Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 19 2019 - Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14 – The end of it all

We have skipped to the end of Ecclesiastes to see what conclusions the Teacher has come to in his search to understand the meaning of life.

Firstly, he concludes that there is much in life to be enjoyed. Death may be coming and will reduce everything to vanity or meaninglessness (11:8), but that provides all the more reason to enjoy life while it lasts. In particular, the young should enjoy life while they have the ability to enjoy it.
But the Teacher is well aware that all life comes from God and that every human being remains accountable to God, so he counsels, "Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment." (11:9). So, secondly, the Teacher calls for young people to: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come  and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'" (12:1).

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is a moving and poetic piece of writing about the increasing frailties of old age: one's vision begins to fail; arms tremble and legs become bowed; teeth fall out; one becomes housebound and incapable of working; hearing fails and one is filled with all manner of fears – justifiable and imagined; one's hair goes white – if you have any of it left; one can no longer take pleasure in anything. And all of this is just the precursor to death itself when, "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (12:7).

This analysis of the brief span of human life concludes, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Everything is meaningless!'" (12:8). The Teacher has ended his book just where he started it. His investigations have not helped him find any answer to the meaning of life.

But 12:8 is not quite the end; 12:9-14 form a kind of appendix to the book. It's a strange appendix, commending the Teacher for his wisdom while at the same time warning of the dangers of the multitude of books and of the wearisome nature of study. These verses then conclude:

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil. (12:13-14)

There is much about the world, human life in general and your own life in particular which you may not understand. The best advice in such a situation is to "fear God and keep his commandments" – to trust and obey.

That was the best advice that Old Testament wisdom could come up with, but we have Christ. Ecclesiastes encourages us to feel the burden of a world is not what it ought to be and prompts us to look with renewed longing for the day when our Lord Jesus shall return from heaven and our bodies, and this world, at present subject to vanity, corruption and death, shall at last be changed, renewed and decked with glory. Perhaps this is a longing we feel more keenly with the advance of old age and loss of the faculties we enjoyed in the years of our youth. We long for their return.

Father God, we thank you that the revelation of your redemptive purposes in the Lord Jesus exceeds all that human wisdom could imagine or the human heart desire. Your Spirit has taught our hearts to groan along with a groaning creation. Help us by your Spirit to tell others of the Lord Jesus, the answer to this world's longings and hope. Help us to serve you gladly until all our faculties fail and our breath ceases and then to serve you with renewed strength in glory.

Jun 19 2013 - Acts 12:24-13:15 – Prayer and fasting

Acts 13 marks a key moment in the book of Acts. Barnabas has been caring for the young church at Antioch. He had recruited the help of Saul/Paul who has now been engaged in multi-cultural ministry for more than a year. In this time others have begun to share the task of leadership within the church. Three names are mentioned in addition to Barnabas and Saul: Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch). Niger is Latin for “black” suggesting that he may have come from Africa. Cyrene is also situated on the North African coastal area. Truly this was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church whose varied members were reflected in the leadership. The mention of Manaen as one who had been a childhood friend of Herod the tetrarch also emphasises the way in which the message of Jesus is touching every class of society.

Barnabas and Saul have made it their business to train up others in ministry. They have done their job well and now, even after a comparatively short while, it's time for them to move on; it’s time for Saul to begin the ministry planned for him by the Lord and for which he is now fully prepared.

We read that it was while the leadership team were worshipping the Lord and fasting that the Holy Spirit instructed them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work to which the Lord was calling them. (Before the chapter is out, Saul has become Paul and has taken the lead in the new team; henceforth it's Paul and Barnabas.) Having received this message we read that the leadership team devoted themselves to prayer and fasting before commissioning the missionaries with the laying on of hands. The remainder of the book of Acts will be devoted to the missionary activity of Paul.

Now I like my food. More than that, I enjoy it with thankfulness, receiving it as a gift from God. I have to confess to finding such references to fasting uncomfortable (in the strict meaning of the term). Could it be that in the complacent – though thankful – enjoyment of our comforts we are missing out on some of the ministry and blessings which the Lord has for those who love him more than their necessary food? I find this food for thought.

As Paul begins his ‘first missionary journey’, accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark, we read that they were “sent on their way by the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is the driving force behind the spread of the gospel. And it was Spirit who empowered Paul’s ministry. In Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus summoned Paul, wishing to hear the message that Paul was preaching. But a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas tried to dissuade the proconsul from believing Paul’s message.

Paul looked straight at Elymas and, calling him a child of the devil, declared that he would be struck blind for a time – this is what happened to Saul when he had sought to oppose Jesus Christ. And that’s just what happened to Elymas. He is led away by the hand and the proconsul came to faith; he had witnessed the power of the risen Lord Jesus who gives sight and makes blind.

The work of the kingdom is powered by the Spirit of the risen Saviour, but it is also powered by prayer – and fasting.

Lord God, teach us to have right priorities in all things and to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Increase our passion for prayer that our life of communion with you might be more like that of the Lord Jesus. Guide us by your Spirit into the work you would have us do and use us to bring others to faith in Christ.

Peter Misselbrook