This is the last of our short look at the short almost obscure book of Haggai. It may have seemed rather a strange place to kick off the year, but I believe that Haggai has got a lot to say to the church today. The church in the west, which I said last week has been struggling with decline, falling numbers, understanding our purpose and mission, waning vitality for almost as long as I have been alive. And this church as we have had to ask questions about viability and where to from here… We’ve called the series “out of the Ruins Renewal” because Haggai deals with rebuilding and re-establishing the temple in Jerusalem and behind that restoring the rag tag remnant that had come back from the exile as God’s people. It has to do with renewal… with God doing something new, and I believe that is what God is starting to do here in our midst… God is wanting to bring renewal to us… as I finished last week by saying… It’s not that the future’s so bright you just gotta wear shades… rather there is hope for the future because God is with us… God is working his plans and purposes out in us… renewing our sense of Mission and vision for who we are and what we are called to do.
Just like with Haggai at the core it wasn’t about a building, it wasn’t just about the temple it was about a restoration and renewal of relationship between God and his people. At the core of what God is wanting to do is renew and refresh our relationship with Christ. That is what makes us a people, a family. That is what gives us our purpose and passion, that is what enables and empowers us to make a difference in the community, city country and world around us.
Haggai had started by calling the people of God to think carefully about the way they lived. They had come back from exile and had focused on rebuilding the economy… on material prosperity and Haggai had told them that they should change that priority that fullness of life came rather from putting the spiritual first, putting God first in their lives individually and communally, symbolised by rebuilding the temple. The challenge for us in a society with its focus on material well being and standard of living is the same, we need to hear the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount… put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… and all these things will be added to you. Its easy to simply have the same values and priorities as the world around us but God calls us to live a different way. As they decided to change God sent a message of encouragement “I am with you says the Lord”
Then Haggai had spoken to the people as they started to build the temple. He challenged the way people were being discouraged as they looked back and thought that the glory days were in the past. How could what this rag tag group was doing now be anything like the old temple, built at the height of Israel’s power as an empire. Where were the resources going to come from. Haggai says they can work and look forward to the future, even when it seems hard now because God was with them… Take courage he said to the leaders and the people and build, do the work you are called to do… because God is with you. They are also reminded that the gold and the silver are God’s that God is able to provide the resources for what he calls people to do. Yes they had to do the work they had to have a sense of vision for the future but at the core of that was trusting God. We can trust God for the future here because God is with us… Jesus said as he gave his disciples and us the great commission… the thing that makes it possible is the lo I am with you till the end of the age.
The reading we had today is a series of three oracles that Haggai has for the people in Jerusalem… that reflect on that restoration of relationship. Like all Haggai’s prophecy they are very time and place specific. In this case all three come on the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the Persian emperor, just a couple of months after the last one. We know it is three oracles because the date is mentioned three times.
Unlike last week we do not know the occasion. Scholars have suggested that it is the celebration of a milestone in the restoration of the temple. In v 18 it talks about the laying of a foundation stone. Maybe they had cleared away the rubble off the existing foundation and now they stopped to celebrate the first stone being placed on that foundation.
We know what would have been happening in terms of the agricultural calendar, it was late autumn and the crops had been planted and the fruit trees would not yet have borne their fruit, maybe the people had chosen this day to gather to celebrate the end of the planting and to pray for God’s blessing on the harvest to come.
Haggai’s first oracle is a warning. It comes in the form of two questions about ritual purity. Does the meat of a sacrifice when its carried in the garment of a priest sanctify another thing that it touches? The priests reply is no… That holiness is not contagious, it does not rub off. The second question is the opposite if someone touches a dead body do they become ritually unclean. The answer is yes. You may remember from Jesus parable of the good Samaritan, that the priest on their way to Jerusalem crossed the road to the other side not wanting to risk becoming unclean. Haggai’s conclusion is to remind the people that they are in need of being put right with God.
The passage has been interpreted by some scholar to refer to the episode in the book of Ezra about an offer of help from the Samaritans to rebuild the temple… which is turned down because they are of mixed heritage. There is much in the Nehemiah narrative about purifying the people from outside influences. But it also speaks at a deeper level. It is easy to think that we are made right by God through our work. That by building the temple the people had somehow been made righteous. Haggai reminds them that is not the case. That that right relationship from God does not come from what we do. It does not come because we do religious stuff, the right stuff. It would have been easy for them and for us to think like that, rather Haggai points to the fact that we need to have our whole lives made right with God, it comes from a changed heart… and that comes rather from what the Lord has done for us… God’s grace and forgiveness. The people had shown their repentance by changing their priorities and starting to build the temple, but that was in response to God’s saving acts to them. God had called to be his people way back as he led them out of Egypt, he had done it again when he bought them back out of exile.
We are put right with God not because of what we do but because of what the Lord has done for us. God’s grace and love shown to in Jesus Christ. It is as we turn to him, that we are restored, what we do flows out of knowing God’s grace, his forgiveness, his spirit at work in our lives.
The second oracle is a promise of blessing. Haggai reminds them of what it was like before they turned to God and began rebuilding the temple, that they were suffering drought and famine, that they things were not going well for them, they expected prosperity but rather because their relationship with God was not right they were enduring difficult situations. Haggai now promises that God will bless them. Now they have started the work of rebuilding the temple that God would prosper their ways. The crop they had just planted would be plentiful the tree that lay bare would bear good fruit.
Now it may seem that God was being treated like an Ancient near eastern fertility God here. We do these things to please God and god will bless us with Good things. We make the right sacrifices and we can manipulate God into being good to us. But after the warning Haggai had just given that false understanding was dashed. Rather we see that God makes the promise to bless his people, as they have turned back to him. It has to do with God’s faithfulness to his covenant rather than the people deserving it or earning it. God loves to bless his people.
We spent about ten weeks last year going through the beatitudes at the beginning of the sermon on the mount and we saw that God blessings and God’s Kingdom as for those who knew their need for God, the spiritually poor, those who hungered and thirst for Righteousness, those who mourned, the humble and the meek. At the core it is God who blesses those who know their need for him and turn to him. It is God’s grace, his mercy, his goodness.
The setting of a foundation stone in Zion is picked up in the new testament to talk of Jesus as the foundation for us as living stones being built into the dwelling place of God as we turn to him.
The final oracle from Haggai is different than the other two, its on the same day but a personal one for Zerubbabel , But again it has to do with the restoration of relationship and God’s covenant faithfulness. Zerubabbel as well as being the Persian governor is a member of the Judean royal family a descendant of David. God had promised that a descendant of David would rule in Zion forever in Jeremiah 22:24 as God is allowing the Babylonian empire to conquer Jerusalem, there is a word to Jehoiakem the king saying even if you were my signet ring I would take you off my hand. There seems to be a breaking of that relationship, but here God is restoring that. Zerubabbel may only be a governor appointed by Persia but he is being told that he is the heir of God’s promise to David this relationship is now renewed this promise is renewed for Zerubabbel, he is god’s choice to rule. Not only that but this passage looks to a time when God will establish his kingdom it has messianic expectations. Zerubbabel is mentioned in Jesus genealogy in both Matthew and Luke’s gospel. He takes his place in God’s saving act in history, this restoration of relationship looks forward to a greater king. For Zerubabbel God’s promises and God’s covenant faithfulness becomes real. It isn’t something in the past but steps into a very concrete time and place in his life. It’s not just part of family folk law and tradition, but part of his life right here and now. He encounters and experiences for himself the grace and favour of God.
People at the core of renewal, of restoration is relationship with God. Is turning to God again, showing that by making it a priority in our lives and doing the things God has called us to do. It’s based on the covenant faithfulness of God, shown to us by the sending of Jesus Christ to live die and be raised to life again. It maybe that you are here with us and part of church because of family tradition, or maybe you feel like your relationship with God is based on doing stuff to try and please him. Or you know that that relationship with God has slipped from being a priority, its as if its become a ruin or you feel that you’ve some how been in exile away from God’s love and grace. Today I want to give you the opportunity to think carefully and to return . I want to invite you to rededicate yourself to Christ today. If you feel you don’t need to great. But as I said before the core of renewal of what God is wanting to do here is rekindle that knowing and being known by God in our lives.
So I’m going to pray and then I’m going to invite us to stand and sing in response the song when I survey the wondrous cross which invites us to commit our lives afresh to Jesus in response to what he has done for us. Then I’ll simply ask if there are people who wish to make a commitment or recommitment to Christ today to put their hand up. And I will lead us through a prayer.