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What Luther Says

From Thanksgiving To Christmas, Haggai Helps Us Refocus

This time of year, we're all so familiar with the usual readings from Isaiah as well as the Gospel texts that we hear from Thanksgiving, through Advent, and into Christmas that all speak of the coming birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, I propose we prayerfully consider including an additional Scripture reading that should become a regular part of our annual traditions.

"What!?! More passages to read? Haven't we got enough already? Why do you want to add more?" I know that may be the natural reaction of some, but please hear me out, because I'm only talking about adding an extra 38 verses total.

Have you ever read the Book of Haggai? If not, then you should know that it is a remarkable text despite it consisting of only 2 chapters and 38 verses.

Who is Haggai? Well, he was one of the twelve "minor prophets" in the Old Testament. I learned that his name means "festive" or "festival" too. Many believe the name was given to him because Haggai was born on or near a festival day. Some suggest that his name is related to the celebration of the prophetic hope concerning the temple, the glory of God, and the coming Christ. Either way, the Book that's named after him urges the exiles returning from Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

When the prophet Haggai began to prophesy, the Judean exiles needed a man of authority. They needed a governor and a high priest to rally them away from self-interest and to unite them for rebuilding the ruined walls of the temple. They needed someone to encourage them to repent of their sins and refocus their priorities in life. Over the course of three months in 520 BC, the Lord opened the mouth of Haggai 27 times to rebuke and encourage the leaders and the people of Judah, His chosen ones.

Haggai is the first prophet given to the people after the Babylonian captivity, and by his prophecy the temple and the worship of God were set up again. In addition Zechariah was later given to him as a companion for a period of two months, so that by the mouth of two witnesses the Word of God might the more surely be believed. For the people had fallen into great doubt whether the temple would ever be rebuilt. 
Haggai denounces the people, however, because they had given no thought to setting up the temple and the worship of God, but had feverishly grubbed and scraped only for their own property and houses. For this reason they were afflicted with famine and with loss of produce. wine, grain, and all sorts of crops. This was an example to all the godless, who pay no heed to God's Word and worship and are always filling their own bags. It is to them alone that this text applies, when he says, 'Their bag shall be full of holes' [1:6]. 
So we find in all the histories that when men will not support God's servants or help to maintain His Word, He just lets them go and grub for themselves, and scrape incessantly. However in the end He punctures the bag full of holes; blows into it so that it disintegrates and vanishes, and no one knows what has become of it. God intends to share their food or they'll not have any." 
-- Martin Luther (AE 35:329-30)

I'm getting ahead of myself here a bit, but at least you have a better idea of where we're going with this today.

The challenge for most readers of this book (myself included) is that is has an especially narrow focus or a specific mission in mind (do I have the attention of the Missionals yet?).

His prophecies specifically call the Judeans in 520 BC to complete work on the temple, which they finished just a few years later. As a result, readers today (again, myself included) might wonder what this prophecy means for them or even why such a specific matter was included in Holy Scripture.

Big picture? The exiles must rebuild the Jerusalem temple rather than focus on their own prosperity and security.

Law themes? The Book is a condemnation of self-serving interests and it presents a commentary on living with the results of sinful behavior and even offers something to say about the shaking of the nations.

Gospel themes? The Lord blesses the people's focus on receiving the Word and we even read of the promise of the Spirit for those chosen by the Lord Himself. Ah, now are we beginning to see the parallels to our own lives and times perhaps?

As is always the case with God's Word, there's so much that can be said about these mere two chapters, but one verse in particular stood out to me today when reading Haggai.

Haggai 1:4 (ESV) Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

In other words, their private dwellings were nicely finished and furnished, but God's house was a desolate waste. It clearly shows they had misplaced priorities.

Haggai 1:5 (ESV) Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.

Obviously, verse 5 offers a call to repentance and asks the people to examine their hearts, looking closely at what they had done since returning from Babylon.

However, it's verse 6 that really resonates with me, especially this time of year as we all rush to frantically finish our Christmas shopping for loved ones and enjoy all the gifts we received that we really didn't need.

Haggai 1:6 (ESV) You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

"Paneled houses"
and "a bag with holes" is an interesting contrast, isn't it? I pray it's not lost on any of us. See, there is a crisis of grand proportions in Christ's Church today. The moral fiber of our world has eroded. Greed, idolatry, and pleasure are the gods of our day, and it is no different in the Body of Christ. This is hardly surprising since the Word of God warns us to expect this reality. It's still sad to see it with your own eyes though.

The prophet Haggai wrote about a people who had lost concern for the need to build God's house since they were so focused on their own worldly needs. It is a dangerous place to be with God. When our world begins to focus around increasing our pleasure, building bigger and better homes, and failing to make what is important to God important in our own lives, this should be a warning to us.

Of course, there's another danger we have to be mindful of. The other extreme is spending our God-given resources and wealth on such extravagant churches that are only about the beautiful buildings and structures, and yet, faithfully delivering the Word and Sacraments is nowhere to be found. That's also a big no-no.

Remember, Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," He said to them,"'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:12-13).

I'm sorry, but this is what I think of when I see the mega-churches (the "Style-Over-Substance" form of "Churchianity" that exists today) that have sprung up across our country. This is what I think of when I see the Lutheran Church attempting to emulate these worldly social clubs. These mini-cities often include coffee shops and bookstores among other things on the premises. Why? Do we really need those things to draw people to church each Sunday? And if they're only there to make things more convenient for regular church-goers I have to ask, when did going to hear God's Word each week become "inconvenient" to Christians?

I often wonder if the millions of dollars spent on constructing such a complex and the businesses within could have been better spent on the local and surrounding communities, which I'm sure has many needy families who could put that money to better use on things like food, clothing, and shelter. Better yet, just spend the money on Bibles and distribute them throughout the local community.

Jesus came into Jerusalem and found the merchants buying and selling in the temple. As far as they knew, this was an acceptable practice in their day. Their fathers did it, and now they were doing it. It was business as usual.

Jesus became righteously indignant, turned over the tables, and said that His house was a house of prayer. He found the merchants of the day seeing His house as a place for profit, not prayer. They had stepped into a place of complacency that was not acceptable to the Lord. When we begin to blend in with the moral condition of an ungodly world, we begin losing God's perspective on life.

It's easy to begin blending in with our culture and to accept what is being modeled by the ungodly. God called us to be salt in a world that needs much salt. "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (Matthew 5:13).

Each of us must ask ourselves if we have lost our salt. Are we having an impact on our world? Or is our world having an impact on us? I don't want to go off the rails here and get too side-tracked or make it sound like I'm slipping back into my old Evangelical mindset. So, let's simply ask, "Is there a greater purpose for the Book of Haggai rather than merely giving us a play-by-play of the rebuilding of the temple?"

While the above analysis is an important one for us to consider, I believe there is so much more we can glean from a study of this very short, but very important text.

The overriding message seems to be this:
We can do it the easy way or the hard way, but either way, God will get His way. That's why it is important for me to have my priorities right and put faith in and obedience to God first.

Ok, but how do you know if you have your priorities straight? And if you don't, what do you do about it? I think Haggai can give us some help in determining the answers to these questions.

If I was going to create a one-liner for the Book of Haggai I would probably come up with something like this: "Misplaced priorities in our lives can be diagnosed and treated."

Haggai preached 4 sermons to the people which we could outline as follows...

A more thorough analysis of the Book of Haggai from Martin Luther can be found here.

In a sense, you could say that Haggai is a "spiritual doctor" and that he gives us an understanding of our current "spiritual temperature" as it exists today. He does this by identifying our "symptoms" and then goes about "prescribing" the antidote. Ah, but will we take our medicine like big boys and girls?

In Haggai 1:5 the Lord speaks through the prophet and says, "Consider your ways!" What is God trying to convict them of? Misplaced priorities! That was the problem! They were not putting God first. They were only concerned with their own comforts much like the world is today.

What was the result of the misplaced priorities? What were the symptoms? Well,
the first symptom was dissatisfaction (verse 6). They were experiencing very unsatisfying lives. Consider what he wrote, "You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill." I think this is an illustration of seeking life and happiness through pleasure, which never satisfies. "You clothes yourselves, but no one is warm." Perhaps we could change this for our culture to say, "You always buy new clothes you don't really need, and the styles are always changing too." Next we read, "And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes." I think most of us can identify with this. Do you run out of money before you run out of month? To compensate for this, do you work so much that you don't have time for God or for family? Are you seeking happiness and life through possessions?

Again, recall that Haggai condemned them for living in their paneled houses. We can see that they had become consumed with earthly things. The question we need to ask is -- have we done the same thing?

Even though this book was written 2,500 years ago, it is very applicable for today. Haggai says, "Consider your ways." We need to consider our ways. We need to evaluate our lives and see if we are guilty of these things.

second symptom was discipline (1:9-11). Haggai 1:9 says, "You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away." This is God’s active role in blocking their attempts to find life without Him. Why is He doing this to them? Because His temple is lying desolate. They had no care in the world for Him. The old rules about blessing and cursing were still in effect, and since they had their priorities all wrong, God was beginning to bring down curses on them. They were trying to find happiness in things and God was not going to let them. You might compare Hosea 2:5-7.

I know it's quite the unpopular subject in the Church today where we never talk of sin or of God being a Righteous Judge, but Haggai 1:11 tells us Who is the source of the national disaster. God is. Some people have a difficult time believing that God causes earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, and such. This doesn't say He merely let it happen. It says He called for it in the case of the Judeans! We need to be aware that all disaster is not necessarily discipline from God, but sometimes it might be.

I think we need to be aware that this might be true, but we must be careful not to let that become an excuse for not helping people either. Again, we need to examine our lives and see if we might be experiencing God's discipline. Yes, it's often times impossible to tell for sure (and we don't want to be like Job's one friend and there's John 1:9-3 to think about too
), because not all sickness or calamity is the result of sin in our lives. It may just be the result of living in a fallen world, due to Satan, and/or making poor choices, but sometimes it is directed at us for a reason.

So far we have seen two symptoms or results of misplaced priorities: Dissatisfaction and Discipline. The things of this world do not satisfy. If we try to find happiness in them and not in God, we won't. And not only will we be dissatisfied, we will also get the discipline of God. 
Thus, the lessons we can learn from Haggai includes...

1. The work of the Lord should never be procrastinated (1:3)

2. Misplaced priorities hinder the work of God (1:4,9)

3. The goal of God’s work is His glory and pleasure (1:8)

4. God sometimes uses natural disasters for spiritual discipline (1:6,10,11)

5. Obedience and reverence are prerequisites for spiritual blessing (1:12-14)

6. It is never too late to start obeying God (1:12-15)

7. Courage comes from knowing that God is present (2:1-4)

8. The remedy for a discouraged heart is to see the divine perspective (2:6-7)

9. Everything belongs to and is under the control of the Lord (2:7-8)

10. Holiness is not transferable (2:11-12)

11. Sin contaminates everything one does (2:13-14)

12. Disobedience brings discipline, while obedience guarantees blessing (2:15-19)

13. God is sovereign over the nations and kingdoms of this world (2:20-22)

14. The covenants of the Lord are guaranteed to be fulfilled (2:23)

Or, to put it more succinctly, here are 7 timeless truths about God that we can trace from the pages of Haggai...

1. The Lord is powerful 
2. The Lord has expectations of His people 
3. The Lord is jealous 
4. The Lord is demanding 
5. The Lord is trustworthy 
6. The Lord is changeless 
7. The Lord is loving

Now, if you're looking for a more detailed (but brief) summary of this prophet and his delivery of God's message to God's people, then this should help...

Haggai is a twin prophet with Zechariah during the time of Jerusalem’s rebuilding after the return from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah. Unlike Zechariah, Haggai’s prophecy is extremely short. In most Bibles, it takes up barely more than a page printed in English. Its brevity should not allow itself to be overlooked. Haggai does have an important message to deliver to the returning exiles and to the exiles in the twenty-first century. Haggai takes his short moment of delivering God’s Word to exhort the returning exiles to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. While the exiles were certainly worried about their own safety and need for shelter, Haggai exhorted them to take care of their greatest need. Beyond the safety of the wall, beyond the security of a roof over the head, Israel needed the Temple. The place where God had promised for His name and His glory to dwell among His people. As America spread out into the western frontier, they followed Haggai’s exhortation. Typically, the first building erected in a new town was the church building. The town would grow up and expand out from this central building. While Haggai is brief, his message is still needed today. Church and God’s Word should be the central focus of our lives.

Friends, I know this was a very long one today, but I hope you feel as I do and can recognize why a study of this book is so appropriate for us, especially during this time of year. The Lord Almighty says, "Build my house!"
We would be wise to prayerfully consider what God is trying to say to us through the Book of Haggai because it's about our own attention to our spiritual well-being as well as our own priorities in this God-given life. Don't ignore what matters most.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Christ's Church and God’s Word should always be the central focus of our lives, because the Lord is always with us, and He wants us to proclaim His Gospel, share His love, and trust in Him as "the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just your average everyday Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to "Confessional Lutheranism" and one who recently escaped an American-Evangelical-Non-Denominational mindset a little more than 4 years ago now despite being a Christian my whole life. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way back into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the whole truth myself. With that in mind, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavily influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!

About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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