Monday, October 5, 2015

Consumed by the Zeal for the House of the LORD (1)

 Passage: Haggai 1-2         

This is the fifth book in ‘A Sermon A Book Series’. My aim is to make the church very familiar with the whole counsel of God so that you be strengthened in faith, be stirred in your love for God, be educated in the whole counsel of God in His Word so that you and others will be made wise for salvation. I hope this will kindle a hot desire in you to read the whole counsel of God, including the OT and even the least known books.
Haggai is not among the least known – it is relatively known and is specifically recalled when mobilizing resources for putting up church buildings! Is this the context or even purpose of the book? We shall find out now. Thankfully we do not believe the church building is an equivalent of a temple, do we?
When the first wave of Jewish exiles returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in 538 BC, they began to rebuild the temple but sooner than later they abandoned this efforts and the temple lay in ruins. The Lord raised up a number of people to spearhead a revival and completion of this work. There was Zerubbabel, the governor, Joshua the High Priest and Haggai the prophet who inspired them to complete the building in 516 BC. Haggai was raised by God at this time and he gave a series of four serious prophetic messages to those who had returned from Babylonian exile, in order to stir their zeal for the things of God.

1.       Apathy and Lack of Zeal for the House of God Rebuked (1:1-11)
The rebuke: In the first message, Haggai specifically rebuked the people for their selfishness and lack of concern for the house of God. They were saying, “… the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (1:2) yet living in ‘panelled or ceiled houses’. Here we see how people generally put their needs before the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matt. 6:33). This is not something that the Lord would overlook or bless. At the heart of this attitude is materialism which is idolatry.  While they showcased sheer selfishness and apathy the house of God remained in ruins (1:4). For this they were rebuked, for indeed they had put the cart before the horse, by being more concerned for the transient, at the expense of the eternal. How has the material prosperity blurred your eternal perspective?
God’s displeasure: For this reason Haggai spelt out God’s displeasure and curses. He warned that despite their best efforts, their wealth would never suffice, because the Lord would not bless them, rather He was sending the covenant curses for breaching its terms. God was not pleased with this neglect of His temple (which was the mark of His presence in their midst) and would punish them if they did not change their ways. Do you realize that you have invited God’s displeasure by being too engrossed with the things of this world?
The challenge to resume the work: He called them to consider their ways, repent and renew their covenant with the God of their fathers by resuming the construction works. He assured them that God would achieve His purposes for His people and for all other nations. The rebuilding of the temple symbolized the restored presence and fellowship of God with His covenant people. What would be better blessing than the very presence of God, and a renewed relationship?
The favourable response: They all obeyed the voice of the Lord (v.13-14)
a)      The stirring of the Lord (v.14) – The Lord knew too well the despair that prevailed among the people and gave the promise of His presence and so stirred their spirits to obedience.
b)      The vitality of their efforts (v.14) – They did their work with all possible strength. They came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts their God. Every one, according as his capacity, ability, skill and strength was willing and eager to spend and be spent for the cause of the Kingdom of God. They did this with an eye to God as the Lord of hosts, and as their God, the God of Israel. In so doing they acknowledged the sovereignty of God and His covenant-relationship with his people by his grace.
c)       The speed of the execution of the duty (v.15) – Haggai preached to them the first sermon on the first day of the sixth month, and by the twenty-fourth of the same month, about three weeks after, they were all busy working in the house of the Lord their God. They were now convinced and they were resolved to delay no longer, but to strike while the iron was hot, and to set about the work while they were under the conviction. Surely, if you lived in such a manner that you have lost time, then you need labour in order to redeem time.
Clearly there was a united recognition that the delay and all the procrastination had been wrong and sinful. Their response shows that this was a genuine repentance. True repentance is more than words – it has to be followed by obedience.

2.       Consoling those in despair (2:1-9)
The Lord gave second message to Haggai with an aim of encouraging and so enlarging their hearts in their duty of obedience. This was meant for both the leaders and all the remnant of the people. They were called to
(1) remember the splendour and beauty (glory) of the former house;
(2) to be strong in the Lord as they work – just as Joshua had been instructed;
(3) to work and
 (4) to remember the presence of the spirit of Lord in their midst. The Lord said that He would shake the heavens and the earth and sea and dry land, and all the nations (v.7).
The Lord in this message reiterates His sovereignty over all His creation to do with it as He pleases in order to accomplish His purposes – “… gold is mine and silver is mine!” It all belongs to the Lord. Do you realize that what you call yours actually belong to the Lord? In this statement alone, we must realize that when you give towards the work of the Lord, you are not doing God any favour, rather, you are only giving back to God what belongs to Him. However, the statement here means that God was going to intervene and had already intervened in restoring the temple in order that it would be filled with glory.
When they heard the word they feared and trembled just as the Israelites did in Mt. Sinai. But, lest they should drown under the weight of that fear, God stirred them up, and made them cheerful and bold by declaring the end of the matter at hand from the beginning – The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former… in this place I will give peace (v.9). They obeyed as the Lord enabled them for obedience is what the Lord produces in us by His Spirit.
The last two messages were delivered on the same day:

3.       Completion of the temple (2:10-19)
The third message encouraged the people with a prospect of divine blessing upon obedience. There is no doubt that the Lord rewards obedience – the community was promised such a bounty harvest compared to the previous years that will be obvious that the Lord has visited His people with blessings. Haggai’s third message ties tightly with Zechariah’s message which implied that people were still struggling with achieving a non-equivocal repentance. This demanded the priests to come and explain the law of God with clarity. In this, the authority of the priests is being highlighted and recognised. They had a responsibility to explain as well as answer any questions people may have regarding the Law of God. Haggai here posed questions whose answers were too obvious to everyone in order to establish a public common ground, that ritual purity cannot be indefinitely transferred by physical means although ritual defilement can!
The first question to establish that ritual purity is not transferable (2:11-12)
Israel had originally been set apart as holy (Ex. 19:6), but that did not mean that all they did or did not do was, on that basis, sacred and so acceptable and agreeable to God. Holy status requires obedience. Even though God’s covenant relationship with them had been renewed when they returned to the land, that did not automatically convey immediate approval of all that they had done before or at the time. Even the mere presence of the temple in Jerusalem must not be interpreted to imply that divine favour rested on every one of their failures and disobedience! Too many people want to use things of God as magical charms even when they are acting in rebellion – preachers constantly shout “Praise the Lord!” even when they are just doing their own selfish bidding or preaching heresy. Many Christians constantly flash the card, ‘In the name of Jesus…’ even when they are feeding their selfish and covetous appetites. They need to know that shouting in the name of Jesus is not a magical abracadabra.
The Second question to show that sin is contagious (2:13-14)
There is no doubt that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Sin is so contagious and pervasive and so it must be amputated and killed as soon as it lifts it’s head. To know the fullness of God’s blessing they must ensure that there is no sinful corruption spreading his contagion throughout all their efforts, as good as they may be. If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law of God, even his prayers are detestable (Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:11-14).
It is instructive that the priests answered correctly to both questions. This is a mark of approval of their service in the temple because the temple would not be complete without the priestly service.
4.       Renewal of the promise of salvation by the Messiah (2:20-22)
In the last message on that day when the foundation of the temple was re-laid (v.18), Haggai was told something about Zerubbabel, the governor of the restored community. He was of the lineage of David and so was a precursor of the Messiah. He appears in the genealogies of Christ in Matthew (1:12) and Luke (3:27).
Yes, indeed, the Lord made him ‘a signet ring’. A signet ring would have identifying device or name on it, and was used to impress a clay tablet or a wax or clay seal affixed on a document. It attested ownership and was closely protected, usually worn on a person. This is remarkable blessing, bearing in mind that the Lord had told King Jehoiakim that even if he were a signet ring on His right hand, He would still pull him off (Jer.22:24). Now in reversal of that divine rejection, the Lord reveals to Zerubbabel that he is reinstated into God’s favour and that he and the line of promise he represented would be looked after with divine care. Just as a signet ring symbolised the authority of the owner, so Zerubbabel was authorised to act in the Lord’s name. In this way God would use him to authenticate his blessing to the people, as shown in the completion of the temple project (Zech. 4:9)
God chose him out of His mere good pleasure and mercy. But while being chosen by God is an immense privilege, it also came with an awful responsibility. For example, The Lord chose the Israelites to be His treasured possession (Deut. 14:2. They were chosen for the purpose of being the possession of God. God chose David to rule His people Israel (1 Kings 8:16). The purpose of choosing David was for him to rule God’s people. God chooses with a purpose.

Here, we see God’s faithfulness in choice of David and his lineage to rule His people, being perpetuated in Zerubbabel. His rule pointed the Israelites to the full realisation of the promise, ‘My servant David will be king over them’ (Ezek. 37:24) pointing to Jesus Christ. He supremely is the chosen servant (Matt. 12:18; 1 Pet. 2:4) On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval. In fact this is the ultimate and the most magnificent blessing that the Lord was to give His covenant people – to send His anointed King to rule over them and provide for all their needs, even eternal needs. He was to do this through the remnant from whom He would raise the Saviour, even Christ. It is the Messiah who is the sole basis and foundation of our hope.

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