It falls to me today to speak to you from the Word of God, as it always does. You have no interest in my opinion; I would not waste your time by giving it. But we must hear from God. Everybody’s aware that we are in a crisis, perhaps something we have not experienced in most of our lifetimes. We need to understand it from the biblical viewpoint.
Last week I addressed the question, “Who’s to blame for the riots?” And the blame really fell in a lot of places. But today I want to turn the page and ask the question, “How do we as Christians respond to protests and riots?” And I want to begin by reading two verses from the last chapter of Proverbs, verses 8 and 9 of chapter 31: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” That is a command from God. We eagerly, happily, gladly respond in obedience to speak for those who cannot speak, to desire rights for those who have none, to speak a righteous judgment, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
That was true of our Lord. Clearly, without equivocation, we see and we feel any and all acts of unrighteousness, lawlessness, injustice. We grieve over any hate, any violence; we grieve because our Lord grieves. Our Lord hates the sin, any and all of it, and yet is moved with compassion toward sinners. To understand that, I want you to turn to Matthew chapter 11. We’re going to look at a lot of passages; and I would ask you to be patient as we unfold the Word of the Lord.
In Matthew chapter 11 and verse 20, our Lord confronted the cities; you might say the urban centers around Galilee. He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
The most severe denunciation our Lord ever gave to a city was because that city rejected Him. He condemned those cities to judgment. And yet at the same time, a few verses later in verse 28, He says this: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is the very passage which I will be addressing tonight, but it’s just a preview to say this: our Lord pronounces fierce judgment on seemingly benign Jewish towns and says their judgment will be worse than the most pagan cities of the past, including Sodom, which God buried under fire and brimstone for the wretchedness of its sin, including homosexuality. That same fiery Jesus is the one who pleads, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
It falls to us to be as our Lord to denounce sin, to denounce rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to warn the cities and the people of this world that if they reject Jesus Christ, divine judgment will fall. And the more exposure they’ve had to Christ, the more severe the judgment will be. And at the same time we say that, we also plead with them, those who are in those cities under judgment, those towns, with the words of Jesus, “Come to Me, I’ll give you rest, salvation rest.” This, this is the two-pronged life of a Christian in the world: to denounce sin and to speak for God of inevitable judgment, and at the same time plead with sinners who are under that judgment to escape by embracing Jesus Christ.
I want you to go a little further in the book of Matthew to chapter 22. I think sometimes Christians are accused of not being loving because it is necessary for us to declare the truth about sin and judgment. And so we want to be reminded of what our Lord says in Matthew 22; we’ll look at verse 34 and following. “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” This was intended to be a trap.
Over the years the Pharisees and the Sadducees – the sort of collective literati of Israel, along with the rabbis – had concocted the notion that just as there were 613 separate letters in the Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments, as given in the book of Numbers, there were therefore then 613 separate laws in the five books of Moses. This was called letterism, popular with the rabbis. The rabbis had divided those 613 laws into affirmative and negative laws: 248 affirmative laws, 1 for every part of the human body, they said in their ignorance; and 365 negative laws, 1 for every day of the year. The laws were then divided into light and heavy: the heavy ones being absolutely binding and the light ones being less binding. The rabbis however could never agree on which were the light and which were the heavy. It was this kind of complex, superficial, fancy orientation to the law that they were going to use to trap Jesus because He said He was Messiah. He said He was God in human flesh. So certainly, Jesus would have a more overwhelming and perhaps a more complex view of the law than they did. And I think they assumed that this question would trap Him, because when they asked Him to name the one great law, He would name something that they would all disagree with and they could summarily condemn Him.
Here was His answer, verse 37: “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Comes from the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:5. That’s what the Jews rolled up and put in the mezuzah on the door. That’s what the rabbis rolled up and put in the phylacteries that they put on their head and on their wrist. That’s the Shema. That’s, “The Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.” And the essence of love is therefore obedience. That is God’s one command.
But Jesus can’t stop there. “This is the great and foremost commandment,” verse 38. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Those who are Christians are those who desire from the depth of their renewed hearts to love the Lord their God with all the faculties of their being, and to love others supremely.
By the way, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is the most quoted Old Testament statement in the New Testament. This second commandment is pulled into the New Testament because it defines life, it defines life. Let’s go back to where it originated, back to the book of Leviticus, back to the writings of Moses, and back to the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus.
The nineteenth chapter begins with the Lord speaking to Moses, and He says, “You shall say to the congregation of Israel, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” In verse 3, He says, “I am the Lord your God.” In verse 4, “I am the Lord your God.” In verse 10, “I am the Lord your God.” In verse 12, “I am the Lord.” In verse 14, “I am the Lord.” Verse 16, “I am the Lord.” Verse 18, “I am the Lord.” Verse 25, “I am the Lord.” Verse 30, “I am the Lord.” Verse 31, “I am the Lord your God.” And twice more in verses 36 and 37. “So you say I am your God, you say you love Me. If it’s true, then do what I tell you: be holy, for I am the Lord your God. If I am the Lord your God, I require of you holiness.”
What does that look like? Well, go back to verse 18. Here is at least one statement: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” You shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s sort of the summation statement.
Go back to verse 9 and let’s see what that looks like. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.” Reap in a circle, leave the corners out of the reaping; and whatever you drop, leave it there. Why? “You shall neither glean your vineyard, nor gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I’m the Lord your God. You love Me; don’t consume everything you have, leave some for the needy and the stranger.”
Verse 11: “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.” Pay him the day he works. “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God.”
Then verse 15: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, you are not to act against the life of your neighbor. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.” In other words, if he needs reproof, give him reproof, but not to the point of sin. “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge.”
Verse 33: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself. For you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah,” – measuring indicator – “just hin,” – another measuring indicator. Why? “Because I am the Lord your God. You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the Lord.” Actually, 160 times in the book of Leviticus God says, “I’m the Lord, I’m the Lord”; 150 times is the word “holiness.” “I am the Lord, and if you love Me, you love your neighbor as yourself.”
Go back to Matthew 22 where Jesus quotes this very familiar text out of Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And then He says in verse 40, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” That refers to the entire Old Testament, the entire Old Testament. All the laws, all the Ten Commandments, and all the other laws laid out in the Old Testament basically are summed up in loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. All of them either relate to loving God or loving others, all of them. The entire Old Testament, all man’s moral duty, all man’s spiritual duty summed up: “Love God totally, love your neighbor as yourself.”
The apostle Paul picks up on this in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, and this is what he says: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another,” verse 8. “For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” And then he explains: “For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there’s any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Laws basically are made to protect us from each other. You get that? Laws are made to protect me from you and you from me. But I don’t need those laws if I love you. What is missing in the human heart is this kind of love. There’s no love for God, there’s no love for others that satisfies God. So in light of this reality, we are to love. We are to love God so that we obey His word; and His word says, “We are to love others as ourselves. We are to do no injustice, take no vengeance, do no harm to anyone ever.”
So as a Christian, I’m looking at the world today and I’m watching all kinds of things going on with regard to injustices and suffering. There’s no question about it, there’s lots of injustice in the world. It’s everywhere. Nobody has a corner on it and no group of people have a corner on it. So what are my options in the current situation? Let me be specific and give you some that have been suggested.
First of all, one option would be to join Black Lives Matter, join their cause, because, after all, Black lives do matter; of course, they do – created in the image of God. And those who have suffered deserve our support, and they do; and they have suffered injustice, and they have. So should we just join Black Lives Matter to affirm these things? “Can we join out of sympathy? Can we join out of compassion?” That’s not really the question. The question is, “Can we join, and in joining express love to God?” because whatever we do for our neighbor is subsumed under loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind. “Can I join Black Lives Matter? Can I be a part, if not a member; can I be a part of their function?” They are disruptive. They are rebellious. They are radical. They are anti-authority. They are Marxists. They are atheistic.
What are their guiding principles? Let me read them to you. In their own document we read this: “Black Lives Matter is transgender-affirming. We make space for transgender siblings. We do the work required to dismantle cisgender” – which mean biological sex – “and uplift transgender Black folk, especially transgender Black women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans antagonistic violence.” They are transgender-affirming. According to Deuteronomy 22:5, transgender behavior is an abomination to God.
Also, this is their declaration: “We are womanists rather than feminists.” Quote: “We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments where men are centered.” End quote. Transgender-affirming and wanting to pull down the leadership of men. According to the Word of God, man is the head of the woman, as God is the head of Christ. The man has the responsibility of leadership. That’s an anti-God idea. Another paragraph – and there are many more: “We are queer-affirming. We gather to free ourselves from the tight grip of the belief that all are heterosexual.” They gather to put an end to the notion that everybody needs to be heterosexual.
In he same book of Leviticus, where the Lord says, “I am the Lord; be holy,” chapter 18, verse 22 say, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. In the next verse it says it’s the same as having intercourse with an animal. Chapter 20 of Leviticus, verse 13, exactly the same thing. Romans chapter 1.
Here’s a quote from Black Lives Matter: “We are intentionally amplifying that the particular experience of violence that Black queer transgender, gender nonconforming women and intersex people face, there can be no liberation for the Black people if we do not fight for these people.” This is an organization designed by Satan to use the suffering of some people as the means to destroy their lives, to destroy morality, conscience, the family, and even the church, and replace it with behavior that is immoral, perverse, abominable, soul-destroying, family-destroying, marriage-killing, and culturally disastrous. Bottom line: those documents are anti-God, anti-Scripture, anti-Christ. This is an organization that is the enemy of God. Do you really believe that going down that path is going to do anything to lift up a culture? It has nothing to do with the color of anybody’s skin. Go down that path and it’s the path of absolute total destruction. Wipe out the law of God in the heart, give people immorality as a standard, destroy the family, take the message of the gospel out of the church, and the only possible restraint left is the police to try to stop the flood.
I can’t be a part of that because 2 Corinthians is very, very straightforward. Listen to what the Lord says, 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you, and I’ll be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
So that leads to chapter 7, verse 1: “Therefore, having these promises,” – of being sons and daughters to God – “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We’re back to Leviticus again. You can’t be a part of something that is designed by Satan to destroy the only institutions that can uphold sanity in a society. Are we surprised that since that philosophy, that worldview, has assaulted the law of God, assaulted the family, has corrupted the church that now they want to get rid of the only remaining restraint which is the police?
So you say, “Well, okay, you can’t be a part of that. But can you join the protests? Is that an option? Can I mingle in a crowd of the lawful and the lawless, lovers of people and haters of people?” Look at Ecclesiastes chapter 8, this is very instructive, Ecclesiastes chapter 8. And I’m just looking for answers in Scripture. Chapter 8, verse 1: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his face to beam.” You want to be wise? You want to have a happy life? Verse 2: “I say, ‘Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” You put yourself in jeopardy if you rebel against the authorities.
“Since the word of the king is authoritative,” – in verse 4 – “who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. There is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” So you start a rebellion, you get involved in a rebellion, and you don’t know what’s going to happen; but it may turn out very badly.
You think you’re going to control things? Verse 8: “No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there’s no discharge in the time of war,” – you don’t know when you’re going to be out of the war – “and evil will not deliver those who practice it. All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has ben done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.” You’re going to end up dead anyway.
What value is there in being part of rebellion against authority? Paul also speaks in regard to that in Romans 13; let me remind you of it – and we’re going to get back to Ecclesiastes in a minute. Romans 13, verse 1: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” So you not only have the issue of Ecclesiastes where you’re acting in some kind of a protest against the authority, you don’t know how it’s going to end up; but you could lose your life because you can’t control the wind or the day of your death.
Not only that, not only do you have to deal with that reality, but you oppose authority, you oppose the ordinance of God, and you fall under His condemnation. “For rulers are not a cause for fear of good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it doesn’t bear the sword for nothing.” – and that’s a terminal weapon – “It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” It’s necessary then to be in subjection.
“This even mean pay your taxes; for rulers are servants of God,” to bring order in society. Oh, by the way, from what we can tell, the Romans had imposed upon the Jews a horrendous and onerous tax burden against which our Lord never rebelled. In fact, He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Paul here says, “Pay tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom is due.”
But things happen in a society that aren’t fair. Listen to the words of Peter, 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake; I am the Lord. Submit yourselves” – be holy – “to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors that’s sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Do right. Do right. And part of doing right is to submit.
Verse 17: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Even servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also who are unreasonable.” You have an unreasonable boss; submit. “For this finds grace, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” So you suffer unjustly? Guess what: welcome to the world. Welcome to life in a fallen world.
“This finds grace.” You put yourself in a position of divine grace when you suffer unjustly. “For what credit is there” – verse 20 – “if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure, this finds grace with God.” So you suffered, you suffered unjustly. As a child of God, you have been given grace in that occasion.
Here’s the great example, verse 21: “You’ve been called for this purpose.” What? Yes. “You’ve been called to suffer unjustly, since Christ also suffered for you, not only in a redemptive way, but as an example for you to follow in His steps.” Suffering unjustly, He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being unjustly reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” That’s our example. So you suffer, you suffer unjustly. What do you do? You do what a believer is called to do: you commit no sin, no deception; you don’t strike back; you utter no threats; you just entrust yourself to the one who judges righteously.
“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” When Christ suffered unjustly, He accomplished the greatest work ever in history. By suffering unjustly, He provided redemption for the human race.
God has His purposes in our suffering. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:10, “After you’ve suffered a while, the Lord make you perfect.” Paul says, “There was a thorn in the flesh, and I prayed three times for the Lord to remove it, and the Lord kept saying to me, ‘My strength is perfected in your weakness.’”
Suffering is God’s greatest tool in the life of the believer. So Paul says, “I asked the Lord three times to take this away.” This was unjust suffering. He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you” That’s exactly what Peter said: “You’re going to receive grace.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then this: “I’m well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am” – what? – “strong.” So Peter says when you suffer unjustly you’re going to receive grace, and Paul says that grace is going to make you stronger. The truth of the matter is we haven’t had enough suffering. We need more because we aren’t what we should be.
The cry of a Christian is never going to be, “Lord, I need to be more like Christ so get the suffering out of my life.” I have to embrace that. Jesus didn’t revolt against it personally. He didn’t get people to walk in a protest against Roman taxation. The apostle Paul, living in a world of slavery, millions of slaves, never ever, ever protested slavery. In fact, he used the picture of a slave as a picture of a believer who is enslaved joyfully and lovingly to Jesus Christ.
And here’s my problem with the protests. We are people of the truth. First of all, I have to embrace the suffering the Lord brings into my life because through it He is perfecting me, and He is extending to me grace.
Secondly, in everything, I have to be a person of the truth. The protests? Sure. They have some grievances; obvious, we get it. But they have covered the truth with lies. They have gone way beyond an injustice or several injustices to conclude that there is systemic racism, White hatred, widespread police brutality. Those are lies, those are not true. I can’t, I can’t join the protest without being part of the lies. Proverbs 19:22 says, “It’s better to be a poor man than a liar.” And, “Satan” – John 8:44 – “is the father of lies.” So if you have a satanic system, you expect lies – all goes together.
You say, “Well, okay, I can’t join the Black Lives Matter Association. I can’t really join the protest because I have to embrace whatever I might suffer. And I can’t be a part of lies and deception that is attempting to bring down the last restraint, the authority of the police, government. Thirdly, then, “Could I work to change laws? Could I work to change policies? Is that an option?” Better laws: great. Better policies: we would all appreciate that. But here’s the problem: no matter how many laws you make, you can’t change the sinner, the law-breaker.
Titus 3 is a really often overlooked description of the natural man. Verse 3: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Now what do you think laws are going to do to that person? They don’t deal with the disobedience, the deception, the enslavement, the malice, the envy, the hate.
Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” The problem is, you can make a lot of laws, and you can change a lot of policies, but there’s a principle that Paul lays out in Romans 8; and you are familiar with it. Let me read it to you: “For what the Law could not do,” – and this is the law of God, which is reflected in human law, - “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh.” That’s the problem: the law has no power. “What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh.”
Verse 5: “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Verse 6: The mind set on the flesh is death.” Verse 7: “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; it doesn’t subject itself to the law of God, it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” God laid out a lot of commandments in Scripture; sinners cannot submit to those laws. They are, by nature, haters injurious. Sinners can’t keep the law. So we can keep adding laws, changing policies, and never get to the issue.
Well, maybe there’s a fourth option. “Should I seek to change the people in power?” Black Lives Matter’s opening statement in their documents says, “We want power.”
“Okay. Is that an option? Do we just swap new sinners for the old ones? Do we just flip this? Let’s put out of power the people who are in power and replace them with lawless people who are trying to overthrow them and assume that’ll be better. We’ll swap sinners.”
Well, the problem with that, we saw also last time, “There’s none righteous, not even one; there’s none who understands; there’s none who seeks for God; they’ve all turned aside, together they have become useless; none who does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, their tongues keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, the path of peace they haven’t known. There’s no fear of God before their eyes.” Hmm. None righteous, no, not one. So swapping the current sinners for some other sinners doesn’t make a lot of sense.
As I told you last time, God has put restraints in the world: the law of God written in the heart in the conscience. This culture has completely destroyed that. The second restraint is the family and the authority of parents and the discipline that parents bring to restrain sin in children; and this culture has destroyed that. And the church has fallen on very hard times with its pragmatism and its desire to entertain sinners and make them feel comfortable, so it no longer comes with any force against sin. And we’re not at all surprised that the next restraint and the final one standing is the police; and they’re under assault.
The bottom line is we can’t fix the world. Now to help you with this as we wrap up in the next hour or so, I want you to go back to Ecclesiastes. No, I’m just kidding. Go back to Ecclesiastes. This is wisdom. This is the book of wisdom, and it starts with the wisest thing said. Chapter 1, verse 1, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David,” – Solomon – “king in Jerusalem. ‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” That’s a pretty discouraging way to get going.
What do you mean vanity? Fleeting, vaporlike, vanishing, or incomprehensible, or enigmatic. And what he is saying is, “You can’t control life in a fallen world. You can’t control it. It just rolls from living people to dead people.” The theme of Ecclesiastes is this: “You’re going to die. You’re going to die. and guess what: you won’t change the fallen world.” You’re going to die.
Verse 4: “Generation comes, generation goes, and everything stays the same. The sun rises, the sun sets; everything stays the same. I have learned” – says the wisest man who ever lived, and his wisdom came from God – “that you can’t change the fallen world.” This is all about life in a fallen world. Someone who’s wise understands this. You’re going to die. You are just this little segment of dying people who come and go and are forgotten, and the fallen world stays the same, with one caveat: the only one who can change it is God. We’re temporal, He’s eternal.
So let’s look at chapter 3. Very familiar poetic language, but I want to draw something out of it. “There is an appointed time for everything. There’s a time for every event under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up. A time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance. A time to throw stones,” – or bricks, I guess – “a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, a time to shun embracing. A time to search, a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent, time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?” What is he saying? This is the rhythm of life. It’s the rhythm of life.
He says in verse 11, “God has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” You don’t know what God is doing in all these times. “There’s nothing better than” – verse 12 says – “for you to rejoice and do good in your lifetime. Eat and drink and see good in your labor – it’s a gift from God.” Live your life in joy and happiness and goodness, as one who knows God, because you don’t know what God is doing in the world.
And he gets very direct in verse 16: “Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness” – oh, no surprise – “and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.” It’s just that way. How many times have you seen on television some story about someone who’s finally being let out of prison after being 30 years there for something they didn’t do? You have a problem; that’s a major suffering. How often does that happen, and how often does it happen and we never know about it? This is life under the sun. And notice in the list of verses 1 through 8: killing, tearing down, weeping, mourning, hating, warring. These are the times of our lives under the curse.
And this is not the only time that the Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes addresses these kinds of difficulties in life. For example, in chapter 4, we read in the opening verses, “Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living.” In other words, the Word of God and wisdom recognizes that there will be oppression, and that the oppressed will be powerless.
Over in chapter 5, also in verse 8 we read this: “If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province,” – or in the region – “do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.” In other words, don’t be shocked if you see oppression and the denial of justice and righteousness. It’s assumed that’s why everybody has to have a boss. That’s why there are layers of people in authority because human beings can’t be trusted. You may feel you’re being oppressed. But believe me, whoever’s oppressing you has somebody that may well be oppressing them, and it keeps on going up the ladder. So the very assumption of structured hierarchies is the recognition that life will be full of injustice and oppression; and we do the best we can to mitigate against that by making people accountable to other people. This is life under the sun. And the Preacher’s point is, “We don’t have any control over those things, they’re out of our hands.” There is a time to be born, there is a time to die. But listen: there is also a time for judgment.
Verse 14: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there’s nothing to add to it, there’s nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.” What a great statement. You say, “Well, time passed by, that’s here and gone.” Not with God. Not with God.
You experience suffering, losses, gains; life goes on. God remembers everything, everything. Every single thing that happens will have its day in God’s court. You need to fear God. You need to set your mind on God as the one who will resolve all the injustice and unrighteousness. Yes, what has passed by us has not escaped God. He’ll rewind the tape.
“I’ve seen under the sun” – verse 16 – “that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. So I said to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,’ for a time for every matter and for ever deed is there.” There it is: every single thing will have its day in God’s court; don’t play God.
“So I said to myself,” – in verse 18 – “concerning the sons of men, ‘God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they’re but beasts, they’re but beasts.’” He can be referring to beasts of prey, or he can simply be meaning they die just like an animal, verse 19: “The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. They all have the same breath, there’s no advantage.” In other words, as far as this world goes, you’re just passing; you’re not going to erase fallenness.
So verse 22, here’s real wisdom: “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” You don’t know what’s coming, you only have this life. Be happy. Be happy. Don’t be part of disruption, don’t be part of rebellion; what’s the point.
I love over in chapter 9, verse 7: “Go then, eat your bread in happiness, drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” If you’re walking in obedience to the Lord, be happy. “Let your clothes be white all the time,” – that means clothes of joy, not clothes of mourning – “and put on some perfume.”
Verse 9: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” Look, there’s two places in this book that we can see a difference in life: one is under the sun and the other is over the sun. Over the sun is where God is, and that’s where everything is resolved and everything has its day in His court. But under the sun in a fallen world, if you have any wisdom at all, take everything God has given you: enjoy your work, enjoy your marriage, enjoy your life, be happy.
You don’t need to spend your life an agitator, hostile, angry, full of vengeance, bitterness, anger. “We’re all dust to dust,” he says in chapter 3, verse 20. So just enjoy what God has given you. Our toil is cursed by the fall, our sense of justice is cursed by the fall, and our experience with unrighteousness is part of that curse. But God will make everything beautiful in His time.
Here’s a quote from David Gibson, I think it’s very good: “In other words, because God lives forever and I will not, I can experience the several different times of my life knowing that they are part of a bigger picture that I cannot see, but which is visible to a good and wise God who sees the whole as beautiful. Part of being wise in this world is learning to accept that we have only very limited access to the big picture. To be sure, we often want access to it; for God has put eternity into man’s heart. But the point is that we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. God is not being unkind to us by not sharing it, the point is that we are not built to understand the big picture precisely because we live in time and God does not. If we could see the end from the beginning and understand how a billion lives and a thousand generations and unspeakable sorrows and untold joys are all woven into a tapestry of perfect beauty, then we would be God.” End quote.
David Gibson further said, “In my finite story,” – the story of his life – “I’m often left grasping after several different threads and cannot seem to weave them into one coherent hole. My story has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys, relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulty. My life story has unexplained contradictions. I have plenty of unanswered questions, and in God’s kindness and mercy, I have as yet unfinished chapters. But my story is not the story, the story reveals that there will be a time of judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail.”
He goes on to say, “Our longing for justice is hardwired. Deny bereaved parents justice for their child’s killer and there are no words for the terror and fury that consume their hearts and overwhelm their broken home. Trample on someone’s rights and dignity and demean their self-worth and get off scot free for having done so, and we give birth to the kind of indignation that can smolder for decades with devastating effect. The world we say is not meant to be like this. Will there ever be a time for justice? The answer is yes, yes, yes.” Verse 14 again of chapter 3, “What God does will remain forever.” God’s already determined it, nothing escapes Him.
Another quote from Gibson so well-stated: “God will retrieve every single injustice, every single time, every single activity, every single deed that has ever broken His holy law and tarnished His beautiful world and damaged His image-bearers. Every one of those moments will be answerable to God. Every tear and every sighing sorrow for my wrongs, whether through things I have done or had done to me; each one will be sought out by God who is perfect, justice, truth, mercy, and love.” God is outside time, outside space, in control of everything. Every time and every experience will have its day in God’s court.
Do you see injustice? Have you been a victim of injustice? Was your injustice any greater than that of many others through human history? Was it greater than the injustice of the Jewish trials to which the Son of God was subjected? There’s no promise of justice in this life. We do the best that we can as fallen creatures in a fallen world. But God will judge in His time. You and I are powerless; we have to leave these matters to God. From a human standpoint, time is lost, people are lost, opportunity is lost, jobs are lost, wives are lost, husbands are lost, children are lost. All these things are chased away and lost in the past, unrecoverable for us. But in the final judgment, God will bring back the past, connect it with the future; nothing will be lost. It is the knowledge of God’s absolute sovereign control that is the freedom that we all seek.
In the eighth chapter of Ecclesiastes – while we’re there – down in verse 16, there’s so much here I’m going to skip some of it. But verse 16: “When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night)” – when you just stay up trying to figure everything out – “and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun.” We don’t know what God is doing in this world. “Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.”
Chapter 9 says, “For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him. It is the same for all.” We all experience it. We all experience it.
If you try to fix it, verse 3 says, “There’s an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.” That’s death. “Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity in their hearts throughout their lives, and then they die.” Do you want to live an insane life? Go home, be happy, work your job, love your wife, kiss your babies. You don’t need to create rebellion in the streets.
“The living” – verse 5 – “know they will die.” Indeed their love, their hate, their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. So, go eat your bread in happiness, drink your wine with a cheerful heart. Let your clothes be white all the time. Put oil on your head. Enjoy life with your wife.” Verse 10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for you’re not going to do it in the grave.”
And know this: it’s not going to be equitable. Verse 11: “I saw again under the sun” – in this world – “the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.” It’s not always going to turn out equitably under the sun.
You can’t litigate everything. Why? Because you don’t know the big picture. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time,” – before the Lord comes – “who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart; then each one will have his commendation from God.” Or Romans 12:17 to 19, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in sight of all. If possible, as far as depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” You don’t have to do God’s work.
Go back to chapter 8, verse 12 to see the folly of this in hyperbole. “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man, he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he doesn’t fear God.” It may look like violent people and people who do harm and do evil flourish, but in the big picture you know better: death is coming. And in the end, the promise of God is, as we read in Psalm 37, that God will be a refuge for the righteous.
Chapter 12, it all ends. The conclusion in chapter 12, verse 13, here it is, sum it up: “Fear God.” That means worship Him, love Him, keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. So if that applies to every person, what’s our responsibility? To make sure every person knows that? “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
Stop trying to fix the fallen world. The quest for justice is a vanity. It is a vapor. So there’s no justice, no perfect justice. There will be. God will bring every deed into judgment whether good or evil. Let God be God, and you be you. Live under God’s providence. Accept what He has given to you. Be joyful; be happy. Don’t take vengeance. Don’t be angry, hostile. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Show mercy, kindness, compassion. But in all things, tell sinners to fear God and keep His commandments.
There’s been some things on the Internet this week that said, “You need to join the protests as a Christian, but don’t bring up the gospel and don’t use it as an occasion to witness.” Really? Just let the culture march into hell without a warning? And many churches are joining this; but the idea that they’re going to be silent. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
It was back of the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, in the early 1900s before World War I, there was a lot of social issues in America: child labor, poverty, the things that come along with poverty. There was a Baptist pastor by the name of Rauschenbusch who decided that the church ended to shift away from the Bible and the gospel and work on social issues. At the turn of the century they had began to do that. The church started to preach what was called the social gospel. Before they were done, every major denomination in this country had abandoned the Bible, abandoned the gospel, abandoned the cardinal truths of Scripture. All their schools were corrupt, all their universities were corrupt, all their seminaries were corrupt, and now you have vestiges of those denominations that are nothing but rockpiles on corners in old cities. It wiped out every denomination. It’s back again, back again about hundred years later, and it’s beginning again to wipe out churches. When you get caught up in the stupidity and foolishness of trying to fix the world, you’re striking a blow against God’s will and God’s purpose, and you’re violating His commands.
We submit to Him, to His providence. We love Him and we love our neighbors as ourselves. This is reconciliation. Sinners must be reconciled to God, and only then can they be reconciled to each other. Once you become reconciled to God through Christ, you become reconciled to every other Christian because we’re all one in Him.
So what do we do? We do what we always do. We live godly lives in the world. We live quiet, peaceful lives in the world. We proclaim the law of God, which is to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We proclaim the family: fathers, mothers, raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We declare the support of those who are in authority over us because God has ordained government. We honor them, we respect them. We do nothing to diminish their authority because that is God’s institution. And then, we let the church be the church and not turn into some social agency caught up in trying to do what is designed by Satan to be folly instead of wisdom. And as we go living these lives, we live quiet, peaceable, God-honoring, Christ-exalting lives; and we are ambassadors, proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord, proclaiming the gospel in His holy name. We are ambassadors, begging people to be reconciled to God, 2 Corinthians 5 says. We are ambassadors for God.
What is an ambassador? One who represents and who speaks a message from the one he represents. Our message is clear. The human race is fallen. The wages of sin is death; that death is eternal death in hell. But God has provided a way to escape hell and enter heaven through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Live a contented, happy, peaceful, joyful life. Enjoy everything that God has provided for you. Live the gospel, preach the gospel; God will use that to change hearts. And when hearts are changed, relationships are changed. Be reconciled to God, and in that reconciliation with God you become reconciled to all who are also in Christ. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. We are one body, one family. That’s why Scripture says, “In Christ there’s neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free,” because we’re all one. There never can be reconciliation on a human level until there’s reconciliation on a divine level.
Our Father, Your word is clear and precise. We pray, Lord, for Your church. There’s so much foolishness, so much confusion in what leaders are doing and church people are doing when they display ignorance of Your word and Your will. May we be the people of joy. May we be the people that say to the world, “I am sorry; this is an unjust world. I want to relieve your sorry. I want to catch your tears. I want to suffer with you.” But this world never be any different because it is fallen; it lies in the lap of Satan. And until Jesus comes back and establishes His earthly kingdom, which will be a kingdom of righteousness and justice, it will always be a fallen world under Satan’s power.
But even so, there is in this fallen world a sanctuary of people whose hearts have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they are experiencing true righteousness, true understanding of justice, true understanding of wisdom, and they love You, O God, and they love each other. We know that our Lord said, “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples, that you have love for one another.” May it be that our love for You by obedience to Your Word and our love for each other is the demonstration to the world that love and reconciliation is the product of having a new heart. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; all things have become new.”
Use us to proclaim the gospel that changes hearts. We know You never do Your kingdom work from the outside in. Your kingdom is not of this world, Your kingdom work is done from the inside out, starting with the gospel, transformed hearts, and then the work of the Spirit living in those transformed hearts demonstrating love for You and love for others, thus fulfilling Your holy law. Use us in that way, we pray, for Your glory. Amen.
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