Habakkuk 2:2-20 – Hoping in God When the Present Seems Hopeless

HOPING IN GOD WHEN THE PRESENT SEEMS HOPELESS

 

HABAKKUK 2V2-20.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Have you ever had doubts? Have you ever doubted God? Does he really exist? Does he care what is going on in the world? Does he even know what is going on in the world? How could God allow the holocaust? Bosnia? Chechenya?

 

On an individual level – how come Christians get cancer? lose loved ones in tragic accidents?

 

Have you ever been in a discussion with a non-christian and they ask “How come a good God allows bad things to happen, esp. to good people?” And you are at a loss for words!!

 

Have you ever had doubts like this?? Then you are in good company? Habakkuk had the same doubts [As John showed us last week]. God had said that he was going to use the evil and brutal Chaldeans to bring judgement on the people of Judah. How could God used evil people to judge his choosen people? You see Habakkuk’s dilemma.

 

We also saw that Habakkuk in spite of his complaints against God, in spite of his doubts and lack of understanding still believed in God.

 

O Lord are you not from everlasting?

My God, my Holy one, we will not die.. [1v12]

 

READ – 2v1- shows us that Hab. is willing to leave the problem with God and await the divine response.

 

BUT is there an answer to these perplexing questions? What is God’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint?

 

The Lord’s answer comes in the passage before us. We do not know how much time elapsed between v1 & v2. However long it was it was worth the wait!!

 

  1. THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S REVELATION IS NEVER IN DOUBT. [v2-3]

 

God’s first instruction to Habakkuk is to write down the revelation that he has received on tablets of stone. It is the same word that is used in Exodus with reference to the 10 commandments. There is debate about what kind of material these tablets were made of and wear they were to be placed. Regardless of those issues that important fact was that the message was to be written is a way that was accessible to everyone.

 

The second instruction was that it was to be written clearly – not a reference to large letters but plainly so that everyone could understand the message.

Maybe there is a message here for the church of our day – maybe people in our society think the church is irrelavant because often it is just that. If the message of God is not in plain language but is couched in eccelsiastical jargon, how can the person in the street be expected to understand it.

 

The third instruction was that whoever reads it may run with it. Often this has been interpreted to mean that it should be written in large letters so that a runner, hurrying by, may be able to read the message at a glance and make sense of it.

But that is not the meaning – this revelation is not meant to be a billboard on the side of the road. Rather the person who reads the message may adopt it as a guide for living – ‘run’ being used in the biblical sense of ‘walk’ – ie. run through life according to this message.

The NIV translation of “so that a herald may run with it” could mean that a person you receives and understands the message may share it with others – may “run with it”.

 

This understanding is always implicit in the gospel – it is to be shared.

 

A further reason for writing down the revelation was so that it could be preserved until its fulfillment could be demonstrated historically.

 

READ v3.

 

This revelation would be fulfilled but in God’s good time. The realities of life sometimes cause us to forget God’s promise. That is why the written promises of God’s word are so impotant – remiders of God’s purposes. Aren’t you tempted sometimes, to wonder if God’s word will ever be fulfilled.

Why is God so slow in fulfilling his word? We get impatient but God is not impatient – He can wait 430 years to free his people from slavery in Egypt. He can wait 70 years to restore the exiles to Israel.

To the OT saints the promise of the Messiah seemed remote – that it would never come but “In the fullness of time God sent his Son….”

 

There are times when it seems that God is inactive – but don’t be fooled into thinking that God’s apparent inactivity means that he has forgotten. “It will certainly come and will not delay”.

 

Remember how God promised Abraham and Sarah a son and they have to wait 25 years – Did God fulfill his promise?? Of course!!

 

The immediate fulfillment of this verse was judgement on the Chaldeans and that judgemet came. BUT beyond the Chaldeans was an agent of judgement and salvation – Jesus the Messiah. And even beyond that to the second coming of Christ when the fullness of salvation and judgement will come into being.

 

Sometime we can look at situations in our world and say “If only God would intervene / do something / do anything?

 

Let us hear God word to Habakkuk.

 

Though it linger, WAIT for it,

it will certainly come and will not delay [v3b]

 

We need patience to possess the promises of God. “Wait” – Lit. to pant, long for.

 

You need to perserve so that when you have done the will of God,

You will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while:

He who is coming will come and will not delay. {Heb.10v35-37]

 

  1. 3 does not mean that these predicted event will come soon – in our scale of things – but rather they will come exactly when God intends them to come . THey will not miss God’s schedule – they will not be delayed a moment beyond the appointed time.

 

  1. HOW GOD’S PEOPLE SHOULD LIVE IN VIEW OF HIS PROMISES. [v4-5].

 

READ v.4-5

 

These verses descibe two classes of people in the world:

– The pround and arrogant who contius ti live in their boastful ways.

– the just who live by faith.

 

The “puffed -up” are characterised by pride and arrogance and presumption. They are addicted to their appitites – they never rest – they are never satisfied. Their desires are insatiable. They always want more and more – never content with what they have.

This was the accusation against the Chaldeans – [v5] he gathers to himself

 

ILLUS.: It was Karl Marx who said of capitalism that by its very nature it could never rest content – it will always seek new markets all over the world to satisfy its insatiable desire for ever greater profits.

 

Wasn’t he right – when we see large company profit marginals going up and up – the top bosses getting larger and larger salaries. YET the worker’s wages are kept down – many are made redundant – foreign workers paid minimal wages. All in the name of profit. To satisfy the shareholders most of whom probably could manage fine without the money.

 

There is a warning here for those whose lives are controlled by greed, like death greed is never satisfied – it is self-destructive. While the text does say what will happen to such people and nations the implication is clear.

The just shall live — the unjust, proud, arrogant and greed will die.

 

The other group of people are those who live by faith – the just!!

We can’t think of this verse without our minds going back to Abraham. {Gen.15v6}

Abraham believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness

 

As Paul is at pains to point out in Romans and Galatians [as well as the writer to the Hebrews] Justification before God is by faith. Those who have been justified by God are the one’s who live by faith.

Our justification and our salvation are by grace – because of Christ’s saving work for us on the cross and in his resurrection.

If our salvation depended on our faith we would be tempted to doubt. The quality of our faith is often uncertain and our motives imperfect. But our salvation does not depend on our faith as much as on the grace of God – our faith is simply the means by which we receive God’s free gift.

 

Faith is also the continuing perserverance in faith as a foundation for the righteous life. We are to have faith in God and also to be faithful in how we live out our life for God.

 

The message of Habakkuk’s vision boils down to this: In “the end” the destinies of the wicked and the righteous will be evident. One will perish and the other will live.

This may not be apparent now BUT it will certainly come. There are many things that we don’t understand but a life of faithfulness is to be the response to life’s many unanswered questions.

 

  1. THE ULTIMATE DOWNFALL OF THE PROUD AND GREEDY. [v6-19]

 

V6-19 are really an expansion of what has already been said about the wicked. God has pronounced that the wicked are doomed. Evil has an inherent capacity to self-destruct. The vices of the wick carry within them their own just reward.

 

If you live by the sword you die by the sword.

 

In the histroical context of Habakkuk the Chaldeans – this proud, greedy and brutal people will themselves experience that same treatment as they have meted out to other nations and people.

 

How often throughout history has the aggressive nation ultimately suffered the same fate that it had meted out.

 

ILLUS.: The Assyrians conquerored by the Babylonians – Babylonians by the Medo-Persians, Medo-Persians by the Greeks, the Greeks by the Romans, the Romans by the Barbarians ..

 

Now follows a series of five “woes” pronounced against the wicked.

 

  1. The first woe against those of insatiable greed. [v6-8]

 

These verses descibe those who will by whatever means take what does not belong to them. They will extort and steal.

Those nations and individuals who exploit others for there own greedy desires must be warned that they themselves will become victims. [v7]

Those they have plundered will rise up and plunder them.

 

ILLUS.: What happened in France during the revolution. Those who had been exploited by the ruling classes revolted and reeked vengence.

 

V8 illustrates well the biblical principle that what people sow that will also reap.

The wicked might get away with their wickedness for a long time and they might think that nothing will ever happen to them BUT retribution can and does rise suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

God’s hand of justice will make returns to people according to their works – and not just on judgement day – but often in this present life also.

 

  1. The second “woe” is against those who build their domain by exploiting others. [v9-11]

 

The second flows out of the first. When one has gained all these possessions then there is a need to protect it. So they develop a fortress mentality. Like a bird he builds a high nest to protect –

BUT God has pronounce judgement on those who illegally amass wealth.

 

Remember Acan [in Joshua] who stole from the city of Jericho when God had specifically said not to. It was the destruction of his whole household and clan.

 

Habakkuk is in many ways echoing the proverbs of Israel:

 

He troubles his house who is greedy for gain,

but he who despises gifts shall live [Prov.15v27]

 

They ambush there own blood.

they lurk in hiding for their own lives,

So are the ways of all who are greedy for gain [Prov.1v18-19]

 

This kind of living is opposite to the principles of God’s kingdom: “He who loves his life will loose it BUT he who loses his life for my sake will find it”

 

  1. The third woe is against those who try to create society by violence and tryanny [v.12-14]

 

Habakkuk has in mind military conquest and political assassination. Maybe he mean human sacrifice which was common — certainly forced labour is indicated in v13.

 

The city is often prtrayed in scripture as man’s final attempt to subdue the earth.

Cain built the first city. Nimrod was a city-builder and an exploiter of people. Babel was the pinnacle of man’s effort to get along without God.

The Society that tries to get along without God is doomed to self-destruction. When society prides itself on it own achievemnets and pats itself on the back for achieveing its own humanistic goals – usually by means of violence against other human being   — it is these very things that are fuel for the fire of its own destruction   READ V13

 

Such communities stand in opposition to God’s Kingdom and will ultimately fail – unless they repent and turn to God – God’s kingdom will prevail and his glory will cover the earth as the water cover the sea.

 

  1. The fourth woe is aginst those who treat other inhumanely [v15-17]

 

When material things and power selfish ideals become more important than people then the inevitible outcome is the degrading treatment of others.

 

Their is the exploitation of others – getting them drunk – purely for immoral purposes. To gaze on their nakedness – to be involved in all kinds of immoral practices. Drunkeness and immorality often go hand in hand!!

 

When the rich and powerful bully and exploit other God is angry and his judgement will come.

 

The cup of the Lord’s right hand is coming round to you,

and disgrace will cover your glory. [v16b]

 

The cup of the Lord is a symbol of God’s wrath. And your turn will come even though for a time you think you have got away with it. The Downfall of the Babylonians {Chaldeans } is proof that God’s wrath did fall on them.

 

When Jesus in the garden Prayed the the cup be taken away – it was this cup of God’s wrath against the shameful sin of mankinf that he was referring to. The outpouring of God’s judgement was on his own son. The Son of God suffered in the sinner’s place, drinking the cup of God’s fury.

 

  1. The fifth woe is against those who are guilty of idolatry. [18-19]

 

This woe depicts the absurdity of idolatry!! Habakkuk’s description of theidols underscores the folly of worshipping them. They are limited by the very limitation of the people who made them. They might be adorned with silver or gold and look pretty BUT the are lifeless and consequently useless!!

 

This is the root of all the preceeding problems – when people look to the creature rather than the creator then he is guilty of this foolishness. When there is an insatiable desire for things rather than for God himself then OR when the priority of things is set over the maker of things then he/she is guilty of idolatry!!

 

  1. BUT GOD ….. [v20]

 

READ v20

 

Habakkuk began his dialogue with God in an effort to understand the ways of a holy God with a sinful people. Now he stands in the presence of God – the holy temple – there is a revent awe. He may not have fully graped the full implications of God’s answer to his query. BUT he knows that God is the LORD – that his judgement is true and sure and that it will surely come IN GOD”S TIME.

 

He also knows of God’s infinite mercy in granting life to ALL who will trust in him and in the provisions he has made for the sinner.

 

Life is full of struggles and it has many unanswered questions – I don;t know what your particular struggle is right now but I know that God’s promises are sure and in his time he will fulfill every one of them.

 

The wicked will be punished BUT the JUST shall live by faith!!!

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Malachi 1:1-14 – A Question of Worship

A QUESTION OF WORSHIP!

 

Malachi 1v1-14.

 

BACKGROUND.

 

About Mid 5th C B.C. // previously around 586 BC Jerusalem destroyed by Babylonians // Jews taken into captivity // Temple destroyed // after 70 years allowed to return and rebuild Temple and walls of Jerusalem // almost 80-100 years had passed since Haggai and Zechariah had prohesied about the gloriuos promises of God’s blessing “the Lord will return to his temple …” there would be prosperity and peace and glory greater than Solomon’s temple // the reality was very different –

 

In contrast to glowing promises // harsh reality was economic privation //crop failure // drought // continued political oppression // opposition and harrassment from their immediate neighbours.

 

Inspite of promises to the exiles of a future Temple being superior, both physically and spiritually – reality was it was inferior on both counts!

 

Had returned with high expectations and been disillusioned!

Life was probably better in Babylon – why would anyone feel like worshipping God in such a wasteland??

 

Malachi was either a comptempory of, or closely follwed, Nehemiah. Neh 13 describes the situation in Jerusalem. A corrupt priesthood, and an equally corrupt and immoral people – YET still going through the motions of religion // they kept the machinery of the temple going.

 

STRUCTURE.

around 6 statements by God through His prophet {Malachi – lit. My Messenger}

1v2, 1v6, 2v14, 2v17, 3v7, 3v13.

 

3 basics issues – a corrupt priesthood, intermarriage with those outside the covenant, failure to pay due tithes to God.

 

Malachi’s message is one of rebuke, challenge, encouragement and love.

A message from a sensitive God to and insensitive people!

 

READ MAL.1v1-14.

A QUESTION OF WORSHIP –

 

In the past 20 years worship has gained a higher profile on the Christian agenda –

suddenly more important? NO! has always been so! BUT now more talked about! However generally used in a very narrow sense ….

… time of worship in the service

… worship service

… worship styles

… worship songs

 

What is worship?? quiet? traditional? lively? rave? hymns? choruses? organ? guitar? drums? prayerbook? extemporaneous? …… ALL this can be worship and none can be worship!

 

The charge against Malachi’s hearers was that they had all the ritual and formalities BUT it was empty.

 

Ch.1 raises two basic questions         – Do you love Me?

– Do you respect Me?

 

  1. DO YOU LOVE ME? [v.2-5]

 

Malachi 1:2

2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.

 

have – continous – past, present future I love you..

 

THE QUALITY OF HIS LOVE

Inspite of complaints against the jews God’s love for them has no deminished.

He doesn’t love them any less because he is displeased with them.

 

He never loved US because of something in us that was attractive – he simply chooses to love!!

Our response – or lack of one – doesn’t change the quality of God’s love.

God got angry with and punished his people BUT he still loved them!!

 

THE QUESTION OF HIS LOVE

 

Malachi 1:2

2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

 

Hear the contempt – ‘Look at us – our circumstances – it this how you love us?

HOW ABOUT YOU AND I??

When life is tough do we turn away from God? – ‘If you don’t treat me well why should I worship you?

 

To show God’s love Mal. compares Jacob and Esau. – strange to the hearers —

Jacob=Israel // Esau = Edom [twin brothers w. Esau the older]

love/hate – comveying the idea of specially choosen as opposed to not specially choosen — it does not mean individual animosity against the decendants of Esau –

Did not mean that every Edomite was damned no more than it meant that every Israelites was saved!!

 

To appeal to these two nations as proof of Israel’s ‘favoured-nation’ status must heve seemed bizzare to the hearers.

God had allowed Israel to suffer total devastation for 70 yrs while Edom remained in tact – Edom gloated over Israel’s demise and even help Babylon by being informers and blocking escape routes.

 

God had predicted the downfall of Israel because of their persistant disobedience

Jeremiah 9:11

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,

a haunt of jackals;

and I will lay waste the towns of Judah

so that no-one can live there.” (NIV)

 

Mal. [v.3] applies this to Edom/Esau. The next century after this the Nabatean Arabs moved into Edom and forced the Edomites out – the Nabatens were nomadic and the Edomites cities became a ruin.

Israel was restored but Edom’s judgement was permanent and irreversable [the city of Petra is still a ruin today] Did not mean that individual Edomites – later Idumeans – couldn’t come to Christ they did [Mark 3v8]

 

God’s love is not always expressed in immediate material blessing. God’s plans were greater that Israel’s immediate comforts.

God takes a long term view and he expects our love in return NOT just our religious rituals!!

 

  1. DO YOU RESPECT ME? [v.6-14]

 

God’s complaint in these verses is that they show more respect to the Persian Governor than to God almighty!

They wouldn’t dare to bring a second rate gift to the Governor BUT the bring it to God!!

They had questioned God’s love for them – it is the opposite!!

 

There is a carelessness in worship – they bring 2nd best and then ask for God’s blesing!!

Malachi 1:7-9

7 “You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. 8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

9 “Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” — says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

 

Give God second best then have the audacity, the gall to ask for God’s blessing!!

The Law required a spotless lamb — they brought injured – diseased and lame!!

 

God’s response —

Malachi 1:10-11

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

 

No worship is better than pretense!! Is there a priest who has the guts to stop this charade??!

 

They caonsidered their worship of God to be a duty rather than a delight and enjoyment. –it was all so wearisome – they turned their noses up [v.13] at the monotony of it all.

 

But God is bigger than their worship – they were not doing God any favours – there is no shortage of creature to worship God – worship is not for God’s benefit it is for ours.

 

Carelessness in worship and offering God 2nd best is still with us today – — nothing but the best is required by those who call themselves the people of God.

 

This is not about styles of worship or outward expression // we can have the best musicians, best choirs, best preachers, best building, best song-leader, best programmes and STILL NOT worship!!

 

ILLUS> Not about place or programme — Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar — John 4:23-24 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (NIV)

 

Worship is not JUST about outward expression – it is about offering life itself – time, talent and treasures. Malachi challenges our commitment – hGod is far more comcerned with inner devotion than he is with outward display.

 

Worship includes the times of corporate singing, praising and praying – but these can only be worship when they rise from hearts that love the Lord with heart soul and mind.

 

Romans 12:1-2

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

 

Worship is an attitude out of which come actions and acts of worship!

true worship is more concerned with the ONE worshipped than with the means of worship.”

 

Without this right attitude our worship will be a burden rather than a blessing to us AND rather than being a sweet aroma to God it will be a stench in his nostrils!

 

Life is not merely to contain acts of worship; life itself is to be an act of worship!!

 

Are you and I giving our best to God –

How do you answer God tonoght when he asks —

— Do you love me?

— Do you respect me?

 

 

Inconvenient Jesus

Inconvenient Jesus

John 11:45-48

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

This short passage comes just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. As with most miracles Jesus performed, people believed in him and followed him after he demonstrated his power over sickness, death and demons. Jesus was not drawing attention to himself or creating a spectacle by healing people, but rather was giving glory to God and demonstrating the power of the Kingdom to all who would believe that he was the promised Messiah – God’s son and the one sent to save people from their sins. In fact many times Jesus said these things happened so that the glory of God might be displayed. (John 9:3; John 11:4)

Despite this, the Chief Priests and Pharisees found his ministry highly disruptive. It was an affront to what they considered their God-given authority in spiritual, religious and political matters. They regarded Jesus as a threat to the comfortable position they had engineered for themselves, through establishment of a religious hierarchy amongst the Jews, and the construction of an empire where they were all-powerful, whilst on the other hand acquiescing and compromising to avoid any conflict with their Roman occupiers.

Jesus was a threat to them on these fronts because an uprising against the religious status quo would reveal their hypocisy and jeopardise the freedoms that the Romans afforded the Jews to continue with their way of life. The crazy thing is that Jesus was the promised Messiah that the Jewish nation had been promised for centuries, and yet the leaders couldn’t recognise him even though he was right under their noses!

They held a meeting to discuss the “Jesus problem” and their true motivation for silencing him is very apparent. They don’t discuss whether or not he is the Messiah. They are only interested in whether or not he will interfere with their position and comfort – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

In other words they are saying “If we don’t keep him quiet the people will follow him and believe what he says. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and we won’t relinquish any position or status to this scruffy preacher from Nazareth. We won’t let Jesus turn everything to dust when the Romans get wind of an uprising and take everything away from us.”

Further on in John’s gospel it says that many of the leaders did recognise Jesus teaching and believe in him, but they wouldn’t act on it because it endangered their status in society and their comfortable life:

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. John 12:42-43

In basic terms, Jesus was a massive inconvenience to them and their world order.

It is easy to read this account two thousand years later and deride the Pharisees for their blindness and hypocrisy, but I wonder if we sometimes have the same attitude towards Jesus as the religious leaders of his day. It’s very easy to get comfortable with the status quo of our church life, especially when we are very seldom subjected to persecution for our faith in the UK. The established church and so-called “new church movements” are equally susceptible to protecting an organisation that looks like the church, but where empire building has overshadowed the emphasis on Kingdom building, and where the church structure, name, denomination or brand has become an idol in itself. Are we too concerned about protecting our little piece of “church territory” and fearful of losing all that we have worked for and forsaking all that Jesus wants to do through us. Are church leaders too wrapped up in the status and position of leadership to relinquish control to the Holy Spirit to move in power and shake us out of our slumber? This equally applies to our individual relationships with Jesus – are we just too comfortable to let Jesus in and disrupt everything for the sake of his Kingdom?

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the case for every church family and every individual – far from it. What I am keen to do is pose these uncomfortable questions because if we are in the position of holding tight to our own little domains, we will squeeze the life out of our spiritual walk and the hinder the progress of the church and God’s Kingdom in our sphere. If we don’t leave room for the Spirit to move in HIS church, then it will become something that is unrecognisable as the family of God and will be more akin to a social enterprise at best. If this is the case, God will look elsewhere for people to build His Kingdom – because it will be built! We need to be open to Jesus shaking us out of any stagnation that may have crept in, despite our best intentions, but this will only happen when we are immersed in prayer and the word of God, when we are living in communities formed from radical discipleship, and when we are fully committed to the spread of the gospel no matter what the cost.

Lets not behave like the Chief Priests and Pharisees and treat Jesus as an inconvenience who threatens to take away our earthly securities. Whilst it may be uncomfortable to allow him to challenge and shake us, His way is the only way to build something that is lasting and glorifies God. The Pharisees motives are exposed when they say “what are we accomplishing?” – the emphasis is on the protection of their human efforts and their agenda. The question they should have asked, and we should be asking ourselves is “what is God accomplishing?”

As the Psalmist says: Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Psalm 127:1

I encourage you to commit this to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to bring to light any areas where you may be building your own kingdom, rather than God’s.

 

Keep your eye on the ball

Keep your eye on the ball

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London has the oldest surviving time ball in the world. A time ball is an old fashioned but accurate time signalling device. It consists of a large painted wooden or metal ball that is mounted on a tower or high building. At exactly 13:00 the ball drops to signal the time. They were used to signal accurate time to ships and for captains to set their chronometers by. The phrase “keep your eye on the ball” comes from the practice of watching the ball and setting a ships chronometer accordingly, which is essential in determining longitude and navigating successfully. The time ball was an independent, consistent and unchanging source of time by which all passing vessels could reset their time and set a course. Without regularly checking the accuracy of the ships time, the vessel could easily drift off course and miss its destination or run into a difficult and dangerous course.

Hebrews 12:3 says that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” Like the sailors that set their equipment by the time ball, we need an external source to set our lives by and take our direction from. Left to our own devices we very easily drift off course and find ourselves in troubled waters because we have nothing to help us navigate through life and make the right choices. I know from my own life that when I have taken my eyes off Jesus, stopped reading his word, praying and spending time in his presence, and neglected meeting with fellow believers, I have wandered off course and found myself in difficult circumstances of my own making.

This is not to say that that we won’t face difficulty if we are staying on course with Jesus. In fact, we are promised hardship and persecution if we follow him, but in the midst of those storms and turbulent waters we will not lose our way and end up shipwrecked on the rocks, because we will know and who we are in Christ and have out eyes fixed on our eternal destiny that is beyond this earthly life and any hardship we may face. Just like Jesus who endured the cross, we will be able to endure the storms to receive the ”joy set before us” and “ will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Despite what the world tells us, we are not masters of our own destiny and setting our own path in life and deciding our own destination leads us nowhere. It may seem madness to many to set your life course upon the Jesus, and base your decisions on the teaching of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Onlookers may consider it very restrictive in a world where tolerance, subjectivity and permissiveness are so dominant, but without an external source against which to check our direction, we will be blown around by the winds of change and end up getting lost, broken on the rocks, or sinking without hope.

As C.S. Lewis says.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

Pray that God will help you to fix your eyes upon his son Jesus Christ and keep you from getting lost in the storms that life throws at us.

 

Haggai 2:20-23 – God’s elected builders

GOD’S ELECTED BUILDERS

 

TEXT: Haggai 2v20-23.

 

  1. INTRODUCTION.

 

Do you ever, in moments of quiet contemplation, become overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and fear because of what is going on around you. We can look at the international scene and see what is happening in Bosnia, Sudan, South Africa – the madness of an Israeli gunman killing and wounding numerous people in Hebron as happened this week – and so many other places.

When we look locally and see what is happening in our own country – the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals [never mind if it is an abomonation to God], the rise in homelessness and single-parenthood – the death of three little children in a house fire.   When we look at all these things in our world it is understandable that people feel very insecure and vulnerable. Is anything certain? Is anywhere safe?

 

The people in Jerusalem in the days of Haggai were feeling very insecure and uncertain – what’s changed?? They were an insignificant group, small in number, living in a city with out walls situated on the fringe of the Babylonia Empire. The international political scene was unsettled, there were tremendous political upheavels in Babylon.

When Super Powers are in conflict with each other the welfare of small nations is not high on their agenda and they can be crushed between them. Added to that the Jews didn’t have very friendly relations with their immediate neighbours either.

 

It is not surprising therefore that the people of Jerusalem were a little concerned and that they had questioned the wisdom of rebuilding the Temple. “What’s the point in building a temple which the next king of Babylon will probably come and destroy it anyway?!”

The last thing officials in Babylon would be concerned about would be the temple in Jerusalem – they would be far more concerned about their own prestige.

 

  1. GOD’S PROMISES SO FAR.

 

Not only has God, through Haggai, given the returned exiles some stern warnings and rebukes but he has also made some promises.

– he has promised to be with them “I am with you”, declares the Lord [1v13; 2v4]

– promise of his Spirit’s presence “My Spirit remains among you” [2v5]

– promised greater glory for this New temple “The glory of this prsent house will be greater than the glory of the former house” [2v9]

– promise of peace “And in this place I will grant peace” [2v9]

– promised blessing “From this day on I will bless you”

 

It is Zeruababbel whom God has appointed as the leader of the returned Exiles. Imagine the awsome responsiblity he must feel. What a job he had! Leading a group of whingeing builders on the one hand and being under the authority of Babylon on the other.

  1. GOD’S PERSONAL PROMISE TO ZERUBABBEL.

 

This 4th message that Haggai gives is different from the previous three in that this one is directed to only one person, Zerubabbel. The previous three were to all the people.

 

Zerubabbel with his responsiblity for the people and yet feeling insignificant on the political stage of the world receives God’s promise to him through Haggai.

God’s encouragement to Zerubabbel is “Despite what you see on the international and domestic fronts there is no need to panic, I, the Almighty God, am in control”

 

“… I will shake the heavens and the earth.

I will oveturn royal thrones and

shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms.

I will overthrow chariots and their drivers;

horses and their riders will fall,

each by the sword of his brother.” [2v21b-22]

 

Political upheavels, wars and rumours of wars are nothing new. Ecomonic hardship, immorality in society, corruption in high places. None of these things are new and they do not take God by surprise. God is not impressed with military might or economic muscle.

 

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket,

they are regarded as dust on the scales,

he weighs the islands as though

they were fine dust. [Isa.40v15]

 

So when we watch our TV screen and are confronted with one disaster after another and one war after another we should not be surprised, nor should we be fearful. Jesus warned us of military conflicts and political upheavels and natural disasters.

 

You will hear of wars and rumours of wars

but see to it that you are not alarmed.

Such things must happen

but the end is still to come.

Nation will rise against nation,

and kingdom against kingdom.

There will be famines and earthquakes

in various places. [Matt.24v6-7]

 

The chariots and drivers and horses of verse 22 represented the military might of the nations of Haggai’s day. But God encourages Zerubabbel and the people in 2v4 to “TAKE COURAGE” WHY? Because God is with them and he has the power to shake the nations like a dog shakes and old rag!

Michael Bentley – “If the Lord is the strength of our lives, our security surpasses that of the most powerful nations with all their weapons”

 

The nations of the world think that they are strong and powerful and that things will simply continue as they always have done BUT their downfall is inevitable. The powerful nations strut about the world stage thinking they are so important and in control of events. But the Psalmist had the right perspective of the nations.

 

Why do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain?

The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers gather together against the Lord

and against his anointed One.

“Lets us break their chains,” they say,

“and throw off their fetters.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs

the Lord scoffs at them.

Then he rebukes them in his anger and

terrifies them in his wrath. [Ps.2v1-5]

 

The political, economic and military power of the nations is minute in comparison to the Power of the Lord Almighty. Having declared his intention for the nations God now tells Zerubabbel what he will do through him.

 

  1. GOD’S RENEWED PROMISE OF SALVATION.

 

“On that day declares,” the Lord Almighty,

“I will take you, Zerubabbel son of Shealtiel,”

declares the Lord, “and I will make you

like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,”

declares the Lord Almighty. [v23]

 

In this verse God says 3 things about Zerubabbel. “MY SERVANT” – “LIKE MY SIGNET RING” – “I HAVE CHOSEN YOU”

 

Servant

All the way through the prophecy Zerubabbel has been referred to as the governor. But in 2v23 he is given another title SERVANT.

It would be natural to assume that servant was a comedown from being addressed as Governor. But God says to him “MY SERVANT” There is no higher honour or designation than GOD’S SERVANT           Great men of faith before Zerubabbel’s time were called SERVANTS OF GOD – eg. Moses, David and Daniel.

In Isaiah 52 & 53 God refers to the coming messiah as MY SERVANT and Jesus when he came said to his disciples in Luke22v27

 

“I am among you as one who serves”

He [Christ] took the the form of a servant [ Phil.2]

 

In the secular world a servant is considered a lowly, menial position BUT in God’s economy to be declared HIS SERVANT is the highest honour.

 

“If you want to be great in God’s kingdom learn to be a servant..”

 

Signet ring.

“like a signet ring” is a figurative expression that has powerful meaning.

The signet ring was the symbol or representation of it owner. It was used for sealing documents or the larger one would be used to make an impression in a bag of grain.

 

ILLUST: The owner would go to market and purchase grain and then impress his seal into the side of the sack. Later the servants would come to collect the sacks and if the impression was disturbed they would known the sack had been tampered with.

 

The seal / signet ring was so important to its owner that he would wear it on his person at all times. Either as a signet ring on his finger or if it was too large on a chain around his neck.

In the Song of Songs the Beloved says to her Lover:

Lay me as a seal [signet ring] upon your breast,

as a seal [signet ring] in your arms.

She uses this as a symbol of how close she wants to be to him because she knows that it is the most precious and valued things to him. the King and his seal were never separated.

 

So the sense of the passage before us is that on the day when God overthrows the Kingdoms of the nations, he would make Zerubabbel like his signet ring, which is inseperable from its possessor. The promise Zeruababbel received was that he would remain inseperably connected to Jehovah, he would not be cast off but God would take care of him as his valuable possession.

 

We, also, are of great value to God. God has set his seal upon his people.

He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us,

and put his Spirit in our hearts guranteeing

what is to come. [2 Co.1v22]

 

And you also were included in Christ

when you heard the word of truth,

the gospel of your salvation.

Having believed you were marked in him with a seal

the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit

guaranteeing our inheritence until

the redemption of those you are

God’s possession [Eph.1v13-14]

 

As we look through the pages of scripture do we see Zerubabbel as a great King of Judah? NO!

He was probably at the dedication of the Temple 4 years later but then he fades into history. Did God not keep his promises to him??

Zerubabbel was one of those who we read about in the book of Hebrews:

“… They were still living by faith when they died:

they did not receive the things promised:

they only saw them and

welcomed them from a distance.” [Heb.11v13]

 

Zerubabbel was a {Persian} governor of Judah and had no doubt been selected for this post because he was a prince of Judah, the son of Shealtiel a descendent of the family of David. God had made a promise to David and Zerubabbel as a descendent of David received a renewal of that promise.

I have found David my servant;

with sacred oil I have anointed him. …

… I will also appoint him my firstborn,

the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

I will maintain my love to him forever,

and my covenant with him will never fail.

I will establish his line forever,

his throne as long as the heavens endure.

[Ps.89v20 & 27-29]

 

God chose Zerubabbel as his servant and with this words transfers the promise. The promise culminate in Jesus the Son of David and descendent of Zerubabbel [Matt.1; Lk.3]

 

The promise the angel gave to Mary concerning Jesus was:

The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David

and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever;

his kingdom will never end. [Lk.1v32-33]

 

All through history God has been shaking the nations and he has elevated one person – Jesus Christ. And one day he will give the nations one final shake and they will come to an end.

God give John a preview of this in the Book of Revelation: [11v15]

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet

and tere were loud voives in heaven, which said,

“The kingdom of the world

has become the kingdom of

our Lord and of his Christ,

And he will reign for ever and ever”

 

 

Chosen by God.

Why was God doing this for Zerubabbel? Not because he deserved it – not because he was worthy “For I have choosen you,” declares the Lord Almighty.

 

  1. GOD’S PROMISE AND PURPOSE FOR HIS PEOPLE TODAY!

 

What about us?? Well, we too, are chosen!!

He chose us in him [Christ]

before the foundation of the World

to be holy and blameless in his sight

[Eph.1v4]

 

We became Christians not because one day we simply decide that it would be a good idea. NO!

You did not choose me but I chose you

and appointed you to bear fruit –

fruit that will last [John 15v16]

 

Christ chose us with a purpose in mind. To bear fruit. To serve Him. To work for him. While salvation is by grace and NOT works that does not mean that we do not work. We are to be workmen – approved and not ashamed.

 

Just as Zerubabbel was choosen for the purpose of building the temple, one of our purposes is to build up God’s people. The Church is not the building. The Church is people – living stones. The Church is not yet complete and Jesus is in the business of building his Church {Matt.16v18}. The picture of the Church in the NT is one of a growing structure.

A building up:

Christ gave .. apostles, ..prophets, ..

evangelists, ..pastors and teachers,

to perpare God’s people for works of service,

so that the Body of Christ MAY BE BUILT UP

 

… the whole body, joined and held together by

every supporting ligament, grows and BUILDS ITSELF UP

in love, as each part does its work.

 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out

of your mouths, but only what is helpful

for BUILDING OTHERS UP according to

their needs. [Eph.4v12,16,29]

 

Just as the temple in the days of Haggai was in ruin so the church of today shows signs of decay. When leading churchmen deny the fundemental truths of the gospel and others use the Church to preach their own ideas – then we need to heed Haggai’s warning and get on with the building up of God’s house.

 

God doesn’t want us to be a HOLY HUDDLE or A PIOUS CLUB. In Afrikaans we have two lovely words “OPBOU” and “UITBOU” upbuild and outbuild.

 

  1. HOW DO WE BUILD?

 

By prayer. If we fail to prayer we fail.

John Blanchard “To attempt to work for God without prayer is as futile as trying to launch a spaceprobe with a peashooter.”

 

Study. We are being bombarded by different voices [The media as we hears this morning from AD] If we do not study the word of God how will we ever be discerning. Consistent daily study. What you get on a Sunday is not enough!!

 

Working together. Team work is essential. If we are going to grow we need to love Christ and love each other and esteem others better than ourselves. Therefore we can’t always do what we prefer but must do what is best for the body.

 

Who is responsible for building? WE ARE!!!

 

Notice the last three words of Haggai’s prophecy “the Lord Almighty” Ultimately God is sovereign and he is in control. Whatever problems and pains we may face in our work for Christ, remember it is always for HIS GLORY; we are building day by day for his glory alone AND THE LORD ALMIGHTY IS WITH US!

Haggai 2:10-23 – Obedience before blessing

OBEDIENCE BEFORE BLESSING.

 

Haggai 2v10-23.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

READ VV11-13

 

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.

 

READ VV15-17

 

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??

 

READ vv18-19

 

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.

Ephesians 2v19-22.

 

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]

Haggai 2:1-9 – Builder’s Blues

BUILDERS ‘BLUES’.

 

Haggai 2V1-9

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Recall that the Jews who had returned from exile had begun rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem some 15 years before but in the face of opposition they had given up. It was now 15 tears later tat Haagai came on the scene and we saw last week how God used Haggai to speak to the people. He challenged them to resume the building programme. The repented and obeyed God and began to build and God had promised to be with them.

 

But you know, old habit and attitudes die hard. Less than a month had gone by since the started rebuilding and already they were getting “Builders’ Blues”.

Just because we have overcome some weakness or sin in our lives doesn’t mean that we can relax and drop our guard. Satan is very cunning and will trip us up over the same issue again and again if he can.

 

This rebuilding was not an easy task. The original temple had been burnt to the ground and the rubble had been lying on the site for nearly 70 years. No doubt it was overgrown and resembled a builders tip. Whenever we do any building or decorating it is always the preparatory work that is the pain in the neck, isn’t it? No doubt the Jews found clearing the site a pain in the neck [and back] as well.

 

It is very easy to loose heart when you work hard but don’t see much progress.

 

  1. THE REASONS FOR THEIR DISCOURAGEMENT.

 

1.1) Nostalgic comparison to the original temple.

“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?

How does it look to you now?

Does it not seem to you like nothing? [v.3]

There were among the returned exiles those who had seen Solomon’s magnificent temple before it was detroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Now seeing the pile of rubble and probably realising that the new temple was never going to be like the old one they became dispondent.

 

It is not like it was in the good old days!! What is the point of building something that is second rate?? I can remember how it used to be….

 

Their first excuse in ch.1 was “It is not the right time.” Now it was “It is not going to be good enough; it will never be what it used to be.”

 

It is easy to be a wet blanket! To whinge and to criticise! It has never been done this way before. It is more difficult but far more profitable to encourage. We all need encouragement. We need to help not hinder!

1.2) Past disappointment was making them gloomy about the future.

Some of them were probably saying, “Well, we didn’t get very far 15 years ago and nothing much has changed so I don’t know why we are working so hard for somthing the probably won’t succeed.”

            Past failures don’t necessarily mean present and future failures as well.

“I’ve spoken to my friend or neighbour about God and they were very negative so there is no point ever trying again.”

Just because their forst attempt at rebuilding failed it didn’t mean there was no point trying again.

 

1.3) Religion gets in the way.

They had started enthusiastically but they had to stopped frequently because of Holy days and rest days. There had been three Sabbaths since they started. They 1st day of the month [7th] had been the feast of Trumpets. The 10th day was the Day of Atonement. On the 15th day the week-lomg festival of Tabernacles had begun. [ A time that reminded the Israelites of the Wilderness wanderings].

It can be very irrataing when you have work to do and you keep getting interupted. These religious observance seemed like an unnecessary disruption. “We haven’t got time for all these spiritual stuff. We want to get on with the work”

            We can fall into the same trap. We can be so busy doing church work and serving the Lord that we neglect to spend time in private and public worship and prayer.

 

What made matters even worse for the builders was that the Featival of Booths was linked to a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision of the harvest. But as they sat around they would have had time to reflect that the harvest they had recently brought in was so poor that it was hardly worth celebrating.

“You have planted much but harvested little”. [1v6]

 

1.4) The shortages of resources.

The last cause for dispondency was the shortage of materials and manpower. King Solomon had spent vasts amounts of money on the original Temple. Also the population was larger and he had used some conscripted labour. These were not available to Zerubabbel.

Limited manpower – many of the skilled craftsmen would have been taken into exile and not may would have returned – limited materials

We as a church face the same problems. “If we have more money we could …..!!”

It isn’t the money , is it? See v.8

‘The silver is mine and the Gold is mine”

 

God made the earth and all that is in it. He will provide all that is necessary for his work.

ILLUST: OM – Logos I – prayed 5 weeks to get the money to buy te ship and 5 years for the crew to man the ship.

 

So here they are suffering an attack of Builders Blues when God speaks to them again through Haggai.

 

 

  1. GOD’S PROMISED PRESENCE.

 

“Be strong … and work for I am with you declares”

the Lord Almighty.

This is what I covenanted with you

when you came out of Egypt.

God encourages them – this is not a harsh message like in ch.1 – he reminds them of the covenant. That blessing and obedience go hand in hand.

 

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt,

and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant,

then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

Although the whole earth is mine,

you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

[Exodus 19v4-6]

 

So often we want God’s blessing without the obedience but that is backwards. God promises blessing but he also requires obedience.

 

In response to their dispondency God encourages the Jews to be strong and to work, but he doesn’t just leave it there but he goes on to promise his presence and to remind then that his Spirit remains with them .

 

It is not without significance that Haggai’s message is delivered on the 21st day of the 7th month. It was the last day of the Fesival of Booths. It was a solemn Holy day when they would be listening for the Voice of God. And the message to these disspirited, discouraged builders is “Be strong … work. I am with you. My Spirit remains with you”

 

Years later Jesus Christ gave a message on the same day at the same feast.

“On the last and greatest day of the feast,

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,

‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.

Whoever believes in me, as the scripture says,

streams of living water shall flow from within him.'”

[John 7v37-38]

 

Jesus spoke those words in the same temple that Zerubabbel was building. Jesus spoke of living water – the Spirit of God that quenches the needy soul. NOT just a stream, Not a trickle NOT even a river BUT RIVERS. Unresticted spiritual supply. That is what we have in Christ.

God says “I am with you. My Spirit is in you. What greater encouragement do you need”

 

They were to work despite their discouragements. They were to leave God to deal with the dangers and difficulties. Their task was to get on and rebuild the temple.

 

God encouraged Joshua in the same way.

“Be strong and courageous.

Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,

for the Lord your God will be with you

wherever you go” [Joshua 1v9]

When God requires us to do something, he never expects us to do it alone. He is always with his people. Jesus promised “I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS”

The God who helped Solomon build the first temple would help this generation of Jews rebuild it. The task may be harder but the same God will supply.

The task that God calls us to in the building up of his temple – the church- is also in the strength and power that he provides.

 

The enormity of the task that God has set us sometimes seems overwhelming. The enemy seems so powerful, and the advancement of the gospel slow. BUT listen to Pauls encouragement.

 

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest

if we do not give up. [Gal.6v9]

 

What this little group of Jews were trying to do in a backwater of the Persian Empire must have seemed so insignificant. In V6 God reminds them that he is in contol of the nations and he can shake them like a dog shakes an old shoe. The nations think they are so powerful but they are insignificant in comparison to God’s power.

 

In the next 5 centuries the Persian Empire, the Syrian Empire, Babylon and Egypt fell before the might of the Greeks under Alexander the Great. The Greeks inturm fell to the Romans.

Greek became the universal language by which the Gospel spread. The Roman built roads that went all over the Empire making travel easy and the spread of the gospel was advanced.

 

Govt. and the UN think that they are in power and run the world. How deluded can you be!! God is in control and can shake the nations and he does to advance his kingdom. But God is moving history to a climax. To a time went Jesus Christ will return.

 

ILLUST: Soviet Christian Soldiers in Afganistan. Allied Christian soldiers in Saudi. Strange to us but the God’s wats are not our ways.

 

 

Why is God doing all this. For his greater Glory!!

 

  1. GOD’S GREATER GLORY.

 

The Jews were concerned that this temple would be insignificant

‘I will fill this house with glory ….

The glory of this present house will be greater

than the glory of of the former house”. vv7&9

 

The glory of the temple was not the gold and silver.The glory of the temple was the presence of the Lord almighty. What could be more glorious than the King of Glory in his temple.

However ‘The Desired of all nations will come’ does not refer priamrily to Jesus but rather to Christ’s kingdom. “desired” is in the plural refering to God’s chosen people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. These will come to make up the kingdom of priests to serve the Lord.

In the final analysis this temple would not be the symbol of God’s glory. Rather it pointed to a temple not made with perishable things like silver and gold and wood and stone BUT to a temple make up of living stone from every nation bought with the precious blood of Christ.

 

Once the Lord of the Temple had come this physical temple became redundant. The Lord himself is the temple – Jesus referred to his body as the temple- When we come into Christ we become part of te Temple of God and share his glory.

 

Look at the end of verse 9 “And in this place [ the new temple] I will grant peace”, declares the Lord Almighty.

The OT looked forward to the Prince of Peace coming. We look back to Christ’s reconciling work on the cross that makes peace possible.

 

Haggai’s message to us then is DON’T become weary in well doing. Building can be hard work. But God is with us power is unlimited and his resources know no bounds.

 

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you? [1Co.3v16]

For we are the temple of the living God. As God had said,”I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people [2Co.6v19]

 

The house of the Lord – the church, the people of God – is the place where God is pleased to dwell and he will give peace to his people.

 

JESUS SAID “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be trouble and do not be afraid” [John 14v27]

 

Be strong and work … I am with you !!!

Haggai 1:1-15 – Building God’s Temple: Getting our priorities right

Building God’s Temple.

Getting our priorities right!

 

Haggai 1v1-15.

Introduction.

 

Background to Haggai is essential if we are ever going to understand his message. Why did God call Haggai to prophesy at this particular point in History? We never live in a vacuum but we are always affected by the political, economic and social influences of our time. We are also influenced by our history – What happened then has an effect on the NOW. So it was with the people of Haggai’s day.

Almost 70 years prior to Haggai’s time, the people living in Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Israel were invaded by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. [586 BC] All except the poorest were taken into exile and the city, including the Temple, was destroyed. It is during this time that we have the stories of Daniel and Esther, among others.

Having the Temple destroyed was a tremendous blow to the Jews. They had thought the God would never allow the Temple to be destroyed. Being exiled was bad enough but the destruction of the Temple was salt in the wound.

They were disillusioned and yearned for Jerusalem.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked for songs. our tormentors demanded songs of joy. How can we sing songs of joy while in a foreign land. [Psalm 137v1-4]

King Nebuchadnezzar eventually died and Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered Babylon including the Jewish exiles. He decreed, as Jeremiah had prophesied, that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. [Ezra 1v1-2].

Under the leadership of Zerubabbel and Jeshua [Joshua in Haggai – the same person] the returned exiles, 42,360 of them, begin building the Temple. First they built the altar and then begin rebuilding the Temple itself.

 

THE TEMPLE – THEN AND NOW.

Why is it so important that the Temple be rebuilt at this point in Jewish History.

When the Israelites initially entered the Promised Land they didn’t have a temple but the centre of worship was the tabernacle [a tent]. It was here that the glory of God descended like a cloud and filled the inner most part – the Most Holy Place. Years later God allowed Solomon to build a Temple. After Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, God had promised the exiled Jews that it would be rebuilt. [Ezek.37v26-27].

Zerubabbel’s Temple, which it what Haggai’s prophecy is all about, stood for 500 years. It was enlarged by Herod the Great just before the birth of Christ. But in 70 AD it was raized to the ground by the Romans and has never been rebuilt.

Why has the Temple never been rebuilt?

The Dome of the Rock, a Muslim Shrine, has stood there since the end of the 7th century. But there is a far more important reason why the Temple has not been rebuilt.

For centuries the Holy of Holies, which represented the Glory and Presence of God, was hidden by a curtain and only the High priest was allowed to enter there, once a year, on the Day of Atonement. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain was ripped from top to bottom. A sign from heaven that ordinary people may have direct access to God through Christ without going through an earthly priest. There is a new and living way to God. Jesus said “I am the way”

 

WHERE IS THE TEMPLE NOW?

Jesus spoke to the Jews in John 2v19-21

“Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” The Jews replied,”It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’

But the Temple he had spoken of was his body.

 

Jesus spoke of his body as the temple but also the called people of God [the church] is the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to Peter in 1 Peter 2v4-6;

“As you come to him the living stone – … – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”

 

In 1 Co.6v9 Paul tells us the our bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit – why? – because Christ lives in us as individuals. But we can not live in isolation – we are to be bonded together as a spiritual temple. [Eph.2v21-22]

“In Him [Christ] the whole building is joined together

and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord.

And in Him you to are being built together

to become a dwelling by which God lives by His Spirit.”

Now there is no need for a physical building as a temple. We, the body of Christ, are the temple in which God dwells. But this is only possible since the death of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In the days of the OT the temple signified the presence of God. As Joyce Baldwin points out the rebuilding to the temple was in some way a condition upon which the coming of the Messiah depended. Malachi proclaimed that the Lord would suddenly come to his temple [Mal.3v1].

God’s plan was that the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt and it was to that task that the returned exiles were called.

 

READ Ezra [summarise ch.3 ] Ezra 4:1-5 & 24

1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. ………….

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (NIV)

 

Haggai 1v1-15

  1. Off to a good start.

 

The returned Exiles had started well. They had built an altar, given money and materials, and the work of rebuilding the temple had begun. But then opposition came from those who had remained in the land during the exile. They had intermarried and their religion had become corrupted consequently Zerubabbel and Jeshua had refused their help. The angry locals then began to actively oppose the rebuilding.

There will always be opposition to the work of God. Satan is never happy when God’s people are doing God’s work and he will use every devious means to disillusion, discourage and hinder. We shouldn’t be surprised when we run into opposition.

The Jews had become discouraged and disillusioned and the work stopped. For about 15 years.

 

ENTER HAGGAI.

We know little about Haggai. But God’s Word came through him.

The First day of the month [new moon] was a Holy Day and the people would be enjoying a festive occasion.

This is what the Lord Almighty says, “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built'” [v2]

 

Notice “These People” and not My People.

They do not deserve to be called God’s people because they are living in disobedience to God’s word. They knew the reason why God had brought them to Jerusalem – it was to rebuild the temple – but they choose their own way.

 

  1. When God’s work is inconvenient.

 

The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built [v2]

 

ILLUST: Consider Harry. A gifted young man who many in the Church recognise as one who has great potential in God’s work. He is intelligent, pleasant and very capable. He knows God wants him to get involved in ministry / service etc…. First he goes to university/college –goes to church but doesn’t get too involved – “It’s a time to enjoy life for myself for a while before I settle down!”. After that he feels that he needs to work long hard hours to secure a good career. In the meanwhile he get married. His wife is also a Christian. The children come along and the years fly by. The house needs working on, the children need educating, holidays are important. Tomorrow we will really be committed to the work of God’s kingdom!!!

 

Tomorrow never comes. God wants us to serve Him today NOT tomorrow.         The Jews were too busy with their own houses and their own lives to worry about the temple. It became convenient to put it off until tomorrow.

 

ILLUST: Portugal – residence paper – come back tomorrow “Amanyana!!”[sp?] after 11 month still no paper at we left the country.

 

— Indifference sets in!!

 

The people had become lethargic. They faced opposition and their enthusiasm waned and they gave up. They had lost their vision and become weary in well doing.

Unlike Nehemiah who served the Lord with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other when he faced opposition. They became discouraged, disillusioned and stopped work.

Let’s take a break!! 15 years!! [need times of rest / sabbatical etc..]

 

Are we like this when it comes to the work of God? Prayer, for example / hospitality / practical helps –out-there! Not buried in a Church building!!? Do we give up praying when answers seem to be slow in coming??

Or are we just too busy to do God’s work?

 

  1. Too busy for God’s work.

 

They were busy decorating their own homes. They had time for that.

“Is it time for you yourselves to be living in panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin” [v3]

 

Times were hard. There was an economic recession. Inflation was going through the roof. The harvest was small. And the wages didn’t seem to go very far. [vv5-6]

God was not opposed to them having their own homes but they had moved from the essential to the extravagant. And it was God’s work that suffered as a result.

 

But not only was God’s work suffering; they were suffering too. It is not that they were lazy. They had worked hard on their farms and they had expectations of a good harvest. But it hadn’t happened. They were a discontented people and the reason was because of their own selfish desires.

 

In our materialistic society we are in danger of falling into the same trap. There is so much that we have to have. We spend our time and money getting it and then we have to spend our time and money maintaining it.

 

ILLUST: Family member. Large House and garden. swimming pool and tennis court. Every weekend for 25 years maintaining it.

 

Consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 6v31-33

Do no worry saying, “What shall we eat?”

or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”

For the pagans run after all these things,

and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first the kingdom of God and

all these things will be given to you as well.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,

for tomorrow will worry about itself.

Each day has enough trouble of its own”

Jesus is not saying that the things of this life are unimportant BUT he is saying that they must be viewed from the correct perspective!

 

  1. No obedience to God; no blessing from God.

 

The reason God withheld his blessing from the Jews is given in v.9.   “Because of my house which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.’

 

God withheld the dew and rain and drought destroyed the crops. The dew obeyed but his people did not.

 

God has called us to be active in Kingdom business.

 

In vv5&7 God urges the Jews to “Give careful thought to your ways…” Not all trouble and hardship is as a result of disobedience. But when things are going badly we need to consider our ways before God. “Why is this happening to me Lord?” “What are you trying to teach me?” “Help me to listen to what you are saying and to put it into practice.”

We are all very good at blaming – each other – the govt., the Borough Council, the Church and even God. Let each of us evaluate our own lives.

The temptation we face as individuals and as a Church is that we can say. “When I have enough time” or “When I have enough money” then I will give to God. NO! NO!

 

God holds us accountable as to what we do with our money, our possessions and our time whether we have much or little – AND God never asks for what we don’t have. Illus. Farmer .. £100 / 1000? Yes! 10 pigs? But I’ve got 10 pigs!!!

 

 

 

  1. Obedience to God brings blessing from God. [V12-15]

 

“…the people obeyed the voice of the Lord…” [v12]

Repentance is only true repentance when it leads to obedience. God stirred the people into action through the message of Haggai. At the point where their intention is clear that they are going to obey and resume the building, God gives them a promise.

“I am with you”, declares the Lord. [v13]

This same God who had been with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and King David – now pledges himself to this motley band of returned exiles. “I AM WITH YOU”.

Didn’t Jesus give us the same promise in Matt.28v19-20.

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you to the very end of the age.

 

God was angry with his people because instead of being the worshipping, witnessing community they were meant to be – they were more concerned about their own luxuries and selfish interests / ambitions.

 

His promise is that when they get their priorities right the rest of life falls into place — and God’s blessings follow! NOT necessarily material prosperity BUT spiritual life / fulfilment.

 

Building God’s Temple.

Getting our priorities right!

 

Haggai 1v1-15.

 

Background:

  • Jews exiled in Babylon

·    Return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple

     (The Temple – then and now)

 

  1. Off to a good start …

… but it doesn’t last.

 

  • enter Haggai.

 

  1. When God’s work is inconvenient [v.2]

…indifference/ apathy sets in.

 

  1. Too busy for God’s work [v.3]

 

  1. No obedience to God

– No blessing from God. [v.4-11]

 

  1. Obedience to God

– brings blessing from God. [v.12-15]

…people obey – God says “I am with you.”

The Good Father

 

THE GOOD FATHER

Introduction

There are few things as important to understand as the fatherhood of God and I don’t think it is any accident that it comes top of the list in the Apostles Creed. When we grasp what it means for God to be our father – the Bible, the Gospel and life make more sense. I hope that by looking at this more closely we will know in God the father better – not just in our heads, but in our hearts. This is absolutely life-transforming stuff!

Everyone has a father and we will all have different experiences of fatherhood. The mention of the word father may bring to mind a negative experience of a father who was controlling, distant, or absent. Perhaps you had a father who was abusive, violent or addicted.

Being a father is a huge responsibility. No father is perfect but some get it badly wrong and cause permanent damage and pain. You may ask the question “if God is anything like my father, I don’t want anything to do with him.” You may have a wonderful father who you are who did a good job – if that is the case, you have a lot to be thankful for!

Our earthly experiences of Fatherhood can be no reflection on God the Father whether good or bad, because he is so much higher and greater than any earthly father we could ever have.

Whatever our experience of fatherhood, we have a heavenly father who is perfect and as we look at an overview of God the Father as revealed in scripture I hope and pray that we all see something more of his love for us. I also hope that we can be challenged in our relationships with our families, our church, and our communities, in reflecting and sharing the love of the father.

There are five phases of the relationship that God had with his people through History and I want to show how they reveal to us the character of God as our father. It is a whistle-stop tour, but it should give us a context and framework on which to hang our beliefs about our heavenly father. We need to answer the question – What makes God a good father and why should I believe in Him.

To help our understanding I have put our relationship with God into 5 phases:

 

  • CREATION – The Father’s relationship with the Son and Spirit and God’s design for family and relationship Genesis 1; John 1.
  • SEPARATION – The disruption of the perfect relationship Genesis 3
  • RESTORATION – The restoration of the relationship through Israel (OT) Genesis 12
  • ADOPTION – The restoration of the family through adoption in Jesus (NT)
  • REFLECTION – We become more like the Father

 

CREATION

From the moment God created mankind, he intended for us to live in family, male and female and to have children and “increase in number”. The whole story of the Bible is about God creating man to live in community, to be his family – for us to love him, and him to love us. He created us to be like him, as his children

Genesis 1:27-28

 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;

The close interwoven type of family relationship wasn’t a new idea to God when he created us. God exists eternally as a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three “persons” of God exist in perfect harmony with each other, each fulfilling different but important roles within the heavenly community. There is mutual, love respect, honour and joy amongst them and the heavenly beings. Genesis 1;

 John 1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

God created us to live in family on earth and to live in relationship with him as our creator and heavenly father, and as part of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us to share his love and for us to love him in return.

One of the questions often thrown at Christians is “if God knew people would rebel against him and the world would be a mess, why did he create them?” We may well ask the question ourselves – if everything was so perfect, why did God risk ruining it by creating us?

There are lots of complicated answers and theologians and philosophers have grappled with this question for centuries, but the simple answer is that he loves us and he wants a family. He had to give us the freedom to choose to love him, because without that choice any relationship would be not be genuine love. God isn’t a tyrant that wanted to create beings that would do his bidding and he could smite when he gets annoyed at them! He made us to love him and bring glory to him

If someone asked me why I had children when there is a chance they will, rebel and make a mess of their lives, I’d give the same answer – because I love them and I want a family to love and who love me in return. I don’t want to force my children to love me, because that would not be love,

There are no guarantees that my children won’t rebel and will choose to follow Jesus and give their lives to him, because they have a choice. There are no fail-safe parenting methods to ensure that they will stay on the straight and narrow, but that is a risk worth taking, because I want what is best for them and will do anything I can to show them the right way to live. There is something built in to all of us by God that makes us want family and relationship.

SEPARATION

The tragedy is that from the very beginning, we have wanted to run away from the security of this relationship. Adam and Eve decided they knew better and as a result, all of mankind was separated from God.

Adam and Eve didn’t act alone though as we know from Genesis 3. They were tempted and led astray by Satan in the form of a serpent. Why did Satan want to disrupt the perfect relationship and this family that God had created?

Satan was the highest of angels but his desire was to be God and to have the power, so he rebelled and was cast out of heaven.

Isaiah 14:12

How you have fallen from heaven,

morning star, son of the dawn!

You have been cast down to the earth,

you who once laid low the nations!

He was the first to be separated from the family of God and he was “orphaned”, through his rebellion

In drawing Adam and Eve into disobeying God, he led them into separation from God as well. Satan’s only goal is to separate us from God. He is the chief “orphan maker”. Of course Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their sin, and that was to exist outside of God’s family. The relationship was broken because they went outside what God intended for them and what was best for them.

Following the fall in Genesis, mankind lost its way and sin took hold in a big way as people continue to rebel. Relationships fell apart all over the place. Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and although some people worshipped God, generally the human population rejected God and did their own thing. God sent the flood to wipe out the wicked people, but saved Noah and repopulated the earth through him. Despite this, people still choose to abandon God and be gods of their own lives. They even decide to build a tower to celebrate their own greatness!

There are those who read the account of the flood and other passages where God wipes out sections of the population out of context. They can appear horrific and give the impression that God is a vindictive, bloodthirsty tyrant. This opens up the issue of God allowing or even causing suffering, and we don’t have time to go into that today.

You can’t take these incidents in isolation, because they are part of a greater plan that God has to save his people and restore a relationship with us. The role of a good father includes disciplining his children, and sometimes doing things that are not desirable in themselves, but ultimately save a child from harm or making a wrong choice.

I don’t enjoy disciplining my children, and I’d much rather they were good all the time, but sometimes it is necessary to deny them something they want and give a suitable punishment so that they learn and develop character. I also can’t force them to do certain things and as they get older they will have to stand on their own two feet. I can point them in the right direction but they have to make their own choices.

The Bible tells the story of God’s people rebelling against him, rejecting a relationship with him, and destroying relationships with each other. The effect of sin in the world is separation from God and broken relationships. Human nature hasn’t changed since then, but we know that God has never given up on us.

This is the sign of a patient and loving father. This is a father who loves us so much that he doesn’t abandon us. Those of you who are parents will know how much love and energy is given to raising children. I don’t think there can be many things more devastating than a child rejecting a parent. As a human race, we have rejected God but he doesn’t give up on us. Although we have orphaned ourselves he still loves us.

 

RESTORATION

In Genesis 12 God picks out Abraham as a man who is trying to follow him amongst many that are completely going their own way.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 “I will make you into a great nation,

    and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

    and you will be a blessing.

 I will bless those who bless you,

    and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.”

God establishes a covenant with Abraham that he will establish a great nation through him and his descendants. God doesn’t give up on mankind because he made us to have a relationship with him. He chooses the nation of Israel through which to bless all other nations. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of the relationship between the nation of Israel and God. God the father

Teaches – Books of the law – Leviticus ,Numbers, Deuteronomy, Proverbs

Imposes rule and order – Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles

Guides and gives warning – Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel

Rejoices and weeps with his children – Psalms, lamentations

Raises up the next generation of leaders– David, Daniel

Protects – Genesis – The Israelites escape from Egypt

Loves – Hosea (despite unfaithfulness)

Disciplines – Amos. Obadiah,

Compasionate – Jonah, Ruth

 

These are all traits of a good father.

This blessing promised to Abraham is eventually fulfilled through his descendant Jesus who comes to earth to restore the relationship of man and God once and for all.

 

ADOPTION

The Old Testament is not only a History book on the nation of Israel. Running right through it is the salvation plan for us. The Father’s rescue strategy for his people is woven throughout – that is the adoption back into his family, by the redemptive work of Jesus. God the father sent his son to die so that we can ben brought back into the family.

As a father there is nothing that would be more devastating to lose a child. To willingly send my child to die is simply something that I can’t comprehend. God chose to give his son up to death so that we can have a relationship with him. Jesus was blameless and died the death that we deserved. He loves us so much he was willing to make that choice. It was in his plan

Out of love for his children, God sent his Son Jesus to restore what was broken and to reinstate the relationship. God broke his perfect relationship with the Son temporarily, to allow us to be brought back into the family.

That is the gospel! That is the good news! Although we were separated from having a relationship with God, he has made it possible for us to come back to him.

Having turned our backs on God we are adopted back into his family. We were estranged from God, cut off without a father but he makes the first move and reaches out to say “I love you. Come back home. I will adopt you as my own”.

Ephesians 1:5 says he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

It is a constant struggle for us because we still live in an imperfect world and until Christ comes again and creates a new heaven an earth we will continue to live in this tension. Satan is his most destructive when he removes us from a loving family.

His sole aim is to separate us from God and make us orphans because when we are away form the protection of the family, we are vulnerable to the temptations and influences of the world. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to be with us, keeping us close to the father:

Romans 8:14-17

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

In this letter to the Romans Paul uses the language of adoption and that would have struck a chord with the readers. In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all the rights of his old family and gained the rights of his new family. He became heir to his new father’s estate. The same is true of our Christian adoption. We leave our old life behind and step into a new family where we are promised to inherit the father’s riches.

We area able to come to the father and call him “Abba”, which is roughly translated “daddy”. This is an intimate term used by Jesus when referring to his father. We have the right to call him this name because we are his beloved children.

The inheritance we stand to receive as children of God is beyond what we can comprehend. We are brought into relationship through the spirit that “testifies with our spirit” and we are co-heirs with Christ. Although there may be short term suffering whilst we wait for the fulfillment of all that we are promised, we will share in the glory!

John Stott sums it up very well:

“To be sure, all human beings are God’s offspring by creation, but we become his reconciled children only by adoption or new birth. Just as it is only those who are indwelt by the Spirit who belong to Christ, so it is only those who are led by the Spirit who are the sons and daughters of God. As such we are granted a specially close, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father, immediate and bold access to him in prayer, membership for his worldwide family, and nomination as his heirs.”

 

REFLECTION

The relationship with God that is now available to us is an invitation that needs to be accepted. It is a gift that is undeserved but we need to be willing to embrace it. It’s no use having a solution to a problem unless it is implemented, or a cure for an illness unless the remedy is taken. The result of the renewed relationship is that we begin a process of becoming more like Christ.

I’m sure most people, if not everyone, will at some time say something and realise that they sound just like their parents! Those of you that are parents will also have looked at your children and recognized some of your own traits or mannerisms in them – hopefully the good ones! Children generally grow up to be like their parents

The Bible tells us to imitate Christ, to be like him and to reflect him. He is the one by whom we come to God. How do we do this? By the Holy Spirit living and working in us to transform us. The New Testament is littered with references to being transformed into Jesus likeness.

Romans 12 – Be transformed by the renewing of you mind

 2 Corinthinans 5:17- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation

 Ephesians 5:1 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God

As we enter into the family of God, and as we spend time with him through prayer and worship and reading his word, and as we walk with him day by day we will change to be more like him. Children imitate their parents because that is how they learn. We imitate Christ, to become more like him and more like God our Father.

And here we come full circle   – God made started creation by making us in his likeness. Having been through the separation, restoration, adoption and reflection, we again become like him and are transformed into his likeness!

 

THE PRODIGAL SON

Nowhere is the love of the father illustrated better than in the story of the prodigal son. The father has two sons that he loves and are part of his family. The younger son decides that he wants his inheritance early so he can leave the household. He wants to break away and do his own thing.

He asks his father to give him an advance on the inheritance, which the father graciously does, and the son leaves home, only to blow the entire fortune on pleasing himself and having a good time. He wants to be the master of his own life and not subject to constraints imposed by having to live in a community.

The fun is short-lived though because the son soon finds himself penniless and eating pig food to survive. He is separated from his family and he loses his way – He can’t cope without the love and support and the boundaries and restraints that the family structure brings

He returns home, to grovel at his father’s feet and ask if he could work as a servant, but the father out of love for his son and a deep desire to have a his family back together welcomes him with open arms and throws a massive party! In fact the father is looking for the son and runs to meet him!

The son expects to take us a servants position in the household but the father “adopts” him back in the family so that he and enjoy all the benefits of an heir to the inheritance. What a picture of the love of a perfect father!

The story ends there, but I have no doubt that the son was eternally grateful and reflected that in the rest of his life and in the way he treated others from then on. He didn’t deserve to be welcomed back by his father, but that is the beauty of grace and forgiveness.

It is the same for us – we have all turned away from God in some way, and maybe we continue to do so in some areas of our lives. Perhaps there is addiction, or a weakness that keeps pulling us down. The good news is that God welcomes us back with open arms and a love that we cannot imagine, because he loves us and wants us to be part of his family and community

 

What does this mean for us now?

I think one of the reasons we live in a society that is so far removed from God is that we are so individualistic. Over the last few decades we have been moving further and further away from community and family values. People are far more transient these days and communities don’t exist in the same way as they used to. Our western culture in particular is so “me” focused that we have forgotten how to live in family and this is translated from family life into church life. Satan really has a stranglehold in this regard.

It reflected everywhere and everything is geared toward the individual. Advertising and the media tell you that you’re better off looking after number one, and you should treat yourself because you deserve it. If it isn’t working, throw it away, and try something else.

That also extends into our relationships. Technology isolates us whilst giving the impression that we are more connected that ever. You can have 500 friends of Facebook and talk to people the other side of the world at the touch of a button, but many people are lonely because they don’t have family or community.

We also face a Crisis of fatherhood and the breakdown of families like never before in history. Single parent families and absent fathers are commonplace and there are many here this morning who will know the pain and heartache of the separation of their own families. The reality of life is that relationships breakdown, parents separate and get divorced, children rebel and families hurt each other.

What this world needs is a father. There is so much hurt and brokenness in our lives that we need a place to go for comfort. As a father, the one thing I want for my children is for them to know that they are loved by Ruth and me and, and by God.

God wants us to know that he loves us. He has loved us from the beginning when he put Adam and Eve in the Garden God created us and he knows us better than anyone – Psalm 139 – “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

There is nothing you have done that excludes you from relationship with the father. No matter how unworthy you may feel, or how much you may find reason to discount yourself you are welcome into the arms of a loving father. He paid the ransom for you and is waiting for you to come home. He is reaching out his hands and saying to you “come with me my child and I will live and protect you”. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

He is not an abusive or absent father. He does not expect us to earn his approval, or achieve anything for him. He knows that we get things wrong and we can be selfish, stubborn and impatient but he loves us anyway and he longs for us to come to him. He is a Father of restoration and new life.

He longs to see us coming down the path towards the house so that he can fling open the door and run to embrace us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past because he is a father who has restored our relationship. He has forgiven us and adopts us back into his family just as we are.

He is a father who cares intimately and deeply for us to the extent that he separated himself from a perfect relationship with Jesus his son to win us back.

Jesus came to lead us to the father. As the flesh and blood of God he came to tell us how much the father loves us and then to demonstrate it in the most incredible way by talking all our rebellion and selfishness on himself. He died and rose again to give us access to God and to restore our relationship by forgiveness.

He is a father who wants to be involved in every area of our lives and give us the help of his Holy Spirit to do this. He is a father who wants to grow and develop so that we reflect him and give the glory to him.

I want to show you a video that is a demostration of the love of God the Father. Meredith is a 19 year old girl who has spent most of her life without a family and moving from home to home. She is taken in by her High School teacher and after a few months of living with them, this is what happens.

That is the love that our father God has for you.

I really hope and pray that God has spoke to your heart this through this. There is something here for us all today because none of us has life sorted out and all of us need a loving father, who accepts us and adopts us. If God has spoken to you then please take some time to respond on your own in prayer, or with someone else. He is a loving father who is longing to hear from you.

 

 

Night Vision

Night Vision

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told

 

 

I would love to know what was going through the minds of the shepherds in this account. On another ordinary night out in the fields looking after the sheep, an angel appears out of the darkness. If my mobile phone goes off in a dark room it makes me jump, so an angel making an appearance in a dark field must have been rather petrifying! Luke tells us that they are “terrified”, and rightly so – it’s not an everyday occurrence!

The angel tells them the good news of the birth of their saviour Jesus in the nearby town. After calming their nerves by telling them not to be afraid, the angels give directions for how to find him- there couldn’t have been many babies sleeping in a manger! There is no instruction from the angels that they must go, instead it is more of an invitation – I believe the shepherds always had a choice whether they went to find Jesus.

And then, just in case the shepherds weren’t sufficiently awestruck, a heavenly host appears to praise God, with what I can only imagine was a symphony of music and singing, and brilliant light that would put the most spectacular firework display to shame. It would seem that as quickly as the angles appeared, they went – I bet it took the shepherds a while to get their night vision back and start to absorb what had just occurred.

I find it strange that there is no mention of what happened when they found Jesus, but perhaps this adds to the mystery and sacredness of the event. They were probably some of the very first people to meet Jesus, other than Mary and Joseph. I’d love to know what they said and what they did. I’d also like to know what Mary and Joseph thought of a group of shepherds turning up unannounced to see their baby!

The important thing is that they went to find him, which was really the only possible response after such a mind-blowing announcement – beats a Facebook notification, which is how I’ve told most people about the birth of our children!

Having seen Jesus, they don’t return to the return to the fields unchanged. They “spread the word” about him. They had experience something so incredible they were compelled to tell people about it and they praise and glorify God for it.

I think there is much we can learn from the shepherds…

God chose to announce the birth of his Son and Messiah to them before anyone else, completely demolishing the expectations of the day that the religious leaders and those in positions of power had some divine right and exclusive access to God. No matter how insignificant we may feel, God can and will speak to us, sometimes out of darkness and obscurity. He uses the weak and insignificant things of this world to spread his message and build his Kingdom.

God never forces us to do anything. He is a loving father wants what is best for us, by coming to know him through his son Jesus, but he gives us the choice. We either accept the invitation to be in relationship with him, or we reject him and go our own way. The shepherds could have stayed in the fields if they had really wanted to, but they saw the glory of God and they couldn’t ignore the good news that the Messiah, the saviour of the world had arrived. If we really allow God to reveal himself to us and we are open to the work of his spirit in our lives, we will urgently seek him every day, just as the shepherds hurried to find Jesus in the manger.

Having seen Jesus, the shepherds had two responses. Firstly, they spread the word about him. There was no way that they could have kept such amazing news to themselves…was there? We have the same saviour, the same God, the same message of hope and yet we are often reticent to share it with others. Why is this? Perhaps it is a cultural conservatism, fear of appearing superstitious or “religious”, lack of confidence and faith?

Secondly, they returned glorifying and praising God. An encounter with Jesus should inevitably lead to worship and adoration. By making space and time to be in the presence of God and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and by soaking in the vastness of his love communicated through the scriptures, we should be moved to praise and deepen in our love for Jesus. When we return to our own “fields” – the places where life happens at work, home, with friends and family and where we go through the highs and lows, the rough and smooth – we will have the attitude of praise and the joy, hope and peace that comes from knowing the living God.

Happy Christmas!