Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
When Natalie and I bought our first house, we bought an old house and were set on spending time and energy in order to return it to its original state of glory. We began this endeavor with zeal—taking down wallpaper and painting each wall, ripping up really old, smelly carpet and refinishing beautiful parquet wood floors, laying ceramic bathroom tiles which were contemporary with the age of the house, and putting in pedestal bathroom sinks and retro light fixtures in various rooms. Then, we had Josiah and these home improvement visions quickly disappeared, and every restoration endeavor grinded to a halt!
For us, kick-starting vision and regaining momentum was nearly impossible. With a baby, our time and energy, for improvements, seemed to be at a premium. Moreover, the home restoration task seemed more and more overwhelming to us. Simply put, it was a whole lot more work than we’d originally anticipated it being, and we also began to recognize that we lacked the resources to complete the task. Consequently, we only managed a few improvements once we began having kids, and those were quick fixes once we accepted our call to Harrisburg and needed to sell the house.
So last week we saw that something similar had happened to the Israelites. They had returned from exile and began with great zeal to rebuild God’s temple. However, when life began to happen, they lost their momentum and their vision. The job seemed overwhelming to them and the needed assets beyond their grasp. So the temple sat perpetually unfinished until God, through the prophet Haggai, called them to resume their work.
Today, we’ll see God reiterate that call (to work and rebuild the temple) and (as is his way) encourage the Israelites that the task isn’t, in the least, beyond them. For, (1) God’s Spirit will remain among them as they work to rebuild the temple, and (2) God is sovereign and will see his glorious plans accomplished in and through his people.
Well, let’s hear these encouragements from God as we read Haggai 2:1-9, and, then, let’s pray together and ask God to graciously teach every one of us from his word this morning.
1 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? 4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”
Here Haggai comes and speaks on behalf of the Lord God for a second time. It had been approximately 7 weeks since he delivered God’s message to rebuild. And, it had been almost 4 weeks since the rebuilding had begun.1
Look at how he begins his second prophecy; God calls him to go to Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the remnant of the people and to say these words: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (v. 3).
Upon hearing these questions, it must have been a hold your breath moment. The people are 4 weeks into the extremely momentous task of temple rebuilding, and here comes Haggai (the foreman representing the Boss) to check on the work. If you’re an Israelite worker, you are probably overwhelmed as you look at the job. You probably don’t think it’s going very quickly or very well.
If you actually remember the former temple in all of its striking beauty, then you most likely doubt that this temple will ever come near to the former’s glory!
Then Haggai begins with something like:
Hey old dudes…yeah you old timers over there on the far eastern corner. Remember how beautiful the temple was? Remember how glorious it was? What does it look like now? Pretty bad, right?
If you were an Israelite worker, you were probably holding your breath and waiting for a tongue lashing—This work looks pathetic! You call that a wall? That’s not a wall!
Just a couple of weeks ago, I and a team from Community Evangelical Free Church were in Romania. We were there to support a small church that we’ve partnered with for many years. We were there to encourage and collaborate with them because Romania is a very difficult place to plant and sustain a church.
And I’m glad to say, without any reservation, that God is at work in and through their congregation in Slatina, Romania.
Yet, for those in the midst of the work, for this little Romanian congregation, it was easy to doubt that God was really moving—that God was actually working. In fact, near the end of the trip, I found out that there were some concerns among the church that I (the new pastor) might come and give their work a tongue lashing. There were some concerns there that I might not find their work—their building—in Romania to be up to snuff.
You see, the task of building a church in Romania is extremely daunting. The environment in which they are building is rather hostile toward the gospel. They feel they lack many valuable resources needed to build up the Body of Christ. So they fearfully imagine that their building for the Lord is all for not and, then, they simply wait for someone to confirm those fears.
However, if you and I are being honest, we regularly do the very same thing! In fact, this is such a problem among Christ’s people that, when I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I was assigned this book: Adequate! How God Empowers Ordinary People to Serve in a practical theology course which every student was required to take.
Why did they assign it? Because, following God’s calling is often daunting!
Therefore, into such a dire situation, God speaks these encouraging words. He says to his people: (1) My spirit will remain and (2) I am sovereign.
1. God’s Spirit will remain (vv. 4-5).
Look at verses 4-5 with me:
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (vv.4-5).
Here God encourages Israel that it doesn’t build alone for he’s there too. Notice, however, even though God is with them, even though he is by their side, that the Israelites are still commanded to work.
In fact, if you read carefully, you’ll see that the reason they should work is because God is with them. Work! God Says. Why? We might ask. Because I am with you. He explains.
There is no reason to work against the Lord for all such work is in vain. Solomon explained this well when he wrote:
Unless the Lord builds the house, / those who build it labor in vain. / Unless the Lord watches over the city, / the watchman stays awake in vain (Psalm 127:1).
So God tells the Israelites through the prophet Haggai to rebuild the temple because he, through the person of the Holy Spirit, is there. He’s with them in this! He’s for this reconstruction so the work will not be in vain. As Paul explains:
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
Today, we would do well to remember this valuable lesson and to take heart. We’re promised that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is both with and in us. Therefore, if you are a follower of Jesus, God is always with you—so, fear not! We’re also told, in the Bible, about the exact type of work to which God calls us—so we know how to work with God instead of against God.
Let me step on some toes this morning—don’t worry, mine are included. Throughout my 11 years of ministry, I’ve often said and heard said this statement: Let me think and pray about that, and I’ll let you know if God has called me to this. Have you ever said that or heard that said?
Now I’m all for prayerful discernment concerning the will of God for you. So don’t you dare misunderstand me on this! Please don’t leave this service saying: Pastor Jason said I shouldn’t pray to God and ask him to reveal his will for me! That’s absolutely not what I’m saying.
What I am saying is that, instead of 1st looking for definitive proof we’ve been called to one ministry or another, we should 1st ask if God’s for or against it. We should 1st ask ourselves: What does the Bible say about this? Is God for this? And, if God is for it, we must then ask ourselves: How am I—in my own life—doing this thing which God is for?
Without a doubt, the Israelites came out of their captivity in Babylon clearly knowing God was for rebuilding the temple so they started the project with zeal. But some, no doubt, eventually found an excuse not to go and rebuild, then others found an equally sound excuse not to do what God was clearly for, then, finally, everyone stopped coming.
- I’ll bet their excuses sounded good.
- I’ll bet their excuses sounded super spiritual.
I’ve said enough. Next, to encourage his people in the midst of the struggle, God reminds them that he is in total control!
2. God is sovereign (vv. 6-9).
Look what he says next through Haggai:
…I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts (vv. 6-9).
In the first portion of the prophecy, God said: Rebuild the temple for I am with you and, because I am with you, this temple reconstruction will be competed. In short, he told them: This temple will be finished!
Yet, I imagine the people were immediately tempted to ask begrudgingly: With what? We haven’t got the resources that King Solomon had—silver and gold don’t grow on trees!
It is, by the way, a grace to the people that God has Haggai immediately, without pause, remind them of his ultimate and unrivaled control of all of creation. In a nutshell, God says: Resources are not an issue because I own the entire world! Thus, the temple you’re rebuilding will be greater even than Solomon’s was!
Sometimes we’re tempted—as Israel (I think) was—to underestimate God. Often we speak a big game about God’s power, but, when push comes to shove, we doubt that God is really sovereign over all things!
Let’s close with an exercise here where I play Haggai and you play Israel. (This is the best part about being the pastor! I get to pick so I’m the prophet.)
- You may think: I cannot serve God right now, in this or that way, because I don’t have enough time.
- But, God says: I separate the day from the night, and I order the seasons. I am Master of each and every minute.
- You may think: I can’t share the gospel, with this or that person, because I’m not eloquent or wise enough.
- But, God says: I have given you lips and a tongue with which to speak, and I distribute wisdom and knowledge as I please. I’m the Lord over language and eloquence.
- You may think: I’m absolutely not able to reconcile, with him or her, because too many hurtful things have been said.
- But, God says: I am the Maker of perfect peace and perfect forgiveness. In Jesus Christ, I have offered shalom. Peace and forgiveness are mine!
In whatever you are called to build, be encouraged because God is with you, and God is more than able to complete the work through you for he is sovereign.