Summary: It’s time to finish what was started by putting first things first.
Finishing What You Start
Rev. Brian Bill
This week I visited a website called procrastinationhelp.com to look for some procrastination humor. When I clicked on the link to the “best procrastination joke ever,” only two words appeared: “Coming soon.” That’s real funny.
Here are some statements that jumped out at me from the Procrastinator’s Creed.
* I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.
* I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.
* If at first I don’t succeed, there is always next year.
* I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.
* I shall always begin, start, initiate, and take the first step, when I get around to it.
Someone else has said that “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” We’re going to take a look at a group of procrastinating people this morning. Please turn to the Book of Haggai. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament so it’s a bit difficult to locate. The easiest way is to find Matthew and go left three books. Before we jump in, we need to understand a bit about the setting.
The high point of Israel’s history was during the reign of King David. For forty years he expanded the nation in both breadth of influence and knowledge of God. His son Solomon built a magnificent temple that was constructed out of extremely expensive material. It was the centerpiece of the nation and the focal point of their worship.
But things went downhill from there. After King Solomon died; Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom had ten tribes and was referred to as Israel. The Southern Kingdom had two tribes and was referred to as Judah. Because of their disobedience, the Assyrians conquered Israel and the ten tribes were scattered and became known as the “ten lost tribes of Israel.” Even though the southern tribes saw all this happen, they, too, continued to rebel against God. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, decimated the Temple, and deported the Jews.
Many of God’s prophets predicted that this captivity would not destroy the nation; it would eventually end and the people would be allowed to go back home. 50 years later He allowed the Persians to conquer the Babylonians and he moved King Cyrus to make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in three stages, over about a hundred years, they were allowed to migrate back to Jerusalem. In that first group, 50,000 Israelites returned to Judah with Zerubbabel and began rebuilding the temple. Unfortunately, they got discouraged and quit. God then sent them the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage them to finish the project. Ezra was also sent to help restore their spiritual fervor.
The people worked hard…at first. The foundation was laid but then they got sidetracked and the work was left unfinished. Sixteen years pass and then Haggai comes on the scene to deliver four brief sermons in five months. The message is clear: It’s time to finish what was started by putting first things first. His style is simple and direct and he doesn’t waste any words.
In the second verse of the book, Haggai lets loose and quotes what the “Lord Almighty” has to say about their procrastination. These are not Haggai’s suggestions but the words of God. Let me pause right here to say that this name of God is “Jehovah Sabaoth” which references Him as the commander of all the armies of heaven. It’s used over 270 times in the Bible and 14 times alone in this short book! Jehovah means that He is the self-existent one who is personal, present, powerful, and the ultimate promise-keeper. The Lord Almighty has all the hosts of heaven ready to do His work and as such He has unlimited power, unbridled might and untarnished glory.
It doesn’t say so, but I get the feeling that the people are probably saying something like this: “Oh, oh, we’re dead because the Lord Almighty has showed up.”
1. Mounting Problems. Before we start busting on these people, we should probably cut them some slack. After all, they were courageous enough to leave Babylon when a lot of other Jews decided to stay behind. When they arrived in Israel, they went to work and built the foundation for the Temple. And, of course, there was some pretty major opposition from the people who lived in the land, especially the Samaritans (see Ezra 3:8-13; 4:1-5, 24). One other thing was going on. King Cyrus, who had showed them so much favor, had died and his successor was putting some pressure on them to stop working.