Summary: When the calendar turns to a new year, many of us take the time to reflect on the past. We think about the good times and the difficult times we have been through. We think about opportunities we might have missed or things we might have done better. That
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. At the Watchnight service, we talked a little bit about resolutions. I don’t know whether you make resolutions or not, but what I do know is that you have probably done some reflecting on the past year. That what we do when the calendar turns. We reflect on the past. We think about the good memories. We think about tough times we might have gone through. Many times we think about things we could have done better. Opportunities we might have missed or things we might have improved. This morning we’re starting a new series on the short little book of Haggai. The book is only two chapters long, so it’s only going to take us about four weeks to get through. Haggai is considered one of the Minor Prophets. It’s not minor because it’s any less important than Major Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Daniel. The only reason Haggai is considered a minor prophet is because his book is short. It may be a short book, but it is packed with good truth that is relevant to where we are here today. This isn’t one of those books that covers a long period of time. As a matter of fact, it consists of four prophesies that the Lord gave to Haggai over only a period of 15 weeks during the year of 520 BC. God gave those prophesies to Haggai, and he in turn gave them directly to the people and their leadership. That brings us to the question of who these people were. If you were part of our studies on Ezra and Nehemiah, you will recognize these people as the remnant. As a matter of fact, if you would like the historical background of this prophesy, you can read the first six chapters of Ezra when you get home. But in the meantime, let me just give you a brief rundown. Way back in the days of King Solomon, God punished him for introducing idolatry to the people of Israel. He punished him by dividing the kingdom up into the 10 northern tribes of Israel and the two southern tribes of Judah. Then for years, the people of both kingdoms chased after idols. The northern kingdom led the way, and Judah followed. God sent the prophet after prophet to try to get them to turn back to Him, but they kept rebelling. So God allowed them to be carried off into exile. First, the Assyrian world empire conquered the northern kingdom and carried them off into exile in 722 BC. You would have thought that Judah would have learned their lesson, but they didn’t. By that time the Assyrian empire had been conquered by the Babylonians. And from 605 to 586 BC, the Babylonian empire carried Judah off into captivity and exile. All of this was to fulfill a prophesy that God had given to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25:11 which said, “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” So, for 70 years, all of Israel was in exile in Babylon. Then, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Persian overthrew Babylon. A year later, the book of Ezra begins with a decree issued by Cyrus telling the Jews to return to Jerusalem. It should be no surprise that the Jews’ return happened exactly 70 years to the day after they were led into exile. That first wave of exiles was led back to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Things went great when they first got there. Jerusalem was in rubbles, but the people were excited and ready to work. They knew that God had brought them back there, and they knew that their first task was to rebuild the temple. They took off like a house on fire and got the site cleared and got the altar rebuilt. They had a big sacrifice and a big celebration, and then do you remember what happened? They quit. They ran into a little bit of opposition and they lost heart. They became satisfied with what they had and fell short of what God wanted for them. They grew complacent. They grew apathetic. They thought things were fine the way they were. So they just quit. And absolutely nothing happened with the temple for 16 long years. Oh they had their altar. They had their sacrifices. But the temple that God called them to build still lay in ruins. You see, in the Old Testament, the temple had a special significance. It was more than just a building. The temple represented the place where the people could go to meet with God. It was the place that represented God’s intimate love relationship that He had with His people. So when the people refused to rebuild it, what do you think that said about their desire to have that kind of intimate relationship with God? And that went on—day after day—month after month—year after year—for 16 long years. Finally, God sent the remnant two prophets to remind them of what they were supposed to be doing. He sent them Zechariah and Haggai. This book that we’re going to be looking at for the next four weeks is God’s prophesy through Haggai to His people. Now, that seems like a long time ago in a place far, far away, doesn’t it? What in the world could we have in common with a group of Jews who lived 25 centuries ago? I can understand how Haggai might have said something beneficial to them… but what can he say to us sitting here this morning. Well, he can say a lot. Because we’re really no different than those people were back then. You see, verse 1 says that it was the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month. Things in their area had finally begun to settle down. Darius’ reign was finally being established and the political world was calming down a little bit. But that didn’t really impact these people too much. What impacted them was that it was the first of the new month in the second half of the year. It was a time of reflection. It was a time of looking back over the past month and the past months. It was a time when people assessed their lifestyles and considered their ways. Kind of like what we do at New Year’s. And what they found wasn’t much different than what many of us have found as we’ve looked back over the past year. Do you know what they found? They found that they had worked really hard over the past year. They had worked really hard to plant their crops. They had worked really hard to put food on their tables. They had worked really hard to put clothes on their families’ backs. They had earned some money that year. But as they were looking back on it, do you know what they realized? They realized that they didn’t have anything to show for it. Look at what verse 6 says. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” Do you ever wonder, where has it all gone? None of us in here are wealthy, but we’ve all made some money over our lifetimes. Have you ever felt like it all went into a pocket with a big hole in it? And what about time? Did you know that in 2009, God gave each of us a tremendous gift? And each of our gifts was exactly the same. God gave each one of us in here a gift of 365 days. That comes to 8760 hours. God gave each of us 525,600 minutes last year. Where’d they go? In verse 9, God told the remnant, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” Do you ever feel like it’s all just blowing away? Why is that? God told the remnant why it was that way for them in the second part of verse 9. “Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” Do you honestly think that, 16 years prior to this, when the people finished building the altar… do you honestly think that they thought, “16 years from now, we still won’t have the temple built.”? I don’t think so. I think they thought—“Let’s wait a few days before we get started on the temple.” Then after a few days, they thought—“Man, that’s going to be a lot of work. Let’s get a few other things done first.” Then they thought—“Winter’s coming, I need to get some work done on my house first.” Then they thought—“We really need to save a little money before we get started on the temple.” Then they thought something else. And something else. And something else. All of which were completely reasonable and made complete sense. And before they knew it, 16 years had passed and nothing had happened. Not so much as even a stone had been set for the temple. I don’t think that the remnant’s problem was intentional. I don’t think it was open and flagrant rebellion. For the most part, I don’t even think they noticed at all. That’s why God sent them a prophet to tell them to think about it. Twice in this passage, Haggai tells them to consider their ways. And when they considered their ways, God showed them what their real problems were. In verse 4, the Lord tells them, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” Cieled houses were paneled with cedar on the walls and ceilings. It was a sign of affluence that had at one time only been enjoyed by kings. Now, did God have a problem with the remnant decorating their homes or having nice places to live? No—that wasn’t the problem at all. When God asked them that question, He was telling them that they had a problem with priorities. They had become so focused on their own personal needs and desires, that they completely forgot about what God required of them. God commanded them to build a temple. But they were too busy worrying about adding comfort (like clothes and home improvements) to their own lives that they completely forgot about what God wanted. That also indicates that they had become less concerned about glorifying God than they were about the daily grind. In Jewish life, the temple was where worship took place. They had gotten so caught up in eating and drinking and trying to make a living that they didn’t make time to worship God in His house. It also says that they had become more focused on relationships within their own house than they were on relationship with God. In the Old Testament, the temple was a tangible picture of God dwelling with His people. It was a picture of intimacy. If you didn’t go to the temple, then you were not meeting with God. They had become more interested in meeting with each other than they were in meeting with God. The Lord saw all this, and out of His love for them, He told them to consider their ways. The remnant didn’t start off intending to be self-centered and apathetic and complacent. They didn’t intend to rebel and sin against God. They didn’t intend to have to suffer through spiritual drought and physical futility. But over the past 16 years, that’s where they found themselves. Slowly, gradually—almost imperceptibly. So, what do you see when you consider your ways? What are your priorities? Do you want to know how you can tell what your priorities are? All you have to do is look in two places. Look in your daily planner and look in your checkbook. What does your daily schedule look like? Does it tell you that you’re more concerned about the daily grind than you are about glorifying God? Does it tell you that you spend more time on entertainment than you do on worship? What about your checkbook? How much more do you spend on your ceiled house than you do on God’s work? I can tell you that each and every one of us in here need some work on our priorities. How do I know that? Because this house isn’t built yet. Yes, we have a building. Yes, we have a budget. Yes, we’re doing some good things. But when we still have empty classrooms and empty pews, this house isn’t built yet. And when we still have people in our community who haven’t heard the Gospel, this house isn’t built yet. And when we still have people who cannot get to the mission field because of a lack of money, this house isn’t built yet. If each of us honestly considers our ways this morning, what we find is not a whole lot different than what the remnant found. What we need to be concerned about is how do we fix it? Do you know how to fix it? The same way the remnant did in verse 12. “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.” As we consider our ways this morning, there are three things we need to do to fix what we find.