Wednesday, November 20, 2013

a shepherd without a Lamb

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 10:8-11:8
mark this: Ecclesiastes 12:11-13 --
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Tomorrow, Pastor Joe will bid adieu to Ecclesiastes. He'll be writing about the great extended metaphor in chapter 12.
So this is my goodbye to the sad and noble and confused man in Ecclesiastes who has meant so much to me for the reasons I have tried to express over the last few installments.
Allow me, then, to leapfrog right over chapter 11 and most of chapter 12 to the very last lines of this dear and desperate little book:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
That line has always struck me as too little, too late. Because there is no indication in the rest of Ecclesiastes that this man has an inkling of what it means to keep God's commandments.
I'm going to say something unsettling to novice Bible students. Here goes:
The purpose of God's commandments is to show us that we cannot keep them.
God's commandments are designed to lead us into a realization that we are sinners in need of salvation:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
“And keep his commandments” would mean to meet God’s conditions for salvation—in any age—grounded on faith in God. For Cain it meant bringing a lamb. For Abraham it meant believing the promises of God. For the people of Israel it meant approaching God through sacrifice in the tabernacle and in the temple. For us it is to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31).
But because there is something crucial that is missing from his writing, I doubt that my friend from Ecclesiastes ever understood this.
What crucial element does Ecclesiastes lack which marks the rest of the Bible? In a word: blood.
There is no scarlet thread of redemption, even between its lines. There’s a shepherd (12:11) but no Lamb.
The Lamb had to die because the people could not keep the commandments. Solomon, in all his wisdom, failed to bring this, the most central axiom of scripture, into his deliberations:
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:11)
Whether it was Solomon's Bible--the Old Testament--or our Bibles with both Old and New Testaments, Scripture's central teaching is that the only way to avoid judgment is to claim the blood of the Lamb:
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

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