Friday, October 19, 2007

The Message of Haggai

Consider Your Ways
The Message of the Prophet Haggai
How not to waste your life

Tonight we will be looking at the book of Haggai. Which can be pronounced either Hag-gy or Hag-a-i. One of the things that is especially neat about this book is that Haggai gives us a few dates so we know when he preached certain messages. One of them was actually preached on today’s date over 2,500 years ago. You might be wondering what relevance does a sermon that was preached 2,500 years ago have on your life today. What can a prophet of 2,500 years ago know about your life in the 21st century?

Have you ever felt discouraged? Have you ever felt that God was calling you to do something but you lacked the strength and courage to do it? Do you ever wonder why it seems that nothing works out for you? Do you ever feel empty or incomplete? Do you feel stretched in a million different ways and are longing for a single passion to live by? Do you wish that you could “just get with it” and not be so bogged down by sin? Do you ever have the feeling that everything is not going to work out? Do you ever wonder what the purpose is for life? Do you feel like throwing in the towel?

Haggai will address each of these issues in some way. His situation in some ways is similar to the world we live in. We will look briefly at his historical situation. . In 606 B.C. many of the Jews were taken into captivity. By 586 B.C. not only were the people taken into captivity but the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. But when the Persians defeated the Babylonians (and you can read about this in Ezra) in 539 events were set in motion for the Israelites to come back to their land. In 538 the people of God were stirred up to begin rebuilding the temple. But in 536 they stopped. They had actually completed the foundation but the Samaritans began stirring up trouble. This is why you see the Jewish opposition to the Samaritans in the New Testament. To make a long story short the Jews stopped building the temple. 16 years later a prophet by the name of Haggai comes onto the scene.
As I mentioned earlier one of the unique things about the book of Haggai is that we can figure out the exact date of his messages. We know that his first message was delivered on August 29th 520 B.C. So, by the time we hear from Haggai, the temple that was started in 538 has been sitting untouched for some 16 years. Why? The first thing Haggai is going to teach us will provide an answer.

I. Consider your priorities (1:1-11) August 29, 520 B.C.

The people of Haggai’s day remind me of a story I heard recently about a group of friends that went deer hunting and paired off in two’s for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, dragging an eight point buck but his partner Harry was nowhere to be found.
One of the hunters asked, “Where’s Harry?”
“Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple of miles back up the trail.”
“You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?”
“A tough call,” nodded the hunter, “but I figured no one is going to steal Harry.”

Now some of you might disagree with me, but this hunter had the wrong priorities. And that is the same case here in Haggai 1:1-11, wrong priorities.

The hypocrisy of wrong priorities (1:1-4)

If you notice in verse 2 the people are saying, “The time has not yet come, the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt. Now, why are they saying “the time has not yet come”? In essence what they are communicating is this; it is not the Lord’s will for us to rebuild right now. I think J. Vernon McGee adds to this point very nicely. He tells the story of a rebuilding program at his church in LA.

As McGee tells it, “The church in its long history had never been remodeled, and the seats, which numbered four thousand, were built to take care of people who lived fifty or sixty years ago. We discovered that people today are about 2 ½ inches wider than they were fifty years ago! We decided to put in new cushioned seats. Some of the very pious folks said, “We don’t feel that money should be spent for cushions. We should give that money to missions.” Now the majority of the people wanted the cushioned seats, and I did too, so I made a proposition to the congregation. I said, “There are so many people enthusiastic about remodeling that they are going to give enough money to cushion their seat and yours too, so those of you who don’t want to pay for cushioned seats can give you twenty-five dollars to missions. I hope that we can take an offering today for several hundred twenty-five dollar checks”. Well, there were very few twenty five dollar checks. Why? The truth was that the folk who were objecting to the cushioned seats never intended to give at all, and ‘missions instead of cushions’ was their excuse. But what they said was, “it isn’t God’s will to have cushioned seats. The time hasn’t come to remodel the church”.

That is really close to what the Israelites were saying. They were making excuses. The times were difficult. They would have to face opposition to build the temple. It would be hard work. Some even used prophecy to back their argument. They remembered Jeremiah and Ezekiel said it would be 70 years…well if the temple was destroyed in 586 then it will not be rebuilt until 516. But that is not what the prophecy was concerning. They were only using religious talk as an excuse, they did not intend to build.

And this is where God gets them. Notice verse 4. “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” The people are saying, “it’s not time to build God’s house”, and God is saying, “so it is time to build up your house?” Now, I want us to notice something about the “paneled houses” that they are building. In order to have these paneled houses you would have to have cedar. There are two places the Israelites could have gotten their cedar. 1) Lebanon 2) from the stockpile that was to go towards building the temple. Either way it is a pretty bad deal. Either they were working really hard and putting all of their energy into building their own kingdom, or they are actually stealing from the Lord to build their own houses. We also need to know that living in a paneled house meant that you were living large. It means you are living in luxury.

So, just picture the scene for a moment and then we will try to place ourselves into this setting. The Lord’s house lies desolate, laid waste. The temple in the Old Testament meant God’s presence. When the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 it symbolized a departure of God’s glory. So in essence what the Israelites are saying is that they care more about their own lives than about the presence and glory of God. Yet the people are living in beautifully adorned houses.

Now we know that in our time, the temple is no longer God’s dwelling place. We know from John that the temple is but a shadow of the indwelling presence of Christ, both through his incarnation and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. In one sense of the word, Christians are the dwelling place of God now.

So, let’s try to make this first point personal. Please try to resist the urge to think of the church as a building, the church is not a building the church is a body. Are you living in paneled houses while the Lord’s church lies desolate? Do not just think of money. Also think of time. Also think of the spiritual disciplines of your home.

It is amazing how often today we complain of not having enough time. It is so sad that many people do not minister because they do not have the “time”. Yet we have plenty of time after church on Sunday to watch a three hour football game. We do not have the time or energy to do personal evangelism, yet we always seem to find time for our hobbies. Americans spend about 5 hours per day engaged in some sort of leisure activity such as watch television. That amounts to about 35 hours per week. That’s almost a full-time job. Just imagine if we would turn off the television, music, computer, etc. even half of that time and spent our time that we “do not have” on knowing God or making Him known?

It always upsets me whenever you cannot come to youth group on Wednesday or Sunday because of some school activity or sports. Our priorities are all messed up. The school has a stranglehold on you and your coaches are dictating your schedule more than the Word of God. We are communicating that getting good grades, being a good student, being a star athlete, etc. is more important than being a man or woman of God. You say, but if I do not go I will get in trouble, I will get a bad grade; I will not get to play on the team. And you are probably right. But I ask is this perhaps what Jesus meant when He said a true disciple would deny Himself take up His cross and follow Him?

This is not as black and white as it seems. Sometimes the Lord might be calling you to be a missionary somewhere on Wednesday night. Sometimes you can not come to church Sunday morning because you stayed up all night with your drunken dad caring for him, witnessing to him, etc. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Simply ask yourself is my number one priority knowing Christ and making Him known?

For the Israelites it wasn’t, is it for you? If not, then I urge you to follow the people of God in what they did next. We read in Haggai 1:12-13 that the people obeyed the voice of God and they feared Him. In other words they left their comforts and started building the house of God.

The fruit of correct priorities

And we see the result. In verse 13 Haggai spoke the Lord’s message saying, “I am with you, declares the Lord”. There could be no more encouraging message for us today. We see then that the fruit of obeying God and repenting from our wrong priorities is that we like the Israelites will experience God’s presence. It is not that God is not always there. He is omnipresent. But even though God is there we do not experience his presence because our eyes are on everything else.
So, one of the blessings that God is giving them is to make his presence known and felt; to make himself known and felt in such a way they could not deny him. There could be no greater blessing that God could give us than his own presence.

And that is what the Israelites enjoyed as they were building the temple.

II. Do not quit (2:1-9) October 17, 520 BC

I don’t know about you but sometimes after I have an awesome experience with God shortly after I have a huge dead spot. I am not really sure why this is. Quite frequently on Thursday’s I am depressed, or Monday mornings if I preach on Sunday. It is something about the day after that leaves you empty and sometimes sullen. This is what had happened to the Israelites by October. Haggai second message in 2:1-9 was actually delivered 2, 527 years to the date. This is Haggai’s message of encouragement, telling the Israelites do not give up, do not quit.

Apparently they had been discouraged by their lack of progress; which is kind of silly because they had only been at it for a few months. In verse 3 God is asking some of the senior members, can you remember what the temple was like before it was destroyed? Do you remember the glory that was there? Look at it now! Is it not just as nothing! That would be discouraging.
Last week I felt something similar. Now it is nothing similar in magnitude, but to me it was pretty huge. I had spent about 4 hours working on a power point presentation to be delivered to the church concerning changes in our philosophy of youth ministry. You will probably see some of this in a few months. After working very hard on this, making it catchy, putting cool pictures, writing the perfect sentences, someone decided to borrow my laptop and got on something that locked up my computer. I had to do one of those hard restarts where you turn the power off, wait a few seconds and then restart it to make sure no serious damage has been incurred. As I do this I notice that my power point is gone. Normally it saves a recovered file. Not today. 4 hours of hard work and labor gone, and for some reason whenever this happens I get writer’s block, frustration and find it very difficult to redo what I had already completed. So, I had to scrap it and start over. Ughh!! Discouragement. I felt like giving up on the project all together. That is similar to the Israelites, some of them remembered the old temple in all of its splendor. And today they are looking at a pile of rubble and putting a few stones together for a foundation. How far they have to go, and how glorious it was a few years back.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel as if your world has come crashing down? Everything was going pretty well a few days ago and now it seems as if life is in ruins. Maybe on October 17, 2007 you need the same message that the Israelites did on October 17, 520 B.C. What is the message of God to you today? Be strong! Work, I am with you! That means press on. Do not give up. Do not quit but work knowing that God is with you. Pick up the pieces, start collecting stones and begin rebuilding the temple.

But you say, how? How can I move on? My life is shattered. And God says, remember my covenant! Remember my promise! Trust in me, look to what awaits you. And we think of some of the great promises of God in Scripture. Romans 8:1 assures us that we are no longer condemned. Romans 8:37-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s great love. Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. We look forward to seeing that which no eye has seen or heard. We look forward to experiencing more of God. To the New Jerusalem. To being made holy. To being found in Christ. To be totally clean. To be in the presence of Jesus. All of these things God is saying are ours today and will be fully ours in the future. Therefore, He is telling us hang on. Hold on, trust in my promises you have not seen anything yet.

This is what we see in 2:9, “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”. That means you have not seen anything yet. You are going to see something great in this place. Does this mean that the temple is going to be even greater and more beautiful? Maybe. It was quite beautiful. So, beautiful that the pagan Herod constructed a temple resembling it. But I do not think that is primarily what the Lord is talking about. I think he is talking about the glory that would one day reside in that very temple.

When we turn to the New Testament 500 years later we see a temple that is still standing. This is the one that Jesus Christ, the glorious God had stepped foot in. I think Haggai is pointing us to something greater. This temple is going to see more glory because it is some day going to have the footprints of Jesus on it. The peace that he will give “in this place” is more than likely a reference to Jesus who is our peace. So, just like in Haggai’s time God was saying, just wait, I have something really awesome prepared for you. So, God is saying to you today. Do not quit, hang in there and work! Do hard things! Be passionate and sold out for my kingdom, do not get frustrated! Remember, I am on my throne, remember I keep my covenant. So do not fear, My Spirit is with you, work!

III. Do not flirt with sin (2:10-19) December 18, 520 BC

A few months later we seem to have a problem. While the people are doing the work of God there appears to be sin in their midst. Maybe the people got discouraged and stopped again. Maybe that had gotten distracted by sin. Or maybe they were living double lives, serving God vigorously with one part of their lives and living a life of secret sin on the other. Perhaps he is urging them to look at a past event as an encouragement not to flirt with sin in the present. I am not certain. But God is going to call them out about sin in their lives.

He does this by asking a couple of questions to the priest. It will serve as a teaching tool for the people of Israel. God tells Haggai to go to the priests and ask them about the law. If someone carries holy meat and it touches other things do these other things become holy? In other words, if something holy touches something unholy does that make that unholy thing holy now? Can holiness be transferred by exposure? The answer is no. It does not make it holy.

Well then, what if someone who is unclean comes in contact with something, then does that make it unclean? The priest response is a resounding yes? To which the Lord says, “So it is with these people, and with this nation before me, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean!”

The point that is being made is that uncleanliness is more contagious than holiness. Imagine that I am a very fit and muscular stud; it should not be too hard to do (joking!). I have a clean bill of health, I work out every day, and I drip with healthiness. I can run miles at a time without getting out of breath. I am a fine specimen of man. But what if I encounter someone with a really bad cold or flu, worse yet what if I get bitten by a rabid badger. Does that badger all of a sudden get really healthy? No, I get rabies. You cannot make someone healthy by touching them, but you can be made unhealthy by getting bitten by a rabid badger.

Haggai is saying it is the same thing with their disobedience. Haggai is saying that sin leads to utter devastation. You cannot dabble and flirt with sin and not expect it to lead to disaster. We could at this point go into a long discourse about some of the active sins that many of you are committing. You cannot expect to flirt with alcohol and drugs and things not come crashing down! Girls you cannot expect to flaunt yourself like a piece of meat and then desire to be treated any differently. Guys you cannot expect for your porn addiction to not catch up with you. You cannot expect to watch all this crap on television and in the movies and then not be affected by it. You cannot expect to expose yourself to horrible ungodly teaching and horrible worldview messages on television, school, the internet, school, etc. and not be touched. These are all true, and that is part of the message that Haggai has for us tonight.

But there is something more that Haggai is saying that we need to catch. What is the “big” sin that Haggai is confronting? Porn? Prostitution? Greed? Anger? Pride? Cussing? Homosexuality? None of these that you might think of. What their big sin is, is a wasted life, complacency. They are the pirates who do not do anything! They spent 16 years sitting on their butt building their own kingdom. You know what the biggest tragedy in many of your lives is! It is not that some of you are drinkers! That is horrible, wrong and God disapproves of it, and you should stop. But that is not the biggest tragedy. Is it that some of you struggle with lust and porn or flaunt yourself like a piece of meat? That is horrible, wrong and God disapproves of it, and you should stop. But that is not the biggest tragedy. Is it that some of you are plagued with anger, greed, and all sorts of other vices? Nope. Those are horrible, wrong and God disapproves of them, but not the biggest tragedy. You know what the biggest tragedy in many of your lives are, including mine? Do you really want to know? Our innocent T for Teen video games. Our not so bad television shows that we watch. Our obsession with the internet. Our hours that we spend innocently playing computer games. Our drive and passion to be the best football player, baseball player, water polo player on the planet.
John Piper tells of a story he found in Reader’s Digest of a couple who took an early retirement. The husband was 59 and she was 51. They had good jobs in the Northeast. “Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells…” Picture them before Christ, Piper says, on the great day of judgment. ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.

I ask you what are your sea shells. We need to give them up. If it means unplugging the television then we need to do it. If it means turning of the computer then we need to do it. If it means not listening to music then do it. This is what Haggai says is the tragedy. They wasted their lives instead of passionately living it for God. And therefore, it marred everything they touched. I ask you who are only half way passionate about Jesus, and only half way concerned with the things of God. When are you going to drop your stupid sea shells and live for the glory of God? When are you going to stop wasting your life and live for the glory of God?

The people of Israel stopped building their own kingdom and started being passionate about building God’s kingdom and the Lord said, from this day forward I will bless you. Because you were obedient and started again building my temple I am going to bless you. Listen to what Piper says about the rich fool of Luke 12:

I want you to listen to Piper’s comment on Luke 12 concerning the rich fool. And that is exactly what these Israelites in the paneled houses are, rich fools.

“Does not the OT promise that God will prosper the faithful? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God. God does not prosper a man’s business so that man can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the worlds’ population can move a step back from the [brink] of starvation…Too many people are shaped by the consumer culture than by the economics of Christ. They still operate on the simple rule: If you earned it, you deserve it. It’s yours; use it for your own material comfort.
He continues…”The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun”.
And he closes with this underlying principle, “The problem is not earning a lot. The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs. If you want to be a conduit of God’s grace, you don’t have to be lined with gold. Copper will do.”

V. Look to the Messiah (2:20-23) December 18, 520

Our last point is very short and sweet. In the last verse Haggai says that he is going to bless Zerubbabel and he will sit on the throne and have authority. For God had chosen him! Now certainly this is talking about Zerubbabel the historical king of Israel. But the Lord is pointing us to something even greater. If you turn in your Bibles to Matthew 1:12 we will look at the genealogy of Jesus. See if any of these names sound familiar. “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Now skip down 11 names and look at who you see. Jesus. Zerubabbel was Jesus’ grandfather (plus a bunch of great’s). This is the king who would sit on the throne. It is he who will shake the foundation of the world, it is he who will overthrow the chariots and the riders. It is he who will sit on the throne forever. It is he who will judge us. And it is for him that we should live our lives and not waste them. Jesus Christ is the single passion to live our lives by.

Earlier I asked you a bunch of questions. Have you ever felt like you lacked strength? Have you ever felt empty? Ever feel like you do not have purpose? Ever feel stretched in a million directions? Ever feel bogged down with sin? Ever feel like throwing in the towel?

Jesus is the answer. You will still get discouraged, life might actually be tougher. But it will not be wasted. Tonight you are urged to consider your ways. In closing I turn back to “now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Why? Why is everything coming up empty? Because you are wasting your life. You are living your life to collect sea shells and they will never fill you! Christian this message is for you. I know you have Jesus, but are you experiencing Him to the fullest? Or are you wasting it too? “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.” That is our single passion. To be people in whom the Lord can take pleasure and in whom He can be glorified. And that only happens through the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross? Does He cover you?

I close with a poem.

Only one life,
‘Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
for Christ will last.

Live for Jesus!

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