Summary: The success of God’s work depends on the willingness of his people to play their part.
It’s appropriate to ask, on the day of our AGM, how committed are you to the work of God here at St Theodore’s? It’s a question that we all need to consider as we come to look at Haggai ch 1.
If you’ve been here over the last month or so, you’ll know that we’ve been working our way through Zechariah. The main issue in Zechariah, as it is in Haggai, is the rebuilding of the Temple, as a place where God’s name will be known, and to which all the nations on earth will be drawn in worship. But the interesting thing is that even though these two prophecies were written within a couple of months of each other they each give a different angle to the message. In fact, it’s as though they were two sides of the same coin. One of the things we’ve discovered as we’ve looked at Zechariah, is the encouragement to keep working at the project, even though their resources are poor, because in the end what matters is that God is with them. The success of their task depends on the power of God, not on their own ability. But here in Haggai we find a different slant on the message. Here we discover that the success of the project also depends on the willingness of the people to play their part.
Here we discover 4 things that the people need to do if the Temple is to be rebuilt. Here we discover 4 things that we need to do if the Church of God is to be built. They (and we) need to Refuse to Offer Excuses (vs1-2), Get their Priorities Right (vs3-6), Get Involved in the Lord’s Work (vs7-12), and Receive God’s Enabling (vs13-15).
Refuse to Offer Excuses (1:1-2)
The prophecy begins with a date. It’s the 2nd year of King Darius, on the first day of the 6th month. Dates are no longer set by the Kings of Israel, notice, but by the King of Persia. Perhaps that’s a reminder to the people of how far they’ve sunk through their rebellion against God. For those who are interested, the date is Aug 29, 520 BC. That is, it’s the end of the summer harvest. And it’s addressed to Zerubbabel and Joshua, the leaders of the people. They’re the representatives of the people in the political and religious spheres, respectively. And the message comes with a sad ring to it. It begins by referring to the people of Israel as "This People". In the past they were always "My People," even in some of the later prophecies when god was warning them of the judgement to come, but now there’s a certain distance between God and them. The reason for this distance becomes clear as we read on. They’ve failed to rebuild the Temple. They’ve been more worried about building their own houses and businesses than worrying about God’s House. And, he says, listen to the excuses they give: "The time isn’t yet right". They can’t rebuild the Temple because there’s so much to do to get their own properties fixed up. Their businesses are still struggling. They need to put all their energy into making their businesses pay so they’ll have money to give to the Temple fund.
There’s something of a modern ring about this isn’t there? Life’s so pressured these days. If I don’t work on Sundays the boss will get upset and I mightn’t get that next promotion. I’m working 6 days a week and Sunday’s the only day I have for myself or my family. I hear all sorts of excuses for why people aren’t able to worship with God’s people on a weekly basis.
The same goes for evangelism. There are all sorts of reasons you can come up with for not sharing your faith with others. They won’t want to hear. They’re quite happy the way they are. Why should I impose my views on them? They might think less of me if they know I’m a Christian. They might even poke fun at me. What if they ask me questions I can’t answer?
And there’s another side to this excuse that the people give. "The time hasn’t yet come for the Temple to be built" might be a roundabout way of saying God hasn’t done his bit. That seems to be the implication of what follows. Things are still tough for us. When God helps us get on our feet economically, then we’ll get round to working on the Temple. When our bank balance builds up a bit, then we’ll happily contribute to the building fund or the budget deficit. I remember talking to someone in a previous congregation about how much they gave to Church. They were fairly well off, living in a very nice house in an expensive part of the suburb. They explained to me that they believed in tithing. That was a good start, I thought. But then they said that what they tithed was what they had left after they’d paid their tax and their house repayments, and any other major expenses. In fact their tithe was nothing like a tenth of their income. But of course if God did his bit and their income increased, then they’d have more to give.