How important is a single human life? For the past couple weeks there has been a lot of news covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. It’s estimated that over 80 billion dollars of damage have been done, over 100 thousand people have been injured, and over 45 thousand have died. When disasters happen on that huge scale, it can make human life seem cheap, to think of 45 thousand people here one day and gone the next. 


We all want our lives to be valued, we all want to feel that we matter to others, that we’re worth something. But in the world we live in, in a world of violence and crime and war and disease and natural disasters, it’s easy for us to feel insignificant, helpless, even worthless, just one person among 8 billion other people. Whether we’re old or young, rich or poor, we’re each just one person among 8 billion; how much do we each really matter?


Our scripture this morning answers that question and it comes from Haggai chapter 2 verses 20 to 23 which you’ll find on page 769 of your pew Bible and I’d encourage you to turn there. This is our last sermon on the book of Haggai and these are the last words of the prophet Haggai. After having called the people of Israel to rebuild God’s house, after encouraging the returning exiles from Babylon to be strong and courageous in obeying God, after seeing the Holy Spirit stir up the people to the work God had prepared for them. Haggai gives one last message to the people’s ruler, the governor Zerubbabel. Listen to Haggai chapter 2 verses twenty through twenty three. 


The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying: 


I am about to shake the heavens and the earth and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations and overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 


On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.”


The Lord told Zerubbabel that bad things were going to happen. The heavens and the earth will shake. Kingdoms will be overthrown. Nations will be destroyed. Armies will die. But through all that, whatever happens, God has chosen Zerubbabel and God will use Zerubbabel like a signet ring. God has chosen him and God will use him. That’s true of Zerubbabel, it’s true of Jesus, and it can be true of us. And we’re going to look at this scripture through those three people this morning: Zerubbabel, Jesus, and us. 


Let’s start with Zeruabbel. We’ve spent some time with Zerubbabel now, he’s mentioned 8 times in the book of Haggai and 25 times in the Bible across 7 different books. Zerubbabel shows up in the Old Testament and the New Testament, he shows up here in the words of the prophet Haggai and also in the historical books Ezra and Nehemiah. Zerubbabel gets mentioned a lot more than many whose names are familiar to us like Goliath or Delilah or Silas or Thomas; Zerubbabel gets mentioned about as much as Jonah or Rebekah. 

And yet, we don’t talk about Zerubbabel much do we. You probably haven’t heard many sermons on Zerubbabel. And although you all may know a Thomas or a Silas or a Rebekah, I would bet none of you have ever met a Zerubbabel.

Although Zerubbabel isn’t well known now, the authors of scripture paid a lot of attention to him, so who is he, what do we know about him? 

Zerubbabel is the son of Shealtiel as we have often heard in Haggai and Shealtiel was a descendent of King David. Zerubbabel was part of the royal line of King David; Zerubbabel was a rightful heir to the throne of Israel. So it’s only natural that when the Israelites returned to their homeland after a generation of exile in Babylon, that Zerubbabel was put in charge as governor. 

As a governor, rather than a king, Zerubbabel served King Darius of the Persians. This put Zerubbabel in a delicate position trying to balance between his duties to the people of Israel, to the king of Persia, and to his God. 

And as governor, Zerubbabel was in charge of the effort to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem according to the call of the prophet Haggai. He was the one being told what to do and he was the one responsible for making sure the work got done. That’s basically what we need to know about Zerubbabel today, he was a son of David, he was a governor, and he was in charge of rebuilding the temple. 

And now in our passage today Haggai has a message just for Zerubbabel, a message which came on the same day as the previous message when the Lord promised to bless his people from this day forth. But the message for Zerubbabel is not as encouraging as the previous promise that the famine would stop and the blessing would begin; no, the Lord says in verse 21: I am about to shake the heavens and the earth and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations and overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade.

That’s a bad message. That’s bad news. It’s especially bad news if you are the servant of someone on the throne, if you are a governor for king Darius. It is also especially bad news if you just began work on a huge new temple. 


Has something like that ever happened to you? You start something new, you begin some huge new project, and then as soon as you start you realize this was not the right time. Think about that earthquake in Turkey that no one predicted, no one knew was coming. The day before the earthquake, it’s statistically certain that many people got married, many people started a new job, many people opened a new business, many people moved into a new home. And then the next day the earth shook. The earth shook and everything changed. If you knew a disaster was coming, you would never schedule a wedding, a move, a grand opening, a new beginning, the day before that disaster. 


And yet, right after the work rebuilding the temple resumes, God reveals to Zerubbabel that he is going to shake the heavens and the earth and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. But God also has a word of encouragement, a word of hope for Zerubbabel, in verse 23:On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.

All these terrible things will happen. The earth will shake and the heavens will be rolled back. Thrones will be overturned and kingdoms will be destroyed. Cots will crash. Horses will tumble down and the riders will die by the sword of their comrade. This is a scene of absolute chaos and destruction. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Governments collapsing. Armies turning on each other. Disorder, disolution, and death. All these terrible things will happen. And God will make his servant like a signet ring. 

This was a message of great comfort for Zerubbabel. When Zerubbabel heard that he would be God’s signet ring, he may have let out a sigh of relief, or stood slack-jawed with awe at what God had promised him, this was good news. But for us today, these words don’t have the same effect, mainly because none of us use signet rings. We may have some vague idea of what they are, but they aren’t a vivid, real symbol the way a wedding ring would be for us today. So what is a signet ring, what was God telling Zerubbabel? 


Just as it sounds, a signet ring is a ring, a piece of jewelry on your finger and on it is a signet or a seal such that when you press the ring into clay or hot wax it leaves the impression of that seal. And seals like this were hugely important in the ancient world, especially for powerful men like Zerubbabel. A signet ring was how you put your signature on things, how you signed documents as official, approved, legitimate. A signet ring would have been one of your most valuable possessions. When a king or a governor sent a letter, he would mark it with his signet ring, so that all would know this was an official letter to be obeyed by all who received it. The signet ring was a symbol of a person of authority and by that symbol their authority passed onto everything the signet touched. 

And God said that Zerubbabel was his signet ring. 


If I had to pick something today to compare a signet ring to, I’d say it’s like a credit card. A credit card does the same thing, it’s a symbol that stands in for a person’s wealth and power. The credit card empowers you to spend money wherever you are, even if you don’t have the cash on you; it stands in for all that money in your bank account. We value our credit cards, we’re careful with them, because without them we couldn’t do what we normally do, and in someone else’s hands they could be very dangerous. 

To put it in modern terms, God has said that Zerubbabel is his credit card. Zerubbabel is of great importance to God. Zerubbabel is an expression of God’s authority, of God’s power. God is going to use Zerubbabel to accomplish his purposes, to get things done. God is going to take care of Zerubbabel, even in a world where the earth is shaking and the heavens are falling and kingdoms are being overthrown. Whatever happens, God will use Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel is a representative of God’s authority on earth, empowered by God to do his will. 


And this happens not because Zerubbabel has done anything to deserve it. If anything he has been a subpar governor, who needed a loud reminder from the prophet Haggai to get to work rebuilding the temple. There’s no mention of Zerubbabel being especially faithful or courageous or wise or loving. Rather it’s God saying I have chosen you. God out of his own love and graciousness has chosen to care for Zerubbabel. It is always God who makes the first move, who embraces us, who loves us even when we are his enemies. God chose Zerubbabel, not when he had finished rebuilding the temple, not when the work was done, but on the day the work began. As soon as the foundation stone was laid, on the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, as soon as Zerubbabel turned towards God, God embraced him and loved him and promised to make him like a signet ring. 


In a world of chaos and uncertainty, God promised Zerubbabel that whatever happens, God would care for him and use him. And that’s where the story of Zerubbabel ends and where the book of Haggai ends, with God’s warning and God’s promise to Zerubbabel. 

But like so many of the promises and prophesies in the Old Testament, these words do not apply just once, but twice, these words from Haggai are not just about Zerubbabel, they are about Jesus Christ. 

Like Zerubbabel, Jesus was a descendant of David; in fact Jesus was a descendant of David through Zerubbabel. Both Matthew and Luke in their geneologies of Jesus mention that Jesus was a descendant of Zerubbabel. 

Like Zerubbabel the governor of Israel, Jesus was the king of Israel, Jesus was the child born King of the Jews as the wise men said. 

Like Zerubbabel, Jesus was charged with rebuilding the temple, not the physical temple, but the temple of his body. As Jesus predicted in John, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus’ body is the new temple, which was destroyed and rebuilt. 

And like Zerubbabel, Jesus is the signet ring of God. Or to use another term, Jesus’ is the image of God. As the book of Hebrews says Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s very being. All human beings are made in the image of God, but through our sin, we weaken that image, the image becomes blurry, inexact, faded, discolored. But Jesus being fully human committed no sin so that he is the exact image of God; the imprint of God, like a signet ring pressed down into wax. 


The prophecy in Haggai about Zerubbabel as God’s signet ring foreshadowed how Jesus would be God’s signet ring, how Jesus would be a greater Zerubbabel. But what does this mean that Jesus was also God’s signet ring, was the exact image of God the Father? 


First, Jesus being God’s signet ring means that if we want to know God, we have to know Jesus. Many people want to know God. They want to know that there is a God. They want to know what that God is like. They want to know how God feels about them. They want to know why God made things the way they are. Well if we want to know God, we have to know Jesus. Jesus is the image of God. Jesus shows us what God is like. 

The apostle Philip wanted to know God; he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and Jesus replied “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” God the Father is invisible, God the Father dwells in approachable light, no one can see the face of God the Father and live. God the Father is transcendent, he’s above us, beyond us, beyond our sight and understanding. But God longs for us to know him and God has made himself known by providing us with an image, with an exact picture of what he is like, and that picture is Jesus. 

Second, Jesus being God’s signet ring means that Jesus has the full authority of God the Father. Jesus is a good teacher, but he is more than a good teacher. Jesus gives good advice, but the things he says are more than advice. Jesus is the image of God. Everything Jesus does and says bears the stamp of God’s approval. 

It’s a good idea to do what Jesus says; but more than a good idea, doing what Jesus says is commanded by the creator of the universe. And this puts Jesus' level of authority above all other authority. The call of God through Jesus, the words of the scriptures, have a higher moral authority than any other source. 


Third, just as God promised to use Zerubbabel, whatever happened so too God used Jesus through whatever happened in the world. All the terrible, chaotic, destructive things foretold in the book of Haggai came to pass at the end of Jesus’ life. When Jesus breathed his last at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. And that curtain in the temple was woven of blue and purple and red with angels on it, that curtain was a picture of heaven and it was shaken till it tore that day.

And Jesus fell by the sword of his comrade, by Judas betraying him and handing him over the authorities. Jesus endured much in his life and endured much in his death. Jesus endured the earth shaking and the heavens shaking and comrade betraying comrade to the sword. 

And yet through all that suffering, all that pain, God had chosen Jesus and worked through him. Through that suffering on the cross Jesus took the punishment that we deserved for our sins. Jesus has told us, and what Jesus tells us has the stamp of God’s approval, Jesus has told us that if we believe in him we shall not perish but have eternal life. If we believe that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead, we will be saved from the punishment we deserve for our sins, we will be saved from sin and will be empowered by the Spirit to live holy lives, and we will be saved from death and enjoy eternal life with God in heaven. 


This is the gospel: that on the day when the heavens and the earth shook, Jesus took the punishment we deserved, and God made Jesus a sign of his steadfast love for us, so that if we trust in Jesus we will be saved. 


And as we look around our world today, where even the ground beneath our feet shakes and is uncertain, where even the heavens above us bring storms and pollution, where nations and kingdoms are overthrown, where armies fall in the confusion of battle, in this world of chaos and corruption and destruction, there is no better place, there is no other place to put your trust than in Jesus Christ, the creator of heaven and earth, the king of kings and lord of all nations, the man who was delivered to death and rose again. There is no better place for us to put our trust than Jesus. 


But more practically what does this mean for us? We are called to follow Jesus, to live as he lived, what does it look like for us to live as God’s signet ring as Jesus did. And that means living with two things, humility and courage. 

If we are God’s signet ring, that should humble us, that should destroy our pride. A signet ring has no real value on its own. A signet ring is valuable because of the image it carries and what that image represents. If you scratch the image off a signet, it can’t do its job and it becomes worthless. And if the signet ring does not represent someone truly powerful and authoritative it becomes worthless. 


Think of it like a credit card. If there isn’t a bank account behind the credit card with a lot of money, the card is just a worthless piece of plastic. And if a credit card doesn’t represent anyone at all, if it’s just one of those example cards they send you in the mail, the card is just a worthless piece of plastic. 

God has made man in his image and that is what gives us value. Every human life is of immense value but that value comes from God, from the fact that we are made in his image. As God himself says to Noah, whoever sheds a man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God, God made man. Every human life is valuable and that value comes from God. 


Without God’s image we would be no better than the animals. Of course we humans are careful not to be cruel to animals, but animal life in nature has no real value. Animals eat each other all the time. In the animal world it is eat or be eaten, it is kill or starve to death. And even the most extreme vegans and vegetarians have not gone out into the wild and tried to stop foxes from chasing rabbits. Animals live and die and kill by the millions in the wild and no one bats an eye. 


But man was made in the image of God. And if we hear that anyone has died, it saddens us. No man is an island as the saying goes. Every man has value because every human being old or young, big or small, white or black, male or female, Christian or Muslim, good or bad is made in the image of God. 

And that should be humbling. Our value does not come from our own individual merits. Our lives are not valuable because we’re smarter than other people or richer or taller or happier or more important or kinder or wiser or better looking or more popular or anything like that. Our value comes simply from being made in the image of God. 

Without the image of God, we would be as important as a credit card without an account behind it. Our value comes from God and this should destroy any selfish pride we have in our achievements, our own merits, our own importance. Christianity is a religion founded on the grace of God, of God doing good things for us we do not deserve and that includes making us in his image and giving every person’s life the value that comes with that. 


Second, if we are God’s signet ring that should fill us with courage. God took Zerubbabel and made him his signet ring because God had chosen him and was going to use him for a purpose. God told him that even though heaven and earth would shake, even though kingdoms would be overthrown and chariots would crash, God would use him. And in the same way, if we follow God, God will use us, whatever happens. 


I don’t know what you’ve been through in your life but I’m sure you’ve been through something, suffered something. You have chronic disease and you will never be well again. You’re deep in debt and have no idea how you will get out of it. You’ve left the country where you grew up for a strange place. Your spouse left you and there’s nothing you can do. Someone you love has died. Someone you love is dying and you have to take care of them. Someone you love is alive but they refuse to talk to you. You feel alone in this world. You’ve been to jail. You’re mortal and the end only gets closer. 

Friends, there is not a person in this room, there is not a person in this world who has not suffered. But that suffering does not need to separate us from God. No when the heavens and the earth shakes, when kingdoms are overthrown, and the horse tumbles down to the dust with his rider, on that day God will take you and make like a signet ring for God has chosen you, says the Lord of Hosts. Whatever happens to you, God can use you. God will keep you as close as a ring on his finger and will use you as his representative in the world. 


And that should give us courage, that we bear God’s image, we bear his power and his authority and his love and we are called to reveal God’s character every day of our life. Through the way we endure suffering, through the way we love others, through the purity of our hearts, we reveal God’s characters. Even though we may feel like failure, even though we may be beaten down by the world, whatever has happened to you, God can use you, God will use you. He will make you a ring to spread his image. And that should cast out all our fears of failure and inadequacy; God loves and will use us to do his will. 


We’re God’s credit card and his line of credit is infinite; he can do anything through us, through a crummy little piece of plastic. If we represent God, then all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. If we represent God, then whatever we ask in his name, he will give us. If we represent God, then we have nothing to fear. God is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. God’s steadfast love endures forever. Whatever happens in this world, whatever earthquakes and wars may come, he is always faithful to us and can always use to do his will. Let’s pray.