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11. God Will Be First

The prophet Haggai 2:8-9, 13-14. God Rules, O.K.?

This is the 11th of 14 sermons from the Minor Prophets – the shorter prophetic books in our Bible. Add to them Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and you have the Prophets as the largest single section of the Bible. I wonder how often do you read from, meditate on, see what God has for you in, the Prophets?

The Lord Jesus will help you understand “what is written about Himself in the Prophets”, Luke 24:44, and we must not be “foolish and slow of heart to believe”, Luke 24:25, 26. Things revealed by God belong to us, Deuteronomy 29:29.

Illustration: Many of us are blessed with choices of food to eat, clothes to wear. We are all blessed with all of God’s word in our language. Why act as if there was no choice? Why eat the same food? Wear the same clothes? Why read the same, familiar Bible portions every day? Christian maturity tackles deeper issues! How long does a baby remain breast/bottle fed? Born again Christians need to grow into maturity.

(a) Haggai tells us the date of his four messages: 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20. King Darius was a world ruler following Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar. The folk who received Haggai’s messages had lived through the devastation of war. Their fathers or grandfathers lost in war and were displaced into exile, far away from their homeland. The generation to whom Haggai preached were Jews by lineage and ancestry, but Babylonians by birth. They were strangers to their own culture. Born and raised as Third Culture Kids.

Application: Does that remind you of any people you know today? You may think of those Sudanese from the South (I don’t like the word ‘Southerners’). You may also think of refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia hoping for a better life somewhere else. You may also think of ex-pat children, western in appearance but not in language, nor culture, nor life experience.

God had Haggai preach then to people on the move, and me now, preaching to His people at a specific time and a place in history. Under three leaders, three large people movements happened as first, Zerubbabel, 50,000, (Ezra 2:1-67), then Ezra (Ezra 7:6) and finally Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:11, 12) led the exiles who were ready to return to Jerusalem and their surrounding lands. The stories of what happened to them warn displaced Southern Sudanese, refugees and ex-pat people that going home with great ideas is not easy. Things do not usually work out as people think they will. Dreams of home “over there” are often shattered when a person arrives.

Years had passed for some since moving back. Their homeland was still a rubble. No promised development. Living was tough. In their hearts they may have thought God had forgotten them. And they may have asked, “Why did we come here?”

(b) Haggai tells us and them Who was speaking to them in their situation. Thirteen times it reads “The Lord Almighty says”, 1:2, 5, 7, 9, 14; 2:6, 7, 8, 9(x2), 11, 23(x2), AV, RSV, LB. Older translations say “The Lord of hosts” – “He Who is Yahweh, God of the armies.” A significant title. Haggai wants people to know that military power is not real power! Behind history unfolding is Almighty God outworking His purpose. Haggai says 22 times in 38 verses “The Lord’s word is”, “The Lord declares”.

Illustration: Today, of course, we look back on this prophecy, they lived through it. For us it’s like riding in a European train at 150 mph with your back to the lead car and engine. Out of the window you can see where you have been! You can work out where you are by what you have just been past. So we learn where we are in our walk with God as we look back into this open revelation.

Application: These returnees had sacrificed to go back home. And it had not worked out. The “2nd year of Darius” brought peace, but not prosperity – not yet. It brought tremendously hard work. Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 both tell us that Haggai and Zechariah preached a message of strengthening and encouragement to the people. “Keep on”. “Look at your priorities”. “Evaluate and adjust”. “Persevere”.

Haggai 1:12 summarises the word of the prophet (and the word of God). “Governor Zerubbabel*, high priest Joshua*, and the whole 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.

Notice above * there is no secular/sacred division. All life is worship.

I want to share with you a ten-word summary helping you to learn from this Scripture –

1. Hear words. 2. Discern source. 3. Fear God. 4. Do what He says.

1. Hear the words. Five times a phrase recurs in Haggai’s preaching. 1:5, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18(x2). “Give careful thought to your ways.” “Give careful thought to this.” “Give careful thought.” Other translations say “Consider your ways.” “Consider how you have fared.” “Think it over,” says the Lord of hosts. “Consider how you have acted and what has happened as a result.” 2:7LB. Commentators add ‘Choose wisely the course of action you will take’. ‘Think carefully. Act well.’ I said earlier: ‘Keep on. Look at your priorities. Evaluate what you do and adjust to meet present need.

1:2-6 may help us apply this personally, or even corporately as KIC. Do we tend to make life comfortable for ourselves to live in – but choose to forget that is uncomfortable for God? Are we satisfied in ministry with little fruit for a lot of expended effort – because we don’t believe God can do much more?* Jews blamed for inactivity rather than opponents blamed for attacks!

1:7-11 challenge us. Are we doing what we want or what God wants? Is the ‘opposition’ or ‘hardship’ we face day to day actually coming from God Who is deliberately withholding His blessing until we re-adjust our Christian service into His priorities?

Hear the words! Now you must test what I say. I attempt to apply today.

Illustration: Is the lack of financial viability for Theological Training here simply because the whole set-up is adhering to a church required wrongly imposed western format?

Is the lack of teachers in a senior school/or lack of funds for church schools actually because the schools are refusing to adapt to their changing world?

Is the lack of a Mission director/team leader basically because there is no vision for a director to direct?

Is the problem obtaining visas for some work, a direct result of deception or disregard of government policy and regulation in the past? Or is God in fact closing the door?

Is the current state of the National Church the direct result of our (forefathers’) missionary policies? God may call us to repentance, re-evaluation, refocussing.

Comfortable for selves, not for God! We reap what we sow. Hear the words!

Please don’t just accept my thoughts are from God! Think carefully about them.

2. Discern the source. All prophecy must be tested by Scripture and the Holy Spirit of God. Prophecy can be easily trivialised by some today – too predictable, too easy to speak out. God doesn’t usually need a prompt – to be given permission by the meeting chairperson to speak. “Hear from God the easy way!”. What effect does the ‘instant generation’ in which we live have on apparent prophecy versus diligent studying of God’s word?

2 Timothy 3:7. Our New Testament warns that in the end times people will “be always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.”

2 Timothy 4:3, 4 “will not put up with sound doctrine … follow their own desires … with itching ears (not from mosquito bites but so-called prophecy bites!) (I guess ‘unsound bytes’?) falling away from the truth … turning aside to myths.”

Discernment is given to those who are fearing the Lord (1:12); following the Lord (1:12); and being a friend of the Lord (1:12). All help to know the source of the words. The Lord God Almighty is not prejudiced. Always speaking the party line. Not self-contradictory. Not “sometimes” wrong. Not manipulative. Nor deceiving. (God removed prophecy for a time, Zechariah 13:2, 4 when He had said all there was to say). He spoke on after disobedience, exile etc. Then stopped for 400 years, silence. Illustration: What does it mean when you are deliberately not speaking to someone?

Illustration: My previous church, Redruth Baptist church in Cornwall, UK, was considering a service time change. In a meeting to discuss and decide on it 1/3 of the people wanted 6.30pm (no change), 1/3 wanted 7.30pm, and 1/3 wanted 5.30pm. When the result was known a word came from the leader of the ‘no change’ group, saying he thought we should try 7.30pm as we had had the other, 6.30pm, for a long time. I believe it was the prophetic voice of God. Everyone immediately knew this was right!

3. Fear the Lord. 1:12. Verse 13 “I am with you”. God calls for hard things but He intends to stand Himself alongside those who accept to do them. God’s work is ultimately done by God’s Spirit. “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear” anyone except God!

1:14 “So the Lord stirred up the Spirit” of the governor, of the religious leadership, and of the people as a whole – the God-fearing community spirit. They were to be “be strong” in the stirred up Holy Spirit 2:4.

2:6-7 a prophecy of Christ. “In a little while” “a shake-up” “and the Desired of all Nations will come and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord Almighty.” Simeon recognised the fulfilment of this prophecy you remember when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple, Luke 2:25ff. In the baby boy he saw God’s means of salvation – revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel. Christians don’t earn salvation by fasting, praying, pilgrimage etc. We are given a Saviour: Jesus! God is so great!!

400 quiet years later. But God did it! Those who walk step by step with God will never be out of His will. They may become out of step with society, or even the church majority. But they will always be marching in time with Almighty God.

4. Do what God says. Read 2:8-9. “‘The silver and gold is mine’”, declares the Lord”. Release your grip on your resources – they’re not actually yours, but God’s. Today’s temple is the people of God. Put resources into people more than plant. Far too much money goes into plant in Sudan today. The Christian Church existed for the first 300 years, with no buildings, no colleges, no ordained ministers! No printed Bibles – yet arguably closer to Jesus than us!

2:10-14 Bad influence travels quicker than good! If a holy priest touches a holy offering is it consecration or contamination? If we try to offer to God something contaminated with sinful thoughts, motives, etc. He will not accept it. “When our ministry is needed by us missionaries more than by the Sudanese people” – something is seriously wrong!

2:15-19 “Now give careful thought to this” (x3). Meagre returns are because I am wanting you to do it My way, not yours!

2:20-23 “Tell Zerubbabel I will …” with God’s Spirit on Zerubbabel, don’t fear enemy nations. With God’s Spirit as your authoritative signet ring, do everything I am asking you to do. And We will do it together! I, God, will always win. I am Almighty. I am first.

God’s Spirit gives authenticity to any work. If there is no evidence of God’s Spirit in church, in services, etc. if He has departed: Why are you still there?

Verse 23 God says “I will … for I have.” If He has chosen you for a job, do it well for the glory of Christ.

Haggai confronts those who accept the status quo.

The difference between faith and fatalism is God Almighty. Zerubbabel appears in our New Testament, Matthew 1:12, 13, in the line from King David to Jesus Christ. Haggai doesn’t appear. But God used him to help Zerubbabel help the people become what God wanted where He wanted. Are you ready to be used?

God Rules, O.K.?

Khartoum International Church 24th November 2002.


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