This week we continue our sermon series called “Rebuilding the Church: Rebuild, Renew, Revive”. In this series, we are studying how the Jews who returned to Judah following the Babylonian exile worked to rebuild their temple, renew their worship, and revive their city. Their story provides a God-given blueprint for revitalizing the church.
The first wave of exiles returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in 538 BC led by Zerubbabel. They had been decreed and equipped to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Within 2 years they had rebuilt the altar of sacrifice and laid the foundation for the building itself. But, as we studied last week, the inhabitants of Jerusalem - the Samaritans - became increasingly hostile toward them.
At first they tried to infiltrate the group of returnees by offering to help them rebuild. When this failed, they began making false allegations to the king. They reminded him of the Jews’ rebellious past. When given permission, they actually sent armed soldiers to physically prevent the exiles from rebuilding the temple of God.
So the work stopped, and the passion to rebuild the church slowly faded. Before too long, the armed guards were no longer needed as the people of God had all but given up on their dream. For the next 16 years the temple foundation laid bare and the altar unused. The opposition that caused them to stop had given way to complacency that would not allow them to restart.
Sometime around 520 BC God raised up 2 different prophets to exhort or encourage those exiles who remained to continue the work of rebuilding the temple. They were named Haggai and Zechariah. This week will will look at the words of Haggai and next week we will consider Zechariah.
Haggai is the second shortest book in the Old Testament. In it, he delivers four distinct prophetic statements to the people of God. These four separate prophecies will be the main points of this morning’s message.
I. THE FIRST PROPHECY - The Price of Neglecting God’s House (Haggai 1:1-15)
The Jewish exiles had rebuilt their own homes and become focused on their own lives. They decided that it was not the time to work on God’s house, so they’d put it off for later. “Now is our time” they thought, “and we’ll get around to the Lord one of these days."
Despite their self-focused efforts, the people constantly struggled “in their ways”. They were not able to produce bountifully, always lacking an abundance. They were just scraping by, always fighting just to stay afloat. Drought plagued the land and led to constant hardship. Why was this happening? One reason was because God’s people were neglecting Him and His house the temple.
For 16 years the exiles were busy doing other things, and had practically forgotten about the incomplete temple. But God remained faithful to them, and they finally heard Him calling through the words of Haggai. The long break was finally over and the people went back to work rebuilding the temple.
Haggai’s first prophecy is both a call to action and a warning against inaction. When God’s people knowingly, willfully, and continually neglect His house both individually and collectively, there are certain to be negative consequences that affect us all. One of the primary reasons for the difficulties we face today is the disregard that “Christians” have for the church.
II. THE SECOND PROPHECY - The Promised Glory of the New Temple (Haggai 2:1-9)
Many of the older workers who had seen the lavish splendor of Solomon’s Temple in their youth were grieved because they knew this new temple would be much less immaculate. As such, they were not as energized to rebuild as they should have been.
Their lack of enthusiasm was only part of the problem... the Samaritans still lived in Jerusalem and remained unwelcoming to the exiles. Would hostilities break out again? God urged the returnees to be brave and courageous, and that He would be with them as they reinstituted the temple construction.
God promised that “in a little while” (sometime in the future) the glory of the new temple would actually exceed that of the original. How? Well, Zerubbabel's temple was greatly renovated and enlarged by Herod the Great beginning in around 20 BC. But more importantly, it was in this temple that the Messiah would be dedicated, teach, preach, and minister to the world. Jesus would physically walk in this temple someday...
Haggai’s second prophecy presents a contrast. The glory of God’s house is not determined by its outward appearance or magnificent size. We should want our facilities to look nice, but we must remember that their ultimate glory is determined by the presence of God within them.
III. THE THIRD PROPHECY - The Blessing of God on the People (Haggai 2:10-19)
In their present state, it seemed that everything the Jewish remnant touched was somehow defiled. How would they be able to rebuild God’s temple when they were so unclean? For years, everything they took part in just fell apart. Not much of a motivation to rebuild is it? Yet God promised that, if they'd simply complete the task they'd started, He would bless their labor and give them success.
In Haggai’s third prophecy, God promised to bless the exiles efforts to rebuild. The LORD will bless those who are obedient to His will. We may face hardship and setbacks, but nonetheless God will bless obedience. We may not live a trouble-free life, but we can live a blessed one!
IV. THE FOURTH PROPHECY - The Promise of God to Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:20-23)
This final vision is apocalyptic in nature a paints a picture of the end times. All the kingdoms of earth will be overthrown on "that day". A descendant of Zerubbabel, namely Jesus Christ, will be exalted above all and His name will be God’s signet ring (official seal). Zerubbabel is told that he is to be a direct ancestor of the Messiah.
As the leader, Zerubbabel needed some additional encouragement to rebuild. In Haggai’s final prophecy, God gave him just what he needed. Often times, our leaders need an extra measure of support and encouragement because of the responsibility they carry.
The people have God had been idle for so long that they’d become lethargic and complacent. They neglected God’s house and subsequently God himself without even as much as a second thought. They had misplaced their focus fully onto other things, and were suffering as a result. Though they had forgotten the LORD, He hadn’t forgotten them. He raised up a prophet to call them back to the task at hand, and to begin rebuilding again.
Perhaps your life is like this… maybe at one time you were zealous for God, but somewhere you got off track. And now years have passed and you have been unfaithful to God and to His church. Perhaps you have not made Him the priority in your life that you should have. Could it be that some of the problems you face are due to your disregard for Him?
Like Haggai, I have good news for you. No matter how long you have chosen to stand on the sidelines, God is still willing to put you back into the game. You may have been knocked down, but because of Him you are not out. So whatever you do, don’t give up… there is work to be done, and God is calling you to get up and go do it. Rebuild, renew, revive!