Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 21, 2022

Text: Haggai 1:2-3, 12-13, 2:6-9

Watch Service Video

Dear Friends in Christ, We are now in the home stretch of our summer sermon series on the twelve minor prophets. Three left. With this last trio we enter into a new timeframe and a new kind of message emphasis. Today’s prophet is the first of this new breed. His name is Haggai, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote a short little two chapter book that bares his name.

To help us better understand the context of his ministry and how he fits in with the other minor prophets, background information is important. We’ll begin by very briefly reviewing some key dates and events.

After the “Golden Age” of the great kings David and Solomon (approximately 1000 to 930 B.C), things began to unravel. Politics and personalities got involved, and the once united Kingdom of Israel split into two geographical nations. The northern half retained the name Israel, the southern half called itself Judah (later known as Judea). Each kingdom had its own set of kings.

Sadly, after the split both kingdoms grew increasingly distant and disobedient to God and his Word. In his patience and love for his wayward children, God raised up prophets (among them the minor prophets) to warn the people. Their message was generally the same: repent and return to God. Failure to do so would bring God’s disciplinary judgment on them.

Still, there were always lights in the darkness. Liberally sprinkled within these foreboding pronouncements were uplifting promises of the Messiah who was to come, and who would make all things right through the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God in heaven.

The prophets did their work. But the plea of those working in the Northern Kingdom fell on deaf ears completely. In the year 722 B.C. it was conquered by the nation of Assyria, and the ten tribes that made up the nation of Israel never returned.

The kingdom of Judah was more receptive to the message of their prophets. They listened. At least, for a while. But eventually, they, too, brought God’s judgment upon themselves. This time the nation God used was Babylon. The conquest began before then, but the final nail in Judah’s coffin was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The people were led away. Bible historians and scholars call this period “the Babylonian captivity.”

God is always faithful to his promises. Earlier in time he promised the Savior would come from the line of David and the land of Judah (where Bethlehem is located). Therefore, he declared through the prophet Jeremiah that the people would return to their homeland after 70 years.

Which is exactly what happened. God orchestrated world events and the people of God (not all, but some of them), left Babylon and went back to the land of Judah. Meaning the period of judgment God had warned the people about through the prophets was over and had given way to the restoration God had promised them, also through the prophets.

Yet, that didn’t mean all was well spiritually and they didn’t need spiritual guidance. They did. This is where Haggai fits in. He’s the first of what we call the post-exile prophets. God used him to convey an important message to his recently returned people. We might consider it

A CALL TO REMEMBER

Three things in particular. We’ll point them out along the way…

Returning to their homeland was certainly an answer to the prayers of God’s people. However, the Judah they came back to was different from the one they left. Their prolonged absence meant they had to reestablish themselves personally and spiritually.

The Temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed had always served as their central place of worship and the visible reminder that they were first and foremost the people of God. Naturally, one of the first orders of business upon their return was to rebuild it.

But twenty years later and for various reasons, they were dragging their feet. This takes us to the opening verse of our text: This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” Followed by: Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai.

God was very direct with his people in Haggai’s message. He told them this delay was unacceptable. There may have been certain obstacles that impeded progress (the Book of Ezra talks about this), but God told them the main deterrent was themselves.

To be specific, they had become self-centered rather than God centered. They were so busy taking care of their own interests that they put off the rebuilding of the Temple for a more convenient time – whenever they decided if and when that would be. We can almost hear them say something along the lines of “first things first; we’ll get to the church stuff later.”

Regarding this matter of timing, God asked them this rather pointed question: “Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Furthermore, God told them that it was because of their self-centeredness that he had withheld or limited his blessings upon them. They worked and worked, but never seemed to have enough.

So, God made very clear the reason why the Temple had not been rebuilt: they had their priorities all wrong. The very first and foundation of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods.” But they dethroned him and enthroned themselves. God became secondary in their lives – and he didn’t pull any punches in letting them know this. That’s the first thing God wanted his people to remember: their priorities.

How did they respond to this rebuke from God? Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord.

This is one of the relatively rare occasions when, instead of getting defensive, God’s people listened, repented, and changed their ways. Far from placing themselves at a personal disadvantage by putting God first, God promised to bless them with something they should have known but had forgotten: his abiding presence in their lives. This was nothing new. However, it was something they needed to be reminded of. That’s the second thing God wanted his people to remember: his overriding presence in their lives.

A shift now took place. The people committed themselves to the work of rebuilding the Temple. This was good. But God wanted them to remember this wasn’t just about a building made of bricks and mortar. This Temple was a reminder of a far bigger picture God had for his people – and all people.

“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. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘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.”

According to Ezra (whose book coincides with this portion of Old Testament history), we’re told that when the foundation for this second temple was laid some of the older priests and Levites and family heads wept, because they remembered the magnificence of the first (Solomon’s) Temple. They were grateful, but they knew it would never compare to what once was.

But God says, don’t fixate on the externals. And don’t fixate on how ornate it is or how much money it’s going to cost you (after all “the silver is mine and the gold is mine”). Rather, consider what this Temple represents – the fulfillment of every single promise of God.

And the most glorious, earth-shaking promise is that the promised Messiah will come (“what is desired by all nations will come”). “And in this place – because of the promise of the Savior that is proclaimed here and his work which is foreshadowed with every sacrifice made at this Temple – I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty. That’s the third thing God wanted his people to remember: the peace he provides in the Savior.

We know, of course, the three things God called his people to remember through the ministry of Haggai were not for them alone. God’s Word is timeless, and these words and encouragements are for us as well. Let’s talk about them.

God asks us to remember where he fits in our priorities. He asks this because he knows how easy it is for us to relegate him to a secondary status. We would never say that out loud, and it may not always be intentional, but it happens. We have time pressures and family pressures and scheduling pressures and financial pressures, and each of us deals with some or all of them. And sometimes they can make our spiritual lives (church attendance, Bible class attendance, personal devotional life, etc.) get out of whack. Or we can put them off until “a more convenient time.” We let the urgent take precedent over the important.

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (that we worry and scurry about) will be given you as well.” In other words, Jesus says to us what God said to the people through Haggai: You take care of my interests (and my interest is you), and I’ll take of yours. Because both of our interest will then be in line…

Which is the second thing God wants us to remember: His abiding presence in our lives. I’ve told this story before. In one of my first adult confirmation classes as a young pastor I had the privilege of instructing a young lady who literally had no spiritual background. The Holy Spirit worked through the word, she professed her faith and became a member of our church. I remember asking her shortly after her confirmation if she could articulate what was different now in comparison to before we began. Her answer: “I never feel alone.”

The world and the future can sometimes be scary. That’s why God wants us to make him a priority. So we remember we’re never alone.

Finally, God wants us to keep the big picture in mind and remember the peace he provides.

What kind of peace? The peace of a restored and right relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins. The peace of knowing that though our sins are like scarlet, in the eyes of God we are white as snow because of what Jesus Christ has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. The peace of knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The peace of knowing where we’re going when we close our eyes for the final time on this earth, and who it is that guides and directs us in our lives until that time. In the words of the hymnist, peace like a river that courses its way wide and deep through our souls.

Haggai is a little book with a big message. Today God calls us to remember our priorities, his abiding presence in our lives, and the peace now and forevermore that only he can provide through Jesus Christ, who often said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Amen.