Build It Now! (Haggai 1:1-15a)

Statue of the prophet Haggai, by Giovanni Pisano, c.1290 C.E., Siena, Italy

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 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.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 

“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 

Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. (New International Version)

Timing is everything.

There is a time to ponder and plan and there’s a time to move and act. If the time is ripe for action, then the lack of initiative is plain old procrastination. But how do you know when to act?

If the Lord says it’s time, well then, it’s time!

God’s people wouldn’t have described their inaction in rebuilding God’s house as dragging their feet. They perceived their inertia as a sensible delay.

Yet, the Lord saw the people’s approach as inexcusable enough to send a prophet with a specific message and call to action: Build the house now!

Let’s get a feel for why God’s call for immediacy comes when it does. In the ancient world, it had always been the practice of armies to assimilate conquered peoples into the culture of the conquering king. 

In the eighth century B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians took most of the people into captivity, left the poorest of the people alone, and resettled the land with some of their own Assyrian people. The inevitable intermarriages resulted in their progeny being known as the Samaritans in the New Testament Gospels, as the Samaritans.

Two-hundred years after Assyria conquered Israel, Nebuchadnezzar besieged the southern kingdom of Judah and took over Jerusalem. He carried Daniel and all the other educated and professional people to Babylon. In the course of taking the city, Nebuchadnezzar tore down the wall and destroyed the temple that Solomon had made.

During the Babylonian exile, the Persians conquered Babylon and became rulers of a large geographical empire. Because the massive Persian Empire was in control of so many different kinds of people across such a vast territory, they were not able to operate as previous empires did by assimilation and resettlement. 

Instead, the Persians did something new and different: They encouraged and enabled their conquered peoples to keep their religion and their culture. The only caveat was that they had to give tribute and allegiance to the empire and pray for the king. This is why Nehemiah, Ezra, and Haggai were able to return to Jerusalem and given royal authority to rebuild the wall and the temple. 

But, from the git go, there was opposition to the rebuilding from the old Canaanite inhabitants of the land. After many years, the wall was rebuilt but the temple restoration bogged down. The people slowly became discouraged and lost enthusiasm to do the work. 

Understandably, the people got caught up in taking care of their own homes and just plain neglected working on the temple. Over time, they just forgot about the entire project. But God didn’t.

The prophet Haggai made it clear that the people’s mental distraction and physical neglect was taken as disrespect by the Lord. Haggai insisted that the reason the people were not experiencing blessing on their land was because they simply did not have their priorities straight. 

Thus, God sent the prophet Haggai to preach a sermon entitled: Build the house now! 

To the people’s credit, they responded to the call of God and started rebuilding God’s house. The work was completed. However, there seemed to be a problem. 

Rebuilding the Temple, by Gustave Doré, 1866

Moving into the rest of Haggai’s prophecy, the newly restored temple didn’t look anything like Solomon’s grand and glorious temple. Many of the older worshipers could still remember Solomon’s temple; to them, the rebuilt temple seemed like a bologna sandwich compared to the T-bone steak of the past. 

So, God sent Haggai again to encourage the people. The Lord will be with them. The restored temple may not look the same, but what makes the temple great is God’s glory.

An important takeaway from the prophecy of Haggai is that the Lord is a jealous God; God’s people are to worship the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

We also learn that the Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation. God owns everything and will use it all to accomplish divine purposes on this earth. 

In addition, we see that God calls people to new work and fresh ministry. The Lord was behind the destruction of the old temple; and when the time was right, God called the people to build a new ministry.

And we learn something about ourselves, as well. God’s people need to hear and respond to God’s call. Haggai put a God-sized vision before the people; he helped them imagine what the new temple would be like – full of God’s glory.

God is doing a new thing. The Lord continues calling people to:

  • Seek first the kingdom of God. (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 63:1; Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 11:6)
  • Love God with whole hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1-22, 19:9, 30:16-20; Matthew 22:37)
  • Love neighbor as we love ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:38; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14)
  • Make disciples of Christ from all nationalities. (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • Be witnesses to God’s glory in Christ. (Psalm 66:16; Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Obey the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:31-33; Romans 6:17; Hebrews 5:8-9)

It is good to remember and celebrate past ministries; and it is also good to throw ourselves into the new ministries which God calls us and to build them for God’s glory.

My friends, build it now.

Glory to you, O God, the One who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by your divine power at work within us; glory to you, blessed God, in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, through the empowering Holy Spirit, forever and always. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-6 – Making Everything New

Make All Things New by James Janknegt, 2005

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (New International Version)

The world as we now know it will someday pass away. For the Christian, there is a future hope – there is a time coming when it will literally be heaven on earth, a renewed earth. God will descend to dwell with us.

This will bring us full circle to the original design God had in the garden with Adam and Eve –an unhindered relationship between God and humanity in which we are no longer dogged by our sinful nature, a sinful world system, and all the sinful temptations that the devil uses to exploit for his own purposes. 

Tears, death, sorrow and pain will be a thing of the past. Eventually, our struggle with sin, guilt, and shame will be completely over.

The message of the Apostle John to the early Church was a very encouraging vision for them. The Church was facing all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their commitment to Christ. To know that contemporary problems would not last, but that Jesus would change everything, was a great comfort and help to the believers in their very real and present troubles.

One of the problems we experience in this present evil age is that we are an impatient people. We want good things to happen, now!  All of God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Apostle John was not so much giving a brand new revelation to the Church but upholding and anticipating for Christians what had also been true for Israel: 

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19, NIV)

When Jesus came in his first Advent, God’s people thought for sure all these promises would be fully realized. But, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated. Some folks might wonder if those good promises are nothing more than a politician’s word.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:3-10, NIV)

Jesus had John write this statement down: “I am making everything new.” God is now in the process of moving history to its final stage. Can we be patient, as God is, in letting divine purposes do their work until that final day comes, or will we be impatient? 

“No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.”

Rachel Held Evans

We live in an amazing time in which we have instant communications and can travel anywhere in the world in a relatively short amount of time. The earth is a big place, but we can traverse it by plane in less than two days. It used to be that a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean took about three months from Europe to America. Now, we fly across the ocean in a matter of hours. Yet, we freak out that we have to be to the airport two hours before a flight and grump and complain about standing in a twenty minute line to board a plane.

It used to be that communication moved at the same pace as a ship. Knowing about a significant event that happened in Europe would take three months to reach America. Now we can know about what kind of bread some Frenchman ate for breakfast almost instantly after he eats it because he posted it on social media. And we complain if we have to wait a few extra seconds for something to load on our computers and phones, as if the world were about to end.

Well, actually, it is about to end.

Until that happens, we are not to twiddle our thumbs and simply wait for the end to come, spending our remaining time figuring out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s return. Instead, all things are being transformed. And it will culminate and climax in his Second Coming and the final passing away of the old order of things.

We properly anticipate Jesus coming again when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families and churches, to be just like Jesus. God is now in the business of preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old order to make room for the new. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NIV)

The book of Revelation helps us to break our fixation with the past and holding onto the ways we have always done things. It reminds us of God’s capacity and action for renewal.  We can walk now in newness of life. 

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

The work of God will ultimately destroy the old and bring in the new. God is now in the process of renewal, changing lives so that Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, as the One who has no room for any other god.

God knows the whole story. The Lord knows your story. The sovereign ruler of the universe knows how everything is going to turn out. When everything passes away, when all is stripped from our lives, when the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with? 

We are left with God’s purposes, not ours. Then, our own hearts can beat in sync with God’s heart for all creation. Whenever we seek to do away with the evils and troubles of this world; to eradicate global poverty; to end the world of sex-trafficking; to help others come to grips with the evil of this world through changing old satanic ways of operating; to come alongside others in their trouble; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming, but it is not yet here. Meanwhile, God is presently working to make everything new by bringing salvation of both body and soul to all kinds of people.

Blessed God, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Keep me alert and disciplined in my prayers. More than anything, help me live in constant, redeeming love for everybody. Let my hospitality be endless, generous, and without complaint. Make my tongue, my hands, and my heart a conduit for the light of Jesus Christ, the source of all goodness. Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-15 – The Supremacy of God Matters

Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind,
    who have ears but are deaf.
Gather the nations together!
    Assemble the peoples of the world!
Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?
    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?
Where are the witnesses of such predictions?
    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?

“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.
    “You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.
I, yes I, am the Lord,
    and there is no other Savior.
First I predicted your rescue,
    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
    says the Lord.
“From eternity to eternity I am God.
    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
    No one can undo what I have done.”

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

“For your sakes I will send an army against Babylon,
    forcing the Babylonians to flee in those ships they are so proud of.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
    Israel’s Creator and King. (New Living Translation)

I am an ordained Minister in a smallish denomination, the Reformed Church in America. This particular Christian tradition has its roots in the magisterial reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin placed a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In other words, all things hinge on God as the supreme Being of the universe. As Creator of all things, God’s actions and inactions are in no way dependent upon us creatures.

I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life. Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything. For many folks, it’s just some churchy mumbo-jumbo which is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life. 

I do not agree. It seems to me to be quite important. The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God’s sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace. It is God who justifies, and not any human. That means there are no conditions to which God is beholden to act. That is, God works in the world according to divine free will and is not reliant upon anyone or anything to accomplish good purposes and fulfill good promises.

“We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God’s grace and powerful control. Throughout all eternity God is God. There is none who can thwart the Lord’s plans. God acts freely and mercifully and nothing can cancel out those actions. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand! 

For me, this is a balm and a comfort to my soul. Not everything is up to me, as if my action or inaction has cosmic repercussions. As a guy who easily tends toward carrying the world on his shoulders, it is good for me to know that the earth spinning on it’s axis isn’t my job.

It seems to me, the assurance of God’s sovereignty in the world really ought to be a comfort to every believer. God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing any wicked person can do to subvert divine initiatives.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes. We simply do not have such power. Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and to therefore place our trust in the One who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.

So, take a few minutes, draw in a few deep breaths, and think on the wonderful truth that God is sovereign. To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-13 – God Is Sovereign and I Am Not

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Bring my people together.
They have eyes and ears,
    but they can’t see or hear.
Tell everyone of every nation
    to gather around.
None of them can honestly say,
    “We told you so!”
If someone heard them say this,
    then tell us about it now.

My people, you are my witnesses
    and my chosen servant.
I want you to know me,
to trust me,
and understand
    that I alone am God.
I have always been God;
    there can be no others.

I alone am the Lord;
    only I can rescue you.
I promised to save you,
    and I kept my promise.
You are my witnesses
that no other god did this.
    I, the Lord, have spoken.
I am God now and forever.
No one can snatch you from me
    or stand in my way. (CEV)

I confess that I am an unabashed Calvinist – a Protestant theologian, pastor, and chaplain in the Reformed tradition. What that means to me is that I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life. Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything. For many folks, it is just some churchy mumbo-jumbo which is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life. 

I do not agree. It seems to me to be quite important. The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God’s sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace. It is God who justifies, and not any human. That means there are no conditions to which God is beholden to act.

God works in the world according to divine free will and is not dependent upon anyone or anything to accomplish good purposes and fulfill good promises.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God’s grace and powerful control. Yes, indeed, throughout all eternity God is God. There is none who can thwart the Lord’s plans. God acts freely and mercifully and nothing can cancel out those actions. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand! 

This really ought to be a comfort to every believer. God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing any wicked person can do to subvert divine initiatives. Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes. We simply do not have such power. Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and place our trust in the One who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.

So, take a few minutes, draw a few deep breaths, and think on the wonderful truth that God is sovereign. To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. Amen.