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Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3 - Your Only Comfort

Ecclesiastes - Joy At The End of the Tether  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:43
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Union with Christ guarantees your joy in this vain world

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Introduction

At the beginning of this chapter, we saw Solomon’s beautiful statement of the complete and perfect arrangement of all that comes to pass—that He has beautifully arranged everything to be fitting in its time: Birth and death, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, breaking down and building up, and so on. And we established last week that this chapter is a statement of the providence of God—that He completely and perfectly arranges everything that comes to pass so that He will be glorified by His people’s ever-increasing joy in Him. He orders all goodness and joy as well as all hardship and loss. Even though we cannot know all of His purposes, we can know enough about Him to trust His purposes. And His purposes in this world all come down to being glorified in the joy of His people in Him.
That sounds really great in the abstract, doesn’t it? That God is in control of everything, and that He is good and His purposes for His people will all turn towards their good and His glory. But all you have to do is look around you and you will see that this world does not look like it is governed by an all-powerful, utterly good God.
This is a world where the highest reaches of our government and courts have carefully planned out injustice and wickedness—rebelling against God’s decrees for the institution of marriage, the protection of innocent life in the womb, the God-ordained reality of male and female. How do we have any contentment in this life when we see wickedness in the place of justice?
Ecclesiastes 3:16 ESV
16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
This is a world where there is unimaginable suffering that takes place every day, where death reaches out unimpeded for everything that draws breath on this earth—man and animals alike. How do we have any certainty in this life when death comes for us all?
Ecclesiastes 3:19 ESV
19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.
This is a world where violence and hatred are used as weapons to threaten compliance with the will of the powerful—from Twitter-mob outrage that cancels and silences opposition to violent mobs standing outside a courthouse in Minneapolis threatening to burn the city down unless they get the verdict they want (and the reprehensible echoing of those threats by those sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States). What comfort do we have in this life under the oppression and coercion that threatens to come for every one of us?
Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV
1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.
Solomon is writing a book of real and lasting JOY in Ecclesiastes, but it is (as one author puts it) “joy at the end of the tether.” Joy that remains with you even when you are “at the end of your rope”, even when you have been surrounded by the wickedness, suffering and threats of this world. The joy is real, but Solomon doesn’t take any shortcuts—he wants us to apprehend this joy with our eyes wide open to the reality of the world around us.
We need to keep in mind as we work our way through these verses of where Solomon is taking the argument of his book—that there is nothing within a man to enable him to find joy in this vain and futile world, but that only through the gift of God are we able to find any real joy. We saw this again last week in verses 12-13 of Chapter 3
Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 ESV
12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
Only through the gift of God are you able to have any comfort in this world—only through Him can you find real joy at the end of your rope. And as Solomon works through these three objections to God’s sovereignty—why is there wickedness, why is there suffering, why is there oppression—what I want us to recognize is that
Your only guarantee for JOY in this vain world is through UNION with CHRIST
Solomon poses the question of how God’s complete and perfect control over the events of this world can be reconciled with the existence of wickedness, suffering and oppression. And what I want to do this morning is show you how Solomon’s answer—that joy in this vain world is a gift from God—finds its fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When Solomon says that the ability to find joy in this world is the gift of God, what he was pointing to is the gift of God that comes through our salvation in Jesus Christ. Your only guarantee for joy in this vain world is through being united with Christ—living in Him, dying with Him, being raised with Him.
In Jesus Christ, the gift of God to you, you can find

I. Your CONTENTMENT in a life of INJUSTICE (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17)

Look again at Ecclesiastes 3:16
Ecclesiastes 3:16 ESV
16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
Remember, Solomon was the King of Israel—he knew exactly what kind of corruption and graft and underhandedness went on in the kingdom. You and I don’t have that kind of inside access to the inner workings of our courts and legislatures and executive branches, but you don’t need inside access to see
Wickedness in the place of JUSTICE
We have lived to see the highest seat of justice in our land codify high rebellion against God’s decrees for marriage. We have seen them open the floodgates of innocent blood of tens of millions of children whose only crime was to be conceived apart from a “woman’s choice”. We have seen courts in our neighbor to the north imprison a pastor because he refused to stop preaching, with the quintessential Canadian symbol of justice —the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—using their authority to physically lock down a church and threaten Christians with fines and imprisonment. We have seen courts in this country shut down florists and bakers and photographers because they would not adorn or celebrate the abomination of sodomite unions. And now comes news that a Manhattan Federal court in New York City has received a request from a parent who is filing a lawsuit to be allowed to marry their own adult child. Wickedness in the place of justice, indeed!
And it’s not just in the courts, but Solomon says he finds
Wickedness in the place of RIGHTEOUSNESS
as well. Every day brings news of another church, another pastor, another ministry leader being exposed as living a double life—pious and Christian in public, but violent, lustful, greedy and abusive behind closed doors. Staunch leaders of Evangelical Christianity caving like a house of cards to the wickedness of injustice and racism and envy and hatred masquerading as “social justice”, “repenting” before the Twitter mob for their previous faithfulness to God’s Word regarding marriage, sexuality and justice and capitulating to those who want to re-write, re-interpret or even discard the Scriptures altogether.
And while some capitulate out of ungodly fear or cowardice, there are those in pulpits today who are actively pursuing evil. Such as Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington Illinois whose pastoral candidate, Isaac Simmons, is an openly gay man who dresses in drag in the pulpit (https://albertmohler.com/2021/04/28/briefing-4-28-21).
And so what does Solomon say? Where are we to turn when we see wickedness in the place of justice and wickedness in the place of righteousness?
Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV
17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.
Solomon couldn’t see it as clearly as you and I can, but he saw it just the same—that there will come a time when every matter and every work will be judged. And we know Who will bring that Judgment:
Jesus guarantees your JUSTICE (Acts 17:31)
Christian, your contentment in this world comes from the fact that Jesus Christ will someday judge this world! You can rest in the knowledge that nothing will escape His notice, that no act of injustice will go unaddressed. That everything will someday be made right. The Apostle Paul spoke that promise to the men of Athens in Acts 17:31, that God
Acts 17:31 ESV
31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the grave is the proof that He will someday judge the deeds of every human being that ever lived—including every wicked government official, every crooked judge, every reprobate tranny pastor—all injustice and wickedness will someday be made completely, utterly and eternally right! And you have that guarantee, Christian, because you have been raised with Christ!
Your only guarantee for joy in this vain world is to be found in your union with Christ. He is your contentment in a life of injustice, and He is

II. Your CERTAINTY in a life of SUFFERING (Ecclesiastes 3:18-22)

Look at verses 19-20:
Ecclesiastes 3:19–20 ESV
19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
Solomon’s conviction that God is in complete and perfect control of all things does not cause him to shy away from the reality that we see around us every day—that
Death is INEVITABLE (vv. 19-20)
Death and suffering are inescapable in this world. And we humans, with all of our technology and medicines and therapies and vitamins and healthy lifestyles gain no advantage over the animals. Because everybody still dies. Here “under the sun” there is no escape from death.
Solomon seems to be drawing from the account of the creation of man in Genesis here—his description of life as the “breath” of man and animals echoes Genesis 2:7, where we read that
Genesis 2:7 ESV
7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
And his description of death as “returning to the dust” echoes the curses uttered by God when our First Parents broke His command—the serpent was cursed to “crawl on its belly and eat the dust of the earth” (Gen 3:14), and Adam was cursed to toil in the dirt and return to the dust:
Genesis 3:19 ESV
19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Solomon says here that yes—death is inevitable, but it is inevitable because it is the curse of sin on this world under the sun. Even the animals suffer because of the sin mankind brought into the world:
Romans 8:20 ESV
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
Yes, we live in a world where death is inevitable—because we rebelled against the Creator who made and orders all things.
And Solomon goes on to say that not only is death inevitable here under the sun, but
Death is MYSTERIOUS (v. 21)
as well:
Ecclesiastes 3:21 ESV
21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
Solomon’s insight here is just as profound today as it was when he wrote it. By our own lights, we don’t know what comes after death. We speculate and and guess, we pore over accounts of people who have had “near-death experiences” with their descriptions of “walking into the light”, we buy up books and watch movies about people who claim to have come back from the dead—but nobody really knows. On our own, here “under the sun”, there is no way to know what happens after death.
But when Solomon says “Who knows?” here in verse 21 he is not just throwing up his hands in existential despair: “Oh well, nobody knows...” He is saying it with an answer in mind—that God knows what happens after death, and He alone can offer certainty:
Ecclesiastes 3:22 ESV
22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
“Who can bring him to see what will be after him? God can!” Once again, Solomon did not have all the details, but you and I have the glorious privilege of looking back on the day that God Himself demonstrated what happens after death! Your certainty in a life of suffering and death comes because
Jesus guarantees your RESURRECTION (1 Corinthians 15:20-24)
You cannot know on your own what will happen after you die—but you have certainty because you have the promise from the One who Himself came back from the dead!
1 Corinthians 15:20–24 ESV
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
Adam’s rebellion brought death into the world, and Christ’s obedience brought deliverance from death. And because Jesus was raised, all those who are united with Him are guaranteed to be raised as well! Your only guarantee for certainty in a life of suffering is to belong to Jesus Christ by faith—you can be certain of where your spirit goes, you can live through suffering and pain and death with real, lasting and unquenchable joy in your work, because God has brought you to see what will be after you—eternal life with Jesus Christ!
Your only guarantee for joy in this vain world is through union with Christ—He is your guarantee for contentment in a life of injustice, He is your certainty in a life of suffering, and He is

III. Your COMFORT in a life of OPPRESSION (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV
1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.
Now, in our day and age, the word “oppression” has been so stretched and distorted and abused that it is almost devoid of meaning—we have actually come to the place (as bizarre as it seems) where the “oppressors” are by definition people with white skin, and the “oppressed” are anyone who has dark skin!
But our definitions come from God’s Word and not from the febrile rantings of a celebrity’s acceptance speech at the Oscars. The word that Solomon uses here carries the idea of extortion—of a person or group getting what they want by means of violence or threats of violence (such as a mob outside a courthouse in Minneapolis threatening to burn the city down unless they get the verdict that they want.) The idea that Solomon is getting at here is the old idea that
MIGHT makes RIGHT” (4:1)
Look around you and you will see that Solomon is right—there is “nothing new under the sun”. We are treated to a daily spectacle of outrage mobs (virtual and actual) who threaten (virtually or actually) anyone who stands in their way—toe their line or be cancelled, fired, deplatformed, shut down—and even imprisoned. The power is all in one place, and that power is being used to silence any dissent.
Solomon sees all of the threats and extortion and oppression in his day and says that there is only one way out:
The only ESCAPE is through the GRAVE (vv. 2-3)
Ecclesiastes 4:2–3 ESV
2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
I know we’ve said it in our family, and I’m sure you have as well. When you look around at the oppression and extortion and threats and violence all over our country right now, how many times have you said of a family member who passed away, “Oh, I’m just glad they’re not alive to see all this!” That’s what Solomon says here—the only way to get out from under all of the injustice and oppression and hatred and threats and violence in this world is six feet underground. Even better, Solomon says, is never to have been born at all—at least that way you haven’t seen any of this evil!
Solomon laments here that there is no one to comfort the victims of the extortion and violence and oppression done on this earth. The word in Hebrew, nacham, is an interesting one—of the 105 times it is used in the Old Testament it means “comfort” 65 times, and the other 40 times it means “to repent” or “change” (it is used to describe God’s change of disposition towards Israel in Jeremiah 18, for instance).
And so what I think Solomon is getting at here is that there is no one to comfort the oppressed because there is no one that can turn the circumstances around—no one that can “turn the tables” as it were and comfort the oppressed by bringing vindication on their oppressors.
And once again, what Solomon dimly grasped for, what he hoped to see from God but couldn’t see clearly, you and I have the blessing of seeing in all its fulness—the comfort Solomon could not see, you and I behold in its fulness:
Jesus guarantees your VINDICATION
Jesus Christ lived under the oppression and slander and attacks of the powerful all His life—the religious elites in Jerusalem said that He was demon-possessed (John 8:48), that His powers were granted by Satan (Matt. 12:24), that He was a liar and a blasphemer (Matt. 26:65) and an evildoer (John 18:30). But three days after He was executed on the pretense of all of those false accusations, He was vindicated by His resurrection from the dead!
Romans 1:4 ESV
4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
1 Timothy 3:16 ESV
16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
And if you have been united with Christ by faith, if you belong to Him body and soul, then He promises the day will come when you will be utterly vindicated!
Luke 12:2–7 ESV
2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Your comfort in a life of oppression is that Jesus sees it all, and someday it will be seen by all! The day of your vindication is coming, Christian—you can rest in knowing that someday all of this will be put right! The gift of God to you to live with contentment, certainty and comfort in this vain world, the ability to truly enjoy your life in all this futility, comes from knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior!
You can be content in the midst of injustice knowing that your Savior and King Jesus Christ will someday put all of it right. You can be certain of your eternity in the midst of the suffering and death of this sin-cursed world because Jesus Christ died to cancel the power of sin over you and guarantees your resurrection with Him! You can be comforted in the midst of the coercion and threats and hatred of these days because you know that Jesus promises to vindicate you!
Your only guarantee for joy in this vain world is through union with Christ—and mark it well, that if you will not come to Christ for salvation, you have no guarantee for joy in this world and a promise of nothing but eternal misery in the next! Because just as Jesus Christ sees all of the injustice done to His people, knows all of the oppression that they suffer, He sees all of the injustice that you are guilty of; He sees all of the oppression that you have carried out; He sees all of the suffering that you have inflicted on others.
And the hope and joy that His people have in the final day of judgment that is coming is nothing but a threat and a terror to you who reject Him. Revelation 20 tells us
Revelation 20:11–15 ESV
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Here is the end of the matter—your union with Christ not only guarantees your joy in this vain world, it guarantees your life in the world to come! When those books are opened, and every deed you have ever done is read out into the Court of King Jesus, there is only one way that you will be able to stand, and that is if your deeds have been cancelled out by the Cross:
Colossians 2:13–14 ESV
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
This is the day when you can be made alive together with Christ—turn away from your sin and your self, trust in His death, burial and resurrection to cancel the record of debt that stands against you, and find in Him not only your contentment in the midst of injustice, your certainty in a life of suffering, your comfort in a life of oppression, but your unshakeable hope of eternal life with Him in glory! Come and talk to me, talk to one of the elders, talk to one of the members of the church so that we can help you know where your spirit will go when you die, that you will know that you belong to Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Jude 24–25 ESV
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

Read Acts 17:31 again. How does the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead give you confidence that the injustices you see around you will someday be put right?
What are some ways people try to “figure out” life after death on their own? Should a Christian look for certainty about life after death in the same places (e.g., books, movies, “near death experience” testimonies) as a non-Christian? Where do you find certainty about life after death?
Read Luke 12:3 again, where Jesus promises that the day will come when all your secret words will be revealed. How is this a comfort for people who have been threatened and oppressed by their enemies? How is this verse a warning for those who will not repent of their sin? Is this verse a comfort or a warning to you?
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