Category Archives: Haggai

Haggai 2: Here comes the glory!

Have you ever started a project with high hopes of achieving something SPECTACULAR? Maybe you planned to knit a warm woolly jumper? Or build a piece of fine furniture? Or plant a vegetable garden? Or learn a foreign language? For a while, you work towards it ENTHUSIASTICALLY. But then you stop and take stock. You look at what you’ve ACHIEVED, and you compare it with what you’d HOPED FOR. And the gap between them seems HUGE. And you feel like giving up. Because they’re nothing alike. And it’s SO DISCOURAGING.

The jumper you’re knitting has one arm longer than the other. Or there’s gaps between the boards of your dining table, and there’s so much more sanding to do. Or the snails have eaten the lettuces. Or you never got past the first lesson in the foreign language course.

Or maybe it’s something MUCH more important. Perhaps you dreamed of a marriage that didn’t turn out like your parents. But now there’s so much unresolved conflict, and resentment, that you barely talk. Or you wanted to raise kids who were independent and well-adjusted and who loved Jesus. But they’re making one bad decision after another, and you wonder how much more you can help them. Or maybe it’s A MINISTRY YOU DO. You imagined your Sunday School class would be perfect angels. They’d always behave, learn every memory verse, and show their appreciation for all your preparation by giving spellbound attention to your every word. But instead, your class is more like the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo.

The problem is the gap between EXPECTATION and REALITY. It’s just SO BIG. And the bigger the GAP is, the bigger the DISAPPOINTMENT.

If that’s how you’re feeling, then listen up, because God’s got some ENCOURAGEMENT for you. Because that’s just the situation the Jews are in, here in Haggai Ch 2. We finished chapter 1 with all the people resolving to re-build the temple. And they start work. (Cleaning up, and assembling raw materials.)

Jump forward A MONTH, and God gives Haggai a message for them. Because it seems it hasn’t taken long for them to realise the huge gap between EXPECTATION and REALITY. God says, v3, Ask everyone ‘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?

It seems there were a few old-timers – they’d have to be around 80 – who remembered Solomon’s temple. Back before Babylon had destroyed it, and they’d all been marched into exile. And they remembered how GLORIOUS it was. With intricate workmanship by the finest foreign craftsman, and everything covered in gold. (that’s the EXPECTATION) And they can’t help comparing it to the plain, unadorned, half-built sad-excuse-for-a-temple they see SLOWLY beginning to rise from the ashes. (That’s the REALITY). They look at the task in front of them. And they look at the resources they’ve got to complete it. And they feel like giving up.

God loves to use small things (1-5)

It seems like they thought THINGS WOULD BE DIFFERENT. That instead of SMALL things, they’d expected them to be BIG and IMPRESSIVE.

And yet, those of us who know much about the Bible will see a pattern here that’s played out again and again. Of how God loves to use small, insignificant, unimpressive things and people. And how he works IN them and THROUGH them. And builds something big and powerful and wonderful.

God didn’t choose Israel because they were big and powerful. Or even because they had UNREALISED POTENTIAL. He chose them because they were the LEAST LIKELY to develop. In Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses says to them,

7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the FEWEST of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers,

Later, God chose Gideon while he was hiding from Midianite raiders in the bottom of a winepress. And the angel said, “The LORD is WITH you, MIGHTY WARRIOR!” And then God, again and again, reduced the size of Gideon’s army. So that when they won, they wouldn’t boast in their own strength. But would give the glory to GOD.

God does it with EVERYONE he chooses. Paul’s opponents in Corinth valued human wisdom and power. But he knew (1 Corinthians 1) that  God chose the FOOLISH things of the world to SHAME the wise; God chose the WEAK things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the LOWLY things of this world and the DESPISED things-and the things that are NOT-to nullify the things that ARE, 29 SO THAT NO ONE MAY BOAST before him. That’s just the way God works. He’s ALWAYS starting with small and insignificant things.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, that grows into the largest of garden plants. Or it’s like yeast – a tiny amount grows to influence the whole batch of flour.

Jesus himself was born as a helpless baby in a stable to a teenaged mother. And powerful authorities combined to nail him, beaten and bruised, to a shameful cross. And yet what looked like a weak defeat was actually God’s earth-shattering, death-conquering, never-to-be-repeated VICTORY. Again and again, God takes LITTLE things, and grows them into BIG things. In fact, his kingdom is BUILT on little things.

And it’s the same with you, and YOUR life. God will do his work IN you, and THROUGH you, in the LITTLE THINGS. In your small acts of obedience. In your random acts of kindness. In consistent perseverance. In tireless patience. In tough love. In hidden servanthood for others. In irrational forgiveness.

Look for God’s hand in the LITTLE things. The one-off opportunities. In the passing conversation on the bus. In praying at meals with your family. A teachable moment with your child. A walk along the beach with your spouse. The conversation with the work colleague in the lift.

Don’t worry about the BIG STUFF. In how many people notice, or praise you. Or in the RESULTS. Leave that up to God. Rejoice in the little things God calls you to each day.

So what about the Jews? What message has God got for THEM? V4 of Haggai ch 2.

4 But 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, ‘and WORK. For I AM WITH YOU,’ declares the LORD Almighty.

“Sure, the temple’s unimpressive. And there’s a long way to go. But be STRONG, and WORK. Bridge the gap between expectation and reality – one block at a time, one timber at a time. On day at a time.” “Zerubbabel, be strong. Be a strong LEADER. Do what’s RIGHT, rather than what’s POPULAR. Don’t let the URGENT distract you from the IMPORTANT. And lead from the FRONT, not the BACK.” “And Joshua, be strong. Be a strong CHIEF PRIEST. TEACH the people what’s TRUE, without fear or favour. Represent the people FAITHFULLY. Bear their prayers and their sins before God faithfully.” “ALL the people, be strong. Be strong and WORK. Everyone pitch in and help. Don’t leave MOST of the work to THE FEW. That’s the way it NORMALLY works. Decide what you can do, and do it serving GOD. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s doing, and how you compare. That’s between him and God.”

And where do they get the strength from? We saw it last week in Chapter 1. “For I am WITH you,” declares the LORD Almighty. I don’t need a TEMPLE to dwell among you! I was WITH YOU, v5, when you came out of Egypt. There was no temple THEN. And I’ll strengthen and guide you NOW. My Spirit remains among you. So DON’T FEAR. Don’t fear INADEQUACY. Or FAILURE. Or OPPOSITION. Why? Because I’m WITH you, and I’m bigger than them ALL.

And just in case they doubt that God’s up to the task, did you notice the TITLE for God that Haggai uses? Again and again, it’s the LORD ALMIGHTY, or the Lord of HOSTS. Or the Lord of ARMIES. This is the commander of the heavenly armies who’s strengthening you, and WITH you! Why would you worry about a lack of skilled tradesmen, or expensive building materials?

God owns the silver and the gold (6-9)

And it’s BUILDING MATERIALS he moves on to in v6.  “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. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired (things) of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 

There’s been a bit of disagreement about what these verses are referring to. But I think it’s fairly clear. The people feel discouraged because their piggy bank’s empty. But God says, “My piggy bank’s FULL. It’s the WHOLE WORLD. And I’m going to shake it out. The silver and the gold belong TO ME. The heavens and earth, even the NATIONS will be shaken. And all their treasures will come and fill my house. And it will be GLORIOUS.”

In fact, v9, says, “You thought SOLOMON’S temple was special! ‘The glory of this PRESENT house will be greater than the glory of the FORMER house!

And we read in Ezra chapter 6 about how that promise was FULFILLED. Instead of foreign opponents STOPPING the building work, King Darius finds the original decree from Cyrus, commanding that all the gold and silver temple articles that were confiscated are to be RETURNED. (Brought back from Babylon to the temple.) And what’s more, Darius commands that all the construction costs for the temple are to be met from his royal treasury. And that’s what HAPPENS. It’s EXTRAORDINARY! But God’s PROMISED it, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

And then the best part of all. At the end of v9. Better than silver and gold. And in this place I will grant PEACE,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” The temple will be the place God uses to grant PEACE between him and his people. (A promise we’ll come back to later.)

God uses unholy instruments (10-19)

And it seems like those encouragements are enough of a boost for the people to keep working for a while. Jump forward two months, and Haggai’s got ANOTHER prophecy. This time it’s based on an object lesson of the temple sacrifices. The basic way things worked around the temple (v10-13) was that IMpure things influenced PURE things. Not the other way around. UNCLEANNESS is contagious, not PURITY. Consecrated bread or meat doesn’t make an unclean person CLEAN. Instead the PERSON defiles the FOOD. It’s much harder to make something CLEAN, than it is to DEFILE it.

And then, v14, Haggai draws the comparison. “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the LORD. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled. In other words, just because the people were back in the Promised Land, that didn’t make them clean. And just because they were offering consecrated sacrifices, it didn’t make them PURE. And just because they’d now re-started BUILDING THE TEMPLE, that didn’t make them RIGHT WITH GOD. He wanted something MORE.

And we often fall into the same mistake. We focus on the work we DO for God, instead of THE GOD WE DO IT FOR. We focus on building OUR kingdom, rather than HIS kingdom. We turn GOOD things, into the MAIN things. We get distracted from the CREATOR/ by CREATED THINGS. We focus on WORK or MINISTRY or FAMILY so much/ they become IDOLS. We focus on our legacy, or our influence, or our fame, rather than God’s fame. We focus on being liked, and accepted, and approved of. We focus on to-do lists, and programs, and buildings, and numbers and budgets. But they won’t make us right with God.

And we look for our identity and meaning and vindication in THEM, rather than THE GOD WE DO THEM FOR. Rather than relying on his mercy and his cleansing and his power and his approval and his purposes and his priorities.

Yes, God says to the people. Re-build the temple. But the temple’s not enough to make you pure. Your WORK won’t do it.

And verses 15-19 hammer that message home. Verse 15. “GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT to the drought and famine and poor harvests. It was all evidence that things weren’t RIGHT between us,” says the Lord.  And even now, v19, you’ve planted, but there’s no harvest YET. You’re STILL WAITING ON ME. I’VE got to do it.

But here’s good news (end of v19). From this day on, I will BLESS YOU. Bless the land, and you, and the land. I’LL do it. Because YOU CAN’T.

God’s signet ring (20-23)

And from v20, we see HOW God’s going to bless them. Not just at the TEMPLE, but in the PALACE. Haggai’s FINAL prophecy is a word for Zerubbabel. Who’s the KEY TO IT ALL. V21.

21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Zerubbabel won’t just supervise a BUILDING PROJECT. By God’s power, he’ll CONQUER NATIONS. And he won’t just have delegated authority as governor from King DARIUS. He’ll be the signet ring of God HIMSELF, the LORD ALMIGHTY.

You see, the king’s signet ring was a sign of his authority. To have the king’s signet ring was to act on behalf of the king. Whatever THE SIGNET RING said, that’s what the KING said. And that’s the sort of authority and power God’s going to give Zerubbabel. To speak and act as God.

Back when Jerusalem was being conquered, Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin, was king of Judah. Descended from King David himself. And as part of God’s judgment, he announced, in Jeremiah 22:24, that even though Jehoichin was the signet ring on God’s right hand, he’d tear him off his finger, and hand him over to Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, there’d be no more sons of King David on the throne. The exile in Babylon was the finish. But now, God promises his grandson that he’ll RESTORE a son of David to the throne. And, once again, he’ll rule in God’s place.

They’re big promises, aren’t they? A glorious new temple, where God will grant PEACE. God will BLESS the people, and his Spirit will remain among them. And he’ll restore David’s son to the throne, and he’ll act as God himself, ruling his people. And God will use him to shake the nation and shatter kingdoms. And that’s where the book ends.

Give careful thought

We started today thinking about the disappointment when REALITY doesn’t measure up to EXPECTATION. And I reckon a Jew, reading Haggai 50 or 500 or 2500 years later, would find it THE MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOK IN THE BIBLE. Because God makes ALL OF THESE PROMISES, and they DON’T COME TRUE.  Not ONE of them.

Look through the pages of history. The temple was finished, and it lasted A WHILE. In fact, King Herod spent 40 years EXTENDING and IMPROVING it. But it was finally destroyed again in AD70 by the Romans. And now, there’s an Islamic mosque on the site, much to the despair of Jews everywhere.

And King Zerubbabel? Well, he never amounted to anything more than Darius’ governor. And as for him shaking the nations? And God blessing his people with peace and prosperity? It never happened! Israel never achieved independence from the domination of foreigners. Persia ruled. And then Alexander the Great ruled. And then Rome ruled. With Israel just a feather blown around by the winds of international politics.

You’d be DISAPPOINTED, unless you didn’t just read the pages of HISTORY, but kept reading past the end of the Old Testament. Into the NEW Testament. You’d be disappointed. Unless you read in Matthew about ANOTHER king descended from David. Who the angel announces to Joseph will be called Immanuel, or GOD WITH US. And that his name is to be JESUS, because he’ll SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. And who John the Baptist announces will BAPTISE PEOPLE WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.

And in LUKE’S gospel you’d read about the angel choir who, on the night of Jesus’ birth, sing to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE TO MEN on whom his favour rests.

It’s JESUS who answers all God’s plans and promises in Haggai. Far better than even Haggai could imagine. It’s Jesus who’s David’s son on the throne of God’s kingdom, ruling as God himself. God’s signet ring. Jesus who brings peace and blessing from God. Jesus who brings the cleansing of forgiven sin for impure people. Jesus who’s shaking the nations and bringing them, and their riches, to himself.

And if you’re disappointed with life, then Jesus is the answer for YOU TOO. He may not help you knit that jumper, or build that table. But he’ll give you something FAR GREATER. He’ll pour his Spirit into you. He’ll give you the blessing of peace with God. He’ll cleanse you of your sin. And give you the power to defeat it.  There’s no disappointment in him. Because there’s no gap between the expectation of God’s plans and their fulfilment. Because Jesus fills the gap.  So COME to JESUS.

Haggai 1: First things first

These school holidays lots of people go CAMPING. And I know from experience there’s all sorts of things that can go wrong. It can start with PACKING. Maybe you focus on all the LITTLE bits and pieces – the food and the esky and the chairs and the surfboards. But when you get there, you realise you’ve forgotten the TENT. Rookie error!

Or you remember the tent, but it’s brand new, and you forget to check that you’ve got all the BITS. Or you don’t pack the INSTRUCTIONS. And you spend half the first day trying to put the tent up, while everyone else in the camping area relaxes, LAUGHING at you. Rookie error!

Or you remember the tent, and you know how to put it up. But you arrive, and the water looks so inviting, you decide to hit the beach FIRST, and put the tent up LATER. But then the storm clouds roll in, and then you’re putting your tent up in the rain, and everything gets saturated. Rookie error!

They’re all mistakes that come from NOT PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST. (From focussing on the MINOR things, rather than the MAJOR things). And it can have DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES.

And that’s the point the prophet Haggai is making, here in Haggai chapter 1. The year is 520BC. We’ve jumped forward 60 odd years from the time of Obadiah (who we looked at LAST week.) When Jerusalem finally fell, in 576, the Jews were taken off into exile in Babylon. In 538, Cyrus, the king of PERSIA, who’d CONQUERED Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

And the book of Ezra tells the story of how they arrived back, and began to rebuild the temple. Two years later, 536, they finished the foundations, and there was great celebration. But for a variety of reasons, work ground to a halt until 520. That’s SIXTEEN YEARS LATER. Sixteen years of MAKING DO with a temple that was nothing more than a dirt floor on sandstone foundation blocks. Sixteen years of distractions. Of focussing on MINOR things instead of what was MOST IMPORTANT.

  1. First things first

And that’s where Haggai enters the scene. And he’s got a message from God about putting FIRST THINGS FIRST. Look at v2-4

2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.'” 3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

In other words, there’s been plenty of building going on. But not much building of God’s temple. Their priorities are back to front.

And it seems like there’s a criticism of the TYPE of houses they were building TOO. They’re called PANELED houses. It’s the same word used in 1 Kings to describe what Solomon did when he build his PALACE. (He panelled it with cedar.) The Jews were not just putting up simple shelters for themselves before they got to work on the temple. They’re building mansions, complete with luxury fittings, with in-ground pool, tennis court and cabana.

  1. Give careful thought to your ways

And God’s had enough of COMING SECOND. And so, in v5, he warns the people to GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT to their ways. Take a good hard look at yourselves, he says. (The first of FOUR times he uses the phrase – twice in chapter one and twice in chapter two.)

GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT TO YOUR WAYS. In particular, look BACK. How have things turned out in the last 18 years since you arrived from Babylon? Is everything the rich paradise you EXPECTED? Is it the land flowing with milk and honey you HOPED for? See there in V6?

“GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT TO YOUR WAYS. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

You arrive back into the Promised Land, and expected FRUITFULNESS. But you only got FRUSTRATION. You expected GROWTH, but only got WASTE. Why? Think carefully. Put two and two together, and see what you come UP with.

And just in case they come up with FIVE, instead of FOUR. Haggai makes it CLEAR, down in v9. “You expected MUCH, but see, it turned out to be LITTLE. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “BECAUSE OF MY HOUSE, WHICH REMAINS A RUIN, WHILE EACH OF YOU IS BUSY WITH HIS OWN HOUSE. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”

You expected BLESSING, but it’s looked more like CURSE. Which shouldn’t SURPRISE them, because that’s exactly what God PROMISED. Back when Moses explained the covenant to them. “Obey God, and he’ll BLESS you,” he said. But if you DISOBEY him, (Deuteronomy 28)

24 The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder… 38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. 39 You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. 40 You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off.

And that’s just the way it turned out. And what makes it even WORSE/ is this all happened AFTER THE EXILE. Which was God’s ultimate covenant curse/ seventy years before/ for the SAME SINS OF DISOBEDIENCE. And they STILL haven’t learned their lesson.

So what’s to be DONE? V7. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

(v5 repeated) But THIS time, it’s looking FORWARD. You’ve considered your FORMER ways of doing things. Now, think about how you’re going to act MOVING FORWARD. V8

8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

“Get out of your garden, and out into the hills. Stop trimming your roses, and cut down the timber for my temple! Move out of your comfort zones, and start putting ME FIRST!”

The people respond

So how do the people respond? If you know anything about the history of the Old Testament prophets, you’re not holding out much hope for a positive response. But look at v12.

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

It begins with the LEADERS. (The POLITICAL leader, Zerubbabel, and the RELIGIOUS leader, Joshua). And the REST of the returned exiles join WITH them. Because this was the Lord their God speaking to them.

They OBEYED the voice of the Lord. And they FEARED the Lord. And then, down in v14, 3 weeks after the message, they BEGAN WORK ON THE TEMPLE. They’re finally putting first things first. They’re considering their ways, and giving God his rightful place. THEIR priorities and comforts and interests come SECOND, while God’s come FIRST. And the book of Ezra tells us they finished building the temple within FOUR YEARS. 516BC.

So what’s the application for US as Christians? One sermon I read online was from a church that was planning building extensions. And so the sermon application was that people should commit to giving generously for the new building. They should put God first, so that the new offices, nursery and gymnasium could get built.

That might be ONE application of Haggai, but it’s far from the most important one. And I think it mistakes what TIME we live in. Like the Amish, who live the same way they did in the 1800’s. No electricity, cars, tractors, phones, appliances, power tools or computers. Pretending technology never came.

And to think that all God’s interested in is building a new temple, is pretending JESUS never came. You see, building a temple building was the OLD Testament. The New Testament doesn’t talk about buildings. In Acts, groups of Christians met in homes, in the temple courts, outside by the river, or in public halls. We’re never commanded to build buildings.

In the Old Testament God dwelt among his people in a tabernacle, or a tent, and then later in the temple. But then Jesus came, and changed everything. Jesus was God, in human form, dwelling among us. He superseded and replaced the temple. God lived among us in A PERSON, not a BUILDING.

But it gets even BETTER. When Jesus returned to heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in his people. To dwell in us INDIVIDUALLY, and to dwell in us AS A PEOPLE.

So it’s God’s PEOPLE who are the new house for God to live in. WE’RE the temple. So it’s no surprise to see that God’s at work building the temple of HIS PEOPLE. Growing us BIGGER, and growing us STRONGER. Ephesians 2:19 says

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER AND RISES TO BECOME A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD. 22 And in him YOU TOO ARE BEING BUILT TOGETHER TO BECOME A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.

So there’s the sermon application for Haggai 1. THAT’S the building project we need to be focussing on. That’s what God’s interested in, far more than whether we have a new kitchen, or more seats, or a new roof. A stronger, bigger, more united, more godly, more loving temple of God’s people, indwelt by God’s Spirit. That’s God’s goal. And it should be OURS, TOO.

Ephesians 3 goes on to describe how GOD’S BIG PLAN FOR THE UNIVERSE has now been revealed. And what’s perhaps surprising, as you look around you here in church this morning, is that it’s a big plan that’s focussed on building THE CHURCH. Ch 3:10 and 11.

10 (God’s) intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Make THAT your top priority. Building the temple of God’s Holy Spirit until it fills the whole earth. And EVERY knee bows before Jesus. Put FIRST THINGS FIRST.

But Haggai is saying more to us that just “Build the church.” He’s saying “PUT GOD FIRST!” And that’s a much bigger task! Because our God is a big, big God. And He demands to be first IN EVERYTHING. Not just Sunday mornings. And not just one small group of people.  Jesus hit the bullseye when an expert of the law asked him what the greatest commandment was. And he answered, (Matthew 22.37)

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

To love God with everything is more than just A FEELING. It’s far more than just an emotional worship experience on Sunday. Or feeling friendly towards a group of people you have things in common with. To love God with EVERYTHING is a practical, down to earth commitment that affects every decision we make in life. Not just the “religious” ones.

We’re to love him with our time, and our energy and our emotions. With our preferences and inclinations, our intellects and our education. With our ambition and our competitiveness and our pride. With our holidays and our hobbies and health. With our hospitality, and our homes and our jobs. With our driving habits, our viewing habits, and our spending habits.

Every decision we make – large and small – is an opportunity to PUT GOD FIRST. And to love HIM, with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength. It’s a big vision, isn’t it? But we serve a big God. And he’s WORTH it.

Three encouragements

I wonder, though, if it’s left you feeling a little OVERWHELMED. Feeling that the expectation is too great, and the task is impossible, and you’re not up to it. Let me finish, then, by pointing you to THREE ENCOURAGEMENTS from God in Haggai 1. And they make me wonder whether the Jews weren’t FEELING THE SAME THINGS as they thought about the job ahead of them. (The job of building the temple.)

  1. God is with you

The first encouragement is there in v13. The people have resolved to obey God. And God’s response is, “I am WITH you.” They may not have built the temple yet. But God’s not limited to a building. He’s everywhere. And he’s made the covenant commitment to be WITH his people. WHATEVER comes their way.

“I AM WITH YOU!” In lots of ways it’s the great summary of the message of the Bible. “I am WITH you.” The Bible begins in a garden, where God walks with Adam and Eve. And it finishes with God in the middle of the new Jerusalem, WITH his people again. And in between, it’s the story of how, even though his creatures rebel and run away from him, God CHASES them, and WINS them BACK.

Again and again the story gets replayed. God’s WITH Noah in the Ark, he’s WITH Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He’s WITH his people in Egypt, and as they march through the desert. He’s WITH them in the tabernacle in the middle of the camp, and the pillar of fire or cloud that leads them. He’s with them in the TEMPLE in the Promised Land. And he’s even with them in EXILE in Babylon. He’s with them as Jesus comes and dwells on earth. And he’s with US, now, by his Holy Spirit. The Spirit, who’s a foretaste of the day when God will live with us COMPLETELY and THOROUGHLY and ETERNALLY.

(God’s WITH you, as you live obediently for him).

  1. God works with you

The second encouragement is that God WORKS with you. There in v14. The people respond in faith, but it’s not JUST their energy and motivation.

14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people.

God worked THROUGH the faithful determination of the people, and stirred up their spirits, so that their efforts LASTED. It’s the same with US. Our work for God, done in faith, is never done in our own strength. In fact, it will never succeed if we do it apart from God. A sailor can set his sails, and tie off all his ropes, and steer the right path. But he’ll go NOWHERE unless the WIND BLOWS him. Paul encourages the Philippians (2:12) Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is GOD who works IN you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

We’re to work hard. But it’s ALSO God who works. He works in your WILL, so you WANT to work for him. And he works in your ACTS, so that they succeed. And as Paul describes his own ministry of preaching the gospel, he describes the partnership like THIS (Colossians 1:29) To this end I labor, struggling with all HIS energy, which so powerfully works in me.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:10, he says But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Respond with whatever faith and energy you’ve got. Then look to God to supply the rest.

  1. God is pleased with you

And the third encouragement is there in v8. God commands them to bring down timber from the hills. Then he says Build the house, so THAT I MAY TAKE PLEASURE IN IT and be honored,” says the LORD.

Yes, we’re sinful. Yes, we fail. But when we faithfully obey God, strengthened and stirred up by God’s Spirit, God’s ACTUALLY PLEASED with us. He takes PLEASURE in the work of our hands. And he’s HONOURED by it.

Pleasure in our efforts to raise the kids, even when we make mistakes, or lose our patience. Pleasure in our efforts to be PURE, even when our eyes occasionally wander. Pleasure in our efforts to speak up for Jesus at work, even if we sometimes say the wrong thing, or say nothing.

In Romans 12:1 Paul urges us, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and PLEASING TO GOD-this is your spiritual act of worship.

God’s revealed his mercies to us in the gospel. As we offer our whole lives back to him, in grateful service, he finds PLEASURE in us.  What a privilege! What a joy! What a calling!