In the House of Mourning

October 18, 2019

Ecclesiastes has a counterintuitive proverb: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV).

Obviously, it would be more fun to go to the house of feasting, and Ecclesiastes is not opposed to enjoyment. In fact, enjoyment is a gift of God (3:13). Yet, the house of mourning teaches us the brevity of life. Death may come suddenly, or it may be expected with the decline of aging or the wasting away from disease. But unless the Lord returns first, we will all die.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a celebrity or ordinary, wealthy or poor, wise or foolish. Death is a reality of life. The speaker of Ecclesiastes struggles looking at life under the sun. I suspect “under the sun” may suggest life from merely this world’s point of view. From that vantage point, we hear him lament:

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:15-17, ESV

Although there are frustrations with life under the sun, life in this physical world, Ecclesiastes points us beyond it to a relationship with God. The final chapter encourages, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…” (12:1, ESV). Especially remember God before the decline of aging sets in. Ecclesiastes paints a vivid picture of aging with imagery from village life. Or at least remember God “before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken” – in other words, before death.

The reason for this command is that there is a purpose to life.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, ESV

What is the lesson that we should learn in the house of mourning? Prepare for death by living life to the glory of God. Don’t miss the whole purpose of life.

−Russ Holden


The Death of Christ

December 6, 2013

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) Physical death is the consequence of sin entering the world. Because of sin we are spiritually “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) outside of Christ. And if left uncorrected, this leads to eternal separation from God, what Revelation calls “the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Someone may ask, “Why can’t God just forgive us? Why should anyone die on account of sin, including Jesus?”

In explaining the meaning of the death of Christ, Paul states: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV). God’s own character is at stake in this business of forgiveness.

Suppose a defendant has a trial before a judge. All the evidence points to the defendant being a criminal worthy of punishment, but the judge lets him off. We would not consider such a judge to be just. We would question his character.

In the same way, God’s own justice demanded a substitute, a sacrifice. Paul uses three key terms in his explanation of the death of Christ (Romans 3:21-26): justified, redemption, and propitiation (the NIV’s “sacrifice of atonement”).

Propitiation is a sacrifice that averts wrath. Such a sacrifice satisfies the laws demands. It also involves substitution. The substitute takes our place and receives the wages of sin in our behalf.

Redemption is the payment of a price to set someone free. The debt owed is the wages of sin, which would lead to our eternal punishment. In the death of Christ, he paid our debt.

Justified is a law court term, the rendering of a favorable verdict. The charges are dropped against us in Christ, not because we are innocent, but because the demands of the law have been satisfied by our substitute. The debt we owe has been paid.

Humanity has a sin problem. If uncorrected, it leads to eternal separation from God. It even posed a problem for God: how to remain just and yet forgive. These problems find their solution in the death of Christ.


The Titanic

August 9, 2013

April 14, 1912—a night to remember, the night the Titanic sank in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. As James Cameron’s movie has proved, the story of the Titanic still captures our imagination. Recently, my family visited the Titanic exhibit. Artifacts from the shipwreck were on display. Each of us received a boarding pass as we entered the exhibit. Mine was of course male, which didn’t give my person very good odds of survival even though he was a first class passenger. At the end of the exhibit, I was able to check the list of lost and survivors. The man with my boarding pass had died that fateful night. The impression of the exhibit is sobering.

It also brought reflections at the time of the tragedy as well. R. H. Boll was editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1912. Eleven days after the tragedy, in the April 25th issue, Boll reflected on the Titanic:

A catastrophe like this should not pass over the minds of the people of God without making its deep impression. It is, as it were, a miniature reproduction, and, like the destruction of the cities of the plain, a type forewarning and foreshadowing the goal of the world. Just as the Titanic sank, just so shall pass away the world and the lust thereof. So unexpectedly; so utterly beyond the reach of help; so irretrievably, shall it all perish, with its pomp and its glitter, its social distinctions, its pride, its folly, its wealth, its sins; and so shall it all be swallowed up in ruin.

“Salvation” was a great word that night on the Titanic. They may never have known the significance of it before. But they learned the meaning and the value of it that night in at least its temporal aspect; and possibly in its eternal import also. Most of them too late. Yet there was a remnant that escaped.

And was it not a privilege to each one of those that were called and permitted to enter the lifeboats, even if they did have to leave their things behind, and perhaps some friends and loved ones; even if they did have to endure discomfort and exposure on the small boats? But there are the many to-day, Christians, too, who “mind earthly things;” who count the salvations of God too difficult and inconvenient; who cleave to the world, and shall therefore be engulfed with it in its ruin and condemnation. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Finally, if you or I had been before enlightened of God as to the fate that awaited the Titanic on this voyage, we should have felt bound by every consideration of honor and regard for human beings to warn them each and all; and we would have endured their skepticism, their jeers and ridiculing and scorn, insults even, if by any means we might dissuade some from the ill-fated ship. But God has told us what shall come and must come to the world and how “the end of all things is at hand.” If you know the Savior, if you know the Way of escape, will you not for His sake and for the sake of the perishing souls go tell it to-day?1

Today, high-tech explorers bring us artifacts from the sunken Titanic, and movie special effects vividly portray that fateful night. May these reflections from 1912 give us some additional spiritual insights from the tragedy of the Titanic.

1Gospel Advocate 54/17 (25 April 1912): 513-14


The Uncertainty of Life

August 1, 2011

Life has always been uncertain, yet that troubling lesson has always been hard to learn. James confronts a secular attitude when he writes:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.James 4:13–16, ESV

Is it wrong to be in business and make money? No. Is it wrong to make plans? No. However, it is wrong to go about life and not acknowledge God. It is wrong to place our trust in our business, our money, and our plans. James reminds us of the brevity of life and the certainty of God.

The regularity of our next breath and the next sunrise sometimes lulls us into complacency. James’ teaching has counterparts elsewhere in scripture. Ecclesiastes gives these startling words.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV

Why is mourning beneficial? Because it reminds us that life is brief, and we should make the most of our time. The end of Ecclesiastes encourages us to remember our Creator when we are young (12:1), but if not then, we should seek God before our death “before the silver cord is snapped” (12:6, ESV). Why?

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, ESV

Should the uncertainties of life handicap us and cause us to live in fear? No. We must live life completely and fully. We must be grateful for today. We must place our trust in God. Only God can bear the full weight of our life’s trust. Anything else can break under the load. Only God can be the stronghold of my life (Psalm 27:1). The uncertainties of life are answered in the certainty of God and His promises.