Theme: The Betrothal of God with His Church
1) A story worth telling
2) A home to establish
Everyone loves a good engagement story, right? Most people want to make the moment of their engagement to be married a memorable one. Sometimes, this means surprising your significant other. And it usually makes for a good story to be told later. When most couples announce their engagement, the first question in response is, “Well, how did he ask?”
We’re not in the wedding season right now, but Christmas does remind us of marriage. One of the central themes to the Christmas story is the betrothal of Joseph and Mary. We often use the word engagement today, since our culture doesn’t really have an equivalent to the Jewish custom of betrothal. The Jewish betrothal was an unbreakable promise between man and woman. It was tantamount to the marriage vow and it was serious offense to break a betrothal. In that culture, breaking the betrothal would have been viewed as a divorce. The betrothal promise signified that the man and woman had committed to one another before God and were simply waiting for the formal wedding ceremony to live as husband and wife.
Our idea of engagement is looser. In our culture, the marriage vows are made in the formal service. Now, with an understanding of the betrothal, think of Mary and Joseph’s situation at the time for Jesus’ conception/birth. They were committed to one another but they were not to live as husband and wife yet. You can understand why we’re told that Joseph thought he should quietly break off the betrothal with Mary. In his mind, as well as everyone else’s, Mary had betrayed him and committed adultery. There was no other logical explanation as to how she could become pregnant. But, as we know, Mary’s pregnancy was no ordinary pregnancy. And as the angel revealed to Joseph, there was no foul play involved. Mary and Joseph certainly had a betrothal story worth telling, even though they probably didn’t share it with too many.
There is another, deeper betrothal, worth mentioning in connection with Christmas. It’s not a binding vow between two people. It’s the marriage covenant between God and believers. Like Mary and Joseph’s story, this betrothal involves some miraculous happenings. We hear about it in our text for today from the prophet, Haggai, Haggai 2:6-9 "For thus says the LORD of hosts: `Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; 7 `and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 8 `The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the LORD of hosts. 9 `The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts. `And in this place I will give peace,' says the LORD of hosts."
Lord, help us remember, Unless You build the house, they who work on it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Come to our hearts and build your kingdom through faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many people associate themes of marriage with another prophet whose name starts with “H”, Hosea. Hosea is remembered for being called by the LORD to marry a prostitute. Through this act he symbolized the spiritual adultery that Israel had committed against the LORD through wickedness and idolatry. Haggai, on the other hand, speaks of a marriage theme in a positive light. What we see in the Messianic promise of our text, is the story of God’s betrothal with His Church. The important verse that shows this is 7: and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts.
The Desire of Nations is a title often given to Jesus. But, in its most basic sense is simply means “Loved One” or “Someone who fills a need.” In our modern lingo we might say, “A sweetheart, or significant other, or marriage partner.” Jesus is the “Loved One” of all nations because He is the universal Savior. His covenant of forgiveness is an established relationship with believers. It is a contract, irreversible and unbreakable, signed with His own blood. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that in several contexts the Bible pictures this relationship by faith as a marriage.
Isaiah 62:5 …And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.
Jeremiah 31:31-32 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- 32 "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
Hosea 2:19-20 "I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; 20 I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD.
Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another-- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
Revelation 21:2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Our text from Haggai is the engagement story of Christ and the Church. It is a story that continues to be told each Christmas, but one that started long before the actual birth of the Savior. And the way in which the LORD established this betrothal is as unique, special, and surprising as any other engagement story. The LORD said that He would “shake” the heavens and the earth and all nations would come to their beloved, the Desire of All Nations.
The shaking of something by God doesn’t exactly bring to mind comforting thoughts. In this context of Haggai’s ministry, God’s people had returned home from the Babylonian captivity. They were in the process of re-building Jerusalem but their priorities were misplaced. The LORD spoke a stern warning to the people, saying, “Consider your ways. You dwell in paneled houses, yet the LORD’s house is in ruins.” The people had forgotten about the LORD and were only concerned with their own well-being. God had to shake them out of this attitude.
He pointed out their foolishness by saying, "You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes." Each of the examples God lists is something counter-productive. That’s what it’s like to consider your needs without considering God.
God would indeed promise His people the coming of the Beloved One, but first they needed a re-adjustment of their priorities. And just like a couple contemplating marriage in life, so God’s relationship with believers begins by planning the home. If God’s Temple remained a heap of rubble, there would be no establishment or encouragement through the covenant of grace. For a marriage to exist, there needs to be a home.
The Temple was also significant because when the Savior did come, it would serve as a picture of His body, the ultimate sacrifice that would be offered to establish the betrothal bond. Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:19-21). The Temple was the domain of God’s presence among His people. While God does not need to dwell in man-made temples, having a house set aside for Him shows the priority of Godly worship and respect. The fact that the people had committed time to their houses, but not to the Lord’s, was indicative of where their relationship with God was at. When the people showed a disregard for God’s temple, it was also a disregard of God’s presence in their lives.
We could have an honest discussion about our priorities when it comes to the actual building where we worship God, but there’s an even deeper connection of which we should be aware. Though we have our church building, and temple in that regard, God’s betrothal to us by faith shows us that He dwells directly with us today. That’s why we ourselves are called temples dedicated to God. Paul wrote the Corinthians, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Now that Christ has come to earth, born in Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary, the home in which the marriage between Himself is established is the individual heart. Have you prioritized this home as God asks you to, or as the people whom Haggai ministered to did? What’s more important this Christmas season; the many gifts for our homes or the treasures of the heart for God’s house? Don’t be so sure that your heart is in the right place just because you are here this morning. Haggai’s people were God’s people. They had His presence in His temple, and yet they strayed. It was a matter of priority and attitude for them, just as it is for us.
If you’re like me, you’re looking for help in your relationship with God. When God examines my faithfulness to Him, I cannot hide from the truth – I am lacking. I have been unfaithful. I have failed to keep the covenant vow of faith with my Lord. There’s nothing that requires Him to stay with me. Not very good news for Christmas.
But, then, a Child is promised. He is born. He lives. He glorifies His Father. He teaches wayward sinners like you and me. He perfects the human experience on earth. He dies, He rises, He lives forevermore. That Child is my Lord and your Lord. He is my Savior and your Savior. He is our beloved one, our desire. Why does it work out like this, when everything we examine about our lives comes short? It works because God is faithful. It works because even though we have strayed through sin, He will not let us go. He keeps His covenant for us; the betrothal vow that He promised in His Son, Jesus Christ. Truly, an engagement story worth telling again and again!
The lives of the OT believers were like living in an engagement relationship with the Lord. They had a promise from God, but they were waiting for the fulfillment. They were united with Him in Word but not in perfection. But, because God promised it through His Word, the idea of an engagement doesn’t come close enough. No, it was more a betrothal; a much deeper, much more committed promise than the often flimsy engagements of our day. They were waiting, but they were with the Lord. There was an unbreakable promise from God which nothing could reverse, even more sacred than a marriage vow.
You and I are in a similar situation today. Jesus has come, thank the Lord! But, we’re waiting too. Waiting for eternal life; the everlasting marriage feast of our Savior, with His bride, the Church. We are betrothed to the Lord, too; a promise sealed by His Word, and now also, sealed with His blood. No matter what enemies may say, nothing can reverse it and nothing is more powerful than the forgiveness Jesus won for you. You will always have it and He will always remain faithful to you. Wait with patience and hope, for your Desire is coming.
We read earlier from John’s revelation, how He saw the Church coming down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. That’s the betrothal story between believers and God. How does it end? Read on: And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (Revelation 21:3-7)
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.