In the second year of Darius the king, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, 3 `Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, 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 splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.'” – Haggai 1:15-2:9 RSV
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, `I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
– Matthew 24:1-14 RSV
For the past couple weeks we’ve been looking at the theme of hope in the darkness. So far we have seen how Jesus brings hope into the lives of individuals and institutions. This week the focus broadens to take in the whole world.
Looking first at the reading from Matthew, Jesus and the disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives looking across the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem and the temple. The disciples have just remarked on the grandeur of the temple, and and Jesus tells them someday it will be destroyed. (This prediction came true in 70AD.) But Jesus is talking about something more than just the razing of the temple. He’s talking about the “close of the age,” and the disciples understand this and ask when it will happen.
Jesus doesn’t give a timetable but he gives some warning signs. He says to watch for:
- False prophets, who lead people astray, or who claim to be the Messiah.
- Wars and rumors of wars
- Persecution of God’s people
- People turning away from the truth, turning on each another
- An increase of hatred and wickedness, causing the love of people to grow cold.
- And finally, the preaching of the Gospel of Christ throughout the world
Sounds a lot like our world today doesn’t it? That said, I would warn strongly against listening to any preacher who claims to know the exact date of Jesus’ return. These things Jesus describes have been going on for a long time, and they will get worse before the end comes.
Where then can we find hope?
In the message of the prophet Haggai. God says to his people in v 4, “Take courage. Take courage. Take courage.” Three times God says it. And where do we find courage? In the promises of God. God says:
- v. 4 – I am with you
- v. 5 – My Spirit abides among you
- v. 6 – I will shake the heavens and the earth
- v. 7 – I will fill this house with splendor
- v. 8 – The silver and the gold are mine
- v. 9 – I will give prosperity – the latter splendor will be greater than the former
How’s that for hope?
Notice that God does NOT say if we work hard enough we will build God’s kingdom. What God has in mind is far beyond anything we can do. It’s something he will do.
Eight times in this passage we find the phrase “says the Lord”. If God says something, it happens. Remember in Genesis, when God said “let there be light”? The very first translation of Genesis into English read “and God said, ‘light be made’ and light was made”. I wish I could walk into the house at the end of the day and say “dinner be made”!
God’s word is active. If God says it, it happens. If we don’t see it happening yet it’s only because we’re stuck in time and God isn’t. God lives in the eternal present. God says the time is coming – future tense for us, but present tense for God – when he is going to give this world a total overhaul. When he will claim everything that is his, including gold and silver and us. A time when God will be with us and place his spirit in us… waitaminit. God says, “My Spirit will abide among you” – that’s Pentecost. And the phrase “God with us” – that’s Emmanuel, that’s Christmas. The prophecies of Haggai have already begun to happen. And the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew have already begun to happen.
Right now, in Advent, we are in a time of waiting. We remember how Haggai waited for the Messiah, and we also wait the final restoration of God’s creation. From our perspective we wait. From God’s point of view it’s already done. And that is our hope. AMEN.