Same Old, Same Old?
May 30, 2021
Same Old, Same Old?
If you have a copy of God’s word this morning, whether a physical or digital copy, please go ahead and open up to Ecclesiastes 1. This morning we will cover the first part of chapter 1, through verse 11.
After you have turned there in your Bibles, give a look at the screen above me. I’d like to begin this morning’s sermon with another picture. Have you seen this picture before? It’s a famous picture. It’s a picture of a man lifting a stone up a hill. Quite a difficult task he is doing. This picture comes from the ancient Greek myth about the man named Sisyphus. Now as I share with you this morning about Sisyphus, let me make clear that this is a fictional Greek story. It is a story about a man who never lived. Yet, nevertheless, the story has great application and illustration for what we are studying in Ecclesiastes this morning.
Sisyphus was a wicked king of Corinth. He treated people very badly and went about cheating death on several occasions. Because he was so wicked, he was given a terrible punishment in the underworld for the life he lived. His punishment was to roll a heavy rock up a very steep hill for all eternity. As Sisyphus got close to getting this rock to the top of the hill, the rock would always role down the hill. Sisyphus had this difficult, monotonous, taxing task that he had to do for all eternity, and he was never able to complete it. The punishment that Sisyphus was given was the experience of utter meaningless, boredom, monotony, and the same old, same old. The endless repetition of the same futile task. Over and over and over. That’s what this picture is about. Sisyphus. We actually have an English word that comes from this story of Sisphyus, which captures Sisphyus’ experience. The word is Sisyphean. It’s an adjective. It describes tasks that are seemingly endless and futile.
Now I share this story with you not to preach on ancient Greek myths. Once again, the story of Sisyphus is a fictional story. I share this story with you to make a connection to our passage of Scripture in Ecclesiastes. What we see this morning is that the story of Sisphyus very well summarizes the experience that is discussed in Eccl 1. This feeling of hollowness that we all have in life, these feelings of meaningless and futility have been experienced by all peoples who have ever lived. The story of Sisyphus shows us that. Ecclesiastes shows us these feelings from God’s perspective. Ecclesiastes shows us that we feel this way, why we feel this way, and what we need to do to now fell this way. That’s what we will see this morning.
“Under the Sun”
To begin our study of Ecclesiastes this morning, let us all look at v. 3. Here I am beginning my first point this morning. Go ahead and write, “Under the Sun.” Solomon writes this,
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
The key to understanding this verse, our portion of Scripture this morning, and all of the book of Ecclesiastes is for us to first understand the phrase, “under the sun.” Do you see that phrase? It is critical that we understand how this phrase functions in the book of Ecclesiastes to understand what Ecclesiastes teaches.
The phrase occurs twenty eight times in the book. It occurs one other time in our passage this morning. Look down at v. 9. Verse 9 reads,
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.
What Solomon is doing here in this passage and in the whole book of Ecclesiastes, is he is describing the experiences of mankind “under the sun.” That’s where you and I are at in the here and now. We are “under the sun.” We are on earth. The sun is above us and we are under it. All of what Solomon describes in vv. 1–11 are what we experience in the current world. Let’s look closer and see the various experiences Solomon describes.
What Happens outside of Us
I take it that Solomon describes the vanity of life by highlighting various aspects of repetition that occur in the created order and occur in our experiences. Let’s read v. 4–7.
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 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. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
Solomon is observing that the world functions in a seeming meaningless way. From all that we can tell by looking at the world, it seems like it has existed forever. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets, rises and sets. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Spring, summer, fall, winter. The wind comes and goes, comes and goes, comes and goes. Especially here in South Dakota, we know about this. The rivers and the oceans flows this way and that way, and yet where do they go? They remain, even though the flow this way and that way.
To add one to this, take the waves of the ocean. Our family enjoys going to the beach. It’s very relaxing. Specifically, the sound of the waves is relaxing. But have you ever thought about how the waves come and come and come and come and come? And never stop. What meaning is there to this?
What Happens inside of Us
Then Solomon, in vv. 8–11 discusses the various experiences people have in experiencing what occurs in the world.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 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. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Here Solomon taps into our human senses. The eye keeps wanting to see. The ear keeps wanting to hear. Who doesn’t like to see a new good movie? Who doesn’t want to hear a new good song? It’s endless. History repeats itself over and over and over. There’s nothing really new, either. Further, human memory fails to remember the past. Our experience here under the sun is like a merry go-round. History just goes around and around and around. There’s nothing new under the sun. Our experience is like Sisyphus—pushing this heavy ball up this hill and never getting there.
So I love sports. I love competition. I competed as a child and teenager, and I enjoy to see my kids compete. As a sports-lover, a fun question to ask, “Who is the highest paid athlete of all time?” Imagine being that good at a sport to get paid millions of dollars to perform your craft. Wow. So who has been the highest paid athlete ever?
So according to a Forbes article I found in 2017, here’s how they ranked it. At number 10 was Shaquille O’Neal at $735 million. At 9 was Floyd Mayweather at $785 million. 8 and 7 was a tie with David Beckham and Kobe Bryant at $800 million. 6 was Phil Mickelson at $815 million. 5 was Michael Schumacher at $1 billion. He’s an F1 driver. Jack Nicklaus, the golfer, was 4 at $1.2 billion. Arnold Palmer was 3 at $1.4 billion. Tiger Woods was 2 at $1.7 billion. And the true GOAT of all time, Michael Jordan was 1 at $1.85 billion. So that was in 2017 according to Forbes.
But as it turns out there is one athlete who has been far, far wealthier than any of these athletes. Actually, this athlete, who you have probably never heard of, earned more wealth from his competitions than all of these athletes earned combined. Who is this person? His name was Gaius Appuleius Diocles. Who on earth was he, right? Diocles was a Roman Charioteer. So in the Ancient Roman Empire, the had chariot races. This was a large sporting even that many people would come to see. It is said that around 150,000 Romans would flock to see a chariot race. This could happen multiple times per week. These chariot races drew a lot of attention. Diocles was the top dog. The GOAT. He retired at the age of 42. In his life, he earned, you ready for this, the equivalent of $15 billion in today’s currency. Have any of you heard about him? Dear friends, there’s nothing new under the sun.
So what is the take away from this portion of Scripture. It is this. Moment after moment, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, we have the same experience. Boredom. Monotony. Fatigue. Vanity. Futility. Meaninglessness. Success doesn’t change this. Family doesn’t change this. Money doesn’t change this. Pleasure doesn’t change this. Popularity doesn’t change this. Intelligence doesn’t change this. The Lord God Almighty has hardwired our experience here in this world to be one of frustration and futility. There’s no getting around that. We all, to varying degrees, can and will experience what Eccl 1 teaches.
And it is good that we experience this. It is good. It is necessary that after we get done eating a delicious meal, we say to ourselves, “That’s all there is?” It’s critical that after we get that job promotion, we’ve been longing for for a long time that we experience that life is just the same as it was before. It is good to be frustrated with life. That is God at work in your life. Why? Because it leads us to search for a different perspective. This perspective of life “under the sun” isn’t worth living for, dear friends. We need to find a different perspective in life in general and in Ecclesiastes specifically. What is that different perspective?
Turn with me to Eccl 5:2. This is what this verse says.
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
So this passage presents us with a different perspective. There’s our perspective, the perspective of being, “under the sun,” and then there’s God’s perspective of “in heaven.” You see two perspectives. The first perspective of “under the sun.” That’s a miserable perspective. One that only ends in meaninglessness and futility. But then there’s this other perspective. The “in heaven” perspective. So a boots on the ground perspective and a heavenly perspective.
We need to investigate this heavenly perspective a bit more. To do so, we’re going to need to jump a bit in our Bibles to see how this heavenly perspective makes itself known at the end of time. Ok. So let’s jump to Rev 21.
So I want us to examine this passage, Rev 21, in light of the perspective of “in heaven.” Let’s begin reading in v. 1. We will read through v. 5. The text reads,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place1 of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I lam making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
What is amazing about this passage is that it goes against everything that that Eccl 1 has taught us. Ecclesiastes 1 taught us that life is mundane, boring, and monotonous. It’s meaningless. Generations come and go. Nothing changes. All we are left with is the same old, same old. That’s Eccl 1. Now what do we have here? We have something new. Truly new.
Verse 1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” In other words, life “under the sun,” that was talked about in Eccl 1, is gone. Totally gone. There’s truly something new.
Verse 2 reads, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This is a party happening. It’s a celebration. This is the party of all parties. God himself is throwing it. Notice the language of “coming down from heaven?” What we have here is that God’s perspective that was presented in Eccl 5:2, that is coming down and invading earth, invading the “under the sun” perspective. Now in Rev 21 there is no more “under the sun” perspective. Heaven has come down to earth. Let’s keep reading.
Verse 4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” What this mean for Eccl 1? It means that it is toast. Done away with. Kaputz. All those tears you cry due to the difficulties of this life and its constant feeling of futility, all those tears are gone away. Praise the Lord.
And last verse, verse 5. Let’s end with this. “Behold, I lam making all things new.” Something really new happens. God recreates the entire cosmos. Because of the marriage between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, there’s this coming party. A party to end all parties. This party will be so
That is what the fulfillment of the “in heaven” perspective will be when God brings heaven to earth. Now that is where we are headed, right? We are going to this point. But we’re not there. We long for that. We wait for that. We persevere until God enacts what he says he will in Rev 21. So we’re not there. But, we are also not totally in Eccl 1. Ecclesiastes presents us with two different perspectives—“under the sun” and “in heaven.” An earthly viewpoint and a heavenly viewpoint. We currently have neither of those in their entirety. What is our current viewpoint?
“Between Heaven and Earth”
Here we are segueing to the final point of the sermon. Write this, “Between heaven and earth.” That’s the perspective we have. We’re not in heaven. But we’re not totally here on this earth, either. Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we live in this world but we are not of this world. So going back to the gospel, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is God-incarnate. What Jesus has done, in the gospels, is his brings us a heavenly perspective while we remain here under the sun. What Jesus does, in the gospel, is he gives a new perspective here “under the sun,” while we wait for heaven to come to earth as it says in Rev 21. So, we’re stuck in this in-between state. Theologians call this “already-not yet.” We are already saved but we are not fully saved. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, but we wait for the ultimate feast to come. An endless feast.
Expectations vs Reality
So in the meantime, in light of Ecclestaes and Revelation, how do we live? In the between time, what do we do? Such an important question. How do we live in light of these texts of Scripture?
What we need to do, in light of these passage, is we must make sure that our expectations align with where we are at in this story of redemption. Stated a bit differently, we must make sure that our expectations are aligned with reality. We must make sure that our expectations for life match the reality of where we are at in this in-between stage of Ecclesiastes and Revelation.
Under the Sun Expectations
So Eccl 1 has taught us that there is this in-built vanity to our experience in this world. No matter how successful we are or how successful we become, we all with taste this bitter dullness of life. That is what Eccl 1 showed us. In light of this, we need to have the expectation that this will happen to us in life. We need to have the expectation that as we go through life, disappointment and vanity will follow us all the days of our life. We will never get out of this predicament until we die and go to be with Jesus.
Let me apply this to the notion of work. So in my life, I shared this with you all last week, I had this unidentified feeling that once I finish school, get a job, buy a house, I will be satisfied. Ya, that’s what I need. So I worked for this. And now I have it. And I still have that feeling of meh, bleh. So for you. If you are a graduating senior, “Once I get that degree and get that internship, then I will be happy.” Or for the person who is just starting their career, “Once I work for 5 years and then get that promotion, then I will have it made.” Or, for the person who is half-way through their career, “Once my boss retires, and I get his job, that will be awesome.” Or, maybe for the farmer who says, “Once I buy this plot of land or get this piece of equipment, then things will go well.” Or for the person who is nearing the end of their career, “Once I retire, I will get what I want.”
So let’s say you do get what you want in your job, you know what comes next. Vanity. You think now that you have that thing, you need something else. Ecclesiastes tells us that that pursuit is vanity. You can and will die. Stop looking for ultimate meaning “under the sun.” Don’t be surprised that when you get all that you want, you will not be satisfied. We have to reject this way of thinking. In fact, we must reject the illusion that these things will satisfy us. They never will. It all is vanity.
And this sense of the vanity of life will lead us to stop constantly looking for what’s next. The vanity of life produces contentment in our lives. Be content in the here and now. Stop longing for tomorrow. Appreciate the grace that God has given you right now. Discontentment is built upon not accepting Eccl 1. Be thankful right now. Enjoy what God has given you right now. Honor God right now. Love your family right now. Enjoy a good meal right now. You do not know what tomorrow holds. You could die tomorrow. We must expect that life under the sun will remain a disappointment. We will all one day die. Be content with God’s gifts in the here and now.
In Heaven Expectations
So that’s what our expectations should be “under the sun.” Expect to be disappointed in life. Expect to feel the vanity of life. Expect that. Don’t be taken surprise by that. This world is not our home. We wait for another home.
We saw from Revelation 21 that the new heavens and the new earth is a reversal of Eccl 1. We saw that the grey boredom and monotony of this present era is reversed by the eternal wedding party that the church will have with the Lord Jesus Christ. We saw that our longing for satisfaction will ultimately be met by God who makes all things new.
Expect the “in heaven” perspective to be far greater than the “under the sun” perspective. Expect the new heavens to be greater than your deepest imagination. Expect the joy to be great, the food to taste better, the colors to be brighter, the fellowship to be deeper, God to be greater, and the forgiveness you experience to be better than anything this world has to offer.
With these expectations, we build anticipation. Man, Lord, what are you waiting for? So with my kids, let’s say we are about to go somewhere really fun where they have never been. I will tell them about it ahead of time. The night before we go there it is common that the kids have a hard time going to sleep because they’re so excited. They have so much anticipation that they can’t calm down.
Be like that with the new heavens and the new earth. Reject this world, dear friend. Do not live for the here and now. Enjoy God’s blessing in the here and now, but long for more. Expect more our of the next life than out of this life. And anticipate the next life. Anticipate Jesus’ return.
I end with this passage from 1 Pet 1:13:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.