Tonight the Eagles and the Chiefs will play in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale Arizona. A hundred million Americans will watch the game tonight, almost a third of our country. A ticket to the superbowl will cost you 4000 dollars up in the nosebleed seats, and 10,000 dollars for a seat up close. A luxury suite for you and your friends will cost 400,000 dollars. A 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl will cost you 7 million dollars. And Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs is currently on a 10 year contract worth 450 million dollars. 

How do you feel when you hear those numbers, 4000 dollar ticket, 7 million dollar ad, 450 million dollar contract? Maybe we’re a bit awed by how much money that is, maybe we’re angry that money isn’t being spent on something else, maybe we’re jealous and wish we had that kind of money, wish we had a 4000 to spend on a ticket to a three hour game, wish we had a 450 million dollar contract at work. 

Who doesn’t want to be rich? Wouldn’t it be nice to be rich? It’s a natural human desire to want lots of money and stuff and power, to want prosperity. And the Bible talks about how we should understand prosperity and it talks about it in Haggai. 

Our passage this morning comes from Haggai chapter 2 verses 15 to 19 which you’ll find on page 768 of your Bible and I’d encourage you to turn there. In this passage Haggai is addressing the people of Israel who have returned to their homeland from exile in Babylon. And Haggai explains both why they have been poor and why they will soon become rich. And for a reason I’m going to explain later, I’ll be reading the scripture this morning in the King James Version. Listen to Haggai chapter 2 verses 15 through 19:  

And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord: Since those days were, when one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty. I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord. 

Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it. Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.


Our passage this morning is about prosperity and the gospel. About the good news of God’s love for us and about having a good harvest. And at first glance, it can look like this passage is saying that if we’re bad, God makes us poor, and when we’re good, God makes us rich, it can look like our material prosperity is a measure of our proximity to God. This is called the prosperity gospel, the idea that God wants us all to be rich and that wealth is the sign of God’s approval, and if you aren’t rich you must be doing something wrong. 

If there were no truth to the prosperity gospel, no one would believe it, but there is some falsehood in it as well. And when you mix mostly true with some false, you get all false, you get a lie. The prosperity gospel like every false doctrine has a mix of truth to make it appealing. So what does God have to say about prosperity, about having money, being successful, about poverty, about failure? 

We’re going to look at what Haggai has to say about prosperity and we’re going to do that by answering three questions: Why does God bless? Who does God bless? And how does God bless? 

Let’s start with that first question, why does God bless us? What is God trying to do when he showers us with blessing or when he withholds them? What is God trying to do when he gives and when he takes away? 

In our passage this morning God tells the people of Israel to consider what has been going on, to reflect on their circumstances. Consider those days when you thought there’d be 20 measures and there were 10. Consider when you pressed out 50 vessels of wine but you only got 20. Consider when the blasting and the mildew and the hail that struck all your crops, that smote everything you did. 

When did all those bad things happen? Before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord. God had told the Israelites to rebuild his house and they hadn’t done that; they had not obeyed God. And so up to this point the Israelites had suffered from drought and famine and poverty and pain. 

And then God tells the people of Israel to consider what’s going to happen. Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it. Even though  the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not brought forth fruit, from this day God will bless you. 


Once the Israelites begin to rebuild the temple, God promises that he will begin to bless them. Consider what’s going to happen, pay attention to what’s going to change, because once you obey, you will be blessed. 

Now this can sound like God is making a deal with Israel, like God has made some sort of contract, like it’s a transactional relationship: God really likes  temples and the Israelites really like having good crops, so God offers them good crops in exchange for the temple. That is not what’s happening here. Not the case. And that’s why we need to ask this question, why is God blessing the Israelites what is he trying to do?

He certainly is not just trying to get them to build a temple. If God can speak the universe into existence by the word of his power, if he can say let there be light and there was light and it was good, why would God need to cajole a bunch of selfish Middle Eastern peasants into stacking stones on top of stones. God could say let there be a temple! And there would be a temple far greater than any human could build. Despite possessing that sort of power, although he can create a temple himself out of nothing, he insists that the Israelites build it for him. What is God trying to do? 

We find the answer in verse 17: I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord. Yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord. 

When God says that, he reveals the purpose of his actions, God wants his people to turn to him. God’s saying I tried this and I tried that, I tried everything I could yet ye turned not to me. The punishment was meant to change Israel’s behavior.

Now there’s an idiom in English, carrot and stick. It refers to trying to get a donkey to do something, trying to get a notoriously stubborn animal, the mule, to move. And when you’re making that mule move, you have two options, the carrot and the stick. You can hold out a nice juicy carrot in front of him and have him walk towards it. Or you can wallop the animal’s behind with a stick. Reward or punishment. Carrot or stick. 

When I was a teacher we used to talk about things like this, all the different means we used to try to get our students to learn. We had carrots at our disposal, we gave out As and told our students how wonderful they were and brought in special snacks and had a class party. We also had sticks at our disposal, we gave out Fs and we told our students that needed to work harder and we called their parents and we gave extra homework. We had carrots and sticks. 

Parents do this too. You have carrots; you give your child some money or a new toy, you make their favorite food for dinner, you let them stay up past their bedtime. And you have sticks, you take away their phone, you put them in timeout, you ground them. 


And any parent, any teacher, any mule driver knows about carrots and sticks and knows that they are means to an end. The point of the punishments and rewards are to accomplish something, to teach something. You get the mule where it’s going, by carrot and stick. You teach your students Shakepseare, by carrot and stick. You teach your children to behave, by carrot and stick. 


And when God says yet ye turned not to me. He’s telling us that all that blasting and smiting and mildew and hail, was just one big stick. It was just a tool to get Israel to turn to him. And in the same way, the promised blessing, that from this day and upward God would bless the Israelites, that was just one big carrot. 


God used prosperity and poverty to teach the Israelites to turn to him. Why did he bless them? To teach them to turn to him. Why did he refrain from blessing them? To teach them to turn to him. This wasn’t a transactional you do this, I do that; God did not need the Israelites help to rebuild anything. God wanted Israel to turn to him, the true source of all life and all that is good, and he used prosperity and poverty as teaching tools to bring them back to him. They were only tools. 

The point wasn’t the prosperity or the poverty, the point was that they turned to God. God blesses us to teach us to turn to him. Now who does God bless? And this question is why I chose to read in the King James Version this morning. The answer is fairly straightforward in the end of verse 19: from this day will I bless you. 

You, and this you refers to the people of Israel. Haggai was speaking to the people of Israel. Just like I am speaking to First Baptist Mansfield and when I say you it refers to Jeff and Peterson and Emily and Marci and so on, Haggai was speaking to Israel and when he says you it means Joshua the high priest and Zerubabbel the governor and all the people of Israel. 


And this may seem obvious, but there’s something here that often gets overlooked; it’s a little bit of grammar and as a former English teacher I can’t help but point out that the you here is plural. The you refers to more than one person, to a group of people. If we we’re in the South, this would be a y’all, not just a you. If this were Spanish, this would be usted not tu. If this were French this would be vous, not tu. Many languages, including Hebrew and Greek make this distinction between you singular and you plural. 


And the King James Version has this distinction too, in the King James you is plural and thou is singular. And you may have noticed when I read the scripture this morning there were no thous. Even though it was King James, it was “I pray you” and “I smote you” and “you turned not to me” and “I will bless you.” 


Why does this matter? Because it tells us who God blesses like this. This isn’t a promise of prosperity to one person but to a group of people, to the nation of Israel. Sometimes with the prosperity gospel, people will point to passages like this and say that if you are obedient to God, God will give you lots of money and so on. But that’s not what the passage says. The passage says if you all, if this nation obeys God, you all will prosper. It does not say, if thou, one person, obeys God, thou wilt prosper. 

And if you look closely at other passages about blessing and cursing, about God rewarding those who obey his law, you’ll notice this over and over again. That the you being addressed is a nation, is a group of people. In Deuteronomy God gives a long list of the blessings for obeying his law and a long list of curses for breaking it and the blessings and curses are given to the whole nation of Israel. In Jeremiah 29, we hear these words: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. And again those words are addressed to the nation of Israel, not to an individual person. 


And this matters because there is a real difference of meaning. If you think that just because you do the right thing, God is going to give you prosperity, you’re wrong. And the Bible and history are full of exmaples of good individuals who did the right thing and who suffered for it. Think of Jeremiah who I just quoted. Jeremiah told the truth. Jeremiah was obedient to God. And he also was mistreated, persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, and nearly killed by his enemies. 

And if you think that just because someone is prosperous, they must be doing the right thing, you’re wrong. And the Bible and history are full of examples of bad individuals who did bad things and who prospered. While Jeremiah was persecuted, false prophets were praised and honored. 

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That’s a lesson we see throughout scripture. We see it especially in the life of Job, a good man and a rich man, who lost everything, who lost his wealth, who lost his children, who lost his health, who was covered in sores and laid down in the ashes, and even Job’s wife told him to curse God and die. And all Job’s friends said to him, you must have done something wrong to deserve this, you must have done something really wicked. 

But Job hadn’t done wrong; he was being tested. And the story of Job teaches us that just because an individual is suffering, it doesn’t mean they brought it on themselves. Christians do not believe in Karma. 

But, we can’t ignore those other passages of the Bible where God promises to bless the Israelites as a nation if they obey him, passages like the one we heard from Haggai this morning. And when we remember that these passages are addressed to nations, to groups of people, it makes sense when God says, if you obey me, you all will prosper. After all, what has God asked us to do? In the 10 Commandments God said this:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.

  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol,

  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,

  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 

  5. Honor your father and your mother

  6. You shall not murder.

  7. You shall not commit adultery.

  8. You shall not steal.

  9. You shall not bear false witness.

  10. You shall not covet 


What would it be like if a group of people actually obeyed the 10 commandments? What would a family or a town or a nation or a world be like, where everyone worshiped the true God, where everyone rested once a week, where parents were honored, where there was no murder, no adulterly, no theft, no lieing, no covetousness? Could we describe a community that obeyed these rules as anything other than prosperous? How many of your problems are caused by you or someone else breaking one of the 10 commandments? 

If a people obeys God, surely God will bless them and has blessed them. Who does God bless? He blesses communities who obey him. On the individual level people may have prosperity or poverty, we can’t judge individuals by that standard, when we do that we make the same mistake that Job’s friends did. But when all of us together obey God, he will bless us. 


Third, how does God bless? How does God bless? What sort of gifts does God give, how does he bless us? 


At first glance in this passage it seems that God blesses us with stuff, with material possessions. God punished by taking away the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree. And God’s reward is to restore their crops and the labors of their hands. But remember what the purpose of those punishments was, that the people would turn towards God, the purpose was to teach the Israelites to turn to him. And that was the real reward, the teaching, and the turning to him. That their crops grew was just a carrot, just an incentive to something of real value: learning to turn to God. God really blessed them by teaching the Israelites to turn to him. 


Let me tell you a story. One summer when I was in high school I worked as a camp counselor at the Greenough Scout Camp in Yarmouth down on Cape Cod. Most weeks I was a den chief leading 8 elementary school boys around our Cub Scout Day Camp. We went fishing and swimming and on hikes in the woods and did crafts. And while we did all those things, our campers collected beads. Little plastic beads. Every camper had a lanyard with his name on it and when a camper did a good deed or learned something new or won a competition we would give them a bead. 

And the campers loved these beads. They would brag about how many beads they had with returning campers showing off their stash to the new campers. They would offer to get me a soda at the trading post in exchange for beads. They would ask for challenges to earn more beads as we went swimming and fishing and hiking through the woods. 

That was 11 years ago. Those boys I gave the beads too are probably working or in college by now. And I guarantee not a single one of them still has those beads. Those beads got thrown and forgotten out a long time ago. But I’m sure those boys remember camp, I’m sure they remember learning to fish and swimming with their friends and hiking through the woods. The beads were just a carrot, just a tool to get them to follow directions at camp. And the real reward was that they actually did at camp. 

Material prosperity is like those beads I gave out at a camp. It’s just a tool God uses to teach people to turn to him. The blasting and smiting and mildew and hail are so that we would turn to him. And the blessing of our crops is so that we would turn to him. 

And that is how God really blesses us, more than by giving us material prosperity, he blesses us by teaching us to turn to him. And we see this clearly in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus blessed many people materially. A man with a withered hand came to Jesus and Jesus healed his hand. A paralyzed man was lowered through a roof to Jesus and Jesus made him walk. A man brought his demon possessed son to Jesus and Jesus made him well again. 5000 people came out to hear Jesus speak in a desert place and Jesus fed them. A man named Jairus had a sick daugher and he came to Jesus, and before Jesus could get to Jairus’ house, Jairus’ daughter died, but Jesus said to the girl Talitha Cum which means little girl get up and she got up and walked around. Jesus raised her from the dead. Jesus blessed a lot of people in his life. 

But that was just the beginning, that was just the carrot, the reward, to teach people to turn to Jesus. And Jesus even though he obeyed God perfectly, even though he was full of faith and hope, even though he did everything God wanted him to do, Jesus was persecuted, he suffered. Jesus did not recieve prosperity but poverty when he turned towards God and followed him. Jesus turned towards God and followed him right to the cross. And they nailed him to the cross. And while he was hanging on the cross, the people looking at him, ridiculed him, they mocked him saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.”


Jesus had saved others from sickness and demons and hunger and even death. And yet on that cross, Jesus chose not to save himself. Because on that cross Jesus chose to take the punishment we deserved for our sins. And by doing this, Jesus made it possible for us to turn to God the Father through him. So that if we believe in Jesus, if we turn to Jesus, we will recieve everlasting life. That is the real reward. Although God may deliver you from all kinds of material problems, though God may feed you and house you and heal you and provide for you, those are all just carrots, those are all just ways God teaches us to turn to him. But the purpose of all those blessings is the full blessing, that we would turn to Jesus and be saved from our sins and receive eternal life. 


Maybe you’ve been trying to make it in this world. Maybe you’ve been trying to obtain the blessing of his world, money and fame and power. There is a better blessing than prosperity in this life; the greatest blessing is the prosperity of eternal life with God. Consider Jesus and put your faith in him. 

And for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, here are three ways for us to apply what we have learned, that God blesses us to teach us to turn to him. 

First, reflect. Haggai calls for the people to consider what’s happened in the past and to consider what’s going to happen in the future. The Christian life is a reflective life where we discern what God has done in our life and what God is calling us to next. Take time to reflect on what God has done in your life and what he is calling you to do. When is the last time you journaled or paused to really think about where you are going with your one and only life. Reflect.


Second, return. Everything God does in this passage he does so that the people would turn back to him. Life is always pulling us away from God. Life is full of distractions, so many things compete for our attention and pull us away from what’s most important: God and what God is calling us to do. It takes effort to return to God. The spiritual disciplines of regular prayer, regular fasting, weekly sabbath and worship help us return to God from all the distractions of life. 


Third, rejoice. God has promised to bless his people. From this day I will bless you. This passage reminds us that God is ultimately in control and that should bring us joy. The Christian life is marked by joy. Even when we mourn we do not mourn as those who have no hope because we know the dead in Christ but sleep and will awake to the ressurection of eternal life. 


Although the Christian life may not lead to prosperity now, although our lives may be full of persecution and suffering and pain, the gospel promises us the ultimate prosperity face to face. As Job said, I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. Someday, someday soon and that day is only getting sooner, we shall see our God face to face just as we see each other face to face today. Let’s pray.