First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ July 5, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Mark 8:37-38
This morning we are kicking off a new sermon series looking at some key passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes. During the months of July and August, we will be walking though Ecclesiastes with our eyes open on one major thought: what are the ingredients of a life well lived? Is it even possible to live such a life? Every day is a gift from the Lord, and we want to make it count. The good news is it’s never too late to turn your live around.
I truly believe the book of Ecclesiastes has so much to say to us today. In fact, Ecclesiastes wrestles with some of the most fundamental questions of life; questions like: What’s the point of life? What are we pursing? Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Can we find satisfaction in life? These are fundamental questions that can’t be ignored.
The book of Ecclesiastes helps us ask real questions. The questions being asked in Ecclesiastes are not hypothetical or philosophical questions; they are real life questions. We have to be in a place where we can be realistic about our experiences in this life. We should never be afraid to ask difficult questions. In fact, the book of Ecclesiastes invites us to wrestle with our doubts until we find the true meaning and purpose of life.
This morning, we will be looking at the first eleven verses of Ecclesiastes chapter one which give us a fair introduction of the major theme we will encounter through the book. Today, we will just scratch the surface of this wonderful yet neglected book. But before we do that, I will say a brief word about the author.
Who Wrote Ecclesiastes?
The book begins with an identification of the author. Ecclesiastes 1:1 states, “The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” While there are a few theories regarding the authorship of Ecclesiastes, I think Ecclesiastes 1:1 leaves no room for any speculation, rather, it makes it very clear that the author of the book is King Solomon. “The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”
The title of the Book in Hebrew is “Qoheleth.” It is the same Hebrew word that is translated “teacher” or “preacher” in chapter 1:1. So, where did we get the word “Ecclesiastes”? Ecclesiastes is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Qoheleth”, used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Ecclesia, is used as a title for God’s assembled people—the church. Ecclesiastes literally means the “Leader, Teacher, or Preacher” of the assembly. The book, therefore, is a long sermon that we will spend these two months exploring its deep meaning and relevant implications on our lives today.
Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity
So, what does the Preacher have to say to us? “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” Ecclesiastes 1:2. In this opening statement, the Preacher states his thesis. It is a thesis he will draw out throughout the book. The primary key word is repeated 5 times in this verse, “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
The word translated “vanity” is found 38 times in Ecclesiastes. It has a broad range of usage, but literally, it means “vapor” or “breath.” It’s your breath that appears on a window if you get up real close and deeply exhale. It’s only there for a second or two. The Preacher is comparing everything in life to that breath that quickly disappears.
What does the Preacher mean by these words? Well, the language of Ecclesiastes has led commentators to take widely differing views with regards to the overall meaning of the book, some arguing that the writer is an agnostic, others that he is a pessimist in his view of life; for some, it seemed that the author had given up on life. He was desperate and hopeless.
Needless to say, King Solomon was neither an agnostic nor a pessimist; rather, Solomon wants us to say that, without the LORD, the world, ourselves and all our hopes, dreams and ambitions as they truly are, futile, pointless, and ultimately meaningless and purposeless. His hope is that, rather than driving us to despair, this revelation of truth, this reality check, this wake-up call would cause us to earnestly and faithfully seek the Lord.
As I said earlier, Ecclesiastes is a long sermon, and Solomon makes us wait until the final chapter to give us the answer for life’s tough question and give us the solution of our brokenness. Ecclesiastes 12:13 states, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” Solomon wouldn’t disagree with the words of Jesus in Mark 8:36-37, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
In other words, King Solomon would say to us today, should you feel the weight of sin, should you feel the brokenness of creation, look to Him and submit to the ONE who stands outside creation as immutable, glorious and wise. Ecclesiastes points us to find meaning, purpose, and value in our relationship with the Lord and in a God-centered life.
So, as we wrestle with the difficult questions of life, be ready not to actually receive answers, but to rest in what is true, right and good about God. When things get messy and we get frustrated, let’s hold onto the promises of the One who said He will make everything new. Let’s remember that His words are trustworthy and true.
Yes, “all is vanity” when it’s done away from the Lord and when eternity is not in mind, but the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Amen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.