REPOST Today’s AMI QT blog, written by Pastor Mark Chun of Radiance Christian Church in S.F., was originally posted on September 1, 2014; it has been updated. Mark is a graduate of University of California, San Diego (BS) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.).
Devotional Thought for This Morning
“Our Desperate Hope in God”
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (ESV)
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
One of the most unusual circumstances surrounding a sermon was a message given by John Chrysostom in the late fourth century. On this particular Sunday, a man by the name of Eutropius was clinging to the altar at the Hagia Sophia and literally begging for his life. Up to this point Eutropius had been the closest adviser to the Emperor Arcadius, but he was found guilty of abusing his imperial power and sentenced to death. In an effort to save his own life, Eutropius escaped from the palace, ran to the nearby church, and claimed the legal protection of sanctuary. The soldiers and the mob surrounded the church demanding for his immediate execution. But as nightfall came, the crowds dispersed, knowing that they could return the next morning to witness the drama unfold during the Sunday service.
Knowing that all of the city would be fixed on what he would say, John Chrysostom chose to preach out of Ecclesiastes 1:2, using Eutropius as the perfect sermon illustration. He duly noted that this man who had been second only to the emperor in power, wealth, and position had become “more wretched than a chained convict, more pitiable than a menial slave, more indigent than a beggar wasting away with hunger.” But the pastor’s purpose that morning was not to condemn the man but to save him by moving the crowds to compassion. To that end, he noted that his own words could not convey the agony of a man who had to suffer with the thought of being executed at any given moment. Then he turned the attention of the crowd toward themselves, challenging them to realize the vanity of their own existence. Whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, everyone would find themselves before a just and holy God on the Day of Judgment. Their only hope was the same hope to which Eutropius clung to– mercy at the altar of Christ.
The sermon had its intended impact. The crowds, with tears of compassion, spared Eutropius’ life. The Word of God, particularly the words found in Ecclesiastes, saved a man’s life. As we go through the book of Ecclesiastes over the next month, I pray that we would all understand how God saves us from ourselves and gives true meaning to life.
Prayer: Father, without you there is no meaning to our lives. Everything is meaningless and without purpose but with you in our lives, all things even the small things have a meaning. Help us to look to you today and cling to the altar of Christ. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 3
Lunch Break Study
Read James 4:13-17: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Questions to Consider
- Why should we not spend excessive time and energy mapping out our own life plans?
- How does James describe our time here on earth?
- What can you do practically to avoid the sin of self-sufficiency and pride?
- James reminds us that we have no control over the future and that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. For that reason, we should not be so rigid in the way we plan our lives. Your five-year plan may not necessarily be God’s five year plan, and our view of life has to be flexible enough to account for that. When we are self-sufficient and blinded by pride, we can become very inflexible in the way we handle the inevitable ups and downs of life to our own harm.
- In the second part of verse 14, human life is described as a vapor or a mist. James uses the same word/concept of the Hebrew word hebel that is found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and translated as vanity or meaningless .
- Personal response
Take time to reflect on your life. Are you living with meaning and purpose? Pray that God would be at the center of all your plans and decisions. If you are struggling with feelings of meaninglessness, trust that God will provide meaning for everything that you are going through.