God Centered Confidence
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
On Sunday mornings, I like to park over at the church office building and walk here to the church building. It gives me a few moments to gather my thoughts, and pray, and think before the flurry of the day begins.
As I walk, I often look at the houses and I imagine the people that live in them, and, often I find myself wondering if the Bible and if Community Church has anything relevant to say to the people that live here.
Or, are we doing something here completely irrelevant to their lives? To your life? To my life? Is a 4-week study in the obscure Book of Haggai have anything to do with anything?
And the answer, I come back to again and again is that we are doing something relevant. And a fundamental conviction for me is that I don’t need to make the Book of Haggai relevant; it already is.
And I believe that it’s not that Haggai has something do to with something, but rather that it has everything to do with everything because it has to do with God, and in one way other another, God has everything to do with everything.
Follow along with me as I read from Haggai 2:20-23,
After I graduated from college, I did what most people do, or hope to do: I found a job related to my degree. But I knew that it was possible, and in fact probably, that I would be going back to school at some point to prepare to work in pastoral ministry in a local church.
But for a year, I didn’t do anything with it; I just worked. Then, the second year, I still worked fulltime, but I went to night school at a local seminary. It was busy. My wife and I started having children. And it was busy.
After that second year—a year of night school—I knew God was for sure moving me in the direction of pastoral ministry and so I had to talk to my boss. He didn’t know.
And I hoped that he and I could come to an agreement where I could continue to work for him, that is, if we could be flexible on my schedule.
He said, I’ll think about it and get back to you. That was late May or early June, and school started in mid-August.
I said, Okay. But deep down, I thought there was a strong possibility that I would be let go. No one worked part-time where I worked, and certainly no one oscillated between fulltime and part-time, and that’s was I was asking. And I was asking them to keep investing in me for four more years and then I would be leaving them.
And I was scared. I felt fragile. As the summer went on, and the fall semester got closer, still no answer from my boss. Not even a conversation.
I spent time in prayer and an extend time fasting, but deep down I was scared. I put things in motion, but I wondered if maybe this wasn’t the right time. Maybe the financial resources wouldn’t be there. Maybe, even if I had the money and I had a job, maybe I wouldn’t have the time… or the energy. The demands of life would be too much. Maybe I just needed to focus on work and family. It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. If something was going to happen, well then, I had to make it happen.
Then it came time to pay for classes. Still no answer from my boss. But I paid anyway.
And I was scared. I felt fragile.
One night, I was praying about this, and God directed me to a passage in scripture from the Old Testament. It’s a passage where God promises to help train King David’s hands for war. God tells David that he will help him “bend a bow of bronze” (2 Samuel 22:35). The meaning of that phrase is either a bow—like in a bow and arrow—made of bronze or a bow reinforced with bronze. If it’s made of bronze, then it would be impossible for a person to bend, and if reinforced with bronze, then it’s just very, very difficult. Either way, the point to David was that David could place his confidence in God. And that was what I felt God was saying to me: I could place my confidence in God.
Finally, two weeks before my classes started, my boss called me into his office and said we can “work this out”—I could continue to work for him during seminary. I’m simplifying the details, but I was amazed. I learned that God was God and that he takes care of his children and I can place my confidence in him.
Why do I bring all of this up? Well, in Haggai, the people of God have been called to a task. It was not a small task. They were to rebuild the Temple. It had been destroyed many years earlier by a foreign army. They had started to build it some 16 years ago, but the pressure became too intense, and their priorities became all messed up, and they said, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (1:2). In other words, “We need to focus on us. We are fragile. We are weak. We don’t have free time to do the Lord’s work. We need to look inward.”
But, by the end of Chapter 2, this outlook had changed. God calls them back to his mission, and they respond. Work on the Temple begins.
We might say, they had paid for their classes for the fall semester. However, like me, now they were likely wondering if they had the resources to finish the job.
And truth be told, they didn’t have the resources. And they were scared and fragile. And they felt the weight of the world on their shoulders.
They were placing their all of their confidence in themselves (FCF). It’s the same tension I felt that summer so many years ago, the same tension I feel at times now, and the same thing you likely feel from time to time.
And it’s into that context that the last prophesy from the prophet Haggai came.
On the surface, his words are actually not all that easy to make sense of, but to help, I want to ask three questions. The first question is what is actually being said in these verses. The second question is what did this mean to them? And finally, what does it mean to us?
1. What movies are being quoted?
Let’s start with the first question, what does this passage actually say. Now, if you are looking at your sermon notes in the bulletin, then the question under the first point actually reads, What movies are being quoted? Here’s why I put that.
Recently I was able to spend some time with part of my extended family. And there are some in my extended family that absolutely love to quote lines from movies—like all of the time. When I pick up on the what they are saying, that is, when I know the movie that is being referenced and the particular scene, then their quote and allusion has meaning for me.
However, when I don’t know the movie, which is typically the case, I feel left out of the conversation. That’s sort of how it goes in the last four verses in Haggai. They are dense. They are stuffed with—not movie quotes and allusions—but with references to other biblical passages and other themes in biblical prophesies. And for those in Haggai’s day that were aware of what was is being promised, they would have had encouragement. And this means for us, that while we can get a general sense of what is taking place without knowing the background, we are probably going to have to become familiar with these other passages, a least a little familiar with them.
Let me move through this passage slowly. Starting in v. 20,
Now, it’s not listed here, but this is the “twenty-fourth day of the month” of the “seventh month” (2:1) in the “second year of Darius” (1:1). This is a very common way for a prophet to begin a message, that is, dating the message by the year of a king’s reign (cf., famously, Isaiah 6:1). But here, there is something out of place. This king is a foreign king. Darius is not the king of Israel or Judah, he is the king of Persia. Thus, Israel is not autonomous. And that plays in to the next verse. Haggai goes on in v. 21,
Zerubbabel is a key figure in this book and he is the central figure in this passage. But note, he is not a king. He is a “governor.” Governor’s rule under someone else. That’s significant, especially because it’s not under an Israelite king. It goes on…
Here is where the passage is stuffed with biblical allusions—or movie quotes.
God says he is going to shake the “heaven’s and the earth” which implies a totality or a wide scope to what is about to happen in just the same way when Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This tells readers that we are going to learn about how God made everything! In this verse the phrase tells us that something is going down that will effect everything.
And that word “over throw” is significant. It’s used often enough that we might call it common, but it’s used in one significant context of judgment over and over. What is that context? Genesis 19 and Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 21, 25, 29). It’s the Old Testament story where a city was overthrown for it’s wickedness. And several prophets (before Haggai, but after the event itself) use this same word “over throw” to describe the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Amos 4:11, Lam 4:6). Just to read the one from Isaiah,
If I say, “Run, Forest, run.” Everyone knows I’m alluding to the famous movie with that line. Here, in the context of a future judgment, God says “overthrow,” and the people think, “Ohhhh, I know what he’s talking about. He’s done that before.”
The passage goes on,
Now the word overthrown is used again with a different referent, namely, chariots and their riders, and horses and their riders. This too is like a movie allusion. What is the allusion to here? The Exodus (which indecently, is a movie coming out in December).
In Exodus 15:4 and 21 (cf., 14:25) we read,
The prophet Isaiah, who came before Haggai used this same language (43:15-17).
The sentence, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” calls to mind a specific movie and a specific scene. Here, God calls to mind a decisive act of judgment against a foreign nation that lead to the salvation of God’s people. It’s a big deal. And they would have picked up on that.
Everything said thus far has been, we might say, destructive. But in the midst of that, there is a special promise. The promise of “my servant” and a “signet ring.” These phrases, when used here, are intentional and stuffed with allusion.
If I say, “I’ll be back” you know that all of those words are common but when arranged in that order and said in a certain accent, you know I’m referring to something specific. Here “my servant” when promised to a leader in the family line of King David, which Zerubbabel is, means that the promises made to David are still in full force today because he was frequently referred to as “my servant” by God.
Just to quote one of several examples (1 Kings 11:34; Ps. 78:70; Ez 37:24; and “servant of the Lord” in Isa. 40-55), the prophet Ezekiel wrote, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (34:23). Ezekiel was just one generation before Haggai. In other words, the people in Haggai’s day had seen, or should have seen, that movie.
And then the phrase, “signet ring.” A signet ring is a special ring that a king would use to press his seal into official documents. A signet ring carries the authority and weight of the king himself. The signet ring has the capacity to endorse and represent the king. Here, Zerubbabel, this lowly governor under a foreign king, is told that he—or better, one of his decedents—will have the authority and weight and endorsement of the King himself and will exercise the King’s rule and reign—which is about the as strongly as someone can point to the Jesus.
And what makes this so extraordinary is that this is a reversal of what God had seemed to promise just a few generations before. When everything got to bad 80 years before there was a king that was Zerubbabel grandfather, and to that king God said that he was going to take off the “signet ring” from his finger (Jeremiah 22:24-30). Here, God is putting it back on a child, a decent of David.
So that’s the passage. It’s dense, but if I were to summarize it, I would say that God is promising that he is sovereign over the nations and that one day he will call them to account for their disobedience, and that in the midst of that judgment there is hope for anyone that could cling to the promises of redemption found in the Messiah that comes from the family line of David.
2. What did this mean to them?
If we now have a better understanding of this quote, the second question to look at is what did it mean to the people in Haggai’s day?
Well, some of this goes back to where I started the sermon, but let me point you to a few verses in Haggai 1,
And from chapter 2,
The picture here is one of scarcity. Their land? Thirsty. Their crops? Dead and dying. Their livestock? Dead and dying? Their children and their elderly? We don’t know, but maybe they are close.
What would be your reaction in that situation? If it was me, I might think this: “Work harder. Right now, I don’t have left over. I don’t have free time. I don’t have space for serving the Lord. What I have, what we have, is scarcity. We have dying crops. Dying animals. A project due at work. Bills to pay. And right now, it doesn’t seem logical to divert time away from these things to serve the Lord. If anything, these things need more time from me, not less. The people that live around us are hostile to us. And the nations that are surrounding us are bigger and stronger. Lord, what would you have us do?”
And God says: “Stop. Stop. I’m the once doing this. This scarcity is an alarm to wake you back up to me.”
It’s counter intuitive what God wants from them, at least when you have a man-centered confidence, and you think the weight of the world hangs on you.
And in Haggai, what happen? They wake up. They rebuild their priorities in their lives. They learn that serving God is supposed to happen not in their free time and not in their ‘left over,’ but first and foremost.
Now, there is the crux of the issue: what will transition someone from one state of mind to another? From man-centered confidence to God-centered confidence.
The answer God gives in Haggai is a massive vision of the sovereignty of God over all the nations of the earth just like has had in the past, he will have in the future. And God reminds them of his ability to keep his promises to bless his people through a special servant of the Lord.
The answer in Haggai to the question of why one would stop worrying only about themselves and serve the Lord, is that God restores in them God-centered confidence.
God says, I am God. I’m bigger than the nations. Bigger than your problems. And I will keep my promises to you. If you would only place you confidence in me, I will take care of you. I will help you bend a bow of bronze. If you pay for seminary out of humble obedience even when you think you might not have income, I’ll can take care of you. If you start building my Temple, then I will see that you have the recourses you need, that is, if you place your confidence in me.
3. What does this mean to us?
And so, now we turn to the last question. What does this mean to us? I’ll be brief because hopefully it is already fairly plain.
One take away from Haggai is that we don’t serve God out of our free time, or overflow, or abundance. We give him, what the Bible calls “first fruits.” So in Haggai God rebuilds their priorities.
But the question behind the question is this: if I rebuild my priorities, can God I place my confidence in God? Can I really serve God 1st and have confidence that he will take care of things.
Another way to say this is like this: Deep down, do I believe that I have placed my faith in Jesus and have become a true child of God—the real God, the real Savior, the real Father that takes care of his children? Or do I believe that I am an orphan and the weight of the world is carried on my shoulders.
Am I a child with a heavenly father, or an orphan?
This passage, teaches that we are part of a story going somewhere that God is absolutely in charge of and sovereign over.
Let me close by making this personal and by doing that, maybe you can find encouragement in this.
I get overwhelmed quickly. I feel like too often my life is lived in shades of various states of overwhelmed-ness.
The last few week it just seemed like so many things were happening. You have Ebola in West Africa; deadly persecution of Christians and other religious ministries in northern Iraq; everything going on in Ferguson (which, I was actually in in St. Louis the afternoon that it happened. I was at the zoo with my family. When I lived in St. Louis, we lived just on the fridge of Ferguson, like 1/2 mile away). And then personally, I have a little injury, which in the scope of health things, is so very, very minor, but I haven’t been able to run or jog in 2.5 years, and most of the time I don’t care, but it was bumming me out the other day. And then, this is the big one: drama at my former church. I won’t go into it here, but people I loved and cared about are going through a hard time. And then, this sermon. Man, sometimes they just don’t come easy. This was one of them.
And pretty quick, It’s easy for me to feel like I don’t have a Father in Heaven who cares. It’s pretty easy to feel the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Pretty quick, I can feel like an orphan. And if anything good is going to happen, especially sense a lot of “bad” is happening, well then, it depends all depends on me.
You ever feel like that? If you know Jesus, it’s not true. I want to quote what one scholar said about v. 22:
Christians are not orphans. The weight of the world does not hang on us. Yes we work, and pray, and do as much good as we possibly can, but in the end, and in every step leading up to the end, we place our confidence in God. God to build his church. And God will right every wrong.