Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 16, 1974
It had been 70 years since these Jewish captives in Babylonia had seen their homeland. My, they must have been homesick--anxious to get home again. And now it was possible. You see, the powerful kingdom of Babylon had been toppled by the Medo-Persians and a new king named Cyrus came to the throne. He made a proclamation that is recorded in the book of Ezra.
"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 among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him 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" (Ezra 1:2-3).
So King Cyrus tells the Jews they can go home and rebuild the temple. Fifty thousand of them got their belongings together, packed their bags, and left for the long trip back to Jerusalem. They had two leaders: a man named Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor over them, and a spiritual leader named Joshua, who was the high priest. (This is not the same Joshua as in the book of Joshua. This is many years later.)
They began the journey back to Jerusalem with their primary aim being not only to establish their national life but to rebuild the temple of God. It was a fantastic task--a big task. Two years after they arrived, the work began on temple. They started building the house of God. But those pesky Samaritans kept opposing the work and hindering what they were trying to do. Finally, through a series of letters, they got a decree from the new king down there in Persia--whose name was Artaxerxes (pronounced arta-ZERK-sees) --to stop the work on the temple.
For 15 years, the temple of God lay idle. Not a stone was laid upon the foundation. The foundation had been finished, and that event was celebrated with mixed joy and sorrow because some people who remembered the old temple realized that this one wasn't going to be as big and glorious as the old one. But still they were happy that it was begun. But now the work had laid dormant for 15 long years.
And the hearts of the people began to grow cold before the Lord. As they began to get more interested in their own things, the house of God assumed less and less importance in their thinking. Their faith in the Lord began to wain as they became involved in sin and selfish pursuits. Selfishness and materialism began to consume them like a plague. Before they knew it, the Lord wasn't very important in their lives. The things they were doing were what mattered to them.
Then a new king succeeded Artaxerxes. His name was Darius (pronounced da-RYE-us), and he didn't seem to be as opposed to the Jews re-establishing their religion and their national life. So some of these leaders--four in particular--thought this was the time to get started again on the Lord's house. These were Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest; and two prophets joined them. Their names were Haggai (pronounced HAG-ee-eye) and Zechariah. These four men encouraged the people but they got no cooperation whatsoever. Nobody cared about building the house of God. They were too busy with their own things.
These four men realized that this was a big job. This was a mammoth task. But it was something God wanted done. Therefore, God begins to move and God is speaking when the book of Haggai opens.
"In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet... saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord of hosts...'" (Haggai 1:1a, 2a).
Listen, this little two-chapter book--the only two-chapter book in the Bible--is the Word of God. It was written thousands of years ago, but it is still the Word of God. We're talking about God's Word today, just as it was God's word to the children of Israel back in 520 B.C. It includes four great discourse, four great revelations from God. The first one is right here in chapter 1. The second one is in chapter 2 verse 1 nearly two months later than the first: "In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet." The third one is in the ninth month, two months later (verse 10). And the fourth revelation came that same day (verse 20).
So the events in the book of Haggai cover four months. All that God has to say to us through this great prophet occurred in four months in four revelations.
1. A Call to Work
The first discourse or revelation from God is a call to work. It begins in verse 2 when the Lord says, "This people says, 'The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built'" (Haggai 1:2b).
There were Haggai and Zachariah preaching their hearts out, and Zerubbabel and Joshua were encouraging them on. But the people responded by saying, "Now isn't the time for that. Don't bother us with that now. Don't tell us about the Lord's house; a job like that requires a lot of planning. And a job like this requires the right moment: an emotional peak of the people. Besides, we're so busy now. We have so many irons in the fire already. Can't you hold off on this project for a little while?"
"The time has not come that the Lord's house should be built." Let's wait.
Now we run into this all the time today. There are always some people who don't want to do God's work, and there's always some problem that looms before them when we call them to work. "It's a little too hot today, Pastor. We don't want to be out there planting those sprigs in weather like this." Or, "You're asking us to give for this project, but you know, we've got a lot of bills to pay. Can't we do that later?" Or, "I'd like to help with that, but I'm really busy with other things right now. Can't we hold off on that for a little bit?" Tomorrow. Mañana.
But God doesn't take excuses like this sitting down. He's got a few things to say. While God is patient and long-suffering, and gracious and kind, He is also grieved by indifference and selfishness and excess materialism--which is their problem. When God sees this, He speaks. He's got something to say to people who are too wrapped up in their own things to do the work of the Lord. What He says is in verse 3.
"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this house [temple] to lie in ruins?" (Haggai 1:3b).
You know, God's got a sense of humor and He's also got a very biting wit. There's a little bit of sarcasm in that question. It's hard to read that verse and not get the picture. God is saying, "Oh, it's not time to My house, eh, but it is time to build your house? Is that the way it is? It's time to put an addition on your house and panel the den, and put in a pool, and buy a new camper and a boat? It's time for that? Oh, I see!"
Now a paneled house is no luxury in our day and age. You have to put something on the walls, but paneled houses in that day were rather luxurious. Not many people had them. Getting that cedar shipped in from Lebanon or oak from some other place--that was a big thing. It takes a lot of money. It's a lot of work. They were pretty busy on their own projects.
The book of Haggai is very practical. God asks us the same question today. We've got a lot of programs at this church and there's a lot of work to be done. It's a mammoth task. And we stand here and ask how God is ever going to do this. Friends, He's going to do it through us when we get our values straight. And for those who say, "Can't we hold off on this for a little while?" God replies, "Is it time for you to do all the things you want to do while the job I have for you in North San Diego County is unfinished?" God is speaking to us today.
Now it's not wrong to enjoy fine things. Please don't misunderstand me. The Word of God tells us that the Lord has given us all things freely to enjoy. He gives more things to some people than He does to other people. But these things are ours to freely enjoy. I thank God for any one of you whom God has seen fit to entrust with these material things. The question is: Where are our values? Where do our priorities lie? What comes first in our lives?
I think most Christians choose the level they want to live on. They choose their lifestyle. They decide where to live and what kind of house to live in and what kind of car to drive. What kind of clothes they're going to wear. What kind of vacations they're going to take. What kind of hobbies they're going to have. They decide that. They do what they want to do and maybe sock a little something away for a rainy day, and then if there is anything left, they give it to God.
I don't think that's the way God wants us to live our lives. I think God wants us to survey His work and find out what He needs, and then give to the very hilt. We should give sacrificially to His work and then learn to live on what's left. That's getting our priorities straight. The people in Haggai's day had things all mixed up. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today have that same problem.
The same thing goes for our time. Most of us decide what we want to do: how much television we're going to watch, how much time we're going to spend relaxing, what kind of recreational activities we're going to engage in. We decide all that first and do what we want to do. Then if there's any time left over, we give that to God. But that's not the way God wants our priorities to be arranged.
Oh, He wants us to put our families right up there near the top. He wants us to be good mothers and fathers, and give our children the time that we need to give them. But He wants His work to be right up there at the top of our priority list when it comes to our time.
It's a matter of desire. What do you want out of life? Do you want to be part of something that God is doing? Do you want to see God's work grow? Do you want to see His blessing upon it? Do you want to see it expand as people come to Christ, and babes in Christ are strengthened in the Word? If that's what you want to see, then that's what you'll pour yourself into.
Time and money. It's a matter of desire.
So God says in verse 5, "Consider your ways."
You see, God's message in Haggai is: Let's stop and consider things. Let's evaluate our lives and our way of living. Let's think this whole thing over. Let's consider our ways, and when we do, we're going to learn some astonishing truths. Things haven't changed in 2500 years.
"You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes" (Haggai 1:6).
Now I ask you, what could we possibly hear today that's more relevant? Isn't that the way it is? We earn money and we put it in the bank, but one thing after another comes up and before we know it, there's nothing there. We cash our paycheck and we put it in our purse or in our pocket and before we know it, it's gone. We work, work, work so we can pay those bills so we can start giving to God, and we never get ahead.
Listen, dear Christian, the message of Haggai is: You can't win that way. You cannot get ahead by trying to get ahead. You get ahead by putting God first. And that hasn't changed in 2500 years. It's as true today as it was when Haggai wrote this book. The reason you can't get ahead is because God's not going to let you. That's the message.
"Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Consider your ways! ...You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away'" (Haggai 1:7, 9a).
What happened? Poof! God just blew it away.
"'Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For 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 and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands" (Haggai 1:9b-11).
What we need to do is put God first.
"'Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,' says the Lord" (Haggai 1:8).
"Put My work first," God says, "then I'll take care of yours."
Well, the people responded. What a thrill. In verse 12, Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and all the remnant of the people obeyed the word of the Lord. Now that's what I like to see.
I've told this story before but I just can't get it off my mind when I look at passages like this. We were in a board meeting one time--at another church; the men at this church would never do something like this--and we were trying to come to a decision on a particular thing and I said that a couple weeks before we had studied a passage of Scripture which I thought shed some light on this decision. And one man said, "Oh, yeah, but Pastor, you were only preaching!"
But this is what I like to see: "All the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God." They did what God said. Not because a pastor said it but because it was the Word of God and they stood in awe before the Lord. It says, "and the people feared the presence of the Lord" (Haggai 1:12b).
"Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, spoke the Lord's message to the people, saying, 'I am with you, says the Lord'" (Haggai 1:13).
God's presence was there, with all that it provided: protection, provision, power.
"And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God" (Haggai 1:14b).
It was just 24 days after Haggai began to preach that the people responded and got to work. What a thrilling sight it was as all those Jews who had returned to Jerusalem put their own things aside and pitched in for the work of God.
2. Courage for the Workmen
But you know, when God gets to work through His people--we've seen it over and over in the Word--Satan gets to work, too. And so the second discourse, the second revelation, is courage for the workmen.
Now the rubbish is cleared and the stones begin to rise. You'd think these people would be very excited but they weren't. In fact, they were rather discouraged. As they saw the walls going up they realized how puny this temple was in comparison to Solomon's temple, which some of them had seen and remembered.
God says to them, "Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?" (Haggai 2:3).
"I know what you're thinking," God says. "It looks pretty sad, doesn't it?"
The people were thinking, "Well, we got busy and we were going to build this great temple for God's glory and it isn't anything like we thought it was going to be. My, it was such a big job and the results are so disappointing." I'm sure a lot of the people were saying, "Oh, come on, Haggai, let's quit. This isn't worth the effort."
The same thing happens today. We get going on a project and it isn't all we thought it might be. We pray and we work and we give, but the results just aren't what we thought they would be. We have it all planned out. The work never gets done. First it was Green Thumb Day, and then it was Green Sprig Day, and after that it's going to be Green Weed Day. Here we are, we just slave and slave. And our money buys so little these days. We give and we give, and we build, and when it gets done it's not all that we thought it was going to be. Let's just slow down. Let's quit. Well, God's got a word for us when we get discouraged.
"'Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,' says the Lord; 'and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,' says the Lord, 'and work; 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, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!'" (Haggai 2:4-5).
"Don't worry, I'm with you," God says. "Be strong. It may look small to you, but I'm with you, and I've got spectacular news for you:"
"'And 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, and the gold is Mine,' says the Lord of hosts. 'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the Lord of hosts. 'And in this place I will give peace,' says the Lord of hosts'" (Haggai 2:7-8).
"You think your efforts are feeble," God says, "and this temple is puny compared to Solomon's? Something wonderful is going to happen. I'm going to shake things up and the desire of all nations will come."
I don't see any other way to apply that but to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all nations of the earth will be blessed. He's going to come. And when He does, the glory of this latter house will be greater than the former. "I can do it," God says. "And at that time I will give peace."
And one day it happened. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Glory of the Father, the Prince of Peace entered this very house. Yes, it was renovated, enlarged by Herod the Great, but basically it was the temple that began under the ministry of Zechariah and Haggai and Zerubbabel and Joshua. And the glory of that house, because the Son of God entered it one day, was even greater than the glory of Solomon's temple, which glory they thought would be unsurpassed.
So God turns to us and says, "You think your efforts are feeble? You think you're not getting anywhere? Just yield your life to Me. Get your priorities and your values straight. Get involved in the work of the Lord and I'm going to bless it. What will be accomplished will bring glory to My name." That's the promise of the Lord to us through the book of Haggai.
The one motivation we need to get us moving is to glorify the Lord, to honor and please Him. And when we have that motivation and yield ourselves wholeheartedly to Him, then God's going to continue to work for us. He's already done spectacular things but He's going to keep doing spectacular things. God hasn't quit being the God of miracles this morning because we've got a beautiful sanctuary. God has some more miracles to perform and He's going to do it when all of us lay our lives--our lives--on the altar and surrender everything to Him.
But that's not the end of God's message to the people of that day, nor to us.
3. The Certainty of God's Blessing
The third discourse begins in verse 10. This third revelation comes two months later and God asks them a question. He wants to get them thinking.
"Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, "If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?"' So the priests answered and said, "No"'" (Haggai 2:11-12).
Let me explain what the question that Haggai asks the people is: If the people work and worship with sin in their lives or with lives that are not fully yielded to God for His glory, does all that work and all that worship sanctify their sin and make it acceptable to God? Answer: Absolutely not.
You see, working and worshipping without yielded hearts is work and worship that is unacceptable to God. You see, that work and worship doesn't make us right in God's sight, and that sin is not sanctified because we work and worship. In other words, the good things don't make the bad things good. Our hearts must be right before God.
Question number 2:
"And Haggai said, 'If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?' So the priests answered and said, 'It shall be unclean'" (Haggai 2:13).
Now this question is just the opposite. If these people had touched a dead body, the Old Testament law made them ceremonially unclean until they went through the proper rituals and the proper amount of time had passed and then they were ceremonially clean again. Then they were able to touch things. But now if they were unclean because they touched a dead body, would anything else they touched become unclean? Answer: Yes.
Strange, isn't it? Clean things don't make unclean things clean, but unclean things make clean things unclean. (You didn't think I was going to get through that, did you?!) What we do from unyielded hearts is not acceptable to God. What we do with unyielded hearts makes the good things we do unacceptable to God.
That same principle is true today. But unfortunately, I don't think a lot of folks are going to learn this until they stand in front of the judgment seat of Christ. I'm afraid that after all the works of our life come through the fire, we're going to look at what's left and say, "Hey, wait a minute, Lord. I put in 25 years as a Sunday School teacher. I practiced with the choir on Thursday nights and sang on Sundays and put in extra time for Christmas cantatas. Where's that? And I served on that board. I put in my time as an usher. Where are those things?"
And God may have to say to us, "Yes, but your heart wasn't yielded to Me. You didn't do that for My glory. You just thought it was the thing to do or your had some other motivation for it."
God wants your heart, your soul, your whole being. Then He'll be glorified through all that you do. Get your motivation right.
Then in this third discourse, God reviews those past 15 years. He reminds them again.
"'And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone 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 baths from the press, there were but twenty. I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,' says the Lord" (Haggai 2:15-18).
Think back over those years when you worked and worked and tried to get ahead and you never could.
"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" (Haggai 2:19).
What a great promise! "From this day I will bless you." When God saw their hearts changed, their values straightened out and their priorities rearranged so that He became first in their lives. Then He said, "From this day I will bless you."
I think that same promise from God would be applicable to us today if we would get our priorities straight--all of us--and yield our lives wholly to Him. Then our labors would be acceptable to Him. Our gifts would bring joy to His heart and our prayers would find response in His will. And our efforts would be attended by His fullest blessing.
Surely, it's a big job we have. It's discouraging at times--sometimes with disappointing results. But when we put God first, His blessing attends us. The book of Haggai is a little book about a big job, but it reveals a big God who's ready to do big things through little people who are fully yielded to Him. We're the little people He can use: frail, faltering, faithless. But God is ready to take us and use us to shape our part of this world for His glory and praise.
Once we yield our lives to Him, we'll become vessels in His hand and great things will be accomplished. So the question that challenges us from the book of Haggai is this: Are you with us or are you not? Are you ready to pitch in with all your soul and mind and strength to the work of God or are you not? Oh, that God would look at us say, "From this day on, I will bless you."
4. Christ in the Future
There's one more discourse and I'm not going to expound it in any detail, but just as most prophets do, Haggai projects us to the future.
"'I will shake heaven and earth; I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in 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,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:22-23).
This man Zerubbabel was in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. God is telling Zerubbabel that One of his descendents is going to have royal authority. One day He will rule the earth in righteousness, peace, justice, and truth. And again we are projected to the Millennial kingdom when Jesus Christ shall reign and rule and all those who genuinely know Him shall reign with Him.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
My non-Christian friend, wouldn't you like to live on this earth when everything is right and all sin is removed? When all poverty and pollution, inequality and injustice is gone? Wouldn't you like to have a part in that rule on a perfect earth? That's for you to have if you've trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. The New Testament says we shall reign with Him.
But that's just a little part of the joy of knowing Christ. You can have forgiveness today. Forgiveness of sins, purpose to life, and the assurance of eternity in Christ's presence. How do you get it? By acknowledging you don't deserve it; by acknowledging that you're a sinner, that Christ died for your sins; receiving Him and putting your faith in what He did for you when He died on that cross for your sins. And God will save you. He'll give you new life and assure you of eternity with Him. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that You will challenge us with great power today. Lord, take Your words and burn them into our souls till we're ready to fall before You in utter and complete submission. Father, we pray that if there are those who know not Christ, we ask You that this brief explanation of the gospel at the conclusion of this service will be sufficient to give them understanding, and that Your Spirit may be doing His convicting work even now, until they are willing to say "Yes" to Jesus.
"Yes, I need You, Lord Jesus. Come into my life and save me."
In a continuing attitude of prayer, I'd like to give those who may not be sure of their soul's salvation an opportunity to make sure. Christian, I trust you're praying, maybe searching your own heart, yielding your own life to the Lord. Pause now and pray for those who may not know Christ, will you?
Oh my friend, we covet for you the best in life and the best in eternity. The best is found in Jesus Christ. Will you commit your life to Him for salvation? God appreciates all your good deeds and all your best efforts, but they're not enough. You've got to receive Christ and put your faith in His shed blood. He died for you. Won't you trust Him?
Pray something like this in your heart to the Lord: "Lord, I believe I'm a sinner. I believe You died in my place and paid the penalty for my sin. I'm trusting You now. Come into my heart and save me." And He'll do it.
Oh, Christ we pray that in these moments hearts may be opened to You and souls may be saved. It's in Your name we pray. Amen.
Continue to LB-2B: Philemon: The Big Heart