Did you see the surprise in these verses? God has called these returned exiles to rebuild the temple (ch1), to put him first and start rebuilding rather than building for their own comfort. And they have (1:12-15). Now twelve weeks after they began rebuilding Haggai comes to them with another message from God. But it’s not a well done, it’s not a thank you for all your efforts. God doesn’t give his Oscar acceptance speech thanking all those who worked behind the scenes on his temple. No, God’s message is a warning that the problem of sin still remains, building the temple hasn’t solved the problem of sin but the great news is that he will deal with sin.
See the seriousness of sin
God through Haggai gives the people questions to ask the priest about the law.
Q1. (11) If holy meat is carried in the fold of a garment, as they often did, and it touches some bread, stew, wine, olive oil, or other food does the thing touched become holy? In other words is holiness contagious? The answer is no.
Q2. (13) If someone who is defiled, made unclean, by touching a dead body touches those items of food does the food become defiled? Is defilement, sin, contagious? The answer is yes.
God applies that lesson to the people (14) “So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,” declares the LORD, “whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”
Sin defiles, sin is serious, sin and its effects linger. That must have been devastating to these Israelites. Ch1 opens with Israel in rebellion against God, with them putting other things before him. Living for their comfort and ease and ignoring God and his discipline, but they have repented, they have changed and begun rebuilding. But the danger for them now was in thinking that building the temple had atoned for their sin. But it doesn’t and God graciously wants them to be clear about that. He loves his people so much that he is not prepared for them to have false comfort, to wrongly think they are right with him.
A good deed, even a great deed, doesn’t cancel out sin. God isn’t a divine auditor balancing the books. Haggai shows us that God is not how our society so often thinks of him. One of the jobs I had growing up on the farm was to help riddle, weigh and bag potatoes. We had a brilliant set of great big wooden scales, big enough that as children we could stand on them. On one side you’d put a 25kg weight, on the other you would put the potatoes and then put more in or take a few out to get the scales to balance. That is the way our society tragically thinks of God. That as he weighs up our life the big question is are there more good deeds than bad? At funerals you hear that when people say the deceased was a good man he did this or that or the other, they are weighing the deeds, almost trying to convince themselves the good outweighs the bad, believing or hoping that God thinks like that. It’s an idea popular in films like Saving Private Ryan and Seven Pounds and others.
But God won’t let Israel fool themselves with that thinking, and we mustn’t let people fall into that same muddled thinking. We can never make ourselves right with God.
And God doesn’t want us to be fooled either, because that’s also a danger for us. When we sin we don’t need to do penance, to try and make it up to God. Tragically it’s one of the places our Catholic friends go wrong isn’t it, thinking Jesus sacrifice alone isn’t enough. In fact it’s dangerous if we try, because we are effectively cut ourselves off from forgiveness because we’re trying to do it by our own efforts. And that means we will never run to Jesus and the forgiveness we find at the cross.
I wonder if there’s another warning here about the danger of living off past actions. Our faith has to be growing and going. If it is static or backward looking there is a problem. Repentance isn’t a one off it’s a lifestyle.
Similarly we mustn’t content ourselves that our acts of discipleship are in the past. We look back to the days we carried our cross. But I once... great but that doesn’t atone for your sin. We must never take the approach.
Israel cannot atone for their sin. Sin is too serious, too contagious, too damaging for us to ever make it right. Atonement is all by God’s mercy, that is what the sacrifices at the temple pointed to even as they pointed forward to Jesus.
God wants Israel to be clear so that they will run to him for mercy, not rely on inadequate attempts at self atonement. We must make sure we and our friends and family are clear on that. Sin is serious only Jesus can atone for it.
See the richness of Grace(15-19)
But that’s not the only thing about God Israel need to learn. Three times in v15-19 God calls Israel to “consider”, or think carefully about the events of the past and present. It’s a word that focuses on the heart – weighing the heart, motives, emotions, and reactions, as well as actions and events. First of all he asks them to think back to the events of chapter 1when there was no harvest because of their sin and God’s discipline(15-17). Then in (18-19) he calls on them to think about the present, has the situation changed? Do they have a harvest? The answer is no – there’s still no seed in the barn. The vine, fig tree, pomegranates and olive tree haven’t produced a harvest. It’s 12 weeks since they started rebuilding the temple but still there is no harvest. Why?
After all they are now obeying God, they’re doing what he asked them, so surely blessing should follow shouldn’t it? On the day they started rebuilding they should have seen harvest shouldn’t they? Why hasn’t there been a harvest in the last 12 weeks? God’s people have obeyed so they should be being blessed now shouldn’t they?
It isn’t just Israel who are tempted to think about God like that is it? God as divine vending machine, we put our spiritual pound in and expect to get out what we ask for. Sometimes we pray like that. Pray for something and expect the exact immediate answer we want, and if not start wondering what we’ve done that’s causing the divine logjam. Sometimes we do it in thinking we can make a deal with God, God if you do this I’ll do that.
Is God testing the genuineness of their repentance? Maybe, after all sometimes we follow God and obey because we want something out of it, building our own kingdom even as we give the impression of building God’s.
But I think God is showing Israel and us something far bigger. That he doesn’t owe us, we can never put him in our debt. Just as we can’t earn his mercy we can’t earn his grace and blessing. Obedience doesn’t obligate God to bless.
God provides everything by his grace, it’s not deserved and earned. One of our big issues as a society is that we think we are entitled; entitled to an education, entitled to health, entitled to food, to comfort, to ease, to wealth. As Christians we’ve assumed we are entitled to live persecution free, to be protected by law, to be free to proclaim the gospel. The problem with entitlement is that we expect those things, forgetting that they are God’s blessings. We have not earned them they are all of God’s grace.
We need to be careful here that we don’t take and twist this so that God becomes an ogre, a divine monster or scrooge who we have to wring blessing from unwillingly. No look at v19, “From this day on I will bless you.” Here’s the question do Israel deserve God’s blessing? No. Yes, they have started work on the temple. Yes, they are rebuilding, but they are still sinners, they are still in debt, they are still spiritually bankrupt. They haven’t done anything to deserve blessing. They are totally dependent on God’s grace.
We desperately need to learn this lesson. God is a good gracious loving God who loves to give. We see that around us every day, when we wake up and draw breath, every moment when we experience good health, or even ill health but medical care. But we never earn it, we haven’t done anything to deserve it, it is purely because of the gracious loving character of God.
And that ought to humble us, it ought to shake us from our complacency. We haven’t provided it for ourselves, even if it may look on the surface like we have. We have been given it, blessed by a loving heavenly father. And that ought to make us profoundly thankful as we experience God’s everyday undeserved grace to us. Can you imagine how counter cultural that would make the church? A humble, thankful people in a grumbling, grabbing world.
Set your hope on the kingdom that God builds(20-23)
(19)Ends with a promise of present blessing, undeserved but graciously given. But God’s not finished yet, he wants them to also have hope for the future. (20-23)Lift the people’s eyes and hopes up from present blessing to future blessing and calls them to live now looking and longing for God’s future. A day when that sin, which infected everything, is dealt with when God’s kingdom will come because his king will come.
Turn to 2 Samuel 7v12-16. Here David wants to build God a house. But amazingly God says that instead he’ll build David a house. A house and kingdom which never ends. Where a new king of David’s line will rule forever over everything in a new way.
That promise looked in doubt when the Babylonians swept into Judah and carried the people into exile. When the Davidic line was swept from the throne. In Jeremiah 22:24 God is pictured tearing his signet ring off his finger and giving it to Babylon. The signet ring is the king from the line of David who is taken into exile. Now the exiles are back but that promise still looks so tenuous, so fragile – like the petals on a rose in the burning heat of the sun, or a family heirloom in the hands of a toddler.
But look here at the promise(22-23), God is going to shake the heavens and the earth and re-order the world. And God will take Zerubbabel who he will make his signet ring and God’s servant, chosen by God. All language used of David and of the Davidic dynasty and king. Zerubabbel is of the line of David and God is saying that he is not finished with the Davidic line and promises yet.
Zerubbabel is God’s signet ring, he has been God’s representative, God’s leader, he has brought Israel back to God, led them to rebuild the temple, against the wishes of their opponents, re-establishing God’s shadow kingdom on earth. But Zerubbabel is just a type, a sign, a foreshadowing of a greater Davidic king, one who will be the Messiah, the king who will bring God’s kingdom.
In Matthew 1v12-13 we see Zerubbabel in the line that leads to Jesus the one who would deal with sin once for all, grace personified. Turn on to Hebrews 12v26-29, the pastor helps us see that this is pointing to Jesus second coming. Jesus is the one who will shake the heavens and the earth, overturning rulers, throne and powers(22). A shaking which happens once at the cross, when the powers are defeated and finally when he returns and his reign which begins at the cross is established fully. When every opponent will be forced to confess him as the king they refused to bow the knee to. But when God’s people whose sin has been atoned for by grace will know God’s presence, God’s rule, God’s kingdom which is unshakeable and finally seen as the only unshakeable kingdom.
We need to fix our hope on the coming kingdom, to listen to his voice and not reject his warnings, to live lives of worship.
God’s present blessing is never deserved, God’s grace and mercy are not earned they’re a gift from God. Just as salvation and his kingdom aren’t earned they are a gift from God in Jesus. And that ought to make us profoundly grateful. But that is not all we have, we have the promise of an unshakeable kingdom to come. And we are to live now looking and longing for the kingdom, hopeful and grateful for what God is doing and what he certainly will do. Even as we enjoy living at peace with God as we were made to be.
Don’t despair, don’t drift, don’t give up or give in. Put your hope in God, in his coming king, in the kingdom he will bring. A kingdom we cannot earn our way into but which is given by God’s grace and mercy shown to us in the king who will die for his people, and rise again guaranteeing our new life.