lead to hasten destruction. We need to be realistic about our experiences in this life. It can be light and encouraging to constantly look on the bright side of life but at certain point the difficulties can no longer be ignored. Or the season turns and your life feels less like summer and winter seems to be right around the corner. We cannot be afraid of difficult questions; we reset when we know we can wrestle with our doubts and questions.
It points us to the good character of the one true God. But in our wrestling be ready to actually receive an answer. Be ready to rest in what is true, right and good about God. It is relevant for those who are outside the “gathering” who are skeptical about God and meaning and for those inside who struggle with difficult questions. It points us to Jesus as THE answer to the unresolvable and true perspective of life under the sun. We hope Ecclesiastes helps grow disciples and creates new ones. Old Testament books need to be read, studied, and preached in light of the cross of Jesus, the present realties and future promises of the Gospel.
Who wrote Ecclesiastes? In the opening verse the author self identifies as the Son of David, king in Jerusalem. While there are a few theories of differing authorship, the most traditional interpretations ascribe King Solomon as the author, in his old age imparting final wisdom, so this is how we will teach Ecclesiastes. The first verse also uses the term “Preacher” Qoheleth, could be teacher, but is most closely associated with the gatherer and speaker of a covenant people. That’s why Ecclesiastes means “Preacher. This book is a long difficult sermon we will spend the Fall pursing it’s meaning, application, and how it leads to the Gospel.
When I would spend the day with my Grandfather in Coeur d’Alene I knew it would always start with the post office and end at Hudson’s Hamburgers. But in-between it always seemed like a senseless meandering. Sometimes there were encounters with other people that would lead to life lessons, wisdom, memories, and experiences that were useful on their own but didn’t have any continuity. Regardless, it was a day where I gained some of the wisdom and experience of my grandfather he was able to pass on to me. And because there was usually pie at the end, I knew the time spent showed he cared about me and wanted my joy.
Ecclesiastes will be like that at times. It will seem to stray from the course. It will have seemingly unresolvable contradictions. There will be questions asked in Ecclesiastes that won’t resolve in neatly in the text. It’s because this book is not a destination, it is part of pavement in a road that leads to Jesus and the cross. This book is an invitation to pursue meaning in all the real complexities of life rather than give up the pursuit for simple answers that wet the tongue but don’t quench the thirst of the soul. Life here and now does matter. Christian life isn’t a meaningless waiting for what’s next. It is a renewed life lived for God.
Why did he write it? He writes it to people who are no longer in a place of substance farming but now have a relative level of wealth that they are beginning to have freedom to question and pursue meaning. The preachers “church” was preoccupied with social and economic concerns, a volatile economy, the possibility of wealth, sex, social status, all under the shadow that one day they will die. They were materialistic and hedonistic, exhaustingly pursuing real satisfaction but only searching for it in wealth, sex, fame, knowledge, pleasure, or power. They have moved from focus on survival seeking meaning. We are still seeking now. Because they are no longer exclusively focused on survival they have diminished how dependent on God they truly are and have begun to rely on other things to fulfill them. We don’t give much thought to the why when all we have time/energy to focus on is the what right in front of us. A problem with that is if we don’t have a clear sense of purpose or meaning the “what” will eventually overwhelm or wear us down.
PART I | Unsubstantial | Ecclesiastes 1:1-2
Ecclesiastes1:1-2 | The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What’s the point of life if it is unsubstantial? The sermon begins with lament that all of life is “Vanity” This is an important word for us to hold on to as it is going to be used 38 times in this book. Vanity means vapor, insubstantial, breath, useless, futile. James 4:13-14 also says our life is a mist/vapor that appears for a little while and is soon gone. The Preacher uses this word to teach the truth of life in our fallen world. It isn’t enough that our life is short, it is also that while its happening is seems to be of little lasting value. While vanity is a dominate word in this sermon it is not the defining one. 51 times this sermon speaks of good or goodness. Is there meaning when you philosophically believe there is no God, or functionally act as if God isn’t important? This sermon is a lengthy apologetic to secular thinking that says this life is all there is and meaning must be pursued apart from God. The preacher says goodness has a clear source, as the sermon says all wisdom comes from “one shepherd”, God. Six times we’re told to “Fear God”, by way of contrast, 12 times we’re told God gives. There is a lot of dark in this book as it speaks of vanity and death, but the dark exists in a sermon to draw contrast with the brilliance of the light. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 | 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
“Fear of God will turn a vain, empty life into a meaningful life including enjoying God’s gifts.” - Greidanus
So the message of Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is unsubstantial, meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters!
PART II | Unprofitable | Ecclesiastes 1:3-4
Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 | 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. What’s the point of life if it is unprofitable? We work and work but what do we ultimately gain or profit? At the end of the day, the preacher says “you’re not actually gaining anything of lasting value for all your work.” Work is not evil, but because of sin, purposeful work has become “toil” making it both difficult and unprofitable. Sometimes we work, put time/effort/emotion in to what we’re doing and we are reward with nothing to show for it. Other times it does seem that we are “getting ahead” making progress; but there is the certainty of death where all we have gained in this life will be of no value to us. Why work, why try to grow, strive at all if it’s ultimately unprofitable? The answer is in the phrase:
Under the Sun -- This is a MAJOR qualifier in the entire book. If you see this as some throw away phrase this book will lead you down a depressing path. It is an all-encompassing phrase to describe every aspect of our visible experience here on earth. This is not insignificant. It is however NOT all there is. It describes a human experience in this creation completely divorced from the reality of the Creator. Under the Sun: takes the idea of a godless existence paired with the finiteness of life to its logical conclusion. It is the same as Present evil age. Gal 1:14 or when you see “the world” in the NT talking about all that is opposed to God. When we pursue lasting meaning “under the sun” we will be constantly disappointed, we won’t see deep beauty, meaning, purpose. The answer is not to give up on work, wealth, and gain, but to shift our gaze to include “above the sun” to realize there is a Creator over creation who has placed us in His creation for the purpose of creating, cultivation and maintaining a culture that reflects His goodness, that is work!
Yet under the sun we only exist as a short vapor, a generation is always coming up while another is dying off. We see moments of hope for the future in a new generation but also a promise this generation will end. There is hope and optimism on the rise, and urgency and fear on the down stroke. There is a turning point where you go from coming up to going down. Socrates said “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, and disrespect for their elders” Oh things are so different now. We have to become ok knowing under the sun we are going to be replaced. The irony of Creation, the world made for us to cultivate and enjoy, is we are the ones who live and die while the earth remains.
PART III | Unending Cycles | Ecclesiastes 1:5-7
Ecc1:5-7|5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
What’s the point of life if all cycles are unending? There are cycles. This is difficult because we are constantly pursuing the next stage in the cycle or waiting without enjoying or fully grasping what we’re to learn and experience in the stage/cycle we’re in. Creation shows us powerful unending and unchanging cycles.
Sun – Psalm 19 looks at creation in light of the Creator and says the sun rises like a bridegroom leaving his chamber or a strong man joyfully running. Apart from God it’s just a reminder of you coming to an end. Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”: So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking | racing around to come up behind you again | Sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older | shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”
Wind- Goes on some set paths and doesn’t gain anything for it. We’re the wind, always moving never arriving. Streams – Does the ocean ever get “full” no! Things get pour into but are never “full” We can engage in all sorts of activity without tangible results. There are “pouring out” activities that really only maintain what already is and will be. Everything is in a rut. There are always more diapers to change, more lawns to mow, more laundry, etc. Romans 8:20-21 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Futility = Vanity. Why is there futility? Because of sin all creation has the same brokenness and ongoing endless cycles we seem to go through in our lives. When we are kids the repeating cycles seem like a merry go round. As adults they turn into treadmills. I hate running on treadmills because I feel like I am giving all this effort and getting nowhere. This is what life looks like. How do we pursue meaning when our day to day lives seem like a repeating unending grind?
PART IV | Unsatisfied | Ecclesiastes 1:8
Ecc 1:18 | All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What’s the point of life it is unsatisfied? These cycles lead to a tangible groaning and weariness (can also be translated as boredom.) We are made for eternity, meaning we have appetites that are always craving more than this world has to offer. The results is, we can’t even speak to articulate the level of dissatisfaction and craving from something more. We, with our words alone, can’t say something so profound or powerful it can actually inject ultimate meaning and purpose to the human experience. Have you ever woken up and decided I don’t want to open my eyes today? I have actually seen enough, of everything and there can’t be anything else I’d like to see. Have you ever willingly lived in prolonged silence, or darkness? Of course not! We put the worse criminals in solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. No we are on the opposite end. We’ve got 15 seconds before the next episode of whatever automatically comes up on Netflix. We got carpel tunnel in out thumb from scrolling Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. We’re searching for satisfaction.
PART V | Unimaginative - Nothing New Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 1:9-10
Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 | 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
What is the point of life when all our solutions are unimaginative? Because we are so unsatisfied we try to create new ways to quench our thirsts or stay out appetites. We are easily convinced we are so creative!! What about technology? Oh now we can know where we’re going hear music complain about the state of the world to a group of people who are largely ignoring us? We’ve always been able to do all those things now we can just do them faster. Here is new life in our children, here is a new battle, here is a new…. “um no, there is always been life, death, conflict.” But what about societal progress? We are so much more tolerant of one another, we’ve ended slavery, and genocide, and we’re so much more enlightened about sexuality and gender. Except there is modern slavery the faces and work is different, there is genocide not by race or religion; but by birth status, there have always been those who have embraced sexuality outside of God’s design. We’re not that different than those before us or those who will come next. We are in need of something truly new, creative, and imaginative to satisfy us. 1 Cor 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
PART VI | Unremembered | Ecclesiastes 1:11
Ecc 1:11| There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. What is the point of life if you’re going to be unremembered? You’re in a special story, but you are not the main character. When you think you’re the lead when you’re really and “extra” you’re going to be in constant frustration. Our lives are significant. We often say things a funerals like “They’re not really gone as long as we remember them….” But what about when we’re gone? Human memories are short! Some few make a lasting impact but even they at points are forgotten. We crave immortality in some fashion. Verse 11 says there are actually things that are going to happen, that haven’t happened yet, that will be forgotten. If your hope is in people here and now, or who are to come remembering you or valuing you, you will be exceedingly disappointed. This could easily be a discouraging sermon but…There is a God in heaven who rules OVER the sun right now! You don’t want to be forgotten or left behind? God says “ I will not leave you or forsake you.”
You want new? Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. You want to be made new now? 2 Cor 5:17 | Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. There is nothing new under the, sun but you can be made new with life found in the Son when you simply Trust Jesus!
More in VAPOR: Finding Meaning Under The Sun | Ecclesiastes
September 19, 2021VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes PART III | I Did it All | Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
September 12, 2021VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes PART II | Ignorance is Bliss | Ecclesiastes 1:12-18