David Jeremiah - Beautiful in His Time
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Today, we're going to look at the first 15 verses of the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes. And if you've joined us for the first time today let me remind you that Ecclesiastes is a very unique book in the Old Testament. It is not a book about life as we see it today. It is a book about life as the Scripture says, "Under the sun". It is a book that was written by the wisest man who ever lived, also the wealthiest man who ever lived, a book in which he looks back over his life, at the end of his life, and he chronicles the experiments of life that he had undergone, trying to find meaning for living. Solomon tried wealth and wisdom and work and wild living. And at the end of all of these experiments, Solomon came up with this conclusion: "It's all emptiness. It's all vanity. It's all chasing the wind".
But now we come to the 3rd chapter, and the 3rd chapter poses a much different problem for us than we have experienced so far. In fact, one writer that I read has actually called his entire writing on the book of Ecclesiastes, "The Problem With God". We've looked at the problem in the first two chapters without God but there is a problem with God. And the problem with God is summarized in an argument that was put forward in a book by Rabbi Kushner some years ago. In his book, Kushner relates the story of the tragedy of his own son and then, as a religious man, he tries to sort out in his mind why God would allow something so terrible to happen to his boy. And he comes up with two theses as to why this could be true. First of all, he said, "It is possible that Almighty God is loving but he's not powerful".
He's loving. He wanted to do something about his son but he didn't have the power to do it. "Or," he said, "the other alternative is, he is powerful and he's not loving". He has the ability to do something about the evil in the world but he just doesn't care. Kushner wrestled with this problem in his book and came up with a conclusion from his perspective that God is loving but he's not powerful, that God cares deeply about us but he basically created a world and wound it up and set it loose to be its own entity without any intervention from outside. So that in his mind, God is not in control. God is not sovereign. God has nothing to do with the everyday situations in your life and in mine.
I debated a rabbi after my illness out at Scripps Clinic who is a disciple of Rabbi Kushner. And in his response to the illness that he had and the illness that I had, he made the statement that he never prayed to be healed because he didn't believe God had anything to do with his illness so why should God have anything to do with his healing. That God was, basically, outside of all the experiences of life. Solomon would not agree with that assessment. Solomon helps us to understand that Almighty God is in control. He's sovereign. He is on the throne. Nothing happens outside of his purpose. But having said all of that, there are still some issues. There are still some problems.
So as we look at the 3rd chapter, we're going to see three things that Solomon does in his reasoning through these questions. Why are things in life not better than they are? If I am a follower of God, why do I have to go through winter? Why do I have to experience autumn? Why can't I just have spring and summer? Why doesn't God treat me better? Because I'm one of his children. Why is all this pain in my life? Well, as Solomon begins to unravel this question in the 3rd chapter, he does so by giving to us some impressions about life, some impressions about life. In the first eight verses, Solomon gives some interesting dialog with us about life in general. This is a very interesting literary passage because it contains 14 couplets, 14 phrases that are alike in some ways. Actually, there are 28 statements, 14 negative ones and 14 positive ones. They are statements about life as it is and they fall into three separate categories.
The first group of statements are about our humanity and our body. The second group is about our soul, and the third group is about our spirit. Solomon has reasoned about life and he has some impressions about life and how life works as it relates to our body, our soul, and our spirit, which is the make-up of a man; body, soul, and spirit, that's who we are. He begins first of all by reminding us that our life is about time. In fact, the word "time" is found in this passage of Scripture over and over again. Twenty-nine times Solomon mentions the word "time" and that does not include other words that reflect on time, like a season and like eternity and like forever. Solomon's talking here in this little entry from his journal about how you and I who follow God look at life. And here is his impression. He says, "There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; there's a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up". He begins with a summary statement by saying, "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven".
First of all, Solomon talks about the boundaries of life. He says, there is a time to be born, and a time to die. God knows the time of our birth, he knows the time of our death. Life runs through seasons. He says, "There's a time for you to plant, and a time to harvest". He's talking about the food supply. God has set the boundaries of the harvest. Did you know that you don't plant in the wintertime, in the middle of the winter when snow is on the ground. There's a seed time and a harvest, and that's part of the rhythm of life. There's a time to kill, and a time to heal.
That sounds strange to us, a time to kill, but did you ever think about the fact that your body is in the process of dying in many respects from the moment you're born. And that's not meant to be morbid. But scientists tell us every seven years we change. All of the cells in our bodies replenish themself every seven years. The old cells die, so whoever you are, you're different than you were seven years ago. Some of you say, "I like my old cells better than my new ones," amen? You're different, but you're the same. There's a time when you die, there's a time when you are born. He goes on to say, "There is a time to break down, and a time to build up".
We build up in youth; we start breaking down in our age. Isn't that true? Someone said that the way that happens is when you start breaking down, type gets smaller and smaller, steps get higher and higher, people speak in lower and lower tones. Have you noticed that? When you start breaking down. What Solomon is saying and that we need to understand is, when it comes to our bodies, there's a season for every part of life. There's a time when we're born, a time when we die. There's a time when we build up, a time when we break down. There's a time when you plant, there's a time when you harvest. There is a season. And here's what he wants us to understand, men and women. God is involved in all of that. He doesn't stand outside of that. He's involved in every part of it.
You say, "God is involved in death"? Yes. Now, you're gonna have to suspend your judgment on what I'm saying today until we get to the end but I want you to hear clearly that God is not as Rabbi Kushner says he is, outside of the experience of life. He is not "loving but not powerful". He is all powerful and all loving and because we can't comprehend that, does not make it untrue. He's God; we're not. We may like to be God, but we cannot be God. He's God. The throne in heaven is occupied. There's a "No vacancy" sign on the outside. Nobody gets to be God. So he goes on now and he begins to reason in these next couplets about how time affects the soul. He said, "There's a time to weep, and a time to laugh," verse 4, "there's a time to mourn, and a time to dance. There's a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing".
The soul is the seat of our emotion. Solomon reminds us that there's a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Sometimes you laugh hysterically, sometimes you weep. Sometimes you rejoice and you can hardly contain your joy. There's a time to cast away, and a time to gather; a time to embrace, and a time to stop embracing. There's a time when we affirm one another and it is good, but there's a time when we need to confront one another; an affirmation would be complicity. Life is made up with all of these emotions. And what Solomon wants us to know is God is not just in the good things. God is a part of all things.
Now, we may not accept that in our minds and in our hearts, but you have to stay with me. Solomon continues now with the third grouping and he calls this, "How time affects our spirit," verses 6 through 8. He said, "There is a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace". These last six couplets here in the first part of this chapter have to do with the spirit, the inner decisions, the deep commitments of our life.
Sometimes, we gain; sometimes, we lose. Money, weight, hair. Sometimes we store things in our garage and sometimes we clean out our garages. We collect and we throw away, we go through, don't you go through seasons like that? You look on it and you say, "Where did all this junk come from"? And you have a garage sale or you just call Goodwill or you just put it all in the trash. There's a time when we need to speak, and there's a time when we need to keep our mouth shut; there's a time for love, and there's a time to hate. You say, "How could you say there's a time to hate"? There is a time to hate. Jesus hated. He hated sin. He hated destruction, he hated corruption.
We need to learn how to hate that which is evil without hating the people who are evil. We should hate abortion but we should not hate those who have abortions or those who do abortions. That's where the breakdown comes with all the stuff that happens with the killings around the country. We should hate the sin, but we should love the sinners. That's what Jesus did. There's a time to hate, there's a time to love. There's a time for war, and there's a time for peace. We've lived through both war and peace. There's a time for each one, it's a part of the cycle of life. War is sometimes necessary.
What Solomon is teaching us is that all of life unfolds under the appointment of providence. Both death and birth, and growth and harvest, and joys and sorrows, and acquiring and losing, and speaking up and being silent, war and peace, since everything has its appointed time from God, men cannot change the time and the circumstances or the events of life. God is in sovereign control of all that happens in life. You may not like that and we may not be able to fully explain that but it is true and Solomon recognizes it. God is in control.
Listen to Lamentations 3:37 and 38 if you struggle with this, as all of us do: "Who is he who speaks, and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed"? Did you ever see that verse? Or what about Ephesians 1:11: "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him," God, "who works all things according to the counsel of His will". How much of what goes on in the world is under the control of Almighty God? Whether you like it or not, everything.
God is in charge. If you do not believe that, you have a God who is not worth worshiping. If God is not in charge, he can't be God. And that's why when you hear somebody, like my friend at Scripps, talk about how God is loving but he's not in control, I don't wanna worship that God. There isn't a God like that. Sometimes, people come along and they say, "Well, my God would never allow that". You know why? 'Cause their God doesn't exist. That God doesn't exist. The God who doesn't allow good and evil is not the God of the Bible. Does God promote evil? No, but in his permissive will, he allows it and we're gonna see in a minute why. All of these things are part of the plan that God has for life. He did not edit out the difficult things so that we could go sailing through life without challenges.
Did you know that? One day, everything that is broken, hallelujah, is gonna be fixed. And everything that is sick is gonna be made well. And every disease is gonna be eliminated forever, but not yet. We're living in between the cross and the crown, and in that in-between time, we deal with life as it really is and it is made up of all of the emotions that we have discussed so far. The problem is that God has planned my life and it is his plan and not my plan. He is God; I am not. He is God; you are not. He is in control. So there are some impressions about life. What Solomon is saying, is life if made up of a lot of seasons: winter, summer, autumn, spring, and all of it's a part of God's ultimate plan for his people.
Now, let's just file that for a moment, all right? We got that far. And you might not agree with it, but just hold on to it, all right? Let's talk now about some insights about God. Solomon now files in his report some insights about God. Once again, he asks this tough question. This is the third time he has asked this question and we are not even finished with the third chapter of his journal. Here's the question: "What profit has the worker from that in which he labors"? "What is left over after all the rhythm of life has extracted its emotion from us? What do we have to hold onto," he says.
Is there meaning in all of the polarization of life that fills the first eight verses of this chapter? Where's the meaning in all of this? Verse 10, he says, "I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied". Basically, what he's saying is, man is so busy living out his life that he will not understand the meaning of it unless he stops to ponder it, unless he begins to think about it, then he will realize that God's plan is good. That's the first thing I want you to know about God. Here's the first insight that Solomon had about God. Here it is: "His plan is good". Verse 11, here's what it says: "He has made everything beautiful in its time".
God did that. God makes everything beautiful in its time. Everything that happens in our lives has a purpose. God makes it beautiful in its time. This is the Old Testament counterpart of Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose". It's the basis of the little worship chorus that said, "In his time, in his time, he makes all things beautiful in his time. Lord, please show me every day, as you're teaching me your way, that you'll do just what you say in your time".
Now, here's the problem. The problem is the problem. We have no problem with that particular perspective on life as long as it only refers to the good things that happen to us. I mean, you meet this guy and you've been praying to get married. You meet this guy in the elevator and across a crowded room, or whatever, and your eyes lock and it becomes instant love and you say, "Oh, it was beautiful in its time". Ten years later, you've lived with the guy for ten years, you wanna think about it again. Maybe it's not so beautiful in its time. But what I want you to understand is that everything that happens in life is a part of the plan of God and God's plan is good.
We have no problem with his observation but we don't understand that the plan also includes the hard things. Cancer can be a part of God's plan. Does God give people cancer? No, he allows it though. People ask me all the time, "How did you get cancer? My goodness, Pastor Jeremiah, you're a man of God". I'm a human being, and human beings get cancer. I don't get a pass. I mean, when I became a pastor, God didn't just give me a rest-of-the-life free pass of all disease. And he didn't give you one either. It's part of life. But God's plan is good.
I remember reading this some years ago from a book by Malcolm Muggeridge called, "Twentieth Century Testimony," and listen to what he said. This is profound. He said: "Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that in everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it were ever possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisioned in, 'A Brave New World,' the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This of course is what the cross signifies, and it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me to follow Christ".
What is Muggeridge saying? He's saying if you could look back on your life and take out everything that was painful, everything that was difficult, everything that was a challenge, everything that you would say is not positive, and you would look at your life, you would say, "That life was so vanilla, it was not worth living". You say, "Well, Pastor, I'd like to give that a shot". I promise you, you would not like it. One of the pastors who's preached on Ecclesiastes is Tommy Nelson. I listened to his message on this passage some time ago and during the service he had his pianist come up on the platform and play "Jesus Loves Me," on the white keys. And then he had her add all the black keys to the arrangement. Then he voted, "Which of these did you like the best"?
And it was hands down, everybody liked the second version. They didn't like "Jesus Loves Me" on the white keys; they liked "Jesus Love Me" with the black keys. How many of you know that in life there are some black keys? You know what black keys are? They're sharps and flats. And life is filled with sharps and flats. So what you have to understand is that God's plan is good. Even the thing that he allows in your life and some of you are gonna come up to me and don't give me your illustrations.
I've heard 'em all. "What about the Holocaust? What about 9/11? What about all of these things"? I can't answer those questions. All I can say is that when you are able to look at all that has happened in life from eternity's perspective, you will see that Almighty God was in charge and he put it together in a way that was a good plan. If you don't accept that, you will struggle all your life with the difficult things that you face. Not only is God's plan good, his purpose is clear. It says that "he has put eternity in their hearts".
Now I could preach a whole sermon just on this one little phrase but let me tell you what that means. What that means is God has put something in our hearts that cannot be discovered through the experiences of life. He has put eternity in our hearts. There always will be a longing within us for something more than we have experienced until we know God. And even after we get God, there will still be an ache because the Bible says the whole creation is groaning, waiting for the day of redemption. We cannot find ultimate satisfaction in this life, even if we are followers of Christ because Christ has created us only to find that perfect satisfaction in a personal relationship with him when we spend eternity with him forever and ever.
Walter Kaiser sums up this longing. He said, "Man has an inborn inquisitiveness and a capacity to learn how everything in his experience can be integrated to make a whole". He wants to know how everything downstairs relates to everything upstairs. The cycles of life, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, they leave us with an ache that will not go away because God has made us to ache for him. It was Saint Augustine who said it first: "Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee".
C.S. Lewis put it this way. He said: "Our heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along the journey, but he takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home". What a great thought. There's a lot of joy along the way as believers but the ultimate joy isn't ours 'til we get home. So his plan is good and his purpose is clear but, number three, the third insight about God Solomon makes, is that his program is mysterious. His program is mysterious. 'Cause I've said all I can say about it but verse 11 says: "Except that no one can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end". Nobody can figure it out.
I don't know if you came here this morning thinking I'm gonna explain all this to you so you can understand why did this happen, why did that happen, why is this going on, why do I have this, why is... I don't know. I know this. God's plan is good. His purpose is clear, but his program's mysterious. I'm not God and I can't understand it. I try to figure it out and so do you, and I wish sometimes God would be more forthcoming with answers. But sometimes, he doesn't answer us and let me tell you something. He's God and he doesn't owe us an answer. We may think that God's responsible to tell us why stuff is happening. He doesn't owe us that answer; he's God.
Someday we'll know, but right now we live, as Paul wrote in the New Testament, we look through a glass darkly. We don't see things clearly. It's kind of like the back window on a frosty morning when the mist is there and you can barely see some shadows but you better not back up 'til you clean it off because you can't see clearly. So God's plan is good and his purpose is clear and his program is mysterious. And that brings us from the insights of God to some instructions about living. Now here's the good part about all this. Now, you know, this is philosophical. This kinda be a little heavy sometimes. But it's all good when you understand what Solomon is saying. He's gonna give us three things we need to do because we heard this message today.
Three things we need to follow up on because we know we've gotten these impressions about life that God's in charge of everything, ups and down, good and bad, white keys, the black keys. And the insights about God are his plan is good, his purpose is clear, his program's mysterious. Now what do we do? First instruction for living: Don't forfeit enjoyment because of what you can't understand. Write it down. Do not forfeit enjoyment because of what you can't understand. Notice verse 12: "I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives".
Now here's what I believe Solomon is saying: You can spend all of your life if you want to, trying to figure God out and you never will. You can figure out why God allows everything that he allows and you'll never understand it. So if you spend all your life locked up in that, you won't be able to enjoy life 'cause you were created to enjoy. So don't let what you don't understand keep you from enjoying what you can enjoy. Go have a good hamburger. Go to Krispy Kreme on the way home. Well, you know, I'm trying to be facetious here just enough so you can understand what I mean. Because here's what I think happens. I think a lot of Christians get locked up in all of this stuff that they don't understand and they miss the fact that Almighty God sent Jesus into the world to give us life more abundantly.
How many Christians do you know that if you looked at them as an unbeliever and you thought, "If I got what they had, I'd really be sick". You don't want what they have. They don't have joy. I hear people say all the time, "When you get older and you get ready to die, you're gonna look back and realize you should have served God more," and that'll probably be true of all of us but you know what else? Think a lot of us are gonna get old and we're gonna look back and say, "You know what? I never enjoyed life anywhere close to the way I should have". And I'm learning how to do that better and better every day that I live. We're to enjoy life. God has given us this life to enjoy. Joy is ours, amen?
If anybody can rejoice, you say, "Well, I can't rejoice because I got all these intellectual problems". Well, you're stuck because you're not gonna figure out the mystery of God but what you can do is, you can do what Solomon says. You can enjoy life. Lewis Smedes, one of my favorite writers, wrote these words. He said, "Some saints can't enjoy a meal because the world is starving. They can't enjoy God and thank him for their clothing because the world is naked and homeless. They're afraid to enjoy an evening at home with their families because they feel they ought to be out saving souls. They can't spend an hour with an unforgiven one without feeling guilty if they haven't preached a sermon to 'em. They know nothing of balance and they're miserable because of it. They have no inner incentive to bring people into a relationship with Christ that would make them feel as miserable as they themselves feel. They think the gospel's good news 'til you obey it. Then it becomes an endless guilt trip".
Do you know anybody like that? Solomon says, "Look, don't go down that road. God's given you life to enjoy". Yeah, we'll be always talking about the imponderables of the Godhead. You know, get into a discussion about the sovereignty of God and the free will of man and you'll freak out 'cause you can't figure it out. But what you can do is, while you can't understand what you can't understand, you can enjoy what you can enjoy, amen? And I want us to be a happy congregation. We ought to be people filled with joy, having a great time, and I believe that for most part that's true.
Secondly, don't forget to be thankful for God's gifts to you. Notice verse 13: "And also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all of his labor". Did you know that? Go to work and be glad. Sometimes, we get so caught up in what's wrong with our job, we don't understand that God's given us a job and people everywhere would give thanks. So be thankful for what you've got. One day we're gonna die. But in the meantime, let's live. Don't go through life and not live and be thankful for what God has done for you. Yeah, there's a lot of things we don't understand but don't let the things you don't understand keep you from the things you can enjoy. And don't forget to give thanks to God. And here's the last thought.
Number three, don't fear life; fear God. I know that whatever God does, it'll be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nothing can be taken from it. You say, "Well, I don't like God's plan for my life". Forget it, it's too bad. God doesn't have any red ink in the contract on your life. He doesn't have a delete button on his computer. There's no erasers in heaven. It says whatever God has determined you can't take anything from it, you're not gonna add anything to it. God does it and men should fear before him. You say, "What does that mean"? It means the very fact that you can't understand it is the reality that he's God.
You say, "I don't understand what you're doing, God". And he says, "Well, that's probably because I'm God and you're not. And my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts". And what should we do when we have that emotion? Get mad? "Well, I don't think it's right that I can't understand what God's doing". No, you realize the imponderable mystery of Almighty God and you fall down before him and you worship and say, "Lord God, I don't know what's going on here but I know you're God and I worship you with all my heart, and you're in charge and whatever you've got going, it's okay with me, we'll get through this, and I know you will never leave me, nor forsake me".
Don't fear life, fear God. Life is God's gift and Almighty God has come to you with this wonderful plan. One day a perfect, sinless, without-blemish, spotless man was dispatched from the perfect environment of heaven to come to this earth for the express reason that he might go to a Roman cross and there die a cruel death for every single person because he was God in the flesh. He was God and he could die a death for every man as if he were dying one-on-one for every man who had ever lived. He was that unbelievable yet he was infinite.
Watch this. The perfect, sinless, Son of God coming down to this earth and you say, "Who did that"? The Romans did it. There's some truth in that. The Jews did it. There's some truth in that. The mobs did it. That's right. We did it; it was our sin that sent him down here. But all of those answers are incomplete. And I want you to look with me at a verse of some Scripture that we're gonna put up on the screen now from the book of Acts and I want you to notice carefully what it says: "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do," now watch this, "whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done".
Who killed Jesus? God did. God did that. He killed him. How can you comprehend that? He let him go to the cross. He determined ahead of time that he would die. And he hung on that cross and the Bible says God turned his back on his own Son. It was the most awful moment in the history of the universe. And looking at it from the perspective of Good Friday, you have to say, "That was the most colossal failure of Almighty God since history was recorded". But if you just wait a little while, just a few hours, until Easter Sunday and the stone rolls away and that one who was killed by God for us comes out of the grave victorious over death. And the Resurrection gospel begins to be preached and men and women begin to receive the message and they're saved.
And all those who were saved on credit from the Old Testament are now completely and wonderfully regenerated and you and I in this generation heard the gospel and what was it, the gospel? The gospel of the God who killed his own Son so that we might have life everlasting. And you say, "The counsel of God was wrong," but only if you look at it before it's all finished. When you look at it from our perspective, God knew what he was doing. And I wanna tell you, men and women, that that same God knows what he's doing in your life and in mine. And if this God took the Son, his own Son's life to accomplish his purpose, surely you understand why everything is mysterious to us when we try to sort him out in our own lives.
Key question is this: Have you taken this one who came to die for you as your personal Savior? Because what God did when he let Jesus die, when by his determinate foreknowledge he determined and purposed that it would happen, says the Scripture. He did it for you, for me. He did it because there's no other way for you to go to heaven except through Jesus Christ. Do you think Almighty God would have let his Son be killed if there was some other way? There was no other way because we are sinners and we have violated God's holy standard. He sent a perfect sacrifice to this world and that perfect sacrifice died on the cross. And he took the sin of the whole world on himself and he says to all of us, "If you will just come and accept my forgiveness for your sin, you can go to heaven and you can become a son of God or a daughter of God".