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Navigating an Unknown Road   Ecclesiastes 9:1-12   Dr. Scott Wenig   (1st Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content.}  Let’s bow together.  Father, thanks for everything you provide for us, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year.  Lord, as you know, the way we count time we’re entering into a new year and new decade, so we pray for your wisdom, your grace, your guidance.  Lord, I thank you for every person who’s here today.  Lord, wherever we’re at, I pray that you might minister to us in a special way.  Now, Lord, give us ears to hear your word, minds that are attentive, and hearts that are receptive to you and your Spirit.  We ask all of this in the great name of Jesus.  Amen.

Given that it’s a new year and a new decade, there are a number of people and pundits who are trying to predict what the future will bring. It doesn’t matter whether it involves politics, or the stock market, or the Broncos, lots of people are making predictions about what’s going to happen in 2020 and beyond. But it’s always a dangerous business to try and predict the future, because it almost never turns out the way people thought. To illustrate the point, over the past 50 years various individuals and groups have ventured forth with their visions of the future and I’d like to share just a few of them with you.

  • In 1995 one man predicted: Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth, but I predict the internet will soon go supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.
  • In 1996-97 a number of people predicted the end of Apple Corporation.  The magazine The Economist said, “Apple seems to have two options.  The first is break itself up–selling the hardware side.  The second is to sell the company outright.”  Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, said, “What would I do?  I’d shut Apple down and give the money back to the shareholders.”  Wow! was he ever wrong!
  • My favorite comes from 1962 about the Beatles:  We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out!

As these examples show—and they’re just a very few of many that we could find—trying to predict the future is dicey at best.  Now, while you and I probably aren’t going to spend much time on that, in our more honest moments we probably wish we had a crystal ball to see what awaits us in 2020 and beyond.  Most of us would probably like a glimpse into next week or next month or next year so we could be more in control of life.  This is where the Book of Ecclesiastes is so relevant.  The Preacher, Quoheleth, who was almost certainly King Solomon, tells us that trying to foresee the future is a fool’s errand.  And so, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he warns us off from that and, instead, points us towards the life that God wants us to live right now.  Let’s begin by looking at Ecclesiastes 9:1 and then verses 11-12.  So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them.  (11) I have seen something else under the sun:  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.

Solomon argues that it’s impossible for us to know the future; we have no idea what life will bring our way.  In verse 1, he says we don’t know if this week we’re going to meet a new friend who really cares about us or if we’ll meet someone who has no regard for us.  And as we scroll down to verse 11, he challenges what might be called the Success Formula for life, or the cause and effect flow of life.  While the fastest runner more often than not wins the race, that doesn’t always happen.  And while the biggest and best army usually wins the war that’s not always the case; one need only think of the American experience in Vietnam to know that. And while we like to think and predict that wealth and favor go to the smartest or best educated, that’s not always what happens.  A friend once told me about a dinner he had with a man who was an investment advisor. He said that as the dinner came to close and the dessert was about to be served, he asked the investment advisor “You’ve been at this job of financial planning for over thirty years. What have you learned?” My friend was surprised by the man’s answer. The investment advisor said, “I’ve learned that some of the stupidest people in this city are among the wealthiest, and some of the shrewdest have gone bankrupt.”

Solomon would say, “Well, maybe that’s not the way it should be, but sometimes that’s the way it is.”  Then he goes on in verse 12 to reinforce that.   Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
As he says, sometimes unforeseen misfortune comes our way.  It might be a visit to the doctor reveals a tumor, or a drive on 470 that ends up in an accident, or a phone call in the middle of the night brings sad news of an unexpected death.  We simply don’t know what life will bring our way in 2020 and beyond, whether good or bad; we’re too limited to have that kind of knowledge.

And then Solomon goes on to say that the one thing we can know about the future is that someday we’ll all face the same end.  Look at v. 2-3:  All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.   Solomon asks us to pause and take a look at the reality of our death.  In a broken and fallen and messed up world, the one thing we can know for sure is that we’re all a little bit closer to death than we were when we walked through those doors thirty minutes ago.  And, as he does throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon verbally processes the weird and evil way that death works:  He says that it comes to the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the nasty and the nice, believers and unbelievers, the risk takers and those who are risk averse.  Earlier generations may have been more in touch with this reality than we are in 21st century America. For example, in the medieval world, one of the most prominent phrases among Christians was the Latin phrase momento mori—Remember, you will die.

Now that’s a depressing thought but, fortunately, he doesn’t leave us there.  In verses 4-5, he turns and offers us some hope in light of the inevitable:  Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward and even their name is forgotten.  He argues that you and I have an advantage over the dead:  we’re alive!  To prove the point—to his cultural audience—he makes a comparison between a live dog and a dead lion.  In contemporary America, we elevate dogs to human-like status and make them members of the family.  On average, Americans spend $1300 a year per dog. That’s a lot of money so obviously we think they’re worth it. But, as you may know, that was never the case in the ancient Near East.  To ancient Jews, dogs were horrible, dirty creatures that scavenged for garbage.  They were never welcomed in the home and the idea of owning one as a pet was culturally disdained.  On the other hand, lions were noble and proud creatures that served as cultural symbols of strength and might and majesty.  But a dead lion no longer exhibits any of its prior outstanding qualities and that’s why a live dog is always better.  This is what I love about Ecclesiastes: The Preacher gives us an accurate description of REALITY!  Death is inevitable, but life offers the hope that we can learn about reality and then live our lives based on that, and the foundation of reality that we want to build our lives on is the sovereignty of God.  As Solomon told us in verse 1, ‘we’re in God’s hands.’

That’s a metaphorical way to describe that God is in control.  He’s the King Who rules and reigns over everything and everyone in the universe. And His Kingdom came to earth in a personal way through the life and ministry of Jesus.  Jesus inaugurated His ministry by preaching ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ And by that He meant God’s rule and reign in the lives of people which would, in time, eventually extend over all of creation.  About 20 years after He died on the cross and rose from the dead, the Apostle Paul wrote to those first Christians in Colossae that …God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)  Then late in the first century, when he was exiled all alone on that island called Patmos out in the Mediterranean, the Apostle John said in Revelation 1:17-18: When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

The resurrected, sovereign and glorified Christ tells us, “Don’t worry about the future because I’m the King and you’re in my Kingdom and I’ve conquered sin and death and hell.”  He says: I was singing to you through your mom when you sat on her knee as a baby.  I was next to you at church camp when you first heard the Good News about Me. I was holding you close during those dark days and nights when you were heartbroken and alone and scared.  And I’m in control of what happens every day the rest of your life, and when you die, I’ll take you to be with Me forever and ever.

Friends, we don’t have to worry, fret, or fear about the future, or even the inevitably of death, because our King, Jesus, is in control. Oh, friends, it’s true we don’t know what awaits us; it’s true that sometimes things go awry and that sometimes bad times come and that it’s also true that someday we’ll get sick and die. But we don’t need to worry or stress about those things because our King, Jesus, loves us. He’s placed us in His Kingdom and He’s in control. And as the reality of all that begins to sink into our hearts and our minds and our souls, over time, we’ll become people of joy. We’ll be people who see life as something we can engage and enjoy, not just endure.  We’ll be positive people of prayer and praise, not Sidney Cynic or Debbie Downer or Tommy Tombstone.

Solomon goes on to show us what that kind of life looks like beginning in 9:7-8—Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  He says that life in God’s kingdom means that we can ENJOY eating and drinking and having fun.  It’s like a lavish dinner party where the food is outstanding and there’s anything to drink that you like. The phrase in verse 8 about being clothed in white and anointing your head with oil is a Jewish reference to wearing your best clothes and putting on your very best, expensive perfume or cologne.  This is a picture of celebration, like we do when someone we love and care about is getting married.

And please notice what the Preacher says in the second half of verse 7 because this is very, very important:  God has already approved what you do.  One person translates it this way: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!  Friends, this is how Jesus lived as traveled throughout ancient Israel.   In Luke 7:34 he says that his religiously minded critics accused Him of ‘eating and drinking and being a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners…’  In Luke 13:29 he says that when the kingdom of God finally arrives in its fullest expression ‘many will come from east and west and sit down and dine with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….’   One biblical scholar said that if we read the Gospels slowly and carefully we can’t help but come to the conclusion that Jesus ate his way through his ministry.

And given that Solomon begins this section with the word ‘Go’ I want to encourage you to leverage His command to eat some food you really like—regardless of whether it’s good for you or not!’   My good and godly wife, Melanie, blesses me every Christmas and buys me some apple strudel from Taste of Denmark!  It’s fantastic and I’m enjoying every single bite to the glory of God!  I know it’s bad for me, but I want to have a blast while I last.  Friends, if we know Jesus, we’re part of His Kingdom and, as our King, He is in control.  So let’s begin to move away from worry, fear and stress and instead have a blast while we last.

And Solomon shows us that there’s even more to this kind of life. Look at verse 9—Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this fleeting life that God has given you under the sun—all your fleeting days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.  Here the Preacher tells us to ENJOY our spouses.  Marriage is a good thing; God designed it to be a blessing and we should take the time and make the effort to love on our spouses and nurture our spouses and do everything we can to make our marriages as healthy and happy as we can, and for this we try to keep good health with exercise and diet, also the use of a keto pills amazon could also help a lot with this.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther initiated a revolution called the Protestant Reformation, and part of that was clergy now getting married.  Luther was 41 when he got married to a former nun, Katie, who was 25.  They had a long and happy marriage.  Here are a couple of quotes that Luther shared with his students and parishioners, which I think are very apropos for us.  “Of course the Christian should love his wife.  He’s suppose to love his neighbor and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”  “It is impossible to keep peace between men and women in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other’s faults but watch everything to the smallest point.  For who at times does not offend.”  Now while most of us will, at some point in our lives, be married, we’d be wise to take Luther’s advice to heart to love on our spouses.  The broader application of Solomon’s point is to enjoy the relationships we have with those closest to us regardless of whether we’re married or we’re single.

Once again, Jesus serves as our model.  He never married; He never had kids.  In fact, most of His own family didn’t believe His Messianic claims until after the Resurrection. But as we survey His life in the gospels, it’s clear that He had a number of close relationships that He clearly enjoyed and invested Himself in.  There were the twelve disciples of course, and it appears that Peter, James and John may have been the closest to Jesus. There was Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, who often hosted Jesus in their home in Bethany.  There were the women mentioned in Luke 8 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna – all of whom closely followed Jesus. Friends, we don’t have to be married to have good friendships and great fellowship and thoroughly enjoy those! We simply need to keep in mind that in the Kingdom friendships and fellowship and relationships are one of God’s gifts to help us enjoy life!

Let me ask us a couple of questions:

  1. Whether we’re single or married, what specific relationships are we going to give ourselves too in 2020 and beyond?
  2. Are we willing to invest our time, our energy and our money in those relationships?

Solomon tells us that if we want to live a good life, we should trust in the sovereignty of God and enjoy as much good food and fellowship for as long as we can. That’s a great way to have a blast while we last.  He also tells us to enjoy the work He’s provided.  Look at verse 10:  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.  If we dial back from Ecclesiastes for just a moment to the first two chapters of Genesis, we’re told there that men and women are made in God’s image.  Now while the meaning of that has been debated for centuries, one helpful way to understand it is that when God looks at us He sees something of Himself.  And since God worked in making everything in the universe, He made us to work as well and we see that in Genesis 2.  Solomon picks up on that idea and refines it a little bit. He says that whatever work you have, do it to the best of your ability while you still can, because the day’s coming when you can’t work any longer.  His admonition prefigures what the Apostle Paul would write 1000 years later to those first Christians in the Asian city of Colossae when he told them:  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24) 

In the last couple of years, Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers fame has been gaining a lot of attention, through a movie ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ and a documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’   It’s interesting that in the documentary, it showed him giving a college graduation speech.  After he gives the speech, all these graduates stood in line to talk to him.  One young woman, with tears in her eyes, thanked him and told him that he changed her life because his show made her feel loved.  You know why?  Because he went to work every day and to the best of his ability, he tried to connect with all the kids.

Friends, let’s remember that God is in control of our lives and we should have A BLAST WHILE WE LAST, whether we’re selling insurance, writing code, building houses, managing employees, or teaching kids.  Whatever it is, let’s put our hearts into that because it’s part of the good life God has provided for us.

Just to drive this home, I want us to meditate for a moment on Eugene Peterson’s rendering of verses 7-10 in The Message:  Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, drink wine with a robust heart.  Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning.  Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.  Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive.  Make the most of each one!  Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.   Notice the phrases: Seize life, eat with gusto, dress festively, make the most of each one, grab it and do it!  Friends, as the Preacher has taught us, we’re not in control and we never will be.  But Jesus is, so let’s love Him, let’s look to Him and then let’s have a blast while we last!