J.K. Rowling was only 25 years old when she began to write her famous series that was not yet famous. Nobody knew about it. Harry Potter, if you didn’t know, if you’ve been living in Iraq for the last 20 years. Her parents didn’t know, her mother actually was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis around the time that she began writing, and her mother died very shortly into the writing of the Harry Potter series. And she talks about this as probably the seminal event of her life.
It changed her permanently. It didn’t just change her. If you’ve read the series, you know that it affected everything in the series. She said would be a far different series. And you know if you’ve read it that there are some significant deaths in the series. People who have experienced death can see things that other people haven’t, can’t. She says it changed her life and it changed the Harry Potter series.
In an interview in 2006 with Tatler Magazine. Here’s what is said about her and by her.
“Death is the key to understanding J.K. Rowling. Her greatest fear, and she is completely and hesitant about this, is of someone she loves dying.” – Tatler Magazine
“My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry’s parents. There’s Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We’re all frightened of it.” – J.K. Rowling
And we do understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death and many of us are frightened of it.
Do we think about death well? That was one of the things I was researching this week is whether Americans like to avoid the subject of death or whether we’re obsessed with it. Lots of people said, oh no Americans like to avoid it. I came to the conclusion that we’re kind of obsessed with it. Three of the top 10 Netflix series or movies from 2017. Two of them were about murder and the number one was about suicide – The Walking Dead, the Twilight series that was some time ago. We think about death.
The question is do we think about it well? Do we think about it clearly? Do we think about it biblically or to ask the question a little bit differently, can we think and even discuss death in a life-giving way? And I think we can discuss death and a life-giving way. Ecclesiastes does.
The first six verses of this chapter are about death and then it turns and 7, 8, 9 and 10 which is all we’re going to deal with are about life. So those are two subjects today. Death and Life. And the first thing we need to do is memento mori. And if you know what that means, it means remember that you will die. It’s what slaves were called to. There were certain slaves who were hired to whisper this in the ears of Roman generals, “Remember you will die (memento mori).”
What does death do? It destroys, and it infects, and it’s evil. Those are the three things we’re going to look at about death. So, death destroys. It’s like acid poured on the skin, and the first six verses just list a whole bunch of things that death does. We’re not going to spend a lot of time in any of them because we’ve talked about most of them throughout Ecclesiastes. But I want to go through them one at a time. Remember this is under the sun. If you haven’t been here for Ecclesiastes, under the sun is the writer’s shorthand for saying if this life is all there is, if there is no afterlife, if there is no God this is what life is like under the sun, vanity, meaningless.
So, what are the things he mentions about death? It destroys our certainty. Verse 1 says this, “How the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate man does not know.” In other words, there are no guarantees about life, and anyone over the age of about 7 already knows that. There’s no guarantee, there’s no certainty under the sun. It destroys that, death does. it destroys fairness if you will in verse in verse 2. “It is the same for all since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked to the good and evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and to him who does not sacrifice as the good one is, so is the sinner and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.” What this is saying is, if you live what people call a good life, if you’re a good person, you still die.
And that does seem fair because in a sense it’s not. It destroys fairness, death does. It destroys dignity. “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” And you say of course it is. But in that culture dogs were not valued. They were vultures. They lived in the landfill and they scavenged. And a lion, that’s the symbol right. But what this is saying is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a lion in life. You’re rich, you’re powerful, you’re famous, you’re well known, you’re well loved. You’re dead. Doesn’t matter how wealthy you are. Someday someone is going to bathe your cold body, and you say, oh we don’t think about that, right? Because death destroys dignity. It’s what it does.
It destroys knowledge. Verse 5, “the dead know nothing.” Destroys our reward under the sun. “They have no more reward.” Destroys our legacy, “for the memory of them is forgotten.” How many of you know anything about your great grandparents other than maybe their name? You never met them almost certainly. I know somebody’s going to come up afterwards and say, “I knew my great great grandparents.” So, for the rest of the 99.8% of us, those great great grandparents, guess what. Everything they did in their life was just as important to them as everything you do in your life. Every crisis, every reward was just as big in their eyes as the things are in your eyes. And yet it’s forgotten. And yours will be too by your great great grandchildren. Right? Forgotten.
So, Athanasius in the 4th Century says this,
“In creation, God integrates dust to become man. In death sin disintegrates man to become dust.”
Death destroys, and it infects like a virus. Verse 3 says this, “also the hearts of the children of men are full of evil and madnesses in their hearts while they live.” Do you understand what is going on here? The writer is saying, death doesn’t stay in the grave. It doesn’t even start to work at the grave. It reaches back from the coffin into your daily life into May 27, 2018, that there is madness and evil in our hearts. And if you stop and think about it you already know this is true you’re dealing with hard things people in the row with you are dealing with hard things. Maybe we would even call them evil or mad. Death reaches back, and it begins to infect the present. And the word for madness here is not mental illness, it’s not talking about that. It’s talking about spiritual illness. It’s talking about moral sickness.
And is that not what we experience? See Americans are uncomfortable with this language. If you don’t believe me, wait till the next school shooting which probably won’t be very long from now. And they will not use categories like evil. That will not be used. The category of moral sickness will not be used. It doesn’t matter what channel you watch, they won’t talk about that. We’re very uncomfortable with these categories. Maybe if we recovered these categories it might help us to understand these things better. It might help us to recover. And it’s a check, this evil in the heart, full of evil, full of madness. It’s a check on how we try to think about ourselves, right? Peter mentioned it earlier. Racism is alive and well in everybody else, right? Yet somehow it exists. Nobody is a racist yet somehow it exists. What if we begin to look in the mirror about the evil and madness in our hearts.
In 1954 right after the second war to end all wars that didn’t end all the wars, America was so optimistic. Peter mentioned this a week or two ago. Everybody thought, hey we finally defeated evil. Hitler’s dead. Evil is dead. And now we’ve got all this technology, and we’re going to go to space in a few years and we’re awesome, and we’re Americans, right? And every family is going to look like Leave It to Beaver, right?
And then and then in 1954 William Golding publishes The Lord of the Flies. If you had the joy of reading this in middle school or high school, you know that it’s not particularly optimistic. He tells the story of a group of school children, British boys who are deserted on an island, and all of their restraints are taken away, all of their authority is taken away, all of their laws are taken away, and it’s no time at all before they descend into cruelty and anarchy and murder. And William Golding was asking the question what are we like without restraints? What are human beings like without restraints? And people didn’t like it. Hey this is really negative. This is the time of optimism. Are we better than we were in 1954? He was asking the question, what are we like without restraints?
I’m going to ask a different question. What do we like with restraints? Because we’ve got a million laws on the books. And we’ve got cops, and we’ve got authority figures everywhere, and yet do we even notice school shootings anymore? It’s hard to. Do you even blink an eye when yet another person who’s in authority abuses their power? Takes sexual advantage of someone else?
See someone once said the depravity of humanity is the only doctrine proven by 5000 years of human history. Can we recover these categories? The heart is evil. Even mad with evil. I was doing some research, and I found something fascinating. The Pew Research did a did a study just a year or two ago about Americans’ beliefs in the afterlife. And 66% of Americans, not churchgoers, 66% of Americans still believe in hell. I couldn’t believe that. I was shocked that two out of three Americans believe in hell. But here’s what was interesting. They did a follow up question. “How many think you might be going?” What percentage do you think? Half of 1%. Everyone else is evil, not me. Not me.
This is not popular. But I think that if we were to take an honest assessment of our sickness, we might be able to come to a cure. There is a cure. We’ll talk about it in a minute. And we’re tempted to say, not me. But is there anyone in this room, if you’re honest with yourself, who has not had mad thoughts, even evil thoughts, maybe even just in the last 10 or 15 minutes. It happens at church. Could we be honest about that?
Derek Webb was at the top of the contemporary Christian music world. He was married to Sandra McCracken. They were the power couple. He helped found Caedmon’s Call, that some of you have heard of. And he was exposed for his adultery. And several years after he lost everything basically. Here’s what he said,
“My adultery continued in secret for a matter of months, was eventually discovered and set into motion the consequences I will now live with for the rest of my life. More simply said: I was a fool. I believe lies which led me to tell lies. It’s insane (there’s that word) how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things.”
And many of us know this. Many of us have lived this. And so, we cannot give into the temptation to say, hey not us, not here, right? We’re the good church folk, right? Except last week we heard about three people who had abandoned their marriages in this fellowship. Madness. And you and I are vulnerable, especially if we think we’re not. So, Charles Bridges commenting on this said this,
“How hard to believe oneself so vile as is here portrayed… Can there be a more humiliating picture of a man? The fullness of evil, unrestrained, rushes onward to madness – responsible madness – the will consenting to the sin, the heart loving it, the whole course of it pursued to the end … Is not every act of rebellion against God an act of madness?”
If we can be honest about the sickness, we might be able to find a cure. So, death infects. It destroys.
But what is death? What is it? And I know some of you are thinking well, Captain Obvious. It’s the cessation of life. Well it’s more than that. Yeah, that’s what happens biologically. But what else is going on? Is there anything else in death? Verse 3 says it very clearly. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Do you understand what he’s saying? He’s saying the opposite of what we hear. What we hear is that death is just a normal part of life. He is saying, no it’s an evil. It’s an evil. And listen. We instinctively know this. Those of you who have experienced the death of someone close to you, you instinctively know that’s messed up. There’s something wrong with this. It feels wrong. Do you know why it feels wrong? Because it is wrong. It’s evil.
I was thinking about this, this very thought while I was at work this week. I probably should have been thinking about work but, I was thinking about this. I work at the Greenville Rescue Mission which is a homeless shelter for men in downtown Greenville. And one of my guys came and knocked on the door. It was amazing. I was thinking about this very thing. And he walked in and he said, “Can I talk?” And I said yes. And he just fell apart. And I mean he just started weeping the kind of weeping where your body’s shaking and you’re not even making any sound. That kind of just whole soul falling apart. And tears or just running down his face and snot bubbles and all the whole thing, right? I mean, sorry to be graphic but that’s what it was like.
He was there, and you know why? His brother died the day before. And he instinctively knew there was something messed up about it. And how different is what we hear in our culture from people like Forrest Gump’s momma and Yoda. Let’s hear what our gurus have to say.
“It’s my time. Oh now, don’t you be afraid sweetheart. Death is just a part of life. It’s something we’re all destined to do.” “
“Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.”
“I won’t let these visions come true, Master Yoda.”
“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not.”
So, I guess what I should have said to the guy who was in my office is rejoice that your brother dropped dead in Colorado. Miss him do not, mourn him do not. Listen. Most of us aren’t like Yoda saying that. But we say equally stupid things, if I can use that word. I know some of you are like “Stupid? You can’t say that in church.” It’s stupid. Things you hear at funerals.
“Oh, she looks so peaceful.” No, she doesn’t. She looks weird. You know that, right? “Oh, he’s in a better place.” The things we say to make ourselves feel better. My personal favorite is this one. “God needed another angel.” Of all the stupid things people say at a funeral, that’s the stupidest I think, right?
In contrast Ecclesiastes is saying, can we just call it what it is? It’s evil. That’s okay to call it that way. And it’s evil because we are evil, and we got that from our father Adam and our mother Eve in a garden. When they had everything they can imagine, millions of trees that they could eat from, and they took the one that didn’t belong to them. And death came in. Surely you will die if you eat this, and they did.
So, one commentator said this.
“The Hebrew view of death is an unsentimental reality check: death itself is not viewed as a natural phenomenon, but as a moral evil, [That’s an important. Let me read that again.] Death itself is not viewed as a natural phenomenon, but as a moral evil, a reminder that death is a curse from moral rebellion… We are right to have to hope in the afterlife because of the resurrection of Christ. We are wrong to diminish the moral dimension of death. We are wrong to see death as simply a device that magically morally transforms everyone. Death is not the transformer; it is a curse. God is the transformer; His grace transforms. Apart from that grace, death itself is judgment.”
Can we say that? And so, a couple of takeaways. One is that many of you, someone came up after the first service, many of you are being hit with death right now. Someone you know is dying someone you love just died. Maybe you got a diagnosis. This is very close to you. But here’s the thing. All of us are facing death. The mortality rate is still 100 percent despite all of our advances. And so is it okay to call death evil? And the Bible says absolutely. Even for a believer, of course there’s hope. But in between there’s something evil that happens. And if you are facing death, if someone has died close to you, you don’t have to whitewash it. You don’t have to sugarcoat it and spin it and make it sound real spiritual. Ecclesiastes sure doesn’t. It’s even okay to be angry about it.
When Jesus was at Lazarus’s tomb it says that he was angry. My opinion is he was angry because of the consequences of sin. And you can be too, but that’s not the end. That’s not the whole story. Because the second thing we should take away from any discussion of death is it should cast our minds and our hearts to the death that is at the center of the Scriptures. Just like the Harry Potter series or rather the Harry Potter series copied the true story, there’s a death and the resurrection of Christ in the middle. What does the death of Jesus mean? We should know that but sometimes we get confused.
Let me let me just throw a couple of things out for you to think about. One thing that the death of Jesus means is this. Our problem is so mad and so evil and so chronic and so acute and so fatal that nothing less than the death of a God could save us. It has to be a pretty dramatic prescription for our problem.
Cornelius Plantinga comments on this. He says,
“Unlike some identifications of human trouble, a diagnosis of sin and guilt allows hope. Something can be done for this malady. Something has been done for it… At the center of the Christian Bible the four Gospels describe the pains God has taken to defeat sin and its wages [death]… Accordingly Christians have always measured sin, in part, by the suffering needed to atone for it. The ripping and writhing of a body on a cross, of the bizarre metaphysical maneuver of using death to defeat death, the urgency of the summons to human beings [that’s us] to allow it to ally themselves with the events of Christ, with the Person of those events, and then to make that Person in those events the center of their lives – these things tell us that the main human trouble is desperately difficult to fix, even for God, and that sin is the longest running of human emergencies.”
Don’t pull our punches. This is heavy duty. Heavy duty need, heavy duty response to that. And why would Christ do that Why would Christ do that do that for us? And you already know the answer if you’ve been around church because the answer is because he loves us. But does that connect? Does it still connect? Has it ever connected with you?
See one of the reasons we love the Forrest Gump story – and I do, it’s one of my favorite movies ever – is one of the reasons we love it is because for us love for Jenny. He meets her when they’re 6. And he’s instantly in love with her, and he sets his affection upon her. And then for the next 30 years she lives a crazy insane evil mad wandering self-destructive self-hating life. And he never wavers once. He touches base with her every few years, right? And he still loves her. And he still loves her through all her wandering through all her evil through all her insanity. And there’s a scene where she says, “Forrest why are you so good to me?” And he looks at her almost like he doesn’t understand the question. He says, “you’re my girl, that’s why I’m good to you.” Every follower of Jesus should say, “Jesus, why are you good to me?” “Because you’re mine. You’re my people.”
Jesus went a lot further than running across the country a couple of times. Every single one of his friends abandoned him. He was born in squalor. He lived as a common laborer. His own brothers thought he was evil and mad. And his best friends sold him out and abandoned him, and that was the easy part of his life. And getting his skin ripped off of his back was actually easy compared to the hell that his soul suffered so that you wouldn’t have to. Why? Because you’re my girl.
Has the love of Christ ever come into the center of your being in such a way that it begins to give you the same hope that Jenny had when she came home? She finally slept. Remember that scene? She just sleeps and sleeps, and when she wakes up they have dinner together, and they dance, and she still dies but she dies at home at peace. And that’s with the love of Christ does. It’s so much better than Forrest Gump’s. It gives us life and peace. And you say yes, I invited that love into my life when I was 14 and at summer camp, and guess what. This ain’t summer camp and you ain’t 14 no more.
So, the question is has this love come into your life in a new way? Does it need to? Do we need to do what Plantinga said to make that person and those events the center of your life? What is the center of your life? And will it love you like that So much for death. Memento Mori.
But it’s interesting that the writer of Ecclesiastes turns quick and says Memento Vivere. Memento Vivere, remember to live. Six times in Ecclesiastes after he says something really bleak, he says this. Enjoy your life. Enjoy your life because if you have something beyond the sun the party doesn’t end. If all we have is under the sun, the party is going to end. If you have something beyond the sun, if you’re loved by someone like that, the party will continue. So, he says three things to enjoy, your work, your marriage and parties.
Let’s look at them. Verse 10, enjoy your work. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. And all of these things, what the writer is saying is this. You already know how to hate your job. You’re already really good at hating Monday’s. You don’t even have to try hard. Some of us on Sunday evening, we begin to feel the cloud descending. That comes naturally. So, you have to work at enjoying your job, and the way you do that is you put your hand to something.
Now, let me connect the dots for you. Many of us don’t like our work because we don’t think it matters.We don’t think our work matters, our job matters, our boss, especially our boss. You know, we don’t think it matters. And yet when you look at the Bible’s creation story it’s so unique. When you look at Assyria and Egypt, their creation stories – they have things like dudes wrestling with alligators and gods fighting, and people giving birth to other gods who then kill. It’s crazy weird stuff. And when you read the first couple of pages of the Bible, you know what you see? There’s a garden, go work in it. Dirt matters. Gardens matter. Okra matters, believe it or not, peaches and blueberries and strawberries. It all matters. Which means what you do matters. And this view transformed Europe after the Middle Ages and the Reformation, because the view was this. The priests and the nuns, they have the jobs that matter. The rest of us have these terrible jobs that stink and then you die.
And into that, the Reformation said no. If we recover what the Bible says we see that everything you do matters. So, Martin Luther is quoted as saying – we aren’t 100% percent sure if he said this or not, but I’ll give him credit – “if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.”
What did he mean by that? He meant that what you do today matters. Your job matters. Can I repeat it? So, on Saturday at our house we did chores. My kids love it. No, they don’t, but it matters. Because God says it matters and what you do tomorrow when you go to work matters. So, whether you’re a dairy farmer or a mechanic or a mom or a student or a middle school student, even then. Somehow God says what you do matters when you sit in algebra class.
The New Testament version of this is Colossians 3:23. It says whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance as a reward. You are serving the Lord Christ and so it doesn’t really matter what you do. Now, I want to be careful. Any lawful profession is blessed by God, and he delights in it.
So, we should ask God, students what do you want me to major in? If you’re out of college, what job do you want me… We should ask God that question. But you know what the answer might be? You choose. It all matters. You want to work in that garden? Go ahead and work in that garden. Oh, you want to work in that garden? Go ahead. This garden offered you a job. Well is it lawful? Well go work in that garden. It doesn’t matter, because it all matters. I like it like a dad who brings home doughnuts on Saturday, and there are six different varieties. The kids don’t say, which one should I choose? The dad says whatever you want. It all matters.
So, your work doesn’t have to be toil or only toil. I read this week that Americans work longer, take fewer vacations, enjoy their work less, take less pride in it than any other country in the world. Congratulations. We always knew America was the best, right? The best at being miserable. And this came home to me just in the last six or nine months just to be really frank with you. I’ve been really struggling with my job. Those who don’t know, I don’t work here. I work at a men’s shelter and I’ve been a little miserable to be real frank with you. And of course, like most of us, I figured my solution is to get another job. Preferably one that pays more money where the boss doesn’t tell me what to do. In other words (that job doesn’t exist, by the way). Some of you are like, I’m self-employed I don’t work for… you work for everybody. Everybody’s your boss.
The solution to my job problem is always out there. If those people would change, then everything would be fine. And so, I was miserable. About, I don’t know, six weeks ago, a month ago or so, I was sitting on my back porch complaining to God which I do a lot and he’s okay with that. But I was talking to him about it and I’ve never heard God speak other than in his word he speaks to me. But I had a thought that I had never had before. So, I don’t know what that is. But here was the thought. “Toby why is My smile not enough for you? Why do you need to make more money? Why do you need people to recognize you and pat you on the head and say great things about you? Is My smile not enough for you?” And the answer was no. I repent.
Because it is. If we would get that into our hearts and our souls and our minds and our strength, it would free us from having to suck all the life out of our job because we have something beyond the sun and beyond our job. So, you already know how to be miserable in your job. God is saying learn how to put your hand to whatever he calls you to. It’s valuable. It’s all valuable. So, enjoy your work. Enjoy your marriage. Verse 9, enjoy life with the wife whom you love. What’s interesting is that those words that are translated in the English “enjoy life” doesn’t translate really well because it’s Hebrew and they do things differently. But in the Hebrew, here’s what it actually says if it’s really wooden.
Translation It says see joyfully. See joyfully your wife. What does that mean. Now you understand right? What does that mean? Here’s what it means. You already know how to be critical of your spouse. You already know how to see the things in them that you don’t like, and you wish were different.
Learn to see joyfully.
Learn to look at your spouse through new eyes. In other words, this. If you’re looking for something to complain about you’re going to find it. If you’re looking for something to be critical about you’re going to find it, because guess what. You’re married to a sinner. And guess what, so are they. So, it is not difficult to find something in your spouse that you don’t like. In fact, for most of us it’s about as easy as breathing. So, begin to look at each other differently. Gary Thomas who’s written a lot on marriage says this. “Marriage is learning to love the different.” I love that. You know it doesn’t say? Marriage is learning to change the different. Marriage is learning to control the different. Marriage is learning to mold and fix the different. Marriage is learning to love the different. And here’s what that means.
If you’ve been married for more than, I don’t know, a month, you’ve probably found something in your spouse at least one or twelve things that are beginning to bother you a little bit. And what’s really common in the early years of marriage is, I’m going to change them so they’re not like this anymore. This is also common after a few years. That’s not working. I need a new spouse.
So, I’ll go look for some other grass, because the grass is going to be greener over there. I know there’s some green grass over there. Here’s the reality. If there were green grass somewhere else, you’d jack it up. If you went over there it’s gonna be brown even if it started out as green, because they’re not the problem, or they’re only half the problem if you will.
And listen, this is not easy to see joyfully the things that drive you crazy. But what if you started looking at them differently. For example, so yesterday my wife said, hey was it yesterday or two days ago? She has no idea. She lives in the moment. It’s part of this story. She said hey can you jump in the car and go to Walmart with me for a minute? Okay maybe a couple of minutes, right? Now those who don’t know my wife, she is off the chart social. And so, when she thinks about going to Walmart I think what she’s actually thinking is, there might be people there I can talk to. I don’t think that way. I think hunt, gather, conquer, leave, right?
Like it’s a contest. How fast can I get through Walmart? So, we walk in and I’m like, you know, where’s the prey. Let me go get it, right? And she immediately she’s doing the same thing. Who’s someone I can talk to, right? And so, she starts talking with someone, and she keeps talking, she keeps talking. I’m getting everything, we’re ready to go. To see critically, which I did for a minute, then I thought about preaching today, I got to practice what I preach. Why does she always have to talk to people? But what if… man my wife loves well. What if I saw joyfully? See you will find whatever it is you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for something to criticize you will find it. What if you begin to see your spouse and the things that they do rather than annoyances or resentment as gifts, rather than rehearsing all the things about them that you wish were different. What if, I know this is crazy, what if we rehearsed the things we’re grateful about them, and what if the things that drive you crazy about them, what if you could see them as God’s gift for your blind spots? Guess what, you do have them. And your spouse might be God’s gift to help you see your blind spots.
Now let me just say a word. I’m not talking about things that are clearly sin. I’m not talking about the abusive husband or the porn addicted husband, or the woman who drinks way too much, or the infidelity, or the rage or any of those things. I’m not talking about that. I’m just talking about things that annoy us. And oftentimes we do need marriage counseling. My wife and I have done a lot of marriage counseling, and we will do some more. And sometimes you need that, and you need mentoring and you need you need everything. It’s okay, because this passage says real clearly. When I was single and some of the single people can relate to this, I romanticized marriage. Man, it’s going to be the end of all my problems. And all the married people are laughing. And all the single people are going, but I’m going to be different. My marriage is going to be different. It’s not. And we think that marriage is going to solve all our problems and will be wonderful. And then we get into and we find out, oh it just shows me my problems. And I go and find another marriage. We get into marriage and we find out it’s hard. And so, we went out. Some of you today are thinking this thought. You’re just going to jack up some other field. So, it’s really realistic.
It’s really interesting because it says see joyfully, and then later on in the verse it says this, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. In other words, enjoy life, enjoy marriage. It’s hard work. It’s toil sometimes. And so, I can say without blinking that the most difficult relationship I’ve had by far in my life is my wife. And she’ll tell you the same thing. It’s toil. 22 years. And with the same breath I’ll tell you by far the most blessed gift that God has ever given me is my wife. Both/and. Can we learn to see each other joyfully because we already know how to be miserable.
And finally (you love hearing that don’t you?) enjoy partying. Verse 7 says this, go eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. In other words, there’s already enough hard stuff in life.
Learn how to give life-giving parties. Life-giving parties. I’m not talking about the parties that some of us have been to that are death-giving. Life-giving parties, right? So, there’s a command. Go. Eat some really good food. Drink some really good drink. Have a party, put on really nice clothes. Listen to some good music and have great conversation, don’t rush through your meal. Sit down and talk and listen and laugh and maybe cry a little bit, maybe even dance a little bit.
Have you ever stopped to think that the very first miracle Jesus performed was what? At a wedding. And what did he do? Oh, the wine’s out. Well we can’t have that. We’ve got to make some more wine because this party has to keep going. The first miracle that Jesus ever performed was to keep the party going. And I don’t think he was sitting there scowling at all the people who were having fun. They were having fun. The Bible has a different view. It says don’t worship pleasure. That’s what your culture does. Don’t hate pleasure. That’s what some sour people do. Enjoy it as a means to an end. We get help from a remarkable place, a Puritan by the name of Richard Baxter. He looks like a party animal, doesn’t he?
He said this, surprising words. “Remember still that God would give you more pleasure, and not less, and that he will give you as much of the Delights of sense, [sensory things] as is truly good for you, so you will take them in their place, in subordination to your heavenly delights. And is not this to increase and multiply your pleasure? It is not health, and friends, and food, and convenient habitation much sweeter as the fruit of the love of God, and as the foretaste [that’s an important word] of everlasting mercies and as our helps to heaven, and as the means to spiritual comfort, than of themselves alone? all your mercies are from God: he would take none from you, but sanctify them, and give you more.” That’s what Ecclesiastes the 9 is saying. You can have a party because even though it will end here it won’t end there. And did you notice the things that are in this list? Have you begun to look at all of Scripture as whispering the name of Jesus? Bread and wine.
Does that make you think of anything? Jesus set down at the Passover and said, “I’ve eagerly desired to eat this meal with you. I will not eat it again until my kingdom where we will sit down, and we will eat bread and wine together at the wedding reception of the Lamb.” Of all the things God could have used to in the Bible, he uses a wedding reception. Some of you all got up at 4 a.m. last Saturday and saw something. That’s awesome, right? It’s nothing. Because he talks about white garments. In that culture you only wore white one time, at a wedding. This says let your garments always be white.
And all of these things are foretastes. They are signposts to the end of time when there won’t come a wedding reception where Christ will sit down with his people and there will be a wine cup of the new covenant in his blood and it will always make your heart merry. And there will be food that will drive out all the emptiness and all the evil and all the madness. And he’ll give you white clothes. There will be no more sin, no more shame, no more guilty conscience, and there will be a wedding reception that will never end. And it gets better and better.
So, Tim Keller says this
“Every time God uses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also shows us how he sees us. If he is like our bridegroom, then if you give yourself to Jesus in faith, it means he must really delight in you, in us… Do you know what the bride looks like to the bridegroom as she walks down the aisle? She wears this stunning white dress, and when he lays his eyes on her, he is absolutely delighted in her. And he wants to give her the world. How dare Jesus Christ use a metaphor like this, evoking this powerful human experience? Could be that he loves his own like that? Yes, he does. How different would your life be if you lived in moment by moment existential awareness of that.”
In other words, keep your garments on. Enjoy these things. They don’t last, but they’re all pointing to something that does and someone who does. Have you taken this into your heart? Let’s pray that that would happen.
Father this is the true fairy tale that ends all fairy tale. It’s the one they all wish they could be. It’s the true story of Christ and his bride and father. Many of us have heard it a million times and it’s quit having an impact on us. Have mercy on us. Some of us have heard it for the first time and it’s breaking us and building us. Have mercy. Give us ears to hear we pray. Jesus name.