Pete introduces our new series in Haggai, beginning at Haggai 1:1-15. After years of living in a state of lockdown, God calls his people to rebuild His house, the temple. But we find that they have become discouraged, distracted and comfortable. Through Haggai, God calls them to stop saying it's not the right time, to give careful thought to their ways, and to start working for His glory again. Pete applies this to our present day; as we come out of coronavirus lockdown Christians should be encouraged to continue the work of building God's glorious church.
Do you ever feel discouraged in the Christian life?
As you think about your efforts to reach the lost, or whether your faith is growing, or how much you love the church, do you feel a lack of confidence and enthusiasm?
2,500 years ago, God’s people were facing such discouragement. About 50,000 of them had returned from exile with Zerubbabel, and they had a big job ahead of them to rebuild their broken city, their temple and, in doing so, their identity.
Although they had made some progress, Satan was out to stop it. He had persuaded them to prioritise the building of their own luxury homes and as a result, the land had closed up around them: In verse 10 we are told: ‘the heavens have withheld their dew and earth its crops’
But by verse 14, they had listened and obeyed the voice of the Lord through Haggai and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty.
But a month later, a new temptation presented itself. Satan now decided to drain their confidence.
Reasons to despair
In the book of Haggai, God’s people were distracted from their purposes because they were missing a former glory. The Israelites are often described in the book as ‘the remnant’ of the people. i.e. the leftovers.
That’s discouraging isn’t it? Once they were a great nation. Now they are just the residue.
And then there’s the temple: In verse 3 we read:
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? “
There is a similar situation described in the book of Ezra when the foundations of the temple had been laid.
‘Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid.’
The same mood was caught in Haggai. It was as if they were thinking ‘What is the point?’
But we must remember that we don’t build temples like this. The Church, the body of Christ, is the temple of the living God. And, therefore, we build by evangelism, and by encouraging one another in the Lord.
But, of course, the feelings may be the same. When we look back at the life of Cornerstone Church before Lockdown, and compare it to church life now, we might feel discouraged. Although God has helped us to adapt, Satan is crafty. He wants to discourage us and drain our enthusiasm. One by one we find ourselves putting our tools down and stopping the work we once did so enthusiastically.
We may find evangelism a chore, or perhaps we’ve become comfortable in our isolation from one another, or perhaps we are stuck in the ‘Better-back-then’ train of thought.
Whatever our struggle, the Devil will do anything in his power to keep us off the job.
So, we need to beware of distraction; and we need to beware of discouragement.
But the passage doesn’t end there. There is hope for the discouraged!
Reasons to rebuild
The first reason is in verse 4
“Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
At that time of the year the people would be celebrating the feast of the tabernacles, and living outside in shelters to commemorate their years in the wilderness, and therefore the history of God’s faithfulness to his people, and his redeeming power was right there. This is the same promise that is the lifeblood of the Bible.
It is summed up in the one word, Immanuel - God with us
‘The temple will look different because things change, but yesterday today and forever I am the same and I will remain with you forever. So be encouraged.’
We are living in difficult times and we have reasons to be discouraged but God gives us the same promise. He was with us before this began and he will be with us when it’s over.
So, in Haggai’s words: Be strong and work and don’t be afraid.
Not only was the Lord with them, but he was also at work
6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.”
In the language of the Old Testament, that means judgement. The powers of the known world would be shaken because Yaweh, our God, rules the cosmos!
In the world’s eyes, the Israelites may be small.
But God would rather change the appearance of the whole world, than fail to complete his work.
And that God, is your God!
So Be strong, and work!
But there’s more. In verses 7-9
‘I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Here Haggai speaks to their time and beyond their time. To the physical and the spiritual. He merges the language of judgement and salvation. The fulfilment of the ‘temple’ is Jesus.
And God speaks to us in the same way.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2 v 4
We are the living stones, built into a spiritual house, around the Living Jesus Christ.
And ultimately, that is the message of Haggai.
If these stones are spiritual. If these decorations are the children of God. If these precious ones are coming from the nations and if Christ himself is the great treasure, the temple of God, then verse 9 is wonderfully true.
Therefore, do not fear. Be strong. Work. There are neighbours to reach. There is a church to edify. There is work to do.
I am with you ...declares the Lord... and I am at work.
Haggai 1:1 - 1:15
1:1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” 14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.