You are who you allow to influence you
Don’t Miss Out Haggai 2:1-9
I think it’s important to provide some background before we dive into the message itself because Haggai isn’t a well-known book, and the context is important to understanding what the prophet is saying to the Jews. This book is written after the Jews have returned from their 70-year exile in Babylon, and they’re trying to settle in to their new life, but it doesn’t come without its problems. They attempt to rebuild the city and rebuild the temple, but their enemies in the surrounding cities protest to the Persian government and get all the work shut down.
So now the Jews are living in a city that’s still in ruins with a half-finished temple, and they’re understandably discouraged. Life in Israel just isn’t what it used to be. They’re not as big, not as populous, not as wealthy, not as powerful as they once were. They’re struggling through this adjustment period to find a “new normal,” and that’s where Haggai comes in. In chapter 1, he urges the people to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, get their priorities in order, and finish the temple, and the Jews actually listen to a prophet for a change because that’s exactly what they do. If chapter 1 focuses on the macro, then chapter 2 focuses on the micro, as Haggai instructs the Jews on how to live for God daily in a new environment, which they’re still struggling with for various reasons.
There are three lessons that Haggai teaches the Jews in this passage here. I did not come up with this outline myself. I’ve been listening to Bro. Scott Pauley’s podcast (which I highly recommend to you if you don’t listen to it; he does 10 minute episodes 5 days a week on various subjects in the Bible), and he did a mini-series on the book of Haggai. The points he made here really stuck out to me, and I wanted to share them with you tonight.
In these verses, the older generation is lamenting over how ordinary this new temple is compared to how magnificent Solomon’s temple was. If you read the description of Solomon’s temple in I Kings 6 (or if you’ve seen illustrated representations of it), it’s an understandable reaction. It was covered in gold, and it was much bigger than this new temple was. To these older Jews, this temple represented the fact that life now isn’t as good as it used to be.
Sometimes we talk about the “good old days,” but I think our nostalgia tends to only focus on what we thought was good and we forget about the things that were bad. We shouldn’t talk about the “good old days” as if the best is behind us. We should be living in good days today and in the future. Now this doesn’t mean every day is a good day. We all struggle and have bad days, but it belittles what God is still doing in this world today when we only talk about what He did back then. The Lord still wants to do great things in this world, in this church, and in your life. We recently celebrated this church’s 50th anniversary, and I think our pastor had the right perspective on that. He said that we were remembering the past, but we were also looking to the future. Our church’s best days should be ahead of us, not behind us.
Some people will quote II Timothy 3:13, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” as if that means it’s becoming less and less possible to live for God and do great things for Him. But the very next verse says, “But continue thou in the things that thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” The fact that the world is getting worse should motivate us to do more for Christ, not less. It’s not an excuse to become complacent. It’s all the more reason we need to continue to be faithful and pressing forward for Him. The devil is fighting harder than ever, and so should we.
This was a major problem the Jews were facing before Haggai arrived on the scene. They let their enemies beat them down into submission to the point that they just gave up on ever rebuilding the city and rebuilding the temple. They lost sight of who God is because they got so focused on their problems. It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible stories, which is the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. At one point, Peter asks Jesus to let him walk to Him on the water as well. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was able to do miraculous things. It was when he started noticing the wind and the waves around him that he began to sink. That’s why Hebrews 12:2 tells us we should be “looking unto Jesus.”
Three times in verse 4 the Lord says, “Be strong.” He says it to Zerubbabel, the political leader; He says it to Joshua the high priest, the spiritual leader; and He says it to all the people. It doesn’t matter how bad our circumstances might be. God’s strength is always enough. Paul learned this lesson in II Corinthians 12, when he was dealing with a thorn in the flesh. He asked God three times to take it away from him because of all the pain and trouble it was causing him, and yet the Lord never did. In II Corinthians 12:9, Christ says, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response should be ours: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” It sounds like a paradox to say that His strength is greatest when we are at our weakest, but it’s only when we get to the point that we realize we can’t do it without Him that we start to see the greatness of His power in a real way. As long as we believe our own strength is sufficient to get us through, we’ll never know the true sufficiency of God’s strength and grace.
We also have a God whose word we can trust. In verse 5, He speaks of “the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt.” Ten different times in this chapter, God says, “I will.” That is a promise we can trust. If He says it, He will do it. This is one of the many reasons that it is important for us to read the Bible daily. There is so much comfort and encouragement to be gleaned from learning the promises that we find God’s Word. In a world filled with instability, there is great assurance in knowing we have a Word that will not change and cannot be undone.
At the end of verse 5, God also says, “So my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.” The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome fear in our lives. II Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Pastor Sexton used to say this all the time: “The fear of God casts out all lesser fears.” When we’re tempted to get focused on our problems rather than look to the Lord, we need to remember I John 4:4, which says, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
God talks about things that will be shaken and things that cannot be shaken. This is a contrast between the temporal and the eternal. Sometimes we can get so focused on things that don’t matter that we lose sight of what’s really important. We live in a world that is so obsessed with “stuff.” Now we should be thankful for what God has provided for us, but we have to remember that there’s more to life than how much stuff you have and how much money you make.
On the other hand, we have to avoid getting focused on what we don’t have that we forget what we do have in the Lord. Even if you were to lose everything tomorrow in terms of this world’s goods, you would still have everything you need because you still have the Lord and the Lord still has you. We have to be able to say, as Paul did in II Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
We must also avoid focusing on what others have that we don’t have as if we can’t do anything without whatever that thing is. That was the problem a lot of the Jews here were having. The older generation was discouraged about how small and plain this new temple was compared to the size and splendor of Solomon’s Temple. On a similar note, we are a smaller church, and we can be tempted to think that we can’t do as much as a big church. I don’t know who said it originally, but I’ve heard it many times: “A church is not measured by its size, but by its likeness to Jesus Christ.” When we stand before God, He isn’t going to be looking at church attendance records. When Jesus addressed the seven churches in Revelation, the church at Philadelphia was the smallest church of them all, but it received the highest commendation from the Lord, who had nothing negative to say about it.
It is important to understand that God is not restricted by numbers. In I Samuel 14, we read the story of Jonathan and his armorbearer taking on an entire garrison of the Philistines by themselves. Before the battle, Jonathan says in verse 6, “There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.” While these two Israelites were winning great victories, Saul and the rest of the army were just sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, and doing nothing. II Chronicles 14:11 says, “Lord, is it nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power.”
The Lord is still at work in this world, and we should make sure we don’t miss out on it by focusing on the wrong things. God assured these Jews that this smaller, lesser temple would enjoy greater glory than even Solomon’s temple, and the reason for this is given in verse 7, “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” Who or what is the desire of all nations? He’s talking about Jesus Christ. This would be the temple that Jesus taught in and ministered in. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything every nation is looking for, even though they may not know it or acknowledge it. In Jesus Christ, we find salvation, love, joy, peace, satisfaction, forgiveness, acceptance, and many other things people the world over are searching for.
Where is your focus today? Are you focused on lesser things? Or are your eyes on Jesus Christ, where they ought to be?