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Author:Dr. Andrew J. Pol
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Church of Carman West
 Carman, Manitoba
Title:Consider from this day onward… I will bless you.
Text:Haggai 2:18-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Call to worship
Confession of trust (standing)
God’s Greeting of Peace (standing)
Congregational singing: Psalm 84:1,2 (standing)
The Ten Words of the Covenant
Congregational singing: Psalm 81:1,2,5,7,9
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:10-19
Congregational singing: Psalm 78:1-3 (standing)
Text: Haggai 2:18-19
  Ministry of the Word
“Consider from this day onward… I will bless you.”
1. The blessing is surprising.
2. The blessing is certain.
Congregational singing: Hymn 77:1-3
Congregational Singing: Psalm 84:6 (standing)
Benediction (standing)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Most have you have seen a vending machine: one of those machines with a glass window in the front.
You see different kinds of chips and chocolate bars or perhaps drinks displayed.
Above or below them there’s a price tag.
That tells you that if you put a dollar or more in the money slot, an item that you choose will slide down into a tray for you to grab it.
God is not like some cosmic vending machine, dispensing food or drink.
Nevertheless, it seems that people sometimes think of him in terms like that: If you put in a certain amount of good deeds, then blessings will come down from heaven.
Success is guaranteed!
There are even preachers who give that impression.
There’s a label for their messages.
They preach a “health and wealth gospel.”
Just fulfil certain requirements, such as writing out a cheque for their ministry, and you will be blessed beyond measure.
You will be healthy and financially better off than before.
There might even be people willing to give testimonies backing up such claims.
There is nothing new about such an approach to God.
It’s actually very similar to the way heathen people interact with their gods.
The ancient Romans even had an expression for this: “Do ut des.” (Note to reader: Pronounce this as “Doe oot dess”).
It means, “I give that you may give.”
In other words, a person gives something in order to receive something.
That describes how they would interact with a deity.
The person worshiping a god would give the god some kind of sacrifice.
In turn, this god would be expected to do something in return.
Basically, the relationship between the person and this god could be described in terms of a contract.
The giving of a gift or sacrifice puts the god under an obligation to give something back.
There doesn’t even have to be love in such an arrangement.
Basically it’s like a business relationship.
Is your relationship with God like that?
Here’s a test to help you to figure that out.
If you serve God and things don’t work out the way you hoped, are you angry with him?
Do you feel “ripped off”?
If so, why?
What are you thinking?
Is it something like “Well, I’ve done this and that for God. Why am I now encountering problems?”
The relationship we have with God is not a contract but a covenant.
It’s not a business relationship where we give something to God in order to receive something from him.
It’s a relationship of love.
God is the one who has initiated the relationship.
Now that it has been established, he calls us to respond with love.
God reaches out to his people in many ways.
In our text for this morning, we see him reaching out to his people once again.
He is giving them a promise that is firmly rooted in his grace, not in their accomplishments.
“Consider from this day onward… I will bless you.”
1. The blessing is surprising.
2. The blessing is certain.
God’s blessings are always surprising.
After all, we don’t deserve them.
That’s something that the people of God needed to learn again and again.
It’s something we need to learn too.
Striving to walk in God’s ways does not automatically guarantee that he will give you something.
He determines when and how he will bless his people.
We see this in the text for this sermon.
Look at how it begins and ends.
In verse 18 the LORD urges his people, “Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month.”
Until now they have experienced setbacks, but things will be changing as of this day.
Verse 19 ends with the assurance that, “from this day on I will bless you.”
Those were very encouraging words and God’s people needed to hear this.
They were easily discouraged.
That much becomes apparent when we look at the dates of the prophecies of Haggai.
The LORD commanded his people to rebuild the temple on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king (Hag 1:1).
They went to work on the twenty-fourth day of the same month (Hag 1:15).
That must have involved cleaning up a lot of debris.
After all, if you don’t work on a building site for sixteen years, things will deteriorate.
In chapter 1:4, the LORD speaks about the temple lying “in ruins.”
On the twenty-first day of the seventh month (Hag 2:1), which was not even four weeks later, the enthusiasm of the people must have been ebbing away.
After all, the LORD encouraged his people to “be strong” and told them, “Work, for I am with you” (Hag 2:4).
By this time, the cleanup activities must have been followed by efforts to restore weak spots in the initial foundation.
Without modern building equipment, it would take considerable time to replace damaged blocks of stone with new ones and to fit them in properly.
Our text records a further word of encouragement that came on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Hag 2:10).
So that’s only three months after the people once again took on the task of rebuilding the temple.
At this stage, having completed laying the foundation, they would be in the next phase, working on the walls.
The date was December 18, 520 BC.
It would be around the time when farmers would have planted their winter crops.
Early rain could be expected around this time, but by now they knew they couldn’t take this for granted.
“From this day on, I will bless you” (Hag 2:20).
Hearing this promise would have been a pleasant surprise.
After all, so far, they had been facing difficult circumstances.
The LORD had already encouraged them by telling them “Be strong” and “Work, for I am with you,” but when would they see signs of what this meant?
Our text makes it clear that they were still suffering from the consequences of their sins.
The LORD had not yet blessed their crops by giving them a rich harvest.
When farmers don’t do well, this has a ripple effect throughout society.
The result was an economic downturn of major proportions.
There was a shortage of food, so prices must have gone up.
Less money was available for key commodities.
That’s why we read in Haggai 1:6, “You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”
This is more than a simple observation.
It is a description of the LORD’s judgment on them!
In Haggai 1:9, the LORD made it very clear why he had withheld his blessings.
He frustrated their efforts to get ahead because they put themselves first instead of honouring him: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
This gives us quite a bleak picture of the extensive discipline of the LORD!
The results of their labours were nowhere near what they hoped for.
This was not a coincidence.
It was because they failed to put God and the rebuilding of the temple first.
When you don’t put God first, there is no reason to expect his blessings no matter how much effort you put in.
The LORD taught his people this basic lesson numerous times.
Think of Psalm 127 “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps 127:1-2).
In other words, hard work doesn’t necessarily pay off.
Even if hard work does lead to certain material advantages, that doesn’t mean you will be able to enjoy them.
Riches don’t guarantee happiness.
Proverbs 15:17 teaches us, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”
True contentment and joy only grow when we acknowledge God first in our lives.
The people had to reflect on their sin and misery.
This would open the way for them to understand how surprising the promise of God’s blessing is.
To make this clear to them, the LORD gave Haggai a new message.
Look how it’s introduced in chapter 2:11: “Thus says the LORD of hosts…”
Once again, this description of the LORD as “the LORD of hosts,” is worth pondering.
It’s a reminder of the power and the authority of our covenant God.
He is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.
He is the Ruler and Commander of his people.
When he speaks, our duty is to listen.
The people have fallen short in their obligation to listen.
The LORD of hosts has two questions for the priests, who were supposed to be familiar with the law and to teach it to God’s people.
“If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?” (Hag 2:12).
The answer to this was “no.”
The point of the question was to get the priests and also the people to think about the meaning of holiness.
Holiness is not something that gets passed on when something holy touches something that isn’t.
The next question was, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?”
The answer to this was “It does become unclean” (Hag 2:13).
In other words, uncleanness is like a contagious disease.
If something unclean is brought into contact with something that is clean or holy, what is holy becomes unclean.
Think of how a bad apple spreads rot to the good apple it comes into contact with.
What was the point of application?
The LORD himself explains the point by making it clear that his people were unclean.
He wanted them to think about the nature of sin and its effects.
They were tainted by sin and therefore everything they laid their hands on became unclean as well.
This included the sacrifices that they offered to God.
Those sacrifices couldn’t do them any good because they had been brought with impure motives.
They had been offering sacrifices in order to get things from God.
Think again of that Latin expression, “Do ut des,” “I give that you may give.”
Their priorities were wrong and their hearts had been unrepentant.
That’s why all their religiosity led to nothing but judgment.
This was a lesson they should never forget.
The LORD drives this home again right before our text.
He asks a question and then answers it.
“Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the LORD, how did you fare?
When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten.
When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty.
I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD” (Hag 2:15b-17).
Blight is the withering process that happens when a plant become sick or injured by an insect or a fungus.
Mildew is when a plant becomes discoloured.
That can happen because of a fungus or perhaps because of something else.
We tend to look at things like this from a natural point of view.
We also explain hail in terms of natural processes.
Strong updrafts in thunderstorms cause ice particles to form.
But the LORD makes it clear that he governs everything.
Things like this don’t happen by chance.
The LORD caused these things to happen to his people to bring them to their senses.
They had become so preoccupied with themselves and their own ambitions and goals, that they forgot him.
Disciplined by the LORD, who instructed them by his prophet Haggai, they finally repented.
They went back to work on the temple.
By their actions they showed awareness of their sins and a changed heart.
The LORD therefore once again promised to show them his grace.
He was willing to forgive them.
This forgiveness was granted freely.
They could never earn it.
They could only receive it with thankful hearts.
“Consider from this day onward… I will bless you.”
The blessing was truly surprising!
After all, they were unclean people and everything they touched was unclean.
How would it be possible to receive blessings again?
The LORD would forgive them.
He would cleanse them of all their sins.
This is the miracle of divine grace.
The blessings he promised were signs of this.
When the LORD promises to bless his people, the blessing is certain.
This is our second point.
The LORD wanted his people to give careful thought to what was going to happen to them.
“Consider from this day onward… I will bless you.”
Things would change for the better.
They should not think this was a coincidence.
He wanted them to mark the day and remember his promise.
Then they would realize that he was being faithful.
God is a God of love and truth.
When he declares that he has forgiven the sins of his people, then they are forgiven.
This is not salvation because of works, but by grace alone.
We understand this far more profoundly because we know of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
He is the true and only sacrifice for all our sins.
He took our sins and sinfulness upon himself.
As prophesied in Isaiah 53:5-6, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — everyone — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The salvation of God’s people in Old Testament times as well as our salvation depend on him.
We are unclean, but the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ cleanse us of all our sins.
Because of him and through him we receive countless blessings from God!
The rebuilding of the temple at the time of our text was an important step forward in God’s dealings with his people.
But as the work progressed, they had to realize that his grace was not caused by their obedience to him.
Unclean people, people tainted by sin, have nothing of themselves to offer to God.
None of us can give anything to God that would cause him to be indebted to us.
Even our best works can’t undo the effects of our sins.
Sin contaminates everything we do.
Only God can sanctify the work of our minds and hands.
More than the temple would be required before God’s grace would have its full effect.
More than animal sacrifices would be needed to bring about the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to bless his people.
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God would have to offer himself as the high priest of his people.
Only his sacrifice would be sufficient to put an end to the ministry in the temple and to usher in a new dispensation in God’s covenant of grace.
Only he could fulfil all the requirements of God’s law.
Only he could obtain forgiveness and life for God’s people.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul would express it like this in Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Outside of Jesus Christ there is no salvation.
But through faith in him, we receive eternal life instead of the punishment of death.
We may live in fellowship with God forever instead of being condemned to live without him, suffering the punishment of hell.
The most important blessings that we receive by God’s grace are therefore spiritual, not material.
Keep this in mind when you read in our text about new, abundant harvests.
Material prosperity was a visual representation of the fact that God was no longer punishing his people.
The harvests that he promised them were meant to be signs of restored fellowship with him.
Don’t underestimate their importance, but don’t overestimate their importance either.
They were a foretaste of the fullness of salvation that he gives to his people.
As members of God’s people, don’t become preoccupied with signs of any kind and lose sight of the direction in which they point.
We need to look beyond the signs to God himself.
Any earthly blessings should direct our attention to God as the Giver of all good gifts.
Fellowship with him is what we should appreciate above all.
We don’t need to depend on outward signs like good harvests to be certain of God’s blessings, even though we should praise him for all that he gives us.
Instructed by his Word, we learn that what is most precious is not that we receive all kinds of things.
What is most precious is that the LORD, our God, has chosen to be in our lives.
Through his Holy Spirit he lives in our very hearts.
Remember the gracious promises of God.
His promises far outweigh any obligations he places upon us.
What’s most precious of all is that he says he will be our God and we will be his people.
That’s more important than any earthly riches!
It’s a promise that should sustain us in this life no matter what happens.
It’s a promise it will even help us to face death, for even then he will be our God.
In the meantime, it’s up to him to decide which blessings to give us and when.
It’s up to him to determine how to bless us.
It takes faith to surrender ourselves completely to God, acknowledging his sovereignty in these matters.
It also takes faith to recognize his blessings when they come.
They may come in unusual forms, even in the form of difficulties and setbacks that oblige us to draw near to him.
Just think about that: Difficulties and setbacks can be blessings in disguise, designed to bring us closer to God.
The question is, are we willing to interact with him on his terms?
Then we will accept what he does and work with whatever comes our way.
Don’t let feelings of disappointment stem from expecting God to interact with us on our terms.
How important is it to you to have God in your life?
If your response to this question is hesitant or negative, what are your priorities in life?
Is something or someone else occupying your heart instead of God?
If that’s the case, you may be a member of the church of Jesus Christ but you will not experience the spiritual blessings that God promises his people.
There may be material prosperity, but it will not be of true and lasting benefit for you.
You might contribute financially to the church, but your sacrifices will be brought by unclean hands.
You will not enjoy the forgiveness and peace with God that are the guaranteed blessings for those who come to him with repentant hearts.
Don’t treat your relationship with God like a contract!
Embrace his covenant promises!
They are full of love and they call us to a life of love in response.
He adopts us, making us his children and heirs of the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ, his Son, washes us from all our sins, opening up the way for us to live in fellowship with God.
The Holy Spirit makes our hearts his dwelling place, linking us to our Saviour and renewing our lives as members of the body of Christ in this world.
The temple of God in this world is not an earthly building anymore, but a living, growing reality.
We don’t build the temple of God in this world in our own strength.
The LORD our God is at work and what he does is a work of grace.
He calls us to faith and repentance through Jesus Christ, enlisting us in his service.
He equips us through his Word and Spirit, working toward a spiritual harvest.
When we understand this, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) will be more important to us than the fruit of any tree or the crops of any field.
We should treasure having the Spirit of God at work in our lives individually as well as in our life as a congregation.
Then we will have reason, individually and together, to rejoice in being “God’s temple” (1 Co 3:16; 6:19).
We will also be able to look forward to being with him forever.
Blessings are assured to all kinds of people throughout this world, including us.
Do you see how the LORD has blessed you?
Whatever you have received from him, use it for him.
Don’t do that in order to be blessed, but because you are blessed in him.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Andrew J. Pol

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