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Be encouraged - Haggai 2:1-9

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 15th July 2007.

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As many of you know, I used to work in the City of London in Finance.  And when one colleague of mine decided to leave his lucrative career as a City Lawyer to become a vicar, someone asked him:  Ďwhy would you want to join a dying institutioní?  Not exactly encouraging is it?  

But to some extent itís true isnít it?  Over the past 3 decades, Church of England attendance figures have nose dived, and as I mentioned last week, average attendance has declined even here at Riverside over the last 2 years.  There has been some growth and encouragement, like Margaret Spiller become a Christian last week, but overall we appear to be living in the day of small things.  Nationally, the church is now, ridiculed, marginalised or just totally ignored.   And in such an environment, discipleship or knowing Christ better, is hard.  In such an environment. evangelism or making Christ known. 

And itís discouraging, isnít it?   Maybe you look back to the Christian glory days of the past;  and you look around at our church and world today, and youíre deeply discouraged.  Whatís God doing?  Why do we struggle so much to share the Good News of Jesus with our Riverside community?  Why do we struggle so much to encourage our members to attend regularly.  Why do things appear to have gone pear-shaped?  Am I ringing any bells?  Does anyone fell a bit like this?  And when youíre discouraged, youíre not likely to be living a boldly for Jesus.  When youíre discouraged, you not likely to be working and serving the Lord with all your heart. 

Godís people are discouraged (v3)

And as you can see from the first heading on the handout:  thatís exactly how Godís people in Haggai's day were feeling.  Because in v3, we see that Godís people are discouraged.  Godís people are discouraged.  So letís turn back to Hagg 2 on p1469.       [pause]

And we see in v1, that the Word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai. And in v2, Haggaiís given a message for Zerubbabel the Governor, Joshua the High Priest and all the remnant of Godís people.  All people, that is, whoíd come back from the exile in Babylon.   And whatís the message?   Well look with me at v3:

Haggai 2:3 '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?

Godís basically saying.  Look, I know youíre discouraged.    [pause] But why?  Why were Godís people discouraged? 

Well last week, we saw that Godís people had been brought back from exile.  If you look at the timeline section of the handout, youíll remember from last week, that in 586BC, the Babylonians had invaded Israel and taken the people off into exile.   But then in 538BC the Persians conquered Babylon and let the Jews return home to Israel.  The Lord had been faithful to His promises and brought them home.  Godís people were exited.  And they were eager to get on with rebuilding the Temple.  The Temple which the Babylonians had destroyed.  2 years later, the foundations for the new Temple were finished.  [mini-pause]  But then, nothing.  As we saw last week, life got in the way, and work on the Temple stopped. 

So 16 years later on 29 Aug 520BC, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai.  And that word of the Lord was written up as Haggai chapter 1.  And in a nutshell, the message was, sort out your priorities, and get on with the job;  the job of building the Temple.  And if you look back to 1:12, then you can see that the people obeyed the word of the Lord.  They feared the Lord.  They took notice of what the Lord had said.  And they got on the job.  So in v15, we saw that less than a month later on 21 September 520 BC, work had restarted on the Temple. 

So that sounds great then, you might be thinking.  But now, just 3 and half weeks later, theyíre discouraged again.  Theyíre in danger of giving up again.    So whatís gone wrong this time?  Unlike lots of Riversideís members, itís not that they hadnít been to church regularly.  In fact, over the past few weeks, theyíd been having various festivals.  And when this next Word of the Lord comes to Haggai on the 17  Oct 520BC, it was the end of a week-long sort residential Harvest Festival.  And so thereís been loads of visitor in Jerusalem.      And if youíve been to one of these events, then you know what theyíre like donít you?  You have a spiritual high for a few days.  Lots of singing.  Lots of Bible teaching.  Lots of fellowship.    But at the end of the camp, or conference or church weekend away or whatever it is, reality kicks in.  Itís time to go home.  Back to normal life.  Back to work.  Back to school. 

And before the Israelites went home, they had a good look at the temple site.  And what a sight it was.  3 and half weeks ago, work had restarted.  But most of that time had been taken up with their Harvest Festival.  So nothing much had happened.  The temple site was still a bomb site.  Left for 16 years since those foundations had been laid.  And like the Del Boys of Hull whoíve been adding to the misery of flood victims, the looters and the fly tippers had left their mark in Jerusalem as well.  The Temple site was a bomb site.   It was going to be a long hard slog to rebuild Solomonís magnificent Temple. 

And then they noticed something else.   the length of the foundations:  the new Temple was only going to be 90 foot long.  Solomonís temple had been 135 feet long.  Solomonís Temple had been built with the finest Cedar Wood;  the whole thing had been overlaid with pure Gold;  even the floors were laid with gold.  Solomon had been the King of a powerful regional superpower.  Other kings and queens, like Sheba, had visited him;  theyíd marvelled at his wisdom;  and they marvelled at his wealth. 

And now.  Well they were back from exile in Babylon.  But their leader, Zerubbabel, wasnít even a proper king.  He was a Governor of a remote district within the huge Persian Empire.  Instead of nations bringing them tribute, they had to pay taxes to the federal Persian Government.  How on earth were they going to afford this massive building project?

If Solomonís Temple had been Tescoís finest, then the new Temple was going to be a sort of Tesco Value version.  A bit cheap and nasty with no frills.  No gold or silver for the new Temple.    Laminated chipboard and maybe a bit of brass.

And so the book of Ezra tells us that some of the people who saw the sight wept.  Those who were old enough to remember the old Temple before it had been destroyed;  they were especially discouraged.    And God sees right into their hearts.  Look at v3 again:

  Haggai 2:3 '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?

So, Godís people then are discouraged.    And maybe thatís you.  Whatever the cause, youíre discouraged.  And because youíre discouraged, your passion to serve the Lord has gone.  And maybe youíre in danger of giving up on God altogether.  Because youíre so discouraged. 

A reminder of Godís blessing in the Past (v4-5)

So in v3 is God rubbing our noses in it?  Of course not.  Heís getting His people to be real about their discouragements so he can build them up again in the truth.  Having a genuine faith in God doesnít mean we stick our heads in the sand and avoid reality.  The Christian life isnít a bed of roses.  There will be pain & discouragement.  And sometimes that pain and discouragement can come from the church itself or other Christians.  And so God puts His finger on our discouragement.  But in v4-5, as you can see from the second heading on the handout, we have :  A reminder of Godís blessing in the Past.  A reminder of Godís blessing in the Past   Look with me at v4:

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.
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3 times we have the phrase Ďdeclares the Lordí.  Itís the phrase God uses when he really wants people to sit up and take notice of what heís saying.  And when he says it three times in one sentence, then Heís really really really serious.  Whatís the Lord saying 3 times then.  Well 3 times the Lord tells the people to be strong.     Why?  Because ĎI am with youí, declares the Lord.   

Itís not wishful thinking from a misguided friend whoís trying to be helpful in a hopeless situation.  The kind of friend who says, Ďnever mind, it could be worseí, when youíve just had the worst day of your life.  No the reason God gives His people for being strong and getting on with the job is this:  His presence;  ĎI am with youí, declares the Lord.  Itís the form of covenant blessing we looked at last week in 1:13.    But itís more than that.  Be strong, I am with you are exactly the words the Lord said to Joshua as he was about to lead the people into the Promised land the first time.    Itís a reminder of Godís blessing in the past.

When God had commanded the Israelites to go in and take possession of the Promised Land, they refused.  Why?  Because they were scared of the people already living in the Land.  They feared the sight of their eyes more than they trusted the Lordís promises.    So 40 years later, the Lord gives them another chance.  And the Lord told them: be strong;  for I am with you.  Be encouraged and get on with the Job.  Trust in my promises to get you though what seems like an impossible situation.  ĎBe strong and workí.

Letís pick up that word Ďworkí again half way through v4:

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.'

When the Lord brought His people out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, he made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai.  I will be your God and you will be my people, he promised them.  I will be present among you by my Spirit, the Lord promised them.  And by my Spirit, I will lead and guide you on your journey to the Promised Land.  I have promised it and I will do it, says the Lord. 

And now in Haggaiís day, there was a new Joshua leading Godís people.  The high Priest Joshua.  And what Godís saying to his discouraged people is this:  think back to the past.  Remember Godís promises way back in the OT.   And remember how God has kept His word.  Remember how God has fulfilled all His promises.  God doesnít lie. He doesnít change His mind.    And you, people of God, reflect on how Godís been faithful to His Word in the past;  And when we reflect on Godís blessings in the past, weíre encouraged to trust him now in the present. 

When God says Iíll be with you, equipping you to do the jobs Iíve called you to, he means it.  Itís not wishful thinking.  Itís trust in a dependable God.  A God whoís proved Himself to His people, time and time again in the past.  So, when he says:  be strong and work; be strong and get on with the job, then we should be encouraged;  we should be encouraged to take him at His word and get on with the job Heís given us to do. 


A promise of even more blessing in the Future (v6-9)

Be strong and work.  Be strong and get on with the job.  Why?  Because God reminds His people of past blessings as weíve seen in v4&5.  But in v6-9, he gives them another reason.  In the original v6 starts with the word Ďforí. So these verses are going to give Godís people another reason for obeying the command not to fear at the end of v5.  Theyíre going to give another reason for being strong and doing the Lordís work. 

And as you can see from the 3rd heading on the handout, v6-9 contain a promise of even more blessing in the future.  A promise to encourage them even more.  A promise that which will motivate them to be strong and do the Lordís work.    So whatís this promise then?    Well, as you can see on the handout, the promises has 4 parts:

First in v6&7, God promises to shake the whole created order. 

v6-7:  a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations

The first shaking of the heavens refers to when Godís voice shook everything at Mt Sinai when Moses was receiving the 10 Commandments.  And the implication of the promise to shake the nations again is this:  donít fear the Persians.  Iím the Lord of History and the Lord of all nations.  It doesnít matter what things look like.  Just remember that Iím in control.  Superpowers come and go at my command.  Iím the creator of the universe.  And Iíve got the power to deliver my promises.  Donít fear.  And in v8 heís reminding them not to worry about their bank balance.  The earth is the Lordís and everything in it.  Weíve havenít got the resources to finish the job, but God has.  Or as Paul puts it in 2 Cor, my Power is made perfect in weakness.   A promise to shake and reshape the political map. That was the first part of the promise.  

Next in v7:  weíve got a promise that the desired of all nations shall be brought into Zion;  literally itís the treasures or wealth of all the nations that will be coming into Jerusalem, just as in the days of King Solomon, the anointed King of Israel.  Not taxes going out to the Persians, but wealth coming in.  Just as Isaiah said would happen when the Son of David, returned to Zion.  When  the Messiah would come to the New Temple. Treasures coming to Zion then. 

3rd , still in v7, God promises to fill the new Temple with His Glory.   Indeed, in v9, He even promises that the glory of the new Temple would even exceed that of King Solomonís magnificent Temple. 

And finally, at the end of v9, God promises Peace to His people.  In this place, in Jerusalem, and especially in the New Temple, I will give peace, declares the Lord. 

A fourfold promise of even more blessing in the future.  A promise to encourage Godís people.  Donít just look back to Godís faithfulness in the past.  Look forward to the future as well.  Donít see things with your eyes.  Look forward in the light of Godís promises to the future.  And be encouraged.  Be strong and do the Lordís work.   How encouraging is that? [pause]

And so Godís people were encouraged.  They did get on with the Lordís work.  And 4 years later, the Temple was finished.    Great you might be thinking.  [pause]    But thereís a problem. 

When the Temple was finished, it was still a Tesco Value version.    It was smaller than Solomonís.  There was no gold.   It was a chipboard and sellotape kind of Temple.    So even when it was finished the people might still have been thinking v3: 

  Haggai 2:3 '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 certainly wasnít a patch on Solomonís magnificent Temple.  But it gets worse.  When Solomonís temple was finished, the Glory of the Lord descended upon the Temple.  And as we saw last week, the Lordís glory residing in the Temple was symbolic of Godís presence.  But when Haggaiís temple was finished, the Glory of the Lord didnít descend into it.    It didnít look very glorious, and there was no glory in it.   

So what about Godís promise that the New Temple would be even more glorious than the old?  And what about the other promises?  The promise to redraw the political map and put Israel back on top.  For the other nations to bring their wealth into Jerusalem.  And what about the peace.  The kind of peace Israel had experienced under Solomonís rule?   [pause]

Well in the 4th Century BC, God did bring the Persian Empire to an end.  But Israel wasnít on top;  Alexander the Great was.  And then the Romans took over from the Greeks.  Israel remained a tiny and powerless pawn tossed around by the superpowers of the day.  And as for peace.  Well, as we know, the Romans crushed dissent by crucifying anyone who disagreed with them.  And in this place, I will give peace, declares the Lord.      [pause]

So how does God fulfil His promises?    If itís not through the physical new Temple;  if itís not through the geographic nation of Israel; if itís not through peace in this world, how does God fulfil His promises?  Because God doesnít lie.  He doesnít change His mind.    He just fulfils His promises and our prayers in ways we often donít expect.  And thatís His right.  Because Heís God. 

You see God is in control.  God wanted a Tesco Value temple with no glory in it.  God wanted the nation of Israel to be a political mess.  And God permitted a situation where there was no peace.  Why?  To show his people that there was more to come.  To make it crystal clear, that He was going to do something else to fulfil His promises.  To show His people that the physical temple and the nation state of Israel were temporary.  They were shadowlands.  They were pointers to what was coming. 

By the end of the OT, Godís people had worked this out.  They knew that the exile wasnít really over.  They knew that many of Godís promises remained unfulfilled.  And so they longed for the day of the Lord.  The day when the Lord would send a prophet like Moses;  the day when the Lord would send the new Son of  David, the new Messiah;  the Day when the Lord himself would visit His people, bringing peace and salvation for his people.    They were waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

And when He did come, Jesus visited the temple.  He visited the Temple and declared it obsolete.  The physical Temple will be destroyed, said Jesus.  And so it was in AD70.  As we saw last week, with the coming of Jesus, the physical Temple has been replaced.  The physical temple was simply a pointer to Jesus.   J is the new Glorious Temple. 

And the main purpose of Jesus coming was to bring peace.  Jesus is the prince of peace.  Not political peace in this world.  But peace with God.  Because of our sin, we were all Godís enemies.  We were all facing Godís just wrath against our sin.  Each of us was facing a lost eternity in hell because of our rebellion against God.  But Jesus went to the cross on behalf of His people.  In His body, Jesus took the punishment for all the sins of all Godís people for all time.  He was punished in my place.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, I now have peace with God. 

And so can you, if you acknowledge Jesus.  If you accept who he is:  that heís Godís son in human form;  if you acknowledge that he died on the cross taking the punishment you deserved;  and if you repent of your sins; if youíre truly sorry and want to lead a new life in the power of Godís Holy Spirit.  If you can say yes to all that, then you have peace with God. 

And thatís the most important peace in the world.  Because in several thousand years time, the specific struggles weíre having today wonít matter v much.  What will matter is whether youíre enjoying the peace of heaven or the pain of hell.  Peace with God.  And a blessed eternal life in the heavenly New Creation.  For His true people, a promise of ever more   blessing in the future.  And so if you are one of Godís people, how encouraging is that?  [pause]

2,500 years after Haggai, we can look back and see many more of Godís promises fulfilled.  But in some sense, weíre still in the same boat as Godís people in Haggaiís day. When weíre discouraged, we need to be reminded about Godís blessing in the past.  And we need a firm grip of the even greater blessings to come. 

There will always be knock-backs and disappointments in the Christian life.  Like when we look at a Tesco Value temple;  when we look at some of the things going on the church;  when we work hard and there doesnít seem to be much fruit from Christian service; when weíre in the day of small things.   And if we forget about Godí past blessings and loose our grip on the even greater blessings to come, then weíll be discouragement and be in danger of giving up. 

And so to Godís discouraged people, God says keep your perspective, be encouraged and get on with the job.  

So whatís Godís job for us.   Well as we discovered last week, for us, building Godís kingdom is now all about discipleship and evangelism.  Discipleship and evangelism.  Knowing Christ better and making Him Known.    Discipleship and Evangelism.  And last week we had some questions for reflection, and I want to follow the same pattern this week.   And youíll find them on the back of the handout.  So if getting on with the job for us means discipleship and evangelism, then:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.      <!--[endif]-->What is discouraging you from knowing Christ better?

<!--[if !supportLists]-->a.       <!--[endif]-->ie growing in your relationship with God. 

<!--[if !supportLists]-->b.      <!--[endif]-->(eg personal circumstances;  state of the church. World)

<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.      <!--[endif]-->What is discouraging you from being involved in evangelism?

<!--[if !supportLists]-->a.       <!--[endif]-->like inviting your friends/ to church

<!--[if !supportLists]-->b.      <!--[endif]-->maybe fear of rejection  or lack of practical knowledge

<!--[if !supportLists]-->                                                              i.      <!--[endif]-->if latter, then you need practical help;  come and ask)

<!--[if !supportLists]-->3.      <!--[endif]-->Have you been encouraged by Godís word Ďnot to fearí and to be strong?

<!--[if !supportLists]-->4.      <!--[endif]-->What practical steps are you going to take in response?

<!--[if !supportLists]-->a.       <!--[endif]-->How are you going to get on with the job?

So can I encourage you to take the handout home and pray through these questions;  ask God to make it clear to you what exactly He wants you to do.  And letís start that now as we have a few moments for quiet reflection.  And then Iíll close in prayer.  [pause]   Letís pray.


Dear promise-keeping God, thank you for your reminder of past blessing and you promise of ever greater blessing in the future for your people.  Help your people to be strong in the present and get on with the job of building your kingdom;  to get on with discipleship and evangelism.  Help each of us here who profess you as our Lord and Saviour to know what your individual plan is for our lives, that we might best serve you.  For our eternal joy, but your ultimate glory we pray.  Amen.

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