Summary: Some days we look at our efforts for the kingdom and we get discouraged because we do not see the fruit happening. We try hard but get little. In those situations God encourages us.
Have you ever done one of those projects where, at first, you are really excited and enthusiastic but, as you see what you are actually achieving, you realise that your handiwork is really quite limited?
People who build model railways are like that. They have in their mind a picture of what it is going to look like. It is often a grand picture of towns, and mountains, and industry. And so they are very enthusiastic. But after the initial enthusiasm they realise that all they really have is a small train, running around in circles, on a track pinned to a painted wooden board. Soon enthusiasm lacks and it all becomes disheartening.
And I think the same happens in our spiritual life. Years ago I was involved in a church plant in Perth. For our first service:-
We distributed two sets 20,000 leaflets … a fortnight apart.
We had ads in the newspaper.
We had invited heaps of people.
On the opening day do you know how many visitors we had? 0.
The same on the second Sunday … in fact for 6 Sundays.
In the end the group was very disheartened.
High expectations … disheartening result.
This is the issue which Haggai is dealing with in our reading today.
Hopefully you left your bookmark in Haggai from last week so you can find it easier. If you weren’t here last week Haggai is very near the end of the Old Testament.
We are going to read Haggai 2:1-9.
So it’s been 7 weeks since Haggai delivered his first message to the people.
His first message was designed to reinvigorate the Jews to continue rebuilding the temple … a building project which was started 16 years earlier but which had ground to a halt.
It’s been 4 weeks since the people had actually recommitted themselves to the task.
50,000 people recognised their neglect of the Lord’s house, and their neglect of a relationship with Him. No more excuses. No more misplaced priorities. Things were at an all time enthusiastic high.
That was 4 weeks ago. Today, on the twenty first day of the seventh month everyone is standing around with their hands on the hips, huffing and sighing and ready to give up. Why the change in mood?
Let me give you an idea of what they were up against in rebuilding the temple. This is a description, found in Psalms, of what happened when Jerusalem was overtaken by the Babylonians.
Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs.
They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.
They smashed all the carved panelling with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
Everything is just a mess. Sure, the foundation has been laid, but all over there is just charred rocks. And the ruins have been sitting there for 75 years so that doesn’t help either. So it is a huge job to make things happen.
But – something which wasn’t helping – all these really old people walking around going, “I remember what the temple used to look like … this is pathetic”. The young people think they have been doing a great job, than it is just like a cold shower. Everything was better in the old days. Sometimes old people say that because they are old and they forget what it was really like. But when it comes to the temple they are right. Let me give you a taste of the magnificence of the first temple.
Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working. (2 Chronicles 2:17-18).
He built the Most Holy Place, its length corresponding to the width of the temple—twenty cubits (= 9 metres) long and twenty cubits wide. He overlaid the inside with six hundred talents (= 23 tons) of fine gold. (2 Chronicles 3:8-9).
15 In the front of the temple he made two pillars, which together were thirty-five cubits (= 16 metres) high. (2 Chronicles 3:15).
Later read the opening chapters of 2 Chronicles to get a full idea of how magnificent the temple was. Altogether, even with all those people helping, it took 7 years to build. There is no doubt about it. This was an amazing building. Compare that to the temple being built in the day of Haggai. It’s nothing.