Looking Back – Haggai 1

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Looking back is often helpful, and sometimes very unhelpful!

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube where our pastor, Darren Jones, speaks in relation to his 10 years at Bromborough Evangelical Church.

You’ll find links to other sermons and notes in our Sermon Index.

10 years ago I was saying my good-byes to colleagues in Barclays before starting here as pastor. Since then, I’ve preached around 800 sermons spanning more than two-thirds of the Bible.

We’ve seen people come and go. Children have grown up. Some things have started, some stopped, some changed, some stayed the same. We have made progress in some key areas of discipleship.

There have been times when the Lord was pleased to bless us with growth. Other times have felt a bit more lean. But we have a big problem. It’s common to many, many churches. Thankfully, we can do something about it. Haggai will alert you to the problem and what you must do.

Take stock (1-6)

The scene for Haggai is very clear. Even the dates are precise. The history of Old Testament Israel is pretty unhappy:

  • It’s rooted in God’s plan to dwell on the earth with his people.
  • God called Israel into a nation and put them into a land that he’d promised. He set up a covenant with them.
  • If they would be hugely blessed if they were obedient to the covenant (lives of holiness); cursed if they rebelled.
  • They had a succession of kings who turned away from God and so ended up expelled from the land.
  • The Babylonians had come to Jerusalem, smashed its walls, stolen the Temple treasures, and burned it down.
  • After 70 years in exile in Babylon, a small remnant returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and city.
  • They were really excited to be back in Jerusalem, but stopped rebuilding the Temple under fierce opposition.
  • So, Ezra 4:23-24 …with a show of strength, they forced the Jews to stop building. So the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem had stopped, and it remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia. – exactly the scene for Haggai 1.

Read Haggai 1:1. So the people were few in number, low in funds, dispirited and discouraged. They remembered former times of glory, but those days were gone. With no money and few people, and in the face of opposition, the rebuilding of the Temple wasn’t about to start any time soon. Everyone was too busy just surviving in day-to-day life.

God knows

And so read Haggai 1:2. God knows. God cares. And God speaks. He speaks rebuke and correction, but with their best good in mind. Read Haggai 1:3-4.

The people had managed to sort out their own homes and lives without opposition, but they’d left the temple in ruins. So is Haggai 1 a kind of “church roof fundraiser”? No, it’s much more fundamental. God will dwell on the earth with his people. First the Tabernacle, later the Temple, put God’s presence at the heart of society itself. God’s presence shaped the rhythms of the week and year – being cleansed from sin, approaching him and fellowshipping with him – all at his Temple.

Israel as a people were literally built around him. In that, they were a 2D shadow of the 3D heavenly reality – all heaven surrounds God on his glorious throne! They sing, and worship, and praise – he is the centre and focus. They don’t worship him on Sundays and do their own thing at other times.

But Israel had become individualistic. They were scattered in suburbs, not gathered around God in his Temple. It’s easy to see us the same today. Do you feel like you “go to church” or that you’re part of a community with Christ at its centre? Equally, do you think the best days of this church are behind or ahead? Do we just let it settle and decay now because we are few in number? “It is what it is”?

Where’s the blessing?

Read Haggai 1:5-6. They had been promised satisfaction and plenty under God’s covenant, but they weren’t seeing it. Where was the blessing? But could they expect blessing when they neglected God by neglecting the Temple that would bring them to him?

  • Do you expect growth in this church when you don’t live and love as Christ says you should?
  • And if you’d like growth here, what kind? More consumers who pick and choose the bits you like? Or real growth with people committed to Christ and his work?
  • Does this church satisfy you? Does anything?

The truth is that the Lord will not sustain, bless, or grow a church that is not functioning as a loving community and assembly. So take stock of this church; take stock of yourself.

In heaven, you’ll gather with all God’s people around him. Why would you act so differently now?

Get to work (7-11)

The answer in Haggai 1 to God’s people then was clear: Get to work. Read Haggai 1:7-11.

Again, God himself makes the point that he has withheld blessing because of the neglect of his Temple. The Lord does not need a temple, or a house – as Solomon said when the first temple was built, “Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

But we need him, his presence, his church. He has provided, and we have neglected. This isn’t about money, or even about a building. This is a call to gather together around God. But not only on Sundays! You must not think of “going to church” (although we use that language, and will probably continue to do so!). You are the church, so you can gather anywhere.

I saw someone say that God used Lockdown to turn the church inside out! Too focussed on buildings, the church was still the church on the outside of them too! Repent of your individualism. It’s a god of the world around us. Be part of this community, this family, this body of Christ – built around him, participating in him as you participate with his people.

Verse 8 is very clear and direct: Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.

It’s not rocket science. Go and get the wood and rebuild the house.  Who? Everyone. Clear, specific action that will put God’s work at the centre of your day and God’s glory at the centre of his church.

Go and get the wood

What clear, specific actions might you do to rebuild his house, his temple, his community, his body here? Plenty:

  • As lockdown restrictions ease, be hospitable with one another. Meet up for tea+coffee. Have a meal.
    • Be community. Open your homes and gardens.
    • Include unbelieving people.
  • Pray!
    • Prioritise the prayer meeting – it’s never been easier. Pray alone and with others.
    • Pray for kingdom growth – walking with Jesus, witnessing to Jesus, workers for Jesus. Do you?
  • Participate 
    • Be at the prayer meeting and at events.
    • Be at both services (growth for you, encouragement for others)
    • Don’t be a consumer. Be us. Be church.

Remember the picture:

  • In heaven, the gathered saints are wholly focussed on Christ on his throne
  • The church here are to be community also gathered around him – sometimes here, sometimes over a cup of tea & slice of cake, loving one another, listening & caring.

If you already think your relationship to Christ’s body here is a good reflection of the heavenly worship, crack on. For the rest of us, we have work to do.

For the Lord (12-15)

Now I introduced this sermon saying I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve been through quite a bit together. But the message here isn’t that you’re to do anything for me. Read Haggai 1:12.

The message was to everyone – from Zerubbabel the governor and Jeshua the high priest, to the whole remnant of Israel. I know I need to repent just as I know you do. I don’t expect you to do all the work. You shouldn’t expect me to do all the work.

Think of it this way. Say the church is a vine we want to grow up a wall. Church leaders will put up trellis: Events, structures, meetings – lifeless structures. The church is the living thing that is to grow, strengthened and supported by the structures – growing in different directions and unexpected ways – but alive!

I take that trellis-work seriously. But I’m part of the vine with you too – and we all have to take part in the growth. But notice two more words from v12: “obey” and “fear”. Read Haggai 1:12 again.

  • Those people weren’t being asked to obey Haggai. He was just presenting the word of God.
  • As I call you to repent of your individualism and to take your place in Christ’s body here, I’m passing on God’s word to you.
  • If you think I’m wrong, you can disagree. No need to repent or change. Let the church rot. Walk away.
  • But this is the word of the Lord: Rebuild the house.
  • It’s him you are to obey.

God is present and active in his church

And this isn’t dry legislation from a lawbook. He is present, speaking in his word. “The people feared the LORD” (v12) is literally “they feared before the LORD” – they were aware of his presence, his person, his command. This is a call to repentance and faith.

Why faith? We’re small, few in number, with relatively low funds. Gospel work is hard, expensive, and demanding. Which is why they were given v13. Read Haggai 1:13.

God actually sent two witnesses to Zerubbabel to press the point home: Haggai and Zechariah. Could the Temple really be rebuilt? God’s word to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6 was This is what the LORD says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

This word came to them one day in August, as it does to you. Unbelief is easy. Faith requires you to step out and work. Read Haggai 1:14-15.

  • Everyone joined in and did their part.
  • You might feel small and weak, or old and helpless, or ill.
  • Do you think the Lord doesn’t know that? 
  • But we all have gifts given to use in and for his church.
  • You may feel that all you can do is pray. Well, we have lost some of our greatest prayer warriors this year. Step up.

Take some time and plan

The word came to them at the end of August and they started work 3 weeks later. Take some time; do some planning. Next time we’ll look at how they got on and how the Lord protected and provided – it’s really encouraging. For now, if you think there’s something holding us back, you might want to say “The problem with this church is… me.”

Commit to Christ and to being an active part of his body, this church. Commit to loving and service his church. Integrate. Participate. Prioritise. Obey him. Fear him. Strengthened by him. Be enthused by him.