Put a Ring on it!
Matthew 1:1 & 12 - 17
Put a Ring on it
A day to remember ...
If I asked you what you were doing on October 17 this year, I wonder if you’d be able to recall.
Perhaps, if you’re like me, you don’t remember at all!
But since Haggai chapter 23 opens on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, that is, October 17 in our calendar, I went back and looked in my diary to see what I was doing on that day.
Turns out I was here, I had a meeting here at Cornerstone,
I had coffee with someone earlier that morning, and I spent some time writing material for our blokes’ discipleship and training group. They were the most exciting things I did on that day.
But if we’d asked one of God’s people in Judah in 520 BC, what they were doing on that day, they would certainly remember, they wouldn’t need to go back to their diary to check, because the most exciting thing they would have done on that day, would have been to sit outside their house in a tent, because that was the second-to-last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
This was one of the three great festivals of the Jewish calendar, along with Passover and Pentecost, when all able-bodied Jewish men were to Jerusalem to celebrate.
That’s, of course, how come we end up with crowds in Jerusalem the first Easter, because that was Passover,
And then 7 weeks later the crowds gathered again for Pentecost.
But the point of the Feast of Tabernacles, when everyone moved out of their house and lived in the front yard in a tent or booth made of branches, was to remember and celebrate God’s provision during the time when Israel lived in the wilderness.
It was a celebration of God’s redemption of the nation out of Egypt,
It was a way of doing something physically that reminded them that God had made provision for sin to be forgiven and for the people to have a relationship with him.
And it’s on this day, this last day of action of the feast, before the solemn rest day on the final day, on this day where it was impossible not to be mindful of God’s provision in the past, as you’re sitting in your little bark hut like your ancestors did, this is the day that God chooses to speak about what he’s going to do in the future.
God has a word of encouragement for his people.
the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai.
And perhaps we can see why God wants to encourage the people. They’ve been building for a month, but already it’s apparent, at least to some, that what they’re going to end up with, really pales in comparison, to the temple that had previously stood there.
The work God calls his people to can seem insignificant (1 – 3)
Once again the message is addressed to everyone, verse 2, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, the remnant of the people.
Ask them, 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?
This temple going to be nothing like the one that was there previously.
I remember when Kathy and I built our house in Littlehampton, well, when we paid some other people to build our house in Littlehampton! we came up after they’d poured the slab, and we walked around on it. And it looked enormous. We’d not been married long, we were living in a tiny flat down in Fullarton, and seeing the foundation for what seemed this giant 4 bedroom house, we couldn’t imagine that anyone could ever need so much space, or could ever fill so much space!
How little we knew!!
But see it’s the opposite here.
The temple that had previously stood on this spot, built by king Solomon, close to 500 years earlier, it was a deliberately glorious and awe-inspiring affair.
The inside was covered with gold. Craftsmen from all over the world had lent their skills to its construction.
But now there’s no money to pay the world’s best builders to come,
Certainly no money to cover everything in gold.
And there’s still a few in Judah who are old enough to remember what the old one was like 70 years ago.
There’s a few here who can remember things happening 70 years ago, the 40-hour work week, the partition of India.
Most of us don’t remember, but a few will.
And the comparison here with the temple, just makes them want to give up.
The same thing had happened 17 years earlier when the foundation was laid. Those who could remember what had been there before wept at the insignificance of their efforts.
How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?
“Yes,” they’d say! “It is nothing”
Why press on building this second rate, mediocre looking temple?
“Well,” God says, “It doesn’t look like much now, but I’m building something that is going to be significant and world-changing.
As you build this, I’m building something much bigger, be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord.,
‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest.,
Be strong, all you people of the land,
The work that God calls his people to can seem insignificant, and yet he calls us to faithful obedience and encourages us in it.
Often things that turn out great or spectacular, don’t look like that in the early days.
I read this week that construction costs for the Sydney Opera House blew out 14 hundred percent as they were building.
There were arguments over the design,
Politicians wanted the thing shut down,
The Premier criticised it,
Jorn Utzon, the architect, quit part way through,
And yet now the thing is arguably the most iconic building in the country.
If the Sydney Opera House had existed in 520 BC, God would have shown Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people a picture of it.
God’s work, through the work of his people, is marvellous (v 4 - 5)
What you’re working on might not look like much now,
But what I’m working, through your work, is going to be enormous.
He calls them to be strong,
He assures them of his presence with them, For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty,
And if God’s here, if God’s with them, well, it says a few things, doesn’t it?
It gives the people assurance that God’s plans and purposes are not going to come to nothing.
It also reminds the people that God is bigger than the temple. The fact that there’s no temple here yet doesn’t mean that God’s got nowhere to live, that he’s homeless, that he has to commute, every day, back and forth from heaven.
No, the temple’s important, absolutely, we saw that last week, but God is not confined to a building.
This, is not God’s house.
God is not more present in Paideia, Cornerstone College middle school building, than down the road somewhere.
We miss the great assurance that God wants to give his people in Haggai 2 if we imagine that God is somehow contained in this space, and needs this building if he’s going to relate to us.
You don’t come into this building on a Sunday to enter God’s presence.
We don’t come for a top up of Gods’ presence on Sunday, and then kind of leak that out of us during the week so that we need to come back to be re-filled with God’s presence next Sunday.
No, just as God says here that he is with his people by his Spirit, we who stand this side of the cross of Christ, have God’s presence with us by his Spirit in an greater way;, permanently, indwelling.
But significantly for the people in Haggai’s day, the language that God uses to picture his presence among his people, echoes the language that he uses speaking to the generation of the Exodus, to speak of his presence with them.
Remember, we’ve had Exile. The people have been carted off as prisoners to Babylon for their disobedience, and now brought back. They could be forgiven for thinking, all bets are off! God’s going to wipe his hands of us.
But on this day, when, what are they doing? Sitting out in the backyard under their tabernacles, remembering God’s provision for the Exodus generation,
On this day of all days, God speaks to them in language that says,
“You are the people I have drawn to myself,
You are my people,
I am your God,
And the promises I made to your ancestors who I brought out of Egypt, I am going to fulfil, through you.
Just like God had said to the people through Joshua on the edge of the Promised Land, be strong, now he says it again.
In Joshua’s day they were discouraged and afraid, God says the same thing to his people in Haggai’s day.
And in our day, if you’ve felt discouraged and afraid,
And maybe some this week have,
If you feel that plans are aligned against God’s purposes,
That what you put your hand to in obedience to God, that your mission in the world seems insignificant and likely to fail,
What did Jesus say to those who follow him? “I am with you”
God’s plans will not fail, no matter how insignificant out work appears,
Or how many people line up in opposition to us and to the God we serve.
Not a bad encouragement to get about the task to which the people in Haggai have been called, is it?!
Or to us!
God is working to build something glorious (v 6 – 9)
God is going to act to build something great.
What God’s people are doing seems small and insignificant. You could drive down the main street of Jerusalem and hardly notice it,
But that’s not going to be the case when God acts on his plan.
He’s going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land,
I will shake all nations God says,
‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty
You’re not going to be able to miss this, God says.
You may have seen news of the earthquake Sunday night in Iran and Iraq. It was captured live in a TV interview. The person being interviewed suddenly looked worried as everything started moving, and the TV host sat there wondering what to do!
Whether you’re experiencing the shaking, or just looking on, you can’t miss it!
This is not the first time that thundering and shaking has come up in the Bible. You know those “Men at work” signs that you see when they’re doing roadworks? Well, Earthquake and shaking in the Old Testament were God’s “God at work” sign. Well this kind of thing was
But when God says here I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, that is, I’ve done it before, it’s pointing back to when he gave the Law at Mount Sinai.
And that event, accompanied by shaking, and earthquake and thundering, that was the most significant appearance of God among his people in their history.
God was present.
There was thundering and shaking,
The people couldn’t go up the mountain,
Even animals weren’t allowed to touch the mountain,
What the people are working on looks insignificant,
Those who oppose it, remember there’s been opposition from outside, they look so strong and powerful,
“Even so,” God says, “I’m going to act,
I’m going to be present, like I’ve been in the past, so that this little insignificant thing that you’re working on, is going to become even more glorious than the thing that was here before.
And now we think, well, how does that work?
How can what’s being built now be better than Solomon’s temple?
Well, I think there’s 2 ways. There seems to be a short term and a long term fulfilment.
How does the work become glorious in Haggai’s day?
This work becomes glorious, because as God says in verse 7, what is desired by all nations will come
The ESV Bible translates it as the treasures of all nations shall come in,
The temple is going to be filled, with the riches of other countries.
Well the kings of Persia, like Cyrus and Darius, they’re the leaders of the world’s one super-power, and they’re the ones commanding the temple to be built, and the various public officials who control the wealth of the vast Persian empire, are told to contribute.
The Persian Empire at this time, stretched from India, to Europe and Africa.
The Persian Empire, at this very moment in history, is actually listed in the Guinness Book of Records, because in Haggai’s day, it was home to 44 percent of the population of the planet!
It’s these coffers, that under God’s hand, are going to fund the building and furnishing of the temple.
We learn though that there’s yet another way that Haggai and the people are going to see the treasures of the nations come into the temple.
In Ezra, and I know some of you have been reading Ezra, in chapter 5, we meet a politician, who’s making life difficult.
Just try and imagine that concept!
The guy’s name is Tattenai, he’s the governor of Trans-Euphrates, under the rule of the Persian Empire. He and some of his mates have been trying to stop the work on the temple. They even write an official letter to the king, and complain.
King Darius then writes back,
Very tedious, because there’s no email! But he writes back and says yes, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates they have permission to rebuild the temple,
Let them get on with it,
Oh, and by the way, the full cost of their building project, is going to funded from the revenue of, Trans-Euphrates
what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory
The money might be in the treasury of Darius and the storehouses of the leaders of Trans-Euphrates, but ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
Everything is God’s, and it’s to be used for his purposes.
A little warning there for us, isn’t there?, about trying to hold on to the money that God’s entrusted to us. As if we ever could hold onto, what belongs to God.
Who do you end up fighting?
How does the work become glorious in the longer term?
As I said though, there’s a longer-term fulfilment of God’s promise, to fill this house with glory, to make the new work, infinitely greater than the old.
In Hebrews 12, the author quotes Haggai 2, and the shaking of the heavens and the earth, to contrast the temporary, transitory Old Covenant way of relating to God, with the permanent unshakable kingdom of God brought about by Jesus.
He says if you trust in Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection as a means of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, then you receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
He says the things that can be shaken will be taken away.
The problem of sin, of rejecting God’s pattern for life,
Turning our back on God,
Thinking we know better,
Wanting the good things that God offers, but not wanting anything to do with God,
Well for the people of Judah, that had meant loss of their land,
Loss of their temple,
Loss of their wealth,
Loss of their crops and livelihoods as we saw last week.
The writer to the Hebrews says, that there was a decisive act of God coming after Haggai’s day, a final shaking,
A final dramatic intervention of God in the world,
Of God making his presence known.
After that, there’s no more shaking, he says.
No longer any wondering, “is my sin going to mean I’m cut off from God’s presence?”
Just the permanent, unshakable kingdom of God, and a place for you in it, if you’re willing to trust that that final appearance of God, that final decisive act of God in the life, and death and resurrection of Jesus was enough.
If that’s what you cling to,
That day when God acted decisively, in a way that can’t be overlooked, at the cross of Christ, then you receive all the blessings of the unshakable kingdom of God.
The work that God is doing through this remnant of his people, it doesn’t have greater glory because of its opulence, but because of it’s permanence;, a work of blessing that will last for eternity.
God wants to bless his people (v 10 – 19)
And we see in the middle section of this passage that God just longs to bless his people.
And God works up to that promise, with this illustration.
Go and ask the priests a question. And you may have noticed, the priests’ answer to the questions, “No” and “yes”, these are the only times that anyone other than God speaks in this book. I don’t know whether you noticed that.
So much in Haggai is about listening to God, making sure you hear his Word.
And so now, On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, the 18th of December by our calendar, God promises blessing.
But before he gets to that, God wants the people to understand their situation.
The first question is, can holiness be caught? Verse 12, 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?
And the answer is no. That’s not how holiness or purity works. If you’ve got some meat that’s been made holy, set apart for the priest perhaps, and it touches something else, does that something else become holy, also?
No, it doesn’t. The priests are right.
Well then, can un-holiness be caught?
“If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?
And the answer is yes! Ritual defilement in the Old Testament could be transferred from one thing to another.
So if you drop your mobile phone into the toilet, as some here have done! The toilet doesn’t take on the properties of your phone does it?! You can’t make calls on it? Surf the web!
The characteristics of the phone don’t become the characteristics of the toilet!
No, the characteristics of the toilet, that it’s wet and filled with germs, they become the characteristics of your phone, don’t they?!
Or if you’ve got the flu, you don’t stand next to a healthy person, and, catch healthy, do you?!
But if you’re healthy and you stand next to a sick person, well, then, you might get sick too.
Verse 14, 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.
The people of Judah had originally been pure, holy, that is, set apart for God and his purposes.
But because of their disobedience, the way they sought after other gods, they had become impure, unholy.
But now, because unholiness is catching, anything they do is impure. They cannot offer anything that is acceptable to God.
They are no longer set apart for God because they have contaminated themselves,
And so this temple that they’re be building, well, that’s contaminated as well!
In your house, was there ever a pair of scissors that were known as “the good scissors”?, Always makes you wonder whether somewhere there’s some evil scissors! But the good scissors are this, holy. It just means set apart. Set apart for sewing, and cutting fabric, as it was in my house.
Those scissors are holy, set apart for a particular use, and you can’t use them, to cut steel wire. Apparently.
And once you’ve made them unholy by doing that, once they’re no longer set apart, well, you can’t use them any more for what they’re supposed to be, they’re ruined for that task.
Try and cut fabric with them now, and you’ve ruined the fabric as well.
Do you see the problem?
Their spiritual condition means that their work is unacceptable to God.
God is perfect, and pure, and holy,
Nothing they put their hand can possibly be acceptable to him until their sin and rebellion is dealt.
But it’s going to have to be dealt with by God, isn’t it, because they can’t do anything about it themselves.
If everything they touch becomes defiled, then there’s no way they can make themselves clean.
If your face is dirty, you can’t clean it with dirty hands, can you?
And there is the problem with sin.
We’re so stained by sin, that any solution to sin we devise, is going to be stained by sin.
God’s people need God to act for them, if they’re going to receive the blessings he wants to give.
We’re not blessed by God because we’re good,
Or because we deserve it,
Or because through our efforts, we’ve made God owe us one.
God says, From this day on I will bless you.’ ”
They’re no more deserving of God’s blessing than they were yesterday, it’s just that Haggai sees in the people genuine repentance and obedience to God.
And so God speaks, and promises blessing.
God is building a house (v 20 – 23)
But it’s not until the last section of the book, that we really see the shape of God’s plan for blessing.
It’s more than just success for the seed they’ve soon, figs and pomegranates and what have you.
God has something else planned.
In the very last few lines of this book, God speaks again. It’s later on the same day.
And I called this talk “put a ring on it”, to draw attention to this very last line in the book, as the authors points our eyes forward.
He says to Gods’ people in 520 BC, “God’s still at work, fulfilling his promises, so keep looking forward.”
He says God is building a house.
That’s not the language he uses though, is it?
21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.
Verse 23, 23 “ ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
The temple that Solomon had built was actually his father David’s idea. But God had said to David, in 2 Samuel 7, “No, you’re not going to build a house for me. I’m going to build a house for you.” That is, a house in terms of a dynasty, like we might speak of the House of Windsor.
There’s a couple of verses from 2 Samuel 7 on your handout, The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
2 Samuel 7:11 - 13
So you can see that the first part of that reaches its fulfilment in the life of David’s son Solomon, who builds the house.
But there’s obviously a part that Solomon doesn’t fulfil, because neither Solomon nor his kingdom lasted forever.
And so God’s people were looking forward, to this promise being fulfilled;, to God building a house, a dynasty, in the line of King David. And it would reach it’s climax, in the leader known as the Messiah, the anointed ruler, God’s chosen king.
And this Messiah, from king David’s family and dynasty, would rule over God’s people forever.
Who is this last prophecy in Haggai spoken to? Well, unlike every other time God has spoken here, there’s only one recipient this time, Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. And what do we know about Zerubbabel?
Well, we’ve been told over and over, as our Bible readers over the last couple of weeks are all too aware, he’s the son of Shealtiel.
Now I don’t introduce myself as “Clayton, son of Murray” every time, but I’m sure you’re already putting the pieces together,
Because we know that Zerubbabel is the son of Shealtiel, we know that he is in King David’s line. He is part of this dynasty that God had promised to build.
But why not make the point here? This is the one occasion when he doesn’t mention that Zerubabbel qualifies, that he’s part of the eternal dynasty.
And I think the answer lies in the part of Zerubabbel’s description that he does keep repeating. He is, 2:21, governor of Judah.
Zerubbabel is the post-exilic leader of God’s people.
You know what I mean by that, don’t you?
He is the leader that God has raised up for his people, after their exile for sin and their return,
He is the one who is to lead the covenant people of God, in faithful obedience to God,
As they move on from the life that they had known, separated from God, and broken and stained by sin, to a life of obedience and covenant faithfulness.
That’s the picture of Zerubbabel the author wants us to have.
Zerubabbel was a good leader of God’s people, yes, but he was just a taste, of one who would come after him,
Another ruler from David’s line,
Another king to shepherd God’s people,
Another leader, to lead God’s people out of sin and rebellion into covenant faithfulness.
The great shaking and interrupting of world history that God promised already, and that comes up again in verse 22, that didn’t happen in the life of this Zerubbabel,
Just as the eternal kingdom didn’t happen to Solomon son of David.
The promises are tasted in the immediate generation, but fulfilled in one who is to come.
It’s no coincidence that Zerubbabel holds a prominent place in that genealogy at the very opening of the New Testament, the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, Matthew 1:17.
Matthew wants us to understand that the promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7, and the promises made to Zerubbabel in Haggai 2, find their fulfilment in Jesus.
He is the one who God promised would come.
He is the signet ring, who acts with all authority of the creator God,
He is the one whose coming signals the shaking of all earthly kingdoms, the moment when world history is interrupted, and God acts decisively to change human experience once and for all.
The people of Judah in Haggai’s day were discouraged and frightened as they looked at what God would have them do.
The work seemed insignificant.
People around them were opposed to it.
They had worked hard to bring their priorities in line with God’s priorities, it was clear to them that they were living in a world where not everyone was interested in doing that,
And they were all too conscious of the consequences of their own sin, Their failure to honour God with all their decision-making,
Does that sound familiar at all?!
Doesn’t it sound like our life?
We live at a different point in salvation history. We look back at the promise to Zerubbabel fulfilled, they looked forward, and yet we too live in a world where God’s priorities are not honoured,
Where we’re confronted with the dreadful reality of our own sin and rebellion,
Where we find ourselves facing opposition, sometimes from people and forces way more powerful than us, who tell us, in no uncertain terms, that there is no place in our society, for our worship of God,
People who would silence the Word of God, and stop the work of God, the same Word of God that he calls us to announce as good news,
And the work of God that he calls us to be about, as something of highest priority.
We may not have the governor of Trans-Euphrates opposing us, but doesn’t it sometimes feel like just about everybody else is?
It’s absolutely understandable that we might feel like that, and yet there’s absolutely no reason to feel discouraged in any of that.
Friends, we’ve seen the promise to Zerubbabel fulfilled!
God has broken into human history, in an unmistakable way. The king in the line of David has come.
Look at the way God describes how the promise to Zerubabbel is going to be fulfilled.
Is it that something might happen?
Then maybe Zerubabbel might do something?
No, it’s all God’s decisive action, isn’t it?
Do you remember last Sunday Bianca saying that after being a leader in Kids Church for a bit she went from sort of, gentle suggestion, to direct action?!
Well, look how long God’s been leading in Kids Church! It’s all direct action!
I will take you, my servant,
I will make you like my signet ring,
I have chosen you,
Nothing gets in the way of God’s purposes.
Remember, this is the God, who even has his enemies do his bidding.
It was Cyrus, the pagan king who issued the edict for the rebuilding of the temple,
Darius, who came later, who saw that the project was funded,
And the governor of Trans-Euphrates, the one who tried to oppose the work of God, whose revenues brought it to reality.
Don’t ever be discouraged, if the work of God that he calls you to, seems insignificant, unpopular, or even unlikely to succeed
This is God’s work.
And God’s work never fails.