Haggai 2:10-19, "Zero Times One Billion Still Equals Zero"
The last couple of times I preached, we began working our way through the book of Haggai, and we’re going continue in our study of this prophecy again today. This is a very short book, only two chapters. These two chapters are composed of 5 messages God gave through the prophet of Haggai over the course of three and a half months. Even thought there are 5 different messages, their main focus and purposes are all the same; to cause Judah to rebuild the temple, and more importantly, return to worship of the Lord. Because they are all so closely related, it will be very difficult to understand the full depth of today’s text without understanding the full context, which in this case means remembering and understanding the previous messages. Therefore it would benefit us greatly to refresh our memories at length before we dive into today’s text as it’s been a few weeks since we were in this text and some of us in the room may have missed one or both of the previous messages.
The people of Judah were taken away into captivity as a result of disobedience and unrepentance. After 70 years, a portion of them return and one of the first things they do is rebuild the altar and reinstitute the sacrifices. After that they lay the foundation of the temple, but then they decide that the difficulties are too great, so they leave it unfinished and untouched for the next 18 years. Then God sends Haggai onto the scene. He draws out the fact that the people of Judah are lying to themselves to justify their actions. They said that there’s too many difficulties and obstacles for them to rebuild the temple at this time. Therefore, it’s simply not possible to make worship a priority, but yet they were expending great time and effort to pursue personal comforts and luxuries. Therein, the true motives of their hearts were revealed. The problem wasn’t that the task of rebuilding the temple was too difficult, but that they would rather spend their time and efforts to build up the own personal lives first. Their own portfolios. Their priorities were wrong because they cared more about their own personal comfort and well being than rebuilding the temple and making worship a priority. As a result, there was a great emptiness and futility to all their labors because God had removed His blessing. In spite of their efforts, they were hungry and poor and had very little to show for their 18 years of work. That is the first message. They obey God’s command and begin rebuilding the temple again three weeks later. God’s second message comes when the work begins anew. He reassures the people that He is with them.
The third message comes one month after reconstruction has begun (that’s about 7 weeks after the first message). Even though they have taken a step in obedience and have begun working again, God reveals their hearts are still not right before Him. Some people were greatly discouraged that the new temple looked like a heap of rubble compared to the first temple, Solomon’s temple. Pride and materialism still ruled their hearts. These people were discouraging others as well and beginning to walk away from the work. God encourages them by reminding them that they’re not the ones who can make the temple glorious, He is. He promises them that the coming glory would be greater than the first, which hind sight and history tells us is clearly the coming of His son, Jesus. That was where we left off in Haggai.
Haggai’s fourth message comes 2 months later. However, in order to understand what’s happening in this 4th message, we need to be aware that God had spoken to the people through the prophet Zechariah in between Haggai’s 3rd and 4th messages. Please flip over to the book of Zechariah. It’s only one or two pages to the right depending on your Bible. We’re going to read verses 1-6 of chapter 1 [READ ZECH. 1:1-6]. The thrust of this message was for the people not to be like their fathers, but to repent. God delivered the punishment he had warned their fathers about because He does what He says He will do. This is a warning and a plea to the people of Judah and we read in verse 6 that they repented. Looking at these two passages together we understand that even though the people had been stirred to action and obeyed God’s command in Haggai 1 to rebuild the temple, they had not yet fully repented of their selfish priorities until Zechariah 1:6. So now as we get to the 4th message of Haggai, we understand that he is speaking to a people who have now repented. So in this passage, Haggai is explaining the extent to which their repentance has changed things.
It’s important that we remember that the timeless thrust of this book is not the mere construction of a building, but returning to a heart and lifestyle of worshipping God. In past weeks we looked at all the ways that for us, the temple corresponds to the church. Not just a building, but the body of Christ and our ability to worship and glorify Him through it. So it’s extremely important that we remember that as we continue today. With that history lesson fresh in our minds, let’s finally look at Haggai’s 4th message. We’re in Haggai chapter 2:10-19. [READ TEXT]
I brought a visual aid with me this morning, but I’m not sure that you’ll all be able to see it. And that’s why you should all be fighting for a seat in the front... because you never know when there’ll be pictures. Many of you know that my daughter has a great love for Sesame Street. I brought one of her Sesame Street books with me today. This actually used to be my book as a kid, and as you can tell, it was one of my favorites too. This story is called “Down on the farm with Grover”. All of the monsters live in the city, so it’s very curious one morning when Grover steps out dressed in overalls and a bandanna and straw hat. He proudly announces that He’s going to be a farmer. He’s going to take care of his uncle’s farm for the weekend. People raise their concerns, but Grover reassures them that it will be easy. So he shows up, dressed up and studied up. His uncle shows him around and is shortly on his way. First thing the next morning, Grover decides to take some initiative. He wants to improve upon the normal ways of the farm. So,he decides to treat the animals and makes burgers, spaghetti, pizza, and milkshakes for the animals to eat. Doesn’t go so hot. I don’t imagine the cow was pleased with that dairy or beef was on every dish. Undeterred, Grover continues about his day and chores in similar fashion, experiencing similar failures in each endeavor. Next he tries to plow the field and plant seed, but he crashes the tractor into the barn and the seed is taken by birds and again washed away by a storm. And it becomes very apparent that the initial concerns of Grover’s friends were correct. Grover was not a farmer. He put on the right clothes, but that didn’t change anything. In one short day, the farm was in shambles. The book has a much happier ending than this, but it has served its purposes for our illustration. Putting on a straw hat does not make you a farmer in the same way that wearing the hat my favorite sports team does not make me a member of the team or entitle me to any kind of contract or anything. As simple, and silly, and obvious as that may seem, that’s exactly what the people of Judah had done prior to their repentance.
That’s the point Haggai makes with the questions he asks in verses 12-13. In order to draw out the weight of his message, he asks the priests. They were the authority of the law. That was their life. He asks them first about food which was ceremonially clean or holy. We understand that holy means to be set apart, pure. He asks if the fold, or for our understanding, the container or whatever thing is actually touching the clean food, is also made holy because it has come in contact with the holy food. And can it then also make anything holy that it touches? Essentially, does the Midas touch of holiness actually exist? The priests answer “No”, of course not. Why not? Well, Haggai draws that out in his next question. If that same holy food is touched by someone who is unclean, or unholy, then what happens? The unclean man is not made holy, but rather he makes the holy food unclean. So it is kind of like the Midas touch in this case, except that it’s reversed. It’s the Midas touch of filth and defilement. So now we understand that holiness and cleanness is not transferrable, but defilement is.
To find proof of this we need go no further than our previous illustration of farm life. I grew up on a farm. We raised cattle. If you’ve ever been around livestock, then you’re familiar with the “aroma” which is ever so strong. It’s strong because it’s everywhere. The manure gets on everything. That’s why at the end of the day, my mom, who worked so hard to keep a clean home for us, made us strip down out of our manure covered clothes outside and immediately go into the shower. If I had come into the house with my manure clothes, well, first of all my mom would have killed me, but the clean house would not have cleaned the manure off of me. Instead, I would have covered the whole house in manure. You rub something clean up against something dirty and dirty is going to win.
We understand this principle even more fully when we discuss it regarding humanity and sin. Romans 5:12 states “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” So we see here just how easily defilement is spread. It spread to all men through one man. But it is not so with holiness. Hundreds of years ago. Infant baptism began because people misunderstood this concept. They knew that their child was guilty, but they erroneously believed that they could transfer their holiness and salvation to their children through the act of sprinkling water on their head. The problem is that the child has not shown, and infants especially have absolutely no ability to exercise their own repentance (turning away from sin) through faith in Jesus Christ. Holiness is the work of Christ. We can’t buy it or share our with a friend to cover them to. We must become one with Christ, not just touch something. Haggai’s illustration make that pretty clear.
Verse 14. “So it is with this people.” This statement is made about the PREVIOUS condition of their hearts when they offered sacrifices during that 18 year period of neglecting the temple and worship. Remember, when they returned to Jerusalem, the first thing they did was set up the altar. Reconstruction of the temple was abandoned shortly after that. What they did is exactly what many of us try to do now. They thought they had their fire insurance, emphasis on “THOUGHT”. They didn’t care to exert themselves in the extensive labor and cost of building the temple, because they were satisfied that the reinstitution of the sacrifices would atone for their sins. They thought they were free to do what THEY wanted. It was clear then that they would rather toil and labor for their own comfort than to labor in worship, because they didn’t see the direct benefit to them. God’s saying that because their hearts were not for God, but for themselves, that their sacrifices meant nothing. They were nothing more than an attempt buy security, to buy holiness. In the same way that putting on a straw hat didn’t make Grover a farmer, Judah’s attempt to put on their holy hats also did nothing. And instead they tracked the mud of their sinful hearts across everything they touched. God’s telling them that that is precisely why for 18 years, their efforts haven’t amounted to anything. Their hearts did not belong to God, so He did not recognize them and bless them as His people
Look again starting in verse 15. Before they turned in obedience to rebuild the temple and worship God, they weren’t getting a full return for their efforts. Instead of 5+5=10, 5+5 would only equal 6. They were not holy. That’s like having a numerical value of zero. It’s not worth anything. And no matter how much they DID, it amounted to nothing. We all know that even if you take the number 0 and multiply it by a number as great as 1 billion, you still end up with the inevitable sum of 0. 0 x 1 billion still equals 0. Now take note of a particular phrase; “consider from this day onward”. That phrase appears in verse 15 and again in verse 19. In verse 15 Haggai tells them to consider the state of things before they repented. In verse 19, he tells them to consider the state of things as they are now. and the funny thing is that there’s no difference in the land. It’s been three months since they’ve returned to the Lord and His work. It’s the month of December now. They have brought in all of the harvests since they began work on the temple, but nothing has changed in regards to the land and their well being.
Following that comparison, we see a contrast at the end of of verse 19. “But”. Contrast. “But from this day forward, I will bless you.” Why now? Why not 3 months before when they first obeyed? We’ve already looked at the answer in Zechariah. Even though they took the first steps of obedience, they hadn’t fully repented until now. The timing and context of this promise reveals so much. We know the depth to which they were unclean; to the point that God called them “those” people in Chapter 1. Not His people, but those people. There was distance and separation, and therefore God had removed His blessing. We have also seen that there was nothing the people could do to earn, buy or merit their holiness and forgiveness. Next we know that they finally repented. Shortly following that repentance God assures them of His blessing which can only mean that He has now made them holy as they have finally surrendered they’re whole hearts to Him.
But even here God doesn’t promise or guarantee that they’ll receive any sort of financial blessing as payment for the good deeds they did. And He hasn’t made that promise to us either. He is not indebted to us for good deeds. He owes us nothing. Judah couldn’t just expect a good harvest because they worked on the temple for a week. We also should never expect a raise at our job simply because we had good church attendance for the previous year. That’s a wealth and prosperity gospel and a works based gospel. That kind of thinking would have us believe that the more that we do for God, the more that He has to bless us. As if it’s a law that He can’t or won’t break. If that were true, we could earn blessing and wealth and good standing with God by simply doing more, but we already saw that the only thing we can do is defile. Because when we do and do, it’s always for us, and that is a selfish and sinful heart. So if we’re living under the understanding of a contract that we simply have to do more and God will call us good, that’s not a contract that God will honor because it doesn’t exist. He doesn’t desire for us to simply do. He desires our hearts. That’s what true worship is. It is a surrender of our hearts to God. [READ EPHESIANS 2:8-10]
Salvation is the grace and forgiveness we receive when we transfer the ownership and leadership of our lives to the one who rightfully deserves it. The one who created it. Worship is giving Him the praise and glory as we serve Him daily. Worship is not forcing yourself to go to church or life group or youth often enough so people won’t judge or question you. Worship is not serving just enough to keep people off your back. It is not giving enough money away so you then have a free conscience spend the rest of it on all the luxuries of this world that you desire.
Repentance, surrender, and worship isn’t a one time action. If it were, then Judah’s rebuilding of the temple would have been sufficient to be make holy. But because it wasn’t sufficient, we see in God’s subsequent messages that He is tearing down the different walls and area of unrepentance that were still standing. He was leading them to a full surrender of their hearts rather than a partial one that would only change their schedule for a little while until they could get back to normal. He wanted them to desire His pleasure. He wanted them to trust Him and His glory, not what glory they could create themselves. He also wanted them to know that was the only one that could make them pure and holy.
Perhaps you have taken some initial steps of obedience. You’ve been coming to church. That’s good. Maybe you’ve even began reading you Bible because you know that’s also a command. That’s also good. And perhaps you’ve even served and labored for the church in various capacities. Those are all steps of obedience. But you cannot make yourself holy through those things. You cannot transfer holiness and forgiveness onto your self. And the question that we need to ask ourselves, is are we like Grover? How do we approach the worship of God. Is your holiness just a hat that you put on when around other people in the church? Is it the behaviors and the parts of ourselves that we try to hide from certain people but don’t necessarily try to change from? If holiness is just a hat for you, then it’s not who you are. It’s not something God has done in you. It’s a costume that will eventually be taken off to reveal your true self. It is only when you surrender yourself to a life of worship and trust Jesus to be the King of your life that you will be declared forgiven, holy, and a child of God. That is God’s blessing to us. To have the promise of being with Him now, as well as one day in heaven free from the burden and separation of sin.