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.
So after a month of enthusiastic work, they felt like dropping the hammers and packing it in. They were just so discouraged. Is it worth it?
Is it worth it?
Have you ever felt like saying that?
We try and make an impact for God.
We make the sacrifices in our time, in our family even.
We want so desperately for people to know Jesus.
Is it worth it … for the outcome we see?
We set out with enthusiasm to spread the Gospel. But few seem willing to listen. And those who listen have too many difficult questions. It’s a battle – especially in our modern religious culture. If people don’t like our message about sin … they just go to another church.
And nostalgia doesn’t help does it. A longing for the way it used to be. Everything was better in the old days. People were more committed. There were much less distractions. If only we could recapture the early days.
We don’t need to look out to an empty foundation surrounded by rubble to get discouraged. It happens just as easily in all sorts of other contexts.
But here is the wonderful truth.
God doesn’t want us to be disheartened and discouraged; God wants to energise us.
God energises by giving His personal encouragement.
Let me read verse 4-5 again for you.
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. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
Do you see what God is doing?
Be strong …
Be strong and work.
I am with you.
… My Spirit remains …
God is not standing on the sidelines like a cheer leader.
Watching the game.
But not participating.
Doesn’t feel the pain.
The better picture to have in mind here is a marriage … a strong marriage.
Be strong …
Be strong and work.
I am with you.
… My Spirit remains …
This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.
“Covenant” … it’s such a powerful word with deep rooted meaning.
It was the covenant that called Abram, out of all the men of the earth, to be in a special relationship with God. Abram and his descendants would be given a new land, a great people, and a place of influence in the nations.
It was the covenant that held the hope of the Israelites as they toiled in slavery in Egypt. Oppressed, beaten, abused, unable to practise their religion, treated as second-class citizens. But God remembered and brought them out in a most powerful way.
It was through the covenant that a stiff-necked and hard-hearted people were continually brought back from the point of religious extinction. It happened many times in the days of Judges, and the days of the Kings, and the days after returning from exile. Again and again God forgave … God restored … God renewed the spiritual life of his people.
That is covenant – God calling us to be His people. And today we are just as much a part of that covenant.
We are a special people.
We have been removed from slavery … the slavery of sin.
We are given a new heart ... God’s Spirit in us.
We are forgiven when we are stiff-necked and rebellious.
Covenant is all about God coming to us in Jesus and saying, “Let’s make this journey together”. A covenant is a promise … a bond … a union … a unique relationship … between God and you.
What you feel He feels.
What impacts you impacts Him.
What makes you suffer causes Him to suffer.
What makes you grieve causes Him to grief.
God encourages us by reminding us that, no matter what happens, He will stand with us. Always he wants to be Immanuel … God with us. No matter what you are going through He is there. No matter what you are going through that is going to energise you … isn’t it?
That is the first encouragement. The second way God encourages is by showing that the future is in hand.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
God’s going to shake things up. God’s going to work in surprising ways. How does He do that? Last week I was telling you about how they stopped building the temple because the people around them just kept interfering. These same people send a letter to king Darius to tell him what was going on … kind of like dobbing on the Israelites. And Darius answered that letter. The answer can be found in Ezra chapter 6.
What happened was this. King Darius issued an order to investigate this letter and a scroll was found in the Persian archives. It confirmed that a decree had been issued by the previous king … King Cyrus. That the Jews could:-
- rebuild the temple.
- that the cost would be paid by the Persian nation treasury.
- that all the stolen articles be returned.
Moreover King Darius also said:-
The expenses of the workers are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.
I get excited when I read stuff like that. God said to these people when they were discouraged that He would organise the future for them. Then God made sure that the future would be organised – even when the enemies were trying to stop everything. God’s glory did come back to the temple.
Our future is in God’s hands.
Which means we shouldn’t get stuck in the moment and allow that to be the focus – we need to look beyond the moment to what God is doing.
How many times has it happened in the past that we have said, “I don’t know what God’s plan is for me. He doesn’t seem to be helping. I seem to be forgotten.” Then, when we least expect it, God sorts out the plan and God gives us purpose and we are reminded … again … that God is helping us.
I know that sometimes it is easy to look at the moment that we are in and get discouraged. All of us, in one way or another have gone through, or maybe right now are going through, difficult times. We do get shaken. And it feels hopeless and desperate. But there is a future.
Have a look at this verse:-
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
In the context the writer of Hebrews is telling people what happens when they ignore God’s warning. But see the underlined bit … that the same thing that Haggai 2:7 said. The point here is a reminder that someday an event so terrible is going to happen that the earth and the heavens will be shaken.
But through this all, something remains. There are those who will not be shaken.
If God can bring us through the worst day in history … can’t He bring us through the disappointments and discouragement that we face today?
So let me come back to the question I asked at the beginning.
Is it worth it?
Are your efforts worth it?
Are your attempts to share God’s message worth it?
Are your daily struggles worth it?
We don’t need to be disheartened, discouraged or in despair.
God is giving His personal encouragement to walk beside you.
God is giving His personal encouragement that the future is in hand.