A BRICKS AND MORTAR MAN

HAGGAI 1:1-8; 12-15 

 

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             It has been said that there are four groups of people in the world:

 

            Those who make things happen.

            Those who watch things happen.

            Those who have things happen to them.

            Those who do not know what is happening!

 

            Our minor prophet for today was in the first group of people.  He made things happen. 

            Haggai is what Biblical scholars call a post-exilic prophet - not post-mortem, but post-exilic.  That is to say, Haggai prophesied after the Jews had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and one of the things that is so unique about this prophet is how precisely we can date his message.  You see, Haggai gave us the exact date of each of his messages.  If you go on our web site and read one of my messages, it will have a date on it as to when I preached that sermon.  The same goes for Haggai.  For example, look at chapter one, verse one, on page 768 of your pew bible.  In the first verse of his prophecy we read ...

 

            In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month - in other words August 29, 520 B.C. - the world of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubabel, son of Shealtiel, governer of Judah, to Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.

 

            Now look at chapter two, verse one ...

 

            In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai saying ... and that would be October 17, 520 B.C. roughly two months after his first prophecy.

 

            Look at verse ten ...

 

            On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai ... and that would have been December 18, 520 B.C. four months after his first prophecy and two months after his second prophecy.

 

            Haggai dated his messages as precisely as I date my sermons, and that’s unique to him.  No other minor prophet dates his messages with such precision.

            Of course, the question these dates raise is this:  What was taking place over this  four month period from August 29th to December 18th that warranted these three messages?  To answer that we need to go back in time.

            So let’s get in our time machine and travel back to 587 B.C.  In that year the city of Jerusalem was overrun by the Babylonians, and as we saw last week, the minor prophet Zephaniah predicted that.  Zephaniah predicted a Day of Judgment for Jerusalem, and it came, and in typical Babylonian fashion they leveled the city.  What the Babylonians could not loot, they destroyed.  They burned down the Temple and every great house in the city.  Remember last week, how Zephaniah told the people of Judah that their gold and silver would not save them?  Well, it didn’t and the way out of town the Babylonian bullies kicked down the city walls and carried numerous screaming, hysterical citizens of Jerusalem into captivity.  What God predicted came to pass, and that’s the first thing I want us to take from Haggai.  Sometimes we force God to shake us up to get our attention.

            For years Israel had refused the One who spoke.  They refused to listen to the One who spoke through Amos and Joel and Zephaniah and all the other minor prophets we have encountered in this series.  So what did God do?  God shook them up.  God allowed the Israel’s enemies to destroy the Temple.  And let me tell you, that finally got their attention.  Having their Temple destroyed, having their city walls knocked down, having their homes burned, woke them up.

            A few years ago I read a book by Pat Morley titled The Seven Season’s of a Man’s Life.  In it Morley tells of committing his life to Christ on February 1, 1986.  At the time, upon giving his life to Christ, Morley expected God to do a little remodeling.  Morley thought God would come into his life and do a little remodeling, a little redecorating, not much though because Morley considered himself to be a great guy, God got a trophy when the got Morley.  At least, that’s what Morley thought.

            Instead, God brought Morley to his knees.  Shortly after giving all he knew of himself to all he knew of Christ, Morley’s business failed.  In other words, instead of a little remodeling, God showed up with bulldozers and leveled Morley’s life, all the way to the foundation.  God took away Morley’s business, or allowed Morley’s business to be taken away, and listen to what Morley heard God say to him,

 

            Pat, I believe that you are sincere - that you really want to live the rest of your earthly life for My will.  But you have given me so little to work with that I need to start over with you.  So I am going to have to go down to the foundation and rebuild the right way.[1]

 

            That’s what God did with Israel.  God went down to the foundation and it got their attention.  Of course, not all the catastrophic things that happen in our life are God initiated.  Sometimes it’s the work of Old Redlegs and sometimes it’s the result of our poor decisions, but other times God does send the fires of adversity to get us back on track.

            The next date I want us to keep in mind is 539 B.C. roughly fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem.  In that year, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and in a great act of compassion, the King of Persia not only allowed the Jews to phone home but also to go home.  And they did, and after returning home the people of Israel hired an architectural firm to rebuild the Temple, and construction crews started work on the Temple.  But then the people of Jerusalem got sidetracked.  So much so that for sixteen years the Temple foundation lay bare as the people turned their energies to rebuilding homes and businesses.  In other words, in their feverish efforts to get life going again, they put the Temple on the back burner.  So God called Haggai to get them back to work on the Temple.  Turn to chapter one, verse two, and we’ll read God’s specific instructions to Haggai.

 

            Thus says the Lord of Hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.  Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Is it a time for you yourselves who live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?  Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared.  You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.

 

            In other words, here we go again.  You are not prospering because you are ignoring me again.  I told you it was time to rebuild the Temple and you have haven’t listened.  So God commands,

 

            Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord.

 

            And skipping down to verse 12,

 

            Then Zerubabel, son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the Lord.

 

            And skipping down to verse fourteen ...

 

            And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, the sixth month.

 

            In other words on September 21, 520 B.C., three weeks after Haggai’s first message, rebuilding began.  That’s pretty impressive!  Preach a sermon and within three weeks - immediate results. 

            That leads me to the second thing I hope we take from Haggai’s prophecy, and it comes in the form of a question.  Why did God want the Temple?  To tell the truth, Haggai preaches such a different message compared to the other minor prophets.  Unlike the other minor prophets, no cry for social justice escapes from his lips.  He’s not at all concerned about social justice.  Instead, Haggai reeks of something that smells very much like external and superficial religion.  Instead of a concern for the poor, he calls for a major building program.  Why?  What was so important about the Temple that God asked Haggai to light a fire under the people of Jerusalem?

            Well, when Haggai calls for the rebuilding of the Temple, it is an announcement that the Lord yearns to give himself again.  That is the central message of Haggai’s prophecy - God’s yearning to enter into a covenant relationship with his Chosen People once more.  The years of abandonment and judgment are over. 

            I noticed something as a parent.  As a parent I discovered that discipline quickly needs to be followed by assurance.  When our children were young, and we needed to discipline them, we had to follow that discipline with an assurance that we still loved them.  The same thing happens when Trudy and I get into a fight.  After the fight, after the harsh time between us, Trudy will often ask, “Do you still love me?  If so, I could use a hug.”

            Now, what was she asking?  She was asking for a concrete sign of my desire to draw close to her once again.  That’s what God was doing with the rebuilding of the Temple.  It’s as if God is saying, “Let’s give this another try.  Let’s build the Temple again.  Let’s start all over.  Despite all that’s happened, I still want you to be my people.”

            God often uses concrete reminders of God’s presence.  At one time it was the Ark of the Covenant.  At another time it was the Temple, at one time it was a body, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  Now, it is this table.  By the way, it’s not an altar.  We don’t sacrifice anything here.  In the Catholic church it’s an altar, but here it’s a communion table, a reminder of God’s desire to dine with us on a regular basis. 

            And when we gather around the communion table on the first Sunday of every month God says to us, “Let’s give this another try.  Let’s start all over.  Despite all that’s happened, I still want you to be my people.”

            Let’s stand and sing.



[1] Patrick M. Morley, The Seven Seasons of a Man’s Life, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 15.