Fear God and Nothing Else! 3. The Blessings of Obedience
Haggai 2: 10 - 19 “Dear Lord, So far today, God, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, over-indulgent, coveted my neighbour’s spouse or taken your name in vain. I’m very thankful for that. But, in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, everyone that I encounter will probably need a lot of help from you. Amen” It’s so typical of most of us. The Christian life wouldn’t be very hard if we could stay in bed all day. It’s all that stuff that happens after we get up that gives us problems. My message is really about all that stuff that happens after we get out of bed and the struggles we have each day to obey God. I’m going to make 2 assumptions. 1. I’m going to assume that most of us on one level truly want to obey God. As Christians we want to do the right thing and we want to please our Lord if we can. In putting the matter that way I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s always easy to question motives but this morning I’m going to start with the assumption that in your better moments you truly desire to please God. 2. I’m going to assume that no one obeys God all the time. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). That little prayer is basically right. Gossip is no problem until we hear something juicy. We never lose our temper as long as we’re not around other people. We’re usually not grumpy or nasty until someone gets under our skin. We do OK as long as we’re in bed, it’s the stuff that happens after we get that gets us in trouble. Obedience isn’t easy, is it? Perhaps I should say that it’s easy in theory but difficult in practice. In truth as much as we’d all like obey God, it’s easier to say than it is do to. That’s something the Jews of Haggai’s day found out rather quickly. If you remember, after 16 years of delay, they finally began to rebuild the temple. With great enthusiasm they launched into the project. Within a month they got discouraged and Haggai encouraged them to continue. 2 more months passed and the people were downcast again and felt like quitting. This time their problem was simple. God had told them they were suffering because of their disobedience. So when they started to rebuild the temple, they expected their problems to disappear. 3 months passed and nothing had changed. They still had all their old problems and the temple was a long way from being finished. So the people began to wonder if it was worth it to obey God. After all, if there’s no reward for obedience you might as well live like the devil. So Haggai delivers his 3rd message to the people. In it God speaks directly to people who wondered why things weren’t getting better faster. It’s an important message for anyone who has ever wondered if it’s worth it to serve God. 1. Two Curious Questions v. 12, 13 These verses sound rather strange to our ears. But everything Haggai said would have made perfect sense to the Jews. They had hundreds of laws governing all aspects of life. Most of those laws had to do with understanding what was holy and what was not. Holy things were objects that had been set apart for God’s use—usually in the temple worship. Because God is holy, only holy objects could come into his presence. An unholy object is not necessarily sinful in itself. For instance a pot might be holy because it was dedicated to the Lord’s use. But the same pot might be used by a housewife to cook a meal and in that case it would be ordinary or common. In particular dead bodies were defiled or unclean and anyone touching a dead body himself became unclean. With that background these 2 questions come into focus. What if something holy touches something unholy, does the unholy thing become holy? The answer is no. But what if an unholy thing touches a holy thing? It becomes defiled. We can summarize it this way: Holy touches Unholy = The unholy object remains unholy Unholy touches Holy = The holy object becomes defiled This is really a lesson about the pervasive power of sin. Let me illustrate. Suppose you wash your hands and then touch a dirty plate. What happens? Will your clean hand make the dirty plate clean? No, but the dirt on the plate rubs off on your hand. Now change the image. Suppose your son walks on your clean carpet with dirty shoes, what happens? The dirt on the shoes quickly stains the carpet. Sin is like dirt. It’s spreads so quickly. Just as it’s hard to keep a house clean, it’s hard to keep a life clean because sin stains everything. Sin is like a contagious disease. Suppose a person with a cold kisses a person in perfect health. Will the sick person catch health from the healthy person? No, but the healthy person can easily catch a cold from the sick person. Sin is like dirt and like disease. It transfers much easier than holiness. 2. An Important Application v. 14 The key is the word “whatever.” When your heart isn’t right with God, whatever you do will be wrong. You see, God wanted more than a temple built. He wanted the hearts of the people to be fully devoted to him. God didn’t want a big house filled with empty hearts. He didn’t want animal sacrifice unless it was accompanied by a living sacrifice of the people. You can’t fool God. He isn’t impressed by religious ritual unless it is accompanied by a humble heart. We may summarise this truth in 2 crucial sentences: Holiness is not transferable. Holiness begins in the heart. That’s the whole point. God wants your heart because if he has your heart, he’ll soon have every other part of your life. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” So how about your heart? Many of us are concerned about heart disease—and rightly so– but what about spiritual heart disease that is just as insidious? What’s the condition of your heart this today? 3. A Reminder About the Past v. 15 - 17 God reminds them of how things were before they began to rebuild the temple. They were going broke—economically and spiritually. Every time they made R100 half of it disappeared. They invested R1000 in a sure thing and within a week they had lost R600. Everything they touched turned sour. Nothing worked right. The entire nation was in an economic decline—all because they had disobeyed God. But notice the last phrase: “But still you did not turn to me.” That’s all God wanted all along. He wanted his people to turn to him with a whole heart and put him in the centre of life. They had pushed God to the circumference and as a result, God has sent blight to their crops and mildew to their souls. That leads to an important principle we often misunderstand: God disciplines in order to restore, not to punish. It’s true that God was behind their hard times, but he wasn’t doing it just to punish them, he wanted to get their attention and turn their hearts back to him. So many of us waste hours, days, weeks, months, and even years blaming others for our problems. But after you are through blaming the world for the mess you are in, you still have deal with God. The quicker you deal with God, the quicker you can get better and move on with your life. It’ a wonderful thing when you approach life with the knowledge that even in the worst moments God is not out to get you or to hurt you, he simply wants to bring you to a new and deeper relationship with himself. 3. An Encouragement for the Future v. 18, 19 The same phrase is repeated: “From this day on.” It’s as if God is saying, “The past is the past and we can’t change that. But things are going to be different from now on.” Let’s draw 2 simple conclusions from this truth: A. Blessings begin the moment we obey After delaying for 16 years the Jews had finally started to rebuild the temple. But they had a long to way to go and their fields were still barren. I think some of them were wondering if all this talk about rebuilding the temple was worth the effort. Many of us look at our problems the same way. We feel like we’re so far away from what we should be that it’s easier to say, “What’s the use? Why bother trying? Things will never be different.” If you find your life in a bit of a mess today, just remember that you didn’t get where you are overnight. You got there by taking a thousand steps in the wrong direction over a long period of time. Therefore, don’t be surprised if it takes you quite a few steps to get your life back in order again. You normally don’t change your thinking overnight and you don’t break bad habits in one week. Think of it this way. Every day you make thousands of decisions—most of them very small. But each decision either leads you toward the light or back toward the darkness. If you’re life is messed up, you feel like everything around you is total darkness and you wonder if you’ll ever see the light again. The answer is, it depends on you. When you wake up, ask the Lord to help you walk toward the light. Not just in the light but toward the light. If you keep taking tiny steps toward the light of God, little by little the shadows will begin to lift and one day you’ll wake up to the blazing light of God’s presence all around you. But you’ve got to take those little steps every day in the right direction. So be encouraged. God’s blessings begin the moment we begin to obey him. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). B. The harvest will come eventually All gardeners understand this principle. You don’t plant today and harvest tomorrow. It takes a few weeks for the plant to poke its way through the soil and even more weeks and months for the fruit to ripen for harvest. Historically it took the Jews 4 years to finish rebuilding the temple. No doubt they faced continued opposition and discouragement all the way along. But by starting to rebuild they were planting fresh seed in the ground. It hadn’t come up yet, but God is saying, “Don’t worry. You’re going to reap an abundant harvest eventually. Just be faithful and I promise the harvest will come in.” This is important for Christian workers to remember. Sometimes we grow weary in the service of the Lord and wonder if our efforts are in vain. God says, “You plant the seed and let me take care of the harvest.” We sow and sow and sow and then wait for the harvest. Sometimes when the harvest is delayed we are tempted to despair and to wonder if our work is in vain. Then out of the blue God gives us a little reminder that the harvest comes in his time, not ours, but that nothing we do for the Lord is ever in vain. Is it worth it to obey God? You bet it is, and many people here this morning could give testimony to that fact. The moment you begin to obey God, he will begin to bless your life, and in the years to come, you will reap a bountiful harvest. I am saying nothing more than what the Apostle Paul declared in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” What is the secret of obedience? Never give up. Those 3 simple words will give you hope to keep going. Never give up. Just keep on doing good, keep on serving the Lord, keep on helping others, keep on living for Christ, and in the end you will reap a bountiful harvest. In the days to come we’ll all stand together before the throne of God and praise our Redeemer for his amazing grace. When that glad day finally comes, no one will have any regrets. When you see Jesus, you’ll never regret serving the Lord. You’ll only wish you could have done more.