Haggai Is for Hope
“Just a little bit crazy.” That’s what you would have said if you had been around the temple in Jerusalem in 4BC. You would have known an old man named Simeon. And you would have known him because he was always at the temple. Day in and day out, Simeon was there. Every worship service, every Community Group gathering, every Life Group meeting, every lunch, every birthday, every elder meeting — old man Simeon would show up and he would just be there. And if you had asked him, “Mr. Simeon, sir, why are you here?” He would have said, “Because I’m waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
And then of course, if you would have been around the temple in Jerusalem in 4BC, you would have also known a widow named Anna. And you would have know her because she was right there with Simeon every time the doors were open. She was always there, and everywhere she went she would hum and sing and pray, and if you had asked her, “Ms. Anna, ma’am, why are you here?” Shen would have said, “Because I’m waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
So in the New Testament, in Luke chapter 2, we read about Simeon and Anna. Luke tells us that these two individuals were always at the temple because they were waiting for the Messiah to come. Luke says that they were looking forward to the restoration of Israel that God had promised.
That’s what Luke said about them.
That’s what they would have said if we had asked them.
But if we had been around the temple in Jerusalem in 4BC, we would have said that Simeon and Anna are “just a little bit crazy.”
Now we would have known the same Bible passages they did. We would have heard the same promises of God that they heard. But Simeon and Anna, unlike most of the people in Jerusalem in 4BC, they really believed what God said. Luke tells us that they had the Holy Spirit, and that they really hoped for God’s coming restoration. And by really hope, I mean serious waiting for God to do what he said. Throughout the day, Simeon would stop and he’d check his watch and he’d look at the temple doors, and he’d wonder: Is it now? Is the Messiah about to walk through those doors?
And when it didn’t happen at noon, Simeon would think, well maybe it will happen at 3.
And when it didn’t happen at 3, he would think well maybe before dinner.
And if it didn’t happen at dinner then he’d go to bed thinking it would happen in the morning. And this was how he lived his life.
And if we would have been there and seen this, we would have said that he’s “just a little bit crazy” — that maybe he needed to get out more, that maybe he had been taking the Bible too literally, that maybe Simeon had spent too much time reading books like Haggai.
Introduction to Haggai
The book of Haggai is our focus today and it’s connected to the story of Simeon and Anna because the content of this book fuels the restoration hope that they had. In the Minor Prophets, there is a sharp turn that happens at the close of Zephaniah, which Pastor Joe preached last week. The first several books of the Minor Prophets have been heavy on sin and judgment, as many of you know. Since October we’ve talked a lot about sin and judgment (because that is what the text says). But then at the end of Zephaniah 3:14–20, God speaks about a future restoration. He says this in Zephaniah 3:20,
At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
So a change takes place in the Minor Prophets, I think, right here in verse 20, because it mentions “restoration” // and then the focus of Haggai — and Zechariah and Malachi (the rest of the Minor Prophets) — is all about how that restoration happens.
Now the Old Testament has a lot to say about the future restoration of Israel. Throughout the whole Old Testament, the theme of restoration has been developing, especially in the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). So when we come upon the mention of restoration at the end of Zephaniah, it is meant to remind us about this restoration theme. As readers, the mention of restoration in Zephaniah 3:20 is supposed to trigger in our minds all the stuff that the Bible has already said about restoration. And then we bring all that to Haggai.
Legos on the Table
Think of it like this: imagine Legos. [Any Lego fans here?] Legos are a big deal at my house. They’re everywhere, and I have a love/hate relationship with them. We’ll get a new set, and I’ll put the whole thing together: helicopters, bat-mobiles, all kinds of cool stuff. And I love that part. The problem is that it doesn’t last. In no time, the amazing aircraft that took an hour to build gets stripped and all the Lego pieces get scattered and different ones get mixed together (and I can’t stand that).
But what the kids do, is they each have their only little plastic bin they carry around, and they start collecting pieces of Legos in the bin. The pieces all fit together somewhere, but the kids aren’t really sure how. They just walk through the house and when they stumble upon a Lego piece that resembles others they have, they put them in their bins.
Okay, so think of the theme of restoration in the Bible like that. You have your own little Lego bin, and as you walk through the Old Testament and you stumble upon restoration pieces you put them in your bin. The pieces all fit together somewhere, but you’re not really sure how. You just put the pieces in the bin. And by the time you get to the book of Haggai, you’ve collected a lot of pieces and it is starting to look like something. And just before you start to read Haggai, Zephaniah says “Okay, go get your restoration bin and spread the pieces out on the table. You need to see this.”
We are coming to Haggai with a bin full of restoration Lego pieces. And before we really get into Haggai, I want to tell you about some of those pieces.
Outline for the Sermon
So for today’s sermon, I’m going to do a few things:
- first, we’re going to talk about the theme of restoration (the Lego pieces);
- then second, we’ll look at the message of Haggai in light of the theme;
- and then lastly, we’ll look at what it means for us now.
The Theme of Restoration
So let’s start with the theme of restoration. The whole need for restoration, of course, is because something is broken. We have seen this throughout the Minor Prophets. God had chosen Israel to be his people and he had promised to bless them. But they, over and over again, forsook God, they worshiped idols, and they mistreated one another. They were a broken people in a broken world, but rather than God just punish them and be done, rather than just end the whole thing, God promised to restore his people. He promised to make them new, to gather them together from all the places where they had been scattered, and he promised to heal their brokenness, and ultimately to heal the brokenness of the entire world. That is what the restoration is.
Now, of all the pieces in our restoration bin about that, there are three main categories of the pieces that I want to highlight. Throughout the Old Testament, mainly in the prophetic books, we see that God’s promised restoration will certainly include three things:
- The Messiah comes.
- God dwells with his people.
- God’s people are transformed.
God’s promised restoration will include these three things. Let’s look closer at them.
First, The Messiah Comes
This is the most important part of the restoration. God’s promise was clear: there was going to be a king to come, a son of David, from the tribe of Judah, who would reign forever over a new kingdom. God had promised this to David back in 2 Samuel 7. Here is what God told David. This is 2 Samuel 7:12–13,
I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
God told David that he is going to have a son who would build a house for God’s name (that means the temple) and this son would also reign as king forever. Now commonly in Israel, the offices of a priest and king were different. The priest was the one who tended to the temple and cared for the spiritual needs of the people. The king was the one who represented the people and led the people among the nations of the world. But God tells David that his promised son is going to do both of these things. He’s going to care for the temple like a priest and he’s going to reign on the throne as king. And this special son, this promised king was called the Anointed One, which in Hebrew is Messiah, which in Greek is Christos, which in English, we say Christ. The prophets talk a lot about him.
This is what Isaiah says in Isaiah 9:6–7. Verses 1–5 are all about restoration. Then he says this, verse 6:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Jeremiah 23:5 says this:
[v. 3] Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply [hear the restoration in that]. . . . [then v. 5] Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Then Ezekiel 34:22–24 say this:
[v. 22] I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. . . [That’s restoration]. [Then v. 23] And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
So the restoration is going to come by the Christ, the son of David, on the throne of David, who will be like like a priest and a king. He will shepherd the people and he will rule over the people. That is the Christ. That is in your lego bin.
Second, God dwells with his people.
Okay, a second category about the restoration is that God promises to dwell with his people. Jeremiah 3:17 says, talking about the restoration:
At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.
So the presence of God will be in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 37:26–27 say this:
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and [I] will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Then in a vision, in Ezekiel 43:7, God says this. He is speaking to Ezekiel from the temple and he says:
This is the place of my throne —
[just a note: his temple is the place of his throne; the temple was for the priest and the throne was for the king; and here he says that the temple is his throne, a blending of priest and king] —
This is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever.”
Third, God’s people are transformed.
Now, the third category of the restoration. We see that God’s people are brought together and transformed.
And there are so many passage on this. I’ll just list a few. Listen to Isaiah 10:20–22,
In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
So there is a remnant, a small portion of the people, who will stop leaning on, stop looking to, others. They will be different. They will lean on God. They will hope in God.
Jeremiah 24:6–7 says,
I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Ezekiel 11:19, after God says he will gather his people together, he says:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Okay, so the Messiah will come. God will dwell with his people. And the people will be brought together and transformed. Those are the three main categories of the restoration.
When We Open Haggai
So we have our Lego bin, we spread the pieces out on the table, and we start reading Haggai. And right away, we see in the first verse of Haggai that it mentions the timing of this book. Not all the Minor Prophets start with the timing of the book, but some do, and when they do it’s important.
This means there is a historical nature to this book. We learn that Haggai did his prophetic work during the reign of Darius, the king of Persia.
That tells us that this book was written after Israel had been attacked and carried off to Babylon, which was in 586 BC. Not long after the Babylonians took Israel captive in 586, the Persians, led by Cyrus, came in and took over Babylon. And then in 538 BC, Cyrus let some of Israel, a remnant, return back to Jerusalem. By the time Haggai is started doing his prophetic work, Persia is still in control but they have a new king, Darius. A remnant of Israel had been returned back in Jerusalem for a while, but they weren’t really doing anything. They just were there. Nothing was happening. Not until the prophet Haggai, the king Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua.
And the plan under this leadership team, as we see in Haggai 1, is to rebuild the temple. Although many were back in Jerusalem, the people were still living in judgment because they didn’t really care much about God. Up to this point, they never even tried to rebuild the temple. So God says in verse 9, “my house lies in ruins while each of you busies himself with his own house.” So their priorities are messed up. And that’s when Haggai comes and says, “Hey, we need to rebuild the temple.” (We see this same event in two other books in the Old Testament, in Ezra and Nehemiah. It is the same time in history, and we see some of the same people.)
So here’s the context of Haggai: there is a gathered remnant of Israel in Jerusalem and they are going to rebuild the temple. Now notice a couple pieces.
First, check out Zerubbabel and Joshua.
Zerubbabel and Joshua are mentioned together six times in this book, which is only two chapters. So we know, because of the repetition, they must be important. But why? Well, Zerubbabel, as he is mentioned six times here, is the governor of Judah. And Judah is the tribe that David is from — the tribe from which the Messiah will come. So Zerubbabel is meant to remind us of the Messiah.
And then mentioned beside Zerubbabel every time is a priest named Joshua, and Zerubbabel’s kingly leadership is closely tied to Joshua’s priestly ministry. The priest and the king are not the same person here, but they are working so closely together to rebuild the temple that this too, I think, is meant to remind us of the Messiah.
Second, notice what God says about this presence.
Verse 13: “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, ‘I am with you, declares the Lord.’”
2:6, “Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts,”
2:5, “My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”
So this is really good. You have Zerubbabel, who is acting as a king like David, and you have Joshua the priest who is right beside him (bot are meant to remind us about the Messiah, the priest-king. You will especially see this come through in Zechariah). And then, along with this rebuilding of the temple under this Davidic leadership, you have God emphasizing his presence with the people. He is with them. God is in the midst of the people.
You if you have your Legos spread out on the table, something is starting to come together. This whole restoration thing is starting to make sense. But there are two big problems.
Problem #1 – The new temple is a disappointment.
The temple was a disappointment. God says, in Haggai 2:3, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”
Have you ever been in the middle of making something and about halfway through you realize it sucks? Do you know what I mean. You had a really great vision and it doesn’t quite turn out.
Some of you know about Chickfila. They have really good fried chicken there. And one time in college somebody told me that the chicken is so good because they marinate it in pickle juice. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I was in college, so I figured I try it for myself. (I went to a Christian college, and frying chicken was the party scene.) So in between my morning and afternoon Bible classes, I experimented with frying chicken. And about 30 seconds into it I realized that I had no idea what I was doing, and by the time it was all done, what I had made barely resembled chicken at all. It was terrible. The worst part was that during my afternoon class I kept smelling something really weird. And every time I’d get a whiff I would think that someone needed to leave and go take a shower. And then I traced the smell to my own t-shirt, which smelled like really bad fried chicken. So I left class early. It was bad.
And that is what happened here in Haggai. The people were together and they were building the temple, which is great. And about halfway in, God says, “Hey, stop and check this out. This temple looks stupid.” Compared to the temple in Solomon’s day, this new temple looked like nothing. So there was a lot of excitement, and then this disappointment.
Problem # 2 – The people are not transformed.
But then the second problem is with the people themselves. The people don’t do any outlandish sins in this book, but God says in verse 14 that the people are unclean. They are dirty, and the rebuilding work they are doing is dirty. Which means, the people are not transformed. They are not changed. Their hearts are not different.
So there are several pieces of the restoration in the book of Haggai, but it becomes pretty clear that the restoration not happening here.
A remnant of the people are working together to rebuild the temple, and God is with them, and they are doing it under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who is a ruler like David, and Joshua, the priest, which reminds us of the Messiah, but the temple doesn’t look right and the people are still unclean. And in the middle of this all, God comes and says, verses 7–9,
The day is still yet to come. A little while out I’m going to shake the heavens and “the treasures [or the desire] of all nations shall come in, and the future glory of this house will be greater than it has ever been.”
In other words, we’re still not there. The restoration is still in the future.
So what begins to happen in this book, is that we get very excited about our how the Lego pieces look when they are spread out on the table, but they still don’t quite fit together. Too many pieces are still missing. And that’s what Haggai is saying. He is saying: “Almost, But Not Quite.”
What Does This Mean for Us?
And my question is why? Why does God do it this way? Why does God put all these pieces together in the book of Haggai to get his people excited, to remind us about the restoration, and then let it fall very short of being that actual restoration?
Is he teasing us? Why is he doing it this way?
This gets at a larger reality of how God deals with his people. And what I am about to say is a category that we need to get deep in our hearts, because it is not common sense, and it is so backwards to how our world thinks. This is how God works. Okay, so here it is.
Most of the time, God tells us what he will do, and then he makes us wait.
Just look in the Bible. Start with Abraham. God comes to Abraham and tells him he’s going to bless him and make him a great nation and give him a special land and through his offspring, bless the whole world. God tells Abraham that. Now, we should stop and think for a minute. God didn’t have to tell Abraham anything. He could have just done it. Have you ever thought about that? He didn’t have to promise him anything. He could have just done what he promised right then in Genesis 12.
Take Moses. He leads the people out of slavery, God gives them the law, he promises to bring the people into the Promised Land, and one day, God says, he is going to circumcise their hearts. But wait a minute. Why didn’t he just do it there? You ever thought about that? God could have just done it right there. He could have saved the people and changed their hearts and bam, all done right there after those first five books of the Bible.
Now take David. David is going to have a son who is going to build the temple, going to mediate God’s presence to his people, and he’s going to be king forever. That’s what God says. Now why not Solomon? Solomon is David’s son. At first, in fact, it looks like it is Solomon. But that doesn’t work out, nor the son after him, nor the son after him, and on and on and on. Now why? God could have just done it right there. The Messiah could have come in the book of 2 Samuel, and there you have it. We’re all done. The Bible is a pretty short book.
And then the prophets, then in Haggai. The people are in the Promised Land. The temple is being rebuilt. The presence of God is with them. And there is a ruler from David’s line who is leading them. Why not here? God could have changed their hearts. God could have brought all the pieces together. But no. He tells the people again what he’s going to do, then he makes them wait.
That is Haggai. He reminds us of what God has said, and then he makes us keep waiting.
We Are Still Waiting
God does that. Now, the reason he does that is because it is better this way. God telling us what he will do, and then making us wait, shows us more of his glory. It shows us more of who he is, and that makes us more beautiful (2 Cor. 3:18).
So if you are in a place right now of waiting — If you are asking God for something that he calls good and he hasn’t given it to you . . . If you are struggling through a situation that you wish could just end right away but it’s not . . . If you are seeking clarity on what to do next and it hasn’t come, you need to know that you are in good company. You are not an anomaly. You are in the heart of how God works, and in your waiting, even if you don’t know it right now, God is showing you more of himself and he’s making you more glorious.
That’s how he works. And we should remember, apart from the individual seasons of waiting we might be in, actually, all of us — all of us — are waiting. It all could have ended after Matthew chapter one. The Messiah has come. Jesus came here, and he did things. He accomplished our salvation. He died to save us from our sins, and he defeated death for our sake.
But then he told us things and makes us wait. He said he’s going to come back. That he is going to make a new world. That there would be Peace on earth and good will to men. And here we are, waiting.
We are come here together to worship, and we’re waiting. We read the Bible, and we’re waiting. We go to work and we talk to neighbors and we drink our coffee and pray with our children and we decorate our Christmas trees, and we’re waiting. And every now and then, throughout the day, when we’re driving in our cars, or when we’re walking on the sidewalks, or maybe just right in the middle of our busyness, we stop and we check our watch and we look up in the sky, and we wonder: Is it now? Is Jesus about to come through that sky?
This is how we live. We wait like this. We hope like this. And this kind of waiting and hoping makes us beautiful — and “just a little bit crazy.”
Communion is a moment when those of us who trust in Jesus symbolize our faith in him by eating the bread and drinking the cup. And when we do this, we are doing two things, we are looking back and we are looking forward. We look back to remember that Jesus died for us, and we say Yes, he died for me. My only hope is him. And we look forward to the day when Jesus returns, and we say Yes, he is coming back for me. My only hope is him.