Haggai 2:1-9 Contemporary English Version
On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord’s word came through Hag’gaī the prophet: 2 Say to Judah’s governor Ze•rub’•ba•bel, She•al’•ti•el’s son, and to the chief priest Joshua, Je•hoz’•a•dak’s son, and to the rest of the people:
3 Who among you is left who saw this house in its former glory?
How does it look to you now?
Doesn’t it appear as nothing to you?
4 So now, be strong, Ze•rub’•ba•bel, says the Lord.
Be strong, High Priest Joshua, Je•hoz’•a•dak’s son,
and be strong, all you people of the land, says the Lord.
Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
5 As with our agreement when you came out of Egypt,
my spirit stands in your midst.
6 This is what the Lord of heavenly forces says:
In just a little while, I will make the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land quake.
7 I will make all the nations quake.
The wealth of all the nations will come.
I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
8 The silver and the gold belong to me, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
9 This house will be more glorious than its predecessor, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
I will provide prosperity in this place, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Whenever I am faced with beginning a new project on remodeling our house there is always a little fear and trepidation. How long will it take? What steps have to be taken? What has to be done first, second and so on? The last big project involved removing about 5 cubic yards of old plaster and its accompanying lath. Huge projects in the church can bring on those same feelings. Think about building this church. It was labor intensive. On our initial buildings almost all the labor was volunteer. The investment of effort was monumental. It was scary at the outset. More recently, building our Community Hall. While the labor was almost all contracted, the process was still scary. There were valid arguments against it. “We can’t afford it.” “Will it be worth the investment?” But the Spirit of the Lord entered into the process and we are making it all work! The building is a blessing from God.
Let’s look at the setting of the scripture we are using today. Haggai is not one of our more well-known minor Prophets. It is only 2 chapters long. I encourage you to go home today and read the entire book. Haggai and Zechariah are contemporaries. The Israelites have begun to migrate back to their home from exile. The wall around Jerusalem has been rebuilt, and work on the Temple has begun. Ezra and Nehemiah were prominent figures in this early work. The work has stalled due to the pressure of their enemies. The people have come to the point where they are saying, “The time hasn’t come, the time to rebuild the Lord’s house.” [1:2] Haggai’s work if to get them to see that the Temple is in a deplorable state and motivate and encourage them to complete this important task. Notice there are three time references: the 6th month, 1st day; the 6th month, 24th day; and finally the 7th month, 21st day. He has only a short time period to assess, motivate, and encourage.
The first step was to get them to assess where things stand. In Haggai 2:3 he asks, “How does it [the Temple] look to you now?” For Haggai, the foundation was there, but not much else. The former glory was gone. We can assume that Haggai had seen the first Temple. So, I ask, “how does our “Temple” look?” I’m not referring so much to the building – we do a good job of tending to the [physical needs of our church. I am more asking about our spiritual temple – the Body of Christ.
How many here remember when the church was almost packed to capacity? When there were kids in every Sunday School room downstairs? There was the glory of grand ecumenical gatherings where most of the churches came together for community events. The church was included in so many aspects of community life. The realization is that we are in a Post Christian era – not that the Christian faith is no longer relevant, but that the societal view of Christianity has changed. There is indifference on one hand, and outright antagonism on the other. There are dwindling numbers in our churches and our influence on society has been diminished. Statistically, in a span of 3 years (2016-2018) the Presbyterian USA lost 140 whole churches! In 8 years (2010-2018), the United Methodist Church lost 14.6% of the membership in the Western Jurisdiction against a population increase of 8.37%. Haggai is asking the people to take stock of where they are. The Lord’s house is in ruins (1:4). With churches closing and still more struggling we might say that Christendom lies in ruins. Things need to be done to stem the tide of decline – to build the Body of Christ into something that even exceeds former glories.
Haggai moves on to motivation. Who says it to Haggai? Who gives the passion and words to this minor prophet? It is “The Lord of the Heavenly Forces.” “The Lord of Hosts” in the New Revised Standard Version. It is the Lord of angel armies. This is the God who can make it happen! Haggai uses this ascription 11 times in his two short chapters! We’re faced with a huge project – making disciples for Jesus Christ while we live a faithful life. God is faithful and powerful. We have to keep in mind who this is all for – for whom do we build up the Body of Christ? Haggai 1:8 places that focus squarely where it belongs, “…so that I [God] may enjoy [the Temple] and that I may be honored.” TO THE GLORY OF GOD! Notice who brought about the action of the Israelites – 1:14 “… listened to the voice of the Lord God and to the words of Haggai the prophet because the Lord their God sent him.” If we want to motivate persons to become followers of Jesus Christ, we have to introduce them to the God we love and follow. We have to let God speak through us, and do it all for God’s glory!
Finally, Haggai turns to encouragement. Three times he says, “Be Strong.” And three times he reminds them “I [the Lord you God] am with you.” [1:13, 2:4 and 2:5] The last time he says, “My [God’s] Spirit stands in your midst.” How do we stay strong in the midst of this post-Christendom era? Jesus himself is with us!
We do not stand alone in rebuilding the Body of Christ. Haggai not only wants the Temple rebuilt, but he sets the bar high at “more glorious than its predecessor.” (2:9) What would a renewed, rebuilt Body of Christ look like? There would be passionate people following the Lord. There would be a renewed sense of reaching the world for Christ. I ran across an interesting image for contemporary evangelistic efforts in the church. It was called “Bo Peep Evangelism.” How did that little poem go? “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them. Leave them alone and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them. The church is here, we’ve been on this corner for a long, long time. They know they are welcome. They’ll “come home” when they are ready. In a movie image, it seems that we have too long ascribed to the “Field of Dreams” mode of evangelism – “build it and they will come.” Haggai is calling us to work to rebuild. Haggai 2:4 , near the end of the verse, God says, “Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of heavenly forces.” The call is to be strong and get to work. We are being called in this present day to envision new beginnings. Imagine what the Body of Christ can look like, and then work to make it happen. What does evangelism in this day and age look like? How do we motivate people to seek the Lord? If I had all the answers life would be amazing! But I don’t. We do, however! Together we can find effective ways to invite. Together we can find effective ways of introducing 21st Century society to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
God says, “I will provide prosperity in this place, says the Lord of the Heavenly Forces.” What is most amazing about this whole process is that the offering of our hands and hearts unleashes the power of God’s faithfulness. Nothing can happen until we place the tool of our lives – our faith - in the hands of the Master. There is a wonderful story about an auction. At one point in the auction the auctioneer held up an old violin with its bow. It seemed a sorry lot, dusty and out of tune. The bidding opened. “Who’ll give me a dollar. Make it two.” The bids were slow, and interest was slim. Then an old man came to the stage and, after dusting it off and giving it a quick tune, began to play a melody, sweet and strong. After a moment of silence and the old man returned the violin to the auctioneer. Bidding resumed, “Who’ll give me $1000?” Make it two.” What was the difference, you may ask? It was the touch of the Master’s hand. If we will place our lives more fully into the hands of the Master, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God can transform this world.
As with any project we have to assess what has to be done, find the motivation to do it, and take the encouragement of the Lord our God, the Lord of Hosts!
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Pastor Paul Grossman