Speaker: Mr John Chua
Sermon Title: Living in light of aging and death
Scripture Text: Ecclesiastes 11:7–12:8
The Vanity of Life (Eccl 11:7–10)
Remember Your Creator Now! (Eccl 12:1–8)
Relating to Jesus
11 7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
12 1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
Good morning, my name is John. I’m a youth teaching leader at Hermon, and presently am studying full-time at a bible college. And I thank God for this time that we can learn from God’s Word together.
Now I like to begin by asking us to imagine, say at the start of this year, if you knew that the coronavirus was coming, what would you have done differently? Perhaps you might take certain precautions and advise others to do the same in order to reduce the number of infected cases. Perhaps you might make financial preparations, knowing that the economy would soon take a turn for the worse. Perhaps you would change or even cancel certain plans, knowing that the virus would greatly affect them.
The point is, if you knew that something big like the coronavirus was coming, you would make changes to your lives before it comes. In that same way, our bible passage speaks about living in a different way in light that something big is coming. And that big thing that will affect every one of us is aging and death. And they are big because aging and death greatly affect our lives and those around us.
As such, our message today concerns how we ought to live in light that aging and death are coming. Let us now examine God’s Word to discern how to live.
Life is Vanity (Eccl 11:7–10)
Ecclesiastes 11, beginning from verse 7, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all…” Our passage begins by comparing life to light, and in doing so, it tells us that life is sweet and pleasant, just as light is. And so if a person gets to live many years, let him rejoice in that gift of life. Yet at the same time, there is a reminder that “days of darkness” are coming. This refers to death. For just as the opposite of light is darkness, so the opposite of life is death. And earlier on in 6:3–5, we find a similar description of darkness being used to describe death.
As such, although life is sweet and pleasant, that will change because death is coming. So verse 8 ends by saying, “All that comes is vanity.” In other words, all the sweetness of life will finally be for nothing, it is in vain, because life on earth will end in death. And this is something that even Christians must grapple with. For all of us will experience the same vain process of life leading to death.
And this is exactly what the book of Ecclesiastes is about — it tries to make sense of our struggles on earth, and then tells us how to live in light of such vanities in our earthly lives. Here, it addresses the problem of death.
And so in verses 9–10, the author of Ecclesiastes uses a series of commands to tell us how we ought to live. And there are really two things that he wants to impress upon us. First, he wants us to rejoice in the gift of life. And this is expressed in the commands to “rejoice… in your youth”, to “let your heart cheer you”, to “walk in the ways of your heart…”, and to “remove vexation from your heart”. All these convey the idea that we are to enjoy the gift of life and youth as much as we can, precisely because death is coming. In other words, enjoy life while you still have it.
And this is wise advice. For how pointless it would be for you to live in a joyless way, just because you are so concerned about death, which is something that you can’t change anyway. And so far better for you to rejoice in that gift of life while you still have it. Especially if you are young and at the prime of your life, enjoy that! Be grateful that you have food, and you have the ability to enjoy that food, or that you have the energy to pursue work, and you can find pleasure in play, or you can also enjoy the company of friends and families. All these blessings in life you would not always have, for death is coming. And so enjoy them while you still have them.
This call to rejoice is in fact a recurring theme throughout Ecclesiastes. For example, in 3:13, in 5:19 and 8:15 all commend us to enjoy the things that God has given on earth. And here we ought to rejoice in the gift of life and youth, because they are ultimately given by God.
Therefore, let us not take for granted even this simple fact that we are still alive today. Especially in this time of coronavirus, there are many who have already lost their lives. And so let us be thankful that we are still alive, and rejoice in whatever pleasures and blessings of earthly life that God has given to us today.
Now secondly, although we should certainly enjoy life, yet we ought to do so in a way that recognises God’s judgment. That is why the author reminds us at the end of verse 9, to “know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment”. In other words, as you pursue your desires and find pleasures in life, be very careful not to fall into sin. For you are ultimately accountable to God, and will face His final judgment.
And this final judgment of God is also the final word of Ecclesiastes. Look at 12:13 and 14. They say, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Now since we will finally face God’s judgment, the author then tells us in verse 10 to “put away pain from [our bodies]”. Now the word “pain” can also be translated as “evil”. And you can see that in the footnote of some bibles. And I think it makes good sense here to translate this as ‘evil’, because the right way to live in light of God’s judgment is to put away evil from our bodies.
As such, let us enjoy the pleasures of life, but do so without sinning. And let us also do good, for God will finally repay us for both the good and evil things that we do.
In all, these are the two things that we ought to do in light that death is coming. First, to rejoice in the gift of life while we still have it, and secondly to recognise God’s judgment by avoiding sin and doing good.
Now both these responses are captured in the subsequent command of 12:1 — the command to remember your Creator. For when we remember our Creator, we rejoice in the Creator’s gift of life, and we recognise that we are but creatures living under the judgment of our Creator. And so to remember your Creator really means to do these two things of rejoicing in life, and recognising God’s judgment.
Remember Your Creator Now! (Eccl 12:1–8)
And we need to do so now, as soon as possible! Because death is approaching with each passing day. And that is what the rest of our passage is about. To persuade us to do these things now before aging and death comes upon us. And the author uses the word “before” three times, in verse 1, verse 2 and verse 6. With each time, the sense of urgency increases.
First in verse 1, we are to remember our Creator “before the evil days come”. Aging is described as “evil days” here, not because it is morally wrong, but because aging robs us of the pleasures of life. Aging takes these things away. And so it says that when the years draw near, you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” In other words, rejoice in the gift of life now, especially while you are still young, because aging will make life unpleasant. And then it would be so much harder for you to rejoice.
Now to help us understand just how unpleasant old age can be, the author uses poetic imageries in verses 2–5 to paint for us a bleak picture of old age. Beginning in verse 2, old age is when the sun, light, moon and stars are darkened. This is a poetic way of saying that your eyes will begin to fail in old age. And “the clouds return after the rain” tells us that things will continue to be as dark and gloomy as ever. In other words, the decay of your eyesight is permanent. It will not go away.
And in verses 3–4, we see this picture of a great house in decline. First we see the keepers or the guards of the house, they are trembling. And the strong men are bent, they are too weak to even stand straight. This portrays the loss of strength when we get old. Also we see that the grinders have stop working, the faces at the windows are dim, the doors on the street are shut. This great house that was once bustling with activities, where people are busy working, faces are vibrant, and doors are open for visiting, now all these have ceased. This sadly conveys that decrease in activity and energy in old age.
And then the author turns his attention towards sounds — that the sound of grinding and the song of birds are brought low. This describes how our ears also begin to fail. But the irony is that although old people cannot hear well, yet the slightest sound will disturb them from their sleep. That is why it says, “one rises up at the sound of a bird”. And so old people can neither hear nor sleep well.
And in verse 5, they are also afraid of heights and are terrified about moving around because as we all know, old people cannot afford to fall. Their hair turns white, just like the blossoming of the almond tree. And their movement becomes slow and laborious, just like the grasshopper that drags itself along. And finally even something as basic as desire also fails.
And now with this bleak picture of old age, we begin to understand why rejoicing in the Creator’s gift of life is best done when we are still young, for old age will bring about all these unpleasant experiences of life, that will make it hard for us to rejoice. We will lose our senses to enjoy the world around us, it becomes increasingly hard to even sustain our own existence, and we will not have the strength nor the desire to do the things that we enjoy.
However that’s not the end. There is something else that draws near as we get old, and that is death, which is what the remaining verses talk about. They say, “The mourners go about the streets, the silver cord is snapped, the golden bowl is broken” and so on, these are all different ways of describing death.
Now I like to draw your attention to the descriptions that begin and end these verses. First at the end of verse 5, that “man is going to his eternal home”, and then at the end of verse 7, “the spirit returns to God who gave it.” You see, death is portrayed as the time when we go and meet our Creator in eternity. And that means we will face His final judgment. For that is the context in 11:9 and 12:14.
As such, this ought to give us a sense of urgency. For if we want to recognise God’s judgment by putting away evil from our bodies and doing good, now is the time to do so, before death comes. For when death comes, judgment will follow and then it would be too late to start recognising God’s judgment. And the conclusion in verse 8 that “all is vanity” drives home the point once again that life and youth are vanity because they will surely lead to aging and death.
As such, let us learn to rejoice in God’s gift of life now, before aging makes life unpleasant and so much harder to rejoice. And let us recognise God’s judgment now by avoiding sin and doing good. For when death comes, judgment will follow, and it would be too late to change the way we live. This is the message from Ecclesiastes. That we remember our Creator now by doing these two things of rejoicing in life and recognising His judgment.
Relating to Jesus
But before we end, we must still consider how all these relate to Jesus. For the coming of Jesus Christ importantly shapes the way we understand God’s gift of life and His judgment. Thus, if we fail to relate to Jesus, we would only have an incomplete picture of God’s message to us today.
And so firstly, concerning God’s gift of life, Scripture tells us that whoever believes in Jesus has been granted eternal life. That familiar verse in Jn 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
You see, because of Jesus, the Creator’s gift of life is not just our time on earth, but ultimately eternal life through Jesus. Now knowing this gives us greater reason to rejoice in God’s gift of life. Because our Creator has not only given to us temporal life on earth, but also everlasting life in heaven. And so especially for those of us who are already old, who are already experiencing the unpleasantness of life, we can still look forward to a better life after death.
Therefore Jesus helps us to rejoice in God’s gift of life even more! We can rejoice in both the pleasant experiences of life on earth, as well as look forward to eternal life and rejoice in that.
Now secondly, concerning God’s judgment, Scripture tells us that it is Jesus Himself who would carry out God’s final judgment. In 2 Cor 5:10, it says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” Now this means that it is not enough to simply do good in life but reject Jesus, for it is Jesus Himself who would ultimately judge us. As such, we need to have a right relationship with Jesus, and that means firstly to believe in Him. As Jn 3:18 reminds us, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Yet at the same time, remember that the verse from 2 Cor also tells us that judgment is according to what we do, just like the message from Ecclesiastes. And this is because true belief in Jesus always leads to good works. Someone who genuinely believes in Jesus goes on to do good in his life. Therefore at final judgment, a true Christian would be shown to have both faith and good works in his earthly life. As such, recognising that God’s judgment will be carried out by Jesus means that we must believe in Jesus, and have a genuine faith that produces good works.
And so relating to Jesus gives us now this more complete picture of the message from Ecclesiastes. First it gives us greater reason to rejoice in God’s gift of life, because our Creator has blessed us with both life on earth, and also eternal life in heaven.
And remember we are to rejoice in both of them. Sometimes Christians, in thinking about eternal life, forget to rejoice in God’s present blessings in their earthly lives. For it is easy to take for granted our health, the provision of food and shelter, the opportunity for work and play, the presence of friends and families. And it is only when we lose these things, that we regret not having treasured them. And Ecclesiastes warns us that we will lose these things, for aging and death are certainly coming. So don’t wait until then. Rejoice in these things now while you still have them.
At the same time, if you are already aging and experiencing the unpleasantness of life, remember, that you can still look forward to eternal life because of Jesus. And so in Christ, we can rejoice in both the blessings of earthly lives and also look forward to the blessings of eternal life.
Secondly, relating to Jesus gives us greater clarity of how to recognise God’s judgment. It means to have a right relationship with Jesus because it is Jesus who would carry out God’s final judgment. And having a right relationship with Christ means to have a genuine faith that produces good works.
Therefore, if you have not yet believed in Jesus, please know that doing good is not enough to save you from God’s final judgment. You need to believe in Jesus. But even if you have already believed in Jesus, please know that you need a genuine faith that produces good works. And so even as Christian, you still need to work hard at putting away evil and doing more good as evidence of genuine faith. As such, regardless of whether you are a non-Christian or a Christian, recognising God’s final judgment in Christ means that you need to make appropriate changes to your life — either by believing in Jesus or resisting sin and doing more good to please Jesus.
In all, let us do these two things of rejoicing in God’s gift of life, and making appropriate changes to our lives in light of God’s final judgment in Christ. And let us do so now, before aging and death are upon us. This is what it means to live in light of aging and death.