The Futility of Earthly Accomplishment (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23)

You have been introduced to someone new. You meet their significant other, their family, etc.  Then, what is the next question you ask them?  It might be, “So where do you live?”  Or, even more likely, you might question, “And what is it that you do for a living; where do you work?”

I have found myself feeling a bit uneasy with that question, not wanting a person to think that I am about ready to make a judgment upon them according to the perceived worthiness or excellence of their career. And I have found myself more recently turning this question into a light-hearted moment by asking, “So, what makes you famous?”  This takes the edge off and always leads to a broader conversation.

But the fact is that we do assign a lot of meaning and worth to what a person does for work, for their choice of career. It is one of those defining elements about a person’s life. And I suppose there is no way around it, since the time applied to labor is the single item that consumes the largest bulk of hours in any person’s life. Add to that the travel time that so many in regions like our own have to deal with, and immediately the majority of non-sleep hours are accounted for.

There is a saying that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. There’s more than an ounce of truth in that, but few people can find gainful employment that both meets their material responsibilities while also fulfilling their passions. Even the greatest of jobs have odious elements and inescapable demands of time and energy.

We all know more than a few people who have given the greatest energies of their life toward career success, seemingly to find validation and satisfaction in it. But Solomon calls this investment another example of meaningless chasing after the wind. The reason is that it will be all left behind, to be inherited by someone else who may not be worthy of this benefit nor be responsible with it.

Yet it is a natural desire to want to leave behind something that is tangible. I was talking recently with an acquaintance who has advanced theological training, but who in the course of life has not been employed in pastoral ministry in the church setting. However, he has a significant list of discipled people over the decades whose lives have been changed forever by his influence. Even so, he lamented with me of an occasional sadness to not have a church congregation and its accoutrements as testimony of his life energies.

Given enough time, even the great pyramids of Egypt will rot away. But legacy impact in the lives of other people can have eternal benefit. Leaving a truth legacy through family can impact generations.

Do you live to work, or work to live?  Our work and labor is not the end in itself, but rather it is a means toward a true end of investing in that which has connections to eternity and to the Word of God that lasts forever.

Ecclesiastes 2:17 – So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

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The Futility of Earthly Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16)

I suppose we all have down days when things aren’t going well or we are not feeling the best. But some of us have more proclivities toward depressed thoughts than others. I can be one of those folks, even as many of my relatives have struggled with it far more than I ever have. But I know the feeling.

When I have one of these episodes where physical ailments seem to multiply and circumstances are not falling into place, I can even scare myself just a bit with the negative assessment of life that will come out of my mouth. As a very active person over most of my years, this aging process is grievously annoying.

So, I really like Solomon. I can groove with the way he thinks and states some attitudes and moods. It is blunt – sorta like he might have been born and raised somewhere between Brooklyn and South Philly!  And today he has a discussion about the value of wisdom that leads him to a terribly negative summary statement.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 – Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?

13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.

14 The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize     that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?”  I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”

16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Solomon is able to assert that wisdom is better than folly. It is smarter to walk wisely with one’s eyes open in the light than it is to attempt to travel as a fool in total darkness. Wisdom wins.

But Solomon also realizes in this moment of depression that the victory of wisdom is rather shallow. Both the wise and the fool have the same end: death. One will be as forgotten as the other. So in light of this fact that death is the ultimate human equalizer, what good is wisdom?

His answer will be forthcoming in later passages and days. But at this juncture, Solomon is presenting the cold, hard facts.

There is no denying the inevitability of death, though many just choose to never think about it. It is laughed at by others, as in the line, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

There are simply going to be down days and sad, melancholy times of particularly internal reflection. It is sobering. But it is also normal; and facing even the darkest realities has the benefit of giving informative and motivational guidance to the days of life that we do have.

I have a son who is getting married in July and moving to Colorado. He could choose to be in denial about the realities of total change coming his way, including the end of his life as a Virginia resident. He could hope it all somehow works out. Or he could count the days and weeks until this life change happens and therefore use his time productively to plan for both the ending and the beginning.

I have always loved the 90th Psalm and especially the great 12th verse: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The Futility of Earthly Pleasures (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

It is the generally-believed proposition of life that having unlimited resources will lead to unlimited happiness. We tend to think about the things that worry us – those items where we fear not having sufficient assets to fund even our legitimate needs and desires … if only we had even just one or two million dollars, we’d be wonderfully happy and at peace with life. Worry would be completely removed from the equation.

At the same time, we all know that there is no shortage of examples of famous people who have every resource of riches and pleasure at their disposal, yet who proved in the end to be miserable, some even taking their own lives.

But again, most of us probably think we would handle such riches and power well; we’d be smart with the money in using it in such a way as to provide true contentment. But today we read that the smartest guy ever discovered that his experiment in seeking pleasure through abundance was not fulfilling at all.

Here is his proposition …

Ecclesiastes 2:1 – I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”

Solomon had no limits. He could do it all, have it all. And it went after it – bigly!  There are five ways he experimented with seeking unlimited happiness through unlimited resources…

  1. The Party Life

Ecclesiastes 2:3 – I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

He speaks of wine and folly – a good time of laughter and merriment. It describes the party life. And we too live in a party world. People slug through a work week just to make it to the party-hardy weekend.

I’ve never understood this. Yet even Christians can be people who live for the fun and leisure of the weekend … the off times from responsibility. Some live to fill their free time with a steady stream of fun activities, vacations and journeys near and far. The problem is that such busyness may take a person away from any ability to focus upon the greater values of godliness and kingdom service and relationship.

  1. Material Consumption

Ecclesiastes 2:4 – I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.

Solomon did a lot of good things. He worked hard to accomplish all that is listed above. But it all takes time and energy. The more one has, the more one needs to worry about protecting and maintaining all that one has. This story of Solomon is much like the parable of the rich fool who laid up treasures for years to come, only to get to the door of enjoying them and having his “soul required” at that time.

  1. The Pleasure of Having Money

Ecclesiastes 2:8a – I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.

Again, having a lot requires the burden of managing and protecting it all. In my four years of living around the excessively wealthy crowd that largely comprised my Dallas congregation, I was much struck by the worrisome burden upon such people of means. They had the constant concern of security systems and a sense of being a target of thieves.

In those days, I was a pretty good golfer. And some of the wealthy guys in the church would like to take the young music minister as a member of their foursome team in golf tournaments. Of course, I thought this was pretty awesome. But I noticed they could never quite get away from the office. Long before cell phones, they would have to run into the clubhouse quickly to make a quick business call. One time, the guy I was playing with (a Texas oilman) was late coming out to make the turn and begin the back nine. We were almost disqualified. As we rode down the fairway, I asked him if everything was alright. And he told me that yes, things were fine – he just needed to call his son back at the office to give the authority to buy an oil well they were looking to purchase. So, he bought an oil well between the 9th and 10th holes. The burdens of wealth followed him onto the golf course.

  1. Sexual Gratification

Ecclesiastes 2:8b – I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart.

You get the picture here. Solomon lived the fantasies of the sensual world to the fullest extent. The guy had 1,000 wives!  So if there was satisfaction in fleshly gratification, Solomon would be the one who could report it to be fulfilling. Spoiler alert – he calls it worthless and a chasing after the wind.

  1. Career Success

Ecclesiastes 2:9 – I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

Solomon was the greatest of the kings. Rulers came from other lands just to see the amazing opulence of his kingdom.

And in our contemporary world, this may be the most tempting of the five categories we’re examining today.

But at the end of it all, God is not going to say, “Well done, thou good and successful servant!”  No. God does not call us to be successful, but we are called to be faithful.

And so he concludes …

Ecclesiastes 2:10 – I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

In our brief years of living here under the sun, we may have that time enhanced by listening to the perspectives and wisdom of Solomon. The things of this world do not satisfy. Their true value is to be used in such a way as to contribute to the greater purpose of investing in the world that is yet to come.

We don’t want to be an example of climbing the ladder of success, only to get to the top and find out that it was leaning against the wrong building.

The Limits of Understanding (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

Disclaimer up front:  You know I love education and learning. You know I respect deep-thinking analyses of anything. I place no premium whatsoever upon ignorance. But advanced learning and knowledge is not the ultimate answer to the ills of this world. Serious education is a worthy pursuit, but so many people put all of their hopes in this basket; and though much good has come from scholarship and human advancement and understanding, it alone does not solve the ultimate problems of a crumbling, material world.

None was smarter than THE TEACHER, not even our local genius – most of you know who I’m talking about!  😊

Between my graduate educational years around some of the greatest minds ever in the Christian world (e.g. – exempli gratia – Charles Ryrie, of the Ryrie Study Bible), my two mega-genius half-brothers, and brilliant minds I’ve met through politics and Civil War scholarship, I have known some of the world’s smartest people. But I also know from them that being brilliant doesn’t solve life’s problems, in fact, it may make them worse.

Let me illustrate it this way: When you’re diagnosed with stage 5 melanoma, is there greater comfort in being an oncologist or a mere plumber?  Quoting Solomon’s finale sentence today: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

I distinctly remember finishing high school and committing to attend college for a five-year, dual-degree program toward bachelor’s degrees in music and Bible. The 159 credit hours of education were charted on a single page that I studied over and over with amazement. I remember the exact spot where I was in my house as I shared this with my parents. It was a list of all the things that I would know EVERYTHING about after the five years were completed!  Wow, I was going to be so smart!

What rather soon amazed me once I began that education is that what I was learning factually was merely the basic material that rose to about the level of the tops of my feet!  The rest of it was “process” about how to continue to learn more and more over a lifetime of study and application.

I’ll illustrate that with discussing how to know about the Bible and its teachings. To understand the Scriptures deeply, you need to of course know all you can about the writer, the audience to whom he wrote, along with the historical context and occasion of his writing. That’s a lot to begin with.

But to really know the Bible deeply, you have to become a student of the original languages in which it was composed: Hebrew, Greek, and some Aramaic.  OK.  So, I began to study Greek, only to find out that there are different types of Greek at different ages (just as we have “Old English,” etc.).  And to really know Hebrew, one needs to also have some basis in understanding other “Semitic” languages like Akkadian, Ugaritic and Syriac.

And then to interpret the information correctly, one needs to understand the philosophies of theological interpretation that have colored all the above information over the millennia.

After a very short time in advanced education, you have indeed come to know a great deal more than you knew before. But at the same time, an even larger world of what you do not know is now opened to you. So rather than feeling smarter, you feel more ignorant… because now you know of the existence of a universe of even more stuff that you know nothing about!  What you learn is that you can never get to the bottom of much of anything. It is like trying to find the edge of the universe, it just keeps on going and growing.

The feeling is a lot like trying to chase the wind and somehow bottle it up for later use. What a great picture!  (credit: Solomon of Jerusalem)

At the end of great learning … sin remains, injustice remains, death remains, futility still rules.

The only answer is one that we will see has to come from beyond this world. But at this point of Solomon’s text, we’re still at the “meaningless” stage – his piling up of illustrations of the brevity and transitory nature of the material world. Feel the disillusionment building. Embrace it. There are bigger perspectives yet to come.

Ecclesiastes 1:12 – I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

The Endless Cycles of Life (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11)

The longer you live, the faster the years seem to go by. I remember older people saying this to me, and now that I’ve put in six decades under the sun I can affirm that it is true. For example, today it is difficult to believe that I have been a father for exactly 36 years – our oldest son being born on a rather cold April the 24th in Dallas in 1982.

Along with the multiplication of years, we also note the repetitive nature of so many things in life. Living as we do in Maryland with four very distinct seasons, I feel like I’m constantly switching back and forth between cutting grass and dealing with firewood … only to have to repeat the process over again. So much of our lives feel like “wash, rinse, repeat.”

Solomon, here in verses 3-11 of chapter 1, noted the constant cycles of life with three categories of illustration. The first is an exasperation that would ultimately lead to the development of Ancestry.com!

  1. The Cycles of Generations (1:3-4, 11)

Ecclesiastes 1:3 – What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  … 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

I have several times asked the congregation during a sermon to think back over their ancestors, asking how many could give names and at least one fact about their grandfather … then their great-grandfather … then the great-great-grandfather, etc. With each generation, fewer hands remained raised. By about five generations, not a hand in the room was still raised. The digital age has helped us to learn and retain more of family lineage information.

I know generational information on one part of my family back into the 1600s – learning that Diana is not just my wife, but also my 7th cousin!  Yes, when German and Swiss immigrants settled in the same rural area of Eastern Pennsylvania, it was inevitable that there would be some cross-over.

And guess what?  You’re likely to get forgotten in just a few generations. People don’t tend to have much interest in ancestors they did not personally know. So the same will happen to you. You’ll be forgotten, not just by the history books, but also by your own flesh and blood. (Again, think of it as the condensation upon a cold glass!)

  1. The Cycles of Nature (1:5-7)

So many features of the natural world function on a continuous cycle.

Ecclesiastes 1:5 – The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

I have become amazed at how quickly the days pass by and cycle over and over. When going to bed, it often feels like it was shorter than 24 hours when I last did the same thing. The days turn over so quickly that I found myself not remembering if I took my single medication that day or not. To keep myself straight, I got one of those containers with seven sections in order to remain organized.

Ecclesiastes 1:6 – The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

Where does the wind come from? And where is it going? It appears to randomly come from various directions, but it never seems to actually arrive at any goal. (From my cycling, the only thing I know about wind direction is that it is always blowing in your face, even when you turn around!)

Ecclesiastes 1:7 – All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

Sure enough the streams flow and flow, but do they ever arrive somewhere and stop flowing? They just keep doing their thing, never running out and never arriving.

  1. The Cycles of Human Endeavor (1:8-10)

Ecclesiastes 1:8 – All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

When in college, I had a very dry and oft-boring history professor. The only thing I remember from his classes is that he would make some point about the nature of people in history, pointing out how the nature of man remains the same. And then he would conclude his thought by quoting verse 9, “And so we see there is nothing new under the sun.”

The reason we can study biblical characters, even such as the patriarchs in Genesis and learn from them, is that the nature of man remains the same. The soul has not changed.

Military people are constantly studying wars and battles of the past, even into antiquity, because the principles about handling troops in crisis is timeless. Technology does not change this.

Even new discoveries in the field of science are not truly New. When DNA was uncovered, it was not something new that never existed, rather, it was just unknown. When we get to Mars, it will not be a new discovery. It will rather be a greater knowledge of what we already knew about the red planet. So it is not new – just seeing what was always there.

So do you feel this way about elements of your life?  Do you have a sense of just living life in an endless cycle of working to just pay off the bills? Dealing with the mundane nature of life is as timeless as mankind’s presence on the planet.

If you can say “amen” to the reality of these thoughts, you are being set up by Solomon to best receive the positive side of his message about life under the sun. You just have to stick with it and read on a bit further.

Who is this Preacher? (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

Today we begin our 25 ventures into the book of Ecclesiastes. I chose the title “Life Under the Sun” because this phrase is used so frequently in the 12 chapters to describe the human experience on planet Earth – a total of 29 times.

Though the name of Solomon is not specifically used at any point in Ecclesiastes, it has been generally believed over the years that he is the author. The writer is said in 1:1 to be the son of David, king in Jerusalem.  It does not take long to call the roll of those who fit that description, especially when adding some specific descriptions from chapter two about the expansive way he lived. Even so, some writers – even conservative scholars – say that this book is written by someone later who gave voice to the historic teachings of Solomon. The argument is that the style of Hebrew would reflect a later period. In that this is a devotional blog and not an academic one, I’ll not go into those details with you. I continue to believe that the actual writer is Solomon himself, penning these words at a time late in his life.

Solomon writes about the highs and lows of life, doing so in a way that almost sounds schizophrenic …

As an example of a dark and low moment … Eccl 4:2-3 – And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.

For an example of a joyously high moment … Ecclesiastes 8:15 – So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

There is a popular, political talk-show commentator who, when discussing the realities of a current subject in a way that is stark and uncolored by the way one would want to see it, he’ll say, “Hey, I’m the mayor of Realville.”  Well, if he’s the mayor of Realville, we would have to say that Solomon is the King.

Solomon jumps right into his main theme: calling life meaningless. This is the Hebrew word “hebel,” translated as “vanity” in the KJV… also as “futility” in some other versions. Literally, the word means “breath” or “vapor.”  Imagine standing up close to and looking out the glass door of your home in the winter. You exhale upon the glass and there is a condensation – lasting for just a few seconds, and then it is gone.

That is the figurative idea of the use of this word about life, that it is transitory – quickly coming, quickly going. We need to remember the picturesque nature of this word throughout this series in order to understand what Solomon is communicating. He uses it 35 times.

Solomon, particularly in the first half of the book of Ecclesiastes, goes on a number of extended rants about the futility of life – that feeling of meaninglessness, colorfully talking about the transitory nature of life. He is seeking to engender a “Realville” feeling of disillusionment … of frustration. And as we will later discover, all of this talk is a set-up to lead to the promotion of a desire for something bigger, something eternal. A want – the want to be a part of a bigger picture – to know God and be connected rightly to the eternal in a way that even impacts daily life.

So come along with us over these five weeks. You are going to often discover that you relate to Solomon’s observations, and I think you will also be encouraged by his exhortations and advice about how to live well “under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 – The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Post-Resurrection Appearances and Ascension (Luke 24:36-53)

He saw him alive! How could it be? That guy was as dead as dead could be! There just couldn’t be any possibility of a mistake!

He had touched and felt the cold, dead corpse. He and several others had removed the already stiffening form from the position in which it had died.

He had helped bury that lifeless man and had stood with others at the completed grave.

But now, recently, he had caught several glimpses of the one he had previously buried. He attempted to write it off as some sort of psychological trick of the mind. Dead men just don’t show up alive again a bit later.

But something undeniable was happening.

Soon after, a moment came, when surrounded by evil men who threatened to kill him, the undeniable form of the deceased one appeared, and by the thunder of his voice and the grand authority of his presence he scattered those wicked men and sent them fleeing.

It was clearly him!  He was alive!  How could it be?  But yes; it was he who had been buried!

It was Curly!! And he was back from the dead to rescue Mitch (Billy Crystal) and his City Slickers brother and friend.

No, even Hollywood could not credibly pull off a resurrection from the dead. The storyline in City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold required Curly (who was buried in the prequel) to have a twin brother to make a sequel possible with the same crusty and beloved character.  That’s because dead people just don’t rise again!

But we can relate to Billy Crystal’s struggle in City Slickers 2 … to believe against the facts of reality that a dead person was alive again.  And such was the struggle of those contemporaries of Jesus Christ – such as the 11 remaining disciples – as they struggled to come to grips with the reality of His resurrection.

The travelers on the road to Emmaus had Jesus travel with them, open the Scriptures and open their minds and eyes to see that it was He Himself. They went to the 11 disciples to report all that they had seen and heard. The two women who had also been to the grave and found it empty had reported earlier to the 11, but the disciples largely wrote them off as being a bit crazy.

So the disciples were terribly confused about all that was going on around them. Imagine their struggle. Peter had denied Christ three times. But remember that he (and maybe John) was the only one close enough to the action to commit such a failure. The others were nowhere nearby. All of them must have been dealing with their shame, while also wondering what the past three years of their lives had been about. Only a week before they had seen the crowds cheer and honor Jesus as a coming king.

And now the Emmaus Road travelers shared words and accounts with the disciples that validated the report of the women. And then Jesus stands there with them!

Imagine the inner emotions of the 11, wanting to believe that the obvious truth was the real truth. They had all seen amazing things over the past three years, but this was beyond anything else. It was a twist and turn in the story they could have never imagined. It was real; it was all now coming into focus as to what had just happened in the days immediately past.

Christ’s resurrection gave reality to their present struggle, and it also gave an explanation for their past experience and knowledge.

Being good Jewish men who had likely been reared in the intense teachings of the synagogue system – along with all of the teachings of Jesus they had heard – there was a great deal about the ancient writings that did not make complete sense. We know even from the later words of Peter that the prophets who wrote these messianic words and predictions did not understand clearly what they were writing and predicting. But now, even this too was coming into focus for them – passages like from …

MOSES – Deut. 18:15 … The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.

THE PROPHETS – Isaiah 53:3-5 … He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 61:1 … The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

PSALMS – 16:10 … because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

22:14-18 … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

Many truths had indeed been given to the disciples and taught them, but it took a work of God to open their minds to fully understand the Scriptures. And this was now happening, as Christ made it possible for them to see and truly comprehend it all for the first time.

Christ’s resurrection also now gave purpose for their future lives.

Surely the disciples had found themselves sitting around those first few days wondering what was coming next in their lives. How much danger might they be in? Three intense years now looked wasted without their leader to follow.

But the resurrection changes this completely. Their lives are now changed and defined. They have a story to tell and they have a commission to tell it. But this is not something they are to do in their own strength. They are to wait for the power that will enable their success. We know this to be the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – the distinctive mark of the church age.

Imagine history and human life without this truth. It is simply meaningless, a mere existence that is only unique in that it is the highest and most advanced form of mere animal existence. But the grand story is that at the center of history is the person of Christ, who comes to correct the error of sin and evil and give life – a purposeful life here, and an eternal life there. That changes everything.

But the resurrection story is not merely something that changed life for the disciples and the contemporaries of Jesus. No. The resurrection is something that gives reality to our present struggle in this world, gives explanation for our past experience and all of history preceding us, and gives us purpose for our future lives.

Just as the resurrection brought into focus for the disciples what was happening around them and how it fit with all that preceded them, it does the same for us. We see now the big picture. We understand that sin made a mess, and we experience that mess with our own physical frailty and by seeing the broken condition of the world around us with wars and conflicts and life problems that never really end, no matter how much science advances.

Remember Curly’s great line in City Slikers – about how life is about finding the ONE THING?  That’s actually pretty good theology, though Curly wasn’t thinking that way at all. The ONE THING is the gospel; the person of the gospel is Jesus; and the life-giving guarantee of the gospel is the resurrection.

When you come to accept and trust in the gospel, it is the ONE THING in life that changes and gives perspective to …

  • Your present situation – the mixed bag of life… of its good and happy gifts, yet also its challenges and difficulties that we all experience. We understand that we are still creatures prone to sin and living in a sinful world.
  • Your past and the history that led to it. You understand the flow of history, seeing how it has affected you and your family of origin.
  • Your future – you have a guarantee of eternal life, with a resource for the current life and a purpose for living that is bigger than just animal survival. You’re not just living for yourself, you are serving God as you serve and help others.

Yes, the resurrection changes everything.

< Thank you for reading these 97 devotionals on Luke’s gospel. Our next series is on the book of Ecclesiastes, and the first devotional writing will be on Monday, April 23 – the day after the first of six messages in that series called “Life Under the Sun.” >

Luke 24:36 – While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)

The text begins today by saying, Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  That’s strange. I grew up going to Emmaus as a kid. I have a half-sister who lives in Emmaus, and Diana’s uncle and aunt still live there where they operated a Dairy Queen-style ice cream and steak shop – a place where you could get a legitimate steak sandwich, not the pretend types that are sold in most places!

Okay, yes, that was near Allentown. An area of the Lehigh Valley where the German Moravians settled and named towns after biblical places, like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Bethel, and Emmaus. And I went to high school with kids from another original Moravian settlement on the NJ side of the Delaware named Hope Township.

Reading of the two who were walking along the road to Emmaus near Jerusalem, there are several things that immediately jump to the front.

The entire situation of the crucifixion of Jesus was big news in the city. It was apparently not something that just a sizeable fraction of people were aware of. From the remarks of these travelers, there was no person in the city at the time who was not tuned into what was going on with this Jewish preacher.

As well, it is clear that the responsible parties for the execution of Jesus were the Jews. Cleopas and his friend said, The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death.  Those who should have been the first to recognize the Messiah were in fact the ones most guilty, and this is a major theme we’ve highlighted throughout these studies in Luke.

Cleopas and his friend also confess to their personal hope that Jesus was indeed the Promised One. But they had no way of understanding or making sense of the events of previous days.

Jesus mildly rebukes them for not knowing the Scriptures better as to what must happen. It was not like these guys were particularly out to lunch. None of the closest followers were looking to see how the horrible crucifixion would soon be reversed with a resurrection. None were going to the tomb with expectations of a living Jesus.

This all points to the inability of the mind to hear, absorb and comprehend spiritual/biblical truth without the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. These folks, being of the Old Testament era, did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As soon as the Spirit descends on the Day of Pentecost, the recipients are immediately new people in terms of theological insight.

We might bear this in mind relative to those we witness to who are yet to come to Christ. It should be no wonder to us that they do not see the Scriptures as we do, not noting the incredible and clear connection of, for example, the sacrificial systems of the Old Testament as foreshadows of the cross work of Jesus Christ. But when we share biblical truth, and when the Holy Spirit is moving in their lives toward saving faith, it is like watching a new light that is rising to shine within them.

“Without me, you can do nothing,” said Jesus. Without him living in us in the form of the Spirit, we can understand little of the Scriptures. Without the Spirit working through us, we are merely moving in the minimalist power of the flesh to communicate the Scriptures.

Again we see: the resurrection makes all the difference. The Spirit is the only power. Eternal life in Christ is the only life that lasts. May our eyes be opened, and may our hearts burn with the power of the enlightenment of God’s Word!

Luke 24:13 – Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The Resurrection (Luke 24:1-12)

It is likely that those who are on the older end of the age spectrum may relate more to these remarks today. In Psalm 90 it speaks about “numbering our days,” with that passage being the one that talks about the normal span of life being 70 years … or 80 is one is blessed with strength. Being now in my early 60s, the math doesn’t look as good for either of those figures. It would suggest that 75-80% of life is over. That is sometimes a depressing thought.

All of this would be downright horrific to consider without the truth of our passage today – that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, defeated death, offering life eternal to those who trust and believe in him. And this great truth grows down deeper into our souls with greater meaning as the years go by.

The resurrection, though covered by all of the gospel writers, is not nearly as extensive as the life and works of Christ. That may seem strange, since it is more amazing than ANYTHING else that has ever happened in human history. But for the writers, it did happen… clearly. There was no doubt about this. Quite a large number of people were witnesses of this truth, seeing Jesus alive again. Boom! It was done.

Here is a listing, in order, of those who saw Christ, according to the gospel writers and the Apostle Paul …

  1. To Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – Matthew 28:1-10
  2. To Peter (afternoon) – Luke 24:34
  3. To certain disciples on the Emmaus Road (evening) – Luke 24:13-16, 27-31
  4. To the disciples without Thomas present (Sunday evening) – John 20:19-21, 24-25
  5. To the disciples with Thomas present (the following Sunday) – John 20:26-29
  6. To seven disciples beside the Sea of Galilee – John 21:1-4ff
  7. To the disciples and more than 500 – 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
  8. To the apostles (and others) at the ascension – Acts 1:1-3,9

He is risen; he is risen indeed! YES!

Luke 24:1 – On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Death and Burial of Jesus (Luke 23:44-56)

Perhaps the component of the life of Jesus narratives that has most struck me during this cycle through the gospel of Luke is to see the highlights of those characters who were willing to be publicly identified with Christ. And we encounter another of those today in the person of Joseph of Arimathea.

It was just a year ago at this time that we had our Easter season walk-through program. I played the character of this Joseph, who requested the body of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb. It was great fun to especially have the body “vanish” while people looked away. This was done by the ingenious means of a false bottom under the “form” of Jesus – invented by our own Angelo Marino.

Here is a script of the Joseph of Arimathea character that I wrote and portrayed last year. If you did not see it, guests walked into a room made to look like a tomb in the rocks. And there was a covered form of a body on a sort of table, and Joseph spoke …

Yes, it is Jesus. And yes, I am Joseph from the Judean town of Arimathea.

It was two nights ago that I received permission personally from Pilate to take down the body of Jesus. It was unusual that this request would be granted by the Romans, as their practice generally was to allow bodies to rot on the cross as an additional deterrent to crime.

I might suspect that you could surmise that my boldness in identifying myself with a crucified criminal as very gallant. Oh that it were so!

My life has been very blessed by God. He has given me great wealth. I have served the nation by prominent membership on the Sanhedrin – the Pharisees and Sadducees who by overwhelming numbers voted to seek the crucifixion of that innocent man. I did not consent with this, not that my voice was terribly loud in opposition. The only other I saw dissent was my friend Nicodemus.

Here is the truth: I became a silent follower of Jesus after hearing his teaching. I long to see God’s Kingdom established, and I became convinced the Jesus was the Messiah-King. But I confessed next to nothing of this amongst my peers in the Sanhedrin. Jesus was terribly unpopular there – a threat to their way of life and leadership. I just “went along” quietly out of fear, I guess.

As events transpired and I saw this innocent man on the cross … saw the thief who believed in him … heard his magnanimous words of forgiveness … the midday darkness, the earthquake … it was time for action. Hoping Pilate would not want dead bodies silhouetted against the sky during the Jewish holiday, I made the request. He gave me the body.

I had a tomb I had purchased for myself, here where wealthy people are buried. The least I could do to assuage my guilt was to give my place for his burial. Nicodemus and I, along with our servants, took the body from the cross and brought it here.

I spared no expense in wrapping him for burial … here, let me show you … you sir, come here (wrapping cloths around a person). This involved a total of 75 pounds of spices … so it took us at least a couple of hours to complete the process.

At this point I would begin to wrap cloths around the head of a guest, taking the attention and focus of the group away from the “body” of Jesus – which would slowly “disappear.”  I would then turn everyone’s attention away from the man to look at the empty table, where “Jesus” was gone!  It worked well.

But, of course, the real difference between our portrayal and the real event was that there was a body of Jesus, and that real body made a real resurrection. We’ll talk about that tomorrow!

Luke 23:44 – It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[Psalm 31:5] When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.