Read Haggai 2:1-9; Hebrews 12:25-29
It is less than a month since the people began working on the temple. But now, there is another challenge. If previously, the people were distracted, forgetting to make God’s priorities their priorities, now they are beginning to get disillusioned. “Everything seems to be worse off than before!”: they were thinking. “Even the temple seems like nothing!” (v.3). This is made worse when we realise what time it is. Verse 1 tells us it is the 21st day of the 7th month. So it’s festival time! This was the 7th day of the Feast of Booths, an annual festival giving thanks to God for the harvest. But their harvest that year is poor (see 1:6). To add insult to injury, the Feast of Booths was also the anniversary of Solomon’s dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:1). The depth of their disappointment goes deep indeed.
It’s also festival time for us in Malaysia. We’re meant to be celebrating Hari Raya and Gawai, except, of course, it’s not much of a celebration this year. Our current socio-economic prospects are poor – at least, certainly poorer than last year! And for Christians, when we consider our churches just months ago, and compare them to now – well, how we have fallen!: we might think. Even if we are able to gather in person – there are so many restrictions and uncertainties for the forseeable future – only 30 people of a certain age; possibly no singing; etc. etc. – that church doesn’t seem to be anything like church as we know it. And many of us can feel disillusionment creeping in.
This is certainly not the first time the people of God felt this way. As they contemplated the task of rebuilding the temple, some of them clearly remembered the “house in its former glory” (v.3). Solomon’s temple had been built by foreign, skilled craftsmen, and covered with the finest gold. Now they felt that it was impossible to get back to those times of glory, given the lack of resources and manpower they have. Certainly, for us today, we might feel the same. We might feel that our age, or our energy levels, or our lack of expertise with technology, or our lack of adaptive leadership skills, all means we won’t be able to get anywhere.
But now the LORD speaks. He exhorts and he promises. Be strong! He declares. Be strong, he declares to the leaders. Be strong, he declares to the people. And keep working. Do not fear. (v.4-5). Why? For the Lord says I am with you, and my Spirit dwells amongst you. Although the temple is not yet anywhere near completely rebuilt, that doesn’t mean God can’t or won’t be with them. In the book of Exodus, even before there was a tabernacle, never mind a temple, God had already been in their midst. His presence is not fickle.
For what is God going to do? He is going to shake all creation and all nations! (v.6) What does he mean? At Mount Sinai, when God made his covenant with the people, the whole mountain shook (Exodus 19:18). Indeed, the psalmist characterizes their entire journey from Sinai to the Promised Land as one where the heavens and the earth have been shaken (Ps. 68:7-8). And so God is saying he will once again see through his people all the way to their intended destination, as he did in the Exodus, bringing them through the wilderness to the land of milk and honey. Haggai also echoes the prophet Isaiah as he describes how the treasures of the nations will come streaming in. In Isaiah 60:5 and 11, as God himself comes as the light to shine on his people, the result will be all nations coming to pour all they value into his “house”. They will bring their tributes and worship. They all belong to God anyway.
So the people of God can take heart. Christians can take heart! For Jesus, the very “radiance of God’s glory” (Heb. 1:3), has also promised the same thing. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” he says in Matthew 28:20. So, he tells his disciples in 28:16-20 – don’t fear! Keep working, to make disciples of me. That is the way you build the church. And his disciples, who must have felt great disillusionment after Good Friday, responded. They obeyed with faith, and their little band of ragtag disciples began to build God’s multi-national church, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. They started from completely inglorious beginnings, but God saw them through to ensure his purposes and his glory would not be neglected and obscured.
But that’s not all. The writer to the Hebrews picks up on Haggai 2:6, and understands God’s words here to also apply to the future coming of God’s kingdom. His focus, however, is on impending judgment. All that corrupts and defiles the present creation will one day be removed, so that what is eternal and cannot be shaken, God’s kingdom, will remain. God will not permit what is truly significant to fade away. So we respond with gratitude and awe. We respond by hearing his exhortation.
So let us not be disillusioned and discouraged by all the challenges we see – legal restrictions, tired bodies, weary minds, half-heartedness. God has not given up on his church, for that is where he wants to display his glory. It is where he has bestowed the peace of Christ. So be strong, and work. For I AM with you.
- Pray that if we or any Christian we know is feeling discouraged or disillusioned, that God’s Word would refresh and encourage us, and that we will not give up but keep playing our part to build God’s church and seek his kingdom first, whatever our situation. Pray that we will look forward to the Day where there will be great celebration and feasting, in the new creation.
- Pray for our national and denominational church leaders, that they too will be strengthened in grace, prayerful in orientation, and courageous to face the work ahead, as they provide leadership. Pray for them to help the church keep focused on listening to God’s Word.