The Lord’s Day
October 12, 2008
Creator: The Gospel for the 21st Century”
Dr. Thomas: Please be seated. As you are getting
seated, I want to welcome formally David Robertson, the minister of the church
at St. Peter’s in Dundee, in Scotland. He’s no stranger. He’s preached here many
times before. David, we welcome you back to First Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Robertson: Let’s just begin with prayer.
Lord, we thank You that we are able to come again
into Your presence. We pray that we would not do so just as habit, and we pray
that we would not come with deaf ears. We thank You that when You taught here on
earth, You began so often by asking that people who had ears should listen; and
we pray, Lord, that we would listen, and that You would speak to us and that for
this moment in time we would be aware of the things of eternity.
I pray for anyone here who is struggling with
doubts and fears, for any who have turned away from You, for any who are living
under the shadow of hypocrisy. We pray, O Lord, for Your people wherever they
are. We pray for those who are burdened and sorrowful, those who have become
proud and need to be humbled, those who are broken and need to be healed. Lord,
even as we look at Your word, grant that we would know the blessing and presence
and power of Jesus. In Your name. Amen.
Let’s read in God’s word, and let’s read in the book
of Ecclesiastes, and we’re going to read chapter 12, which is on page 559 of the
pew Bible. We will read the whole chapter.
“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 sun and the light and the moon and the stars are
darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of
the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because
they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 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–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–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, 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.
“Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge,
weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher
sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed
are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of
anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a
weariness of the flesh.
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His
commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed
into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
May God bless His word to us.
I’m taking off my watch — which is an utterly
meaningless gesture. I don’t know what it is with church people and time, but we
seem to have so little time in so many ways. We…in my church in Dundee, in St.
Peter’s, we decided to move the time of our evening service. Now, you can do
most anything in a church, but moving times of services, that’s the law of the
Medes and Persians and you’re condemned if you do, but after a long and hard
struggle we got there. We moved it from 6:30 to 6:00 because the idea was that
people with younger children could come and they could just get home that wee
bit earlier. Didn’t work. Didn’t work because people did come at 6:00 and more
people had come, but we never got home any earlier because the congregation
after we finished the service just carried on talking and so on, and went out
the door at the same time. So I thought, “Forget this! I’m just going to teach
and preach until I’m done, and if people don’t like it they can get up and
leave.” So feel the same! You can. I’ll try not to be too long, but sometimes I
forget about things.
John Wagner, who’s from this congregation, who was an
MTW missionary working with us in Dundee to start with and is now doing a very,
very good work in Inverness in the north of Scotland…well, first of all, can I
say he sends his greetings! I took him to visit somebody when he first came to
Scotland. We went into a small apartment, and immediately we went in, he said,
“Dave, I can’t stay here.” I said, “Why?” He said, “There’s drugs here.” I said,
“You’re right; there is.” We went to meet…I don’t know what the term you would
use here…we would say a junkie, a heroin addict called Pelle, and she was
utterly amazed at John. We spent a lot of time with Pelle.
I knew Pelle for many years. I buried her a couple of
years ago, one of the most extraordinary funerals I’d ever taken because I had
promised her mother that I would bury her, but only on condition that I was
allowed to tell the truth. And there’s not many funerals that you go to and the
minister will stand up and say the person that they are burying was a liar and
an abuser and a user. And she was, in many ways. The drugs destroyed her life.
She was a very…for me, she was a very special person. She came along to the
church. She came because we didn’t promise to heal her; we didn’t want to cast
demons out her; we couldn’t guarantee that she would come off drugs; but we
spent a lot of time with her, and I personally spent a great deal of time with
her. One of the things that we did was that we looked at this book of
Ecclesiastes. And when I told her what was in Ecclesiastes and what the Bible
said, this was her reaction.
I remember her saying to me, “David, that’s
unbelievable! That’s in the Bible!”
I said, “Yeah, it is.”
She said, “Well, that’s Kurt Cobain! That’s Hervana, and
Janis Joplin, and all the people I like! The Bible says life is meaningless.”
And I said, “Yes, it does.”
“And the Bible says under the sun there’s no point, and
you’re just going to eat and drink and then die.”
“Yes, it does.”
And as we went through the book of Ecclesiastes, she
absolutely loved it.
It’s very interesting as well: we had another man who
came from an Irish background. He went to Seattle; he was a scientist. He became
very New Age-y [that’s the West Coast for you], and he started coming to church.
His wife was converted, and he asked me once, “What should I read in the
Bible?” He said, “Dave, I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying.” But he
still came. And I said, “Well, you know what I want you to do? I want you to go
and read Ecclesiastes.” So he did. He went and read the whole book. He came back
and he asked one of the elders, “What should I read?” He said, “Try the Gospel
of Mark.” So I asked him how he got on, and he says, “Oh, Mark is all right, but
nothing compared to that Ecclesiastes guy.” And again it sort of connected with
him. So that’s part of the reason I want to look at this book.
I believe in our evangelism the whole of the Bible is
applicable to the whole of our society and our culture. And the whole of the
Bible is about Jesus, and I hope you’ll see as we look at this Ecclesiastes,
I’m also motivated in this. There’s another girl who
had a profound impact on my life. She’s an American student at the University of
St. Andrew’s. She was brilliant. She came from a solidly Christian home. She
read Calvin’s Institutes when she was ten or eleven — which I thought was
a bit much, but never mind. She did that. She had everything: a very wealthy
family; she was home-schooled; she was mega-intelligent, first in her class all
the time; a brilliant pianist — a concert pianist; a fantastic writer;
stunningly good looking. You know, you just think here’s someone who had
everything. Well, she came home after she finished at St. Andrew’s and she went
to her brother’s house and took the gun out of his cabinet and shot herself
dead. And I had ministered to her for three years. I was shattered by it.
Who knows what’s going on inside people’s heads? Life
is meaningless for many, many people, and Ecclesiastes 12, at the end of this
book, there’s an extraordinary picture, I think, of what it’s all about. This
wish was never fulfilled. Some of you who are a wee bit older may know a band
called The Who. I saw them…I’m far too young to have seen them originally, but I
saw them when they were already heading towards their current geriatric status.
They wrote a song called “Hope I Die Before I Get Old” because, you know, the
last thing you wanted to be was old.
And it’s incredible, actually, in our culture how we
do that. I hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes, but I never understand the
point of Botox — as you can probably tell! Why are we so desperate always to
look young? Why would it be such an insult if I came up to you afterwards and
said, “Wow! You’re looking old!” You would be deeply offended by it. In other
cultures it would be a badge of great honor. We’ve got this kind of youth
culture and there’s a little part of me that finds it somewhat disturbing
because here’s the deal for every single one of us: we are all older, and we are
going to get old. I don’t know any of the children here, but when I was ten
years old, I used to think, “Imagine being twelve; that is so old!” And when I
was twelve, I was thinking, “Imagine being sixteen.” And when I was sixteen I
thought, “Well, imagine being 21.” It was only when I got to 40 that I realized
I wasn’t seventeen any more, and you know you just keep going on. You just keep
thinking, because when you’re young you think you’re going to last forever.
It’s a bit scary for me. My ten-year-old daughter
said to me last Sunday evening as we were driving home from church, “Dad, time’s
flying past and we’re all getting older.” And I thought, “No, don’t say that!
Ten years old….” But in a way I was glad she had that awareness. We need to be
aware of that.
I’m sorry, and it is scary in a way. I hate the
thought…I hate the thought even as a Christian…I hate the thought of it, but we
are all mortal. We all live as though we are immortal, but we are all mortal,
and one thing we can absolutely guarantee, we’re all on that same path and we
don’t like to think about it.
In this chapter we are told that we are to remember
our Creator in the days of our youth. Now that’s the verse that’s often stuck on
the children’s wall or something, but look at what the rest (up to verse 8)
tells us why we are to remember our Creator in the days of our youth. It’s
saying that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It’s
too easy for us to neglect the Lord while we are young, when we’re caught in the
enjoyment of youth. But it’s actually in youth that it’s best to lay a
I have seen a 98-year-old man who was quite
astonishing…a former professor at the British Museum in London…become a member
in the church. That was really quite extraordinary, interviewing a 98-year-old
man for profession of faith. But the vast majority of people come to Christ when
they are younger. That seems to be the case. And it’s very, very important that
our children, our young people — I think our most open group of people are our
younger people, particularly in my culture anyway — particularly those in the
kind of 17-30 age group. In St. Peter’s we try and reach everybody, but it seems
to be the younger people who are coming. Older people come in and they go,
“Where do these young people come from? Why do they come? You have this really
boring service, and you stand up and you speak for 45 minutes.” One man came in
and said, “You did that deliberately.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I
haven’t been to church for years and years, and you gave me a whole year’s
sermon in one go!” And I said, “No, no! Normally I would speak for that long.”
And he said, “That’s unbelievable! I’ve never in my life heard anyone speak for
more than five minutes.” (The aside of that story was that I said to him, “How
did you cope with it?” He said, “I loved it! I really enjoyed it.” I said, “Will
you be coming back?” He said, “No.” [Laughter] It was an honest approach,
anyway. But I’ve kept in touch with him and with his family.)
But it intrigues me that younger people are looking —
I hope they’re looking — for good teaching that helps explain, help to deal with
the fact that it’s not just about “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we
die.” So let me just say… [that, by the way, was the introduction!]
I. Growing old disgracefully
Verses 1-6 tell us what happens when you leave God
out of your youth, or it’s called “Growing Old Disgracefully.” There’s a way
to grow old gracefully, where your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The
youngest person I knew in my congregation was a man who was 85 years old, and
who was bouncing with the joy of the Lord. Now, in the Free Church you don’t
literally bounce, and you don’t here, either; that would be too Pentecostal. But
he was just full of zeal and love for God. I find it quite sad that in our
churches we expect our younger people to be zealous and full of joy for the
Lord, and as you get older and older and older you’re supposed to become more
cynical and tired and weary and so on. Actually you’re getting nearer heaven, so
in a way you should be being renewed and revitalized and an encouragement and
inspiration to the younger people.
Well, this picture in verses 1-6 is a very poignant
picture of old age, and it’s a beautiful poetic picture. Let me just briefly go
Verse 2 is about the declining capacity for joy:
“The years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; the
sun and the light, the moon and the stars…” —the inevitability of the problems
of old age. Even if the storm ceases, another one will soon come.
I’m really young, so I’m not too worried about the
current credit crisis and the impact on my pension — what you call your “401” —
and things like that, because I’m a long way off my pension and if the economy
isn’t sorted out in another 25 years, then it’s probably because the Lord has
come back. But if you’re just about to get your pension, that’s the big problem
for you. And it seems as though as you get older there seem to be more and more
problems that are associated with getting old, and verse 2 is really about that
declining capacity for joy.
Verse 3 is a picture of old age, where it
talks about “the keepers of the house tremble”; that’s an image of the
protectors — the arms; “the strong men” refers to the legs; “the grinders” are
obviously the teeth. It talks about the grinders ceasing because they are few.
Now you may think I’m being fanciful, but I think this is a wonderful picture of
old age. And “looking through the windows” are the eyes, and that’s what happens
when you get older. You find…I love, for example, playing football. [I’ll say
this to the young people: that’s real football, where you kick a ball with your
foot. You don’t pick it up with your hands and so on. You call it soccer, but
the rest of the world calls it football.] And I love playing football, and I
like to think…I mean I used to be able to run forever! But now I play fifteen
minutes (and you can tell by my shape I don’t do very often), and I’m breathing
and wheezing and so on. The things I want to do as I get older, you’re not able
to do so well. I think of a lovely lady I know who walks to church. She lives
only a hundred yards from the church. It takes her half an hour. But she wants
to do it. She wants to walk to the church. When she was younger, she could have
walked ten miles, but now she struggles to walk a hundred yards. The fact is
that we will all physically decay. We will. And we need to be aware of that.
“The doors to the street” that are mentioned in
verse 4 “are shut.” That’s the reduced access to the outside world, perhaps
even deafness. “The grinding of grain” — that’s the daily business…that’s
ceasing. “Rising up by the sound of birds” — that’s the light sleeping, whereas
before you could sleep through a thunderstorm, now even the slightest noise, you
wake up. The enjoyment of songs grows fainter. Verse 5, the old man is
afraid of what is high, afraid of heights, afraid of journeys. “The almond tree
blossoming refers to the hair turning grey, then silver. [Some of us are not too
concerned about that particular problem!] “The grasshopper” refers to the
laborious and ungainly walk of the elderly; and “desire is no longer
stirred”…that’s referring of course to the sexual appetite. It’s just saying
when you get old, your body changes. It’s some picture, then. The senses
failing, weak arms and legs, teeth falling out, failing eyesight, deafness,
withdrawal, erratic sleep, fear, grey hair, no desires, ability to have joy
fading. It’s little wonder that The Who would sing, “I hope I die before I get
II. The result of this futile
And the reason for all this? It’s death.
Death is the climax of a process of decay. “If Christ is in you,” says Paul in
Romans 8:10, “your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because
of righteousness.” It’s eternal. “Desire fails, because man is going to his
eternal home…” (verse 5) “…and the mourners go about the street.” It leads to
sadness. You can’t get away from the reality of life in that way.
Now verses 6, 7, and 8 give us a picture of death.
It’s presented in two ways. It talks about “the silver cord being snapped,
the golden bowl being broken.” The golden bowl is attached to a silver cord or
chain, and it’s hanging from a ceiling. And when the chain is removed, the bowl
shatters. We have a hard floor kitchen, and every now and then one of us —
thankfully it’s not just me, it’s also my children and also my wife, so none of
us can turn around and yell at the other when it happens — every now and then we
drop a bowl, and it falls on the stone floor and shatters. Well, here’s the
picture of a chain…the chain snapping, the bowl falling and shattering. Life is
shattered. Life is precious, but life is fragile.
The second picture is a pitcher lowered into a well
by a rope running round a wheel, and death is the smashing of the jar. The wheel
breaks into the well, and the jar breaks and the water spills out — and the
image in Scripture, one that is often used, is the idea of the water of life.
For example, Revelation 21:6,
“He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the
end. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of
the water of life.”
And this is an incredible
image, because it’s an image…when the machinery of life stops working, the water
of life spills out. The heart stops, the spirit leaves the body.
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My
spirit.’ When He had said this, He breathed His last.” — Luke 23:46.
Acts 7:59 — “While they
were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’”
“We return to dust.” —
Genesis 2:7 and Genesis 3:19.
Job 10:9 — “Remember that
You molded me like clay, for You now turn me to dust again.”
To return to dust is to have Genesis reversed.
Instead of the dust becoming life, it is the life becoming dust. It’s a body
that is no longer animated by the breath of God, as Job again in Job 34:14: “If
it were His intention and He withdrew His Spirit and breath.”
We have a habit, in the Highlands of Scotland,
anyway, of sometimes when someone dies, the coffin is sometimes left open and
people come and visit. And you’ll sometimes get parents saying to their
children, “We want you to go and say goodbye to them,” or to see them. I always
advise against it because the most common reaction is the real reaction, which
is when you go and look the body of a close friend or relative, you
instinctively say that’s not them. That’s not them. It’s their shell. It’s their
body. And when people say, “Oh, they look so at peace”–No! No! It’s the body,
and you know that the life has gone. You know that it’s gone, and it’s just so
Maybe another picture that you could use…not that
Ecclesiastes uses, but have you ever seen the film The Matrix? If you
haven’t, never mind; it’s too complicated to explain. But if you have seen the
film The Matrix, just like this morning I used the book The Shack
as an illustration, or a comment on it, and a number of people came up to me
afterward and said, “The what? What were you talking about?” So maybe The
Matrix…who knows? But for those of you who have seen it, you’ll understand.
For the rest of you, we’ll explain it at another time. But in The Matrix
you’ve got this scene where there are people who are living in this
computer-generated world in their minds, but their bodies are hooked up to the
machine. And at one point in the scene they are told can the body still live if
the person is killed in the Matrix? If the person is dead in the Matrix? And the
answer is given, no, once the mind goes the body is gone. And there’s a horrible
scene where people are unplugged and they die. They die physically; they die in
the actual Matrix computer program. There’s a sense in which when somebody dies
it’s the plug…it’s gone…it’s unswitched. There’s no life left. You know, we’ve
got wonderful gadgets. I really would wear a tee-shirt saying “I love my iPhone.”
But it’s useless unless I’ve got something to give it life — a battery and
energy. The body that you have got…look at your body. Never mind, you know,
whether you look like Brad Pitt or the female equivalent (I don’t know who that
is). But you should look at your body and you should say, “I am fearfully and
wonderfully made. My body is incredible,” no matter what kind of body you have
One of my best friends was a boy who was severely
handicapped, and he still could say as a Christian, “I am fearfully and
wonderfully made, and I’m looking forward to my new body in heaven…which will be
a vastly improved model.” And he was quite right. We look, and we say we are
fearfully and wonderfully made, but without the spirit we are nothing.
So it’s little wonder
that to the Preacher this all appears pretty meaningless, and this could be
really, really depressing.
Now, most people say, “Let’s go and tell people the
good news that Jesus loves them and Jesus died for them.” But for most people
that is an utterly meaningless statement. Who is Jesus? Why should Him loving me
mean anything, and why should Him dying for me mean anything? Those statements
are meaningless for most people. Let me give you an example of how this works.
I did a mission in the University of St. Andrew’s,
and as I was going in to speak, I could not believe what the local Christian
student group had done. It was great! We had a hall that was packed with 200-300
people — a lot of young Christians, a lot of young men — and they had them stand
up and sing for half an hour praise to a God they did not know and did not
believe in. But worst of all, they had them singing a song which was just absurd
even for me as a Christian, but for a non-Christian it was bizarre. It was one
where they were going…I’m not going to sing it [be thankful!] but it was along
the lines of ‘Ooo, ooo, ooo, Jesus, I’m so in love with you’ repeated several
times. Now don’t even bother to think that you’re asking a group of grown men to
sing that they were in love with another man. How did that make sense? It didn’t
make any sense to them. People weren’t thinking.
Well, I think for us when we go and we’re trying
to talk to people, we have to be very, very realistic about the situation that
people are in and to recognize, as I think the Preacher does in Ecclesiastes,
look, it’s all meaningless. Actually, Jean Paul Sartre, Nihilism,
Existentialism, all the rest…it’s all true if everything that exists takes place
only under the sun. (And that phrase, by the way, is key to understanding the
whole book.) But the Christian message is “This is all true. We’re not trying to
depress you. This is reality.”
III. A proper biblical
perspective of life and reality
But look at verses 9-14. This is how we cope with
reality. Most people escape it; we don’t. In this context people need to
receive a different perspective, and they need to be taught a wider perspective.
Now, what’s happening in verses 9-14 is a classical traditional Hebraic summary
and I won’t have time to go into it all, but let me summarize the summary itself
Firstly, there’s life-long learning. Moses, David,
Ezra, and of course Jesus and the Apostles, were teachers. And here the Preacher
is being summarized as someone who taught the people. And what did he teach the
people? And by the way, do you have this distinction between teaching and
evangelism? If you do, get rid of it. It’s not biblical. You will not find it
anywhere in the Bible. How are you going to teach without evangelizing, and how
are you going to evangelize without teaching? If you evangelize without
teaching, you are going to be talking gibberish to most people. You have to
teach. But if you are teaching the Bible, by definition you are evangelizing.
And I would make personally no distinction. I can’t find a distinction in the
Bible. And here there’s teaching that is going on.
The teacher (these are basic principles, I think, of
our teaching) …his concern was with people. It was pastoral, not professional.
Not look what a wonderful sermon I can bring; not what a great book I can write:
but look how these words of truth connect with the people. It was profound, it
was weighed, it was careful and evaluated. It was honest, it was cautious, it
was balanced, it was searched, it was thorough, it was diligent. It was
arranged: “Weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care.”
Now I think that was talking about the presentation of the truth. Is it true
that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures? Yes. Is it a good way
to present it by marching up and down Main Street or North Mall or whatever it
is with a banner around your neck saying “Jesus died for our sins according to
the Scriptures”? It’s the truth. It’s not a good way to present it.
My most extraordinary example of that that I
personally know is when I was playing…soccer [I’ll acclimatize]…when I was
playing soccer on the meadows in Edinburgh. A group of us were playing. Some of
us were Christians, some weren’t. And we saw a man who came out with a Bible,
and he started preaching. The only trouble was he wasn’t preaching to us. He was
way away from us, and we couldn’t see anyone else there. He was preaching to the
trees. Now, he was preaching the truth. He was preaching God so loves the world,
and so on; but he was standing and yelling at the trees. And I couldn’t stand it
anymore, and I went up to him and said, “Excuse me, sir. I’m a Christian, and
I’d like to say I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to preach. But who are
you preaching to?” “Ahh!” he said. “I read a story about the great Baptist
minister, Spurgeon, and one time he was preaching and there was a man at the
tree and he was converted.” And I looked and I thought–is this Christian to
think this?–“You’re a nut case! This is just awful! It is just really bad.”
Now what are you saying? He’s teaching the truth?
Could God use our lunacy? Yes, of course He could. But that’s not the best way
to present things, so we need to think about how we present things, and I think
that includes artistry, it includes integrity, it includes music, it includes so
many different ways that we can communicate the truth. He gave his teaching in
proverbs, fables, riddles, witticisms, crisp sayings, acrostic patterns,
allegories, questions — all designed to get beneath the outer crust of
indifference. You need to get home to people, and you need to study and to think
about how the best way to get God’s word home to people. They were pleasing
words, words of delight. They were considered. They were not slap-dash, but they
were truthful; they were upright. The form should never be at the expense of
content. His ministry as well involved writing as well as speaking. His sayings
were like goads, like cattle prods. They were memorable; they stimulate action.
I was brought up on a farm. Again, I don’t know if
you have this and I’m not sure if it would be allowed, but I had…when I was a
boy and I was taking cows in to be milked, I had an electric cattle prod, which
is a great thing (especially if you wanted to give your brothers a fright
occasionally!) and you just stuck it in the back of the cow. And they’ve got
thick hides, and they got an electric shock and it made them moo, or kick out at
you, so you’re careful how you used it. But I tell you, you got one of these
prods as a human being, it woke you up!
Teaching should be like that. Teaching that sends you
to sleep, I’ve got to question. Is that teaching from the Bible? Teaching that
annoys you, teaching that irritates you, teaching that offends you, teaching
that wounds you, teaching that goes right into your soul, teaching that
motivates you and inspires you — that’s what we’re looking for from God’s word.
They are like nails, giving the students who hear
them something to hang what they have learned on. He talks about the Shepherd.
The Shepherd is God. The Preacher is conscious of his own effort, but ultimately
what he’s saying comes from God, and I think that here we have the doctrine of
inspiration. Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke
from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. It does not matter what
I say, it does not matter what Dr. Thomas says, it does not matter what Dr.
Duncan says; it matters what the Bible says. And that’s why it’s so important
that you read the Bible and that you know the Bible, because
our job is to teach the Bible and if we
start teaching you our personal opinions, our personal politics, our personal
foibles and frustrations, that’s wrong. You don’t need to hear that. You need to
hear what God says.
Well, there’s that verse
about the making of many books. I won’t say anything about it other than simply
to say it’s a great verse for students. I’ve used it often when I was trying to
persuade my teachers why I didn’t do the homework: “The Bible says of making
many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body, so I felt it was my
responsibility to rest my body a little bit.” [Maybe don’t try that one if
you’re from RTS.] But the point is simply this.
Life is a school. The textbook is the Bible, and the Teacher is Jesus and the
Holy Spirit, and you will always be learning, hopefully not in the
sense of what Paul says, “…always learning and never able to come to a knowledge
of the truth,” but always learning. See, that’s for me one of the greatest
things about getting older. I keep thinking, “Wow, there’s so much more to
And here’s a great thought
for heaven. Heaven is like an eternal university or an eternal school.” Now for
some of you that’s a nightmare, but it’s really learning. You will be constantly
learning more about the glories and wonders of God and what He has created.
And that’s why verses 13-14…let me just say
this in terms of finishing about the greatness of God and the worship of God.
Conduct comes from worship. This is the whole of man. That is literally what it
says. This is for everyone. This is how you have wholeness, by coming to know
God. Without God, you have emptiness and meaninglessness. The philosopher
Wittgenstein says this:
“To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of
the matter. To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning; that this
meaning does not lie in it, but outside it.”
I prefer that to Mark Twain, where he says, “Applauding
life is applauding a sad pilgrimage between the two eternities.” No. Life is
precious. Life is a gift from God.
And he goes on to talk about fearing God, keeping His
commandments, and so on. He’s not teaching legalism. He’s not saying if only you
do this, this, this, and this, then you’ll be okay.
He’s saying, to fear
God – that’s to know God. That’s to realize why you were made to keep
His commandments. If you love Him, you will keep His commandments. The fear of
the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and
instruction. Because, you see, it’s not just that
death is inevitable, but judgment is inevitable. And when people come up
and say to you… One of the most ridiculous things I ever hear from anyone:
“David, I’m really, really glad that you believe what you believe and that
you’ve got your faith and it inspires you, and it’s so motivational…” and all
that kind of stuff. I say to them, “Stop it. I’m not Oprah, and neither are you.
If what I believe is wrong, you shouldn’t be glad. You should pity me. And if
what I believe is right, you need to believe it too. You can’t play games of
“Well, if you want to believe that, that’s fine…you want to believe that, that’s
fine…it’s whatever makes you happy.” No, no, no! It’s not whatever makes you
happy! It’s the fact, the actual fact.
Whether you believe in God… You know, they say there
are no atheists in foxholes. Let me tell you this: there are no atheists on the
Day of Judgment, and you won’t be able to turn around on the Day of Judgment and
say, “We didn’t know…we didn’t know.” You know. You know. And God says, ‘I
screamed to you in My creation. I taught you. You heard My words. You are not
one of these people who has that excuse, and that you never ever heard. You
heard’ And even tonight, in the Day of Judgment the fact that you listened to
God’s word and then you walk out and you live your life as though God did not
exist, that stacks up against you on the Day of Judgment. It really does matter.
People say…when I debate with atheists, they say,
“Are you saying Christians are more moral? You know, look. Atheists don’t do bad
things. They don’t fly planes into buildings.” I say then, “Guys, listen to me.
If Adolph Hitler or Josef Stalin had believed that they were answerable to God
for what they did, they would never have done it. They would never have done it.
It’s precisely because they didn’t believe, it’s precisely because they thought
that they were all-powerful that they could do things and get away with it.”
Well, we can’t. There’s a day coming and there is a Day of Judgment. God shall
judge the righteous and the wicked. He says in 3:17: “Know that for all these
things God will bring you into judgment.” He says, ‘Young man, go and enjoy
yourself. Have a good time. But know that God will bring you into judgment.’ Man
may seem to get away with sin, as he says in chapter 8:11, but their sins will
eventually be exposed and judged righteously. Solomon says enjoy life, enjoy
life while you can, but he never says go out and sin. And he does say this: to
truly enjoy life, the joy of this present life depends on the security of the
future. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, then your sins have already
been judged from the cross, and there is therefore now no condemnation for those
who are in Christ. But if you die having never trusted Christ, you will face
judgment at His throne and be lost forever.
I hate it when I go to a funeral and it’s a funeral
in a church where everyone gets buried the same: “They’ve gone to be at peace; I
want to bring you words of comfort.” Don’t bring me words of comfort; they’re
lies. And don’t minimize the wonder of someone who dies in the Lord, knowing
Jesus. The greatness of knowing that they are genuinely at peace…by having just
a blanket thing that says “Well, everyone’s like that.” No, everyone’s not like
that. I don’t bury people and say, “Well, you know they went to hell,” because I
don’t know that. I don’t know how God has worked in their life. I don’t know
what’s happened. But I’m not going to lie to people and say it doesn’t matter,
you can be the biggest rogue in the place, you can do whatever you want, but
when you die everyone gets buried the same way. No. It is one of the most
desperately sad things to see people die and not to know whether they had Christ
This morning we talked about passion, motivation for
evangelism. Your motivation for evangelism is not to fill your church. Your
motivation for evangelism is simply this. Let me put it this way. Supposing you
walked out onto the street just now, and there were a group of people — men,
women and children — who were lying at the side of the road and they were dying
from a deadly disease. And you, in your pocket, had the medicine that you had
been given because you were dying from that disease as well, and you were
healed. And you had that medicine, and the person who healed you said, ‘Look, I
want you to take this and I want you to go and give it to other people who are
dying.’ And you walk out and you see these people who are dying, and in your
mind you’re thinking, ‘You know, I’ve got to get home. There’s something I want
to see on the television tonight. I promised So-and-So I’d go and see them. I’ve
got these things to do. I just don’t have the time right now to go and bother
myself with these people.’
You see, I know that everyone I know, everyone I
meet, has this disease. We’re all sinners, and because of that the whole human
race is subject to bondage and to decay. But I also know that in the gospel
there is the gift of eternal life and that the last great enemy, the enemy of
death, has been defeated. The spirit returns to God, he says.
II Timothy 1:10 — “It’s now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior,
Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light
through the gospel.”
Jesus has destroyed death and He’s brought life and
immortality to light through the gospel so you can be the 85-year-old man I
mentioned who said to me, “David, you know that for twenty years I’ve been
praying to the Lord, ‘Get me out of here! The church is miserable, my life is
miserable. Get me out of here. Take me home.’” I said, “I’ve just been praying,
‘Lord, give me two more years. I’m so excited about what’s going on in the
church. Let me see what’s happening on earth, and I’m not too sure whether if
I’m in heaven I’m going to be interested in seeing.’ So I’ve just prayed, ‘Just
give me two more years.’” But in those two years I would meet with him and he
would say, “I am so looking forward to going to heaven, but I want to take as
many people with me as possible.” And his death was quite spectacular, because
he came and he sat at the Lord’s Table on a Sunday evening, and he took
communion and he went home and died. And I thought, well, the joy of the Lord…he
really has entered into it.
See, I’m a Christian. I am fading away outwardly,
even though I know I’m young and healthy and et cetera. There are some of
you who are older here, and you’re fading away outwardly. If you are a
Christian, don’t despair of that. Please don’t despair of that! If you are
getting ready to go and be with the Lord, inwardly you are being renewed day by
day. God has appointed the days for you to live, and one day He’s going to take
you to be with himself. Never ever despair as you’re getting older.
If you are not a Christian, I do have to say this.
You have every reason to despair. You know, you’ve lots of problems I’m sure
that people would like to help you with. But you don’t have a problem as big as
this. Your biggest problem is not that the economy is fading; it’s not that
you’ve got troubles at home; it’s not that you don’t have enough money. The
biggest problem that you have is that you are fading, and you are dying.
One of my best friends was dying from cancer, and he
said to me, “David, don’t you dare feel sorry for me.” I said, “Why not?” He
said, “How am I different from you? You’re dying, too.” And he was right. And
then he said to me, “I have the advantage of knowing that it’s going to be
fairly soon unless the Lord preserves me; but the Lord may take me home.” And he
Now we need to know that our future is secure, and
that security will not come in securities; it will not come in insurances. It
will not come in healthcare plans. It will not come in politics. It will only
come through knowing Jesus Christ, and I would plead this with you. It may be
too disturbing. I don’t care what age you are — 98 years old, 9 years old…it
doesn’t matter. Please make sure that you are right with God. Seek Him while He
may be found, and know that He is seeking you. Remember your Creator in the days
of your youth.
May God bless His word to us. Let’s just pray. Let’s
stand to pray, and also for the benediction as well, please.
Lord, we stand before You knowing that we shall
one day stand….. [Tape ends.]
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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