The Shaking of the Nations
June 8, 1997
All of us need some special encouragement from time to time. It may be that you need encouragement to stay in school, or to stay on the job, or just to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe you’re facing the surgeon’s knife and you fear what the future may hold. Perhaps you are struggling right now in some area of your life and feel like giving up. I’m sure many of you find it hard just to get up, get dressed, and go to work five or six days a week. I know that some of you have come to a crossroads in life and don’t know which road to take.
This week our high school seniors will graduate. But now you face the great question: What will I do with the rest of my life? You’re excited but also a little nervous as you think about the future. Deep inside you truly want to do God’s will—if only you could figure it out.
Some of us lack confidence that we can do all God has called us to do. We feel a bit like my friend who told me that “confidence is your last thought before reality hits.” For some of us, reality has hit pretty hard and our confidence is about shot.
Well, for all of us I’d like to give you some words of encouragement this morning from the last few verses of Haggai 2. Encouragement comes in many forms: a pat on the back, a smile along the way, a friendly phone call, a cheerful word from a friend, or a listening ear. This morning we’re going to see how God encouraged his people with an inspiring vision of the future.
We can sum up the message of this text in four simple lessons.
I. The Value of Faithfulness
“Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah …” (20). I find it fascinating that God’s final message is not to the people in general but to their leader—Zerubbabel. That’s instructive on several levels. Dr. Lee Roberson often reminded his listeners that “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” You could read a thousand books on management and not find a statement more important than that. In some ways, it is the story of every human endeavor. Every success and every failure can usually be traced back to one ultimate source—leadership. It matters not whether you are talking about the corner grocery store or a multinational corporation. Leadership makes the difference. It applies just as much to a seven year old boys’ soccer team as it does to the U.S. ice hockey team. Leadership makes the difference.
Leadership is the reason some schools excel while others flounder for years. Leadership is the reason some companies boom while others go bust. Leadership is the reason some men are elected to office year after year, while men equally qualified can’t make it the first time. Leadership is the reason a man like Sam Walton can take a local chain of dime stores and turn it into Wal Mart and in the process become the richest man in America. That’s no fluke. That’s leadership.
Leaders Get Discouraged Too!
But sometimes leaders get discouraged. Evidently that’s what happened to Zerubbabel. And who could blame him? After all he was the one who had led the people back from Babylon only to find the situation worse than he had imagined. All the familiar landmarks in Jerusalem had disappeared. The city walls had been torn down and foreign soldiers marched through the streets. The magnificent temple of Solomon had been utterly destroyed. Quite simply, there was nothing left. Nothing at all. The people were rebuilding a nation from scratch.
Eventually they began rebuilding the temple. Then they stopped for 16 years. Then they started again but quickly became discouraged.
No one knows the burdens a leader bears. It’s been truly said that the higher you go in any field of endeavor, the lonelier your job becomes. Even though you may be surrounded by throngs of people, you feel alone because no one knows the pressure that weighs you down, that stoops your shoulders, and turns your hair prematurely gray.
You feel alone, and like Elijah of old, you begin to cry out, “I and I alone am left.” Then one day the Lord taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re not alone. I’ve been watching you through all your trials. I’ve been by your side the whole time. Fear not, for I am with you.”
The Best Way to Be Successful
Do you know the hardest part of rebuilding a temple? It’s putting that next stone in place. Sometimes it’s just so difficult to keep on going when you’re hip deep in alligators with no way to drain the swamp. That’s precisely how Zerubbabel felt. There were “fightings within and fears without.” He looked at his discouraged, fickled workers, he listened to the howling opponents, he surveyed the massive job still before him, and he felt like giving up.
It’s at that point that God says, “Tell Zerubbabel I’ve got a message for him.” And that message is simple. Just keep on doing your job because I’m watching you every day.
In the current issue of Reader’s Digest, there’s a timely quote from James Baldwin, “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck—but, most of all, endurance.” That’s what it takes to do anything great in this world. You’ve got to have endurance to just get up in the morning, face the world head on, and do the job assigned to you with all the vim and vigor you can muster.
This week I had an occasion to remind a group of fellow pastors that we shouldn’t be discouraged when we look at the world because “God doesn’t call us to be successful, but he does call us to be faithful.” And if we’re faithful long enough, we have an excellent chance of being successful in the end. That’s a good word for moms and dads, for graduating seniors, for people who feel a bit lost in the shuffle, for workers who wonder if they should bother showing up tomorrow morning.
Just be faithful, and when all is said and done you’ll have an excellent chance of being successful.
II. The Power of God’s Providence
There is a second lesson in this passage and it has to do with God’s providence. Notice how God puts it in verses 21-22: “I will shake the nations” and “I will overturn royal thrones” and “I will overthrow chariots and their drivers.”
Most of us aren’t very good at foretelling the future. We wonder whether the market will go up or down, we ponder the great cosmic question: Can the Bulls beat the Jazz tonight? Or on a completely different vein, we attend a funeral and wonder when our time will come. You can be healthy today and then have a heart attack tomorrow. Or you can have peace today and war tomorrow. Nothing is certain in our ever-changing world. Solomon ponders this predicament and wrote these telling words in Ecclesiastes 9:11-12.
The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come.
This week I got a call from Ed Loomis who told me that Laura Cronin had suddenly died. I first met Laura about six years ago when she started attending Calvary. She and Ed became good friends and Ed led her to Christ. Everyone who knew Laura knew that she struggled with many personal issues in her life, but you couldn’t be around her without realizing that her faith was very genuine. She moved to another village and I hadn’t heard from her for a year or so until she called me a couple of months ago to say hi. She wanted me to know that she still loved the Lord and that at last things were beginning to work out for her. She had a new job she was very excited about and wanted me to pray she would do well. So we prayed together over the phone. That’s the last time I talked with her. She died suddenly and unexpectedly a few days ago. She was only in her 40s and left behind several children in deep sorrow.
“No one knows when his hour will come.” We all expect and pray to live long, happy lives. When I think of our high school graduates I am so excited for them. What enormous potential lies in these young people. What great things they can do for God. I remember the night I graduated from high school feeling like I could do anything, go anywhere, and tackle any challenge. I feel the same way when I look at this year’s graduates. You have a bright future. But above everything else, remember that your life is in God’s hands.
Let us reflect this morning on the power of God’s providence. He holds the power of life and death. He opens a door that no man can shut. But when he closes a door, no one can open it. When he overthrows a king, that king stays overthrown. That ought not to frighten us. If we are biblical Christians, it ought to give us enormous confidence as we face the problems of life. If we are wise, we will humble ourselves before Almighty God and seek to please him in everything we do.
III. The Overthrow of Earthly Kingdoms
Our text contains a third reminder relating to the overthrow of earthly kingdoms. There is coming a day when God is going to shake the heavens and the earth. In that day everything made by the hand of man will come crashing down. Revelation 16:17-20 describes that day and connects with the Battle of Armageddon just before Jesus returns to the earth:
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘‘It is done!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.
Think of it. Paris leveled, Tokyo in ruins, London turned into a disaster area, New York burning, Miami in flames, Phoenix in ashes, San Francisco fallen to the ground. And in Chicago, the Sears Tower is no more, Comisky Park turned to rubble, the Brookfield Zoo a zoo no more, Upper Wacker has become Lower Wacker, Lower Wacker has become underground Wacker, every building in the Loop falls to the ground, all the freeways destroyed, Moody Church collapsed, and in Oak Park, every single Frank Lloyd Wright home destroyed, OPRF a heap of rubble, the Unity Temple gone, the Pancake House gone, the Tasty Dog turned into dust, and at 931 Lake Street, where a church used to meet until the whole congregation mysteriously disappeared seven years earlier, the ground is covered with tiny shards of colored glass, all that remains of the lovely stained-glass windows.
Everything that man builds collapses before his eyes. So it is with everything that is of this world. Several years ago a friend sent me an email containing these lines from a poem called “Gray’s Elegy” written in a country churchyard in England:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
The Apostle John told us in his first epistle that “the world and its desires pass away” (1 John 2:17). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Indeed, the best and brightest of us will someday die. All that we do will eventually be forgotten. This is a sobering reminder, and one we dare not forget.
IV. The Certainty of Eternal Reward
Our text—and the short book of Haggai—close with some very comforting words. Listen to God’s final message: ‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
Most of us aren’t familiar with the concept of a signet ring. Perhaps the closest contemporary analogy would be an identification badge that allows you access to highly classified information. When an ancient king wanted to affix his seal to a document, he would take his signet ring, impress it into soft wax, which would then harden into an unbreakable seal. Thus a signet ring was much more than a decorative ring. It signified honor, authority, ownership, preservation, tender regard, special relationship, and a personal guarantee of safety.
Now there’s an additional fact about this you may not realize. Zerubbabel had a grandfather named Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin) who many years earlier had been one of the last kings of Judah before the exile. He was wicked king who did not serve the Lord. In Jeremiah 22 God pronounced a curse upon Jeconiah, in which he said, “You were like a signet ring in my hand, but because of your sin I am taking you off my finger.” Then he sentenced Jeconiah to deportation in Babylon, never to return to Israel. Finally, he uttered these words : “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David and ruling anymore in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30). Jeconiah is being told that not only will he be punished, but all his descendants will be punished as well and none of them will ever sit on the throne of David.
But now God says to his grandson Zerubbabel, “I will make you like a signet ring.” Here we see the grace of God at work. Because of Zerubbabel’s faithfulness, the curse on his family has been lifted. The signet ring is back on God’s finger.
Zerubbabel himself never sat on the throne of David. But one of his descendants did. Matthew 1:12 mentions the name of Zerubbabel in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel never made to the throne but his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson did. We know it because the angel Gabriel said of Jesus, “And the Lord God will give him the throne of his Father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Five hundred later a baby was born in Bethlehem who was the lineal descendant of Zerubbabel, God’s signet ring.
Thus the book ends with a stirring word of encouragement to a discouraged leader. It was God’s way of saying, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. You have no idea of how great my plans are for you.”
That’s a good word for all of us consider as we face the challenges of today.
Let me close with two words of application:
1. Those who look to this world for lasting approval must eventually be disappointed because the best things of this world must one day disappear. I received a very personal illustration of this recently. Most of you know that I have published several books. My first one came out in the summer of 1995. It was a book on knowing God’s will called The Road Best Traveled. That was only two years ago, which doesn’t seem very long but in the publishing business that’s an eternity. Some friends told me recently that they had seen the book for sale. Where did you see it? “At a garage sale. It was marked ‘25 cents.’” Oh how quickly fame comes and goes. “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
2. Those who look to the God who created the world will find the safety and security that will last forever.
We come, as we so often do, to the reminder that “only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Meanwhile, the days hasten on for the return of Christ. All the signs are happening just as the Bible said. Even now the Antichrist may be alive somewhere on planet earth. All across the globe the nations are beginning to shake. The first days of dawn are streaking the eastern skies. Somewhere in heaven Gabriel is warming up his trumpet. And in Israel scientists report the birth of the first red heifer in 2000 years.
What fantastic days these area. Remember what Jesus said. “When all these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Let us not be afraid, not even a little bit. Fear not, child of God, for the plan of the ages is in the hand of Almighty God. Build your life on those things that will last forever and you will never be disappointed.
One final word and I am done. Jesus is coming again. Do you know him? No question is more important for time or for eternity. Recently I saw a bumper stick with a fascinating play on words:
Know Jesus? Know life.
No Jesus? No life.
How true. If you know Jesus, you also know life for he came to provide “life more abundantly” (John 10:10). But if you don’t know Jesus, you don’t even know what life itself is all about. Run to the cross, embrace the dying form of the Son of God. Rest all your hopes on Jesus. Believe that he died and rose from the dead and you will be saved. Look to Jesus and no matter what happens around you, your future will be secure.