16 “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:16-18 ESV)
Solomon notes three things that are inescapable in this world: Injustice, inevitable death, and insignificance.
Solomon looks around and everywhere he sees injustice. Where there should be justice, there is injustice. Where things should be righteous and safe, there is wickedness. Apparently in Solomon’s day, people in power took advantage of the weak. People in the courts of “justice” took bribes. The places in society charged with protecting the social good were found to be themselves corrupt. Wrongs were done against people who were helpless to do anything about it.
It is not so different today. Politicians elected to serve the people serve themselves. People responsible for children and their welfare are regularly found to be exploiting them. Legal technicalities let the guilty go free. Terrorists blow up bombs in airport terminals indiscriminately killing men, women, and children. Where’s the justice? Our papers tell these stories every day. Where there should be justice, there is injustice. Where there should be righteousness, there is wickedness. The world is a mess. What’s the point?
19 ”For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Verses 19-20)
That’s a basic statement and easily proved. Everybody lives, everybody dies. Eventually and inevitably, we all end up in the same place. We do so at an alarming rate. Statistically, two people die every second. Each of these people lived a life. They had family that loved them. They went to school. Watched sunsets. Dreamed about what their life would be. But now they are dead. Thirty more people have died while you read this paragraph.
Of all the things that crush us, the worst is the inevitability of what awaits us. Solomon says that in this way we are no different than the animals. They live, and then they return to dust. We live and return to dust. Dust to dust.
Why do we die? When somebody dies, we ask, what was the cause? We point to cancer or car accidents or heart attacks, the Bible says there is a much deeper reason for every death. We die because we are sinners. Sin is a church-word so let me define it for you. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is a person wanting to do his own thing the way he or she wants. No God. No accountability. It’s not dependence but independence from our Creator.
God’s judgment is found in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To dust we return, two every second. 120 every minute. 172,800 people every day. Solomon looks at people dying and looks at animals and birds and everything else dying, and he concludes that we are all the same because we all end up the same—dust.
His third conclusion is a simple but painful one. If we inevitably and unavoidably end up dust, what can be said about even the lives we live?
How many of you remember the band Kansas? Perhaps their most popular song was called “Dust in the Wind.” (Kerry Livgren, Kerry A. Livgren “Dust in the Wind,” © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
“It’s the same old song,
We’re just a drop of water, in an endless sea
All we do
Just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind…
Don’t hang on
Nothing lasts forever, but the earth and sky
It’s there always
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust, all we are is dust in the wind.”
That’s encouraging, isn’t it? Why would a metaphysical song like this be popular? Your life has no meaning! You’re just a speck of dust in the universe. This was the ‘70s so apparently it worked well while smoking something.
Solomon wasn’t smoking anything. He was just being intellectually honest. We all die. Since that is inevitable, we are merely pretending that what we do or who we are is significant. My relationships. My job. My possessions. My anything. What is he saying really? Nothing matters. We build our houses in the sand. Atheist Bertrand Russell has said that at best we live “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” (Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays, p. 48)
Our clock is ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Six people died while you read that. 1.2 million people die every week. We live. We die. Dust to dust. Then what’s the point?
This leads us to one weekend in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. It has everything to do with a man whose birth was announced by angels. They told Mary and Joseph to name him Jesus, which means Savior. The angel said this child would someday save his people from their sins. As an adult, Jesus said he was the Son of God. He said many other things about God, sin, judgment, and love. Thousands flocked to hear him. He did miracles that were so obviously supernatural that a religious leader named Nicodemus came to him in the night and said, “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) The miracles established his claim to be divine. He was Immanuel. God with us. God became dust to save dust. How?
The Cross: An Injustice That Saves Us
Remember, Solomon lamented injustice. Where righteousness should be, instead there was wickedness. Solomon didn’t realize that God would use injustice to bring justice.
- For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, (1 Peter 3:18)
Jesus was the holy Son of God. Yet, he died on the cross in our place. Does that seem fair? God made him vicariously responsible for our sins. You want to talk about injustice! We see it when innocents are wrongly sentenced to serve time. Then later DNA shows that someone else did the crime. We see that as injustice and it is.
But what if someone willingly took the prison time for a crime they didn’t do? Or what if someone willingly went to the electric chair for a crime that they didn’t commit? What if they died in the criminal’s place? That is what the cross was. Jesus willingly died for our sins and guilt. He loves us. He loves you. He paid the penalty of our sins so that we can go free from the eternal punishment of our sins. But what about death? Scripture calls it our last enemy. (1 Corinthians 15:26) It’s great to be forgiven, but dust still awaits.
Solomon laments that since we are all dead in the end, even what we do now doesn’t really matter. But absent from Ecclesiastes is resurrection. Dust in the wind doesn’t matter. Dust in the love of God and his grace matters. Dust living in the confident expectation of eternal life matters. The resurrection of Jesus infuses everything in this life with hope and meaning again.
“The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won… If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense – [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world – news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things – and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.” (N.T. Wright as quoted by Timothy Keller, Reason for God, p. 221)
This is God’s final answer to all his critics that he doesn’t care or allows evil or he isn’t fair. He sent his Son into the world to die for injustice, hate, murder, bitterness, and all the other sins we see all around us and in our own hearts. He raised Jesus from the dead to conquer death’s final claim upon us.
Jesus was standing at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Lazarus was dead. His sisters Mary and Martha were grieving. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” (John 11:25) Though he be dust, yet shall he live. Jesus makes the extraordinary claim to be himself, the resurrection and the life. Belief in him destroys death. If Solomon would have heard this one verse, Ecclesiastes would sound much different. Dust to dust, but wait, there’s hope here.
Notice the condition. Whoever believes in me. Eternal life is made available, but to receive it, we must believe in Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord. That’s a personal question for you to carefully consider. You are going to die. Dust is your destiny, but is it your final one? Let today be for you, the time in your life when you spiritually realize what you must sense about life without God—it’s hollow. There’s always something missing. That something is someone. His name is Jesus.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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