Haggai the Honorable: “Repent – Reform – Rebuild”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Holy God, You spoke the world into being. And we have sinned against You in countless ways. Pour Your Spirit to the ends of the earth, that Your children may return from exile as citizens of Your true commonwealth, and our divisions may be healed by Your Word of love and righteousness through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today we start a new, one-month sermon series on the Old Testament prophet Haggai – a man who lived about 520 years before Jesus, during a time when the Jewish people were starting to return to their motherland after being in Exile in Babylon and Persia for several generations.
Very few of those returning would have any memory of what the Temple looked like before it had been destroyed, and the memories they did have were the memories from their childhoods – you know how everything gets bigger and grander in our memories.
In about a month we are putting on a play, a musical drama, along with folks from Fellowship Church and our Just for Fun choir, that takes place during the weeks leading up the Pearl Harbor. We no longer have the same kind of eye-witness accounts of that that we had just a few years ago. Some of you remember sitting around your radio at home and listening to FDR give his “day of infamy” speech.
Haggai’s prophetic voice is pronounced to a people who, at best, have childhood memories of the “old” Jerusalem and the old Temple, but most have only the stories told by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.
This book contains four prophecies, and they all take place between the months of August and December of 520bc. We know next to nothing about this prophet, other than that he’s mentioned twice in the history book of Ezra (which also takes place at this same period of world history).
With that, let’s turn to Haggai 1, and hear the Word of God. Haggai 1:1-15…. —-
1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?)”
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
12 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.
13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. …
If you look at the Sermon Notes page, you’ll see that there are some underlined words and phrases. As we begin this series about Haggai, I wondered who this man was, and while there is no bio about him, we don’t know anything about his family, we can deduce a few things about Haggai in these verses.
As we said earlier, the Israelites had begun to return from their deportation back to their motherland when the king of Persia released them from their exile. This was a time when prophets were few and far-between. Look at how Haggai is described. What phrases are used? [Haggai the prophet – which could mean that there were several Haggais; Haggai the butcher, Haggai the baker, Haggai the candlestick-maker, and Haggai the prophet. Or it could mean that Haggai was THE prophet, like the ONLY prophet.]
What did “prophet” mean? [God’s spokesperson – often the one who delivered the hard news (read “bad” news). It’s not always that, but that is often the connotation.
What was Haggai’s message? [“Here we are trying to build/rebuild the Temple, but instead of the resources coming in to get this job done all you Israelites are spending money on your own houses/mansions!”] How do you think that message would have been heard? [It was hard/bad news!]
But now jump down to verse 13. How is Haggai described in this verse? [Not as “the prophet”, but as “messenger/angel of Yahweh”!]
Why? Why the change? Look at the message from God in verse 13: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. This is GOOD News! It was Good News to the Israelites in 520bc, it was Good News 520 years later when the Angel Gabriel told Joseph of Nazareth that this Son of God would be Immanuel – “God with us”! It is Good News in 2017 when we find ourselves struggling with cancer, with violence, with doubt, with hardships, with death. God, through Haggai, promises His people, “I am with you.” He has never taken that promise away! In fact, He made it even more real, more dependable, through His Son, Jesus the Christ, and by the gift of His Holy Spirit.
There are other underlines on your Sermon Notes page, too. These underlines highlight the descriptions of the people to whom Haggai spoke. It starts off with “these people” – not “my people”, not “my chosen people”, but “these people”. But by the end of chapter 1 “these people” turn into “the whole remnant of the people” – the people who remain God’s people.
And that shift, really, is more Good News! God’s faithfulness to His people remains!
The other book that contains the name of this honorable prophet Haggai is the history book of Ezra. Ezra and Nehemiah and Haggai all lived at the same time as when the Israelites were returning to Israel, to Jerusalem, from their captivity in Babylon and Medes and Persia.
And when they returned they returned to a country, a capitol city, and a Holy Temple that had been destroyed. It all needed to be rebuilt. And this chapter calls God’s people to work together to do that rebuilding.
It starts with repentance. Repentance from all the ways we have ignored God, forgotten God, blamed God! Repentance from our own self-centered interests and comforts when others are still suffering, when God’s Temple and God’s presence are left for last.
And repentance must always lead to reformation. Whenever we encounter the true God, we are changed. If we think we’ve had a “religious experience” and walk away unchanged, it was not a God-experience! We are created/formed in the image of God; and repentance from our sin allows/invites us to be re-created/re-formed back into the image of God.
And reformation always leads to rebuilding. In Haggai’s day it was a literal rebuilding of the Temple of God. In Haggai’s day it literally meant to stop worrying about our own paneled walls and start working on the walls of the Temple. That Temple may still receive another call for rebuilding, someday.
But for you and me, we are called to repent today. We are called to reformation, and to always be reformed according to the Word of God, every day. And we are called to continually rebuild the Church – to share our faith, to love our neighbors and our enemies, to feed the hungry, to give up our own luxuries and comforts for the sake of the Gospel! We are called to enable children in Kiminini, Kenya, to eat tonight, to go to school tomorrow, to receive health aid, to hear the Good News of God’s perfect love through Jesus Christ.
Haggai the prophet calls us to not settle for being “these people” who ignore God’s voice; but the messenger of God wants us to remain faithful so we can hear the Good News that God is, in fact, with us – always! And when we hear that Good News, we rebuild the Church by living that Good News love in ways that others around us are also built up in God’s Kingdom purpose.
As we accept the invitation to approach the Lord’s Table this morning, open yourselves enough to be filled with God’s assurance of His perfect love for you and then live your faith in such a way that God’s Kingdom building continues. Amen.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-153.