(These are notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)
Do you worry about sequels?
I watched the trailer for Captain America 3 a few days ago, and it looks awesome! I am a huge fan of the character and the recent movies he has been in. But...what if it isn't that good? Sometimes, great movies end up with very disappointing sequels - I am sure you can think of a few!
So when you hear of a sequel to a great movie being made, you might worry that they won't do it justice - especially if the first movie was one you really loved. Urbandictionary.com refers to this as "sequelphobia" - a fear that the sequel won't live up to the original.
That's what some of the people of God were feeling when they began to rebuild the temple. They worried that the second temple would not be as great as the first - Solomon's temple.
The structure and decor of Solomon's temple was so eye-catching, the description of it takes up two whole chapters of the Bible (1 Kings 6-7). But when the Babylonian army led the Jewish people into exile, they also destroyed the important buildings, including that iconic place of worship.
Now the Jewish people were back in their homeland, rebuilding the temple. But there were mixed feelings about it. In the book of Ezra, we read that those who could remember Solomon's temple wept as the new foundation was laid, even while others rejoiced (Ezra 3v11-13).
This is reflected in the Lord's words in Haggai 2v3: "Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing to you?" The anticipation of disappointment paralysed the people and halted the work.
You may be tempted sometimes to compare the church you're in now with a church you used to go to. You think of the building that church met in; the style of service; the number of people. You compare it with your experience today, and think: "We'll never be as good as that church!". The anticipation of long term disappointment paralyses you, and you start to think that it isn't worth the effort.
God's remedy for this was simple. He helped the people remember what made Solomon's temple so great - the covenant faithfulness of a great God.
When Solomon's temple was dedicated, the people reacted with thankfulness. But what were they so thankful for? The wonderful building? The beautiful decor? No - they gave thanks to the Lord "because He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!" (2 Chron. 7v3). In that moment, they recognised that it was the faithfulness of God that made the temple great.
So God inspires the people again as he repeats His promise of steadfast love: "Work, for I am with you." (Haggai 2v4) God's faithfulness renewed their strength to labour for Him.
Their history as God's people was meant to encourage them, not discourage! God doesn't say "Stop looking back - just look forward!" Instead, He deliberately points them to the past, and their exodus from Egypt (2v5). They could see the faithfulness of God demonstrated, and He had not changed! He would always keep His promises.
Today, we look back to the cross to see the faithfulness of God. Or course, we can see His commitment to us as we look back over our own lives, but the death of Christ provides evidence that is unmistakable and irreversible. God demonstrates clearly how committed He is to being with us - to being the "I am with you" - as He becomes a man and gives His life to save us. His commitment is reaffirmed as He gives His Spirit to dwell with us (Haggai 2v5).
We are therefore not to be discouraged by what we lack, but encouraged by what we have - a God who is with us, and who has proven His commitment through the gospel. The gospel therefore becomes the foundation of the spiritual work ethic of a church. We do not work to earn God's commitment, nor to pay it back, but simply because He is with us and will not forsake us and, therefore, nothing is impossible.
God has now provided a greater temple for all nations. He tells the people that things are going to be shaken up. The world will change; nations will rise and fall; and it will all be part of His purposes (2v6-7). There will be a greater temple with greater glory; a place where people will no longer cling to temporary treasures, but find lasting peace (2v7-9).
We find this place in Jesus Christ. He is the temple of greatest glory, one that can never be destroyed. As we abide in him, what is our reaction to be? "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12v28).
We are to concentrate on being a worshipping community, a dwelling place for God. He will fill His home with His glory. He has given His Son for us. He has given His Spirit to us. We can trust Him to provide all we need to do all He has planned.
So don't go compare. Just go to work, for God is with you.