The Minor Prophets: Haggai - Straight Talk to the Church of God

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Haggai - Straight Talk to the Church of God

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The Minor Prophets: Haggai - Straight Talk to the Church of God

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Haggai is unique among the prophets of God. He was sent to stir up God’s people to return to building the temple that lay in runs. His words contain a strong message of encouragement to the Church of God today. What is that message and how does it apply to us?

Transcript

[Darris McNeely] We are in the midst of a series of Bible studies on the minor prophets. Two weeks ago, we went through the book of… I believe it was Joel, Mr. Myers, and two weeks earlier we have the book of Amos and I can’t remember the one that started it off. But we haven’t had Gary Petty come in on these just yet. He should be here by the next time that we do these. We’re not doing the studies to the minor prophets in any one order. In terms of the order of their placement in the scriptures, tonight, we’re going to be talking about the book of Haggai, and it’s a little bit out of order, but it’s kind of what we have allotted, and so I drew the study for tonight, so that’s why we’re on the book of Haggai.

As we go into this, I might just mention that for continuity’s sake, I did give a sermon in the Cincinnati a.m. congregation this past Sabbath that gave a lot of the background to the study tonight, and I’ll quickly rehearse a bit of that but move more to the book of Haggai than I did in the previous study, but it’s a kind of companion sermon that I gave this past week, should be on the UCG website, under the Sermon page. But tonight, we’ll focus directly on the message of Haggai, pick up where I left off in the sermon, and sketch a very interesting and important story that has a very strong, and as I said, direct message to the church today.

Haggai is an interesting prophet in that I think we can say, and I will say, that the message of Haggai is something for the Church of God in the modern world, in this setting today. And it is something very pertinent for us to consider, even though it was given by a prophet of God in the 6th century B.C., to the people of Judah, the Jews who have returned to Jerusalem, from the exile in Babylon. Haggai is one of the three minor prophets that deals with the Jewish people in the period after the exile. They’re post-exilic, as we would say. The other two are Zechariah and the book of Malachi. So Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were three prophets that came to Judah, the Jews who have returned to Babylon after 70 years in the Babylonian captivity.

And Haggai is a very short book, it’s only two chapters. And yet, there is a story that is intertwined with passages from the book of Ezra, and we will be going back and forth between Haggai and Ezra tonight to put Haggai in its proper context historically. And, but as I said, most importantly, to bring out a direct message to us regarding the Church today, and a very sobering message and one for us to think about.

Let me quickly make the setting. In the year 538 B.C., 538 B.C., man by the name of Cyrus, Cyrus the Great, as he is known in history, conquered the city of Babylon. And the Persian empire rose on the scene fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 of the second world ruling empire that would come on the scene following the Babylonian empire. Actually, in 539, Cyrus and the Persians had conquered the city of Babylon, taking control, essentially, of the Babylonian empire. One year later, in the year 538, Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple. And this was a historic, prophetic event, already having foretold before the exile by the prophet Jeremiah.

And the Jews then began to return. The records that we can glean from the scriptures here, and you can hold your place if you are already in Haggai and flip back to the book of Ezra, and in chapter 1 and look at verse 1 where it says, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all of his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is he among of all of His people? May his God be with him, and let him go to Jerusalem,’” go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, “and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings of the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”

So this is the decree that had been prophesied to be made. Now in, I believe, it’s Isaiah 45, Cyrus himself had even been predicted, and named by name to be the man to do this or to actually take down Babylon 150 years before he actually did it. It’s one of the amazing aspects of Bible prophecy, that this particular king, Cyrus, was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. And in 539 he did conquer Babylon and then he issues this decree, and it allows the Jews to go back, to build the house of God.

Note that very carefully, they were to go back and rebuild the temple. This is what is known in the history. They were to rebuild what had been the first temple, the one built by Solomon, and what they rebuilt then, technically, is known in history as the second temple. It was not quite as elaborate as Solomon’s. It will later be refurbished by the man named Herod the Great, closer to the time of Christ and the apostles, and a much more elegant, refurbished temple will be there when Jesus comes to it in His ministry.

But what the Jews began here is a very, very small effort. By the accounts, most historians feel that about 42,000 plus Jews made the trip back to Jerusalem. Not every Jew that had been transported to Babylon went back to Jerusalem. We know of one, Daniel, who stays in Babylon. No doubt, others did as well, for many reasons… age, probably they put down roots and they had grandchildren there. And we all know what’s it like to move away from grandchildren. We don’t want to do that, and that probably family matters and lot of other normal affairs of life kept some Jews from going back.

But their whole goal and purpose was to go back and to rebuild the temple. And they go back and they begin to do that. The work begins, if you turn over to the 3rd chapter of Ezra, “The seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were gathered together.” And in verse 2, “Joshua… and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of God… to offer burnt offerings according to the law of Moses.” And they began to restore the work of the temple. They lay the foundation upon that, verse 8, in the second month after their coming Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the others who had come up to do this work, they began to oversee the work of the house of the Lord.

Now, what happened as they began this, they started with a great deal of encouragement and zeal. But in Chapter 4, you read how they encountered opposition from some of the people of the land. And these people were what we know in history, ultimately, they take on the name of Samaritans, who had been transported to the land of Israel beginning and during the time of the Assyrian period. They are told here in chapter 4, as Zerubbabel and Joshua are the two leaders that are leading this revival in the work—and these are two important figures to keep in mind as we will see them again in the story.

Joshua is the grandson of the last king of Jerusalem, of Judah, Jehoiachin. Zerubbabel… I’m sorry, Zerubbabel is the descendant of the last king of Judah. Joshua is the high priest, so you’ve got a two-fold of leadership here. Joshua represents the ecclesiastical side of the leadership and Zerubbabel, the civil side. All right, that’s why their names are mentioned and these are two leaders who are involved with this.

But they immediately encounter opposition from a group of people who are in the land and that we know to be the descendants of those who had been put there by the Assyrians. And in time, they take on these larger classification of people that will be Samaritans, very interesting group of people. In the story, the Bible, they’re the same people that we find in the New Testament setting, in the gospel accounts and the book of Acts. They want to take part in the rebuilding. And they are told that Zerubbabel, in verse 3 of chapter 4 of Ezra, that you don’t have any part in this. You can’t do it. This our divine mission.

I brought this out in my sermon on the Sabbath. I’m not to go into a lot more detail about that, but essentially, the Jews came back, understood that they had a divine mission for God to rebuild the temple. And that was so critical to them, and they knew that these other non-Israelite Gentiles did not have a part in it and they would not let them engage.
But the Samaritans continued to press, and essentially, they discouraged the people on the land. You see verse 4, “The people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in  building, they hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose…”

One of the elements about the people of God, whether it’s this story, at the time of Zerubbabel and the return, or even us today, is that we always meet opposition in our work. There is an adversary named Satan, who stirs up opposition and is the source of trouble to the people of God always. Unfortunately, among the people of God, we also stir up some of our own trouble that will hinder us in doing the work as well. But what happened with this group of Jews is they were discouraged by the efforts of these people and they stopped building the temple. In fact, they really didn’t get much more done than just laying the foundation when they met this opposition, and they stopped. The people of the land made appeals to the Persians and they just let them… they brought it to a stop.

They lost their zeal. They lost their urgency. They let the cares of life slip in and as in a sense, as Christ would say in the parable of the “Sower and the Seed” they let the cares of life snatch away the seed of zeal and urgency and divine mission that was sown into their hearts, and they snatched it away. And for about 15 years, they did not continue the work on the temple. Fifteen years go by, from this period of around 538 to 536 by the time they got started on it and it just lay there.

And here’s where God then sends in Haggai, a prophet. We can turn over to Haggai, you can place there in Ezra if you want, and we’ll come back to it. But in Haggai 1, we see where Haggai comes on the scene. And let’s begin reading about it here, “In the second year of King Darius,” now this is a later king from the time of Cyrus, so several years have gone by, “the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Johozadak, the high priest, saying…” So we have the same characters that we just saw on in Ezra, Joshua, and Zerubbabel, and the prophet now comes in and he begins to speak God’s word, “‘Thus says the Lord of host, saying, “This people,’” the Jews, “says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’” They were not building it. And again, it’s the temple. It is this effort to rebuild the temple.

And it goes on, “The word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’” And then he utters the famous line out of the book, which is one of the clarion calls out of the book of Haggai. “Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” Consider your ways, this is going to be a key thought throughout the book of Haggai. Consider your way, it’s another way of saying, examine yourself, whether you be in the faith, which we talk about before we take the Passover every year. Look at your lives and through the prophet, God is saying to them, “Look, my house lies in ruins, is this what you came back for?”

He said in verse 6, he says, “You have sown much, and you bring in little; you eat, but you don’t have enough; you drink, but you’re not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” One of the better explanation of inflation in all the Bible. You put your money into a bag with holes in it. There’s never enough. And other things just eat away at our money. And the harder we work the more “behinder” we get, as we say.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts,” again verse 7, “Consider your ways!” God was not happy with the people. And what they were doing, they had turned their attention away from their work, their divine mission, and they were focused on their own lives to the exclusion of the work of God. Not that making a living, not that sowing and harvesting and going about the seasons of life is not important, and doing it in the right way certainly is, but these people had left off completely the work of God for which they had come back. And again, it was their mission. This was their purpose for being.

“You looked for much,” in verse 9, “but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away.” The best-laid plans. “Unless the Lord shall build the house,” the Psalm says, Psalm 127, “the weary builders toil in vain.” If God’s not behind what we’re doing, if God’s not blessing our efforts, if we don’t take God as our partner, if we do not seek the wisdom of God and His will in our lives, we can be spinning our wheels in our own life today, and if we look at this, even in terms of the Church, the same thing can be said of the Church. If we don’t really have God guiding us, we might be sowing a lot but harvesting and reaping little. Think about this, “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; when you brought it home, I blew it away.”

Verse 10, “Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.” So they had cyclical, economic conditions in Judah during these years, “I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men, livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Now, I know that… as I said, this is a prophet that went to the people of Judah, the Jews who had returned to rebuild the city, and first the temple. But the message of Haggai is to us today, in the Church, and we need to keep this in mind, in our lives. What is brought out here is extremely important when it comes to understanding our work and our mission today. We’re not in the process of building a physical temple like they were, but what are we building today? What is it that we are engaged in in the work of God today? Well, I think you already know the answer. We are in the process of building a spiritual temple today.

Hold your place then turn over to the 1 Corinthian 3, 1 Corinthian 3, in beginning of verse 9, we find a passage written by Paul that tells us exactly what we were doing. We’re not building a physical temple, but we are building a spiritual temple. Beginning in verse 9, Paul writes to the Church, “For you are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” So we’re in the process of putting together God’s building.

Do you know, verse 16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” This is what we are involved with today. And this is where the application of Haggai’s directive, in his message of that day applies to us. And this is why the message of Haggai is so important, why it’s important that we read this, that we recognize that the same problems that plagued the Jews who had returned apply to us today. We are about the building of a spiritual temple, a church, the Body of Christ. Other scriptures that we won’t take the time to turn to show us that it is a spiritual body, a spiritual organism. Christ is the head, but it is a significant spiritual organism that we are in the process of building, that we have given our lives to, that we are devoted to.

When we look around at ourselves in the Church of God today, we can understand that we are a part of, certainly an organization called the “United Church of God, an international association,” but we recognize, in the United Church of God, that we are a part of a larger spiritual body defined in the Bible called the Body of Jesus Christ, called the temple of God here. And individually, we are our bodies may be a temple of God’s spirit, but collectively, we are a part of the spiritual Body of Christ. And we exist as an entity in the United Church of God to serve that spiritual body, as Christ directs it, and our part in that work. And this is really where we are devoted and where we turn our attention to.

And as we consider the state of the Church today, as we might look around at the Church today, we understand, in United, that in our 21-year history, we have weathered a great deal. We have had a number of challenges and experiences and successes. We have weathered a great deal. God has blessed us. We can rightly say that we’re still here. We haven’t gone away. We’re still here. But as we look at ourselves, as we look at what we might call the—my term “Church of God diaspora ” what more can be done? What more can be done?

Well, I think a great deal can more can be done, and all of us should consider our ways, that we, in everything that we do, seek, to build, to encourage, to unite, and nourish the Church, the Church that we are part of and its part within the larger spiritual Body of Christ. And make sure that we do nothing to further divide or inhibit Christ doing what He is going to be doing and is doing with His people. We have gone to a great deal of work to build our processes, restore our doctrines, do the work that we feel of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, of caring for the disciples, and we have a lot in place to do that. God has blessed us tremendously, in spite of the challenges that we have had. There’s every reason to be encouraged, but we want to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels, that we consider the message like this of Haggai and we understand especially, brethren, God’s purpose for the Church.

Ephesians 1 shows that God’s purpose for the Church is to ultimately, through Christ and that spiritual body, He is going to bring all together, “all in all,” is the phrase that He uses in Ephesians 1. It’s a concept that takes a lot of thinking to wrap our mind around—of encouragement, of enlightenment and understanding of what is God is doing, and how He is putting the Church together, how it is being directed and how it is working, which again is why the message that we find here in Haggai is extremely important and valuable to us.

We see a people here who started off with a great deal of zeal, but then opposition came and they allowed themselves to stop. They basically came to a point where they obeyed man rather than God. They let people discourage them. Sometimes, we let events discourage us. Sometimes, we let our mistakes discourage us, corporately, I’m speaking, collectively. We need to come to grips with that. We need to not let anything that we have gone through or might yet go through discourage us and keep us from the work of building and adding to the spiritual Body of Christ that we are a part of and the work that we have been given to do. Without a doubt, Satan stirs up trouble. He will not stop and we have to be very much aware of that.

The people were extremely upset and yet Haggai comes on the scene and he tells them to, “consider your ways!” If we go back to the book of Haggai, and in verse 12, you see what they did, you see what happened. When they heard Haggai’s message, “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the high priest… with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord.” They got their zeal back. They got a right balance of fear of God and less fear of men back. And “Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people saying, ‘I am with you,’” which is the second theme of the book, “I am with you.”

“Consider your ways, but I’m always with you.” These are the dual themes of the book of Haggai, God tells them, “I’m with you.” And so, verse 14, “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel… the spirit of Joshua… the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-forth day of the sixth month, in the second year of King Darius.” You’ve noticed there are very specific datings here in the book of Haggai. And so the 24th day of the 6th month in the 2nd year of Darius, they restarted the work. But you know what happened, as soon as they got this back? Satan did his thing again. He came back on the scene.

And if you go back to Ezra 5, you’ll see what happens. Back in Ezra 5, beginning in verse 1, it talks here about this appearance of Haggai. “The prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo,” so he was contemporary with this other prophet, “prophesied to the Jews… in the name of the God of Israel,” and they began to rebuild the house. In verse 2, just as we read, “…and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.” But then comes another obstacle, in the form of a governor of the region, in verse 3, named Tattenai. “Tattenai the governor of the region beyond the River… came to them and spoke saying, ‘Who has commanded you to build this temple and to finish this wall?’ Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building.” So they answered him, but again, he’s coming, questioning their zeal, and continuing to rebuild this. When you would read back through the details, there were substantial charges made by the people of the land against the Jews, about their character and their loyalty, to get people fearful and to stop.

But this time, they didn’t. Verse 5 says what happened, “The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till the report could go to Darius and then a written answer was returned considering this matter.” They kept on working. They didn’t let the second effort derail what they were doing. And so what happens then is a message goes to Darius in verses 6 and 7 here, a letter is sent all the way into the Persian heartland, to what is now Iran, and they appealed to Darius. And the remainder of the chapter is this correspondence that comes back and forth. But in the meantime, as they wait for this, they don’t stop.

And if you go back to Haggai 2, you will see the continuation of the story. Haggai 2, beginning in verse 2, “Speak now to Zerubbabel… and to Joshua… and to the remnant of the people,” God says, “saying: ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory?’” Evidently, there were some who remembered the first temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. “And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?” In other words, what they were rebuilding, they didn’t have the money.

Now, Cyrus had returned all of the gold, ornaments, vessels, many of the furnishings that had been stolen by Nebuchadnezzar taken to Babylon. He did return that with him, but they didn’t have the large resources that Solomon had at his disposal to build a beautiful building. They were doing the best they could with the materials and the resources that they had. And as it was going up, it was obvious to those who had seen Solomon’s temple that this one was a mere shadow of that temple.

And in verse 4, again, God says, “Be strong, Zerubbabel… and be strong, Joshua… be strong, all you people.” The message of encouragement always goes to the leadership and to the people. “Be strong” says the Lord God of hosts, “‘for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’” God was with them, don’t fear. And they continued the work while they were waiting for a reply. What was going on, back in the story in Ezra, is that the Persians had to research in the archives for the Decree of Cyrus, it went to the national archives, to find out what was been said years earlier by Cyrus, and they found it there. And so Darius sends a note back saying, “Let them continue, let the work continue.” And so, this work is going on. God’s pleased with the response of the people. They have more of the fear of God, than they have the fear of man, at this point in time.

In verse 6, God says something very interesting to them. He says, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘For once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of host.”

Now God makes a far-ranging proclamation about their work and what this temple will be that takes them actually into the time of Christ, because the “Desire of All Nations” refers actually to the Messiah, and He did come into this temple. We know that from the gospel accounts. But it doesn’t end there. He says, all is His, and “the glory of this latter temple will be greater than the former…and in this place I will give peace.” God has not brought complete peace to all the nations of the earth, through Christ, by means of His sacrifice. Certainly, there is the possibility of spiritual peace, and at-one-ment between God and man through that sacrifice.

But that has not been extended to all peoples yet, we know the plan of God. And therefore, we know that the type and antitype of approach to prophecy, and Haggai points to one partial fulfillment and we also know from other scriptures that there’s a larger fulfillment to this. And again, when we understand what Paul writes and tells us in terms of the temple, that we are—what is being built, then we have a bigger and more expansive understanding of what this is and what it means and how it applies to us.

In verses 6 and 7, God says something very interesting, “Once more I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; I will shake all nations.” Historians even point out, at the time, that there was a bit of a disturbance among the nations in the Persian empire. But the Persian empire endured for quite a while longer, before they were overcome by Alexander the Great, and the Greek empire. But if we look at this, we can look at the prophecy of Habakkuk and God’s statement about what He was doing and the work that He was doing then and understand that even the apostle Paul takes a statement out of Habbakuk, the first chapter, and applies it in his first missionary, baptizing tour in Asian Minors. He raises up churches and he applies to what he’s doing there. But the prophecies about God working among the nations have far-reaching meaning into this period of time, called the “time of the end” that tells us something to watch and to understand as well, a period when God would shape the nations.

And so if we are looking at the message to the Church today from Haggai, and an application to us in the spiritual sense, is we are involved with the spiritual building of the temple, then we should understand something in regard to the work of the Church within the world today and the world around us. We look around at our world today, the nations are literally being shaken, and in a way that many… I was reading a commentary this morning, a comment about what’s taking place in Europe, and people trying to predict and understand what’s going to happen as a new president takes place here in America, President Trump, and his policies and how it will impact the world scene.

And this one commentator talking about Europe and Russia, and just the comment that he made was that… something that I’ve been making and seeing as well, that we are at a “hinged moment in history,” this writer was saying, where there are “large events reshaping alliances and the power nations, the power blocks of the world right now.” And believe me, with a new president and the statements that have been made and the consequences that could come from any policies that might be newly enacted by a new administration in Europe and in Asia, any number of different consequences could come about to realign the world that we know today into a completely different matter. If America would withdraw from Europe and from Asia and the Middle East, there would be a much different world to look at.

You want to understand something, folks, about what is taking place in the world and a world that would be if America withdrew behind its own walls, and America was first and America becomes great again, whatever that means. Look at the city of Aleppo, in Syria. It has just recently fallen. And the scores, and the thousands of people that had been brutally killed, because of nations in Syria, Iran, Russia coming into a vacuum, where American influence has pulled back over a period of years, and the suffering. You don’t have to look any further within the city of Aleppo in Syria today to see what happens when America withdraws from the world.

Now look, the world is a pretty bad neighborhood. There’s a lot of bad people around the corners, of the neighborhoods of this world. That’s the world we live in, and we need to understand that. And as the blessings of Jacob begin to be withdrawn, relatively speaking, in our world today, we’re going to see literally the nation shaken and realigned as a result of that. God’s in charge of history. This is a key message out of the book of Haggai. God says, “I will shake the nations.” God is ultimately behind whatever shifting takes place to the furtherance of His spiritual purpose and plan, as prophecy works itself out. And we have to understand that. And that should motivate us, that should give us an urgency and the zeal.

I do believe that America has been given a reprieve with the recent results of the recent elections. It’s my personal conviction that there’s a breathing space. And I take that as opportunity for the Church to do its work even greater and have a greater urgency and zeal of preparing a people and preaching the gospel. But I think God has more people that He wants to call into the Body of Christ. I think God has more people that He wants to us disciple and that for His work to accomplish. And that gives us something to consider; to consider our ways and the work that we are called to do and how we go about that, with the means and the resources that we have. All of this is extremely important at this time because of what we are reading here and what is taking place.

Back in the book of Ezra, I won’t go back there, but in Chapter 6 of Ezra, the work continues. Darius issues an order saying, “Let them alone.” He tells Tattenai, the governor, “Let them continue,” and so they continue. Now, meanwhile back in Judah, back in Jerusalem, when we come down to Haggai 2 and beginning in verse 10, we see something else that God says through the prophet to the people that tell us in terms of our own spiritual welfare today. Let’s read beginning in verse 10. “On the twenty-forth of the ninth month, in the second month of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Haggai the prophet, saying…” These are like many sermonettes that the prophet continues to make to the people. You can almost imagine him getting a crowd around him in the area of the temple. And what we have are summaries of messages that he gives to them, gathered around, to keep them motivated, to keep them alert, and just as we do today, with our messages, with our sermons, our fellowship, and our work.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, “If anyone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, ‘No.’ And Haggai said, ‘If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it become unclean?’ And the priests answered, ‘It shall be unclean.’ And Haggai answered, ‘So is this people.’” God is talking about a holy people, being holy, righteous living. “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me… and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. And now, carefully consider your ways…” he says.

We can still let down, the pressure was off the people here. They finally had a ruling from on high that they could continue with the work. And you know when the pressure goes off, we can let down. And remember what God is saying to the people, “Don’t be unclean. Don’t let the world come back in. Be holy. Be a righteous people.” Christ is in the process today of preparing the bride that we find in Revelation 19:7 Revelation 19:7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
American King James Version×
. He is going to marry at His coming. And it says, at that point, that “the bride has made herself ready.” That work is going on right now. It is a reality that scriptures shows us the bride is being prepared. The only question for you and I, are we a part of that process? Are we a part of the bride? The Church? The Body of Christ that is being prepared for that time of marriage to the Lamb that Revelation 19 talks about? Are we a righteous people?

“Be holy, be righteous,” is what God says. Be about our Father’s business. The Church of God has a work. It has a work to do, and it is a work. It is a work that God is doing and perfecting and building and putting together. We are working together to accomplish that as we read back in 1 Corinthians 9, and we are a work, a spiritual work, of a building being fitly framed together. I brought out Sabbath, how, in the original temple that Solomon built, all of the stone was cut offsite. 1 Kings tell us that there was not an iron tool heard on the site. In other words, it was fashioned offsite, prefabricated as we say today, brought onsite, and assembled.

And I take that to be a lesson that as God builds His spiritual temple today, and has been through the ages and through the years, He is preparing individual parts from different peoples, from different races, and nations and ethnicities at different times. And when the timing is right, as Ephesians 1 says, “He is going to bring it all together and bring all together, all in all, and it will fit.” Every part has been designed, fabricated, shaped, finished off, wherever and whenever. And it could be you and it can be me, and it can be someone like my mother or the saints who have already died, sealed, until the time of the resurrection, in our time that we know of, and in times that have gone before us. As God has been building His Church, from the time that He began to build it, as we read in scripture and going throughout the whole story of God’s purpose with mankind. And how He is doing that today is the same as He’s always been doing it.

We have our part. I think that we are being shaped through our experiences in the United Church of God today, to fit into the Body of Jesus Christ in God’s way and God’s time, and we should consider our ways. And we should not let anyone stop us. We should not let anything stop us from the zeal of caring for the disciples, building layer by layer, our part of the Church. Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×
tells us that “each part has something to contribute.” Each has a share in the work of the Body. Each has a role in the building of the temple of God.

And that’s what is being brought out here through the prophet Haggai. In Chapter 2, and let’s look at verse 15 here of Haggai, he says, “carefully consider from this day forward: from before the stone was laid upon in the temple of the Lord—since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty, but there was twenty. I struck you with blight and mildew and hail… and yet you didn’t return to Me.” He was reminding them of the years they didn’t work and how futile their efforts were.

Again in verse 18, “Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-forth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid—consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day, I will bless you.” The commentators, it’s the Soncino Commentary that brings out, I think, an accurate understanding of what verses 15-19 are saying. That “from this day” is not from the day the temple foundation was first laid back in 536, but it is from this day when they had restarted their work. And they stayed with it to accomplish it and to finish the work. That is what is being referred to this passage that “from this day forward, I will bless you.”

And what happened was they completed the work. They completed the work of rebuilding the temple. Ezra 6:14 Ezra 6:14And the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
American King James Version×
tells us when it was done. In verse 14 of Ezra 6, “The elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah… And they built and they finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel… and the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” They finished the work and God blessed them.

Here’s what I take from that, for us to apply today, that no matter the past, and any of indecision or any time of problem or any time when we may have let down or where the work has lagged because of the condition of the Church, God draws a line across that. And He says, “From this day forward, I will bless you.” In other words, when we consider in our ways, at any point in time and through repentance and a renewal, yes, even a revival of zeal and urgency to be about our Father’s business and the work of the Church, of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, of caring for the people, the disciples that are called, God blesses that. And the past is past, it’s forgiven. That’s when God begins to work with his people and to get the job done. The temple will be completed. The temple was completed in the time of Haggai and the Jews here. The spiritual temple will be completed. God will see that done. It is going to happen. No man, no government, no human agency, no spiritual power, we are told, is going to prevail against the Church of God.

When Christ said to Peter and to the church, in Matthew 16, “I will build my church and the gates of hell, the grave, will not prevail against it.” That was offensive, forward leaning posture that He was ordaining for the Church, not a defensive posture. Not just hold on and take care of what we’ve got. Let’s hold on and wait for the coming, the second coming. Let’s hunker down and let’s hoard our little bit of, you know, our 5 talents or our 10 talents, and bury them in the backyard without any inquiries. That’s not what he was saying His church will be. The gates will not prevail against… In other words, the Church will prevail over the powers of darkness, Satan, because God is with us. And that will happen and we have to and must adopt that very positive approach.

Now Haggai’s job is finished. He fades from the story. In verse 20, “again the word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty-forth day of the month, saying, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah.’” Keep in mind, if you’ll compare this on verse 10, this is only the same day, the 24th day of the 9th month. It’s a little more than two months beyond what we read in chapter 2 verse 1, which incidentally, the 7th day, the 21st day of the 7th month, is the 7th day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and I didn’t take the time to comment on a possible meaning out of that for the Church. I would leave that for another time.

But a little more two months later, twice on the same day, God sends a message to the prophet. So Haggai had to prepare two messages, kind of a double Sabbath here, and work a little bit of overtime. He came and he spoke with Zerubbabel, according to God’s word, verse 21 saying, “’I will shake heaven and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride on them; the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, My servant, the son of Shealtiel, and will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you.’”

You know, these two characters of Joshua and Zerubbabel are a type of two other figures that you know about prophecy. The two witnesses, they’re a type of two witnesses. They appear again in the prophecy of Zechariah, we’ll come back to them. But they’re a type of the two witnesses. They are, He says of Zerubbabel, “You’re My servant, you are My signet ring, I’ve chosen you. They are My two witnesses,” God says in revelation. When He talks about them, they’re His. And He uses them for His purposes.

The message of Haggai is a message for the Church today and for all of us. To consider our ways, that from this day, from today, from whatever point you and I, individually, in a sense, get ourselves completely back on fully engaged with the work of God. And it maybe even bring our lives with God’s grace and help to a higher level of holiness, righteousness, commitment to a way of life. And we finally put away the childish things. We finally put away that which has distracted and kept us from spiritual growth and engagement, in the work, the spiritual work of God that the Church is doing, and we become, what someone once said is, “all in.” All in. And we break through to another level of spiritual engagement and commitment to God, to Jesus Christ, and to the work of the Church. Whenever we make that point, from that day, God say, “I will bless you.”

Is there something for any of us to consider about our view of God, about our view of the Church, or about the view of the work that we need finally get aligned with God’s eternal purposes, where we really, truly then come to understand what the purpose of the Church is? And we see it, in the spiritual development of God’s plan and God’s purpose, and the spiritual building of a temple, a bride, a spiritual body in which God is going to bring all things together, and we see it more than just an organization, as important as an organization is. We see it more than just a nice place of friendly people, or a place that we’re just used to because it’s what we were raised in, and it’s all we’ve known, and it’s comfortable and we like the people, and they have good potlucks.

In other words, it’s more than a social gathering. We see it for what God sees it to be—the spiritual Body of Christ being put together for a greater spiritual purpose. And that then energizes us beyond any other thing we can do, any other improvement plan, gimmick, or pep talk we can give ourselves. Consider from this a promise of a blessing, it’s a revival that has a promise of a blessing. God says, “I will be with you,” and He will be with us if we yield ourselves completely to Him. God can give us the courage today to complete the work that He is doing in our lives and as a part of a collective Body today.

This message of Haggai is a very, very motivating one when you put it together with the history, and you understand, again, the need for us to all work together to promote unity, not division, to abhor division, to learn the lessons of divisions, and to not want to do anything at all in our time and place, to see the Church further divided, further hindered from its work or its mission. If we can consider the message from God through Haggai to us, consider our ways and approach that with courage and without fear, and a proper fear of God, God then can give us the courage to take our commitment to a higher level than we ever had before, and thereby fulfill the message of Haggai for us today.

Well, that will conclude the Bible study tonight. Our next Bible study will be in two weeks, and we should have Gary Petty here to do that Bible study. And I’m not sure what he’ll be doing, but it’ll be a good one, whatever it is. So it’ll be a continuation of the minor prophets. So be careful going home tonight, and good night to all of you.

Comments

  • Jeff Alsey
    Self examination or an assessment while building anything is extremely important, how much more so when it comes to our own spirituality and for the collective good. God used Haggai to encourage the people's efforts just like He is using the UCG today for the building of and shaping of each precious stone that makes up His spiritual temple. Thank you for taking the time Wednesday evening to share this message with us.
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