Martin Luther wrote a little song a few years back, some of you may have heard of it, it was called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Have any of you heard that one? I think it might catch on, I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.
Here’s just one part of one verse of the hymn. Let’s sing it together:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.
So we’ve sung that song many, many times over the years. Written about 500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote in this verse that “one little word” had the power to conquer Satan, the prince of darkness. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I would love to have a magic little word that I could use against the devil’s schemes anytime I’m feeling tempted. That sure would come in handy! So I’ve often wondered while singing that song what “one little word” Luther was talking about. Does anyone know what the “one little word” is?
There’s another song written about 10 years ago that says, “When you don’t know what to say, just say ‘Jesus.’” So we might wonder if maybe “Jesus” is the word that Martin Luther had in mind.
After all, the name “Jesus” comes from Greek Iesous, which comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, which is a combination of two words, “Yah,” meaning “God,” and “shua” meaning “salvation.” So “Jesus” literally means, “God is salvation.” And the Bible says that if you call on the name of the Lord Jesus, you shall be saved. So maybe “Jesus” was the “one little word” Martin Luther was thinking of.
Now, I kind of wish that was the case, because I like the sound of that, and it seems biblical, but Martin Luther actually mentioned the word he was thinking of in something else that he wrote. Talking about himself, and how there were many people making accusations against him, Luther wrote:
For all such books written against me, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour, are very easily refuted with the single word, “Devil, you lie,” just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, “One little word shall fell him.” – Martin Luther, Against Hanswurst
So, apparently, the word Martin Luther was thinking of was “You lie,” which in German was just one word, something like “Liar!” When you’re tempted by sin and Satan, don’t buy into the lies that you’re told, but remember that Satan is a liar and the father of lies.
Well, I say all that because I want us to consider another set of two simple words that have the potential to change your life forever:
Remember God. Of course, that’s easy to do while we’re here at church, as the church, but it’s a lot harder when we’re out there. With all the things that might distract us and tempt us to make life all about things that don’t really matter, it’s important that we remember God. God made us, He breathed the breath of life into us, and He’s the One that we ought to be living for. Remember God.
Today we’re going to finish our study of the book of Ecclesiastes with Ecclesiastes chapter 12. We were encouraged last week in chapter 11 to find joy by planting seeds of joy in others, and by being generous, and by doing good, even when we have no idea what will come of it.
But it begs the question: why should we do that? Why is it good to do good? This is the question that really all of the book of Ecclesiates drives toward. What’s the point of doing anything? Why should we live one way rather than another?
Ecclesiastes 12, starting in verse 1.
So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind grain cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for the mere mortal is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the gold bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.” (Ecclesiates 12:1-8)
Father, help us to always remember You. Help us to worry less about the daily grind of life, and concern ourselves more with doing the good work that You’ve called us to. And, even more, help us to rest in Your work, accomplished by Jesus on the cross, so that we rejoice in Him. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
You know that one friend you have that always sounds like they’re complaining, even when they’re happy? And if you don’t have that friend, maybe you are that friend. That’s okay. That’s also the book of Ecclesiastes.
So in the typical style of the book of Ecclesiastes, even when writing words of encouragement, the Teacher seems to have a slightly pessimistic tone. It’s mostly like a handbook for all the things that don’t really satisfy us in life, so it can come across as a very negative book, even though that’s actually kind of the opposite of the writer’s goal. His goal is to share all the wisdom that he’s obtained from God and through his experiences so that we can clear away the vain things in life, so that we might more clearly see what matters in life. And if you read it in that spirit, what we just read, as well as the rest of the chapter, is actually a very optimistic passage!
As he’s wrapping things up in Ecclesiastes, the Teacher tells us to remember your Creator in the days of your youth. While you’re young, and there are so many opportunities in life, and so many dreams that you could chase after, remember your Creator. Remember that life is not about your work, but about His work. Remember that life is not about your dreams, but about His dream.
When we get consumed with our dreams, we get consumed with greed, or lust, or even just the constant desire to fill our longings for happiness, but we often do so by chasing after all the things that won’t really make us happy, and we end up wasting our lives.
But God’s dream for you is for you to be happy in Jesus. As you trust in Him, God wants to give you true, lasting, real joy. As it says in Psalm 37:4:
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalms 37:4)
What it’s saying is that when you take delight in the Lord, when you’re happy in Jesus, you find that you don’t need anything else! He becomes your heart’s desire.
I love the t-shirt I’ve seen that says:
Jesus + nothing = everything. And it’s absolutely true! Not in the sense that we just leave our family and go live in the mountains with Jesus, but rather that even as we enjoy our family, and enjoy our work, and enjoy our dreams, we don’t enjoy them because they complete us, but as icing on the cake. Because if you have Jesus, you have everything you need for life, salvation, and happiness in this life and in the life to come.
Now, the invitation to be happy in Jesus is open all your life, but if you wait until you’re old to receive Jesus, you’ll look back at your life and wish you had trusted in Jesus so much sooner. As you look back at all the years you wasted by chasing futile pursuits, you’ll say to yourself, “I have no delight in them.”
Maybe you’re at a stage in your life right now in which you would say, “I take no delight in my life. I’m not happy. I’m not fulfilled. I don’t know where I’m going in life, and I definitely don’t know how I’m going to get there.” To you, and to all of us, the Teacher says, “Remember your Creator.” Remember God. Whether you feel like you’re on top of the world, or at the bottom of a pit, remember God, because He is everything that you need.
In fact, the Teacher paints a picture in verses 2-6 of several people who grow old and feel like they’ve ended up in a dark place. It talks about men who were once strong who, at the end of their lives, found that they were weak. And it talks about women who enjoyed getting together to work, grinding their grain, but as the years passed away, so did their friends, so that at the end of their lives, they felt alone.
And the reality is, no matter whether you feel like you’ve led a full or an empty life, that all of our stories end the same, as it says in verse 7: “the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
From dust we were formed, and to dust we shall return. We will all die, and turn to dust.
Like I said, Ecclesiastes often sounds like a really uplifting handbook, doesn’t it?
And yet, it actually is. The Teacher reminds us that even though we die, our spirit will ascend to be with God. Paul wrote that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And he also wrote in 1 Corinthians:
For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Which is interesting because so much of our lives, we think they’re all about us, but after our lives on this earth are over, all of our spirits confirm that our existence is really all about God, and what He did for us in Christ.
Therefore, since our lives are really about God, and ought to be all about God, we should learn to consistently live according to that truth even today. That’s kind of what all of the commands of the Bible are all about! They’re about learning to live in such a way that shows that Jesus is our Lord. And while we can’t do that perfectly because we’re sinners, Jesus obeyed them all perfectly, and then died in our place, not so that we can excuse ourselves from obeying God, but so that His Holy Spirit would come into our lives and enable us to obey God from the heart, rejoicing in our Savior.
You see, the command to “remember your Creator” is much more than simply to acknowledge that God is there. To remember God in your youth is to begin to orient your life around serving God, instead of serving yourself. Instead of spending all of your free time watching YouTube or playing video games, remember God. Make it a priority to spend time every day reading God’s word, and speaking to God in prayer. Instead of making plans with your life to make a lot of money so that you can have everything that you want, remember God. Be generous with the money and resources God has blessed you with, and be a blessing to others. Instead of seeking affirmation and confirmation from others, seeking their praise, remember God. Worship God with your life, and direct others to praise Him, telling them about Jesus, or inviting them to church. When we forget God, we make life all about us, but when we remember God, we see how much God loves us, and we rest and rejoice in who He is and what He’s done.
In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. (Ecclesiates 12:9-10)
Now, I’ve got to stop there for a second, because I just think that’s hilarious. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings! Like, this whole book, he’s writing that every pursuit that we engage in is absolutely futile, and he’s just delighted to say it, and we should be delighted to read it!
It would be like if I came up to one of you and said with a big smile on my face, “You’re wasting your life!” If you’re not living for God, you’re wasting your life.
And yet, that’s absolutely true. Everything that we read in the Bible and in Ecclesiastes are delightful sayings, because they’re true sayings. And so, we should be delighted to read it, because when our eyes are opened to the truth, even if it’s painful, we begin to find real joy in the truth. Which is why the next verse makes total sense. Verse 11.
The sayings of the wise are like cattle prods, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. (Ecclesiastes 12:11)
Wisdom, in this verse, is compared to a cattle prod.
A cattle prod in Bible times was a long rod with a point at the end of it, and it was used to herd cattle. Now, I don’t know too much about cows, but it seems that they often want to go wherever they want to go while they’re grazing in the fields, and they can wander off. So the cattle prod would be used to guide them back to where they should go, whether to keep them from getting lost or to bring them back to the herd.
I read that they still use cattle prods today, except today they give a little electric shock, like a taser.
And I read that kids who grow up on farms have been known to use them on each other as a prank. Have any of you done that?
You know, cattle prods aren’t very fun for the cattle. Truth can hurt, but it’s still the truth. We can’t change the truth. In a world where everyone thinks they can decide for themselves what’s true, you have your truth, and I have my truth, the reality is that there is only one truth, and it’s like a cattle prod. It’s gonna just keep poking at you until you finally go the way you need to go.
Because it also says that the truth is like firmly embedded nails. It’s not going anywhere. We can’t change the truth, but the truth can and will change us.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes compares himself to a shepherd, guiding us, the sheep, to go where we need to go. And that’s what the Bible does for all of us. The Bible shows the clear standard that God has for all of us. His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. The Bible teaches us to obey God. Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And if we would obey these commands, and all the others, we would find that it’s not burdensome to obey God, but a joy, because it’s how we were meant to live.
And yet, we sin. We fall short of obeying the commands that God has given us in His word.
So the New Testament reveals that Jesus, the Great Shepherd, leaves the ninety-nine in pursuit of the one lost sheep. That’s each and every one of us. Jesus left His throne in heaven to come and rescue us. You see, Jesus came not with a cattle prod, to provoke us into getting it right this time around, but rather Jesus humbled Himself, picked us up, putting us on His shoulders, and rescued us from our lostness. He came to die for you, so that you might not be lost, but found in Him. So that you would enter into His joy.
But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14)
So at the very end of Ecclesiates, the Teacher finally boils everything down to this: fear God and keep His commands. We waste so much of our lives when we do everything else, and then neglect this very simple principle. Remember your Creator.
And this isn’t just the command for the Jews, or for Christians today, but for all humanity. Because, in truth, there is only One God.
And while we chase after everything else, God is patient. Many people accuse God of being unjust because of all the evil they see in the world, but the reality is that we’re the sinners, not God. All of the evil in the world is a result of sinners sinning. And God is patient. In the end, He will bring every act to judgment.
When Jesus came, He announced in John 12:31:
Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. (John 12:31)
So as powerful as calling Satan a liar may be, and I think that can be useful at times, calling on the name of Jesus is far more powerful. And we don’t call on the name “Jesus” as if it’s a magic word, but rather as we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Jesus is the One who casts Satan out from the world, and out from our lives as we trust in Him.
You see, as much as this world can sometimes seem dark and hopeless, God is always there, patiently waiting for us to turn to Jesus, so that we can find our true happiness and purpose in Him. It says in 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
So, remember God. When you’re young, remember God. When you’re old, remember God. When you think you’re on top of the world, and you can do anything, remember God. And when you feel like you’re at the lowest low, even in the pit of hell, and you don’t even know how you can have any future at all, remember God.