October 12, 2017 Chapel Service — Rev. Don Bailey
Posted On October 13, 2017
“Remember Your Creator”
— Ecclesiastes 12:1-9
Rev. Don Bailey serves as associate pastor at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.
You may be seated. I appreciate that introduction a few moments ago. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about pole vaulters is that as a young pole vaulter (before sanctification really gets rolling in the life of an athlete) anger can sometimes take over and the pole becomes a javelin. So, you heave it sometimes when you’ve had a bad jump. I’ve done both of those things in the past – and our passage today reminds me of the passing of time and how very long ago those things were.
I’ll be preaching out of Ecclesiastes.
Before we stand to hear the reading of the word, I just want to say this about Ecclesiastes. I have taught Ecclesiastes in the past before coming to St. Andrews and I recall a long time missionary coming to me at the end of one of the lessons and saying, “I have no idea why this book made its way into the canon of God’s Scripture. I accept it, but I don’t get it; It just seems so depressing.” But on the other hand, I recall hearing a seminary professor of mine when I was back in seminary speak about how he was converted reading through the book of Ecclesiastes as a professing Atheist. When he finished Ecclesiastes he said, “this book is profoundly true and realistic to experience. I’m going to read the rest of the Bible” and he was converted.
There was another speaker who came through our seminary (a very noted Theologian in America and all over the world) and he gave the testimony that as he read Ecclesiastes, and came to the passage that said “as a tree falls, there it lies” he saw himself as a rotting tree: corrupt in his sin. And God used that in his conversion. Dr. RC Sproul was that speaker.
As we stand, let us keep in mind God’s word. Let’s stand together.
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, 3 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.
The Word of God is a living Word. The Word of God pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of bone and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intention of the human heart. Let’s be seated please.
Let us pray together:
Lord as we assemble this morning, we give you thanks for your word, we thank you for preserving your word through the ages. May we be like that tree the Psalmist speaks of planted by living waters, taking nourishment from your life-giving vitality, by the power of your spirit. Lord, teach us, lead us, guard my words, may it be glorifying to you. In Jesus name, Amen.
“Youth is wasted on the young.” Perhaps you’ve heard that adage attributed to George Bernard Shaw; he’s an Irish author and playwright. What he actually said was very close to that. What he said is that “youth is a wonderful thing, it is a crime to waste it on the young.” The French have an adage that’s much older that’s similar. That adage says “if only the youth had knowledge, and the old had strength.” What was George Bernard Shaw talking about and why is that adage so popular?
Well, think about it for a moment. Most of us in this room are in the prime of our youth. It’s very hard to fully appreciate all of the virtuous things in life and what really matters because you have so much time; at least you perceive it that way. You have all the time in the world (and don’t hear this old preacher coming down on those of you who are young). Actually, I’m speaking about my experience as a young person: your experience in a very short matter of time, because it’s a very human experience we all go through if God gives us the years to live on up into old age.
Some of you may have the thought: “why not play video at around nine, ten, eleven at night?” Sounds like a good idea.
You’ll find this true as you get married and have children. You have a baby and you put the baby down at seven p.m, but at ten o’clock she’s crying and she’s hungry. Again at one o’clock in the morning, maybe two. Then again at four o’clock in the morning. So, the wife says “it’s your turn, would you get up and get the baby?” And you’re like “well, the baby doesn’t want me. She wants you.” And you have those discussions and you think to yourself, “boy, to think that I used to watch movies until two-three in the morning. If I could only just sleep! Oh, how valuable sleep is!” Something like that was intended, I think, by George Bernard Shaw when he said that “youth is is wasted on the young.”
I call my parents who are up in their seventies. You know, you lose your energy and vitality if you’re blessed to live into your late seventies. I’ll talk to my folks and I’ll say “what kind of day is before you?” They say, “Oh, it’s a really busy, busy day.”
“What are you doing?”
“Well we’re going to go to breakfast at 10:30 and then after that we’ve got to go get groceries.”
And I say, “And?”
“Well, that’s it: it’s breakfast and groceries! The grocery store is crowded. It’s just very confusing: there’s so many things to buy, so many aisles to walk down”
The Bible gives us an inspired perspective from the pen of Kohelet, known as “the Preacher,” he’s been historically understood to be king Solomon. We don’t know that for sure, but he’s certainly writing in the guise of a king: as one who has inside knowledge of the court and lots of life experience. The “qahel” is the congregation or assembly and the preacher gathers the assembly to teach that congregation. You know, the word ekklesia in Greek is like the “qahel,” it’s “the assembled ones.” Hence we derive the name that we have of this book: Ecclesiastes.
In the previous chapter, Kohelet is already addressed the young and he reminds the youth to rejoice; they are to enjoy the good gifts that God has given. He also says to remove pain and anxiety from their lives. Don’t we hear words similar to that in the New Testament on the lips of Jesus speaking about today’s troubles being enough? Or, the apostle Paul saying, “don’t be anxious for anything?” So the preacher gives this wisdom before he turns to a note of sobriety.
Rejoice, yes. God has given a good creation. We are to eat good food and drink good drink. In the ancient world that meant you’ve got family around you; you’ve got friends around when you’re eating and drinking. Find a wife, find a husband, enjoy God’s good creation.
But this is not a call to Hedonism. There are boundaries living in the fear of the Lord who will be the judge of our lives. We’re reminded of that over and over in Ecclesiastes.
And so he transitions this verse that we read in verse one:
“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” Before the 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”
This is a depiction of life from youth into the years where, perhaps, the rainy season comes: more troubles come our way, more responsibilities come into life. And when the preacher says “remember,” it doesn’t simply mean “to recall.” It means to be at rapt attention, take heed, listen, revere your Creator, worship the Creator, love Him.
In the New Testament we read in Matthew 6:33 “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” So, this is Kohelet’s “seek ye first”: remember your Creator. Don’t miss the vital important matter of worshiping the God who made you in your youth, because your youth is where you lay all the groundwork of your life and worship before the Lord.
Sometimes I’ll hear an older man confess that he has a besetting sin; it might be the besetting sin of anger or lust, and we’ll talk about those things. I’ll always ask “well, when did this begin?” And they’ll say, “well, this besetting sin really took root in my life when I was very young. Even when I came to the Lord, I really had to fight hard to put this sin to death, but there it always is because this has been going on for forty, maybe, fifty years.”
On the other hand, when I meet someone who is a very good steward of money, someone who tithes and helps support missions, they say “my father taught me, or my mother taught me, to set aside a tithe when I was seven years old and that’s become a lifelong pattern. It began in my youth.”
I know what a lot of you are thinking, “I don’t have any money now. I’m a student here at RBC.” Or, “I’m a parent of a college student and I don’t have money.” Yet, we know that God calls us to be good stewards of whatever He entrusts to us. And so we build those good disciplines: reading and studying the word. And even as I say this about laying all of those foundations and remembering our Creator, I’m aware of the fact that I’m preaching to the choir.
I saw a study a couple of years ago that said that on a University campus about one-third of students professed to be Agnostic,”Nones,” Atheists, or something like that; a third say “I’m spiritual, but I just don’t like organized religion;” and then a third say that “yeah, I’m an adherent to an Orthodox tradition.” Now, we know that that doesn’t necessarily mean that they go to church, are born again, or have trusted Christ alone for salvation. So, here I am speaking to Reformation Bible College students.
I don’t know how many bible college students there are in America, but I’m guessing that it’s less than one percent. Yet, here you are and I’m saying “oh yeah, don’t forget your Creator. Lay down spiritual disciplines. Spend time in the Word and in prayer.” And I’m speaking to some of the most passionate young people, along with their teachers and mentors this morning.”
Yet, you know the dangers of handling sacred things so regularly and routinely. You study Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Systematic Theology, and Church History on a daily basis. Sometimes for hours. And sometimes it can be a tremendous battle, spiritual battle, and warfare to find the joy and the delight when one is studying so hard. And I’m not one of those that says “well, study is going to be like that. Go off and have an emotional time that’s more vital with the Lord.” Some people find great benefit in that. I have found some of my most meaningful time with the Lord writing a really hard paper, or studying a language that’s very difficult for me. And I know that many of you do as well. So, the call is universal to remember our Creator in the days of your youth before those difficult times come. Listen to these descriptors. I’m just going to go over them briefly as we read down through the passage.
Commentators differ on what’s being described here. Some see Apocalyptic literature: some kind of eschatological event in what follows. But others see a more general description of aging. And I don’t think it’s hard to see an aging house that’s falling down, becoming decrepit, and turning to dust in these descriptors.
Verse three says: “in the day when the keepers of the house tremble.” Are the “keepers” the arms and legs? Many commentators see that in the description: their arms and legs are beginning to tremble.
“And the strong men are bent.” You know, the legs, the knees, the shoulders begin to bend over in aging.
“The grinders cease because they are few.” The teeth begin, short of modern dentistry, to fall out with aging (we should be grateful for modern dentists). The last time I went to the Dentist told me that I need to be a little more careful with chewing ice and things like that because I’ve had a lot of dental work. I went away feeling a little bit depressed. I mean, have I really had a lot of dental work? But this passage makes me think about having just a few teeth (like my grandparents, perhaps).
“And those who look through the windows are dimmed.” The eyes are windows to the world and they begin to dim. I have ten to twelve pairs of reading glasses and I put these all over the house. I can never find them. Sometimes the dog (we have a big labradoodle) and sometimes he’ll chew up a pair, and my wife will say, “honey, you really need a system if you’re going to find your glasses.” And I feel exasperated. “A system! I just want to read like I was young. I have to have a system just for my glasses?” But of course, she’s right.
“The doors on the street are shut when the sound of the grinding is low.” Your ears begin to shut down and you can’t hear as you get older. Your teeth are gone and so the grinding stops.
“One rises at the sound of a bird.” Typically, you don’t sleep as deeply when you get older. A little flutter of birds will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
“And all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way.” Perhaps this is the loss of being able to hear singing or the loss of a desire to sing as you once did. Heights are scary; terrors are in the way. It’s harder to just walk across a neighborhood street because there are bicycles or something else in the way. It’s easier to walk across this choir loft here when you’re twenty-five. Yet, I see those dear saints in their seventies and eighties and it’s a a little bit scarier for them to climb up to that upper row to sing.
“The almond tree blossoms.” The almond would have white blossoms in maturity and so, perhaps, this passage is speaking of a hoary head: a gray head of hair.
“The grasshopper drags itself along.” Your posture falls. You’re not as tall as you used to be. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re as tall as you’re going to be (most of you). If you’re six foot four, you might lose three or four inches by the time your seventy years old if you’re in your twenties now. If you never made it to five-eight like me (five-seven and three quarters), you might not have much to lose. But I think I already lost three quarters to an inch.
Last time I went to the doctor they said “you’re five-six and three quarters.”
And I said “that can’t be right.” I know I’m at least five-seven.”
And they go “that’s not what the tape says anymore.”
I guess my neck is breaking down.
“The desire fails.” The desire for what? The desire for food, perhaps. Many commentators say loss of appetite: you eat less. Perhaps loss of sexual desire. God has given us a desire for food and a right desire for sexuality within its proper boundaries between a husband and a wife. It’s a good thing, but it begins to fail in older years. We’re not Gnostics. God has given us a good and delightful creation to be enjoyed. And yet this description is full of the curse of Genesis three: the degradation of the body and our physical strength and capacity.
In verse six we read, “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.” Generally all of these images depict a shattering of life as a container filled with oil, or water, or liquid breaks and everything runs out. Some say that perhaps Kohelet is speaking of our death and our spirit departing to be in the presence of the Lord if we are indeed believers.
“And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” The preacher is driven back to his opening words of Ecclesiastes. If you’ve spent a lot of time in the NIV as I did for a number of years in the 80’s and 90’s, Ecclesiastes opens with the words “meaningless, meaningless… all is meaningless.” But that word in Hebrew, that word “hevel,” really refers to the brevity of life: the futility. Life is vaporous, it’s fleeting, it’s ephemeral. Kohelet is always speaking about life under the sun. And I really read it as an apologetic to say that “if life is all that we can see with our eyes and reason with our reason, if this is all we have, then yes, it would be despairing to think about life as being so brief and fleeting, so vain and futile.
But over and over again he reminds us, and he even finishes the chapter with an exhortation to fear the Lord and to remember his commandments, to trust in the Lord beyond just breath and life as vapor lived under the sun. It’s not meaningless, but it does pass quickly. We all need to be reminded of that. The song of Moses in Psalm 90 says “Lord, teach us to number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom.”
Use these years at RBC and beyond to seek the wisdom of the Lord. When affliction comes we all have to remind ourselves that the Lord doesn’t waste difficulty and he doesn’t waste affliction. He doesn’t waste any of your studies or any of your days while you’re here. But he gives them to us that we might be conformed to the image of Christ.
We live in a world that only sees life under the sun. That’s why people your age and my age are out to grab all they can get. So many people say “this is it and I’ll live in the light of the Judgment.” They don’t remember the Creator. Many do not even understand this world as having a distinction between the Creator and we who are His creatures, but instead find themselves lost in all of the spirituality, secular, and post-secular waves of information coming at them in rebellion.
But we who trust the Lord have the words of life. Didn’t Jesus’ disciples say, “Where else should we go? You have the words of life”?
So, we remember the Lord each day as we live lives of repentance. These bodies break and they go to the grave should the Lord tarries in His return. And yet Ecclesiastes presses us to the point of disavowing any trust in ourselves, any strength we might have, or any wisdom we might have apart from what the Lord can give us. We have a better word from the other side of Christ’s coming: his life, his righteous life, his death, his burial, and his resurrection. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says “therefore my beloved brothers be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” It is not without meaning, it is not hollow, it is not empty, but instead each day is pregnant with the sovereignty of the Lord and His design for you.
Each and every one of us “remember your Creator.” Remember the Gospel, the good news, to which we are called. The world is a desperate and dark place needing the light of the Lord. Walk in His ways, delight in the good creation, rejoice in His redemption, and may God use you and me each and every day as we remember His infinite kindness to us in Jesus Christ and the blessings of our salvation: so rich, so costly to our Lord, free in His grace to us. May we find encouragement in that as we seek to serve Him.
Let’s pray together.
Lord we thank you for this sober reminder that life is as James says “but a vapor.” That we are to number these days, as the Psalmist says. Lord, help us to be mindful of serving you, of delighting in you, laying hold and appropriating all the means of grace: of worship, of prayer, and good fellowship that you have called together, Lord. Lord, I pray for any students that are here that are beginning to wonder “is this really a useful thing that I am spending so many hours studying and working at knowing the Lord and knowing His word better. Is there going to be any reward for it?” Lord, I pray that you would remind each of us this day that you are our great reward; that you waste nothing and that you will use all of it for your glory. We thank you. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Transcripts are lightly edited.