The Old Year
As I reflected on the end of the year and what to say to you in this last Sunday morning sermon of 2001, I thought of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 7:8 “The end of a thing is better than its beginning;” Now I know some brethren would like to say that a proper translation of that verse is that the end of a sermon is better than its beginning and while I am not sure that is sound translation, I would agree with the point. You see, as much as you struggle to get the point in some of my sermons, I also struggle to make the point. I have slaved over introductions and bodies, but invitations are usually pretty easy. The gospel call is relatively simple to make and the end of a sermon is usually better for me than the beginning. I have also preached a few sermons in which I was simply glad to make it to the end. But even more than in sermons, this point can be seen in life.
Maybe you traveled over the Christmas holidays. If so, you know that the end of a trip is infinitely better than the beginning. It always feels so good to come back home and know that all the hours in the car are behind me. Imagine a ship that leaves for a far port. When it returns with all its cargo, the captain knows just what storms they weathered in the trip. He remembers nearly running aground or being swamped. He recalls the three nights they spent without ever seeing the stars and three days without the sun. For him, the end of the voyage is clearly better than the beginning. Or perhaps, we should think of a soldier, going off to war. Is not the end of a thing better than the beginning for that soldier? How he longs to complete his tour and be safely home!
This point is obviously true in so many instances in life but it is not absolutely true. It must be taken with a grain of salt. There are exceptions to the rule which we will look at later. I would like however, to examine some points from this simple text in Ecclesiastes that I believe will help us here at the end of the year.
First, this verse can soothe your regrets. In another 36 hours or so the year 2001 will become a part of history. Perhaps you are mindful of opportunities that you have missed or mistakes that you have made. Regrets sting. Many people question whether or not the end is really better than the beginning was. This verse can help take the sting out of your regrets of the past. So many people say, “My, how time flies! I wish I had this year over! I would love to fix this or that.” Yet if you will seriously think about this statement, you probably don’t mean it. Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.” It is not wise to wish to go back in time. Be like that ship’s captain for a moment. Would you really like to relive the storms of 2001? Maybe you have undergone some physical storms, would you really like to hear the doctor give you the bad news again? Or perhaps your struggles were spiritual. Think of it. The arrows that Satan has slung at your faith this year are gone! They can never be used against you again! To be sure, he will sling more, but you have outlasted these. Would you really like to go back and struggle with those temptations again? 2001 is gone and you are older and wiser for having lived through it. James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowingthat the testing of your faith produces patience.” God has used the events of 2001, even our failures, to help us grow. If you think about it, the end of 2001 is better than it’s beginning and we truly wouldn’t like to go back and live it all over again. We are freed from our past.
Second, this verse can calm your fears of the future. Some people look at the beginning and ask, will the end really be any better? Maybe you know the storms of 2001 and you are afraid of what the storms of 2002 will bring. Will I be able to bear up under it? Remember that no matter how bad the beginning is, the end is always better. Many Christians have more trials early in their Christian walk rather than late. And all of us are growing in our Christian walk. Lamentations 3:27 says “It is good for a man to bear The yoke in his youth.” If you wake up in the morning and the sun is behind the clouds, you don’t assume that the sun will never shine again. It’s like a girl who saw an eclipse of the sun. She asked her daddy, “Why did the sun go out?” That’s understandable for a child, but an adult knows that the sun will shine again. If you are in a dark period of your life, don’t despair, the sun will shine again. Take this verse as a prophecy to give you hope and dispel your fears. The end of the matter will be better than the beginning. God is still in charge. He promised Israel through the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God has a plan for you, even in this dark time. Think about the story of Joseph. He is sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused and thrown in prison. It was his darkest moment. Yet he could never have risen to his high position of power in Egypt if he had not gone to prison. We must stoop to conquer and like gold we must be refined in the fire before we can truly shine. If you are in a dark moment and dreading the future, take heart from this verse for the end of a thing is better than its beginning.
Third I want to encourage our faith. We’ve looked at our past and our future, but this verse can also encourage us as we face the pains of the present. The spirit of our time says that we should get it now and do it now. It cries out for instant satisfaction. But God says that we should rather wait for His time in the matter. You are all familiar with the verse from Isaiah, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” It is in waiting that we learn to rely on God and trust Him. The worldly man lives in the present, the Christian lives in the future. We know the end of this life and we know that whatever happens, if we will remain faithful to God, then the end will be better than the beginning. Jesus promised in Revelation 2:10 “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” If you are struggling to hang on to your faith this morning, take heart! The end will be better and it is worth waiting for. Paul said in Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Think of Jesus. Throughout his life he was rejected and abused and finally killed, yet now he is glorified in Heaven.
The same thing waits for us. Paul reasons with the Romans and says, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.” Endure tough times – hang on to your faith, because we will be glorified in the end. Think of a lump of coal deep within the earth. Only great and tremendous pressure can change that coal into a diamond. And then, once it has undergone that great and tremendous pressure it is mined and a jeweler begins to shape it. In order to shape it, the jeweler cuts away a great deal of the diamond. No doubt this process would be painful to the diamond, but only after the pressure and the cutting is the diamond a beautiful gem stone. If you are under pressure or if your life is being pruned right now, be assured that the end is better than the beginning. It is worth it!
The last thing I would like for us to consider from this verse is that we must take action. If the end is to be better than the beginning, there must be a beginning. Perhaps there is someone here who has never begun a walk with God, you cannot end what you never begin! Perhaps there are Christians who have put off getting their heart right with God or coming back to the church. You cannot end what you do not begin! As we face the beginning of a new year, why not make a new beginning in your life?
We mentioned that this truth is not always true. Not everything ends better than it begins. Take for example, someone who goes to a wild party and gets horribly drunk. The next morning the person can barely remember their name, much less what happened at the party. For that person, the end of the matter is not better than the beginning. Or consider the successful businessman who makes great piles of money. Everything begins so well. But then he decides to serve his money and becomes a miser. Look at the end of his life. He is wealthy but scared to death that he will die a pauper. What about you? Will the end of your life be better than the beginning? If you are a sinner, then it won’t be. If this morning you have not been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, you are headed for an end that is worse than your beginning. Ask yourself, what will I tell the Lord when I stand before Him on judgement day? Will you tell Him you were a good person? If you do, He will open the book of life and see your sins recorded there and tell you that you were not as good as you thought. Or will you tell Him that your sins are forgiven because you are covered by the blood of Jesus?
If you can say that, then the end of your life will be better than the beginning. Before 2001 leaves us forever, I pray that God will touch your heart and cause you to obey Him that we may say the end of 2001 was better than it’s beginning. The past is history, the future’s a mystery, but God has given us this moment, that’s why it’s called the present.