I was talking with my friend Dan James about sermon he was preparing for his church on Haggai 2 the other day and was struck by something fascinating. Have a look at Haggai 2:10-19. What stood out to me was verse 19:
19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
Notice the build up to the verse, God through Haggai asks the priests to consider their situation logically. First there is the theological logic: you cannot make something that is unclean clean by mixing it with a clean thing. Instead, the clean thing will become unclean. Dan, brilliantly drew on this in his sermon to show that our good works cannot undo the sin we’ve done. Secondly, there is the reality of their experience, they have remained under judgement.
So, in that respect, the “blessing” seems to come out of nowhere. They’ve not done anything to really change things, there’s no proof that they have got things sorted. They know even if they have started to reform their ways, even if they have made a start at the temple work that this cannot undo past sin. Yet, God is going to bless them. The blessing seems to come from nowhere. It’s a surprise.
I find it helpful when preparing to preach myself to focus in on the stuff that surprises, that seems at first glance to come from nowhere. This is probably going to help us get a feel for what the main point is. It helps to ask if the idea really has come from nowhere.
I want to suggest that Haggai 2:19 has its root in two previous verses, 1:12:
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.
The point is that God’s blessing is linked to the place of his presence being there. It’s focused on the Temple and it starts when the people start to build the Temple again because once again the focus is on God’s presence being with his people. Indeed, that is the blessing. This means that the people’s actions are not about them doing enough to repay the debt of sin and to persuade God to bless them. Rather, the requirement for a Temple is God’s statement of intent that he will be present to bless and the first step to rebuild is a response of faith that God will keep his promise. Blessing is God’s gift of grace received through faith.
In our conversation, Dan quite rightly turned our focus to Christ as the one who truly fulfils this. The New Testament with its record of Jesus declaring that streams of living wster will flow from him and his prophecy of a temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days points us to Jesus replacing the physical temple. He is Emmanuel, God is present with us through him. We are blessed in him because we are reconciled to God and forgiven by him. In Christ, atonement is made.
It is good to be reminded that God blesses even though we do not deserve us. Grace is God’s riches at Christ’s expense.