Series Haggai #2 – We’re all in this together
Last week we started looking at that little book in the old testament of the prophet Haggai, one of the minor prophets – and we spent some time looking at the way that God’s people had returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile, and they returned with great hope and excitement and expectation.
But the reality was after about 15 years. Things really were not going as well as they thought and they weren’t seeing the blessing that they had hoped for.
They weren’t seeing the nations come to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple.
So they weren’t seeing the people come to Jerusalem, to worship God in a temple and that the question was why?
Then Haggai comes along and the Lord speaks to them through Haggai, and he tells them to do something very challenging. He tells them to carefully consider their ways. Why is it? The Lord asks that you panel your own houses, but you leave my temple in ruins.
Then the Lord instructs them to go up into the mountains to go and get their resources, go and get the timber, bring it down and start to rebuild the temple.
And if they did that he would be pleased. So let’s pick up the story: Haggai 1-12:15:
Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
So we’ve only got four verses to unpack, but they are four verses that are really rich for us today.
So, first of all, who are these people? Who is Joshua and Zerubbabel, and the remnants of the people?
Well Joshua was a priest. He was going back to Jerusalem to the city to rebuild it and to re-establish the priesthood in that place.
Zerubbabel is an interesting character. He was actually a prince, his name Zerubbabel means seed of Babylon. That is quite important because it shows us that he was actually born in Babylon. He has never been in Jerusalem, but he is of the line of David.
If you actually look at the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew in the new testament, you’ll see Zerubbabel’s name, so he’s a key character in the promise of God for the Messiah.
So, Zerubbabel goes back at this point to Jerusalem, even though he was born in Babylon.
Then, we have this remnant, the remnant of the people. You remember, you may remember last week that I said that God’s people were overthrown and Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the jews were taken into exile into Babylon. But 70 years later the babylonians themselves were destroyed by the persian empire and it was the leader of the persian empire, a guy called Cyrus, who quite remarkably really sent out a decree to say that all the jews were free to go back to Jerusalem. They could go back, they could rebuild their city, rebuild their temple and also, quite remarkably, is that he actually gave them money from the royal treasury to take with them to help, and he wanted them to rebuild the temple and pray for him.
So not only were they allowed to go back to Jerusalem, but they were also given back the silver and gold that had been ransacked from the temple 70 years ago by Nebuchadnezzar.
Now, just as an aside before I get into the main teaching, I want you to think about something.
The babylonians were responsible for taking the jews into exile, 70 years, go by, which was prophesied by Jeremiah 70 years go by and the persian empire has taken over the babylonian empire and it’s the persian empire.
That then makes it possible for the jews to return to Jerusalem as great kingdoms and empires fall and rise in our world. Don’t ever think that God is not sovereign, you see the Babylonians and the Persians, they weren’t followers of the living God, and yet here they both are with their vast power. Their vast earthly authority actually fitting in very nicely with the plan and purpose of God for his people.
Now I think, that’s actually quite amazing, and I think we should be encouraged by that. You know it’s always worth asking ourselves when we watch our news when we see the rise and the fall of great political powers across the globe just remind ourselves, God is sovereign, nothing happens that doesn’t actually fit in with his plan and purpose. I think that is actually quite amazing.
Anyway, that’s the kind of a little aside uh before we get cracking on Haggai, so Joshua was the priest. The rubbable was the line of David. Now, who were the remnants of the people there’s actually a detailed list of them?
If you want to read it , it’s found in the book of Ezra. It’s at the beginning of ezra. You get a list of details, but suffice it to say for now it’s about 50 000 people. Now there were hundreds of thousands living in exile, but only 50 000 returned to Jerusalem.
Now, from the time they had been exiled, the jews had been able to live their lives in Babylon, they’ve been able to settle, they’ve been able to do trade and set up businesses, and Babylon itself was in a capital city on a major trade route.
So, they would have been a big, bustling kind of trading place and many of them had established themselves there very well and they’d assimilated their lives in with the babylonian culture and they’d settled into a new way of living.
I mean 70 years is quite a long time. The prophet Jeremiah had actually written to the exiles while they were in Babylon, encouraging them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. He says, pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. There’s nothing wrong in praying for the peace and prosperity of Watford. How much do we pray for Watford? That they will experience peace and prosperity?
I think it is a good thing to be praying for our community that god will bless the people of our community. Certainly that’s what he says to those living in exile through Jeremiah. If they prosper, you too will prosper, pray for whoever it is. That’s just been elected in your local council.
I have no idea who that is, I must confess, but pray for that person, that man or that woman or that city council now clearly they had done this, and the result was that many of them chose not to return to Jerusalem because it meant laying down their entire livelihoods, and that would have been a huge sacrifice to leave a busy prosperous capital city, where they built their lives to return to a desolate city who live, who just lay in ruins with nothing.
There was actually a huge ask. It was quite a commitment and many of them put their material comfort before their spiritual heritage, so about 50 000 people returned and this 50 000 were committed to God.
They were committed to their spiritual heritage. They were the ones who were prepared to sacrifice material things and that settled life in Babylon to lay all that aside and start all over again in the desolated city of Jerusalem.
Many of the original exiles, of course, would have died 70 years quite a long time, and so most of the jews that were given the freedom to return had either been so young when they left that they couldn’t remember or they’d never been there at all.
There were some exceptions which we’ll look at in a minute, but these are committed followers of God.
These were the ones prepared to walk that tough road. They feared God they were good people and when they first returned to Jerusalem, they had high hopes and great expectations.
The first thing they do is build an altar, an altar to God, to establish that whole sacrificials system right there in jerusalem. Once again – and you know, this was no easy task, because in those 70 years there were people living in and around Jerusalem that were none too pleased about all these exiles coming back and they faced serious opposition.
And again, you can read all about that in the first six chapters of Ezra. It’s quite a good read. Actually, it reads very well, it reads like a good story, but they finally got around to rebuilding the temple after two years and they laid the foundations and it’s all very exciting. At least it was for some of the older priests that had returned that had lived long enough. They started to compare the plans for the new temple with Solomon’s temple, which had been beautiful and ornate and huge, and this did not look so impressive.
You know there’s nothing more depressing and discouraging then, when you’re building something for the Lord and someone comes by and tells you it won’t be as good as it was in the old days that knocks the stuffing out of people and it started to knock the stuffing out of the remnants that had gone back to Jerusalem that had so joyfully and expectantly gone back, full of hope, and I have to tell myself this over and over again and i would say to anyone. I hope this doesn’t cause offence.
But anyone over the age of 50 watches yourself over this things have changed. Life has changed. Church life will not be the same as it was 20 30 40 years ago, because our country has changed.
People’s lifestyles have changed and things that worked well 30 years ago won’t work anymore, and that is a hard lesson for us, older people to really accept and take on board.
But we must not discourage the younger people who are full of life and energy and passion for Jesus, but they’re doing things in a different way.
We must encourage them and the worst thing we can say is it’s not going to work, or it wasn’t like that in my day, because that will knock the stuffing out of them.
We must encourage them in their passion for Jesus, because we’re living in different times. Now, just as the exiled people came back to Jerusalem, it was going to be different anyway.
This remnant of people believed, and they were encouraged by the message God had given them through Haggai, and I was struck by verse 12. That says that although Zerubbabel and Joshua were the leaders, it wasn’t just them that God spoke to, it wasn’t just them that heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. It was the whole remnant of the people and it seems to me that in the book of Haggai it.
The Lord goes to great lengths to explain that. Because on a couple of occasions he says to Joshua, to Zerubbabel and the remnant of the people. And we need to bear that in mind.
You see so often, we can look to our leaders to be the ones who will hear from God and let’s hope they do, because that is a. That is a good thing, but as ordinary church members, we too are called to listen, hear and obey the voice of the Lord ourselves.
It is not just the leaders.
You know I’ve been to churches, where virtually everything that happens in the life of the church is done by the leaders. You could have a congregation of a hundred people, but the only members who are taking any part in the active life of the church through the week are three or four leaders.
Then nothing very much is going to happen, but a small church of 20 people where every man, woman and child plays their part, is worth its weight in gold.
Notice, how it says they obeyed the voice of the Lord, the Lord, their God, and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord, their God, had sent him and the people feared the Lord.
They didn’t just hear Haggai’s voice. Now, let’s just think about that for a minute. How often do we go to church and listen to a sermon? No, I haven’t always preached for the first 20-plus years of my christian life. I went to church and listened to sermons and I was listening to the preacher or was I listening to God.
You see as Haggai is speaking to the people. Were they just hearing the prophets? Were they just hearing a man? Was he just a man having a bit of a rant? Was he like an armchair critic with a lot of opinions as to why things weren’t going as well as they could have been? Was he just a pain in the neck? Was he someone who liked the sound of his own voice?
It says they obeyed the voice of the Lord through the prophet Haggai, because they recognized it as being the voice of the lord.
They understood that it was the Lord who was speaking to them through Haggai, but the voice of the lord and you know in today’s world.
I think it is vitally important that, as believers, we search the scriptures for ourselves, don’t ever be content with listening to what i say or listening to any future pastor without checking it yourselves in the word of God, you know, church leaders are not infallible.
We might get things wrong, we might teach things wrong, we try very hard not to, but we’re not infallible.
But the word of the Lord is the word of the Lord and he will not backtrack. He will never change his mind and he will never contradict what he has ordained to be recorded in scripture.
So, every time any of us listens to a sermon. The thing we need to ask ourselves is not what was the preacher saying, but what was God saying?
Well, the people in our passage today heard the voice of the Lord. Through the prophet Haggai everybody. It says everybody heard the voice of the Lord, but they still had to make a choice.
We heard last week how God challenged the people to very carefully consider their ways well, hearing a challenge is one thing acting on. It is something different altogether, but it says everybody obeyed and work started on the temple and what does God say next? He says: I am with you declares the Lord. I am with you.
God says this to all of us, to all of the people, not just the leaders, but all of them that he is with us. This little passage reminds us that God is with each of us.
You don’t have to be in a leadership role. You don’t have to have any specific kind of a role with a title, but God is calling each one of us to listen to him, to obey him and to step out in faith, and at that point he says to us. I am with you declares the Lord, the Lord stirred up not only as a rubber ball, not only Joshua, but he stirred up by his spirit the whole remnant of the people.
So, last week we saw that God had challenged them to consider their ways, chastise them. For building up their own homes, while leaving his temple in ruins, he helped them to understand that, although they were working hard, they weren’t getting anywhere because their priorities were all wrong and they listened and they changed their ways and God said, get up into the mountains. Go and get your resources go and bring it down and start building the temple don’t be discouraged, don’t get weary keep on going, don’t give up, and it says that Joshua and Zerubbabel obeyed the voice of the Lord, and they led they led as examples to the people, but also the people obeyed the voice of the Lord.
They followed their leaders, it was the leaders and the people that obeyed the Lord together and working together started to do the work, and God was pleased and assured them that he was with them.
You know churches can fall into two extremes.
One is where the leaders do 99 of the work. They do 99 of everything that needs to be done and the people can sit back on a sunday and listen to them and criticize, and they say well, the leaders must be doing something wrong because this church isn’t growing instead of actually asking themselves.
What is my role in building the kingdom of God?
The other extreme is where leaders don’t do very much at all sunday by sunday they simply tell the people where they’re going wrong you’re not doing something right, because that’s why this church isn’t growing, and you end up with a real critical spirit and what we see in this passage is neither of those two extremes, in this passage we see the leaders and the people coming together, together here, in God, together obeying God and together, putting the muscle in and starting to rebuild the temple.
My prayer for this church and all churches is that we will be like the people of God in this passage that it won’t be the leaders or the people. It will be both coming together, under God, with a common focus, a common goal to rebuild.
In our case, the kingdom of God, in this place so go out into this week, think about what your own resources are and remember I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about you as individual people and me as an individual person.
What are our resources? What are our gifts? How much time can we offer? How much time have we got? What are our experiences in life that we can bring to think about afresh? What are my resources doesn’t matter if you’re, not a leader, doesn’t matter if you are we’re all one body, that’s why we read that piece of scripture in the beginning, we are one body, christ’s body, on earth with many many different parts, but we are all in this together.
So, let’s go out into this week and start with a fresh excitement, a fresh encouragement to go out and start to rebuild the kingdom of God in and around Watford next week. Cumber is going to pick up the story and look at the first nine verses in chapter two and then I’ll be back on the following week.
Author: Maria Bond