Haggai 2: 20 - 23
All of us need some special encouragement from time to time. It may be that you need encouragement to stay in school, or to stay on the job, or just to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe you’re facing the surgeon’s knife and you fear what the future may hold. Perhaps you are struggling right now and feel like giving up. I’m sure many of you find it hard just to get up, get dressed, and go to work 5 or 6 days a week. Some of you have come to a crossroads in life and don’t know which road to take. You face the great question: What will I do with the rest of my life? You’re excited but also a little nervous as you think about the future. Deep inside you truly want to do God’s will—if only you could work it out.
Some of us lack confidence that we can do all God has called us to do. We feel a bit like the guy who said - “confidence is your last thought before reality hits.” For some of us, reality has hit pretty hard and our confidence is about shot.
I’d like to give you some encouragement from the last few verses of Haggai. Encouragement comes in many forms: a pat on the back, a smile along the way, a friendly phone call, a cheerful word from a friend or a listening ear. Today we’re going to see how God encouraged his people with an inspiring vision of the future. We can sum up this text in 4 simple lessons.
1. The Value of Faithfulness v. 21a
It’s fascinating that God’s final message is not to the people in general but to their leader—Zerubbabel. Dr. John Maxwell: “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” In some ways, it is the story of every human endeavour. Every success and every failure can usually be traced back to one ultimate source—leadership. It matters not whether you are talking about the corner café or a multinational corporation. Leadership makes the difference. It applies just as much to an under 7 boys’ cricket team as it does to the Springbok rugby team. Leadership makes the difference.
Leadership is the reason some schools excel while others flounder for years. Leadership is the reason some companies boom while others go bust. Leadership is the reason that men like Sol Kerzner and Raymond Ackerman can take local chains of hotels and shops and in the process become some of the richest men in South Africa. That’s no fluke. That’s leadership.
Leaders Get Discouraged Too!
That’s what happened to Zerubbabel. Who could blame him? He was the one who had led the people back from Babylon. All the familiar landmarks in Jerusalem had disappeared. The city walls had been torn down and foreign soldiers marched through the streets. The magnificent temple of Solomon had been utterly destroyed. There was nothing left. The people were rebuilding a nation from scratch. Eventually they began rebuilding the temple. Then they stopped for 16 years. They started again but quickly became discouraged.
No one knows the burdens a leader bears. The higher you go in any field of endeavour, the lonelier your job becomes. Even though you may be surrounded by throngs of people, you feel alone because no one knows the pressure that weighs you down, that stoops your shoulders, and turns your hair prematurely grey.
You feel alone, and like Elijah, you cry out, “I and I alone am left.” Then one day the Lord taps you on the shoulder, “You’re not alone. I’ve been watching you through all your trials. I’ve been by your side the whole time. Fear not, for I am with you.”
The Best Way to Be Successful
The hardest part of rebuilding a temple - putting that next stone in place. That’s precisely how Zerubbabel felt. There were “fightings within and fears without.” He looked at his discouraged, fickle workers, he listened to the howling opponents, he surveyed the massive job still before him, and he felt like giving up. At that point God says, “Tell Zerubbabel I’ve got a message for him.” That message is simple. “Just keep on doing your job because I’m watching you every day.”
James Baldwin - “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck—but, most of all, endurance.” That’s what it takes to do anything great in this world. You’ve got to have endurance to just get up in the morning, face the world head on, and do the job assigned to you with all the vim and vigour you can muster.
This week I encouraged a group of fellow pastors that we shouldn’t be discouraged when we look at the world because “God doesn’t call us to be successful, but he does call us to be faithful.” If we’re faithful long enough, we have an excellent chance of being successful in the end. That’s a good word for moms and dads, for graduating students, for people who feel a bit lost in the shuffle, for workers who wonder if they should bother showing up tomorrow morning. Just be faithful, and when all is said and done you’ll have an excellent chance of being successful.
2. The Power of God’s Providence v. 21, 22
“I will shake the nations” - “I will overturn royal thrones” - “I will overthrow chariots and their drivers.” Most of us aren’t very good at telling the future. We wonder whether the market will go up or down, we ponder the great question: Can the Sharks beat the Bulls? Or in a completely different vein, we attend a funeral and wonder when our time will come. You can be healthy today and then have a heart attack tomorrow. Or you can have peace today and war tomorrow. Nothing is certain in our ever-changing world. Solomon ponders this predicament and wrote these telling words in Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 – “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come.”
We all expect and pray to live long, happy lives. When I think of our young people and young adults I am so excited for them. What enormous potential lies in these young people. What great things they can do for God. I remember when I finished high school feeling like I could do anything, go anywhere, and tackle any challenge. I feel the same way when I look at our young people. You have a bright future. But above everything else, remember that your life is in God’s hands.
Let us think about the power of God’s providence. He holds the power of life and death. He opens a door that no man can shut. When he closes a door, no one can open it. When he overthrows a king, that king stays overthrown. That shouldn’t frighten us. If we are biblical Christians, it gives us enormous confidence as we face the problems of life. If we are wise, we will humble ourselves before Almighty God and seek to please him in everything we do.
3. The Overthrow of Earthly Kingdoms
Another reminder relating to the overthrow of earthly kingdoms. There is coming a day when God is going to shake the heavens and the earth. In that day everything made by the hand of man will come crashing down. Revelation 16: 17 - 20 “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘‘It is done!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.”
Think of it. Paris levelled, Tokyo in ruins, London turned into a disaster area, New York burning, Sydney in flames, Cape Town in ashes, Durban fallen to the ground. In Johannesburg, the Hillbrow Tower is no more, Ellis Park turned to rubble, the Zoo a zoo no more, every building falls to the ground, all the freeways destroyed, Clearwater Mall turned into dust.
Everything that man builds collapses before his eyes. So it is with everything that is of this world. “Gray’s Elegy” written in a country churchyard in England:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Apostle John - “the world and its desires pass away” (1 John 2: 17). Jesus - “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24: 35). Indeed, the best and brightest of us will someday die. All that we do will eventually be forgotten. This is a sobering reminder, and one we dare not forget.
4. The Certainty of Eternal Reward v. 23
Most of us aren’t familiar with the concept of a signet ring. Perhaps the closest contemporary analogy would be an ID badge that allows you access to highly classified information. When an ancient king wanted to affix his seal to a document, he would take his signet ring, impress it into soft wax, which would then harden into an unbreakable seal. A signet ring was much more than a decorative ring. It signified honour, authority, ownership, preservation, special relationship, and a guarantee of safety.
There’s another fact about this you may not realize. Zerubbabel had a grandfather named Jehoiachin who many years earlier had been one of the last kings of Judah before the exile. He was a wicked king who did not serve the Lord. God pronounced a curse upon Jehoiachin - Jeremiah 22: 24 “You were like a signet ring in my hand, but because of your sin I am taking you off my finger.” Then he sentenced Jehoiachin to deportation in Babylon, never to return to Israel. Finally, he said: “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David and ruling anymore in Judah” (v. 30). Jehoiachin not only will he be punished, but all his descendants will be punished as well and none of them will ever sit on the throne of David.
Now God says to his grandson Zerubbabel, “I will make you like a signet ring.” Here we see the grace of God at work. Because of Zerubbabel’s faithfulness, the curse on his family has been lifted. The signet ring is back on God’s finger. Zerubbabel himself never sat on the throne of David. But one of his descendants did. Matthew 1: 12 - Zerubbabel in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel never made to the throne but his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson did. The angel Gabriel said of Jesus, “And the Lord God will give him the throne of his Father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1: 32, 33). 500 years later a baby was born in Bethlehem who was the descendant of Zerubbabel, God’s signet ring.
So the book ends with a stirring word of encouragement to a discouraged leader. It was God’s way of saying, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. You have no idea of how great my plans are for you.”
That’s a good word for all of us as we face the challenges of today. I close with 2 words of application:
1. Those who look to this world for lasting approval must eventually be disappointed because the best things of this world must one day disappear. “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
2. Those who look to the God who created the world will find the safety and security that will last forever.
Meanwhile, the days hurry on for the return of Christ. All the signs are happening. Even now the Antichrist may be alive somewhere on earth. All across the globe the nations are beginning to shake. The first rays of dawn are streaking the eastern skies. Gabriel is warming up his trumpet.
What fantastic days these are. Jesus said. “When all these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Fear not, child of God, for the plan of the ages is in the hand of Almighty God. Build your life on those things that will last forever and you will never be disappointed.
Jesus is coming again. Do you know him? No question is more important. Know Jesus? Know life. No Jesus? No life. How true. If you know Jesus, you also know life for he came to provide “life more abundantly.” But if you don’t know Jesus, you don’t even know what life itself is all about. Run to the cross, embrace the dying form of the Son of God. Rest all your hopes on Jesus. Believe that he died and rose from the dead and you will be saved. Look to Jesus and no matter what happens around you, your future will be secure.