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Building God a House

Haggai 1:3-8

3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,

4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?

5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.

6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.

7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.

8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.

Introduction

      I have been amazed as I’ve studied the Bible at how much God talks about buildings. There are several entire books in the Bible that are devoted to the subject of building. Other books have large segments of their material devoted to the subject of building. After studying these Bible passages, I’m left impressed with the fact that God must be concerned to some measure about buildings—especially about his house.

      This morning in our time together we are going to look at one of those books that has to do with the subject of building the house of God. It is the book of Haggai found near the end of the Old Testament. The background of this book is rather interesting. In the year 587 BC, Babylonia, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the land of Judah, and destroyed the land, including the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. He left all of the land desolate, the city devastated, and the Temple destroyed. The people of Israel—at least those who were healthy, intelligent, and capable—were carried away into captivity in Babylon. 

      Fifty years later Babylon was conquered by Persia, and Cyrus the king had a very benevolent attitude toward people who were in captivity. He passed the decree that those captives living in exile in Babylon could return to their homeland in Israel and Judah and rebuild the land if they desired. Fifty thousand of them decided to return. They returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who was the governor of Judah, and Joshua, who was the high priest. These two men—a civil leader and a religious leader—brought the 50,000 people back from captivity to the land of Judah. When they got back, they found the land worse than they had left it. It was still desolated, the city was in ruins, and the Temple of God was destroyed. They knew that their first responsibility was to rebuild the house of God and to re-establish the worship of God.

      The Temple had always been the focal point of the life of the nation. It represented the very presence and power of God among them. Everything revolved around the house of God. They knew that the first thing they had to do was to rebuild the house of God and re-establish the worship of God, so when they returned they immediately started to work on this project. They worked for a year and by the end of that time they had laid the foundation for a new Temple. But they were met with opposition. People had moved into the land in that long period of time when the Israelites were in exile, and these new people were not sympathetic to the rebuilding of the house of God or the walls of the city of Jerusalem. They were very antagonistic and even hostile toward the rebuilding of the house of God. All of this joined together with some economic problems caused the Israelites to abandon the project of rebuilding the house of God. For 15 long years they did nothing. The foundation was there, but not one day’s work was put in on building the house of God. 

      Then God raised up two prophets—Zechariah and Haggai—and gave them the mission of stirring the people up to get back in the business of rebuilding the house of God. It was their mission to get the people to work again. The book of Haggai has to do with Haggai’s messages and his efforts to stir the people up to build the house of God again. 

      We do not know much about this man Haggai. We know that his name means “festival.” Maybe they named him that because he was born at a festive occasion, on a festive day, and that was a way of honoring the man and his day. Or it may have been that he brought such joy and happiness to his parents that they named him “festival.” Whatever the reason, that was his name and God called this man to be his prophet.

      The word of the Lord came to him several times throughout this book. And when God’s word comes to you and he commissions you to be a prophet, you had better be ready to preach. You’ve got to be ready to prophesy. His task was clear and simple: Get the people to work again. Galvanize the people to action. Now that was no easy task because the people had been indifferent and unconcerned for a long time. They had experienced opposition, they were facing economic difficulties, but more than that, they had settled down to a life of ease and comfort in their own homes, and they really were not interested in getting on with the work of God. 

      Now this man Haggai faced the mission and the responsibility that most of the other prophets never faced. When most of the other prophets preached, the Temple was standing and the worship services were already going on. Many times those worship services were dull and dead and monotonous and the people were going through the empty ritualism of their religion. The prophets were trying to bring them back to a new dedication and a new commitment, but at least the house of God was there and worship was going on. They had something to work with. 

      This man Haggai had nothing except a pile of rubbish and a bunch of uninterested, disheartened people. But God called him to the great mission of rebuilding the house of God. Haggai had the opportunity and the vision because God gave it to him to see beyond the building of a building. He saw beyond stones and mortar and all the things that go into building a house, and he saw God’s great plan for them. He saw that this house of worship had a part in that plan, and that God intended to fill his house with his glory. He saw that one of these days all the nations of the earth would flow into that magnificent house of God. He saw more than stones, timber, and workmen. He saw the marvelous plan of God. He came to understand that he was having a part in the great work of God, not only in that moment but for years to come, so he went about his work with excitement.

      There are only two chapters in the book of Haggai that contain 38 verses in all. The book is comprised of four separate sermons that this man preached in one brief historical interlude following the first sermon. Haggai preached all four sermons to stimulate the people to work. Now I think you would have liked Haggai because his sermons were only about seven minutes long. I’m going to preach all of them this morning, in this one sermon. His sermons had a marvelous effect upon the people because when he got through preaching, the people started to work and God’s house was completed in four years. People worshipped God in spirit and in truth and there was a revival in the land as a result of the people responding to the call of God.

      Each of the four sermons had a distinct point. The first sermon fills up chapter one, and its theme is, “You need to get your priorities straight.” The second sermon is found in chapter two, verses 1-9, and the emphasis of that sermon was, “Be tenacious. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up, and don’t quit.” The third sermon follows it in verses 11-19, and the emphasis of that sermon is, “Expect God to bless you.” God begins to bless when we begin to obey. Sermon number four is found in verses 20-23, and it is built around the theme, “Look to God for the victory.” Success and the victory will be because of God and his working, not just because of you and your working. 

      In those four messages concerning the rebuilding of the house of God, there is a message for your heart and mine today.

      1. You need to get your priorities straight. The first message from God concerning our building is that you need to get your priorities straight. Now remember that Haggai is encouraging the people who have neglected the house of God for 15 years. Naturally they were making some excuses as to why they weren’t working like they ought to. They were saying that the times were not right. They were saying that there was too much opposition. They were saying that the economic conditions were very difficult, and they had all kinds of excuses as to why they could not and should not get on with the work of God right then. Naturally Haggai would have to do deal with those excuses and expose them for what they really were, so in sermon number one, he deals with their excuses and exposes the emptiness and the futility of them.

      What were the people saying concerning the building of the house of God? Verse two tells us that they were saying the time had not come to build the house of God. They weren’t saying that they shouldn’t build the house of God. They weren’t saying that they were never going to build the house of God. They were simply saying that the time was not right. If you had met one of these men on the street and asked him, “What about the Temple of God? What’s going to happen over there?” He would say, “Oh, it’s important and yes, we’ve got to do it. And we are going to do it, but now’s just not the right time.”

      Haggai came to expose that excuse for what it really was. He exposes it in verse four, as God asks very penetrating and probing questions to these people. He asks, “Is it time for you, all of you who dwell in fine houses, to live like you are living while my house lies in ruin?” What God is actually saying is, “You people live in fine luxurious houses and it seems to be a good time for you to build those houses and to keep them in good shape. So why is it not also a good time for building the house of God?”

      If you read that verse carefully, you will know the contrast between their house and his house. He says concerning their house, “Your houses are sealed houses.” That means that they were paneled houses. In that day and time in that area, wood was very scarce. You had to go a long way up in the mountains to get wood in order to panel the houses. Naturally it would be very expensive, so to have a paneled house would be a sign of luxury. And God says, “While you are saying that it is not time to build my house, I notice that you are taking care of your own houses. In fact they are luxurious homes and everything seems to be going well. I am wondering, is it simply a bad time for the work of God and nothing else?” 

      If he were talking to us today I think he would say to some of our hearts, “You say it is not the right time to build the house of God. It seems to be the right time for everything else. I notice that you are taking care of your own homes and enlarging them. I notice that it is a good time to buy a new car. I notice that it is a good time to buy new clothes. I notice that it is a good time to take vacations. I notice that it is a good time to enlarge your business. It seems as though the times are good for everything except the building of the house of God.” And with that question, “Is it time for you to live in fine homes while my house is in ruins?” he exposes the real problem.

      The problem was not the times. And the problem was not the economic condition. And the problem was not the opposition they were receiving from their opponents. The real problem was that the people had become selfish and indifferent concerning the work of God. There is never a right time for a person who is selfish and uninterested. If we are going to wait for the right time for that person—the one who is selfish—the right time will never come. If the time is right to do everything else, it is right to do the work of God.

      So God comes to say to these people on two occasions in this passage of scripture, “Consider your ways” (verses 5 and 7). What he means is, “I want you to stop and think about what you have been doing. I want you to look back over these past 15 years when you have neglected the house of God and I want to ask you, ‘Have you been doing things like they ought to have been done? Have you had your priorities straight? Think about the way you have been doing things, for you have been putting your houses above the house of God. Is that the right way? Is that the right order? Are those the right priorities? Or are you putting second things first and first things second?’”

      You know the answer to that. God is saying to them, “You’ve got your priorities all out of order. In reality, my house ought to be first and your house ought to be second. But you have reversed the order and you have put first things second and second things first. You are living by a false principle and the results have been disastrous in the nation, because as a result of getting your priorities all wrong and giving emphases to your house rather than my house, the whole nation is in ruins. You are suffering an economic disaster. You plant and you don’t reap a good harvest. You eat and you are not satisfied. You drink and your thirst is not quenched. You put on clothes and you aren’t warm. You get money and you put it in a sack and the sack has a hole in it. All of this has happened because you have disobeyed me and you don’t have your priorities straight.”

      You see, God could not afford to bless the nations when they didn’t have their priorities straight, or they would begin to think that their wrong living had the approval of God upon it. If God blesses you when you do wrong, then you get to thinking that wrong is okay. It is necessary that God in some way chasten his people when they do wrong so they will know it is wrong and so they will know that their priorities are all out of kilter. If we do not obey God, if we do not follow God, if we do not put God and his work first, we can expect that God shall chasten us, otherwise we would soon believe that our wrongdoing had the approval of God upon it.

      After Haggai finished that sermon, the people responded in a marvelous way. We are told in the last parts of this chapter that their hearts were stirred by the Spirit of God and they immediately went out and went to work. Within 24 days they had organized their work crews, they had gathered their materials, and they started to build the house of God. 

      There is a point in all of that, and the point is this: Whether you are talking about building this building or anything else in life, you had better get your priorities straight. You had better remember that God and his work comes first. His house is more important than your house. His work is more important than your work. You must always give your highest and your best to God. If you don’t, God cannot and will not bless your life.

      2. You need to be tenacious. The second message was to be tenacious. It is found in chapter two, verses 1-9. The people started to work on the house of God, but they soon faced some new difficulties. Discouragement set in and they were tempted to abandon the work. They became disheartened because they obviously had been little children when the captivity came. They had been carried off into Babylon for 50 years, and they had been back in Israel for 15 years, so they were obviously old people by this time, but nothing had been done to rebuild the building. They could faintly remember having seen the original Temple of God, or remember what a magnificent structure it was. We are told that there was at least 20 million dollars’ worth of gold overlay in the original Temple. I don’t know how much the other things inside the Temple—like the stones and timbers and ornaments—must have cost, but 20 million dollars’ worth of gold overlay was a magnificent structure in itself. These people remembered the old Temple and they could see these people out building the new Temple, and they could see it was nothing compared to that original Temple. They must have thought, “Oh, my! How inferior this building is to the original.”

      It would have been okay for them to see that and think that, but as often is the case, people have to tell it. They have to say it. They began to talk about how inferior the new Temple was to the original Temple, and these young workmen who were trying to do the work of God but had never seen the original Temple became discouraged at the people making a comparison between the two buildings. As they heard the despairing remarks, the young workmen lost heart and they wanted to quit.

      Almost anytime we undertake a fresh new venture for God or make a new commitment to him, we can expect that Satan will come to tempt us or discourage us in a new and fresh way. One of the ways he often discourages us is with someone else’s negative attitude or pessimism in our lives. I constantly ask the Lord to save me from that pessimistic and that negative spirit that destroys the enthusiasm of somebody else. You know there is nothing that can kill enthusiasm and a great project like somebody who is filled with negative thinking and pessimism. And these people comparing the new with the old almost destroyed the spirit of the workers.

      God came with his prophet Haggai to say in verses 3-5, “I understand what you are going through. I hear the questions that people are asking. I know the negative things that they are saying.” To Zerubbabel, to Joshua, and to the people in verse 4, God says, “I want you to be strong and to build my house, for I am with you.” 

      That word strong means “to fasten to.” It means “to seize.” It means to be tenacious in purpose. God is saying to these people, “Listen, I am going to be with you and I’m going to help you in this project, and I want you to grab hold of it and hang on to it with all of your might, and I don’t want the negative thinking, or the comparison, or the pessimism of somebody else to take you from my great purpose.” And then he tells them in verses 7-9, “This building may not be compared to the glory, splendor, and magnificence of King Solomon’s temple in a material way, but I am going to fill this house with my glory, and the glory of my presence will make this house beyond anything that Solomon ever built.” Then right in the middle of that, in verse 8 God reminds them that all the silver in the world is his as if to say, “If I wanted 20 million dollars’ worth of gold overlays in this Temple, I could put it there.” All the gold belongs to him. If he wanted silver everywhere, we could put it there. It all belongs to him. But his glory is not to be found in gold and silver. His glory is to be found in his presence and he would come to inhabit that house in a new glorious way. 

      God is saying something to us here. He is saying it is our responsibility to obey him and to build his house, and he will glorify himself in it. And we must not be discouraged in this (or any) undertaking from doing what God calls us to do. Friend, don’t ever be afraid to launch out when God challenges you. And when God calls you, deafen your ears to the voice of any other person. Seize the task. Get on with it and don’t stop.

      3. Expect God to bless. The third message is found in chapter two, verses 11-19. Expect God to bless. The whole land was in ruin. The crops were failing. There was a drought in the land. Business was off and there was economic depression. And God says, “I want to tell you why. It is because you have been living in disobedience to me. Your sin and disobedience has infected everything about you.” 

      He teaches them this truth by saying, “You need to go to the priest and ask him some questions. Ask the priest, ‘If you have something that is holy and pure and it touches something that is unholy and impure, will that holy thing make the unholy thing pure?’” He is talking about some of the ceremonial laws of the Jews, and they believed that touching certain things like a dead body would defile you, so you would be ceremonially impure and you would have to be purified before you could be accepted by God. He said, “Take something that is pure and let it touch something that is impure. Will it make that impure thing pure?” The answer is no. 

      But then he said, “Take the reverse. Take something that is impure and let it touch holy things, and it will defile them.” He was saying to us that holiness is not communicable, but sin and ungodliness is. Now we understand that in everyday life. If you take a rotten apple and you drop it in a barrel of good apples, will those good apples make the one rotten apple good? Not on your life. The reverse is true. The one bad apple will begin to affect the barrel of good apples. One rotten apple, they say, can spoil the whole barrel. 

      Take a person who is sick. Put him in a room full of well people. Will he catch their wellness? Their wholeness? Their health? No. It doesn’t work that way. They are far more apt to catch his disease and to be infected by him. He is saying to us that sin is infectious, and because they had disobeyed God, sin had infected the whole land. But now they had changed and repented of their disobedience. They had started to rebuild the house of God and he tells them in verses 15-19, “Now, from this day forward I will bless you and the land.”

      He was saying to us that when you obey God, he begins to bless you. When we act, God starts acting. And if we are obedient to him we can expect God’s favor and we can expect God’s blessings upon our lives. Listen, if you want God to bless you, then walk in obedience to him. Let me assure you that from the very day you start obeying God, he will start in some way to bless and enrich your life. 

      4. Look to God for the victory. The final message is in verses 22-23. “Look to God for the victory.” This message is addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. He obviously was a good man who was anxious to do a good work. But he had the responsibility of the whole land including all its people, and he began to worry. What if they would be invaded by the enemy while they are building this building? They were just a handful of people. They were not trained soldiers, and they didn’t have any horses or chariots. How could they defend themselves? 

      God spoke to his man and revealed something of his great plan for the days and the ages to come. God said to Zerubbabel, “You are looking in the wrong direction. You are looking around at the nation and you need to be looking up at me. Don’t be so concerned about the chariots and the horses and the rider. For Zerubbabel, I will fight for you. I will defend you. I will help you.” And Zerubbabel came to understand that the secret of victory and success was not in his might, nor in his power, but in the presence and the power of the living God. 

      When we are carrying out the program and the work of God, we do not depend upon our own strength and ability for success. We depend upon the strength and the ability of almighty God. We can work with confidence, for God will see us through to victory. What Haggai had to say to those people in that day, he has to say to us. Get your priorities straight. Be tenacious. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. Stick with it. Expect God to bless and look to him for the ultimate victory. 

      This building we are going to build is as much the house of God as that one was. And God’s glory will fill the house we are going to build as much as it filled the house that Zerubbabel built. With that kind of confidence and assurance we can go forward to do the work of God. But we must have every one of you, along with your heart, your mind, your soul, your prayers, and your pocketbook. When it is all over God will fill it with his glory, and we shall join with the angels of heaven to praise his name for what he has done. You ought to come and join with us in this great work for God and we want you to have an opportunity to do just that.

 

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Today's Devotional

Doubt Is a Big Disorder of Soul

Among all the disorders of the soul, none brings more distress than doubt. It can be a source of misery and discomfort, fill your life with anxieties and fears, and rob you of peace.

There are two kinds of religious doubt. One is sincere doubt; the other is insincere doubt. Some doubt is a cover-up for sin. Many people look on doubt as a badge of learning, and so they display skepticism in an effort to impress others that they are intellectual. Such doubt is but a cover for intellectual pride. All such pride is sin.

Sometimes doubt is a cover up for immorality. During World War II a serviceman on his way overseas called for an appointment with his minister. The young man immediately began to express his doubts about the Gospel as he sat before the minister. The pastor replied, “I’m not interested in your doubts, young man. Tell me about your sins.”

The soldier was startled and sat silently. “Do you have a picture of your family?” the preacher asked.

As the young man showed the minister pictures of his family, he began to sob. He confessed that he had sinned against his family and against God. When doubt is due to sin, there is but one solution—confess and forsake your sin. Then the doubt will be removed.

But some doubt is genuine and sincere. In such cases the person with the doubts should honestly seek the facts about Christianity. While governor of the territory of New Mexico, Lew Wallace set out to write a book to disprove Christ and show him up as a myth. To do this he had to read the gospels that recorded the life of Christ. It was also necessary for him to read the prophets that prophesied the coming of the Christ. In his serious study he met Christ face to face, was convinced of his sin, and was converted. Instead of writing a criticism of Jesus, he wrote the great religious novel Ben-Hur.

When doubts faced the facts, they fled. Do you face doubts and uncertainties about the Christian faith? Begin to study the Bible seriously, spend some time in prayer, and go to church this Sunday. Gradually faith will replace your doubts.

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