Second Sunday of Easter
Pastor Tim Smith
GOD SHAKES THE WORLD FOR US AND FOR HIS KINGDOM
Is it possible to give anything to God? Why do we give to God? Why do we give offerings and other gifts to support Godâ€™s work? What if we donâ€™t agree with the way that work is being done â€“ should we keep our offerings and our time and our volunteer service back as a kind of â€œvote of no confidenceâ€?
What makes us want to give to the Lord? Is it because it makes us feel good? Is it because offerings and gifts to a not-for-profit organization are tax deductible? Is it because we feel some sense of obligation and therefore we give to assuage feelings of guilt? Is it because helping an organization like a church gives us a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride, to know that weâ€™ve made a difference?
I would hope that any child here would be able to recite the simple answer to this question: We give because weâ€™re thankful for what God gave us. But is there a more complex, a more grown-up; a more â€˜realisticâ€™ answer? Something like â€œIt costs money to keep the doors of a church open. There are some paper costs and technology costs and utilities, and our church envelopes alone cost several thousand dollars each year and the salaries and the insurance for our school staff and our called church staff and our hourly staff all add up to pretty big amountâ€¦â€?
To find some answers to these questions, we are going to visit the final words of the prophet Haggai, as we contemplate the many ways we respond to God, who shakes the world for us and for his kingdom.
Zerubbabel the Lordâ€™s Signet Ring
20 The word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 â€œTell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
23 â€œâ€˜On that day,â€™ declares the LORD Almighty, â€˜I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,â€™ declares the LORD, â€˜and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,â€™ declares the LORD Almighty.â€ (NIV)
To fully understand what God was saying through his prophet, weâ€™re going to go into some family history for this man, Zerubbabel. Besides having a name thatâ€™s fun to say, Zerubbabel is mentioned in no less than seven books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments. Not seven men with the same name â€“ one man, mentioned 25 times in seven different books of the Bible.
Sounds like we should know something about this man, doesnâ€™t it? Zerubbabel was the connection between the people after the exile and the line of the Kings of Judah.
Letâ€™s go back and learn one or two dark secrets about one of the last of those kings. And if youâ€™re like me, this part of Israelâ€™s history is confusing and almost frustrating and we seldom have a reason for looking too closely at these men.
But letâ€™s go back to King Jehoiachin. In fact, letâ€™s just call him â€œKing Jack.â€ Jack was the 19th out of 20 Kings of Judah, and he is noteworthy for three reasons: During King Jackâ€™s reign, the family of Esther â€“ her parents and her uncle Mordecai â€“ were carried off to Babylon. Also, even though there was a last, 20th king, most of the exiles kept track of time based on King Jackâ€™s time as King â€“ since he was taken into exile and even treated like a royal guest for the rest of his life, which he spent in Babylon. Finally, the Lordâ€™s judgment on King Jack was much more severe than the judgment he got from Babylon. Jeremiah tells us that God told Jehoiachin, â€œIf you were a signet ring on my finger, I would pull you off.â€ (Jer. 22:24)
A Kingâ€™s signet ring was the most important form of identification in ancient times. He used it to seal official documents in wax with the kingâ€™s symbol or name. He might give it to someone else to act with his authority. Today it would be like having the Presidentâ€™s I.D. Card â€“ or the machine that can automatically sign the Presidentâ€™s name. When it was given to a man, it meant that he could put the kingâ€™s approval on anything he wanted. The king let him have his identity and in particular, his authority. But God told King Jack, â€œIâ€™m taking my name away from you. You were my signet ring, but Iâ€™m pulling you off my finger.â€ Thatâ€™s how the exile began.
But now, God told King Jackâ€™s grandson, Zerubbabel, â€œIâ€™m giving my name back to you â€“ in fact, you will stand in my place before the people.â€ God was restoring the relationship between him and his people through this governor, Zerubbabel, the grandson of Judahâ€™s Second-to-last King.
Zerubbabel is like a knot that ties the line from King David to the exile, and from the exile to Christ. And on this knot, God stamps his seal with his signet ring, his approval and authority, and he tells this man, Zerubbabel, You are the ring itself.
Zerubbabel was the last member of Davidâ€™s line to hold an office in the Bible. After Zerubbabelâ€™s governorship, Nehemiah became the governor, and soon enough, the Romans would make Pontius Pilate the governor. But just now, at this moment, Zerubbabel stood as a reminder of Godâ€™s promises. The Christ would come. God had â€œoverturned royal thrones.â€ God had tossed aside nations and armies to bring about his plan.
God told Zerubbabel, â€œI have chosen you.â€ And thatâ€™s the same thing God has said to us. He chose us.
And that brings us back to our question: What makes us want to give to the Lord? What motivates us to want to give something back to God? Any answer we give that comes from obligation (or from gain) is going to steer us down the wrong path. We could say, we could easily say: â€œIf every family, or every member â€“ everybody who has a church envelope â€“ if everybody gave a certain amount, or if everybody would increase our offerings by a certain dollar amount â€“ two dollars a week, or twenty dollars a week â€“ then we would have no more troubles at all.
But we donâ€™t give to keep ourselves out of trouble. Thatâ€™s focusing on us, and not on God. The childâ€™s answer is only right answer: We give because weâ€™re thankful for what God gave us.
God tossed aside nations and rulers, God moved countries and people, God shakes the world for us and for his kingdom â€“ and we thank him. And thatâ€™s that.
Thatâ€™s why we give. Thatâ€™s why we donate our time. Thatâ€™s why we want to learn more about our Lord.
After Jesus rose from the dead and was about to ascend into heaven, he said: â€œAll authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me â€“ therefore go and make disciples (Mt. 28:18).â€ God gave Jesus his authority â€“ but not merely as a ring that could be taken off or given again. God gave to Jesus his authority and his approval for all time, because Jesus has Godâ€™s identity.
And Jesus came to put an end to our sin, and to fulfill the law. So when we think about giving our time for the kingdom of God, it isnâ€™t about fulfilling an obligation. Jesus fulfilled it already. We give our time out of thanks.
When we think about lending our talents or our interests and abilities for the kingdom of God, it isnâ€™t so that weâ€™ll feel better â€“ Jesus has healed our wounds and rescued us from the pit of sin and despair. We give our talents and abilities out of thanks.
And when we give anything else for the kingdom of God, it isnâ€™t because we have a duty to give. Jesus gave everything. Jesus paid with his blood â€“ and he even covered over the sins of giving for the wrong reasons, which are really violations of the First, Second and Third Commandments, placing something above Christ, misusing his name and reputation, and failing to worship, revere and respect him.
But he has forgiven these sins, too. He shakes the world for us and his kingdom. And we respond in thanks, and in love.