Becoming A Church That Honours God
Haggai 1:12 - 2:9
Rev. Bryn MacPhail

God sent the prophet Haggai to preach to the remnant of Israel--to urge them to get on with the work of rebuilding God's temple. The people had been previously unmotivated to build the temple since, for the last 15 years, they experienced great opposition when trying to rebuild it. The people eventually began to prioritize other things above rebuilding the temple--they began to prioritize, in particular, looking after their own homes.

Haggai, like most prophets, did not mince his words--he did not hold a degree in domestic diplomacy. Haggai's rebuke was piercing: "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house lies desolate "(1:4).

Haggai's challenge to the people was bold and full of conviction. The pressing question was; how would the people respond to Haggai's challenge?

One of the great discouragements of the Christian ministry is when a minister preaches from the Bible with as much power and conviction as he possesses only to be greeted with yawns and looks of indifference by his parishioners. Discouraged because no matter how clear and forceful the preaching is, many people revert back to what they were doing all along.

Yet, from time to time, the Word of God strikes home, and a life is genuinely changed. On the largest of scales, this is what happened in response to Haggai's preaching.

In modern terms, Haggai essentially told the people, "It's time for you to stop thinking about yourselves. It's time to get up off your couch and get on with the work of the Lord". The amazing thing is that the people did what Haggai told them to do .

After hearing Haggai's message, the text says that, "Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, 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 "(1:12).

Haggai told the people to do something and they did it. This is a preacher's dream! Keep in mind how many people we are talking about here. It says that "all the remnant of the people " obeyed the words of Haggai. Haggai preached a message to 50,000 people and 50,000 people did what he asked of them.

These people did not blindly follow Haggai either--as if he was simply some charismatic leader. The text says that the people not only responded to "the words of Haggai ", but they also "obeyed the voice of the Lord " and they "showed reverence for the Lord "(1:12). In short, you could say that when the people heard Haggai's message, they responded by honouring the Lord .

So the first thing that happens is Haggai preaches the Word of the Lord . In response to this preaching, the second thing that happens in this text is that the people begin to honour God . And finally, in response to the people's decision to honour God, the third thing that happens in this text is that God sends a message back to the people: "I am with you "(1:13).

For the people of Israel, assurance of God's presence was the pinnacle of encouragement. It's like the five year-old whose parent walks with them to their first day of school. Suddenly, school doesn't seem so scary. It's like us, as adults, when we go to an important doctor's appointment accompanied by our spouse. Suddenly, our fears our eased by the comfort that we are loved. In the same way, when the people in Haggai's day were assured that the Lord was with them, the obstacles to building the temple became small.

"Stirred up " by the Lord, the people "worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king "(1:14, 15).

Haggai issued a challenge and the people met that challenge. This is important to note as this sermon is on the heels of 6 sermons on our 7 stated "goals". The goals, of course, represent our challenge as a church. I wonder how many of you would be able to name the 7 goals of this church.

We have been challenged, first of all, to worship God --not only Sunday, but everyday. We have been challenged to equip one another to do ministry in this church. We have been challenged to nurture youth and help them develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have been challenged to serve others --that is, we are to discern the needs of others and attempt to meet those needs. We have been challenged to evangelize the unchurched--by sharing our faith with others, we expect our church to grow . And finally, we have been challenged to improve our church facilities --we are to take the necessary steps to allow our church building be a witness to our community and to be a reflection of our beautiful, majestic God.

The challenge has been issued to us. We have two options: we can spend our time listing all of our obstacles in meeting this challenge or we boldly accept the challenge, trusting in the strength and mercy of God.

What is clear in this text in Haggai is that the people of Israel honoured God by accepting the challenge of rebuilding the temple. The question is, "Are we going to honour God by accepting the challenge to fulfill our 7 stated goals?".

Allow me to provide you with some motivation to accept this challenge. When the people of Haggai's day accepted the challenge to obey God, God promised them three things. If we choose to honour God, these are the three things we can expect to receive: 1) God's presence , 2) God's provision , and 3) God's peace .

Before the people began the work on the temple God assured them of His presence, "I am with you ", He declared. God's promise of His presence was enough motivation to get the people started on rebuilding the temple.

It seems, however, that at some point, the people began to get discouraged. They began to wonder how they could build a temple as beautiful as the previous one. This discouragement is recognized by God who, through the prophet Haggai, asks a rhetorical question: "Does (this temple) not seem to you like nothing in comparison (with the former temple)? ".

The people wanted immediate results. They had agreed to meet the challenge, but after experiencing initial results that they were less than pleased with, they began to get discouraged.

This is important to note because many churches that strive to honour God will experience initial disappointment. We may experience disappointment if we invest time and money into youth ministry and find ourselves still lacking teenagers. We may experience disappointment if we go to great lengths to evangelize the "unchurched" only to have no one join our church.

But notice how God responds to this discouragement. God doesn't say to the people of Israel, "Well thanks for trying". God doesn't console them by saying, "You did your best". No, God continues to motivate the people to meet the challenge of rebuilding the temple: "take courage Zerubbabel . . . take courage Joshua . . . and all you people of the land take courage "(v.4).

Not only does God tell the people to "take courage ", but He also orders them back to work(v.4). Why should these people "take courage "? Why should they go back to work? The Lord repeats His promise--"(go back to) work; for I am with You . . . My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear? "(v.4, 5). Like the people of Haggai's day, we must learn to approach our challenges courageously knowing that the "Spirit " of the Lord is in our "midst ".

Perhaps we are like the people of Haggai's day who need a lot of reassurance: "That's terrific that the Lord is present", we say, "but how is that going to get the job done for us?".

Notice how God in His grace meets this need of reassurance. On at least two occasions, the Lord promised the people of Israel His presence, but they still weren't convinced that was enough to get the job done. So in addition to promising the people His presence , God also promises the people His provision .

The people must have been wondering where they would get all the things necessary to make the temple beautiful again. How could God's presence solve the problem of a lack of resources? "Thus says the Lord of hosts . . . I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory "(v.7) Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord reminds the people that "the silver is (His), and the gold is (His) "(v.8). In short, the Lord will provide.

This is truly amazing. The Lord, throughout Scripture, commands us to do many things--He issues us many challenges. But here in Haggai, we learn what we learn elsewhere in Scripture, that when the Lord asks you to do something, He helps you do it. I wonder how many churches have failed in ministry by simply neglecting to call on God for help. As the Psalmist has said, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it "(Ps. 127:1).

So the Lord promises us His presence, He promises us His provision, and there is one more thing that He promises us--the Lord promises us His peace .

After describing how He would provide for the people of Israel, the Lord concludes His encouragement by stating that "in this place I shall give peace "(v.9). Now anyone who has studied the history of Jerusalem can tell you it is anything but a "city of peace". The "peace " promised here to the people is something far more profound than peace from physical fighting--this is a reference to the work Christ would do between God and man.

The promise of "peace " qualifies the promise of presence. Because the Lord's presence may not be a particularly good thing if you are not at peace with Him. Think of those the Lord was referring to when He said, "I will shake all the nations "--those countries experienced God's presence in a powerful way, but they did not experience God's peace.

God's promises to the people of Haggai's day are the same promises given to us today. The challenge is before us--our 7 goals outline all of the hard work ahead of us. The question is, "Are we committed to meet this challenge?".

If we are, I'd like to encourage you by reminding you that while we work, we can count on God's presence, God's provision, and God's peace--and may that motivate you to serve Him more faithfully. Amen.