In 586 BC the Babylonians took Jerusalem, destroying the temple, and took most of the Jews into exile. About 50 years later Cyrus, king of Persia, took Babylon, and brought the Babylonian Empire to an end.
The next year (538 BC) he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. All of this was by the sovereign hand of God fulfilling the prophecies of Jeremiah. Among the returning exiles were the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Ezra 5:1-2 sums up what these two prophets accomplished:
1Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. 2Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
So Haggai and Zechariah were sent by God to help in the rebuilding of the temple. This work begun, according to Haggai 1:15, on the 24th day of the sixth month of the second year of the reign of Darius, which in our dating is September 21, 520 BC. About 18 years went by between the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple. This delay in the work is what brings the message of Haggai.
The way Haggai preaches and encourages his countrymen to build the temple has a powerful impact on our efforts to build the Church today. I want to focus mainly on the message Haggai delivers in 2:1–9.
The Call to Remember
1on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2“Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?
According to verse 1, the message comes on the 21st day of the seventh month, a little less than a month after the people had begun to rebuild. It seems the work has either slowed or come to a complete stop because Haggai’s message is that they “be strong and do the work” (v. 4). Verse 3 shows why the people have become weak and discouraged in their work.
Just about 6 weeks ago my wife and I packed up our family for the 4th time in 4 years to move to San Jose to rebuild the temple of God in that part of the Bay area. Our South Region (San Jose) had seen some of the greatest movement of leaders in and out over the past few years and has been hit hard by sin, discouragement and the failure to raise up leaders who would take on the work. While it has produced the most Evangelists out of the San Francisco Church, it has not consistently been fruitful; due to the constant turnover of leadership. We went down with our friends the Chavez family. In the past 6 weeks, we have studied with over 6 people, which for a married couple, with 2 kids, 2 dogs and jobs that require over 50 hours of work, not to mention Armor Bearer/Shield Maiden duties and ICCM studies is a stretch of our time and resources to say the least! We have seen many people make decisions to seek God with all their hearts, to make the Word of God their standard, and even to make Jesus Lord of their lives, only to fall victim to the world and the schemes of Satan in lowering the standard of discipleship. We are committed to building a sold-out base here in San Jose but the work is getting tiring and the people want to see a miracle! Personally, it’s been hard to fight off discouragement. This is the place that the people that Haggai was leading were dealing with. A lot of work and not much to show for it. Especially given what many of them had seen in the past.
Haggai asks, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? The workers are discouraged because the memory is still alive of how glorious the temple used to be. Less than 70 years before it stood in the very spot they are working, the magnificent achievement of Solomon, for centuries the center of holy worship. But instead of inspiring the people, this memory made the people look at what they were building and feel hopeless. How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? What’s the use, they say, “we can’t match the glory of Solomon’s temple. We’re wasting our time. Nothing beautiful or worthwhile will ever come of it. We got along without it in Babylon; we can do without it here. Better to have the beauty of a great memory than an imitation.” So, their hands were slack in their work.
Does that sound like anything you’ve experienced? I think anybody who has ever began a work for the Lord has felt this kind of discouragement: the sense that you work and work and the product seems so small. You pour yourself into something noble week after week and month after month and the fruit is so minimal. Then you look back in history or at another church or ministry and see the awesome achievement of others, and your temple seems so trivial. You get discouraged and are tempted to quit and put away your desires and quit on your dreams, to put your feet up on the couch and Netflix ‘n chill. Who wants to devote their life to a second-rate temple?
The Sold-Out Movement is a prime target for discouragements like these. The ICOC was the Solomon’s temple of 21st century. There once was a glory here that across the word is still thought of by many. Once the most influential church in the world; once she gave millions of dollars to missions; hundreds of people used to be in staff meetings; once the spawning ground of great spiritual leadership. Some of us remember the glory days of the ICOC and grow tired and discouraged over our small ministry. Most of you have known the discouragement of feeling that what you are doing for Christ is of so little significance that you may as well quit.
The Command to Work
4But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, 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.
If that’s you, this message from Haggai is made for your heart! God confronts the discouragement of the people with a heartening command in verse 4: But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. God clearly does not agree with their assessment of the situation. If they think their work on the temple is of such little significance that they can quit, they are wrong, for God says, “Be strong, . . . work!”
God says, “Who cares!” I’m not living in the past, I’m not living for yesterday. Neither should you. You see, God is not a God of the past (although he does forgive our past), he is a God of the present and the future. God is a God who is constantly calling us forward to the new thing, the better thing, more glory, to who we will be, not who we were, or even who we are! But we as fragile humans love to live in the past.
How many of my remnant brothers and sisters have lost the dream to go back into the full-time ministry, to go on a foreign mission planting, to be a great right-hand couple to some passionate young ministers who wants to do something great for Gods Kingdom? Far too many of us!
My friend Fernando has caught the bug of ministry again, the virus of leadership. He, like many remnant disciples saw God do great things in the mighty Los Angeles ICOC back in the 90’s and 2000’s and when everything crumbled to the ground, he lost hope, lost his spiritual life. It wasn’t long before weak convictions and disheartening longings took their toll on his family and spiritual life. This is when God led him to San Francisco and by a series of God created events, brought him back to the Kingdom. Soon after, God began to breathe life back into his spiritual lungs and the dream to go into the ministry came back. Now, he is living this dream out as the new region leader of the San Jose region, along with his wife Jackie! Arielle and I get to learn, live and lead by their side. What a glorious plan God has for all of us, but we must look to the future, we must look to what God wants to do now, not what he has done in the past! Therefore, Haggai calls the people to be strong, and do the work!
The Covenant to Believe
Haggai gives two reasons why they should be strong and work. And both are important for us also.
5‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’6“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. 7I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
The text continues in verses 4 and 5: ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ God’s first argument why they should “be strong,” “work,” and “Do not fear” is that he is with them. For most of us the value of a job increases with the importance of the people who are doing it. How could we ever think that our work is small when God says he is with us, doing the work with us! When God is working at your side, nothing is small.
But the promise is not only that he will be at your side; he will also be in your heart encouraging us, spurring us on, stirring us to work harder! Look back at the end of Haggai 1:13-14. “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God,” God not only works with us, but he moves in us to stir up our spirit and gives us a heart to do the work. He doesn’t want our hard service while we grind our teeth in his work; he wants us to offer up our service in joyful work. And so, he promises to be with us and stir us up to love the work.
But not only that. When he refers in verse 5 to the promise or covenant made at the Exodus, he shows that his presence is the same powerful presence that divided the Red Sea. Exodus 19:4 says, ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. So, when he promises to be with the people in their work, he means: I will use all my power like I did in the Exodus to help, strengthen, and protect you. Therefore, be strong, work, do not fear.
But there is one other encouraging thing about this promise. For those Jews whose minds were overly focused on the glory of Solomon’s temple, this promise may have had a very special impact. Just before David’s death he encouraged his son, Solomon, with words very similar to Haggai 2:4-5: “David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20). The implication of this similarity is that the same God who worked with Solomon to build his great temple is also working with you now. Therefore, be strong, work, do not fear.
What I find super interesting in verse 6 is that God, through Haggai tells the people to be strong and work, then tells them that “in a little while,” he will shake the nations, he will bring the desired of all nations. In a little while? What’s up with that. Shouldn’t we see instant success when we work? Nope, God says, do the work and in a little while, in my own time, I’ll shake the nations. I’ll bring people back to my temple when the time is right, but your responsibility is to work.
We work, he brings the people. Jesus said that he will build his church. Paul told the Corinthians that he planted, Apollos watered, and that God made the growth. It’s not our job to worry about things that are outside of our control when it comes growth. It’s our job to focus on the process; what we have been commanded to do. We must do the work of building the temple. Then, in God’s time we will see the growth, we will see the fruit, we will see the desired of all nations steaming to the Kingdom.
This is a powerful promise but its sealed with another promise.
9‘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.”
Not only will God shake the nations. Not only will God bring the desired of all nations to his temple, but he will also, in doing this, and along with our work, make this temple, this kingdom, as small and pitiful as it seems now, even more glorious than the former temple.
For those of us who were a part of the ICOC, God’s promise is to make the Sold-Out Discipling Movement, the ICC even more glorious than the ICOC. Honestly, if you look through the eyes of God, you can begin to see it. So, be strong, do not fear, and do the work!