Building God’s Temple.
Getting our priorities right!
Background to Haggai is essential if we are ever going to understand his message. Why did God call Haggai to prophesy at this particular point in History? We never live in a vacuum but we are always affected by the political, economic and social influences of our time. We are also influenced by our history – What happened then has an effect on the NOW. So it was with the people of Haggai’s day.
Almost 70 years prior to Haggai’s time, the people living in Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Israel were invaded by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. [586 BC] All except the poorest were taken into exile and the city, including the Temple, was destroyed. It is during this time that we have the stories of Daniel and Esther, among others.
Having the Temple destroyed was a tremendous blow to the Jews. They had thought the God would never allow the Temple to be destroyed. Being exiled was bad enough but the destruction of the Temple was salt in the wound.
They were disillusioned and yearned for Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked for songs. our tormentors demanded songs of joy. How can we sing songs of joy while in a foreign land. [Psalm 137v1-4]
King Nebuchadnezzar eventually died and Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered Babylon including the Jewish exiles. He decreed, as Jeremiah had prophesied, that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. [Ezra 1v1-2].
Under the leadership of Zerubabbel and Jeshua [Joshua in Haggai – the same person] the returned exiles, 42,360 of them, begin building the Temple. First they built the altar and then begin rebuilding the Temple itself.
THE TEMPLE – THEN AND NOW.
Why is it so important that the Temple be rebuilt at this point in Jewish History.
When the Israelites initially entered the Promised Land they didn’t have a temple but the centre of worship was the tabernacle [a tent]. It was here that the glory of God descended like a cloud and filled the inner most part – the Most Holy Place. Years later God allowed Solomon to build a Temple. After Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, God had promised the exiled Jews that it would be rebuilt. [Ezek.37v26-27].
Zerubabbel’s Temple, which it what Haggai’s prophecy is all about, stood for 500 years. It was enlarged by Herod the Great just before the birth of Christ. But in 70 AD it was raized to the ground by the Romans and has never been rebuilt.
Why has the Temple never been rebuilt?
The Dome of the Rock, a Muslim Shrine, has stood there since the end of the 7th century. But there is a far more important reason why the Temple has not been rebuilt.
For centuries the Holy of Holies, which represented the Glory and Presence of God, was hidden by a curtain and only the High priest was allowed to enter there, once a year, on the Day of Atonement. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain was ripped from top to bottom. A sign from heaven that ordinary people may have direct access to God through Christ without going through an earthly priest. There is a new and living way to God. Jesus said “I am the way”
WHERE IS THE TEMPLE NOW?
Jesus spoke to the Jews in John 2v19-21
“Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” The Jews replied,”It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’
But the Temple he had spoken of was his body.
Jesus spoke of his body as the temple but also the called people of God [the church] is the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to Peter in 1 Peter 2v4-6;
“As you come to him the living stone – … – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”
In 1 Co.6v9 Paul tells us the our bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit – why? – because Christ lives in us as individuals. But we can not live in isolation – we are to be bonded together as a spiritual temple. [Eph.2v21-22]
“In Him [Christ] the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord.
And in Him you to are being built together
to become a dwelling by which God lives by His Spirit.”
Now there is no need for a physical building as a temple. We, the body of Christ, are the temple in which God dwells. But this is only possible since the death of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In the days of the OT the temple signified the presence of God. As Joyce Baldwin points out the rebuilding to the temple was in some way a condition upon which the coming of the Messiah depended. Malachi proclaimed that the Lord would suddenly come to his temple [Mal.3v1].
God’s plan was that the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt and it was to that task that the returned exiles were called.
READ Ezra [summarise ch.3 ] Ezra 4:1-5 & 24
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. ………….
24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (NIV)
- Off to a good start.
The returned Exiles had started well. They had built an altar, given money and materials, and the work of rebuilding the temple had begun. But then opposition came from those who had remained in the land during the exile. They had intermarried and their religion had become corrupted consequently Zerubabbel and Jeshua had refused their help. The angry locals then began to actively oppose the rebuilding.
There will always be opposition to the work of God. Satan is never happy when God’s people are doing God’s work and he will use every devious means to disillusion, discourage and hinder. We shouldn’t be surprised when we run into opposition.
The Jews had become discouraged and disillusioned and the work stopped. For about 15 years.
We know little about Haggai. But God’s Word came through him.
The First day of the month [new moon] was a Holy Day and the people would be enjoying a festive occasion.
This is what the Lord Almighty says, “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built'” [v2]
Notice “These People” and not My People.
They do not deserve to be called God’s people because they are living in disobedience to God’s word. They knew the reason why God had brought them to Jerusalem – it was to rebuild the temple – but they choose their own way.
- When God’s work is inconvenient.
The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built [v2]
ILLUST: Consider Harry. A gifted young man who many in the Church recognise as one who has great potential in God’s work. He is intelligent, pleasant and very capable. He knows God wants him to get involved in ministry / service etc…. First he goes to university/college –goes to church but doesn’t get too involved – “It’s a time to enjoy life for myself for a while before I settle down!”. After that he feels that he needs to work long hard hours to secure a good career. In the meanwhile he get married. His wife is also a Christian. The children come along and the years fly by. The house needs working on, the children need educating, holidays are important. Tomorrow we will really be committed to the work of God’s kingdom!!!
Tomorrow never comes. God wants us to serve Him today NOT tomorrow. The Jews were too busy with their own houses and their own lives to worry about the temple. It became convenient to put it off until tomorrow.
ILLUST: Portugal – residence paper – come back tomorrow “Amanyana!!”[sp?] after 11 month still no paper at we left the country.
— Indifference sets in!!
The people had become lethargic. They faced opposition and their enthusiasm waned and they gave up. They had lost their vision and become weary in well doing.
Unlike Nehemiah who served the Lord with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other when he faced opposition. They became discouraged, disillusioned and stopped work.
Let’s take a break!! 15 years!! [need times of rest / sabbatical etc..]
Are we like this when it comes to the work of God? Prayer, for example / hospitality / practical helps –out-there! Not buried in a Church building!!? Do we give up praying when answers seem to be slow in coming??
Or are we just too busy to do God’s work?
- Too busy for God’s work.
They were busy decorating their own homes. They had time for that.
“Is it time for you yourselves to be living in panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin” [v3]
Times were hard. There was an economic recession. Inflation was going through the roof. The harvest was small. And the wages didn’t seem to go very far. [vv5-6]
God was not opposed to them having their own homes but they had moved from the essential to the extravagant. And it was God’s work that suffered as a result.
But not only was God’s work suffering; they were suffering too. It is not that they were lazy. They had worked hard on their farms and they had expectations of a good harvest. But it hadn’t happened. They were a discontented people and the reason was because of their own selfish desires.
In our materialistic society we are in danger of falling into the same trap. There is so much that we have to have. We spend our time and money getting it and then we have to spend our time and money maintaining it.
ILLUST: Family member. Large House and garden. swimming pool and tennis court. Every weekend for 25 years maintaining it.
Consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 6v31-33
Do no worry saying, “What shall we eat?”
or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”
For the pagans run after all these things,
and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first the kingdom of God and
all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own”
Jesus is not saying that the things of this life are unimportant BUT he is saying that they must be viewed from the correct perspective!
- No obedience to God; no blessing from God.
The reason God withheld his blessing from the Jews is given in v.9. “Because of my house which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.’
God withheld the dew and rain and drought destroyed the crops. The dew obeyed but his people did not.
God has called us to be active in Kingdom business.
In vv5&7 God urges the Jews to “Give careful thought to your ways…” Not all trouble and hardship is as a result of disobedience. But when things are going badly we need to consider our ways before God. “Why is this happening to me Lord?” “What are you trying to teach me?” “Help me to listen to what you are saying and to put it into practice.”
We are all very good at blaming – each other – the govt., the Borough Council, the Church and even God. Let each of us evaluate our own lives.
The temptation we face as individuals and as a Church is that we can say. “When I have enough time” or “When I have enough money” then I will give to God. NO! NO!
God holds us accountable as to what we do with our money, our possessions and our time whether we have much or little – AND God never asks for what we don’t have. Illus. Farmer .. £100 / 1000? Yes! 10 pigs? But I’ve got 10 pigs!!!
- Obedience to God brings blessing from God. [V12-15]
“…the people obeyed the voice of the Lord…” [v12]
Repentance is only true repentance when it leads to obedience. God stirred the people into action through the message of Haggai. At the point where their intention is clear that they are going to obey and resume the building, God gives them a promise.
“I am with you”, declares the Lord. [v13]
This same God who had been with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and King David – now pledges himself to this motley band of returned exiles. “I AM WITH YOU”.
Didn’t Jesus give us the same promise in Matt.28v19-20.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you to the very end of the age.
God was angry with his people because instead of being the worshipping, witnessing community they were meant to be – they were more concerned about their own luxuries and selfish interests / ambitions.
His promise is that when they get their priorities right the rest of life falls into place — and God’s blessings follow! NOT necessarily material prosperity BUT spiritual life / fulfilment.
Building God’s Temple.
Getting our priorities right!
- Jews exiled in Babylon
· Return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple
(The Temple – then and now)
- Off to a good start …
… but it doesn’t last.
- enter Haggai.
- When God’s work is inconvenient [v.2]
…indifference/ apathy sets in.
- Too busy for God’s work [v.3]
- No obedience to God
– No blessing from God. [v.4-11]
- Obedience to God
– brings blessing from God. [v.12-15]
…people obey – God says “I am with you.”