Series title: From wrack and ruins to blessings and beauty
- Revelation 5
- Haggai 2:20-23
Dear brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
In just more than a week this year will be history. The old calendars will disappear from our walls and the back of our doors, and we will replace it with new one for 2016.
Some of us will then write in the major events in our family life, like birthdays and anniversaries. We do it because these dates are markers of our earthly journey: it will be thirty eight years since we got married; it will be so many years since our first child was born, and so many years since the first grandchild was born. On those days we will give special thought to the occasion, and we will thank the Lord for every day, month and year He has added to our lives.
The book of Haggai has a few markers on the calendar. It starts with 29 August 520 when the prophet delivered the first message from the Lord to them. They were struggling to keep the cash flow going after their return from Babylonian exile: crops failed, pestilence chewed the crops away, and what was left the drought and inflation slurped up. Haggai showed them what their problem was: they had their priorities wrong – God was shoved to the back-burner, and their own interests were high on their wish list. Get this right, his message was, and God will take care of the rest. His words were:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (Haggai 1:5, NIV)
Only a few weeks later, after the Lord stirred their hearts and the hearts of the leaders, on 21 September 520, what they thought was impossible, happened: they found time and money and began the work of the temple.
Another month away, on 18th October 520, the word of the Lord came to them again. This time it was to encourage them:
“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. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:6–7, NIV)
This spurred them on to keep working in spite of severe opposition, and on 18 December 520, now almost finished with the work, or at least after the groundwork was done, the word of God came to them again: He requires holiness from his people, and – as we saw last week – this is only bound to the altar and the sacrifice. For as long as they understood that they cannot meet the demand of God to be holy by themselves, but only by continued sacrifice and salvation by the blood of the sacrificial animal as God demanded, and therefore living in the right relationship with God, He would be pleased with them. A new temple means nothing if the people worshipping there are not made new.
From our perspective after the cross of Christ, it means our continued relationship with Christ as we cling to his righteousness: only then have we become royal priests as Peter puts it:
As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5, NIV)
Mark this date
Then, as we have read this morning the word of God continues:
“ ‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. (Haggai 2:15, NIV)
As if God takes them back to the days when they had their priorities wrong, He reminded them of their failures. Nothing worked out, everything failed. But now, with priorities restored and with God having restored their relationship with Him, things are going to be different.
‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: (Haggai 2:18, NIV)
Go to your calendar and circle this date and take God on his word, ponder what He says and what He promises.
‘From this day on I will bless you.’ ” (Haggai 2:19, NIV)
We need to be careful to not fall in the trap of the so-called prosperity Gospel here. Where this so-called gospel is teaching is not much different to the teaching of the Roman Church before the Reformation when sinners, loaded with guilt of their sins and the sins of those who died outside of grace, were told that if they put their money in the collection basket, grace will come to them in all sorts of ways. Prosperity Gospel may not be as blunt, but where it goes wrong is their teaching is that the grace is not the main thing. This theology attracts people not through teaching that Christ by forgiving us from our sins, restoring us as God’s children, giving us far more than what we even can dream and fathom in the sense of a new family in Christ, and granting us a place in heaven. Their teaching almost bypasses the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and draws a straight line between the good things I do, more so in terms of giving money, and the output of ever greater blessing in the form of earthly possessions. If I follow Christ and serve Him with my money, He will give me more money and earthly possessions. It’s almost like the people who followed Jesus only because of the bread and the food He provided.
This is not what this passage teaches. What it does teach is that without God, even what God provides in the form of earthly blessing, has no value – it will eventually loose all value. On there contrary, holiness because of Christ’s cross and our clinging to that righteousness pulls everything in life into meaning: what we gain in Christ has eternal value. But more than that: we may expect God to, by his grace and mercy, add to our spiritual blessings; but we understand this life from our perspective from eternity, and not the other way round. A ploy of the devil is to make us think that we need to have everything here and now, and if we don’t get it, well, then there is something wrong with God.
No, the blessings promised by God were strictly connected to the rebuilding of the temple. And it was not primarily their achievement, but the glory of God which was now in their midst. That was the reason for their future blessings.
The servant king
To mark the day of blessing is to look at Christ, our servant King. This is what the second part of the sermon of Haggai wanted to teach the people on the 18th of December 520:
I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. (Haggai 2:22, NIV)
This verse pointed to the work of God and not to the power and achievements of Zerubbabel. Their change of heart to begin with the building of the temple was because of the stirring of God and the encouragement through his word by the prophet. Now, in the same way, what was about to happen, was God’s work again.
God would do wonderful things in and through Zerubbabel, all because God chose him.
“ ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:23, NIV)
Who was this man, this Zerubbabel? He was the son of Shealtiel and thus grandson of King Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin was appointed king of Judah by the Babylonians following the revolt and death of his father Jehoiakim who was king of Judah. He was the son of Josiah whose place he took at the command of Neco II of Egypt. His name was changed from Eliakim to Jehoiachin. Why is this so important? Well, it is important to understand that God was true to his promises to David that there would also be one of his descendants on his throne.
For the returned exiles it almost looked like God had forgotten David. But now, after the exile, God remembered and made true his promises. There was only one son left – one to continue the line of David. Now God renewed his covenant with the words: “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.”
This promise is directed primarily to Zerubbabel, the Lord’s representative, in order to help him supervise the work on the temple, control the whole community and stand firm in faith amid the surrounding turmoil. The verb ‘take’ emphasizes the Lord’s choice, his special election and appointment of Zerubbabel. He will advance, honour, defend and own the adopted leader of his people.
Zerubbabel was not only ‘governor of Judah’ (2:21) but also ‘my servant’. This title was given to David. Zerubbabel, a descendant of the line of David, will be heir to the throne of his forebear and predecessor, David, because he will have an absolute and universal reign.
A ‘signet ring’ was a token of authority that was worn by the king either on his right hand or on a chain around his neck. It was engraved with the monarch’s seal, and used to endorse official documents and decrees. It was the legal representative of the man himself and corresponded to the throne.
Zerubbabel would re-establish the throne of David, re-establish the Israelites as God’s chosen people, and as such the people of God would be a blessing to the peoples around them.
Oh, how great are the promises of the faithful God. No worldly king or authority can stand in his way. He will have his kingdom come. Mark this day: it is written in the plans of God as the day of the Lord.
The unbreakable link
When Matthew wrote his gospel, he thought it good to begin to explain God’s plan though the generations. We don’t like genealogies, but listen to this:
After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, (Matthew 1:12, NIV)
Matthew worked his way through the generations from Abraham, through Zerubbabel and ends it with these words:
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16, NIV)
Even Luke, the good doctor who “searched carefully everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3) writes:
the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, (Luke 3:27, NIV)
Luke began with Jesus, worked his way through Zerubbabel and ended up with Adam.
God’s unbreakable link of promise to give his people One who would crush the head of the serpent and deal with the enemy of the cross, worked itself out through the returned exiles from Babylon, their leaders, Zerubbabel, and all the way to Christ. And if Zerubbabel wore the signet ring of God, then, Jesus was the signet ring of God.
We have seen the glory of the Father! The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, NIV)
The blessings the Bible is referring to in Haggai were not primarily a better price for the grain, or a better economic climate, or a bigger house, and more cars and a fat bank account; no, it pointed forward to the blessing in Christ.
Of Him we have read this morning:
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9, NIV)
And to his coming again we are looking forward. The earth and the heavens will be shaken when He comes to judge the living and the dead: The Rider on the white horse will sit victoriously on his galopping horse as He overthrows the thrones of them who resisted his kingdom:
Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:15–16, NIV)
This is the Christmas Child. Let us worship Him.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 December 2015