OLD or YOUNG? The 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes tells us that King Solomon was well acquainted with physical decline. Jesus was still a young man when he gave his Upper Room Discourse, but he too was facing death. Whether we are older like Solomon or younger like Jesus, None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle (Eccl. 8:8). Death is a part of our future. We are wise to periodically review our lives and preparations for the end of this life. When we look back, are we discouraged and wondering what we have accomplished like Solomon? Or, can we anticipate going to the Father and saying as did King Jesus, I have finished the work you have given me to do (John 17:4)?
LOOKING BACK or AHEAD? The direction we look is extremely important and will greatly impact our conclusions. Solomon spends twelve chapters mourning the futility and the meaninglessness of his many accomplishments “under the sun.” He does not give hope by looking ahead to eternity but extinguishes it by looking back and calling this life meaningless. These chapters are all about Solomon and his discouragement. Solomon wanted wisdom, to get life right. What a contrast is the Lord Jesus who came to serve. If we become more conscious of our earthly assignments and the people Father has given us, I am quite sure we will not view this life as smoke. Instead of looking back like King Solomon, we can join Jesus in anticipating our final destination with joy. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12: 2).
FUTILITY or LOVE? King Solomon was an influential, famous earthly king overwhelmed by his own discouragement. As much as he wanted to get it right, it seems he missed the key life ingredient of meaningful relationships. With the exception of the marriage he advocates in 4:7-12 and perhaps 9:9-10, the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes are all about him, his pursuits, and his conclusions. In contrast, love of the Father and love of his people dominate everything Jesus says and does in his Upper Room Discourse. Per John 13:1, He loved them to the very end. The five chapters of Jesus’ swan song begin with a physical demonstration of humble service (foot washing) and end with passionate intercession for his disciples. Jesus’ persistent prayer focus in John 17 is for the people that Father God has entrusted to him and the ones they will, in turn, draw into his kingdom. John 15 forever captures a picture of the intimacy Jesus desires with us. It is so complete, so concrete, it is likened to the connection between a vine and its branches. What a stark contrast to Solomon’s description of life as vanity.
WORK or SERVICE? What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:3)? The entire book of Ecclesiastes can be viewed as the lament of King Solomon as he reviews his privileged life of accomplishments and wisdom pursuits. As he approaches the end of this life, he labels everything meaningless. Solomon’s disappointment and despair is quite different than the hope, understanding, and confidence expressed by Jesus in John 13-17. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given me to do (John 17:4). On earth, the work of King Jesus was that of an itinerant preacher without status in either the Roman or the Jewish world. Even so, Jesus knew his assignment and enjoyed the satisfaction of having completed it. In this most intimate prayer, we hear the humble, obedient heart of Jesus answering to his Father. While God spoke truth through him and empowered him for miracles, Jesus demonstrated obedient servanthood throughout his ministry on this earth. His swan song was not a lament but a love letter to his disciples full of hope, instruction and promises to enable us to endure and prevail in this troubled earthly life. To follow Jesus’ example and instructions in approaching the end of this life, I would suggest that we need to:
- Know our eternal destination and live in that confidence.
- Serve one another in love and humility to the end.
- Refuse fear, worry and trouble by trusting God.
- Listen to and follow Father’s instructions while anticipating persecution and hatred, victory, more understanding, and Jesus’ return.
- In unity with Jesus Christ and oneness with our brothers and sisters, pursue fruitfulness.
- Receive Jesus, the Holy Spirit, more truth, shalom, joy, and prayer in Jesus’ name.
- Pray to finish our work as did Jesus, to make Him know to the people he has given us. May they be protected from the evil one and become obedient to the word, united in Him, and set apart for holiness by means of the truth.
It is interesting to realize that John 17 was Jesus’ prayer before He went to the cross. So, when Jesus speaks of finishing the work the Father has given him, he is referring to his teaching and training of the disciples. From washing the disciples’ feet in John 13 through his prayer in John 17, Jesus was ministering to his men and to us—instructing and comforting as he anticipated the end of this life. What a great example for us. This life is not so much about us as about those Father has given to us to love. How can we, like Jesus, prepare them for our departure?
DREAD OR HOPE IN 2020? This year’s pandemic has prompted grief, fear and isolation but also honest discussions about the end of this life. A comparison of Ecclesiastes with Jesus’ discourse in the upper room makes it exceedingly clear—we can pass on hope or despair. How might we, like Jesus, encapsulate a message of confident hope in our lives and in our exit strategies?