The Old Testament book of Haggai has a good word for the church today. Who in the world was Haggai, and what message did he preach?
After many years of disobedience to God in the promised land during the age of the kings, Israel was finally given over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BC). He destroyed the temple built by Solomon and hauled Israelites into Babylon for 70 years of exile. This punishment was from the Lord. In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, led by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus freed the Israelites to return to the land and rebuild (just as God had prophesied through Isaiah, even calling Cyrus by name approximately 150 years before! – Isa 44:28; 45:1, 4b-5). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the temple and the city wall. The people laid the foundation of the temple, but then stopped building because of opposition (ESV notes – Ezra 4:24). Now God’s house was lying in ruins, while the people built their own houses and pursued their own interests!
Ezra speaks of two prophets from God – Haggai and Zechariah – preaching to the people and encouraging them to get back to work rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). In the book of Haggai we actually read his sermon to the Jews, and their response! God wanted the temple rebuilt, his presence with his people, so that he would begin to fulfill the promises he made – to bless the world through Israel (ESV notes).
Haggai’s 1st Message
In Haggai chapter one we read his powerful message of confrontation:
Ø Consider your ways (v5, 7)! Judge what you are doing and how you are living in light of God’s perspective, plan, commands and promises. God sees how you are living, what you are pursuing and what you love.
Ø Examine your priorities (v4, 9)! Haggai’s message from the Lord is, in effect: “You guys are saying it’s not time to work on the temple. Really?! Is it time for you to live in your nicely built, paneled houses, while God’s house lies in ruins?? Is that the focus of the people of God? Is it time to prioritize your house or God’s house? Is it time to concentrate on your kingdom, or his? You are all busy with your own agendas and priorities instead of the Lord’s.” Calvin explains: “The Jews were so taken up with their own domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God’s worship.”
Ø What will God bless (v6, 9-11)? God will not bless our self-focus and neglect of his will. Haggai tells them that this is why God has been withholding blessing from them (they are experiencing drought, crop failure and financial troubles). They are being disciplined for sin! God’s people must understand that neglect of God’s will and focus on our own priorities is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken.
Ø Get to work and build God’s house (v8)! Haggai gives God’s clear command. The people are to get back to work immediately! God wants his people focused on his will, not theirs. It is time for the people of God to build the house of God!
Ø Live for God’s glory (v8)! The Lord declared that he would take pleasure and glory in his house. God wants his people to consider his pleasure and glory above all else. When we turn from God’s will and put ourselves first, at heart we are making ourselves gods and pursuing our own glory.
The People’s Response
The people paid attention to the preacher! They listened to his word from the Lord, obeyed what was said and feared the Lord (v12). The preachers encouraged the people in the work, equipping them for this ministry (v13). And God worked in them, stirring up their spirit to do the work of the Lord (v14).
Haggai’s 2nd Message
The people repented of self-focus and returned to the work of the Lord. But their heart was not in it, because they did not see the glory of what they were building. Solomon’s temple had been luxurious and extravagant, but this temple was much more…plain. Ezra reports that when the temple began to be built, the young people shouted with joy, but the older ones – the ones who remembered the beauty of Solomon’s temple – cried like babies (Ezra 3:10-13)! God did not just want his people obeying; he wanted them obeying with right hearts! So, he sent Haggai with a 2nd message to encourage the people.
Haggai told the people not to judge with their eyes. This temple may not look as great as Solomon’s, but it will be glorious (2:3-9)! Haggai encouraged them to be strong, keep working, and don’t be afraid, knowing that God is present with them by his Spirit.
Applying Haggai’s Message in the Church
While we do NOT apply Haggai’s message by constructing church buildings, God does have powerful things to say to us through Haggai’s words:
Ø Christ is the Temple! Haggai’s words are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ; he is the true, spiritual temple; God’s glory present with us (John 1:14; 2:19-21; Mat 1:23). Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18), which is his people (not buildings). Because we are united with Christ by the Holy Spirit, we who believe are also referred to in Scripture as the temple, the house of God in Christ, where the Spirit and presence and glory of God is present (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5).
Ø We are Prone to Self-Focus. Like the Jews in Haggai’s day, we too are prone to neglect the things of God and elevate our own priorities above his will. We have a natural and sinful bent away from the disciple-making, church-building mission of the church; away from pursuing God’s glory and advancing his gospel cause. Instead, our bent is towards self-focus. We are quick to lose our passion for ministry in the church and drift to the “outskirts” of the action, leaving it for others. Our vision drifts from the community of believers to building our own house and kingdom, and chasing our own desires, hobbies, pleasures, comforts, cause, etc. From Haggai’s prophecy, we must recognize that this is a sin to be confessed and forsaken. Philippians 2:21
Ø We are Ministers on Mission. Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission to make other disciples. He is building his church in the earth, through the gospel, and we are first and foremost to be focused on this ministry and mission. Jesus calls us today to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and embrace the will of God. Christians follow Jesus in pouring out our lives for his cause, joining him in building up his church. We must invest our time, treasures and talents in building his house! This is done through ministry in the church and gospel mission in the world. So…where are your time, treasures and talents going? Whose house are you building? There is much work to do, and your church needs your commitment to Christ and his people.
Ø Remember the Glory of What we are Building! Ministry is hard, and it is easy to lose sight of the eternal glory and beauty of what we are building. We get frustrated and exhausted; we battle our flesh and the world and the devil. We think we are the only ones doing it right. We look back on the “glory days” of how things used to be done, and we get discouraged. But our labor is not in vain. The church will shine! God’s glory will be seen, and it will all be worth it in the end.
For his glory, let’s get to work!