(Here are some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)
We're continuing our series in the book of Haggai. Last week, we considered how we should understand the Old Testament. Here's a summary of the main points:
a. If Jesus is your guide to life, then he should be your guide to the Old Testament. In Luke 24, when the risen Jesus appears to his followers, he teaches them the gospel through the Old Testament. In doing so, their minds and the Scriptures are opened. To fully understand the Old Testament, we must see what it teaches us about the gospel.
b. In the Old Testament, the way God saves His people from temporary situations tells us something about the way He saves His people eternally through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is not fundamentally about me - it's not a story that teaches me how to become the hero. Instead, it directs me to see how Jesus would be the hero - a better hero than any other.
c. Jesus has replaced the temple as the place where we meet with God. The book of Haggai is about rebuilding the temple. Today, the temple is God's people built on the foundation of God's Son. The foundation of the temple is the gospel; the walls are the people who believe the gospel.
Now we approach the book of Haggai. What was happening at the time? God's people had returned to their land after a period of exile. The temple was in ruins, as were many other buildings. The people began to rebuild the temple, but were halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius (see Ezra 4).
However, they did not return to the rebuilding work. Haggai then brings God's message to the people and their leaders in chapter one.
1. Too busy to build
Haggai first approaches Zerubabbel and Joshua, who were the leaders. Instead, they were being led by the people! "These people..." Haggai begins (v2). As a parent of four children, I've sometimes had to remind my kids who is Dad! Here, the Lord's words imply that the people need to be reminded who is God.
So in verse 3, Haggai begins to speak to the people. They had focused their attention on their own homes, and overlooked God's home, the temple. "My house is in ruins!" the Lord declares, while the people had elegant homes, with paneled walls.
They had lost sight of what was most important - the acknowledged presence of God in their community. They didn't recognise that without the Lord, something was missing in every area of life (v5-6). The people were safe - life was getting back to normal - and perhaps they thought that God didn't need to be so present anymore. So they put their efforts into making their lives nice and comfortable.
The people were busy (v9b), but they were treating God as a second-class citizen, when He should have been treated as the heart of the community.
As a church community today, we mustn't allow a culture to develop where being busy is more important than being godly. It can be tempting to think that the most vital thing for a church is to be busy. As long as you're a busy church, it doesn't matter whether or not you meet to pray, or to be taught, or to simply have fellowship - as long as you're busy!
But we must never forget, we are to be a dwelling place for God. If we ignore Him, everything we are busy with will be missing something. Here, in Haggai, God says that His blessing has been taken away (v10-11).
The best kind of home is one where everyone is involved; where everyone contributes to the life of the home. God contributes something vital to the community of His people. If we exclude Him - if there is no desire for His constant presence - then we lose His contribution to the life of the church.
Without Him, we cannot hope for the impossible (Matt 19v26). Without Him, the best we can do will be temporary, and the worst we can do will be eternal.
So how do we maintain a dwelling place for God today?
2. Build everything on the foundation of the gospel
Put all your trust in the foundation of the temple - God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
What prompts the people to go back to building? The message of God's faithfulness (v13) - "I am with you." God's faithfulness inspires action - His covenant promises to the people are the true foundation of the temple.
Today, the gospel is our foundation because it brings a message of God's faithfulness. His covenant promises find their fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ.
While Jesus lived on earth, he was the God-Man, the true "I AM with you". When he dies, God's message of faithfulness is declared to the world. Paul recognises this in his letter to the Romans. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own son but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8v313-32)
All the glory ultimately belongs to God, therefore, because He provides the foundation. Everything we do will sink into the mud if there isn't a solid foundation underneath it. God is glorified in the temple (v8), and He is glorified in church communities today as they seek His presence, knowing that it is only through His covenant promises that they are able to stand.
3. Don't behave like bad Lego
As a closing thought, consider now the people who believe the gospel, those who make up the walls of the temple. For how much of the week does this temple exist?
Does it just last for the Sunday? Just while the service is going on? And then fall apart like bad Lego after everyone has gone home? Does is look good for that one day, but lie in ruins for the rest of the week?
God wants to be pleased with His home (v8). So we are not to behave like bad Lego, leaving gaps in the walls as we drop in and out of church community life. If we want to enjoy God's presence in our churches, and have a consistent witness in our communities, we must learn what it means to be a church all the time, everywhere.
Next week, we'll consider in more depth what that might look like in practice.