Haggai is a book with a very simple message. It’s one of those little books that is often forgotten about as well; it is only referred to one time in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:26).
The people in Haggai’s day were not living in sin; so many parts of our Bibles are about God condemning people who were committing fornication, adultery, murder, and so on. Haggai addresses a different issue.
Imagine this: It’s 8:30 AM on Sunday morning. Your alarm clock wakes you up. You get out of bed, make some coffee and some breakfast, sit down, read the paper, check the score of the baseball game, you go to the bathroom, take a shower, get dressed, grab your Bible, hymn book, notepad, and whatever else you need for Sunday morning, you say goodbye to your pets for the day, get in the car, drive to the Hall, the presiding brother says, “We’ll open with hymn…” then you read from the Old Testament and then from the New Testament, then a brother goes up and speaks for 20-30 minutes, maybe more, then you sing a hymn, then the bread and wine comes around, so you take your little cracker and drink your little sip of wine, then you sing one last hymn, and have one last prayer, then afterward, you shake a few hands, give a few hugs, tell people to have a good week, then get in your car and drive on home.
Does this sound familiar? Because if it does, that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with any of this; it’s a normal Sunday morning for most of us, at least in some similar way. This is my Sunday morning, chapter and verse.
But it’s so easy, isn’t it, to go through the motions. I fully admit that many times when the alarm goes off at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, I might wake up and think, “oh, great. Gotta get up…”
A somewhat-famous Tucker High alumni once said, “The easiest thing that you can achieve in life is mediocrity.” That’s the route the people were taking in Haggai’s day; mediocrity; “good enough.” Lukewarm is the easiest way to go. Imagine playing an intense game of basketball in a non-air-conditioned gym; then imagine getting a Gatorade from the vending machine, and taking a giant gulp, only to find that it’s lukewarm, and not ice-cold. Have you ever had lukewarm food? It’s not pleasant at all. No one really likes it. Jesus uses pretty graphic words to describe how he feels about “lukewarm;” he says he will spue it out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15-16). We probably feel the same way in reality. But remember that “hot AND cold” is not lukewarm; “neither hot NOR cold” is. Jesus does not say that either one is better than the other. Everyone has different talents and we’re not carbon copies of each other.
The people were waiting for something, like a grand and glorious sign to show them that it was the time to rebuild the temple (1:2). God doesn’t give us bright neon signs that say “I want you to get baptized now,” or “I want you to go to this meeting,” or, “This is the career path I want you to take,” or, “This is the person I want you to marry,” or anything like that. The people knew they could have done it, but just never quite got around to it. So what’s holding you back?
We can all relate to 1:6 literally. At a Young People’s weekend a while back, for Saturday dinner, each attendee was given one taco, and one little handful of chips. There were no seconds on anything; there was just enough so that everyone could have a little. The people in Haggai’s day were getting shortchanged because they had forgotten what they were supposed to do; they paid a little too much attention to the “here and now.”
There are a few little lessons I’d like for us to take from Haggai’s message.
1-Put God first
In the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Luke 14:16-24), Jesus does not condemn what the people were doing. Most people here are married; none of us probably own cows; we get meat and milk from the grocery store, but many of us do have pets; and most people here own something of great value, such as a house or car, and it needs maintenance from time to time. All that is well and good. But think give some thought to it; ask yourself if you let it get in the way of the Lord’s work. God says, “Consider your ways.” There’s nothing sinful about having married a wife, bought you a cow, or having fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum. But we can’t let God play second fiddle. The Lord is never too busy for us, and he has a million more things to do than any of us.
The Lord asks for our time and attention, and he wants us to serve him with gladness (Psalm 100:2).
2-It’s easy to get discouraged, but keep on going
Today some may say “I remember the ‘good ol’ days’ when things were so much better in our community of believers.” Solomon tells us not to say that; in fact, he even says it’s foolish (Ecclesiastes 7:10). As someone who is younger than most of you, I hope that you aren’t looking at my generation and thinking “the good old days were so much better.” We may also say, “Look at THAT meeting (or region of the world); they’re doing so much better; what a spiritual utopia!” Even worse, we may say too often, “Well Brother So-And-So wouldn’t allow that if he was here.”
Some of the older people who saw the new Temple were disappointed; in fact, they were quite upset; Ezra says they wept (Ezra 3:11-13). It was almost as if because the new Temple was not as impressive, that the Lord was not as present. The Lord said to Solomon at the dedication of the first Temple, “Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there forever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually (2 Chronicles 7:15-16).” This group of people here in Richmond has had many meeting places over the years. But no matter where it was that we met, the Lord was there. That can be hard to remember sometimes. But he says, “I am the Lord, I change not (Malachi 3:6).” The new Temple was not as good as the previous one, but God had not changed, even many years later. God answered their discouragement by saying, “Be strong…for I am with you (2:4).” He is always present.
3-There must be sincerity in what we do
Whatever we do for the Lord needs to be done in holiness. God does not give his stamp of approval unless something is done for the right reasons. It may work out, but it does not mean God approved. It is so easy (especially for me) to be on our best behavior on a Sunday morning. Right now, this is probably the best that you see of me. Holiness is not contagious. You will not get holiness from any of us here, or any brother or sister from far away. If I don’t have it, I won’t get it from any of you, and even if I do have it, none of you will get it from me. And believe it or not, you will not get holiness from reading your Bible, or from coming here on a Sunday morning, or from listening to talks on an MP3 player. Our attitude toward the Lord is what leads us to be holy. If we are just doing his work to avoid getting punished, and especially not being done in love for the Lord and for our brothers and sisters, it is not being done in holiness; it is being done for the wrong reason.
Paul said to the Hebrews, “Follow after peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14);” that is a serious statement.
4-God chooses each of us
At the end of Haggai, God says to Zerubbabel that he will make him as a signet ring (2:23), because God had chosen him. A signet ring was the most important thing that a king wore; it is what the king signed all official documents with. Ahashuerus gave Mordecai his signet ring and told him that whatever law he needed to write and pass in order to protect his people, that the king had already given his approval (Esther 8:8).
In the same way, the Lord has chosen each of us; we are all so important to him; there is nothing that can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38-39). He knew us before we even came into being (Jeremiah 1:5), and loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Jesus had not met us yet, but he died for us. He has asked us to remember him in such a simple way, through bread and wine; not as a ritual, not as some lukewarm routine that we just do because it’s Sunday, but because he is our Lord; he is the Son of God, and he is Earth’s future King, and because we love him and we are his brothers and sisters. He says that if we love him in return, that we will keep his commandments (John 14:15).