All Roads Lead To Jesus - Haggai

Haggai – Jesus Brings Us Back To The Heart of Worship
Reading: Haggai 1, John 4:1-26

On a cold and sleepy New Year’s Day evening my family and I were eating leftovers around the TV. The holidays were over, and the grind of a mid-Atlantic state winter was ahead of us. My mom was in the kitchen talking with some of my siblings. I was sitting across from my dad in the Family Room enjoying yet another meal when we all began to smell something in the air. Was something burning in the stove? No. The smell was an acrid one and unnatural. It smelled like a chemical on fire.

At just the moment that I placed the smell like a chemical smell I had a sinking feeling. I thought to myself, “If my room were on fire, this is what it would smell like.” Throughout college, I had amassed a huge Star Wars collection. Much of it was made of plastic. This smell must be burning plastic.

As everyone else around the house began to look for the source of the smell and lead with their noses, I ran toward the stairs leading to my room. I flicked on the upstairs hall light only for it to barely offer any more clarity. Thick, black smoke had already begun to filter out from my room and was blocking any light from the fixture. Without thinking I ran up the stairs and opened the door to my room. There were giant flames engulfing my bed and furniture and shooting up the wall closest to me and across the ceiling reaching toward the opposite wall.

At that moment I threw my mug of hot chocolate on the fire and screamed, “Fire! My room is on fire! The house is one fire!” I wondered why it was taking everyone so long to race up the stairs with water, but it was probably only a matter of seconds before my brother-in-law was right behind me and my dad was pushing past us and into the flames.

My brother-in-law and I rushed in after my dad to try and pull him out, but we could not breathe. The smoke was so thick that is was impossible to enter the room without crawling. We screamed for my dad to come out, but he wouldn’t. He was fighting the fire with a giant pillow as we continued throwing water from the bathroom onto the flames.

Somehow, my dad put the fire out. It was absolutely terrifying for all of us as he was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. When he came out of the room he was covered in black soot. He said, “There was no way I was letting this house burn down.” I think that in those moments leading up to the pillow fight with the fire that he thought we had already suffered enough as a family. My 16-year-old brother had been killed in a car accident just a few years earlier.  If our house burnt to the ground it would have been another devastating blow to an already grieving family.

After the fire, we endured the long process of cleaning everything up and restoring what had been lost.  My collection was replaced, and I received full compensation for everything that had been destroyed. The room was rebuilt and improved upon. By the end, my room, my collection, and even my bank account were in much better shape than before the fire. We received new clothes, new walls, and new floors. We received something better than what we had before.

My dad fought the fire and we endured through the rebuild process because our home meant something to us. It held memories and possessions. It provided a level of comfort during difficult days. We fight for the things that mean something to us. We rebuild and reclaim those things that have been destroyed when they have meaning for us. Our efforts follow our hearts.

Haggai was a prophet that ministered during Judah’s return to Jerusalem. The people had begun the hard work of restoring their homes and their land after they had been destroyed by the Babylonian invasion.  By the time of Haggai, things were looking up but the people had not yet rebuilt the Temple of Solomon. The temple had been burnt to the ground when Babylon exiled Judah and yet it still remained a pile of rubble. Haggai chastised the people for ignoring the House of the Lord while enriching their own homes. Their efforts were following their hearts and their hearts were captured by lesser gods.

The Temple was the center of religious life for the people of Israel and yet, they had ignored the rebuilding efforts because they were more invested in their own personal possessions. Haggai exhorted the people that their first efforts must be with the Lord and His house for it was in His house that His Presence resided and dwelled among His people.

The Jews listened to Haggai and rebuilt the Temple into a glorious sight to see.  Some historians remarked how when approaching Jerusalem that the city seemed to glow with the beauty of the Temple. God promised the people through Haggai, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” As great as a physical structure that the Second Temple became, it still paled in comparison to what God’s promises meant.

The promises of the Lord to his people were fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, brought God’s people back to the true heart of worship. God’s promise was only partially seen in the physical glory of the rebuilt temple. The fulfillment of this promise in Haggai was fulfilled in Christ because Jesus is God with us. Jesus brought peace between God and His people. Jesus is the greater Temple because Jesus is the very presence of God.

Over the centuries between Haggai and Jesus, Jerusalem began to worship the Temple itself. They had lost sight of the reason why the Temple existed in the first place – for the glory of God. It became their glory and their pride.

God’s original exhortation to the returning exiles was to examine their hearts. Why had they rebuilt their own homes and ignored the rebuilding of God’s Temple? And why did they not see Jesus for who he was and instead worshipped the Temple years later? They, and we, tend to put our efforts into the things that we worship. We worship the things that have captured our hearts. We are willing to risk everything for those things and people that have become our objects of worship.

My dad was willing to get into a pillow fight with a fire in order to protect his family from added grief to our already crippling grief. The Israelites once exhorted were willing to give all they had to rebuild the Temple so that the presence of the Lord might dwell with them. Our efforts follow our hearts. We put effort into what we worship. This was the message of Haggai and it was the message of Christ to the woman at the well when he said that the Father is looking for those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth, rather than those who would put on a show in a gorgeous building. God’s promise was always about His Son Jesus.

Is it wrong to rush into a dangerous fire with a pillow in order to save a house and a family from grief? Of course not. Perhaps, it’s not advisable. But it is okay to protect and fight for good things. Is it wrong to build church buildings and to invest money in these buildings or our homes? Of course not. But when they become ultimate things, they become god things. This is why we must continue to pursue Jesus who is the true object of true worship.

Where are we putting our efforts today and tomorrow? Most likely, they will be put into whatever or whomever it is that we worship.

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