Everything is part of God's plan

Text Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 Time 12/06/2005 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We begin to day on the second section of Ecclesiastes, which, I remind you, can be divided into four parts. This second part begins in 3:1 and goes on to the end of Chapter 5.
Again it is probably a good idea to have a look where the writer is heading to understand how to take this part. So look at 5:18-20. There Solomon says
Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
So he is making three points here.
1. God wants us to live in a way that is good and proper. It is way that is satisfying.
2. Indeed it is God’s gift to know how to enjoy life and to be content.
3. Such a man is so taken up with God that he has no time to worry about death or such things.
This, you will recognise is quite similar to the conclusion we came to in the first section where the writer says
1. Contentment cannot be found in human wisdom
2. True contentment is found in God alone
That is why we need to look to God for wisdom, knowledge and happiness and take warning against going on in our sins. Indeed if we look at life properly we will see that it is not the bleak and monotonous thing that we may be misled into thinking
So let’s turn this week to 3:1-15 and see what we find.

1. Look around and see that God is in control of all that happens
3:1-8 are among the most famous in the Bible. They became very popular in the sixties when a folk musician called Pete Seeger put them to music with the chorus Turn, turn, turn and they were then sung by the American pop group The Byrds. I suppose the reason people like it is because it is poetic and as it is only stating facts then it cannot be argued. People tend to put their own meaning into it, however. Pete Seeger, quite an anti-war fellow, took the final line a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace and just added the words ‘I swear it’s not too late’. That is, of course, adding to Scripture and puts a whole new twist to what is being said. Some biblical commentators have been tempted to add their own commentary to the effect that this is some sort of allegory of Israel or of the church. This again is not convincing.

The words themselves consist of an introductory statement - There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven followed by a set of 14 contrasting pairs beginning with the most obvious – to be born, to die and including all sorts of contrasts in the life of an individual, things such as planting, uprooting; weeping, laughing; loving, hating, etc. The words a time are therefore repeated 28 times. Clearly it is a poem about time. The basic message here is that every single thing that happens in our lives happens because it is the will of God. He appoints the times and seasons not just of the weather and things like that but of every single event. It is all in God’s hands.
Let’s think about that for a moment. 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: We do not choose when things will happen.

1. a time to be born and a time to die. Cf Conan Doyle. Man tries to be in control. He is not.
2. a time to plant and a time to uproot. Think of vegetables and plants – similarly. Again, you can’t just do it when you like.
3. a time to kill and a time to heal. What about animals and the seasonableness there? Or think of how plague and illness work. The unpredictableness of death.
4. a time to tear down and a time to build.. We can say the same about buildings.
5. a time to weep and a time to laugh.. Thinking again of men and women.
6. a time to mourn and a time to dance. Perhaps the phrasing here is influenced by desire for alliteration.
7. a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them. Are we thinking a building, a field, a military operation? At one time stones seem useless an unneeded, then you realise that they are needed to build. Stones are neither good or bad in themselves. In life we are often finding that sort of thing. Things become useful.
8. a time to embrace and a time to refrain. Hellos and goodbyes. Think of the Beatles song "I say hello, You say goodbye". Frustration. Sometimes we need to embrace an idea or a project. Other times we refrain.
9. a time to search and a time to give up. Moving on from the familiar and the known to other less familiar things. Possessions. We all know this experience.
10. a time to keep and a time to throw away, this follows on.
11. a time to tear and a time to mend tearing clothes in grief, sewing them up again.
12. a time to be silent and a time to speak In life’s calamities this is important and difficult.
13. a time to love and a time to hate sometimes people hate us, sometimes they love us. Things vary. There is a place for hatred in life – hating evildoers, our own evil deeds.
14. a time for war and a time for peace. This too.

So all this vast number of activities works together to remind us of how far out of our control all things are. God does as he pleases. Even the world talks about the importance of timing, the seasons, ideas coming to their time, etc. We must see that this is all God’s doing. It is all in his hands. It will teach us patience and to look to him. One writer likens the list to a doctor’s ingredients. Taken alone they might kill but in the proper proportions this is real life.

2. Look within and see that God has put eternity there
This all leads to the question in 9 What does the worker gain from his toil? Sounds familiar. Well, it is taking us back to 1:3 What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun? The answer is obvious, despite what people think and say man can change nothing on his own. With all his effort and work it is God, in fact, who does his will.

1. See that what we have has been given to us by God who makes it all beautiful in its time
10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. This is it isn’t it? How little we can do. How powerful is God who does it all. How frustrated we can get with things sometimes.
There is a beauty about everything in this world. This because God made it good in the beginning. Even the les attractive things have a beauty that springs from the way they contrast with other things. In the beginning God made light and darkness. Darkness is not beautiful in itself but when it comes on contrast to the light (think especially of sunrises and sunsets) it has a great beauty. This is the work of God - 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Cf raindrops, flowers, spider’s webs, etc.

2. See that he has linked it all to eternity
Further He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. Man was made in God’s image and there is something unfathomable about man. Yes, in one sense we seem finite, like the animals but there is clearly more to it than that. There is something everlasting about the soul of man. It is immortal. Life makes no sense without eternity.
Yet and here is what makes it so frustrating they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Try as we like we cannot fathom the mystery either of creation or of our own souls. There is something profound here, a depth that cannot be plumbed. We cannot appreciate the beauty of creation as much as we ought; we cannot know as much about it as we would like; we cannot understand it to the depth we would like. There is the problem not only of knowing all there is to know in a given area but also of fitting into an integrate whole with all the other things we know. It is beyond us.
And so he says (12, 13) I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God. There is an enigma about life and there will be until we can learn to enjoy life and do good. To find satisfaction is a gift from God and until we realise that we will make no real progress at all.
So why then does God not imply give the gift of having things and enjoying them to everyone? Solomon says (14) I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Whatever else is so we know that in God there is permanence, effectiveness and no interference. How different to all we know. It is part of God’s purpose then to encourage us to look to him, to fear him and give him honour. To fear God is to trust in him and lean on him in everything. Turn from impermanence to permanence, from what can do nothing to his effectiveness and to the one with who no-one can interfere.

3. Look forward and see that despite the monotony God will bring it all to account
Finally, Solomon says here Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account. See 1:9-11. All things are by the will of God, good and bad. At times it seems to make no sense. However, there will be an accounting at the day of judgement. The addition here is literally ‘God seeks what is pursued or hurried along’. Is it about the persecuted or things displaced or the past? There is some argument but whatever it is it seems to be saying, yes, all seems to be hurrying along rather predictably even monotonously but there is more to it than that. God is I control and he will demand an accounting from all of what happens. Never forget that.

How to seek and find true contentment

Text Ecclesiastes 2:12-23 Time 05/06/2005 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the first section of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which we find in the first two chapters of the book. We have already looked at 1:1-2:11 and we have looked at a number of things.
1. The introduction to the book and what it says. We considered
  • Who wrote the book The Teacher or Assembler, Son of David, king of Jerusalem. Solomon.
  • His initial text (2) Subject to the fall! Subject to the fall! says the Teacher. Utterly Subject to the fall! Everything is Subject to the fall.
  • His searching question (3) What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?
2. The monotony of life under the sun as brought out in verses 4-11
  • The dreary passing of generation to generation
  • The unvarying cycles that characterise the natural world
  • The wearisome nature of human desire
  • The endless repetition that characterises life under the sun
  • The thoughtless lack of appreciation of generation to generation
Then last week we looked at the way that Solomon spent his time exploring two possible avenues to satisfaction – the way of wisdom and the path of pleasure. He was a man in a position to do such a thing. By doing this he discovered quite conclusively
3. The fact that the way of wisdom cannot unravel life’s enigma
4. The fact that the path of pleasure cannot satisfy a man’s soul
We spoke of the gratification test, the enterprise test, the possessions test.
This week I want to say two things to you. Firstly, more negatively and following on from what has already been said but, secondly, more positively, taking up what is said in verses 24-26.
1. Understand why contentment cannot be found in human wisdom
In verses 12-23 Solomon continues to describe his efforts to examine life to see if satisfaction or contentment could be found in what it had to offer. He tells us that he discovered a number of things.
1. Wisdom has certain undeniable strengths – it is superior to madness and folly
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? As we have said he was in a perfect position to do this. Who could be in a better position? And what did he discover? Well, first he says (13, 14) I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness. If you want to compare them – human wisdom on one hand and madness and folly (the let’s go with the flow, let’s seize the moment and live it up approach) on the other, then there is no competition. Wisdom wins hands down. It’s like the difference between light and darkness. Certainly I’d rather be ruled over by a wise king than a mad one or a bad one. There are plenty of problems with human wisdom, with the attitude that says be rational, be self-denying, seek knowledge – the route of hard study and diligent exploration. However, compared with the way of irrationality, the self-indulgent and feelings based thoroughfare, especially when it leads to madness and folly – it is superior. Madness and badness will inevitably lead you to sadness.
Now we have a general principle here, I think. We must not let people push us to extremes. Yes, we are saying that human wisdom, human science cannot make sense of life. It cannot discover the meaning of life or give complete satisfaction. However, that does not mean to say it is of no use whatsoever. Humanist scientists and inventors have come up with all sorts of useful and helpful things. Similarly we do not take the view that all music or all art not produced by believers has no merit whatsoever. That would be an extreme position to take and one that the Bible does not lead us to.
We can make all sorts of statements such as these – education (yes even a humanist one) is better than ignorance, hard work is better than laziness, giving is better than stealing, helping people and being kind is better than being unpleasant and mean, coming to church is better than not going anywhere, reading the bible is better than not reading it. We do not believe that any of those things or all of them together can lead to satisfaction and meaning in themselves but given the choice some things are simply better than others. Better to live here where there is still some freedom for the gospel than in Saudi Arabia where there is practically none, better be an educated humanist who can read than an ignorant slave or pagan who has never even seen a Bible and can’t read anyway.
2. Wisdom has certain crucial weaknesses
Having said that we must recognise the weakness of merely human wisdom. Three particular things seem to come out here. Let me put it like this.
1.It cannot keep you from future death
You see how Solomon says I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realise that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise? The point is that whether you are wise or a fool, very intelligent or a complete ignoramus you still die. There is no escape from that. The corpse of a fool is pretty much like that of a wise man. In days gone by they used to try weighing people’s brains to see if they could discern a difference that way but the truth is that no matter how many tests you did on a dead body you would have no way of knowing which was the fool and which the wise man. We all die. Wisdom cannot keep you form death. It cannot save you from passing away, from expiring in the end. Now if it can’t do that well then what do you gain in the end from being wise? Yes, it is the better way to live but when it comes to death it makes not one scintilla of difference. Death is the great leveller.
And so says Solomon I said in my heart, This too is meaningless. It is empty, futile, pointless, a mere phantom. You could be the brainiest person who ever lived, the brightest, the cleverest. You could solve all sorts of unsolved problems. You could come up with a cure for the common cold and find a way to form a colony o the moon. You could untie all sorts of difficult and abstruse knows but still you would die in the end. You wouldn’t live forever. Or think of it in artistic terms. You could write the best music ever – Bach/Beethoven/Mozart rolled into one or be the best artist ever – Leonardo/Picasso/Rembrandt combined. But you would still have to die. There’s no way around this brute fact, the fact of death.
2. It cannot keep you from future darkness
‘Ah’ says someone you may die but your work lives on. Think of those composers and artists you’ve mentioned – they live on in their work. Solomon is awake to that idea too. He says in 16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! He is making the same point again but this time he cuts away a further refuge. Most people are forgotten pretty soon after the die. See 1:16. It’s one of the things that struck me when my mother died some years ago. I remember her, of course, and so does my dad and some others. Rhodri my eldest can remember her – but Owain and Gwion the youngest ones never knew her. We talk to them about her but already in such a short time she is quickly being forgotten. Name your great grandparents! All over London there are these blue plaques. I always look at them if I can. The names on them are usually unfamiliar. Who was he? I know that those composers and artists I mentioned are remembered through their work but most of their contemporaries are forgotten. Who talks about Salieri or Reger? ‘Who?’ you say. Exactly. Bach is only remembered now because Mendelssohn became a Christian and rediscovered him for us. Who invented the wheel? The plough? Central heating? Modern shipbuilding? The typewriter? The Internet? For the most part such people are forgotten. And you will be too one day – whether you are wise or a fool.
And so in verse 17 Solomon comments again. It’s already beginning to be a refrain, So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. He still thinks of life under the sun of course. And what a chore it is. How grievous and depressing. It’s empty, pointless; chasing after the wind.
3 It cannot keep you from future disaster
The other thought that often arises here is the thought that although I must die yet the work will go on through my successors. Succeeding generations will take up the baton and run on after me. Again Solomon is aware of that sort of thinking. It is typified in the way firms used often to be called ‘Brady and son’ etc. But listen to Solomon. That won’t console him. He goes on (18, 19) I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. What a horrifying thought. Of course, in Solomon’s case it followed exactly that pattern. His son Rehoboam was young and headstrong, nothing like his father and he had soon plunged his country into civil war and then a permanent split that saw the people of God separated for hundreds of years to come. This too is meaningless says Solomon.
The thought plagued him. 20, 21 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labour under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.
There are many examples of this sort of thing. You think particularly of successions to the throne but also in the business world it happens. In Judah you often had that happening where a good king like Hezekiah is followed by a thoroughly disreputable man like Manasseh. Or think of Good King Josiah being followed by evil Jehoiakim. In the history of our own nation you know how in Edward VI’s reign such progress was made in Reformation but who followed him but bloody Queen Mary – and think of all the damage that she did to the cause of God.
You can be the wisest, most gifted and able person but your son may be a fool, a complete loser. Even if the son is by-passed and some other successor is chosen it may still not work. We see it happening not just in nations and with businesses but in churches too. One man can preach and fill a place. He dies and another can preach it empty again. The good work of one blessed generation can all be destroyed in very little time by a succeeding generation. How sobering. How frightening.
3. Recognise then the ultimate emptiness of man’s best efforts. Solomon sums up in 22, 23 What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. Toil and anxious striving -that is life on earth so often. And where does it lead? Only to pain and grief and constant turmoil. How empty it all is.
Of course, the world doesn’t see it. How pessimistic they say, how negative. Now we are not saying that all is negative. It is all bad news. We have made that clear. However, under the sun, from a merely human point of view what reason is there for optimism? Death and darkness and disaster cloud it all.
2. Realise that true contentment is found in God alone
That brings us then to this much more positive rounding off of this part of the book in verses 24-26. The writer has four important things to say after all this.
1. True contentment is not found in man
Most translations translate 24 something like the NIV A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This translation is adopted in the light of two later verses (3:12, 8:15) that use the better than construction. Apparently, however, 24 does not have this phrase. It is simply assumed it has dropped out. One writer proposes rather than that we translate something like ‘Man has no good in him that he should eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.’ Man hasn’t got it in him, we might say, to find satisfaction in this life. Everything he has is the gift of God and even the power to enjoy them is God’s gift too. Experience teaches us that contentment and enjoyment are things beyond us. Sometimes even the things we love the most fail to satisfy. At times we simply are not able to find contentment. Why? Because it is not something in our power. It is in God’s power not ours.
2. True contentment is found in God alone
He goes on This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? It is all in his hands. Not only is he the one who supplies our food and drink and every other blessing but it is he who enables a man to enjoy those things too. It is when we begin to look for contentment in these other things that things begin to go wrong. Happiness cannot be found in things. We know that in our head but in our hearts we so often forget.
3. So look to God for wisdom, knowledge and happiness
26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness. Some people can’t cope with this verse. It seems to them quite out of place. But there is no reason to reject it. Do you see what Solomon is saying? Wisdom and knowledge are good things but if you do not have the capacity to enjoy them then what use are they?
4. And take warning if you go on in your sins
The final phrase is by way of warning, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. And so he concludes This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Cf Prov 13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. It is important that we understand what is going on when we see sinner prospering, being successful and developing this that and the other. They are simply gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. Sometimes we see it happening in this life. A striking example, often referred to, concerns Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire, on the French border, near Geneva. It was the French philosopher’s home for the last 20 years of his life, from 1758. Here he wrote Candide and other works. Jesuit educated his later anti-religious outlook led him to predict Christianity’s demise. From 1846, the chateau and its grounds were owned by the Lambert family, however, and in the 1890s it was used by the Geneva Bible Society as a Bible depot. It is even said that Voltaire’s old printing press was used to print Bibles. Over the door of the chapel is the inscription Deo erexit Voltaire (Built by Voltaire for God). Another example comes from 1888 when a W C Van Meter had large numbers of copies of John’s Gospel in Italian printed in Rome. The room where it was done was a former torture chamber of the Inquisition. An iron ring in the ceiling of the borrowed building drew the attention of the printer. On enquiry. he learned of its past. Other examples are the Monte Carlo radio station from where many Christian broadcasts have gone out in recent years. It was built by Hitler as a base for his own intended broadcasts. The extremely powerful short wave transmitter used there was originally built for Major General Suharto who led an abortive communist coup in Indonesia in 1965. More generally, advances in technology (radio, cassette tape and the Internet spring readily to mind) may be made by unbelievers but their chief role is in advancing the kingdom of God. More generally again the whole world in one sense will one day be handed over to believers for their use.
So yes pursue wisdom but always remember that contentment is found only in God himself. Look to him through Jesus Christ.

The limitations of human effort

Text Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:11 Time 29/05/2005 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Let me begin by describing a conversation between two Christians and asking you a question. We will call them Sophie and Joy. Both feel they are not making much progress in their Christian lives.
Sophie feels she can overcome her problems by working harder, by listening to more sermons, reading more books, by being more orderly and organised. ‘I need to get to know the Bible better’.
Joy thinks she needs to be more spontaneous, more ‘spiritual’, more natural and organic. She thinks she should have longer quiet times and go to more prayer meetings. ‘I need more of a sense of God’s presence’. Who is right? Sophie or Joy? We’ll come back to this at the end.
We’ve started to look at the Book of Ecclesiastes. We were saying last week that it is best to see Ecclesiastes firstly, like Job, as a wisdom book that warns against taking the very positive wisdom of Proverbs in a superficial and simplistic way and failing to see how complex and difficult life can be. Here is life in the raw, life as it is. The writer is not looking at life without God in the strict sense but at life as it is even though there is a God – something much more demanding and profound. The book is firstly for the people of God, to help them in their daily toils and struggles. It is not only hard-nosed but uses words of encouragement, calls on us to fear God and frequently draws attention to the coming judgement.
Last week we considered the opening 11 verses and we considered two things
1. The introduction to the book and what it says We considered
  • Who wrote the book. The Teacher or Assembler, Son of David, king of Jerusalem. Though some have their doubts we see o reason for doubting that the author is Solomon.
  • His initial text 2 Subject to the fall! Subject to the fall! says the Teacher. Utterly Subject to the fall! Everything is Subject to the fall.
  • His searching question. 3 What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?
2. The monotony of life under the sun as brought out in 4-11.
  • The dreary passing of generation to generation
  • The unvarying cycles that characterise the natural world (the rising and setting of the sun, the wind cycle, the water cycle)
  • The wearisome nature of human desire
  • The endless repetition that characterises life under the sun
  • The thoughtless lack of appreciation of generation to generation
This week we want to look at the section 1:12-2:11. Let me remind you again that the book can be divided into four sections. The first ends with 2:24-26. I mention this again as it is important to see where the writer is heading. He wants us to see that satisfaction is something God-given. It isn’t something we have the power to conjure up by ourselves. To get to this point we need to hear what he has to say in 1:4-23. We’ve looked at 1:4-11 and the painful fact of the monotony of life under the sun. This evening I want us to focus on 1:12-2:11 and the limitations of human effort.
These early verses of Ecclesiastes are like a whole series of introductions. In 12 it seems as though the writer is starting all over again. In a sense he is as having set out his first basic ideas he wants to show next how he demonstrated from experience that everything under the sun really is fallen and empty, that man gains nothing from all his labour at which he toils under the sun. He wants to shut off all escape routes. He did this by walking two contrasting routes
1. What we may call the way of wisdom (though by that we must emphasise that we don’t mean heavenly wisdom as such); rationality, a self-denying and knowledge based direction – the route of hard study and diligent exploration.
2. What we may call the path of pleasure or irrationality, a self-indulgent and feelings based thoroughfare.
1. Realise that the way of wisdom cannot unravel life’s enigma
So first of all let’s think about the way of wisdom and knowledge, of rationality. Solomon begins in 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. He was a man with power and with wealth then. He was in a position to do what he did. We can divide 13-18 into two parallel parts. Firstly he tells us what he did and then gives us conclusion that it was all a chasing after the wind adding a proverb to each part - 15 What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. So we can ask 2 simple questions.
1. What did he do?
Well, he says 13a I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. 16, 17a I thought to myself, Look, I have grown and increased me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, …. So here is earnest and sincere study and exploration. He grew and increased in wisdom more than anyone who had ruled over Jerusalem before him (including Melchizedek and other great kings). Solomon indeed was the wisest man of his day. He experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. He delved deep - it was an in depth study. He investigated all that is done under heaven – there was great breadth too. He applied himself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly – he adds that to show that he rationally studied all the mad bad and irrational things too but in a rational way. He kept his eye on the alternatives. Part of wisdom too is to know that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. So this was not a case of overdoing it – excess of study. There was a balance here.
2. What did he find?
He says a number of things. 13b, 14 What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 17b but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. What a sorry task it is to live here on earth as a human being, he says. He uses the Hebrew word Adam to refer to men, perhaps to emphasise that this is a fallen world. Whatever it is including religion itself, to the extent that it is merely under the sun it is empty and useless. As believers we are not against science or against study; we are not anti-intellectual but we must realise that study and knowledge in themselves can’t bring satisfaction. They can’t in and of themselves bring us to an understanding of the universe in which we live. This is one reason why scientists today are so frustrated. They keep thinking they will find the secrets of the universe at the bottom of a test tube, as it were. That is impossible. You may as well try and catch the wind.
Why is that? 15 What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. This is a fallen world full of twisted and incomplete things – warps and gaps. May be there was a time when the mere study of these things would have yielded answers but the world is now fallen it is lacking in perfection and so it will never make complete sense on its own. It’s like getting a game or a jigsaw second hand with bits missing – you can get so far but you can never make the complete picture or play the game as intended.
Solomon is not saying – don’t bother trying. Rather the point is to understand that our studies will only take us so far. Without something else – something more than under the sun it will not make sense.
The proverb in verse 18 acts as a warning - For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. Haven’t many found that to be the case? Mere knowledge in and of itself may make you happy for a while but it is a happiness that cannot last.
2. Realise that the path of pleasure cannot satisfy a man’s soul
Now some people would be quite happy with what I have said. ‘Quite right’ they’d say ‘Book learning never did anyone any great good’. Life’s for living. Stuffing your head with facts is going to get you nowhere. What good as all that science done us anyway – with their bombs and their experiments what a mess they’ve made of it all! You need to enjoy life. We’re not here long and if we can learn to enjoy it while we’re here then that’s wisdom enough. Well, Solomon was fully aware of that point of view too. And so, he tells us he explored that route too – and pretty thoroughly it would seem.
1. What did he do? Probably 1a describes the overall plan with his conclusion in 1b, 2 and then in 2-10 we have some more detail and his conclusion in 11. So
1. In general he tried the pleasure test. 1a I thought in my heart, Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. Solomon decided that he would live simply for pleasure and see if that did bring satisfaction. Solomon was a very wealthy king and there was no pleasure available in that day that he could not have – all the food and all the drink, all the entertainment – music and singing and dancing – all the visual arts – all the women and wealth he could possibly dream of. He was in a position to truly test hedonism.
2. He goes into some detail. He tried
  • The gratification test. 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly - my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. He tried the pleasures of wine. He tried various forms of madness and badness – he is not specific. Some things are best not to be detailed. He tried it all.
  • The enterprise test. It wasn’t all low-brow stuff either. He launched out on vast building projects and similar schemes. 4-6 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards for myself). I made (for myself) gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made (for myself) reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. We know from elsewhere that Solomon took 13 years to build his own palace and that he also built a separate house of Cedar of Lebanon for his Egyptian wife. We read how he built cities in Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Beth-Horon, Baalath and Tadmor in the desert, which must have been a particular challenge. South West of Jerusalem in the Valley of Artas are pools known as the Pools of Solomon. Three massive reservoirs were built there in ancient times – probably by Solomon. What amazing things he did.
  • The possessions test. He goes do mention some of his possessions and similar assets. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. We would not employ salves perhaps today. There would be labour saving machines and a whole retinue of servants – a valet or a butler, a chef, a gardener, a driver, all sorts of secretaries and maids and other workers. Solomon had them all. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. Again the possessions may be different today but you get the idea. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. All sorts of people from his vast empire paid tribute to him. Solomon was so wealthy that silver was thought to be of little worth we learn. Everything was done in gold. He goes on I acquired men and women singers, vast choirs to sing for him when he wished and a harem as well - the delights of the heart of man. Solomon, being a great king acted in the way of eastern kings of the time and indulged in all sorts of pleasures. He sums up (9) I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. He adds In all this my wisdom stayed with me to stress that he did not make the mistake that so many do of becoming intoxicated with his pleasure. Just as on the way of wisdom he explored madness and folly so in his madness and folly he remained rational. We all know that over-indulgence can spoil even the best things. In a word he says (10) I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. Outward and inward pleasures he tried them all. And he enjoyed it too. He is very honest about this. Because he approached in the right way My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. It is not the business of a Christian to deny the enjoyability of drink or drugs or gambling or the arts or music or sexual excess, etc. Of course, these things have their downside but here Solomon tells us that by acting in a balanced way he was able to get maximum pleasure from these things. The problem is not that these things cannot be enjoyed.
2. What did he find? Well, he tells us right at the beginning of this section so that we are in no doubt. 1b But that also proved to be meaningless. In the end, however, it is pretty empty. It doesn’t bring satisfaction. Simply living for pleasure doesn’t make sense. 2 Laughter, I said, is foolish. The lowbrow variety is morally lacking. It leads nowhere. And what does pleasure accomplish? High brow pleasure is no better. When the fine wine is gone, the building project complete, the show finished, the goods amassed where does that leave you? What advance have you made? He says, no doubt in his old age now (11) Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
And isn’t that the experience again of so many? God has made this world in such a way that there are many innocent pleasures, many things to enjoy and provided we do so with prayer and according to the Word of god that is fine. The problem comes when we begin to find meaning in these things – the actor or musician who lives to perform; the culture vulture who lives for that alone.
Such an approach to life is never going to work in the end. It is bound to leave you empty and disappointed.
Yet generally speaking you will find that these are the two basic philosophies of life that we are usually presented with. It was like that in Paul’s day. Remember when he preached to the Areopagus in Athens, the audience was made up mostly of Stoics and Epicureans. Both arose in the 3rd Century BC. Epicureans viewed the world in terms of chance. There is no purpose or design in anything so there can be no final or absolute good. The highest good was seen to be pleasure, defined as absence of pain. It is often described as a sort of Hedonism but it was much more calculating than that – self-denial is okay as long as there is some advantage to self. Stoicism began with a philosopher called Zeno. They held that the world is not governed by chance but by a progressive purpose. Therefore the greatest good is to be found in conforming to reason. Our personal feelings are irrelevant and can be harmful, diverting us from exercising reason to solve our problems. Stoics aspired to perfect self-control, not giving in to sentimental considerations. This unflinching self-controlled attitude has gives rise to the modern use of the term. It was a fatalistic philosophy that lead to a high morality. The same sorts of contrasts can be seen down through history.
When I was growing up my minister was always warning us against modernism. By modernism he meant beliefs that denied the Bible was God’s Word and put its trust in the scientific hypotheses and theories of the day. Modernism, I think I am right in saying was originally an architectural term and describes the sort of steel and glass and concrete skyscraper style that was so popular in the middle of the last century. The term came to be used for many ideologies that looked to science and to rationality as the answer to every problem and the way to think. We are talking about the sort of attitude parodied in Dickens’ Hard Times in the character of Mr Gradgrind. He was very much of the opinion that what his children needed was more facts, more facts. This approach basically says that if we study hard enough, if we gather enough knowledge then we will understand what life is all about.
Today modernism continues to be a threat but now it is just as much if not more so post-modernism that is the danger. Post-modernism is again an architectural term. Post-modern architecture is characterised by a quirky, unusual, eclectic approach. They can still do skyscrapers but not like modernist ones – you’ve seen perhaps the Lloyds Building with all the plumbing and electrics etc on the outside or the famous Gherkin down near Tower Bridge. This is the sort of attitude summed up by the hippy sort of character who is pretty laid back and is more interested in experience than in facts. He hasn’t got much time for modern science but is open to alternatives - alternative therapies, alternative models of understanding. Variety and diversity are held to be important. The odder and more eclectic it seems the more they like it. They like to think outside the box.
So, going back to where we began. Which is right? Sophie or Joy? Practically, we need a combination in the right order but our greatest need is to put our faith in Christ, seeing the poverty of our own understanding and the emptiness of merely moving from one experience to the next. We must look to the Lord.

The Monotony of life under the sun

Text Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Time 22/05/2005 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I would like us to begin this evening some studies in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Those of you who have attended for some years may remember that we tackled the book in the past but many years ago now.
It is a fascinating book, one many people are drawn to. It has several famous passages.
For example
1:2 Vanity! Vanity! says the Preacher. All is vanity.
3:1ff There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, etc.
It is also difficult and controversial so we need to take care not to misunderstand several of its statements. It is part of God’s Word and is there to help us. We can gain a lot from it if we seek God’s help.
Among the more common approaches are those that take it as a sort of pre-evangelistic tract, a piece of apologetic helping unbelievers to see how empty and useless life without God is. Older commentators understood it as something Solomon wrote in his old age after his backsliding and restoration as a warning to backsliders and the unconverted. Others see it as a deeply sceptical, even cynical or nihilistic book or one advocating asceticism and abstinence from life’s pleasures. Some feel that the theology is so pessimistic that without the important epilogue it wouldn’t even be in Scripture. It is there chiefly as a foil to the rest of Scripture. This is surely wrong.
The book can certainly be applied in this way but it is better to see Ecclesiastes firstly, like Job, as a wisdom book that warns against taking the very positive wisdom of Proverbs in a superficial and simplistic way and failing to see how complex and difficult life can be. Here is life in the raw, life as it is. The writer is not looking at life without God in the strict sense but at life as it is even though there is a God – something much more demanding and profound. The book is firstly for the people of God, to help them in their daily toils and struggles. It is not only hard-nosed but uses words of encouragement, calls on us to fear God and frequently draws attention to the coming judgement. Having said that the fact that it does not mention the Law (although there is a call to keep the commandments) or facts from Israel’s history and refers to God without using the covenant name (LORD) argues for a wide audience being in view. Solomon had a large empire and many international contacts. No doubt he had them in mind too.
One important mistake to avoid reading Ecclesiastes is to concentrate only on certain parts of it. Eg One can get the impression that it is rather gloomy – 7:3 Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart etc. however, this is the book the Jews read at the Feast of Tabernacles (Shavuot), a very joyful feast.
Whenever we turn to Scripture we should expect to see Christ there. That is what the Bible is about. Here, I would suggest to you the writer causes us to get real and to see life as it is. This is in turn should make us long for a better world, the world to come, the world of the resurrection. That resurrection has begun , of course, with Jesus Christ. If we trust in him – the one who has known all the frustrations and difficulties of life and death in this fallen world and yet has triumphed over them by rising and ascending to the glory – then we too can share in is glory and even now we can understand why life is so often difficult and frustrating. We can get Paul’s perspective, as given in Rom 8:18-23
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration (Abel), not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
What I want to do then today is to look at the opening verses and make some introductory comments.
1. Consider the introduction to this book and what it says
1. Consider who wrote the book
Our first problem with this book regards who wrote it. The first verse of the book introduces the writer but some are not sure that it means quite what it appears to say. The verse says The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem. Cf 1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. He has two descriptions then
The Teacher. This title occurs here in the beginning and at the end. It is also in 7:27. The word really means ‘one who assembles’ (hence Ecclesiastes). The title is one very much associated with Solomon when he brought the ark into the newly built temple and spoke to the people, praying for them and blessing them at that great assembly. More generally the assembly (or church) is the people of God and so the Teacher is their leader ‘the assembler of God’s people’.
Son of David, king of Jerusalem. This title speaks even more clearly of Solomon, as do several other phrases in the book. Some are rather afraid of saying that Solomon was the author but there is nor reason to seriously doubt it. Arguments are made against it – such as the lateness of the Hebrew but other scholars are willing to vouch for Solomon, saying that the apparently late Hebrew is in fact Hebrew influenced by the Phoenician dialect, no surprise for a man who knew the Phoenician king Hiram so well.
However, here is a work by a man of unrivalled wisdom, great wealth, a builder and a compiler and arranger of proverbs. Who could this be but Solomon? I see no reason for not accepting the ancient view that he wrote it near the end of his life falling his fall into idolatry. This would clearly show that eh did come back to the Lord. As one modern writer puts it ‘There is in the book an air of repentance and humility’.
Here is an encouragement. We have here a book written by a wise man, the wisest whoever lived. More than that it is the considered opinion of a man who knows what it is to fall and fail. We can be sure not only of his wisdom but also of his sympathy.
2. Consider his initial text or heading
I say ‘initial’ because although the book begins with one text, a text repeated right near the end at 12:8, it actually ends with another - Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (12:13). But he begins (2) Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. Here we come to our second problem with this book – how to translate the Hebrew word translated meaningless in the NIV. The word occurs some 36 times in the book altogether and is one of its key words. We need to get it right then. It is the Hebrew word Abel (cf Adam and Eve’s son) and means something like ‘breath’ or ‘vapour’. The old translations use the word vanity. The NIV has meaningless, the GNB useless. The word is used not so much to describe meaninglessness as what is fleeting, ephemeral, elusive. Here is a fallen, cursed world in all its stark reality and yet not missing the beauty and the grandeur and recognising that God is in control. One writer translates the text, very helpfully, Subject to the Fall! Subject to the Fall! says the Teacher. Everything is subject to the Fall. The truth is that the word has a wide semantic range and so a number of words really need to be used to translate it.
Further, when the writer says that everything is meaningless or vain/empty/transitory we must not absolutise that everything. It obviously does not include God or heaven or a whole lot of other things. He clearly has in mind only what is fallen. He is echoing the curse of Gen 3 where mankind is told how God will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. … and … through painful toil you will eat of the ground all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you,… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
We are loathe to do it sometimes but we must confront this brute fact – the essential fallenness of this world, its emptiness and vanity. Remember James words to those over-confident businessmen bragging abut how they are going to do this and that next year? Why, he says you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14). The Bible reminds us of this fact in many places.
Eg Isaiah 40:6-8 A voice says, Cry out. And I said, What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.
3. Consider his searching question
Verse 3 What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun? Having stated his text the Preacher asks a question. What a question it is. How searching. It is a little like Mark 8:36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? It includes what is another significant phrase in the book under the sun. It appears some 30 times and clearly refers to what goes on in this world and excludes God and heaven. It refers explicitly to life in this fallen, sinful world. 
Part of wisdom is to see how empty and frustrating life in this fallen world is. Suffering and pain and death taint everything. The wise person sees that and faces up to it. Without something above the heavens what point is there in anything?
2. Consider the monotony of life under the sun
The whole book can probably be divided into some four parts. The first of these parts goes from 1:4-2:26. The closing verses of this section read (2:24-26) A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I mention that as it is useful to see where the writer is heading. He wants us to see that enjoyment is something God-given. It isn’t something we have the power to conjure up by ourselves. To get to this point we need to hear what he has to say in 1:4-23. Firstly, in 1:4-11 we need to consider the painful fact of the monotony of life under the sun.
1. Consider the dreary passing of generation to generation
4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains for ever. We tend to think of our own generation as full of significance and somehow permanent. I was born at the end of the fifties and so I’m part of that generation that grew up in the sixties, who were teenagers in the seventies and began to make their mark in the eighties. I am very aware of our strengths and weaknesses and could talk at length on it. The truth is we are just another generation that will soon be gone, like other generations before – my grandfathers and great grandfathers’ generations, etc. Generations come and generations go meanwhile the earth remains. Back home, from my old bedroom I can see a mountain Mynydd Maen. It was there before I was born. It will be there when I’m long dead and buried. When in Aberystwyth I like to look out to sea. On a clear day you can see Bardsey Island and the Lleyn Peninsula. I first saw them when a student. I’m sure Elizabeth who is a student there now has looked out and seen them. Students will still look out to sea when another generation arises. I was in Northern Ireland recently and went to see the Giant’s Causeway, an ancient geological feature caused many generations before. In the eighteenth century Dr Samuel Johnson went to see it. He said it was worth seeing but not worth going to see. No doubt subsequent generations will go to the Giant’s Causeway and someone will quote the same statement. Think of people walking up Childs Hill towards the Heath today. Have you seen pictures of Cricklewood and Hermitage Lane from the thirties and forties. There used to be trams on Cricklewood Lane. Some can remember. There’s a blue plaque near the junction with Finchley Road saying there was a toll gate there. Imagine people walking past that. You can read in the records of highwaymen and footpads waiting at the top of the hill to rob the unwary. Picture it. Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains for ever.
2. Consider the unvarying cycles that characterise the natural world
The earth remains for ever but even that is in a state of flux. He gives three examples.
1 The rising and setting of the sun. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. Now we know that the earth goes round the sun but from our point of view the sun rises and sets. There is a certain predictability about it. Your diary may tell you just when it will set tonight and rise tomorrow. The sun has a cycle it goes through. It is night-time, then the sun rises on a new day until the sun sets and it is night again until the sun rises on another new day. The pattern has been going on almost unbroken for centuries, for millennia.
2 The wind system. Think of the wind. The winds are fascinating – gentle breezes, powerful storms. Do you like to listen to the shipping forecast? They use the Beaufort Scale which gives you a name for winds of different speeds – eg light breeze, gentle breeze, moderate, fresh, strong, near gale, gale, strong gale, storm, violent storm, hurricane. There are names for certain winds too. We tend to think of the wind as dynamic and free – ‘free as the wind’ we say. But in fact (6) The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. Even the winds are locked into a cycle.
3 The water cycle. It is the same with water - 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. You learn this in geography – all about condensation and evaporation and precipitation and so on. When you see the rain fall or clouds forming think about the circularity of it all, the monotony. It’s no good shutting your eyes to it. We thank God when he sends the rain, I’m sure, but if we look to these things for meaning and purpose we won’t get very far.
3. Consider the wearisome nature of human desire
It is not just in nature. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. ‘(I can’t get no) satisfaction’ Mick Jagger famously sang, summing up the frustrations and dissatisfactions of a generation. In another song from the same period John Lennon once sang of how even his rock’n’roll sometimes left him cold. It doesn’t matter what it is in this life we can easily get bored with it. Whatever we like to look at – scenery, paintings, films we never get to the point where we can say we have seen enough now although sometimes we get bored with looking. It is the same with hearing – music, the spoken voice – we are never sated although we can often become bored. Or think of the efforts men have made down the ages to perfect painting and the other visual arts or music of various styles. It still goes on – no-one thinks we have arrived. Seeking the best picture or the best tune is a fruitless task in the end – you never find it. Isn’t it true in every sphere – the best sermon, the best book, the best poem, the best meal, the best piece of needlework, the perfect day. I like that film Groundhog Day where the man lives the same day over and over again until it is a perfect day. Being a Hollywood day one day he eventually does it. But the truth is that were we to live a thousand years we would never do it. Life rather wearies us. It never ultimately satisfies.
4. Consider the endless repetition that characterises life under the sun
In verses 9 and 10 he says What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, Look! This is something new? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. You understand what he means. In any area of life you care to look you will never find anything truly new. When I think of this verse I think first of fashion. I remember dressing as a young man in oxford bags and brogues only to find my dad had been doing it 20 years before. That’s how fashions go – round and round again. Technology changes , of course, but it is the same basic patterns that get repeated again and again. My grandparents bought sheet music and my parents and I bought vinyl. I have lived to see cassette tapes, etc, come and go. Now it’s CDs and Mp3s and who knows what next but the music itself is remarkably unchanged in fact. The same could be said of other arts. Certainly the basic interests are the same. Philip Larkin famously claimed that sex was invented in 1963 but if your read your Bible you’ll know it wasn’t. Indeed if you read your Bible you will see that the bulk of it was all there long ago.
5. Consider the thoughtless lack of appreciation of generation to generation
11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. This verse often makes me think of Piccadilly Circus. Not many people know that the statue of Eros should be pointing to Shaftesbury Street. Both commemorate the work of Lord Shaftesbury, a Christian and a great social refpormer. C S Lewis once wrote of chronological snobbery. There’s a lot of it about.
3. Consider the need to look for satisfaction in something higher than the sun
Perhaps we can finish by quoting Revelation 21:4 and 22:3 which take us above the sun and to a better day to come when God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. ... No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Light has come into the world; come into the light

Text John 3:19-21 Time 11/11/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We live in a world that is in darkness. Why do I say that?
Well, take for example, the fact that already this month in just the last 10 days, there have been at least 4 terrorist incidents and some 55 people have died.
  • In Pakistan on November 2 gunmen opened fire on a bus and 18 people were killed, all the occupants of the coach and two bystanders.
  • In The Philippines that same day an ambush by suspected insurgents in Davao saw 4 soldiers killed.
  • In Bahrain on November 5 home made bombs exploded killed two Asians and injured another.
  • In Iraq the next day 31 people were killed, mostly soldiers and at least 50 were injured when a car bomb went off at an army base outside Taji.
  • In Afghanistan on November 8 there were several incidents in which 18 people died and 10 were injured.
This is typical of our world. The month before at least 317 were killed in terrorist incidents in 10 different countries and 388 the month before in 15 different countries.
Or take a crime like rape. According to a news report on BBC 1 in November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. The 2006-2007 British Crime Survey reported that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period. According to a study in 2009 by the NSPCC on young people aged between 13-18, a third of girls and 16% of boys have experienced sexual violence and as many as 250,000 teenage girls are suffering from abuse at any one time. Think of the things that are coming out in the news at the present time about the sexual abuse of children in the past.
We could give more examples but I think the point is clear. This is a dark world. Now why is it a dark world? There are no doubt many ways in which it can be explained. It is very important, however, that we make sure we have a correct understanding of the situation, a biblical understanding. With that in mind I want us to focus this morning on John 3:19-21. These are the final verses of the section John 3:1-21 that we have been looking at over the last few weeks and months. I want to say three main things to you.
1. Do you realise that light has come into the world but people preferred darkness to light because of their evil deeds?
1. Do you realise that light has come into the world; has it come into your world?
Verse 19 begins This is the verdict or this is the judgement. This is why God is just and men are condemned: Light has come into the world. If you open your Bible at the beginning you will read that right at the very beginning God made this world. He made it in six days. And what was the very first thing he did? He said Let ether be light and there was light. The sun, moon and stars were not made until the fourth day, which is very interesting. Clearly not all light comes from the sun. So right at the beginning there was light, light which God deliberately separated from the darkness that was there. This light points to the perfect way that God made the world in the beginning. Remember how everything he made, the light and everything else was good and the whole was very good.
But then evil got in, you remember, the light was shut out and darkness came in. And was that the end of the story? No, even in Genesis 3 God speaks about how the seed of the woman would crush Satan's head. And throughout the Old Testament we find light, the light of knowledge and truth streaming in so that God's people are not left in the dark.
Think for example of how God sent darkness on the Egyptians but the Israelites had light in all their dwellings or how at the Red Sea God became the Egyptians and his people so that it was dark on one side but light on the other where the Israelites were. The lampstand in the Tabernacle was a symbol of the light sent by God. In Job 12:22 Job says that God reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light and David (Psalm 36:9) For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. In 2 Samuel 22:29 David says You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light. In Ezra 9:8 Ezra says, after the return from exile the LORD our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage.
But there is more. In Isaiah 42:6 God says to his servant, for example, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles. Matthew notes the prophecy too that says the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned and links it directly to Jesus. And that is the main point here. Jesus coming into the world can be pictured as light shining in the darkness. This is how Martin Luther came to think that Christmas trees were not such a bad idea. He said that the darkness of the tree reminds us off the darkness of this world but the candles (as they were in those days) speak of Jesus the Light of the World, the light coming into the world. In the opening chapter of John's Gospel this point is made very clearly. The light shines in the darkness, says John speaking of Christ's incarnation and the darkness has not overcome it. Of John the Baptist, John says that he came as a witness to testify concerning that light, ... He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. Rather says John of Jesus The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. Whether you are keen on Christmas trees or not it is worth asking yourself when Jesus was born. I think that an examination of the text would suggest that he was born at night, probably at the darkest point so that even in that matter there is some symbolism.
So the light has come into the world. It is not that there is no light. No, no, the light is shining. It is a little bit like delving in a dark cupboard at the far end of the room. I say to you “Is the light on?” and you say “Light? There is no light.” But I am not in the cupboard and I can see the light shining brightly at the other end of the room. Light has come into the world. Jesus has come to us. There is Saviour. The only question is, has he come to you? Are you enjoying his light in your life, the light of life that he gives?
2. Do you realise that people chose darkness instead of light; is that what you have done?
One reason that many Jews believe that Jesus cannot be their Messiah is because of the darkness in this world. When you think of some of the evidence, things such as those I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon or take the Holocaust or Shoah, the death of so many Jews in Nazi concentration camps, it does seem very strange, we must admit. How can the Messiah (the Light of the world) have come when there is still such darkness in this world? But as we said a moment ago – you can be in a room full of light but if your head is tuck in a darkened cupboard you won't know.
The problem John tells us is that though the Light has come into the world, men loved darkness instead of light. That is the problem – not a lack of light but a propensity to avoid the light and a preference to hiding in the shadows. What perversity it shows. Light is good but people prefer darkness. They hate the light. $ They are like moles and bats which God seems to have made with an aversion to light. Have you noticed how some people seem to want to keep the light out. Some of them sleep all day and get up at night time – not because of their work hours, they just prefer it that way. Others keep the blinds drawn or close the curtains and if they go out they hide behind dark glasses.
Is that you? Is your real problem not a lack of light but an unwillingness to come into the light? Too often that is the real explanation of the darkness in this world. It is not that people do not know any better. Rather, they do not want to know any better. They deliberately hide from the light.
Like a person waking from a long sleep and having a strong light shone at them, they turn away.
How averse are you to reading the Bible, coming to church, prayer, etc?
3. Do you realise that they did this because of their evil deeds; is that your problem?
And thirdly why is that? Why would you be averse to reading the Bible, coming to church, prayer, etc? Why is it that people reject the light and hide from it? Why do they prefer the shadows? The answer is here - because their deeds were evil. Why do people commit burglary or steal from warehouses or commit rape or murder in the dark? Because their deeds are evil and they want to be hidden from the light. One thing that local councils are aware of is that better lighting at night can cut crime. Many sorts of crime (for example, burglary, car theft, theft from a car and vandalism) are statistically more likely to occur in the dark. Where the criminal is likely to be seen then crime can be cut.
Now as individuals we have to admit that because our deeds are evil we would prefer darkness – not simply dim light but the darkness of ignorance and confusion and so on – it is an attempt to hide the truth and to hide from the truth.
And so we say this is a dark world. It is not a dark world because there is no light but because even though the light has entered the world, especially the Lord Jesus has come, people prefer darkness because their deeds are evil. The instinct to hide our evil deeds (as in the case of Adam and Eve in the Garden) is with us all but must be resisted.
2. Understand that evildoers hate the light and shun it for fear of exposure. Is that your fear?
John goes on in verse 20 to give a little more information about this phenomenon of men loving darkness rather than light because of their evil deeds. Verse 20 says Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. Here the problem is highlighted. Why do people hate the light and refuse to come into it? They are afraid their evil deeds will be exposed. Now again we know this from everyday experience. There are a few unusual people who are quite shameless in their wickedness and are happy to let their deeds be seen in broad daylight. Generally, most people, however, do not like their evil deeds to be revealed. That is why they do them in secret. That is why they so often try to deny them when confronted with the facts.
God has given every person a conscience and so, even though our consciences are fallen and so do not function perfectly, every person is aware at least to some extent of his evil deeds. You know that you are a sinner. I don't have to prove that to you. You know that you have thought and said and done things that are evil in God's sight.
Our natural reaction is to cover up the fact that we are sinners. If we are accused of something we want to deny it; when we do wrong things we try and hide them away. We fear the light because we know it shows up what's wrong. This is why Christians are hated and what they teach is opposed and ridiculed. Why are there atheists? Because they are afraid of having their evil deeds exposed. They want to explain it all away by some other means. People often present themselves as being only interested in the truth but the fact is that they hate the light and because they are always afraid of being exposed as evil shun the light.
So this is the great problem. It is not that there is no light. There is plenty of light. Light has come into the world. Nicodemus's problem was not that he had not seen Jesus. Your problem and mine is not that we do not know about him. No, our problem is our evil deeds – all the dishonesty and the greed and the lust and the idolatry and the unwillingness to serve God – that characterises us. We know we need to get into the light but if we go into the light we know that our evil deeds will be exposed and it will be seen what we really are.
Is that what is holding you back from coming to Christ? The need to confess your sins, the need to own up to how very bad you have been.
I remember that when I was a boy, perhaps about 10 or 12, in the winter months I would be allowed sometimes to play out in the dark. It was great fun. The one problem was that I would get rather dirty and not realise because of the dark. It was only as I began to walk towards home that I would catch a glimpse of how dirty I was. I would then realise that I was about to go into a house with lights on where all the dirt would be clearly seen and I may well be in some trouble. But what could I do – stay outside? That wasn't the answer. I had to go in and face the consequences.
Now in a similar way, if you are ever to come to Christ then you will have to have your evil deeds exposed. That is the only way to come to the light. That leads us to our last point.
3. Followers of truth come into the light so that it becomes evident what they have done has been done through God. Is that you?
Verse 21 says But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. Here there is an interesting twist. It doesn't say “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it his evil deeds may be exposed”. That is what happens when you come to the light, of course. But it isn't the only thing. What also happens is that it is seen plainly that what the converted person has done has been done through God. In other words, although, yes, the person is seen to be wicked, the main thing is that God is seen to the God of grace, the God who enables people to do what is good.
So when as a kid I would be a little fearful of going in from the dark into the house full of light it was never a bad thing. Yes, there would be that moment when I would walk into the kitchen and we would all see just how much mud had attached itself to me and my mother would say “Gary, what have you been doing?” but that would be followed by the warmth of the house, to be with my parents, have something to eat and drink, a hot bath perhaps and a warm bed for the night. Staying outside was never an option.
So when you come to Christ the True Light for the first time or the umpteenth time, yes you have to confess your sins, there is no denying your utter failure. Ah, but there is so much else when we come to him. What blessings he has and what glory it brings to God as his powerful work is seen in your life.
So I say to you this morning. Realise that the light has come, Christ has come into this world and is active in this world. However, men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. That is why they hate the truth and try to oppose it and why they flee from it when it comes near. The answer, however, is not to flee from it like a bat or a mole but to seek it out like a heliotrope, like a phototropic flower, a flower that seeks the light. There are flowers that follow the track of the sun east to west through the day – we ought to be like that too. Always seek out the light. Yes, your sin will then be exposed and that is never pleasant but you will also be enabled by God to do good and you will bring glory to him by that means.

Why God sent his Son and what you must do therefore

Text John 3:17, 18 Time 04/11/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have been looking at John the first part of John 3 and we have almost covered the verses I want to focus on at this time. I want to end our present studies at the end of verse 21 where there is a clear change of subject. This morning I want us to focus on verses 17 and 18 of Chapter 3. Like verse 16 which we looked at the week before last, these verses are probably John's additions rather than words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus on the night of his visit. We do not know, however, and they may have been spoken by Jesus then. Certainly they inspired words whoever spoke them first. We must receive them as God's own Word. God is speaking to us here and these are important things for us to understand. Verses 17 and 18 are not as famous as verse 16 for some reason but these verses like that one are full of meat and well worth learning off by heart. Here are vital truths that we all ought to be familiar with.
The verses contain four main thoughts. They sort of criss-cross with each other. The first thought concerns the fact that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. That thought is returned to at the end of verse 18 when it concludes that Christ did not need to do that for whoever does not believe stands condemned already the reason being his failure to believe in the name of God’s one and only Son. At the centre of these verses is the idea that God sent his Son rather to save the world through him. Therefore it is clear that Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is not condemned.
Let's look at the four parts in the order in which they appear and say these four vital things.
1. Realise that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it
Verse 17 begins For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. Now what we later learn is that one of the reasons why Jesus did not come to condemn or more literally to judge the world is because it was condemned already.
It is a little like a situation where a company has been put into liquidation and the receivers turn up to see what assets remain. Someone may say to them “Have you come to close down the company”. The answer is “No, the company has already been closed down. I have come rather to salvage what can be salvaged from it”. Jesus didn't come into this world to condemn it, it was condemned already.
However, John has deliberately used this form of what is called litotes, a statement strengthened by being in the negative, to stress the need never to be afraid of Jesus or discouraged because of him. Yes, he will judge us all one day. God has appointed him for that task. However, when he came into this world that first time he did not come to judge or condemn it. No, not at all. In fact, on one occasion when a man came to him asking him to sort out a dispute he ha with his brother over their father's will Jesus specifically said (Luke 12:14) Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? That is not why he came.
Remember that incident with the woman taken into adultery? There is some argument about whether it should be in the Bible at all but I think there is good reason to accept it as genuine. You remember what happens. … The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. It takes two to commit an act of adultery and the very fact that they bring only the woman and not the man proves they are not interested in justice or upholding the law but making a point. Now you remember how Jesus said that the first person to pick up a stone should be a person not guilty of this sin and, strikingly that caused them all to slink away one by one. When they had all gone he asked the woman if there was no-one left to condemn her, which was the case. He then said that he didn't condemn her either and she should go and sin no more.
It is a very striking story and I guess it fell out of use because it could be misread as condoning adultery, which it does not. Rather it is a powerful illustration of what is said here that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. That is not why God sent Jesus.
In the medieval period the image of Christ as judge was a very popular and many people were terrified of Jesus. I think that is one reason why the idea of Mary as someone who would intercede with her son for people became popular. This verse, however, should have been preached to the people God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. That is not why he came. That is not how to think of Jesus first and foremost.
Today we have gone in the other direction and Jesus as stern judge is almost forgotten. However, it is very important that we think of Jesus as one who did not come to condemn this fallen world. He does not condemn you. The Devil condemns you, others may condemn you too. Your own conscience condemns you – you know you are a sinner. However, Jesus will not condemn you now – that is not the reason that he came.
2. See that God sent his Son into the world to save it
The positive side of this is that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Far from condemning it, Jesus came into this lost and wicked world to save it. That is why in the next chapter of this Gospel Jesus is spoken of as the Saviour of the world. Jesus has come to save us from sin and from ourselves and from Satan and death and hell. His purposes are good and praiseworthy and he has the power to rescue us from all that stands against how ever far we may have fallen.
From time to time you hear of people getting lost in the mountains or in other remote places and so a team has to be sent to rescue them. Often the people have not prepared properly for being on the mountains or wherever they are. Do you sometimes imagine ow embarrassing it is for such people when they realise they need to be rescued at such expense and at such inconvenience for so many. But think about it, how is it in such circumstances? Here is a man in the mountains. He has stumbled and fallen and cannot walk. A rescue helicopter arrives overhead and a winchman is lowered. Now what is the conversation? Does the man from the helicopter begin “Whose been a silly billy then? What were you thinking coming out on the mountain so ill-prepared? Do you realise how much it is costing to carry out this rescue?” No, no, it is nothing like that at all. Yes, there may come a time when all that is gone into but at that moment all that matters is that the person should be rescued. The sooner he is winched up into the safety of that helicopter the better.
Now there is a message about sin and how foolish and evil it is and that note has to be sounded from time to time but it is not the dominant note today, in this day of God's grace. Yes, a day is coming when that note will be sounded long and loud for many, many people but today is a day of good news for all who will hear it. The emphasis today is always on Christ and his coming to save sinners.
Do you realise that? You can't save yourself and I can't save you. But there is Saviour. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died on the cross so that sinners like us might be saved from sin and death. All you have to do is trust in him and you will be saved.
We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land, climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! ’tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Waft it on the rolling tide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, you islands of the sea; echo back, you ocean caves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing above the battle strife: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
By His death and endless life Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom, when the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free; highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
3. Understand the one way you can escape the condemnation that this world is under
So there we see it. Jesus did not come into this world to condemn it but to save it. It is very important that we know an understand verse 17. Verse 18 is also very important too. You really do need both verses. So what does verse 18 says. Well, it begins Whoever believes in him is not condemned. So yes Jesus came to save the world, he is the Saviour of the world but that does not mean that every single person who has ever lived will be in heaven one day. No, it is those who believe who are not condemned. Whoever believes in him is not condemned. That is why faith in Christ is so important. Remember Paul's words at the beginning of Romans 8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
What does it mean to trust in Christ, to have faith in him, to believe in him? This is absolutely central in what the Bible teaches. This is because every treasure, every good thing there is is all in Christ and so the only way to receive those treasures, those good things is by being joined to Christ. But how can we be joined to him? He is now in heaven and we are on earth. It can't be a physical thing. Some say that when he said of the bread at the Last Supper this is my body he somehow meant that whenever you eat certain bread (bread blessed by a priest) then you eat him. But that is obviously patent nonsense. The way to be joined to Christ is not by eating his flesh in some literalistic way. No the only way to be joined to Christ is to be joined to him by faith, to identify with him and put all your trust in him and what he has done. That is why I urge you this morning, where you are, to trust in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes illustrations help. About this one? Have you heard of Charles Blondin (1824-1897). Back in June 1859, Blondin (real name Jean Francois Gravelet) accomplished an amazing feat. He crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. A 3 inch manila rope was stretched 1,100 feet across the falls at a height of 160 feet and he not only walked across but did all sorts of other amazing feats – a backwards somersault, a blindfolded crossing, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts, in the dark with Roman candles flaring from both ends of his balancing pole. On one occasion he even stopped half way across and cooked an omelette on a portable stove and lowered it to a boat below.
But in September, 1860, he accomplished the amazing feat I want to focus on to help us in this matter of faith. Before crossing the rope on that particular day the Great Blondin turned to the crowd and said, "Do you believe I can carry someone across the rope on my back?" The crowd roared its approval, "Yes, we believe you can!" He asked for a volunteer, "Who will volunteer?" The crowd was silent. He then pointed out one man standing nearby, "How about you?" The man said, "Hardly, you don't think I am going to risk my life like that, do you?" and he turned away. Next he pointed to another man, "And what about you?" The man replied, "I believe. In fact, I have no doubt at all." Charles said, "Will you trust me?" The man replied, "I will!"
The man then proceeded to climb on Blondin's back and they headed across the falls. The crowd waited breathlessly while they crossed and roared their approval once they completed the crossing. What they didn't know was that the man who crossed on Blondin's back was Harry Colcord, his manager. Colcord knew how good Blondin was and fully trusted him. His faith was secure, as the object of his faith, Charles Blondin, was trustworthy and had proven himself so over the years.
You see the point? Who can cross the tightrope that leads to heaven? None of us certainly. If we try we will easily fall off and tumble on to the rocks below. But Jesus can get across and not only that but he can take you across too, if you will only trust him. There is every reason to trust him. There is no reason not to trust him. If you have never trusted him before, trust him today. If you have trusted him before, keep on trusting him, he can take you across safely with out a doubt.
4. Consider your danger if you fail to believe in the name of God's One and Only Son
But what about the rest of verse 18? Well, that is very sobering indeed. It says but but is often quite an important word in the Bible. Whole sermons can be preached on the word but. But it says whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. You see the force of this. It is not that we are born somehow neutral – neither saved nor condemned, neither set to go to heaven or hell. No our default position is already set to condemnation and to hell. By nature we are all on the broad road that leads to destruction. We already stand under sentence of death.
Do you get those letters from businesses sometimes? Car insurance or the gas or electric company, for example. They explain things in the letter and then at the end they say that if you do nothing then they will automatically assume you want to insure with them or have their gas or electricity or what ever. Now when it comes to Jesus Christ, if you do nothing, what will happen? You are condemned. That is our state by nature.
One writer (Barnes) paraphrases the verses well
All people are by nature condemned. There is but one way of being delivered from this state - by believing on the Son of God. They who do not believe or remain in that state are still condemned, for they have not embraced the only way in which they can be freed from it.”
We are all aware of this deadly disease that is attacking the country's ash trees. Apparently once a tree is infected then nothing can be done to save it. There are diseases like that, where there is no known cure. In many cases, however, there are things that can be done. Indeed, the sooner something is done the better. We are condemned. We are born condemned. Anyone who has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son is condemned. However, if we hear of Christ and trust in him then there is hope. I know this raises the question of those who have never heard. Why are they condemned. They are condemned because of their sin, of course, but it isn't something we can go into here. It is rather academic for us anyway because we can hear. We know or we ought to know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. We have no choice then but to trust in him and know the salvation that he alone can give. I urge you to it today. Trust in Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.