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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Having been redeemed and restored, put God and his house first [COVID-related]
Text:Haggai (View)
Occasion:Pandemic
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 25:5 (after the law)

Psalm 122

Hymn 52

Psalm 79:5

Reading & Text:  Haggai 1-2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


[NOTE:  this sermon was delivered at the end of May 2020, when restrictions were starting to lift in Tasmania.  If readers wish to use and adapt this sermon for their circumstances, they're free to do so]

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Our time of exile seems to be coming to an end.  The last time we gathered for public worship was on March 15.  It seems so long ago.  But finally, it seems like things are starting to change.  While we can’t yet gather for public worship, some of our other activities are resuming.  After our time of exile, it’s time to start rebuilding. 

It’s a good idea today then to look at a Bible book that’s about rebuilding after exile.  Haggai is the second-shortest book of the Old Testament.  I’ll bet that when it came time to look it up, it probably took a little while.  Haggai is not only a small book, but it’s also not very well-known.  Most of us would probably struggle to summarize what it’s about.  Yet there it is in God’s Word.  It’s there for a reason.  The Holy Spirit has given us this book to teach us about who our God is, what he’s done, what he’s doing, what he’ll do, and what our response is to be.  A short look at this book today will help us have a good biblical perspective as we look to rebuilding church life after a pandemic. 

I summarize this morning’s message with this theme:  Having been redeemed and restored, put God and his house first.

We’ll consider what Haggai says about the people of God and their:

  1. Past sin and curse
  2. Present calling
  3. Future blessing

Our passage has the Babylonian exile in the background.  The Babylonian exile was a traumatic event in Old Testament history.  Because of their rebellion, God’s people were deported out of the Promised Land, they were sent far away to Babylon.  There they remained for decades, some 70 years.  Eventually, Cyrus king of Persia made a decree that the Jews should return.  That happened in 538 BC.  The Jews started trickling back to Jerusalem and to the land of Israel.  The exile was over. 

When they came back, there was a lot of rebuilding to do.  The Jews started rebuilding the temple, but soon ran into opposition from the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were people who had mixed pagan beliefs with the Bible, therefore the Jews couldn’t work with them.  That led the Samaritans to sabotage the rebuilding of the temple.  It had only just begun and then the work stopped.  And it stopped for 15 years. 

That’s when God calls the prophet Haggai on the scene.  It’s now August of 520 BC.  The first thing God does through Haggai is to expose the sin of his people.  Their priorities have been messed up, and then to make it worse, they rationalized their sins.  The people didn’t put God and the temple (his house) first.  Instead, they put themselves and their own comfort first.  They said that the time wasn’t right to build the temple because things weren’t going well economically.  So they put it off and put it off.  In the meantime, they took care of themselves.  In verse 4 of chapter 1, it says that they were living in panelled houses.  These are houses with the luxury of wooden, panelled walls.  Meanwhile, God’s house continued to lie in ruins.

Because there was this widespread sin of misplaced priorities, God sent consequences.  This is first described in verses 5 to 7 of chapter 1.  God paints a picture here of people just barely scraping by.  For example, there’s food to eat, but not enough to get rid of the gnawing feeling of hunger in their stomachs.  As another example, they make some money, but it’s like their wallets and purses have holes in them.  The money flows through their fingers like water.  Nothing seems to last, they can’t save, and they can’t ever have enough.  Just barely holding on.

The consequences were also seen in nature.  According to 1:10-11, there was drought.  Therefore, there was little grain, few grapes, and just a few tiny olives.  Families were unproductive and the cattle weren’t doing well either.  The whole natural order was working against them because of their sinful misplaced priorities, putting themselves first, putting their comfort first. 

That theme comes back in chapter 2.  Chapter 2 also describes days of misery.  In verses 16 and 17 of chapter 2, there’s never enough grain, never enough wine, and all the products of their toil were afflicted with “blight and with mildew and with hail.”  It’s because of their sin.  Because of their sin, everything they touch turns to rottenness.  Maybe you’ve heard of the mythical King Midas.  Everything he touched turned to gold.  This is King Midas in reverse.  They have the anti-Midas touch.  Everything they touch turns to sewage.  That’s the whole point of the questions directed to the priests in verses 11 to 13.  Holiness is not contagious – it doesn’t spread.  But unholiness certainly is contagious.  When you’re unholy and ungodly, it spreads around and contaminates everything.  It’s part of what makes sin so awful.  It not only defiles you, but it ruins life around you and for you.

Now it’s important to remember that these people are still God’s people.  God had covenanted with them.  As part of that, God had assured them that if they were to stray from his ways, he would get their attention and try to bring them back.  He’d try to do that through covenant curses like drought and agricultural failure, a life just getting by or worse.  God would do that because he loved his people and he wanted them to flourish.  God wasn’t giving up on his people.  He wanted them to repent, return to his ways, be close to him, and enjoy his blessings.  It’s God’s grace that he sends Haggai to them to drive the point home. 

In this book, God is exposing the sin of misplaced priorities, not putting him first, not putting his house first.  That’s a sin that’s beset God’s people more often.  Could it be our sin too?  Let’s think about this in terms of God’s house.  In the Old Testament, that was the temple.  The New Testament speaks about God’s house in several ways, but one is the church.  In 1 Corinthians 3 and elsewhere, God tells us that the church is the New Testament temple.  Not the building, but the people.  We are the house of God.  Have we always put that first?  Our text says twice, “Consider your ways…”  Consider your ways, think about it:  have you perhaps taken it for granted in the past that the church is there for us to hear God’s Word, to be blessed by him, to praise him?  Have you put other things ahead of God and ahead of his house?  God calls us to turn away from sinful, misplaced priorities. 

If this is our sin, he calls us to repent of it and turn to Christ.  In his perfect life, he always put his Father first.  We see him in his Father’s house.  By his time, the temple was nicely built, it was beautiful, but it had become a shopping mall.  In his zeal, our Lord Jesus cleaned it up.  He cared about God and his house.  Christ’s priorities were as straight as an arrow.  Not only that, but he went to the cross and paid the penalty for people whose priorities are messed up.  All those misplaced priorities were nailed to the cross and crucified with Jesus.  Jesus lived perfectly for all who believe in him and he suffered and died for the forgiveness of their sins too.  Loved ones, turn away from misplaced priorities, and turn to him with your full trust.

God’s Word through Haggai had a positive effect on his people back then.  The call clearly went out to them in verses 7 to 8 of chapter 1.  They were to get out there and get back to work building God’s house.  He wanted them to build the temple for his pleasure and for his glory.  He had redeemed and restored them for this calling.  They were called to work for him.

So they did.  Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, the people obeyed God’s Word through Haggai and started rebuilding again.  One of the remarkable things about Haggai is that it provides specific dates.  Haggai’s first prophetic word was delivered on August 29, 520 BC.  Then we’re told that the people resumed rebuilding the temple on September 21, 520 BC.  You might look at that and wonder why it took them 23 days.  But remember, this is a massive building project.  Materials had to be gathered.  Workers had to be organized.  Building plans had to be drawn up.  So, the question really should be:  how did they manage to do all that in just 23 days? 

And we should also be thinking then about what drove them to be so highly motivated and to work so hard.  Here we don’t have to speculate because the Bible tells us straight up.  It’s in verse 14 of chapter 1:  “the LORD stirred up the spirit” of all these people.  God woke them up and opened their eyes.  God worked in their hearts with his Word and with the Holy Spirit.  Through his Word and Spirit, God gave them the desire to obey him and put his house first.  God made them teachable and obedient.  God therefore deserves all the glory and honour. 

The same thing is true today.  When we’re teachable and obedient to God, also when it comes to putting him and his house first, we can’t pat ourselves on the back.  No praise for us, but praise for him and for the gracious working of his Holy Spirit.  If we’re putting God and putting his church first in our lives, we know that the roots of this aren’t in us.  The roots of that obedience come from the Holy Spirit who works in us.  That makes us humble.  That makes us thankful.  It makes us worshipful.  It all fits with the purpose of a temple:  to bring praise and honour to God.          

While chapter 1 ends on this upbeat note, chapter 2 indicates that the initial enthusiasm for rebuilding began to wane.  Remember the rebuilding started on September 21, 520 BC.  Now it’s October 17, 520 BC – it’s been less than a month.  Some of the people in Haggai’s day saw the glory of Solomon’s temple in its last days.  Those people would have been old by this point and when they saw it they would have been children.  That temple had been spectacular.  And after a month of building, there was nothing to compare.  There was no likelihood of seeing anything like Solomon’s temple anytime soon.  So the people were getting discouraged because they were falling into the age-old desire for instant results. 

That can be a problem for us too.  If we think about it just in terms of how the New Testament describes the church as the temple of God, think of how we’d like to see quick results in our efforts to build the church.  Or to rebuild church life after a pandemic.  We’d love to see everything quickly get back to normal, or even better than normal, better than it was before.  In the coming weeks and months, we might be tempted to get frustrated or discouraged by how slow it all goes.  Imagine that you could wake up tomorrow morning and everything would be normal again.  Imagine that we could just go on with our church life like before or even better.  All our members would be living members.  Everyone would make a priority of attending worship twice a Sunday.  Everyone would be contributing their gifts to the life of church.  All our members would be sharing the gospel with the lost they know.  Bible Study groups would be numerous, well-attended, and always have encouraging and edifying discussions.  No one in our church would feel isolated or alienated, all would be included.  Wouldn’t it be nice?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could have all that tomorrow?  

We so easily forget the story line of the Bible.  In the Bible, there’s no instant glory.  Solomon’s temple was built with blood, sweat, and tears.  Before Solomon, there was David, and David’s reign was marred by conflict, lust, murder, family strife, hunger for power, and many other sins.  The glory only came to the temple after much tribulation.  That Old Testament pattern continued into the New Testament.  Our Lord Jesus didn’t instantly receive glory.  He first plunged into humiliation, step by step downward, beginning with his conception and ending with his death on a cross and burial.  Only after remaining in the tomb for three days did he finally rise up victorious.  Only after his struggle for our salvation did he receive glory.  That’s the pattern of the whole Bible, because that’s the pattern of Christ.  It’s also the pattern of those united to him.  There are no instant results.  Glory comes after the struggle.  The apostles understood that too, and that’s why they said in Acts 14:22, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  Now we have small beginnings.  This is also true in our church.  We have a humble start.  We have a struggle to rebuild, but in his wisdom God says that this is the way forward in the story of our redemption.  A story which does end in glory. 

Our present calling is to see what God has done so far – how in his love he’s redeemed and restored us.  Our calling is to see the wonderful grace and love shown us to by God through Jesus.  We should also see how God has graciously preserved us through this pandemic.  Then God calls us now to be strong in him and get to work.  Put him and his house first, and get to work rebuilding for his glory.  The work may be long, and it may be tough, it may be discouraging at times, but because it’s for God it’ll be worth it.

Haggai shows us how it’ll be worth it when he speaks of the future blessing.  There are three aspects to this and they’re all in chapter 2. 

God holds out the certainty of future glory for the temple in verses 6-9.  The temple the Jews were building in those days was part of God’s plan to lead his people onward to a glorious future.  But that temple wasn’t an end in itself.  Eventually that rebuilt temple would itself have to be rebuilt – and ultimately, the whole thing would be destroyed by the Romans for good in 70 AD.  And Jesus Christ would fulfill the role of the temple in his own person and ministry.   Eventually, God’s people will enjoy the ultimate fulfillment of the temple in the new heavens and new earth.  There God will dwell with his people forever.  That’s the last temple in the Bible and it’s the fulfillment of Haggai 2:6-9.  It’s all connected to Revelation 21. 

In Revelation 21, the whole creation becomes the temple of God.  And Revelation 21:24 says that “the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.” Revelation 21:26 says that “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.”  Somehow in the age to come, the wealth and splendour of the nations will enhance the temple of God in the New Jerusalem.  This end-times temple will be an amazing and wonderful place.  It’ll be partly because all the silver and gold that belong to God will be used to beautify it.

There’s a glorious future blessing where God brings about full restoration.  Just like with the Jews in Haggai’s day, our efforts to build God’s house fit into the plan to bring it all about.  As we work hard at building and rebuilding, God promises us that our work will be blessed.  With joy and satisfaction, we’ll see the glory and splendour of the New Jerusalem.  It’ll be glory and splendour unlike any other temple built by human hands. 

As God’s people get to work in his building program, they’re also promised covenant blessings.  Verses 18 and 19 of chapter 2 speak of that.  It’s now December of 520.  The people are still dealing with the effects of the curses from before.  Covenant curses on agriculture don’t get reversed overnight.  It takes time until the next harvest.  But with the end of verse 19, God promises that the next harvest will bring better times for them.  Once again there’ll be abundance in grain, grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives. 

God is speaking here of material blessings of food and drink, but these are pointing us to deeper spiritual realities.  They’re pointing to a renewed friendly relationship of fellowship with God.  To be this blessed people whose hunger and thirst are satisfied, God’s people are called to turn from their sin, trust him, and follow him.  For us in our day, to be this blessed people whose hunger and thirst are satisfied, we’re called to turn from our sins, turn to Christ, and follow him.  In Christ, the one who describes himself in John 2 as the rebuilt temple, we truly do move from curse to blessing.

Finally, Haggai also motivates God’s people with the future blessing of the fulfillment of the Messianic promises.  This is in verses 20-23 of chapter 2.  The question this addresses has to do with God’s promise to King David.  God had promised that David’s throne would be established forever.  But here we are after the exile and what’s become of that promise?  Jehoiachin was the last Davidic king.  He’d been rejected and cast off.  So now what? 

These verses are addressed to Zerubbabel.  He was the grandson of King Jehoiachin, who I mentioned a moment ago.  He was the governor of Judah, but probably just a figure head with no real power to rule.  Zerubabbel is also mentioned in the New Testament as one of the Davidic forefathers of Jesus. 

God speaks to Zerubabbel and tells him of coming judgment. The Almighty God will shake the heavens and the earth.  God will overthrow thrones and kingdoms.  All political powers will be judged.  There’s no military power on earth that will withstand the great day of judgment.  This is all pointing ahead to the great day of the LORD, the day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. 

That day of judgment will be a terror for unbelievers, both the living and the dead.  But for those trusting in God and trusting in his promises, it’ll be a day of redemption, salvation, restoration, vindication, glory.  Zerubbabel personifies the fulfillment of God’s Messianic promises here.  He’s described as God’s servant, just like David was described.  He’s the chosen one, again that’s language used for David.  And he’s like God’s signet ring.  This was the ring worn by kings.  It’s a precious symbol of authority and royal power.  In Zerubbabel, the rebuilder of the temple, God is picking up where he left off.  God will be faithful to his promises to David.  God is transferring the promises made to David to the line of Zerubbabel. 

Now here’s the interesting thing:  we know nothing else about Zerubbabel from the rest of the Bible.  He didn’t restore the kingdom of Israel.  He himself didn’t become a royal figure with authority and power.  Why not?  Because God wasn’t speaking directly about Zerubbabel.  Instead, he was speaking about the line of Zerubbabel, and about one member of that line in particular. 

In just a few generations, one would be born from this line, a chosen One who’d have royal authority and might.  But first he had to be like both Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel.  Jesus often had the appearance of Zerubbabel – a king without a crown, a ruler without a kingdom.  That’s the way he appeared to many.  Where David had once ruled, a foreign power dominated.  Meanwhile, David’s descendant worked as a carpenter and later as an itinerant preacher.  At the end of his life, he looked like Jehoiachin.  Cast out.  Under a curse.  How could this crucified one be God’s signet ring, his precious and treasured mark of authority and power? 

He went through hell.  Literally.  But on the other side, he was victorious.   He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven – something we remembered the other day.  King Jesus took up his place at God’s right hand.  Now, today, the descendant of Zerubabbel is like God’s signet ring.  God’s promise to David and Zerubbabel came to pass.  God kept his Word – he brought about the blessing. 

We’ve faced some challenges in the last while.  In the coming weeks, there may be more things to deal with.  While we hope and pray not, it’s possible that the pandemic could have a second wave and we could go back to lockdowns, at home learning, no church functions, and all the rest.  There could be other things, things that make us groan and feel frustrated.  Look, it’s a broken world and that’s not going to change on this side of eternity.  We need to be reminded again of God’s faithfulness to his promises.  God has not abandoned us and he never will.  He hasn’t forgotten us and he’s not indifferent to our situation.  He never will be.  Through all these troubles, he carries us, he moves his plans forward.  Through these things he even shapes us and leads us forward in our Christian growth.  Because of Christ, we can be sure that he’ll continue to do that.  Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”  Because Christ has secured our redemption and restoration, we can be confident moving forward.

Because Christ has secured our redemption and restoration past, present, and future, we also must confidently move forward in putting God and his house first.  That’s what motivates us.  God’s grace and mercy drive us on to have the proper priorities. In view of God’s mercy, let me urge you never to take anything for granted again in church life.  Don’t take for granted the opportunity to worship twice each Sunday.  Don’t take for granted the opportunity to speak with brothers and sisters and give and receive encouragement in the communion of saints.  Never take for granted the opportunity to contribute from your talents and gifts.  Beginning this week, we can start gathering together for Bible Study again.  What an awesome opportunity to grow together in our knowledge of God’s Word!  Don’t take it for granted.  Brothers and sisters, in all these ways and more, put God first in your life, put his house (the church) first in your life.  And do it, not so that he redeems and restores you, but because he has in his grace.  AMEN.       

PRAYER

Our faithful God,

We confess to you that individually and as a congregation we haven’t always put you and your house first.  Sometimes our priorities have been messed up.  Sometimes we put other things before you and before your church.  We ask you to forgive us for that through what Christ has done for us on the cross.  Look upon us in the righteousness and obedience that Christ offered for us in his life.  Father, please help us to be faithful in our calling, even though sometimes it might be frustrating and challenging.  Help us in the days ahead to work at rebuilding church life.  Please give your help and strength for that, because we’re weak in ourselves.  We thank you that you motivate us with your promises of past, present, and future blessing in Christ.  Help us always to see your promises with the eyes of faith and embrace them.  We do pray again for that final day, the great day when our Lord Jesus returns.  We pray for final judgment and the righting of all wrongs.  We pray for justice and righteousness to come.  But we also pray for the revelation of the final temple, the new heavens and new earth, our final home.  Please bring about that new creation soon.  We long for it.  We long for it, because we long to spend eternity in fellowship with our Saviour Jesus.  Father, thank you for your Word to us this morning.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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