Friday, May 05, 2006

Haggai 2:1-9 -- Days of Greater Glory

A message for the 60th Anniversary of Immanuel Baptist Church

Because of their idolatry, their disobedience and disregard for the things of the Lord, the prophet Jeremiah foretold of 70 years that Israel would be in captivity to Babylon, and 70 years that Jerusalem would be desolate. The first captives were taken to Babylon in 606 when Johoiakim surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. 70 years later, in 536, Cyrus, ruler of the Medo-Persian empire which had swallowed up Babylon, issued a decree allowing the Jews to leave Babylon, return to their own land and rebuild their temple. Jerusalem had laid desolate from 590 until that time.

So the year is now 536, and 50,000 Jews take advantage of Cyrus’ offer for them to return. They return under the leadership of Zerubbabel, their governor. Upon returning to the land, the first thing they did was to erect an altar of God in order to sacrifice burnt offerings to Him. Two years later, 534, they began to lay the foundation for the Temple to be rebuilt.

But things got discouraging. We read in Ezra 3:12-13 that the elders began to weep when they saw how this building would pale in comparison to the former glory of Solomon’s temple. Meanwhile, the younger generation was rejoicing for they had never seen a temple before. Their whole lives had been lived in Babylon and they had only heard stories of the good old days when they worshiped at the temple. So there was much confusion. Ezra says, “the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy; so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.”

Then the Samaritans and other neighboring peoples began to offer to help build the temple. However if the Babylonian Captivity taught the Israelites anything, it was to keep themselves far away from idolatry. These nations were known for their idol worship and syncretistic beliefs. When Zerubbabel refused to let them help, they began to discourage and frustrate the Israelites. Then they filed a complaint to the Medo-Persian leaders, who then issued an injunction forcing the construction to cease. Feeling discouraged and defeated, the Israelites abandoned all hope of seeing a new temple.

Enter the prophet Haggai. The year is now 520 BC. The temple project has been on hold for 14 years. There is a new king named Darius who supports the repatriation plan of Cyrus, and allows the Jewish people to resume their temple building. And so Haggai brings the word of the Lord to the people of Israel. In Chapter 1, he challenged them to come out from the comfort and security of their paneled houses and resume the work of rebuilding the temple if they desired to see God move in their midst again. And the people feared the Lord and obeyed Him, and God’s presence returned in a mighty way, stirring up the spirit of the leaders and the people, and they began to rebuild the temple after 14 years of complacency.

You will notice that Chapter one ends with the date of the 24th day of the sixth month. Chapter two begins with the date of the 21st day of the seventh month. It is important to note that this is the last day of the feast of Tabernacles. The workers who have been busy rebuilding the Temple have had the week off to worship and celebrate. Just a few days earlier, they rested from working in order to observe the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. They have only put about three weeks of hard work into the massive job of building the Temple. And now people have come in from all over the countryside to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. They don’t see any real progress, and what they do see doesn’t impress them.

It is in this context that God speaks to His prophet Haggai and commissions him to take this message to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and all the people: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?” Here the entire remnant of the nation of Israel which has returned from Babylon is gathered together for a festive occasion and surely in that crowd were those who remembered it well. It had only been 70 years since Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. There were many who remembered the ornamentation of precious stones which adorned the temple. The entire building was overlaid with gold. Even the nails which were used in Solomon’s Temple were gold.

As their minds are filled with images of the splendor of bygone days, Haggai says, “How does it look to you now?” The people must have looked around. They might have seen rubble still to be removed from the first temple, along with just a foundation for the new, smaller temple, and maybe a few timbers for framing. “How does it look to you now?”

They were all thinking it, but no one wanted to say it. The frightening thing about the Lord is that you don’t have to say it. He knows our thoughts. And so Haggai asks rhetorically, “Does it not seem to you like nothing?” Have you ever had that lump in your throat, when you know that you have no choice but to tell the truth, but you know it is going to hurt? The answer is, “Yes, it seemed to them like nothing in comparison to the former days.”

Now I believe the Lord would have us answer a question or two here this morning as well. I believe He wants to ask us: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?” How many can remember the days when every Sunday School class was filled? Who of you is left who was here when every pew was packed every Sunday? When the budget was higher, and the building was more elaborate? God is asking us, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?”

And then He would ask of us, “How does it look to you now?” Sunday school attendance is regularly about 120. Worship attendance around 150. We won’t even mention numbers for Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. “How does it look to you now?”

And then the third rhetorical question would follow, “Does it not seem to you like nothing?” There are people in this sanctuary who have lost sleep in the last few weeks worried about what some of you might think upon returning to Immanuel today, because they are afraid you will think it seems like nothing in comparison with the former days. God knows that you have been thinking it; He is tired of us ignoring it; He brings it out into the open with these three searching questions.

Looking back is hard. There are failures in the past that some have never been able to overcome in their minds. There are successes in the past that stand as constant reminders of the glory of bygone days. But my friends, with as much love in my heart as I can possibly have, and as much respect for the traditions of this church as I can muster, I am under obligation this morning to the Spirit of God to say that He is calling for revival, and He is doing it by calling us to LOOK AHEAD! We can sit around and complain about how these days fail to compare to days before, but God says to us on this day that if we will look ahead we will see His glory in ways we have never experienced before. We might be tempted to say “Why look ahead?” And God is prepared to give us at least three reasons to look ahead to days of greater glory.

I. We must look ahead because of our Lord’s presence (v4-5)

The Israelites knew that the work ahead of them would be difficult. After quickly responding in obedience to God’s call to renew His work in the last chapter, new challenges arose. No longer was the intimidation coming from their enemies on the outside; Now there were grumblings and disputes coming from inside the camp. They were getting fed up and ready to just abandon any hope of ever seeing the glory of the Lord among them again. A young generation of people who had a heart for the Lord were about to give up because of the discouragement hurled their way by a discontent generation of those who had seen better days. In the midst of this, God sends His prophet to encourage them to stick to the work and look ahead, and He promises to give them His presence.

Do you know what the name of this church is? Immanuel: It means “God with us.” Over 100 times in the Old Testament we have the encouragement of hearing that our God is “with us.” He says in verse 4 that we can be strong and we can work, “For I am with you!” And in verse 5, He says, “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

A. His Presence Strengthens Us (v4a-c)

Three times within this one verse the call of God to His people is “Be strong!” or “Take Courage!” That command appears nearly 30 times in the Bible. Now for the Lord to command them to “Be strong!” it must mean that they were not being strong. Here, at a time when the future of the work of God depended upon them, they were weak at the task to which God had called them. I don’t know in what condition the Spirit of God may find you today, but I know this: He is calling us to revival by challenging us to look ahead; in order to do that, we must set our face against opposition and discouragement and BE STRONG! We say, “Yes, but … .” And God says, “You can do it!” We say, “But God you don’t understand.” And He says, “NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND -- You can be strong because I am with you!”

We can look ahead because of His presence; and His presence strengthens us. But His presence does something else also.

B. His Presence Stirs Us (v4d)

“Be Strong,” God says, “and work. For I am with you.” God doesn’t want us just standing around being strong and doing nothing. Strength only matters when you employ it. He wants us to work. And for God to command us to work must imply that we have either ceased working or are contemplating putting an end to the work. Discouragement can cripple a person to the point where he abandons the work to which God has called him. That was the case with those who were trying to rebuild the temple in Haggai’s day. The enemy nations harassed them, but they could handle that. The work was hard, but they could handle that. The conditions were not the best, but that was no problem. But when their own people began to complain about the work that was being done, that was enough to paralyze them. “We might as well give up, because we do not have the resources to ever make this temple compare to the previous one.” Oh, don’t be so sure. Because what made that old temple special was the presence of the Lord, and He just said He was going to be with you again, so He says, “Get to work.”

C. His Presence Stabilizes Us (v5)

God commands the people to BE STRONG! He commands them to WORK! And He commands them in the latter part of verse 5, DO NOT FEAR! The people were discouraged. They were abandoning the service of the Lord. They were frightened to go on. What if God would never bless them again? What if there was no hope of revival? What if all this work is in vain? But God reminds them of something: “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt!” In other words, “Look what I have brought you through in the past! I brought you through those things, and I have not changed! I have not departed. I can bring you through these days as well. And when I do, you will see My glory in this place again.” Oh Friends! I want you to realize something here today: God has done some amazing things here in the past -- but He isn’t finished. There is work to be done today and in the days ahead.

We say, “But look at this community, how it has changed, and how hard the people are to reach in these days.” He says, “I have not changed! Do not fear!”

And not only can we look ahead because of His presence, …

II. We must look ahead because of our Lord’s promise (v6-7)

I like what Haggai says here in verse 6: “This is what the Lord Almighty, or the Lord of Hosts, says.” In other words, if I was just standing up here talking out of my head, it would give you no reason to be encouraged. But these aren’t my words -- this is the Word of the Lord Almighty -- the One who is able to bring it about.

A. His Promise of Judgment (v6)

Beloved, we must move ahead for the cause of Christ because God Almighty Himself, not me, not Haggai, has promised that there is going to be an upheaval on the earth of His judgment. When will that happen? This is all we know -- “In a little while.” That could mean today, or might mean another thousand years or so. We do not know. But we know He has promised it. And we know His promises are true. This is the only verse in Haggai quoted in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews refers to this in Hebrews 12:26-29 where he reminds us that the Lord is going to shake the heavens and the earth in order to institute a kingdom which is unshakable.

According to the Bible, there are only two things on this earth that are going to last forever: The souls of men and the word of God. So, since God is coming to replace the transient with the eternal, shouldn’t we be spending our time depositing the word of God into the souls of men? Jesus said, “Occupy until I come.” Don’t you want Him to find us looking ahead, anticipating His coming by engaging in that which has eternal value? Surely we don’t want Him to find us sulking over how much better things used to be!

Haggai is God’s instrument to call the people to revival. They must look ahead! They are wasting the precious minutes God has given us to do His work reminiscing about how much better the good old days were. Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” If we were wise, we would be saying, “What should we do in these days, considering that the end is near?”

God’s promise of judgment ought to keep us looking ahead. But He has given us another promise as well:

B. His Promise of Jesus (v7)

Some of you might have picked up on the fact that I am using the NIV today rather than the NASB which I usually use. It is because of verse 7 that I opted for the NIV today. If you have the NASB, you might notice that this verse reads: “And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.The NIV and KJV use the phrase desire or desired of all nations.

There is much debate in contemporary scholarship concerning the meaning of this verse. Is it referring to the new temple being adorned with the wealth of the Gentiles who will come? That is what the wealth of all nations indicates. Yet that does not seem to fit with the idea of the shaking of the nations.

God has said that He is going to shake the nations. He is going to rob them of their idols and their disbelief and bring them to such desperation that they will hunger for Him. At that time, “The Desired of all nations will come.” Whether they realize it or not, their desire will be for Jesus the Messiah. He is the desire of every nation. So put this idea together: The nations are shaken, the Messiah comes, He is the one they desire, whether they know it or not. Now, where are they going to find Him? Aha! God says, “I will fill this house with glory!” In other words, there will be no question where they will find Him. They will find Him in this new temple!

About 520 years after Haggai’s day, a little baby boy is going to be presented on the steps of this new temple, Who will cause the old man Simeon to say: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

About twelve years later, not in the old temple but in the new one, a young boy is going to be found sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and answering theirs, and amazing the people. It is in this new temple that he will say to Joseph and Mary, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

About twenty years after that, not in the old temple but in the new one, Messiah will come turning over tables and saying, “MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS.” It was not in the old temple, but in the new one that the veil was torn from top to bottom when Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. If you want to satisfy the desire that is in your heart when God shakes you up, Haggai says, “You will find Him in this house!”

The hardest thing facing us in ministry today is that we are surrounded by an apathetic culture which doesn’t think they need God in their lives. But God isn’t going to let them go on thinking that forever. He is going to shake them up. There will come a time when every person in this community and in this city will turn their thoughts toward God. And when they do, will they think that Immanuel Baptist Church is a place they can turn and find the answers to the questions they are asking? When God shakes the hearts and lives of those around us, where will we be? Will we be sulking about how things used to be, or will we be there pointing them to Jesus?

We must look ahead because of His presence and because of His promise. But then finally …

III. We must look ahead because of our Lord’s Provision (v8-9)

The people were discouraged! They were wondering if they could ever get this building finished and have it be remotely similar to the Temple they loved so much in days gone by. They were poor! They couldn’t afford to do all that Solomon did to adorn the temple! They were depressed, and frankly, they were beginning to get on each other’s nerves. They were at each other’s throats out there. The Lord’s work can’t get done that way! There is a need for resources, there is a need for vision, there is a need for harmony! And God says, “Say no more, because I have it all.”

A. The Work of God must no longer be hindered by a lack of resources (v8).

The remnant of Israel sounded like some modern church folk: “God wants a job done? How much is it going to cost?” The people were more concerned about ornamentation than obedience. God says, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine.” And then it is significant that He is called here what He is called elsewhere in the message of Haggai -- Lord Almighty. In other words, nothing is too difficult for Him. He doesn’t need any gold or silver. He already owns it all. Every bit in every bank, every bit that is still in every pocket, and every bit that is still hidden away in mines that have yet to be dug.

We make God sound downright pathetic the way we talk. You would think He is filing Chapter 11 or something. We don’t take an offering every week because God is poor and needs our help. We do it because it is all His to begin with. I am not giving Him what is mine. I am giving back to Him what is already His. And when I do that it shows a few things: It shows that I recognize Him as sovereign over everything I have. It shows that I desire to honor Him with every part of my life. It shows that I want to be a part of His work. You don’t want to give? Fine. Don’t give, but realize that what you are saying to God is that He does not have a right to all you have, you have no desire to honor Him with all you have, and you have no interest in His work.

But let’s remember something. If God wants something to be done for Him, money isn’t going to stand in the way. The silver and gold are His. He will provide for His work. And that tells us, if He doesn’t provide, maybe He doesn’t want it done. As we consider His provision as a reason for looking ahead, we must realize that the work of the Lord cannot be hindered by lack of resources.

B. The Work of God must no longer be hindered by a lack of vision (v9a).

We, like the people of Haggai’s day, must realize that we will never get anywhere looking back. God’s call to us is for revival, and that call is to Look Ahead! “The glory of this present house.” The people looked and they saw a pile of rubble with a small foundation and just a few timbers up for framing. They must have said, “This present house?” God says, “Yes, the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.” It must have been a very shocking statement.

As we reminisce today about 60 years of great ministry at Immanuel, I want to tell you that the same God who was at work back then wants to do a great work right now, and He is calling His people to the task. Church, you have a great past. Praise God, but realize that God is ready for us to get serious about the future.

I believe that He is saying to us today that “this present house,” yes! God knows our attendance is lower than it used to be. He knows we don’t have the budget we used to have. He knows that our facilities lack some of the sparkle and shine that they had in former days. He knows how this community has changed. And yet, in His providence, here we are. And God is saying to us, “In this present house, my glory will be greater than in the former one.” Our theme today is “Building for Tomorrow from Yesterday’s Heritage.” This has to be our vision: Greater Glory in The Days Ahead.

C. The Work of God must no longer be hindered by a lack of fellowship (v9b).

“In this place I will grant peace.” I believe the peace God grants is holistic. I believe He is talking about peace with God and peace with man, and I don’t believe a person can have either unless he or she has both. God, the Lord Almighty, says to the people of Haggai’s day, “When my glory shows up in this place, there will be peace. There will not be any more of this competition or striving among My people.”

Now, I am going to stop preaching and start meddling for a minute. I don’t know how it happened, why it happened, or when it happened, but there has been a violation of trust and respect in the hearts of some of you. I can see it in your countenance, and I can hear it in your tone of voice. Just emotionally distance yourself for a few moments in our business meetings and listen to the tone of some of the comments that are made. And the problem is not isolated to Immanuel. It is in most churches. There is often more backbiting and gossiping in the church than there ever is in the world. There is all too often unmentioned competitiveness that stems from envy in the hearts of God’s people. This was the case in Haggai’s day. The generations opposed one another. And God’s work was hindered by it. When the people of God in His church today oppose one another, His work is hindered. And beloved this should not be!

Among His provisions for us is His peace. In order to receive it, we have to quit looking back. You say, “Pastor, so-and-so hurt me; Brother X called me a name; Sister A did something I didn’t like.” Yeah, I know. I have been hurt by some in the church worse than I ever was in the world, but I have come to realize that Jesus died for those hurts. He died for the sin that person committed when they hurt you. And He died for your sin of hard-heartedness and unforgiveness. You need ask God to help you forgive that person and move on. Let’s not just smile and pretend all is well. Let’s really do business with God and see to it that there is no broken fellowship holding us back from being what God wants us to be. We will never experience the glory of God in this place as He intends until we experience His peace. If you want revival, then you absolutely must search your heart, and apply the peace of Jesus to any broken fellowship. “In this place,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will grant peace.”

Hear the Word of the Lord. He is calling us to revival, and His call is to look ahead to days of greater glory. We can do that because of His presence. God’s not worried about how many are here. We’ve got a big crowd today. Praise God. But what about next week? God says, “I am here! How many more do you need before you do something for Me?”

We can look ahead because of His promise. Judgment is coming upon this earth and Christ has called us to occupy ‘til He comes. Are we going to spend that time on futile pursuits, or are we going to invest in eternity by depositing the word of God into the souls of men? Are we going to show them the Christ that is the Desire of Nations?

We can look ahead because of His provision. He has provided all the resources we need to do His work. He has provided the vision that is necessary to guide us into the future. He has provided the peace we need to keep us in fellowship with one another.

My hero and Pastor Emeritus of Immanuel, Dr. Paul Early, and I talking before the service on April 30, 2006. Dr. Early stood strong for Christ in Greensboro in the midst of the turbulent civil rights struggle during the 1960s. Dr. Early led Immanuel to be a church for all people, making it one of the first racially integrated churches in the city. Much of the positive ministry taking place at Immanuel is today is the fruit of Dr. Early's vision. Here I am preaching the message you just read. Notice my bandaged hand from having minor surgery a few days before to remove a ganglion cyst. Several things I will mention about this photo. First, the flowers contain 10 roses for each pastor Immanuel has had. I suggested nine, and I could be represented by the thorns! Also, in the photos in this post, you can see that the IBC sanctuary is a beautiful place. The art of the stained glass windows and the "light and height" of the architecture are noticeable enhancements to the worship we offer to God in that place. Finally, notice choir members opening their Bibles. I love our choir and appreciate how they approach their ministry with a standard of excellence. I also appreciate their attentiveness to the proclamation of the word of God. Those on the front side of the pulpit see a good testimony before them when they see these choir members with their Bibles open in their laps and a pen in hand taking notes as the Word is preached.

Thank you Immanuel Baptist Church for allowing me the opportunity to minister to you! Thanks to Curry Murray, not only for the photos included here, but for his heart for the Lord and the nations that led us together as he chaired the search committee that brought me to Immanuel.

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