Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Those Were the Days... but the Best is Yet To Come: The Renewal of Hope in Haggai 2:1-9

“ Hope” Says Edwin McManus “lifts us out of the rubble of our failures, our pain and our fear to rise above what at one point seems impossible. Our ability to endure, to persevere, to overcome is fuelled by this one seemly innocuous ingredient called hope.”

And in the passage, we had read out to us today, Haggai, addresses a group of people who are disappointed and discouraged, who are literally in the rubble of their failure. Facing what seems like a hopeless situation.  Into that Haggai brings God’s message and that message is hope. He tells them to ‘be strong, build and not to fear” and his motivation for that is a renewal of hope in God: God’s presence, God’s providence and God’s purpose. It is the same hope that we can have today as we face  challenges in our life individually and corporately as the church. Hope because of the presence of God, hope because of the providence of God, hope because of the purpose of God.

Let’s set the scene.

As we looked at last week… The people had come back from exile in Babylon, they had come back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple and re-establishing themselves as God’s people. But it had never seemed like the right time to start the work. There were economic and political reasons for that. It hadn’t stopped them however from focusing on their own comfort and prosperity. They had finished their own houses and even started to develop a level of luxury. Eighteen years after they had come back the work still hadn’t started. So the prophet Haggai had challenged them about their priorities, he’d asked them to consider carefully their ways. To refocus on what was at the centre of their being a community, God’s presence with them symbolised by the temple. They listened and started to build and they were now the remnant that God had intended by his grace for them to be.

They started building in the sixth month, and now in the seventh month they had cleared off the site and re-established the altar and it was time to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles, when they remembered God’s provision for them in the wilderness. How God had been with them and lead them as they had built the tabernacle. It is at the end of this festival on the twenty fourth day of the seventh month that Haggai bring another word from God.

 In Ezra chapter three we have a record of such a festival which gives us insight into what is Haggai is facing. It says that at the end of the festival the people were to give a festive shout. “he is Good his Love endures forever” but as that happens we are told that those who remembered the old temple started crying as they saw what it was like now and the impossible amount of work that needed to be done and wept.

It probably didn’t help that most of those who would have seen the old temple would have seen it as a child. You know you go to a place when you are small and it seems so big and wonderful and grand, you go back later and well it seems a bit smaller and less wonderful. It didn’t help that the exiles would have been bought up on stories of the wonder of the temple and how great it was.

The people seemed to be caught up in the idea that those were the days… the best times were in the past… I went on a surf safari with a friend of mine way back in the day… and I discovered that the best time to surf was…yesterday… everywhere we went the locals said… “you should have been here yesterday, it was going off”. It got a bit discouraging. It is easy sometime to simply remember the good old days when we are faced with trouble and hardship in our lives and thing that the best days were in the past. It can sap us of hope for the future.

In churches it is easy to do that as well. We can look back to the hey day of the Presbyterian church in the 1950’s and 60’s when pews were full and the Sunday school was bursting at the seems, it was the baby boom remember. It is easy to remember that move of God that wave of the spirit, be it the charismatic movement in the 1980’s when the emphasis was on freedom in the spirit, or the spring bok tour when social justice and faith seemed to become so real, Youth group, or the camping movement and Hunua days. It is easy to think that the best days are behind us, the church has moved from the centre of community to the fringes.

Haggai starts his oracle by bring the feelings and words of the people out into the open. Is there anyone who remembers the temple. How does it look to you now? Does it look like nothing? Haggai however does not stop there he invites them to look and to see that with God the best is yet to come… the glory of this present house will be greater than the former.” The best is yet to come…

Haggai’s motivation comes from a renewal of Hope…

It comes from the presence of God. Haggai can tell the leaders Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people to be strong and to carry on building and not to fear, because God is with them. This was at the festival of tabernacles and the same God who was with his people, who bought them out of Egypt and guided them to build the tabernacle in the desert is the same God who is with them now. They were lead and guided and provide for and defended and encouraged by the Presence of God, the craftsmen who built the tabernacle were filled with the Spirit of God as it tells us in Exodus 31. The same spirit is with them, God promised to be with his people and he is faithful and keeps his promise. God’s moving in the past is not to discourage us when we are faced with a reality that seems bleak and daunting it is to remind us that God does not change.

For us the hope is the same, the very presence of God.  Jesus last words to his disciples as he commissioned them to be his witnesses was and lo I am with you till the end of the age… In fulfilment of his promise in the book of Joel, and Jesus own promise God’s spirt has been poured out on all who believe in him, God’s spirit is not just with us but dwells within us. We can look with hope to the future because of God’s abiding presence…now. We can face mountains and insurmountable situations because God is present with us.

Haggai’s motivation for the leaders and the people to be strong to build and fear not only on God’s presence but also on God’s providence. God’s acting in history on behalf of his people. Not only is God present but God is moving. We looked last week at the unstable nature of the beginning of Darius’ reign in Persia. The Persian empire was at it height, but there were revolts, where places like Egypt were wanting to break free of Persian control.  New taxes were levied to pay for putting down these revolts. But God says through Haggai, That God will soon shake the heavens and the earth and all the nations will come to Jerusalem, and the desire of all the nations will come.” God is sovereignly moving in history on behalf of his people. He had raised the Babylonians up to discipline Israel, the book of Habakkuk wrestles with the fact that God could use such a violent nation, God had raised the Persians up to overthrow the Babylonians, and the Persians had changed the Babylonian policy of exiling people from their native country, so had allowed The remnant to return. Now God is saying that he is still sovereign and will again move in a new way. The language used here points us forward to the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his kingdom. God is active in history and God is in control.

Not only that but the people would have been discouraged by the fact that to build the temple anything like it was that they would need massive amounts of money and resources. We can spiritualise the idea of glory, but in the eyes of the remnants glory meant Gold and silver. So God’s providence gives them hope because God tells them he is able to provide for them. When God calls us to do something he is able to provide us with what we need to do it. The gold and the silver are his. the picture here is of God shaking the earth and the sky and all the money and wealth coming out of their pockets and into the temple.

Ezra chapter 5 and 6 reads like the correspondence file of the government. It is like the first ever email thread. Tattani the governor of Trans-Euphrates province is opposed to the people building the temple. He writes to Darius asking him if the Persian emperor had given them permission to build. If it was todays world it would be asking if they had planning consent. He was trying to get the people in Jerusalem seen as revolting against Darius. Darius being a good bureaucrat looks back and sees what his ancestor Cyrus the first Persian emperor had said, and discovers not only had he given them permission but that the expense of building the temple would be paid for from the royal treasury. So in Ezra 6 you have a copy of his decree telling Tattani to pay all the expenses of the people while they build the temple. God’s providence and provision. We to can look to god to provide for us as we face difficulties and situations in our lives.

The third motivation Haggai gives the leaders and the people to be strong and build and not to fear is God’s purpose. “the glory of the 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. The people may have simply been concentrating on a building, but it was the focus of what God was doing to bring peace to his people. The people can have renewed hope because not only is God with them and active in history God is for his people as well. His purpose and plan is for them to have peace.  Peace in the scriptures is the Hebrew word wholeness. It infers a matrix of right relationships, with God, with ach other, with creation and with our material possessions as well. It is God’s purpose that the people in Jerusalem will know God’s presence and Glory and will have peace. In Acts 2 with the early church after Pentecost we get a glimpse of that. The community were committed to God, and in their midst no one was said to have a need as they shared hospitality and shared their possessions, god’s providence for the whole community.

God’s purpose is still for us may not be that we build a temple but that work to build the kingdom of God in our world today. To see God’s peace in the places where we live and serve. Wilbert Shenk, says that the church has tried to find renewal in many different ways. They have tried to reaffirm the central distinctives of their denominational tradition, or moved to recapture a more primitive expression of church, go back to the way it was in acts. They’ve tried to relive the past. Others try restructuring their denomination, they rearrange the past( can I say that it is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic), and others adjust their tradition to the current cultural trends, they repackage the past, But Shenk says it is only as they rediscover the purpose of God for the Church what God is doing in the world at the moment that they will find genuine renewal. It is as we see what the spirit is doing in the world today and go and align ourselves with it and work with the spirit that we will see hope for renewal and for the future, we will see God’s preferred future emerge in our personal lives and as a church.

It was easy for the people to be discouraged and weighed down thinking those were the days, the glory days are in the past… But Haggai encouraged them that The best is yet to come.  For those building the temple though they didn’t know it was the coming of God’s messiah.  The temple that the remnant built was the temple that Jesus was bought to as a child to be dedicated, it was the temple he came to as a boy and amazed the religious leaders with his genuine understanding of God, it was to this temple that Jesus drove the money lenders out of and dead he would destroy and rebuild again in three days. It was this temple where as Jesus died the veil was torn int two to signify God no longer dwelt in a building but in his people By the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy for us to have the view that those were the days… and when we are faced with the difficulties and struggles of today or seemingly insurmountable odds and the challenge of what lies ahead, it can discourage us and make us think that the best days, the glory days are in the past… But Haggai’s encouragement and motivation to be strong, build and not to fear, to have hope is that the best is yet to come, because God is with us, because God is active in history, and God is working his plans and purposes out. The presence, the provision and the purpose of God.

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