Reaping the reward
REAPING THE REWARD (Hab 2:10-19)
In this message God wants to encourage you to persevere in living for Him first and foremost by calling you to consider how the choices you make today – set the outcome and direction of your life in the long run. What you choose today, will have a massive impact on your tomorrow. What is the long term reward, or result or fruit of today’s choices?
The reward of ritual obedience (1:10-12)
The reward of willful disobedience (1:13-17)
The reward of repentance and faith (1:18-19)
We are working out way through the book of Haggai – a book which encourages us to put God first, to give Him and His glory first priority in our lives.
● 539 – exiled Jews returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple
● 18 years later – Haggai and Zecharaiah come on the scene and the people have given up on the task due to economic hardships and oppostion nd difficulty and they are busy with their own things.
● Message 1 (Hag 1:1): The difficulties are because they had not put God first – 1:4-5 Consider your ways and get building.
● People repent and begin rebuilding (1:15 on 24th day = 24 days later). But about a month later they are already slacking off and becoming despondent.
● Message 2 (Hag 2:1): 7th month on 21st day – God again sends them a message of encouragement (2:3 – you feel discouraged and what you are doing seems to be amounting to nothing) I am with you, I will do it, 2:9 the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former – what you are working on has a glorious future in God’s plans and purposes.
● Do you think that was enough? No…. 2:10 on 24th day of the 9th month. 2 months later they again need encouragement and exhortation and God sends His prophet to speak.
So another key theme emerges alongside the call to put God first – that is to persevere in putting God first. 3 of the 4 sermons or prophesies which God gives through Haggai are words of encouragement, to encourage them to persevere.
I want to speak for a moment to something which is at the very heart of these Israelites experience and which is even more at the heart of Christian experience. - Struggle.
These Israelites were up against all odds, the task God had called them to was hardly possible and nothing was easy going – and that's why God had to send them so much encouragement, to help them persevere.
I want to speak for a moment to something we all know so well in the Christian life – struggle.
If I had to use one word to describe the realities of the Christian life – I would use the word battle.
The Christian life is a dangerous, exhausting, heart wrenching, painful, never-ending, moment by moment, day after day battle.
Jesus warned his disciples in Jn 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble...
● Battle within ourselves - We are constantly battling against sin – selfishness, lust, gossip, evil thoughts, revenge, unforgiveness. Relax for one day and sin is upon us – things that come into our minds and out of our mouths and the pain we cause to ourselves and to others...
● Battle within our families. Our own selfishness and sin means we have to struggle to get along. Arguing and discord and jealousy and fits of rage and shouting – those things come easy. Our children – they just don't want to obey God or us and there is that constant struggle like trying to pull them up a cliff we ourselves are battling to climb.
● Struggle in the church. Where do we find time to minister to others, where do we fit in. Church is full of cliques, gossip, difficult relationships.
● Struggle in the world – constant burden we carry of trying to be a witness to our family and friends and work colleagues and we are blowing it all the time. We keep quite when we should speak up, we speak when we should keep quite, we don't fit in because we are not like the world.
So everywhere we turn, there is this relentless battle – from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we shut them – it just keeps coming, on and on and on.... and there is no resting, there is no time out, there is no end in sight.
Do any of you relate to what I am describing?
In this battle the temptation is great to give up. To let this or that sin have its way in our lives – to make a truce. The Israelite had experienced that struggle 18 years ago and had given up and lost their way and things only got more difficult. But God’s word came to them through Haggai the prophet even as it comes to you today – don’t give up…..don’t you dare give up. Persevere in doing good and at the right time you will reap the reward.
That’s what I’ve called this message – reaping the reward.
This morning God wants to encourage you to persevere in living for Him first and foremost by calling you to consider how the choices you make today – set the outcome and direction of your life in the long run. What you choose today, will have a massive impact on your tomorrow. What is the long term reward, or result or fruit of today’s choices?
· The reward of ritual obedience (1:10-12)
· The reward of willful disobedience (1:13-17)
· The reward of repentance and faith (1:18-19)
Read Haggai 2:10-19
1: The reward of ritual obedience (1:10-12)
Clean and unclean in O.T.
1:11 “Ask the priests!” The priests were the teachers of the Law. They were the ones who were responsible to transmit and explain the Word of God to the people (Deut 17-8-9).
God asks Haggai to ask the priests what we learn from the Law of God. What principles the law teaches. And he uses case law, or specific examples to draw out the principle which underlies them.
O.T Passages: Lev 22:4-6; Num 19:11; Lev 6:18; 7,11-21.
For the sake of time, we are not going to go to all the passages, but I’ll just explain what the priest would have explained.
Asks the priests to explain or confirm what the Law of God teaches with regard to 2 questions. 1) Is ritual purity/worship sufficient to secure God’s blessing? And the answer is no.
Is ritual purity sufficient? - no
● Picture is of O.T saint who would go up to the Temple and present His offering to the Lord as an act of worship.
● Some offerings burnt whole, others, like fellowship offerings (Lev 7), were presented to the Lord, blood was sprinkled on the alter and the offering itself was taken home and eaten before the Lord as an act of worship and thanksgiving.
● God is holy, so the Temple is holy, the altar is holy and the sacrifices are holy – they are set apart unto God, pleasing to God, blessed of God.
● So he performs this ritual act of worship and presents his offering to the Lord and goes home holy, with a holy offering to enjoy with His family.
● Now the question is this – when that Israelite goes home, does everything he touches become holy? The answer is – no.
● Holiness is not automatically transmitted to everything just because the meat was offered at the Temple.
● 2:12 The examples are carefully chosen – wine, the oil, the food.
● What had God cursed? 1:11 – wine, oil, the food, the work of their hands.
● So their meat and wine and oil and food were defiled, they were not experiencing God’s blessing and no ritual act of worship would be sufficient to fix it.
So rebuilding the temple was not about re-establishing the ritual of worship. Having a place where they could take their offerings and secure God’s blessing over the work of their hands as a result. God wanted them to be clear – the holiness that ritual worship secures is short-lived and fragile and will never secure them in a right relationship with Him. So they mustn’t think that having the structure and going through the motions will solve their problems. That’s not why the Temple is being rebuilt.
We cannot substitute religious ritual for obedience
We cannot make a truce with sin – and then rather than obeying God, we come to church and read our Bible and get involved in some or other good work – that won't cut it.
1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)
22 And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
Micah 6:6-8 (ESV)
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Religion, or external religious ritual is worthless in securing God’s favour and blessing – yet how often do we not engage in it!
· We Christen our children,
· We faithfully attend church
· We say our prayers before we get into bed
· We tithe
· We read our Bibles
· We get involved in a community project, or church ministry, or non=profit organization
Too often as a substitute for obedience and faith. As a means of trying to make up for our disobedience in another area of life. We engage in bribery and corruption and business practices that dishonour the Lord and then try to make up for it by giving some of the profits back to the church – as if that somehow sanctifies what we did.
There is no reward for ritual obedience. The definite answer at the end of vs 12 is “No” it doesn’t confer any true or lasting holiness.
2: The reward of willful disobedience (1:13-17)
So Haggai goes on to ask a second question which again is answered by means of case law, by taking a specific example or instance of how the law is applied.
Is defilement transmitted? - yes
● Lev 11-15
● Under Old covenant God identified certain things as clean and unclean
● Relatively arbitrary: certain foods unclean (pork), certain objects were unclean (dead bodies), certain practices made one unclean (child birth).
● What was unclean could not be used in the worship of God, could not be blessed by God, could not be used by God or for God.
● If someone became unclean by contact say with a dead body – they could not enter the sanctuary, offer sacrifices or participate in worshipping God in any way. If they did, they would simply defile the sanctuary and displease God.
● They had to first be made ritually clean and then they could worship God again
It’s all about worship
So remember this book is all about worship. They had not been rebuilding the temple because they were busy with other things and that showed what they were truly worshipping, what they were valuing and living for.
God calls them to rebuild the temple, to put God first and that is what will glorify Him, what will show His worth. But he wants them to be clear what rebuilding the temple is and isn’t about.
· It’s not about restoring the ritual of worship because that doesn’t establish any lasting holiness.
· In fact, is someone is defiled, they cannot worship, they are excluded from worship and if they try to worship in that state, their worship will only dishonour God.
Here’s the punch line at the end of vs 14 – so it is with these people….and with this nation and with everything they try to do – its unclean.
The can’t do anything as an act of worship, they can’t even rebuild the temple as an act of worship while they remain unclean before God. Their uncleanness before God defiles everything they do, it makes everything else they do and touch and attempt – unclean – unfit to be offered as worship unto God.
Vs 14 “What they offer there is unclean” What they are offering as worship is really a stench in God’s nostrils – unless their hearts are changed.
2:15 And then he asks them again to stop and consider, to ponder the truth of what He is saying, to think about how it applies to their life personally.
Until now, until they started rebuilding the temple and actually laying one stone upon another in obedience to God – what had all their toil and effort gained them? He reminds them again of the futility of their ways, the emptiness of their efforts. Again, in vs 17 God had been personally frustrating their best efforts to gain meaning and satisfaction from things other than God. He had been bringing their idolatry to ruin and emptiness.
Again the punch line is there at the end of vs 17 – “Yet you did not turn to me.”
Their disobedience and idolatry was only producing emptiness and frustration and broken relationships and sleepless nights and conflict and misery of every kind – yet in 18 years it had not caused them to turn to God.
Application: We continue in sin
Are we not exactly the same sometimes? I’ve counseled many couples who are literally tearing their marriages apart and they are so miserable and broken by it all – and yet tomorrow they get up and continue doing the same things. Or we are enslaved to drinking, or pornography, or eating – and it doesn’t make us happy at all and yet we keep turning to these things for satisfaction and we don’t turn to God. Or we are lazy and ill disciplines and we fail at school or lose our jobs, and we feel terrible about ourselves because of it and yet tomorrow we sleep late again. Or we are in the habit of telling small lies which require more lies which only causes us grief and pain and yet we keep telling them anyway.
One of the encouragements God gives us not to continue in sin – is to consider the fruit it yields.
Rom 6:20-23: For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gal 6:7-9 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
That sounds just like Haggai doesn’t it? Consider your ways, don’t be deceived. Consider the reward of the choices you make today – whether to settle for ritual worship, or to continue in willful obedience – or to repent and believe
3: The reward of repentance and faith (1:18-19)
Until now, you have experienced no blessing – why because you were not putting me first, you were living for yourselves, pursing your own goals and desires and not seeking my glory.
From this day on. From the day they repented, pointing back to the day they began building on the temple – to the day they believed His Word and responded in obedience by starting to rebuild the Temple
That is the turning point in their experience. God says consider, ponder how it went before – and how it will go from now on, because I will bless the work of your hands.
There are rewards for obedience. “The one who sows to the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6)
Obedience by faith
Vs 19 – is there seed in the barn
Point is that only been about 3 months. They cannot physically see the change yet – but they will.
● They have to accept God's promise – that He will bless them going forward by faith.
● As they continue to believe Him and continue to obey Him they will see their faith and obedience rewarded as God blesses.
● The blessings would not be immediately evident. They would have to continue in faith and obedience for some time – but looking back, they will be able to see that God's blessing was directly linked to their obedience.
Sin often offers immediate satisfaction but long term misery. Obedience often involves difficulty and suffering in the present, but long term freedom and joy and satisfaction.
That is the greatest strategy Satan has in the moment of temptation – is to stop us seeing the long-term benefits and consequences of this choice that I’m about to make.
That is why God calls them to consider, to lift up their eyes off the present moment, the present discouragement, the seeming hopelessness of it all. And consider how difficult things were when they were serving sin and consider how much better they will be if they choose to trust and obey God. God calls us to put Him first and to obey Him, not just for His glory but for our own good. Obedience will be richly rewarded.
Caution – Old vs New Covenant
One word of Caution here.
Deut 28:1-5 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
And God promised to bring similar physical curses in Deut 28:15ff.
In the covenant God made with Israel – God's blessing of the people was connected to the material blessing of the land. His discipline of the people was directly connected to His cursing of the land.
If they followed God, He would send rain, and abundance and health and wealth and if they disobeyed he would send drought and plague and drive them from the land.
● Does God bless us and discipline us as His people – yes, we see that in Hebrews 12 and other passages, but does this always involve sickness or drought or economic hardship. It may, but God has not covenanted himself to those specific forms of discipline. God does not always discipline us in physical ways.
● Likewise, we may enjoy recognition and reward in our jobs, or financial blessings or health – but God has not covenanted himself to those specific forms of blessing. God does not always bless us in physical ways.
● Look at the hardships Paul experienced even though he pursued God with single minded passion.
In the New Covenant, the primary blessing of obedience is intimacy with God, enjoyment of God and assurance of our salvation and therefore of the eternal blessings that are ours in Christ.
Jn 14:21 Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
So like the Jews who heard this word – we cannot always see the blessings, we do not always experience them in the present – but God promises them and calls us to look back and consider the fruit of obedience in the long term.
Encouragement through the Word
So be encouraged today through God’s Word and make sure you are continually putting yourself in a place to here His word. Notice how God sets about helping His people persevere here – by sending His powerful Word to challenge their thinking. Regularly, faithfully, we need to be confronted and built up by God’s Word if we are to persevere in believing and obeying it.
So if I had one word to describe the Christian life – it would be struggle.
If I had 2 it would be - victorious struggle.
● Jn 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble – take heart I have overcome the world.
● 1 John 4:4 (ESV)
4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
● 1 John 5:4 (ESV)
4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
● 1 Thess 5:23-24 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
● John Bunyan was born in 1628 to an average English family. At age 16 his world was turned upside down as within 3 months his mother died, sister died and father got remarried. He joined the army for 3 years and later got converted to Christ and became a preacher. People risked arrest to hear him preach. He is eteemed by historican as one of the great preachers of his time.
● Shortly after he began his ministry the political climte changed and in 1660 he was arrested after refusing to heed a warning to stop preaching.
● As he was led away, he said, “If I were out of prison today, I would preach th gospel again tomorrow by the help of God.” His original sentence of three months was extended to 6 years as he refused to repent of his illegal preaching. “I must venture all with God”, he contended.
● During his time in jail, concern for his family was a heavy burden. He saw himself as a man who was pulling down his house upon the heads of his wife and children, yet with no other choice.
● Upon release, he was once again charged not to preach, but preach he must.
● There were well-meaning friends who would advise him to compromise, but, remaining true to his convitions, he was imprisoned once again for another 6 years.
● He wrote, “I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer....even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows rather than thus to violate my Father and principles.”
May you and I take courage and like Bunyan fight the good fight of the faith..