Today we are going to conclude our preaching series on the prophets. Those stories contained in the Old Testament about people who walked by faith and not by sight. Two weeks ago, we began with Isaiah as we looked to his example of submitting to God as we focused on remembering that God must do a work in us before he can work through us. Last week, we turned to the example of the prophet Elijah as we talked about how important it is to continue following God, even when those around you don’t and how much of an impact we can have on others for God through our constant relationship with God. Well today we are going to conclude this series as we turn to Haggai to see what we can learn from this bold prophet that spoke out for people to consider how they were conducting themselves.
Image is More Than Skin Deep
I’ve got 2 gifts here this morning. (Hold up the pretty bag and the plain box) If you got a chance to pick, which one would you want to open? How many times have you been envious of someone who seems to have their life all together? We watch television and look at movie stars and their lives seem so glamorous with the money and the toys and the clothes that they have. And sometimes you run into people like this at work, or school, or even church. People who just seem to everything. But on the inside many of these people are a mess. They put on a brave façade for the whole world, but the reality is, on the inside they have hurt and pain and problems and doubts just like everyone else. What is on the outside is not always as important as what is on the inside. You can dress up the outside of a person all you want, but it’s what’s going on inside a person as far as their relationship with God that’s important.
That’s why the prophet Haggai called the people to consider their ways. And if you think about it, that’s what all of the prophets were doing. Speaking God’s truth to the people, calling them to consider what they were doing in light of what God wanted them to do. And these things are recorded for us in Scripture so that we might learn from their example and not make the same mistakes.
Consider Your Ways (Haggai 1:1-15)
To understand the significance of Haggai’s words, you have to understand what had been happening to the Israelites. The twelve tribes of Israel had split into two kingdoms, 10 northern tribes making up Israel and the 2 southern tribes making up Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had been wiped out by the Assyrians and later the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians and all but the poorest citizens were taken into captivity. Some of the most famous captives were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. On top of all this, the city of Jerusalem had been completely destroyed, including Solomon’s glorious temple.
After almost 70 years in captivity, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians. The Persian king Cyrus decided to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. He even returned many of the sacred vessels for the temple and provided all the provisions and protection for the 5 month trip of over 1,000 miles back to Jerusalem. The first group to go back arrived and began immediately on the temple. They finished the foundation but were intimidated by the Samaritans and people from the other surrounding nations. So after 6 years of work, they just stopped. More than ten years went by and the temple still lay in ruins while the people went on with their own lives, building their own homes.
And then God calls up the prophet Haggai to call the people back to their God-given responsibility. Haggai comes on the scene about 161 years after Isaiah and he ministered for only five months, yet his message to the people was very important.
In our Old Testament lesson we find the prophet Haggai questioning the people’s response that the time had not yet come for them to build God’s house. Why do they live in houses while God’s house remains a ruin? If you keep reading, it seems that things had not been going very well for the Israelites, at least not as well as they had hoped for upon their return. They’ve planted much, but harvested little; eat but never have enough; drink but never have their fill; put on clothes, but are not warmed; earn wages, only to see them slip away like they had put their money in a purse with holes in it.
And God’s message through Haggai is this: the reason for the crop shortage and other problems is because the temple of the Lord lies unfinished. Their material blessings will return when they begin working on the temple again. The governor of Judah and the high priest take these words to heart and begin trying to mobilize the people.
God then gives another message to Haggai for the people. The Lord wanted them to know that he was glad to walk with them, for them to know the joy and provision of his presence, “I am with you”, and the people were comforted by this. The people responded as the governor of Judah and the high priest led them in rebuilding. Within three weeks after Haggai’s messages, the Israelites had started rebuilding the temple.
Pleased with their response and progress, Haggai assures the people that in the seasons ahead God will bless them with abundant harvests. Furthermore, there is coming a day when nations will bring their treasures to Israel, and the new temple will be more glorious than Solomon’s, and peace will reign in Jerusalem. Although the book of Haggai does not report the completion of the temple, the book of Ezra tells us it took 3.5 years.
Haggai led the people to consider their ways before the Lord. That was a call for an intense internal searching of where they were as a people and why they were there. Haggai asked the people to make the connection between their condition and their disobedience. For us today, Haggai’s ministry and message can instruct us as we consider our ways and seek to follow God.
The Temple – A Symbol of God's Presence
The temple was the focal point of the Israelites’ relationship to God, but it was still in ruins. Instead of rebuilding the temple, the people put their energies into making their own homes. But the harder the people worked for themselves, the less they had, because they ignored their spiritual lives.
To many outsiders, it may have looked as though everything was fine after the return from captivity. Even though the Israelites hadn’t rebuilt the temple, they had built an altar for sacrifices and had rebuilt their homes and re-established businesses. Life was beginning to go back to normal. On the outside, things didn’t look too bad, but on the inside something was lacking.
So why was God so concerned about them rebuilding the temple? Because, the temple was a outward symbol of God’s presence in their hearts and lives, and the fact that they had let the temple languish in ruins said something about what was going on inside their hearts.
The plan for the temple, like the tabernacle before it, was God’s idea. It was to have a house among His people where He could dwell in their midst. When you go back and look through the Old Testament at the plan for the tabernacle, you find that it was to be the exact center of the Israelite camps with three tribes camping north of it, three east of it, three south of it and three west of it. And when God called the people to break camp and move, the tabernacle was the first thing to be broken down and lead the way, and when they got to where they were supposed to stop, the tabernacle was the first thing that was to be set up.
God wanted a house among His people – somewhere to dwell in their midst. He wanted to be at the center of their lives, and not out on the fringes.
Existing Versus Living
So often we fall into the same trap as the Israelites. We fail to remember that there is a difference between just existing and really living. It is possible for someone to live in the finest house, with the most exquisite food and drink, travel in the most luxurious way possible and still not live the kind of abundant life God that desires for each and every one of us. There are all kinds of ways to exist, rich, poor and everywhere in between. God knows we can exist in our paneled houses or lives, but we can’t really live to our fullest potential apart from him dwelling in our midst.
Our second Scripture lesson today from II Corinthians, reinforces the idea that God wants to be in relationship with us. He wants to live among us and walk among us. He wants to be our God, and have us be His people. He wants a relationship with us, like that of a father to His children. This was the way God meant life to be.
The point of the temple and the tabernacle was to provide a place for God to dwell among His people and to remind them of the place that He wanted to occupy in their lives. But II Corinthians also makes it clear that nowadays the temple of the Lord, the place where God’s presence dwells is in us, We as believers are the temples of the Lord and God dwells in us by His Holy Spirit. We will only experience the abundance of his life as we live by faith, obey Him, trust Him and surrender ourselves daily to His will.
When we put God front and center in our lives, He is faithful to be present with us and provide for our deepest needs. When He ends up anywhere else in the grand scheme of things, we can work as hard as we possibly can on our own, but our efforts will likely end up empty. It’s impossible to live the abundant life God has in store for us, when we ignore our relationship to Him and His presence in our lives.
Haggai called the people to consider their ways and we should too. When you and I look around we can only see the outside. It’s easy to dress ourselves up and look good, to look normal; but God sees what’s on the inside. He sees within our hearts.
Earlier, I showed you two packages and asked you to pick one. If you had picked the pretty wrapped up gift bag, what would you have gotten? A Ziploc baggie full of dirt and rocks. But if you had picked the plain box, you would have gotten this pretty little statue of a child resting in the palm of God’s hand.
We can make our outside as pretty and as put together as we want. But we cannot get distracted with our own plans, with building our own “houses”, to the exclusion of God and His will for our lives.
All God has ever wanted was to reveal Himself and His glory to a responsive creation, who in turn, would love Him with all their heart, mind and soul and strength and reflect Him to others throughout the world. God still longs for us to know Him and honor Him as Lord in our life.
So today, I ask you, what place does God hold in your life? If God has no place, then come here today and fix that. If God's place within you lay in ruins, then come here today and fix that. If God's place within you is being built but you need strength and encouragement to continue, then come here today and ask for it.
God wants to dwell with us. He wants us to walk with him, not ahead of him trying to control our own lives; not behind him rebelling against him and his ways, but with him; cooperating and enjoying the fellowship of the journey. May we all consider our ways and find God’s presence dwelling in our hearts.