Summary: The work in Christ’s church will not get done in a hurry. We don’t even have a target date for completion. But this is what makes the difference for our church building: It’s the work of our Lord! It’s the church that Christ bought with his precious blood.
Are you a church builder? Do you see it as your responsibility to serve the church of Christ? To strengthen it, and to grow it? You should, because that’s the calling given to you by the Lord God!
Sometimes we like to leave church-building work to the experts. We leave the physical aspects of the church to the Committee of Administration (or whoever): they’ll take care of the roofing and lighting and flooring, because these men know what they’re doing. And we leave the spiritual side of things to the elders: the encouraging, the exhorting, admonishing and helping. “It’s really up to the office bearers, the minister and elders and deacons,” someone says. “They’re the experts, after all. What could I ever do?” But we’re all church builders, called to that holy task of strengthening the church of Christ.
We see this clearly in the prophet Haggai. Haggai was one of three minor prophets who ministered after the exile. Because of their sin, the people of Judah had been taken to Babylon. But fast forward some decades, and God has graciously brought some of the people back to the land, to rebuild and restore. It’s a new day, but that doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and roses. Israel still needs to hear the Word of God, his promises as well as his rebukes. So Haggai will speak to the LORD’s people.
And a refrain that we quickly notice in this book is the call for God’s people to consider their ways. See 1:5, “Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” Then again in 1:7, “Consider your ways.” God is calling his people to serious reflection, to self-examination, to look beyond the surface of things. Are they really doing their utmost for his church? Are we working for his cause and purpose, or are we too much focused on our own life and pursuits? “Consider your ways!” Through this call comes the prophet’s message,
Haggai exhorts God’s people to build His unfinished temple:
1) the people’s sinful slackness
2) the LORD’s righteous rebuke
3) the temple’s precious purpose
1) the people’s sinful slackness: Haggai’s book of prophecy begins with a date, “In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month…” (1:1). We may want to skim right over this sentence, but it tells us something important. It tells us that there’s been a change in the world scene. It wasn’t Assyria who was the superpower anymore, nor was it Babylon—the empire who’d taken Judah captive years before—but it was Persia. For this Darius was king of Persia.
Like Cyrus before him, Darius took a different approach to the empire he ruled. They weren’t interested in having huge POW camps in the home country, but they allowed the exiled nations to go back from where they came. The kings of Persia prided themselves on this, having a reputation as the liberator of exiled peoples.
Of course, God had always promised this freedom. Even when Zephaniah or Habakkuk were bringing a message about Jerusalem in ruins, it wasn’t all gloom and darkness. There was always the sure hope that one day they’d be released. Jeremiah had said it too: there’d be seventy years of being purified in exile, and then when the seventy years were done, they could go home. So Cyrus said that any Israelite was free to go home. Cyrus had even said that he wanted to build a new house for God at Jerusalem, and he provided resources to get the project started. Things were looking up!
But since that time, a lot has happened. By Haggai 1:1, Cyrus’ decree is more than two decades old. And both the return from exile, and the rebuilding of the temple, had gone in fits and starts. One large group of Israelites had returned to the land in 539, and at once they had rebuilt the altar and they had laid the foundations of the temple. There was much joy in those days, a lot enthusiasm for this new beginning.
After that, however, the work had ground to a halt. The temple didn’t ascend much farther than that first course of stones. You can read the first part of Ezra to get the whole picture. One problem was the Samaritans, who didn’t like the idea of a restored Judah, so they tried to obstruct the work. Among the Jews too, there were some nay-sayers and negative nellies, because this second temple wouldn’t be nearly as nice as the one Solomon built. So why bother? Discouragement set in. And twenty years later, the temple sat there, unfinished.
That still happens sometimes, doesn’t it, when we carry out the Lord’s work? We have an initial burst of excitement for a project, passion for a new opportunity and calling. Things look really good—but then our enthusiasm starts to dwindle. There are distractions that keep us from progressing. Troubles get in the way. Opposition can deter us, and we put good intentions aside. Time and again, the Lord’s people need prodding along toward better things.