GREATER GLORY (Haggai 2:1-9)
It’s one thing to respond to God’s message & begin working again on his house. It’s quite another thing however to keep going until the job is complete. It’s not starting well that matters most, it’s finishing what we start. A single message from God can help encourage & motivate us to action but it takes more than a message to keep us motivated, through all the challenges & opposition, until the job is done.
Over my time as a Christian I have attended numerous church services, Christian events & conferences where I have been inspired by top class ministry. However, over & over again I have noticed that as I get back to everyday reality & face every day things the high of the event... begins to wear off. I’ve seen this in the lives of others too. I’ve seen people profess Jesus as King and Saviour, only to walk away from him when the ‘big event’ factor wears off. I’ve seen people seemingly set on fire for God only to see that passion die out when the reality of life hits. It’s not that the ministry we receive at these things is not of God. It is, & it is there to encourage, inspire, challenge & redirect us. These events are good, even necessary sometimes! However while they are good times we also have to recognise that in & off themselves they are not enough to keep us going & growing in living for God & his kingdom. What we really need is something that does not wear off... Something that remains with us all the way...
We saw last week how the people responded to the word of God that came by the hand of Haggai. Their hearts were stirred by God’s challenge & encouragement, & they got back to working on the house of God after a 16 year break. However this week we see they weren’t long back to work when reality hits in & those old feelings of discouragement return.
V1-3 “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, “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, ‘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?”
The people must have begun making those old comparisons again as they realised their new temple would never equal the one they had lost. We can fall into similar thinking in different ways. When we compare the church of our day with previous ages, when we look at the early church against our experience of church it seems as nothing in comparison. Or we read of all the miraculous happenings at the beginning of the last century when the modern Pentecostal movement begun. Or we compare our situation with other parts of the world where the gospel seems to be exploding. Or we compare our church with another church & things seem as nothing in comparison. And we discourage ourselves to the point of unbelief...
Our eyes become so focused on looking back at the golden days, or on looking at the grass that seems to be greener on the other side, that we miss the fact that God has called us to build something HERE – in this locality in this generation! He has not called us to another time or place. He has placed us here in this generation to build his kingdom in the midst of a time of financial recession & huge moral shifting in our nation... We are where we are to build something for God’s glory.
And here’s another thing we need to realise. The exciting things that happened in past times & that are happening in other places today only happen because people committed themselves to building the kingdom of God in spite of the opposition, setbacks & limitations. We are where we are because God has a purpose in us being here & it will take strength, commitment & courage to see his purpose unfold in our life, church & community! Building the temple was not easy & it was not something that happened overnight. It took effort, commitment & time to build God’s house. Things were not as good as they used to be, however things would be better than they had ever been. It always takes strength, commitment & courage no matter what time or place we’re in. This is what God wants his people to understand. So he continues...
V 4-5 “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.”
As reality hits in God gives Haggai another message. Verse 3 helps us to see God knows exactly where his people are at in their thinking, & he meets their thoughts with his words. He doesn’t leave them in the frame of mind they’re in. He speaks words of strength & courage to them. They are comparing things again. They are asking “is it really worth it?” And God’s message to them is “Be strong”... “Be strong”... “Be strong!”
God’s picked a significant day to bring this message. It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Jewish calendar. This was the time when they celebrated the summer harvest, though on this occasion the crops would have been limited for the reasons we looked at last week. Solomon had dedicated his temple during this feast so no wonder the people’s minds drifted back to the former temple. During the Feast of Tabernacles the Jews also had the book of Deuteronomy read to them (Deut 31:9-13). In that reading they would have heard Moses repeating three times to Joshua & the people “Be strong”... “Be strong... “Be strong”. Then they would have remembered the same words being repeated to Joshua in Joshua 1, and again when King David charged Solomon with the task of building the original temple (1 Chr. 22:13; 28:10, 20). “Be strong” wasn’t an empty phrase then; it was an important part their calling & history. It was something God said to them at key moments.
However the very same texts in which God exhorts his people to be strong (including this one in Haggai) have another very important feature. In all of those occasions God also reaffirms the promise of his presence. Moses said to the people; “For the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave your or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 applies this same promise to God’s new covenant people. Joshua was told: “The LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” David told Solomon, “The LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.” Again to highlight that this promise extends to us, Jesus said at the end of the Great Commission: “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age”. In other words; until the work is finished! And here in Haggai God repeats this promise along with the command to be strong. He says, “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.” The phrase “My Spirit remains in your midst” is one of the strongest statements in the entire OT of God’s ongoing presence among his people.
It is the presence of God that makes God’s people strong. In ourselves we are not strong, we are weak. This is why God does not come to us like a sports coach saying, “you can do it... push harder... give it your best shot.” That might work for a sports team, but it’s not as helpful in spiritual things, simply because without the presence of God we are not equal to any of the things God’s call’s us to. So Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10: “Be strong in the LORD and in the strength of his might.” Whose might? The might of the Lord Almighty, the Lord of hosts! Like Moses we are weak. Like Joshua, we face tasks that are impossible. Like Solomon, we are not the heroes our forefathers were. Like the people we face opposition & discouragement. But still we can be strong because the Lord of hosts is with us. We can be equal to the task, not because we are strong in ourselves but because God is with us! Jesus said to Paul (2 Cor. 12) “my power is made perfect in weakness.” So the paradox is we don’t have to be strong to be strong... for we are not called to be strong in ourselves, but strong in the Lord! Which is much better: because his strength is unlimited & his strength never fails for he is the LORD Almighty & he is for us! Together, with his strength, we can build something glorious. No matter what challenges, setbacks or opposition come our way!
Let me quickly come back to the point I was making earlier: A powerful sermon will wear off, a great church service will wear off, an epic event or colossal conference will wear off. I’m not saying they leave no impact, they often do. What I mean is that the spiritual high you feel at the time wears off... God’s people need something that does not wear off – something that doesn’t wear off when reality hit’s, when difficultly sets in, when opposition comes. Something that remains in & through it all! That something is the presence of the LORD of hosts with us through thick & thin! That is what keeps us going & growing in living for God & his kingdom more than anything! An awareness of God’s presence remaining with us!
There is something else we need to realise about the promise of God’s presence in this message: The promise of God’s presence is not for us to go build our own thing, but that we might come together to build God’s house. God is so committed to building his house that he will shake the nations in order to make sure it’s done. Listen to verses 6-9:
“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. And I will shake the nations, so that the treasures (or the desired) 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.”
The people would have wondered where the resources were going to come from to complete & adorn the temple. So God reminds them in very striking terms that all the wealth of the nations ultimately belongs to him. It’s as if the nations are his big money boxes that he keeps his sliver & gold in. He can shake & empty them anytime he wants & use their contents to build his kingdom. God did this for the people of Haggai’s day & he will do for his people in ours... Hebrews 12:26-27 also draws on these words to speak of the ultimate shaking that will take place to make room for his unshakable kingdom. Some people also believe the phrase “the desired of all nations will come” (NIV) to be a Messianic reference. However in context it seems more likely to be referring to the “treasures” (ESV) of the nations. Or another view God drawing his people from all the nations of the world. We can’t be 100% sure & anyway in the wider context of Scripture all of them are true in some sense...
The glory referred to in these verses is God’s special presence promised in the place where God’s people come together. The emphasis is not on a greater structure but on a greater glory – a greater manifestation of God’s presence. Jesus of course would stand in God’s temple... When he did he declared himself to be God’s temple (John 2:20-21) & then after his death & resurrection he empowered his church with his Holy Spirit to be his temple throughout world. We are part of his temple if we are in him. The NT reality of this new spiritual temple made up of people from all nations is the focal point of God’s redemptive work in the world today. Ultimately, the temple as the visible evidence of God’s presence with his people will be eclipsed by the Lord Almighty & the Lamb (Rev 21:22-26). The OT temple points forward to all this...
Last week we looked at why it was so important to God that his people come together & build the temple? The answer was that God wanted the world to be able to SEE visible evidence of his presence on earth. One day he himself will be that visible evidence on this earth... but until then we are his temple! In the NT, while place & buildings still play a part, they are certainly not as central. The NT temple is made of people not bricks. Therefore today God does not restrict his work to a particular place or building. When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus in John 4 about the proper place to worship he replied; “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father... but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth...” So we need to be careful about drawing too close a parallel between the OT temple & any contemporary building.
God’s commitment to a particular place that we see in this book has been widened to include all places in our day. By all places I mean nations, cultures, cities, towns & villages etc. In the OT God wanted his people to build a house of worship in Jerusalem, in the NT he wants his people to build communities of worship all over the world. And in order for communities of worship to be built all over the world God needs people who come together & commit themselves to specific places. In other words the global church –the NT temple – can only fulfil its mandate if it is made up of numerous local churches. God does not call us as an individual believer to go everywhere in the world, he calls us to commit to a specific place... So even though the whole dynamic of worship has changed in the NT these words are equally relevant for us. God has called us to prioritise building a spiritual temple where we are because as we noted last week, we are called to be the visible evidence of God’s presence in our community! And when we don’t prioritise building God’s spiritual temple we rob our community of the visible evidence of the reality of God!
As well as this, a temple is built to remain! God’s wants us to build something that will outlast all the storms & seasons & changes our communities go through. That we might be a place of stability in times of shaking, a place of peace in times of war, a place of hope in times of despair. We are not meant to be a temporary structure in our community we are meant to be a temple built to last because we are part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken! The foundation has been laid in Christ. It’s time to build, it’s always time to build, not our own ministries or church or movement but time to come together to build a place of worship for God, so that our community can see he is alive & accessible to them through the reality of the ever present Lord Jesus Christ!
The spiritual temple theme also reminds us that we are a small stone in a much bigger structure that is centred on & filled with God... This gives each of us a place of needed significance while at the same time reminding us that we are most definitely not the ‘be all & end all’. Only Jesus can be the ‘be all & end all’. Ephesians 2:20-22 (NIV) says that Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone, meanings he is the only one who can hold us & everything together, and he alone is the one who sets the pattern of the whole building. Our ministry is not the cornerstone, our preferences are not the cornerstone, our own fellowship is not the cornerstone & our denomination is not the “be all & end all”. “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” And together, together, we become the visible evidence of God’s presence in our community... Again those words in 1 Peter 2:5 come to mind 2:5 (NIV): “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” So are we going to be a stones alone, or a few stones alone, or are we going to commit to being part of the great temple God has promised to fill with greater glory?