Vapor of vapors . . . all of it is vapor. As the Preacher draws his musings to an end in Ecclesiastes he can’t shake the overall futility he feels as he nears the end of his race (Eccl. 12:8). As he considers that he will be but dust returning to the earth and but a spirit returning to God (12:7), as he thinks of man going to his eternal home (12:5), he really has no idea where that home is nor what it may offer. He knows enough to exhort his readers to remember their Creator in the days of their youth (12:1), fearing Him and keeping His commandments (12:13), but he really doesn’t know why. Because, as he has said all along, for all his wisdom, he only knows about life “under the sun.”
Vapor of vapors, it’s just a vapor. Such are the final words of perhaps the wisest man who every walked the earth. Such are the conclusions drawn after a life of such power and privilege that few of us can even imagine it. What a depressing epitaph. Who wants that on their tombstone?
But then I read the words of a fisherman who was also increasingly becoming aware that his end was drawing near. Someone, unlike the Preacher, who never had much money and never really saw or experienced much of the world that was “under the sun.” But someone who was pretty confident of what lay beyond the sun. Someone who eagerly anticipated crossing the finish line. Someone who was leaning into the tape rather than fearing it. Someone who had given up on the vapor of this world that he might lay hold of the inheritance of the world to come.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, . . . knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
(1Peter 1:3-4, 18-19 ESV)
Solomon knew a dying futility. Peter had been born again into a living hope. Solomon had no idea what lay beyond the grave–his vast knowledge and wisdom coming up empty when he considered his eternal home. Peter could taste his inheritance, confident that what was kept in heaven for him was beyond anything he had ever known or imagined. Solomon was entrapped in the vapor of life under the sun, while Peter was been ransomed from such futility through the blood of the Son.
“Ransomed from the futile ways.” That’s the phrase I’m chewing on this morning.
The futile ways. “Vain conversation” is how the old King James puts it. The NIV translates it “the empty way of life.” Peterson in The Message calls it “that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in.” Solomon called it vanity of vanities . . . vapor of vapors.
But, for the believer, we have been redeemed from the futile ways. We have been ransomed from the vapors.
The finished work of the cross has not only dealt with our sin problem once for all, it also has dealt with our significance problem. We’ve traded in striving for what this world has to offer for storing up that which heaven says it values. Our concern is less with the legacy we will leave behind and more about preparing for the life that lies ahead. Thus, unlike Solomon whose energy for living ebbed as he anticipated the grave, we, like Peter, increase in vitality has we draw nearer and nearer to our living hope–a hope made sure through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We have been saved from futility. We have been liberated from purposelessness. We have been ransomed from the vapors.
All because of His marvelous grace. All for His everlasting glory.