Series title: “From wrack and ruin to blessings and beauty”
- Revelation 3:1-6
- Haggai 2:1-9
In the 1700’s a little man in England, a cobbler by trade, who kept a map of the world on a wall of his workshop so that he could pray for the nations of the world, became burdened for a definite missionary outreach. When he shared his burden at a meeting of ministers, he was told by one of the senior men of God: “Young man, sit down. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.”
But the young shoemaker did not let the fire of his enthusiasm be dampened by such a response. That man had a vision of the greatness of the love of God for the lost. He trusted God more than anyone or anything else. If it was the will of God for him to become a missionary, he believed God would provide.
So he left the shores of England for those of India, where he engaged in pioneer missionary work, doing work of God. His name was William Carey.
We saw last week when the word of God came to us from the first chapter that the mixed up priorities of the Israelites who returned from captivity out of Babylon, led them to lose sight of the glory and the greatness of God. Their own program and own interests led them to stop building the temple for more than 16 years. They blamed the bad economic and security circumstances, and came to the conclusion that they cannot give to the work of God, because they do not have anything to give. When Haggai appeared on the scene he turned their thinking upside down by telling them that they do not have anything because they do not give anything. God’s work became last, and their’s first; whereas He should be first and their’s last.
We ended the sermon with the work of God in the hearts of the depressed people by stirring them up to work, and within weeks they were where God wanted them to be: busy building His temple.
What they needed was a fresh vision from God about who He is, how He would provide for them, what they could expect from Him, and God’s long-term vision for his work of salvation of which they would become part.
Vision restored – Who is God?
Dates in this little prophecy are very important. In chapter 1:1 the date, put in our modern calendar, 29 August 520. In verse 15, after they received the first message from God through Haggai on 21 September 520. In other words, it took them only three weeks to get working on getting the needed building material and to start the work.
In between the celebrated a very important festival on the Jewish calendar, the Festival of the Booths. During this feast, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after the crops of the land had been gathered, the Israelites were meant to ‘live in booths’. The Bible teaches them:
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40, NIV)
The feast was a time of celebration and thanksgiving to the Lord for his protection and provision during the wilderness wanderings.
Interestingly enough the temple of Solomon was finished in the same time of the year, and the ark of the covenant was brought into the temple. What happened at that point in time was:
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. (1 Kings 8:10–11, NIV)
Now, let’s go back to Haggai. The next mention of a date takes us to the last day of this festival, which was 18 October. The problem for the people then gathered in Jerusalem was first, they did not have any first fruit to bring, and secondly, to them it seemed as if God is not with them anymore. There was no temple.
But God’s timing was perfect. In what He will tell them to give them a new vision their eyes would be opened to his faithfulness and his provision.
The God of the Covenant
Through Haggai God’s word came to them: But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord.
‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:4-5, NIV)
This was language they would understand. “Be strong!” This was the command of the Lord to Joshua when he took over from Moses; Moses himself used these words to strengthen Joshua. When? When they was about to walk into the Promised Land to inherit it. They God provided for them and made the nations fall before them.
But even more: God refers back to their delivery from Egypt, when He ransacked Egypt, freed his people and made the Egyptians give them gold and silver and all things they would need for their journey into the Promised Land.
The very fact that they had to have the Festival of the Booths, was to remember how God provided for them through the wilderness.
And once again so He did: He brought them back out of slavery a second time, now out of Babylon. As if He would say, once again He would provide for them, even as He did then and defeated the enemy before them. On that day they had nothing, but what they has was their Saviour, the God of Hosts – all armies belongs to Him.
He reminds them of the fact the He was with them as He walked with them through Egypt, the wilderness, the Jordan into the land He had promised to their fathers. “I am with you!” And as the Spirit of god filled the temple when the ark was brought into the temple of Solomon, so God says, “My Spirit is with you. Do not fear!”
The God who controls the nations
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. (Haggai 2:6, NIV)
Their forefathers had firsthand knowledge of God shaking mountains – they first saw it on Sinai. And afterwards God would send earthquakes when He so desired, He even made the sun stand still in the days of Joshua. All nations are under Him. Hew determines the times of their existence, the time of reign of their kings, and when He would make them disappear in history.
Not long after these words to the people in Haggai’s time God put his plan into action. Only twenty years, later in 501 B.C, the Greeks rebelled against Persia, and invaded it. Darius was king at this time. He led a great army, but he was defeated at Marathon in 490 b.c. in a victory the Greeks still remember with pride. Shortly thereafter, Darius’s successor Xerxes marshaled an even larger army and a powerful navy. The army contained 1.8 million men. The navy was the largest ever seen. But in 480 b.c. the Greek boats scattered the Persian navy, and the Greek army defeated the Persian army. A year later the reassembled Persian navy was again defeated. Thus Persian hopes of conquering the Greek mainland were forever crushed.
As the Persian Empire began a gradual collapse, Alexander the Great came to power and led the Greek armies over the Bosporus against Persia. At his death the Greek empire broke up and was eventually replaced by Roman rule of the Mediterranean countries. The Romans were in control at the time of Christ. If there was ever a shaking of the nations and a redistribution of power, it was during this period.
All of this happened exactly as God prophesied through Daniel. All these once powerful king, armies and kingdoms were in the hands of God and prepared for the Messiah who was promised through the ages. A detailed study of these events is fascinating.
God’s purpose with the message of Haggai was to tell them that the main thing is not the substance of the temple as such, but the greatness of Hom will bring it about. He wanted them to know that, however they saw themselves in their need as only a speck of dust on the great drama unfolding over history, they were indeed part of the plan of god to bring in the nations to bow the knee before Him.
He held what they desired and looked upon as precious in his hand. And when it was time, they would give up their treasures so that the kingdom of God could be built and his name be glorified.
Not everything yet fulfilled
In the vision God gave to his people in the time of Haggai He indeed lifted their horizon above the everyday: He would provide for them, He would shake the nations, He would make them bring in their riches, because it belongs to them.
But He also gave Haggai the word to make the people look through the binocular in see far into the future. Yes they were restoring the temple, and later Herod would build an even more beautiful one. But God promised:
‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:9, NIV)
The glory of the temple was not limited to the beauty of the structure; it was dependent on the presence of God. Indeed the temple they built never looked as grand as the one Solomon built. And not very long after they completed their building it was once again attacked and damaged badly. And then, Herod built another, even bigger and grander.
In than temple our Lord once walked. What He saw then horrified Him. The people made it a house of robbers and thieves. Jesus had to cleanse the temple twice. God was not there anymore. Yes, they had the building, but not the glory which filled it. Then, towards the end of his ministry we read this:
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5–6, NIV)
In John 2 Jesus said:
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple He had spoken of was his body. After He was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19–22, NIV)
Israel in the time of Haggai was part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. They would see the glory of God return to the temple as He would once again dwell with them, but they was an ultimate temple which would be fulfilled in the body of Christ who was crucified and was raised on the third day to be to his people the temple of the living God: the peace of God.
- For the church of the Lord Jesus to become a power in this world again, we must focus on God’s plan, and get an understanding of God vision for his church.
- We need to understand that God has a grand plan which cannot be thwarted by any power of this world.
- For the work God has assigned to his church, God will provide the needs. He holds the nations and the riches of the nations in his hands and what He needed is to his disposal when He needs it.
- We need to get the vision of the promise of Christ who assured us that He is with us till then of the age.
- We need to understand that the Spirit of God is with us to strengthen us and guided us to the victory already belonging to our Lord.
- We need to be strong, not because it means we need to apply positive thinking. We need to be strong because the same God who rescue his people out of Egypt and provided for them is with us; He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant in Christ Jesus.
- We need to understand that we indeed have a future. Everything is not fulfilled yet, we are on our way still; but our destination is firm in Christ who is our Prince of Peace. His Kingdom cannot be shaken – and one day He will return to take us to our eternal home where there will be no temple: his glory and the glory of the Father will be our eternal light (Revelation 21:22, 22:5)
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 6th December 2015