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From Empty To Full

(Prepared for a sermon on Matthew 12:43-45)

We have a saying that, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” What we mean by it is that empty spaces usually don’t stay empty very long. We’ve all seen it happen in social settings. A group of friends gets together. They decide to go somewhere or do something. Although the gathering doesn’t have a formal leader, someone will start organizing the outing or the project. Nobody planned to take charge – it just happens.

The same thing happens in the physical world. Let’s say you dig a hole in back yard. Unless you take special precautions to prevent it from happening, it won’t be long before the hole fills with water or dirt that falls back in. People who dig ditches often have to shore up the sides so they don’t collapse. A lot of people have been killed in cave-ins because they didn’t protect themselves from natures tendency to fill voids.

Here’s another example of the principle that all of us can relate to. Empty surfaces collect stuff. We have to work at it to keep our dining-room tables de-cluttered. The same thing when it comes to kitchen counters and coffee tables. The less said about my desk, the better.

The same principle holds true in spiritual things. There is something within us which longs to be filled. As Solomon wrote, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 NIV) To put it another way, there is something within us which recognizes that there is more to this life. There is more than the material universe we see, and we long for it. Because we long for eternity and in our own wisdom cannot fathom what God has done, we try to fill our yearning for eternity with all kinds of things.

Solomon tried it all. He writes, “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well – the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:3-11 NIV)

Unfortunately, instead of learning from Solomon, people still pursue the same things he did while trying to fill the emptiness within. Like him they find that career, the arts, riches and possessions, sex and physical pleasure don’t fill the void. There may be some temporary satisfaction from achievements; there may be momentary pleasure, but things and self-indulgence can never meet our spiritual longings. Solomon had far more opportunity to experiment than we do, but his conclusion was that it was all meaningless.

If that is the case, then where can we find meaning? How can we fill that emptiness within us? It follows that a spiritual emptiness can only be filled by spiritual means rather than the physical solutions we try. The Apostle Paul writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18 NIV)

Be filled with the Spirit. How is that even possible? It is Jesus Christ who made it possible for us to be filled. The Apostle Peter says this, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:14-21)

Yes, it is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we can escape the emptiness of the life the world tries to tempt us with. Whenever we’re tempted to try to fill our eternal longings with things or with pleasure, it’s good to remind ourselves that Christ died so that we can find real meaning. It’s because of Christ’s sacrifice that we can be filled with the Spirit. Today as we eat the bread in memory of Christ’s body, and as we drink the juice in memory of His blood, let’s give thanks that in Him we have purpose. In Him our longings are fulfilled.

Let’s pray.

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