A common theme of all today’s readings is that we should spend more time being mindful of our heavenly blessings. But does being mindful of heavenly things mean having disdain for earthly things? Certainly not! Every blessing, both earthly and heavenly comes only from the gracious hand of God. There are so many earthly blessings we can and should be thankful for. But in their proper place.
And nothing sums up the distinction better than the old adage “You can’t take it with you.” Earthly blessings fade. Earthly pursuits will one day be left behind. Earthly gifts, will be left for others to enjoy when we are called to our heavenly home. It is a lesson the foolish rich man in the Gospel parable never did learn. And it was the same lesson wise King Solomon only just figured out before it was too late.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is the work of an old man seeing the truth laid out before him. A lifetime of worldly pursuits had gained him wealth and prestige and political power very few in this world will ever know. But it had come at a high cost. Slowly over the years he himself had become a rich fool, whose heart had moved away from God.
But there was still just enough wisdom left that already, before his end, he could see what lay ahead. His ungrateful son Rehoboam was not ready to rule, himself too corrupted by the pursuits of worldly gain. And everything Solomon had worked so hard to do here in this life would be squandered by someone who didn’t understand, appreciate, or care.
2Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity … 12I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind … 2:18I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
There is nothing theoretical or philosophical about this “All is vanity” conclusion. It’s something he experienced in life. Take it from arguably the most successful one to have followed it. Living only in pursuit of earthly blessings is nothing but vanity, a breath or a vapour. It is like trying to catch and hold the wind. You might use it for a time, but you can never hold on to it.
This is Law: a most severe, stinging, crushing Law. No apology for that. For it is Law designed to prepare us for the Gospel. The text strips us of all our vanities, all our shoddy goals, all our false hopes, and all our self-delusions, so that we might be desperately open to the Gospel truth that our Lord Jesus is “the one thing needful,” “the Joy of man’s desiring.” “All is vanity” may be the rule, yes, but the Lord Jesus and the salvation he has provided us are the glorious exception to that rule. That is, “All is Vanity – except Jesus and his salvation!”
And that truth leads us into a very interesting observation made by the old King Solomon. An observation that while written of his own experiences really points us to a much greater king and His much more important experience. 21because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. Isn’t this precisely what the God-Man Christ Jesus has done? Jesus spent a lifetime on earth labouring “in wisdom and in knowledge and in equity.” He went about the land of Israel doing good and being good, keeping every one of God His Father’s commandments perfectly. And what was the outcome? To those who did not toil for it He left His everything.
He literally breathed his last and gave up his spirit while nailed to the cross as a common criminal. He gave up His perfect and precious life for the very people who stood by mocking Him as He did so. By taking our selfish earthly desires upon his innocent shoulders He paid for our foolishness and left His heavenly portion to you and me. Christ accumulated the righteousness and we in the goodness and mercy of God inherit it – we who have not done (and could not do) even a stitch of work towards true goodness.
And in that knowledge we can truly rejoice, not just in heavenly blessings, but in all our earthly ones too. As Solomon rightly noted: 24There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God.
We please God only through the gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus, but in that pleasure ALL of our ordinary daily activities like eating, drinking, and working are also then blessings from a kind and compassionate God. Blessings to be enjoyed in their rightful place. For there can be no real enjoyment apart from God. May God grant us the wisdom to recognize the treasures He has stored up for us in heaven through Christ, that we may never despair but always rejoice and be thankful for all the riches of His grace – both here in this life, and in the everlasting glories to come!