OBEDIENCE BEFORE BLESSING.
The exiles had been back in Jerusalem for some 15 years now. They had given up their initial attempt at building but then Haggai came along and God stirred them into action through Haggais message. [Chapter 1]. Three months have now passed since they recommenced building. They had got to the point of laying the foundations.
The initial 15 years of inactivity was because they were preocuupied with their own homes –
Is it time for you yourselves to be living in panelled houses
while this house remains a ruin.[1v4]
Haggai rebukes the people for not putting God and his work before their own comforts and their own possessions.
Once they had started the rebuilding they had some among them who could remember the previous Temple in all its splendour. They spoke of the new Temple as insignificant. They became discouraged at the smallness of the Temple. They only saw the physical and God had to remind them that it was his glory that made the temple significant and not the wood and stones or the gold and silver.
Two months has gone by since God spoke to the people through Haggai. The work on the Temple has been going ahead. The building is beginning to take shape.
Between 2v9 and 10 – a period of two months – another voice has been heard.
READ Zecariah 1v1-6!!
Zechariah is sent by God to call the people to repentence. He reminds them of the stubbornness of their forefathers and God’s dealings with them.
A month after Zech. Haggai speaks to the people again in 2v10 – 19.
Why do these two prophets have words of rebuke for a people who are busy building the Temple of God. When they were building their own houses we could understand the rebuke but now they are building the Temple.
- LETHARGIC LABOURERS.
Haggai was not divorced from the people, nor was Zech., and as they mixed with the people they heard the under current of discontent. The people had been working – they had stuck to the task.
Outwardly everything was just fine but their attitude was not what it should have been. They had become weary in well doing. Their attitude was, “Well, let’s just get this work over with so we can get on with our lives”
They were doing the work but outwardly their hearts were not in the work.
Having a form of godliness,
but denying its power .. [2 Tim.3v5]
They had become half-hearted and lethargic in their work. The were like the church of Laodicea, they were neither hot nor cold.
This is a danger the every child of God and every Church of God faces. It is easy to go through religious motion, to do all the right things, to say all the right words, to be involved in this and that Church activity, to have sound doctrine but to be sound asleep.
We can be just like the returned exiles. Outwardly doing all the right things but inwardly cold and indifferent. It is a struggle that every pastor faces. To do it simply because it is my job.
HOLINESS AND CONTAMINATION.
In order to get his message across Haggai. asks the Priest two questions. The priests were the authority on the Jewish law.
The meat from a sacrifice was holy, sanctified. But it had to carried from one place to another and this was done by the priests. Whatever garment or cloth the meat was wrapped in also became holy. Lev.6v27
Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy …
Haggai’s question to the priests is, “If the meat makes the cloth holy does the cloth make whatever it touches ‘holy'” The answer is NO! The cloth has no power to transfer its holiness.
The 2nd question: “Does a person defiled by a dead body comtaminated everything he touches” The answer is YES!
In both cases the intermediary that does or doesn’t pass on its holiness or defilement.
Holiness can’t be pased on. BUT defilement can!!
“Pollution is more readily given and taken than purity” -T V Moore
ILLUST: A jar of water into which a drop of poison is put is completely contaminated.
A jar of poison into which a drop a water is put is NOT purified.
If one is well you can catch measles, chicken pox….
If one is ill you can’t catch good health.
So it is with sin. It is exremely contagious.
God takes the illustration of ritual defilement and he applies it to the people of Haggai’s time
“So it is with this people and this nation in my sight”,
declares the Lord.
“Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled” [v14]
Note that this is not Haggai’s assessment of them but it is God’s. Man sees “works”. God sees attitude.
ILLUST: Samuel choosing David to be next King of Israel – “Man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.”
The people were unclean. They had lost their zeal for God’s house. Their enthusiasm had waned. But they assumed that because they were offering sacrifices and doing God’s work everthing was alright.
Doing holy things didn’t make the people holy. Doing Christian things does not make one a Christian. Observing religious ritual doesn’t make us acceptable to God.
We are often tempted to think of ritual in relational to traditional or liturgical churches. But we face the same dangers. It is all to easy to go through the motions of being a Christian.
God is far more concerned with what we are than with what we do!!
The Jews thought that by doing God’s work they would be acceptable to God. In fact the reverse was true. Because they were defiled their work was defiled. They were defiling the Temple itself.
Sin is a very serious thing and a wrong attitude is just as bad as a wrong action. Our good woks can never, never atone for even one sin. God requires clean hands and pure hearts
He does not want sacrifices and offerings.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contite heart, O God,
you will not despise. [Ps.51v16-17]
If we try to work for God in our own strength or if we do things to receive the prasie of men then the Lord is not pleased.
The only sacrifice the is acceptable to God is the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross. And only when we are in Christ are we acceptable. Only when we come to God through Christ is our work and worship acceptable and pleasing.
PONDER YOUR PROBLEM.
When things are going wrong it is always good to stop and evaluate. Not much had gone right for the returned exiles, esp. since they stopped rebuilding 15 years before.
“You have planted much but harvested little.
You eat but never have enough.
You drink but never have your fill.
You put on clothes but are not warm.
You earn wages only to put them
in a purse with holes in it ” [1v6′
They had worked hard and followed all the right farming procedures but there was little to show for it. And even now once the harvest was in they looked at it and thought,”We will get 20 measures out of that!” In fact they only got 10!!
They looked at the grapes thinking they would get 50 mearsures of wine and the only got 20!!
Why was this so? Well farmers can planted and work hard but unless God cause the seed to grow it will not. God had warned Israel that this would happen.
“However, if you do not obey the Lord and
do not carefully follow his commands and decrees
I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you
and overtake you …..
….. The Lord will strike you … with scorching heat and
drought, with blight and mildew … [Dt.28v15&22]
God requires more than just hard work. He wants obedient followers.
ILLUST: God may bless a particular Church and it really grows. Another church sees and then tries the same method but doesn’t grow. WHY??
It would seem that at last they are beginning to hear what God is saying to them. God would not be dealing with them in this way if they were continuing in their attitude of disobedience.
Again God tells them to consider their position. NO food in storage and the harvest od wine and oil and fruit was very poor! Where does this leave them. It is the beginning of winter.
They are at the point were they have absolutely no resources of their own.
ILLUST: 1982 – Student – Janet not working. Saturday lunchtime a sandwich. no food or money for the weekend. Left flat to go back to work on the car. A cheque in the post box from a church where I had preached 3 months before but it had got lost under a pile of papers on the Treasurer’s desk.
A limited illustration of what God often does. We have to be brought to the point where we realise that we have no power of our own.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labour in vain [Ps.127v1]
The Jews were very busy building but in God’s ecomony they were getting no where. Church activities and church programmes and even lots of people is no guarantee of God’s blessing.
Man looks at the outward appearence while God looks at the heart.
Gos doesn’t want busy people. He wants obedient people. It will certainly involve work but work with a right attitude.
Once the people had changed their attitude God gives them a promise.
From this day on I will bless you [v19]
They could not see God’s blessing. They had to trust him.
They didn’t deserve God’s blessing. But if God’s blessing depended on us deserveing it then no-one would receive it. It was winter but harvest was coming and they had to take God at his word.
They had been selfish and stubborn and slow and half-hearted Their harvest had been poor for so long they probably thought it would continue that way BUT God had other plans. Because he is infinitely gracious and merciful.
We have two pictures in this passage – the Temple and the field. Both are used to speak about the work of the Chruch.
Planting and the sowing of seed is often used as an illustration of Evangelism. Like the Jews who had planted and as yet saw no sign of a crop we too sometimes have to work faithfully; planting the seeds of the gospel. Sometimes the work seems tedious and ineffective. We too like the Jews are are tempted to become weary and discouraged. We can simply go through the motions but be encouraged.
God says to us “From this day forward I will bless you!”
We can’t judge the effectiveness of our witness by outward visible signs. We don’t know what God is doing in the hearts of those we share the message of the gospel with.
ILLUST: Haven’t you ever had the experience or as least heard about a person who has be hardened against the gospel, or even openly antagonistic. And you may have even thought, “HE/SHE WILL NEVER BECOME A CHRISTIAN” Yet suddenly they respond to God.
We can’t see what God is doing beneath the surface. We are to be faithful in sowing the seed. It is God who gives the increase.
When the Jews obeyed God and laid the foundations of the Temple. When they repented and their relationship with God was what it should have been. THEN the signs of God’s blessing began to appear.
Today we, the people of God , are God’s Temple.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
In Him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
And in Him you too are being built together
to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit.
Not only are we to be sowing seeds out there in the world but we are to be building each other up in the Faith. God is concerned they we obey Him and so build up the body.
And when we do His blessing will come! When God’s blessing does come it will be great.
God to the people in Malachi’s day:…
“Test me in this” says the Lord Almighty,
“and see if I will not throw open the floodgates
of heaven and pour out so much blessing
that you will not have room enough for it.”
Maybe today you feel worn out. Maybe you wonder if it is all really worth it. Like the Jews you have worked hard and the barns are empty. Your resources are gone.
Yes, we are unworthy builders of God’s House, Our efforts are puny and our resources inadequate.
But God is saying to those who are obedient.”From this day on I will bless you”.
“Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity,
let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the
family of believers” [Gal.6v9-10]