Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Give careful thought to your ways!"

Day #314:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 7th

Scripture Reading:  Haggai 1 -2 …

It is God, speaking through the prophet Haggai, who says repeatedly in this brief message, "Give careful thought to your ways …" (1:5,7) … and "Give careful thought" (2:15,18).  God had sent both Haggai and Zechariah to stir up the people of Judah who had returned from captivity in Babylon to set to work rebuilding the temple.  They had been in exile for 70 years and now a remnant had returned, surrounded by their enemies in the nations around them.  They had begun to rebuild, only to be threatened by their neighbors to stop … or else!  So they stopped.  Surely it was understandable.  They were busy resettling and rebuilding their homes and the city wall.  How could God expect them to work on the temple, too, especially in view of the threats of their enemies?

What we need to understand, however … what THEY needed to understand, was that God had brought them back to the land He had promised so that they would testify that it was HE who had sent them into captivity and now it was HE who had brought them back and HE was with them.  God was not with any other nation.  This was His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah, the one from whom the Messiah would come.  The temple was the sign of God's presence with His people and the sacrifices and feasts pointed to the One who would be the perfect sacrifice for sin.  In order for God's plan and purpose to bring salvation to all who believe to be fulfilled, the temple HAD to be rebuilt!

So God sends two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to speak HIS words to the leaders of the remnant, to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest.  The first part of the message was a stern warning, given as a response to the people who were saying, "The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built" (1:2).  This is an all-too-common response for many who know God when trials come.  Instead of seeking God's direction and relying on His strength to do what He has called them to do, they begin to make excuses, often saying something like, "It must not be God's will."  It requires wisdom at times to discern whether God is saying, "Go a different direction," or whether He is telling us to move forward and trust Him to give us what we need.  In this case, God had already told the people to rebuild the temple … just as He has told US to be engaged in building His spiritual temple, the Church!

This is why these words from Haggai speak so powerfully not only to God's people in those days, but to those of us who are God's people today.  God turns the words of the people around and asks, "Is it a time for YOU yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" (1:4).  The people were busy rebuilding their own homes ("paneled houses" meant "luxury," upscale homes).  All their effort was going toward their own comfort, while they forgot the very purpose for their return and for their existence as a people.  They were the people of the one true God!  So God says to them, "Give careful thought to your ways!" (1:5).  And He goes on to explain why their "economy" was a mess (we do well to listen to this!!).

Again God says, "Give careful thought to your ways," (1:7), and then explains:  "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. … Why??  Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house" (1:9).  Why the big deal?  Because God's NAME was associated with the temple.  In our day few people understand that the temple mount in Jerusalem is going to be a problem until Jesus comes!  Why?  Because it is the physical place God has chosen to place His Name.  At the present time, God has placed His Name on the Church, the spiritual temple (more about that in a moment), but God has not forgotten the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Jerusalem, or the place where Solomon built the first temple and where this second temple was built.

Having heard Haggai's message, "the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God" (1:12).  Then God sent Haggai with the second part of the message:  "I am with you!" (1:13).  This has been God's testimony to His people forever.  God had declared those words to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  When the people of Israel went down into Egypt, God told Jacob that He would be with him and his descendants forever.  When Moses was sent to deliver Israel, God had told him that he would be with him.  When Joshua led the people into the promised land, God said to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).  To those who came after him and to David and others who ruled over Israel and Judah, to all who sought the LORD, their God and obeyed Him, God said, "I am with you!"

So the whole remnant of the people "came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God" (1:14).  These people had been through much because of the disobedience of their fathers, but here they were, back in the Promised Land, rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by their enemies.  So God says again, "Be strong, all you people of the land, for I am with you!" (2:4).  To their leaders God gave a prediction for the future:  "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and the desired of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory" (2:6-7).  God reminds them that He is in control of the nations, of the present and of the future.  It is all in His hands, including "the silver and the gold" (2:8).  And God gives this promise:  "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house … and in this place I will grant peace" (1:9).

There is more to this prophecy than may first appear.  Certainly, this second temple would be blessed by the coming of the Savior, the One who would be "Emmanuel, God with us!"  Yet, there is more.  Some believe that God was using Haggai to point only to the birth of Jesus and His entrance into the temple, but these words are repeated AFTER Jesus ascended into heaven, in the book of Hebrews.  There the writer quotes Haggai and then goes on to explain future events … He begins first, as Haggai did, with a warning, and then points to what God will do in the future:

"See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks.  If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him (Jesus) who warns us from heaven?  At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'  The words, 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain. … Therefore, since WE are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe; for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (Hebrews 12:25-29).

God always does what He says He is going to do.  He brought the people back from exile in Babylon; He watched over them and protected them and brought the Savior from this people, born in Bethlehem, as the prophet Micah had predicted.  Against all odds, they rebuilt the temple and were re-established in the land God had given to their forefathers.  Surrounded by enemies all around (as today) they survived until the promised Messiah was born, and Jesus lived and died and rose again according to God's predetermined plan to save all who would believe in Him through the work of His Spirit within us.  For us, the spiritual temple not built by hands, God is still "Emmanuel, God with us."  To us He says, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

As these people rebuilt the temple, God sends Haggai again, saying, "Now give careful thought to this from this day on - consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord's temple … give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid.  give careful thought … 'From this day on I will bless you'" (2:15-19).  God is telling them to "mark the calendar" and see how He blesses those who obey Him, who trust in Him, who live to testify to His faithfulness to His people.  That's US today!  We who believe are called to be engaged in building God's spiritual temple until Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on the earth.  There is still work to do and we need to be about doing it if we are to receive God's blessing today.

It is now to us that God gives the same assurance He gave to Zerubbabel:  "I will shake the heavens and the earth.  I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms" (2:21-22).  And as others before him were "types" of Christ, pictures of the One who would come, God says to Zerubbabel, "I will make you like my signet ring (which bears the name and authority of the King), for I have chosen you" (2:23).  Ultimately, the ONE whom God has chosen to bear His Name before all the earth and to exercise His authority is His only Son, Jesus, the Christ.  It is He who would be called "Emmanuel, God with us" (Matthew 1:23) and it is He who would say, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me …" (Matthew 28:18).

When God shakes the heavens and the earth and all nations ... LITERALLY ... Jesus Christ will come in all His glory, accompanied by the heavenly army of angels, and He will reign in the midst of His people in Jerusalem, the city of David ... and WE who believe will be there!!  Heaven and earth will be full of His glory and there WILL BE PEACE ON EARTH!!!

"Heavenly Father, in Your wisdom You have planned to establish Your kingdom on the earth through Your Son Jesus Christ, and finally on a new earth, where You will dwell in all Your glory in the midst of Your people.  As You call Your people today to be engaged in building the spiritual temple that will receive our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, so help us to look forward to the establishment of Your kingdom when He will reign over all His and our enemies and Your Name will be the only Name!  Use us to accomplish all that You desire, preparing the world for what is yet to come by proclaiming the Gospel to all nations, calling Your remnant to Yourself, as You did in the days of Haggai.  To You, our God, I give my praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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