Haggai the Honorable: “Contest of Sovereignties”
11/26/2017, Christ the King Sunday
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 Kingdom, and our divisions may be healed by Your Word of love and righteousness through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One week has the Seattle Seahawks playing the AZ Cardinals, and even with their main defensive player sidelined with a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals severely.
Another week, those same Seahawks play Atlanta Falcons, and lose by a missed field goal.
Admittedly, Cardinals are no Falcons, but we wonder if Seattle will ever be consistent enough to win the Super Bowl…..
The NFL is a Game of (Touchdown) Throws.
That, and our Sermon Title, is my play on words. To avoid any copyright infringements or apparent endorsements, I am avoiding the Game of Thrones phrase as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and as we experience His role in this Contest of Sovereignties!
Today we finish reading the four prophecies in the book of Haggai, all of which take place between the months of August and December of 520bc.
Haggai lived 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, and they were being challenged to rebuild their lives, their homes, their beloved city walls, and their Holy Temple in Jerusalem!
Hear the Word of God. Haggai 2:20-23…. —-
20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 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.
23 “‘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.” (NIV)
To bring us all up to speed, and to get us all on the same page, here’s a quick refresher on where we are:
Haggai’s first prophetic word of the Lord is to “these people” is about re–prioritizing our lives back to a rightful place of knowing God as our heavenly Father who loves us.
The second prophetic word of the Lord to “these people” challenges us to gain a more godly, more divine perspective on our lives’ situations.
The third prophetic word of the Lord is addressed, first, to the priests, and then to “these people”. Using the object lesson of clean and unclean, Haggai reminds us that John Calvin’s teaching about Total Depravity is absolutely correct! “Everything they touch is defiled!” he says. This is about purity of heart; it’s about preparing ourselves to receive God’s blessings by obedience to His Word.
And today’s concluding prophetic word of the Lord is addressed specifically to the political leader, the governor of Judah, about discovering God’s perfect presence and power and purpose.
From proper priority-setting and proper perspective and purity of heart and spirit leading to understanding God’s perfect presence and power and purpose, and our place in that.
Remember the context of today’s prophecy: it is spoken to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. I wonder if Zerubbabel questioned his own role in Israel’s future as the Israelites were moving back into their “own country”. At this point in history Judah was a small, insignificant little territory, under control of the Persian Empire. Would Zerubbabel ever amount to anything more than just the governor of Judah? Did he wish he was more? He was in the family tree of, the bloodline of, King David! Did he expect, hope for, something bigger than a mere governor-ship of this small province?
And the word of the Lord comes through the messenger-prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel, telling him, “There is a big difference between things as they currently are and as they one-day will be: things now are small, difficult, discouraging; the Temple is being restored, but so very slowly; the new building is no match to the old splendor; the harvests are small, not enough; drought and mildew plague the workers; and Zerubbabel, you are in the line of King David, but you are a mere governor of a tiny community. But it will not always be this way!”
And here’s the thing. When we read this story, can we relate to anything Zerubbabel is experiencing? Is my life less than I hoped for, less than I worked for? Is it more difficult, discouraging, expensive, lonely, fear-filled than I feel like I deserve? Maybe there’s progress happening, but it is so slow that it feels like it will never get finished in my life-time? (Anybody here who has hoped for the North-South Freeway since the 1950s can relate….) What’s around the next corner? When will the other shoe drop?
But, Haggai says, “It will not always be this way!”
Ready for the disappointing part of this Good News? Who remembers when Haggai lived? [520bc] Do you think Zerubbabel ever experienced being a king? Or an expansive economy? Or a finished Temple? [He did not.]
Two or three generations earlier the prophet Jeremiah spoke of Israel’s King Jehoiachin resigning his reign over to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar. When we Google or Bible Gateway search “signet ring”, we find Jeremiah’s words to Jehoiachin, and then we find Haggai’s words to Zerubbabel which directly reverse Jeremiah’s words in verse 23: “On that day, I will take you, Zerubbabel my servant, oracle of Yahweh, and I will set you as a signet ring, because I have chosen you.”
But these words were spoken in 520bc!
This prophecy is what scholars call, both, Messianic (they foretell about the coming Messiah) and Eschatological (they talk about End Times).
Haggai tells us that Yahweh is going to shake the nations; their power will be broken; their resources will be brought to restore the Kingdom of God. He says that the future glory of the Temple will be greater than the former glory. And Haggai says that God’s servant will become God’s representative on earth (salt of the earth, light of the world!)
We know that none of these things happened in Zerubbabel’s lifetime! Zerubbabel drops completely out of site with no explanation. The Temple was finished just a few years later (Ezra 6:15 tells us that the Temple was completed in 516bc), and then destroyed again in 70ad. And Israel has yet to be its own nation with a King and no outside power control (yes, in 1948 the UN declared Palestine to be the self-governed nation of Israel, and they have their own president and prime minister, but even today, 2,500 later, it is a nation that struggles to be recognized as sovereign).
Next Sunday is the beginning of the liturgical year, the church calendar, as we celebrate the 1st Sunday of Advent in preparation for the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God. What did the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel follow the star to find? [The new-born King of the Jews!] What did Pilate ask Jesus at His trial 33 years later? [“Are you the King of the Jews?”] By the time the Book of Acts rolls around, why are the Roman Emperors feeding Christians to the lions? [Claiming that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, when, according to Roman rule, only the Emperor claimed those titles.]
You see how this is Messianic? Yeah, it was first spoken 520 years before Christ, and it was fulfilled by/through/in Jesus Christ, Yeshua Meshiach. With the coming of Christ, Haggai’s hopes for the Temple and for the King were fulfilled – and fulfilled far beyond what the people couple have ever expected.
And, while you and I live in that liminal time between Christ’s coming and culminating consummation, final fulfillment is yet to arrive.
How do you and I survive another news bulletin? How do we cope with another medical announcement? How do we handle another financial set-back, or loss of a loved one, or uncertain tomorrows, or very certain tomorrows?
We cling to the One who wore the Crown of Thorns who sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, who while we were yet sinners died for us, who is the hope of salvation.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, but every day Christ is King of all kings and Lord of all lords. There is no ultimate Contest of Sovereignties because at the name of Jesus Christ every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Haggai invites us all to believe this Good News! When we find ourselves in darkness, to reach for Jesus who is the Light of the world. And to, then, be that Light of the world for those around us to see Christ in us.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-165.