November 22, 2020

Get the Seed Out of the Barn – Haggai

In our journey through the Bible, we have come to the very short book of Haggai. It’s only two chapters.

Haggai is a prophet that lived in Jerusalem at the same time as the prophet Zechariah and he worked toward some of the same goals according to the book of Ezra.

In chapters 5 and 6 of Ezra, we read that Haggai calls on the people to rebuild the community and rebuild the temple.

Haggai’s challenge to the people of Jerusalem is to see and witness God at work in their lives.

Remarkably, we know the year that Haggai was written, 520 B.C., 67 years after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and carried thousands of its people away into exile.

The Book of Haggai is unique in this way. It can be divided up into several sections using the dates given in the book.

Here are the dates as they appear in the text:

Haggai: 1:1 August 29, 520 B.C.

Haggai 1:15a September 21 520 B.C.

Haggai 1:15b October 17, 520 B.C.

Haggai 2:10 December 18, 520 B.C.

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, VII, Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, The Twelve Prophets, Abingdon Press: Nashville, p. 711)

Jerusalem lay in ruins for 67 years. During this time, God had been working and preparing prophets like Haggai and Zechariah to speak to the people. But God had also been preparing the people to hear their message.

The first word I want you to hear from Haggai is that your life can lay in ruins for a long time, and while it may look like nothing is changing, God is working to bring about change.

You or someone you know can live in a depressed, devastated world for months, years, or decades, and then it can change. It may seem like change occurred quickly, but the truth is God has been working all along to bring about change so that rebuilding can occur.

Haggai was sent by God with a message to the people of Jerusalem. What did he tell them? Let’s begin with the first date: August 29, 520 B.C.

For almost 70 years the temple lay in ruins and then the people of Jerusalem returned to the city.   But the people didn’t believe that they needed to make the rebuilding of the temple a priority even though they were being urged to by the prophet.

Can’t you hear them?

“It’s going to cost too much money.”

“We’ve got to get our houses rebuilt first.”

“You know we are going to have to go all the way to the mountains to harvest the timber and we just don’t have enough time to do that while we are trying to feed our families.”

“We will not get enough volunteers. We couldn’t even get enough volunteers to have a goat bar-b-que for the new High Priest.”

“Who is going to pay the stonemasons for all their work? Who is going to quarry the stones that we need?”

“You know God used to live in a tent. I say we just put up a tent and be done with it.”

What was Haggai saying?

“Well, you found plenty of time and ways to go to the mountains to harvest timber for your homes. They are not lying-in ruin.”

“You find plenty of volunteers to get together and bar-b-que a goat when you have camel races.”  (Well, that’s just my imagination.  I’m not sure they had camel races, but you get the message.”

Do you know why people don’t like prophets very much? Because prophets expose our sin. They expose our hypocrisy.

Then Haggai asked them to do some soul searching. He asked them if they had ever contemplated why they never seemed to have enough.

Why don’t you ever have enough to eat, even though you worked hard for a crop?

“Why are you always thirsty even though you just had a drink of water?”

“Why do you never get warm even though you put on clothes?”

“Why do your purses seem to have holes in them even though you earn money?”

“Why was that?” the prophet wanted to know?

Why is it that we can never seem to be satisfied with what we have?

Why is it that we are always chasing after something that we don’t have?

Why is it that we never have enough?

Why is it that we never get our priorities in order?

Why is it that we value stuff over people or experiences?

Why is it that we look at our watches at church but never at a ballgame?

Why is it that we open our wallets quickly when they tell us how much a uniform will cost at school or an extracurricular event, but we say that church camp is too expensive?

Haggai told the people of Jerusalem that God had withheld the dew from heaven and the earth its crops because they were too busy building their own houses and had neglected the house of God.

Look a chapter 1:11: “I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, then new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.” (v. 11)

We should not think that every drought, downturn in the economy, or lack of productivity is a punishment from God, but we should not think the opposite is true either, that our prosperity is always a reward from God because He is pleased with our behavior.

The point Haggai was making was that the people had their priorities out of line and that he was calling them out.

He was telling them to establish God as the most important aspect of their lives again and rebuilding the temple would be a reflection that they were once again placing their faith in God as the centerpiece of their lives.

September 21 520 B.C.

The next section is September 21, 520 B.C. It’s been 2,540 years ago that the work on the temple was started again by the people of Jerusalem.

They listened to Haggai.

The text says that “the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.” (v. 12)

You know, it’s amazing what God’s people can do when we all hear God’s voice and obey God.

When we all fear God and believe what we should do and do it together, it’s amazing what gets done.

When no one is pulling against another and we are all in one accord and one Spirit, the church can grow.

All it takes sometimes is a loud minority to keep a church from growing.

Sometimes a minority speaks the truth like Caleb and Joshua did when they returned from spying out the promised land. But sometimes a minority that’s loud and divisive does great harm to the mission and vision of the church.

But if you have a strong group of spiritual leaders, a loud minority is just noise and they will not keep a church from achieving its mission.

Most churches have a loud minority that puts the mission/vision of the church in jeopardy.  It takes dedicated, determined, spiritual leaders to keep the church on mission.

Good spiritual leadership was the key to Judah’s success.

Look at verse 14.

“So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people” v. 14a.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. The Lord stirred up the spirit of Joshua the high priest. Because these leaders were behind the project, the spirit of the whole remnant of the people was stirred up.

Capturing the hearts and the imagination of the people with a vision starts with capturing the hearts and the imagination of the leaders.

If the leaders are passionate and communicate that passion to everyone else, the project will succeed. If your leaders are not passionate about hearing and implementing God’s message for the church, then whatever vision God might give, it will not succeed.

October 17, 520 B.C.

This date does not stand out to us, but it was significant to the Jews of Haggai’s day.

October 17 stood out for them just like December 25 stands out to us.  It was the seventh day of their Festival of Booths.

For seven days the Jewish people lived in temporary shelters as a reminder that their ancestors were in the wilderness and while there, God provided shelters for them to live in.

They celebrated this holiday when the harvest season was over.

The people would go up to the temple and worship God and give thanks that God had provided more than enough food for the people to survive.

This was an opportune time for Haggai to address the people because there was no temple for them to go to and give thanks to God for the food they had received the previous year.

In addition to reminding them that they had no temple, Haggai had another message to share.

It had been less than a month since work on the temple had begun. There must have been some Jewish Baptists in the crowd because it seems that some gripers and complainers had already emerged among them.

There were some people old enough to remember the glory and splendor of the former temple and they were complaining that the plans of the new temple were not coming up to those standards.

There are always those people who feel self-ordained to kill the spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm on any project that has great potential and support from the group.

Different opinions are important, but an opposing spirit is disappointing.

Different opinions can make the project better. An opposing spirit can make a project bitter.

So, the Lord sent Haggai to give a word to the leaders:

3‘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?4But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.5‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (2: 3-5)

It is so easy for us to get locked in the past and always talk about the way things used to be.  Here they were, trying to build the temple from the ruins and there were people already talking about the former temple in its glory days and comparing it to the one they were currently building.

Why is it that everything used to be better in the past?

Anything in the present can be good because God is in our midst.  While buildings change and furniture changes and technology changes, and personnel changes, the Spirit of God does not change.

The Spirit of God was with the leaders of that day and they were building the temple and Haggai came to them with a word of encouragement and reminded them, “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

If you are living in the past, how can you expect God to bless your present or your future?

God’s Spirit has never been more available to you than He is right now.

The days ahead can even be better than the days of the past or even of the present.

Even the Interim Period, the in-between time, the time you look for a next pastor can be a good time for you as a church because you will rely on God to lead you and on each other to do ministry.

Haggai promised that the glory of the present house they were building would be greater than the glory of the former house.

The glory of this church can be greater going forward than it has been in the past, but if you think that is dependent on you finding the next great pastor, think again.

I don’t discount the importance of the pastor search.

However, if you sit around and wait for that person, you are abdicating your responsibilities and you underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit that is invested in you.

Success begins with spiritual leadership.  All believers have God’s Spirit given to them.

We see Haggai placing this responsibility before the people.  God is placing that responsibility before you today.

December 18, 520 B.C.

Just rebuilding the temple was not good enough for Haggai. If the old systemic problems that led to the destruction of the temple did not disappear and give way to people living their lives in new and fresh relationships with God, Haggai knew that a building was not going to make any difference in the lives of the people.

As the work of the building continued, Haggai asked the priests: “If someone goes and touches a dead body and becomes ritually impure and then they go and touch some food, is that food impure, too?”

The priest knew that the book of Leviticus said, “Yes, it is impure.”

Then Haggai turned that into a parable.

“He says this is how it will be with the people of Israel and what they are putting their hands to in rebuilding the temple. If the current generation does not humble themselves, if they do not turn from injustice and apathy then whatever they build with their hands, including this temple will be impure too.”(2:14)

Christians, can we not hear Haggai speaking to us? Can we not hear these words from 520 B.C. all the way to 2020 A.D.?

The theme of injustice is a vein that runs through the minor prophets. The church is not yet leading the way on this issue. In fact, I’ve heard some Christians say they are tired of hearing about justice.

Christians are losing our voice and credibility in the world because we are not standing up for justice and liberty for all. There is apathy among us and many of us don’t care to see the problems of injustice that are around us.  Nor do we want to get involved, because that tends to put a label on us.

Haggai was reminding Israel that the ruins of the temple should serve as a reminder that if they did not get involved in working for justice, the temple rebuilding project was nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

Haggai told the people of Jerusalem unless they became people that lived justly, their efforts to rebuild the temple were in vain and their credibility was in jeopardy.

On that date, December 18, 520, a ceremony was held. They took a huge stone from the old temple and made it the cornerstone for the new one.

Haggai ask them if there was any seed left in the barn?

This was a metaphorical question.

To have a crop, you must get the seed out of the barn from the previous year to plant.

Haggai wanted to know if they were holding back seed that should be planted so they could produce a crop that could be used to bless others?

One problem for so many churches is that we hold back. We do less than we could with what we have and we want to know why God doesn’t bless the church.

It’s not because we don’t have enough seed or resources.   It’s because we keep too much of our resources in the barn.

We are afraid we are going to run out so we don’t plant what we have.

It’s not that we are afraid God will not bless our efforts.

We are afraid of the effort.  We are afraid that we will run out of seed.  It’s a “lack of faith issue.”

Through Haggai, God was saying, “Plant the seed. Build the temple. Work for justice. See if I will not bless you.”

Haggai 2:10 December 18, 520 B.C.

Finally, there is this.

Through Haggai, God reminds the people that He is the one that shakes the heavens and the earth. He is the one that overturns royal thrones and shatters the powers of foreign kingdoms.

As the Bible lays out “His Story,” the story of Jesus Christ, we are reminded of God’s involvement in guiding history.

Haggai concluded by affirming Zerubbabel, the high priest. He said that God had chosen him, and made him like a signet ring, a phrase that implies that Zerubbabel would have authority among the people.

Zerubbabel is worth noting because his name pops us again in Jesus’ genealogy.

Matthew 1:12 Zerubbabel was the

great, great,

great, great,

great, great,

great, great grandfather of Joseph who married the virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus

While Haggai was trying to help the people of his day see that God was busy working with them to help them fit all the pieces of their lives together, there was a larger picture playing out that they could not see.

God was stitching together a tapestry of faith that they could not see that would eventually lead to the one God sent as the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one we all should make the cornerstone of our lives.

When we make Jesus the cornerstone of our lives, our faithfulness sets up a foundation of faith that impacts people all around us and even the generations that follow us.

The Apostle Peter appealed to his audience and said:

4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.6For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,

a chosen and precious cornerstone,

and the one who trusts in him

will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:1-6)

Today, there are many things God may have said to you.

You might be a leader in the church, but are not passionate about your faith? Unless you are passionate about your faith in Jesus, this church cannot grow.

When you are a part of the minority voice, as we all are at one time or another, is your voice bitter, or does your voice makes things better?

You might believe in justice but find it difficult to speak up when injustice occurs.  Will you ask God to give you the courage to work for justice?

Are there areas of our church where we have too much seed in the barn? Are we motivated by fear of using it up or should we be motivated by the thoughts of being blessed because we use it?

Finally, there can be only one cornerstone of your life. The Bible says that should be Jesus. If your life does not sit firmly on the foundation of Jesus, then you need to start a rebuilding project today.

If you do, the most important date of your life will be November 22, 2020, the day you decided to make Jesus the one you built your life on and around.

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