V1 Haggai was a prophet, one of the post-exilic prophets, in fact, as the dating here shows, the first of the post exilic prophets. The second year of Darius is 520BC, and the first day of the six month would have corresponded to 29th August, the peak of the grape gathering season. The first day of the month would probably have been celebrated as a holy day, people would actually have stopped working and Haggai would have had a chance to speak to them.
Unlike some of the earlier prophets he did not need to deal with a proud and sinful people, he didn't have to warn them of the wrath to come because it has already come. Haggai was working with a remnant, some of the oldest, including I suspect Haggai, would have remembered Jerusalem before the exile, they would have experienced the exile, probably heard Ezekiel in full flight and had now been returned, again according to prophecy to repopulate and rebuild Jerusalem. Another thing that makes Haggai stand out is that he had an extremely short ministry, fractionally less than four months. Chapter 1 which we are dealing with this evening actually covers a period of 23 days. And yet despite the brevity of Haggai's ministry we actually will find he is one of the few prophets that was actually successful, in the space of 23 days the lives of the people would literally change beyond all recognition and it is my hope that if we get hold of Haggai's message this evening the same could be true of us.
So, who did the message come to? (V1b). Note first that it came to the next generation, I'm sure that Shealtiel and Josedech had served well and faithfully but it was now time for their sons to come up to the plate. God was doing a new thing, he wanted to start a work and he wanted fresh blood and energy to spearhead the attack. The brethren assemblies have a tremendous tradition but unless we want the assemblies to be something experienced through reading history books in behoves each new generation to come to harness and take responsibility for keeping the assembly alive. Then note the spread of responsibility; we have the governor and the high priest. Haggai's message calls for deliberate action, changes to lives, changes to behaviour patterns. The result cannot be achieved simply by spiritual sounding words so right from square one Haggai engages the practical ruler of the people. But any work for God is futile without guidance and prayer, hence the High Priest.
V2 So we have covered the time and situation but what was the state of the people, what was their mind-set? We get this spelled out in verse 2. Here the commentators part company, were the people apathetic, fearful, lazy or mis-guided? I suspect the answer is yes, all of the above. Notice one thing they were not, they were not ignorant, they knew what they should be doing. The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built. Here they were, in Jerusalem, the city of David, the city where God's house was supposed to be and yet it wasn't. They hadn't built it yet. And I would like to suggest to you that this assembly is actually in a similar position. I'm not talking about the building fabric, I'm not too fussed about building a chapel but what about the church? That part of the body of Christ that meets within the chapel. Are we really just here to maintain the plumbing until the next winter season or are we supposed to be building a thriving, growing, God honouring meeting. I have spoken to many of you individually and most people here believe that we should be witnessing to the people around us and yet we all have good reasons why we can't start now. We tried it before and it didn't work. We're too small. We're too old. It is too hot. It is too cold. I'm too busy.
V3 As verse two shows the people of Jerusalem has lots of reasons for not starting too, we shall cover many of them shortly, but look at this verse, it is one of those little verses we gloss over and completely miss the point, Then came the word of the Lord. I always smile a little after an address when you hear people evaluating whether they liked this or liked that, whether this part was too long or that part too short. You know there is really only one question we should be asking, and that you should be asking, especially this evening - did it come from God.
V4 Here is what Gods view on the situation in Jerusalem was. Take hold of the logic. To apply it to ourselves - your meeting is small, old and has almost no witness in the community, how can you possibly even think of going home to sleep at night when Gods house is in such a mess. The ceiled houses, or panelled in some translations also gives us the first clue for Haggai's plan of attack. These people didn't just have houses they had ceiled houses. If you go to England and look at some of the old buildings, particularly in the working class areas you will find that the ground floors don't have ceilings, if you look up you can see the floorboards of the next story and the supporting beams. That is how you would build a house and when you had time and money to spare you would go back and add panelling.
This presents the first challenge to us, when evaluating how much work we can do for the church we first have to evaluate how much we need to do at home for our families. Which raises the question what do we need to do? Question, for those of us that work, how many of you have called into your employer this year and said that you cannot be bothered to come into work today because you are too tired? Second question, how many of us have skipped a meeting because we were too tired to attend? Third question, how come we give our employers more respect than we give the Almighty God?
V5 Verse 5 is another one of those set up verses that you must not skip. It introduces a new name for God, which is always a signal to stay alert. The Lord of Hosts. At first blush it is rather strange that Haggai, who is trying to persuade these people to work for God, draws attention to the fact that God is the Lord over everything. "Come and help God because he doesn't need it" seems like a rather strange slogan. But look at the second half of the verse consider your ways, God, through Haggai, is about to completely reverse the way the people think about the hardships and trials they are going through. Let us look at this next verse and try to picture the lives this people had.
V6 Ye have sown much and bring in little. These people had returned to a land that had been fruitful, after 70 years of neglect the desert was encroaching, the animal populations would have been high and weeds would have been everywhere. Work would have been long and hard and largely unfruitful. Ye eat, but ye have not enough. They could just about keep going but week upon week they would be looking at the larder and trying to each out a small existence. . They could just about keep going but week upon week they would be looking at the larder and trying to each out a small existence. Ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink. A subtle change here, they didn't have enough bread but it doesn't say that here, it says they were not filled or satisfied with drink. This suggests they were a little to focussed on what was nice rather than what was necessary. We can be the same, if we have to work extreme hours to keep the larder full it may be that we need to focus on where the money goes rather than were it came from! Ye clothe you but there is none warm. This speaks of an inability to find comfort, a kind of restlessness, a lack of peace. And he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put into a bag with holes. This final one is the kicker, they are focussing on material comfort but they are really not making much progress, any attempt to build capital is either futile or much harder than it should be.
V7 I have given you an overview of the existence they had, my challenge to you is this; consider your ways. What kind of life are you living today. Start spiritually. Do you have that zeal and enthusiasm you once had? Do you have peace, joy, and hope? We would each claim to be living for the Lord but do we have that sense of satisfaction and belief that we are really doing so? What about church? We all come, but do we really find the meeting send us out with a glow and a determination to live for God. Switch to the physical. I know we actually all have enough but do we have that sense of warmth or are we each still fretting about our material condition. Relationships. Do we feel lonely and shut out? Or do we feel ourselves to be a part of one another? Families. Are we happy and confident that our families are walking in Christ or are there still family members that we are concerned about?
V8 In some ways it seems strange, God challenged them, and challenges us, to look in upon their lives and evaluate their present condition, then he ignores it completely and goes on to a command. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood and build the house;.
Yes says God, I know your problems, your weaknesses, and those things that are getting you down but here is what I want you to do. Their challenge was this. Leave your home and climb up a mountain, then carry down wood and build the house. Hard physical labour, about the last thing you would want to do at the end of a hard day fighting some soil that wasn't providing enough food. And why were they to do it, to bring pleasure to God and bring glory to Him. I wonder if that is enough reason for us? Are we willing to put ourselves out, work hard, toil for long periods of time, just to bring pleasure and glory to God. We should, but are we?
And for that matter what is our equivalent of verse 8? Well I believe this assembly needs to become evangelistically active. Keith and I want to keep the Sunday evening meetings going through the summer and to use them to preach the Gospel. And if we are going to do this then everyone who is here needs to get on board. We are a small group by American standards and that means every one of us counts. Just turning up to the meeting becomes important, we have to encourage and help one another. We also need to climb that mountain. We need to pray, and pray and pray. Evangelism only works when led by the Spirit of God and that only happens through prayer. We then need to bring wood. We need to invite our friends, colleagues and neighbours. "Oh but they won't come". Well, they actually will if we have all spent enough time praying. And it does take time. We had been at our house in Clacton for 3 years before our next door neighbours started coming to the meetings. But they came, and started bring a friend. And build the house It isn't just about getting people through the doors, it isn't even just about having people saved although that is tremendous, but we actually have to build the house. Disciple people, give people space to grow and then give them a part in the work that we are doing?
Let me ask you a question. Would you like to go to a growing church, with lots of people of all ages, with a Sunday School that your children loved, with tremendous love and fellowship, with superb teaching and where you really felt like an integrated part of the whole? You would, then let us go build one!
V9 You may remember I asked you if working for the pleasure and glory of God was enough, well just in case it wasn't Haggai now completes the threat he started alluding to in V5. Remember I said, why would he use a slogan such as "Work for God because he doesn't need it?" well here is the other side of the equation. We all have dreams and aspirations and we are totally dependent upon God for each and every on of them. We cannot do it ourselves. Ye run every man unto his own house. You know I think one of the things today that stops many of us serving the Lord whole heartedly is a sense of responsibility to our families. Surely the family has to come first. Well, I have a family, I tend to agree, but look again at this verse. What is the number one thing we want for our families? I suspect most of us would say salvation and then spiritual growth. That can only come from one place, God. And why should God honour us if we don't honour him? If you want to put it more practically, how will a child learn to put God first in his life if you don't put God first in yours? If you teach a child that family comes before God then you will probably grow a child that gets a family before (or even instead of) God.
Now I suspect some of you are frowning a little and saying, well hang on, this is Old Testament. We are new testament, we are righteous in Christ, we have the indwelling spirit, we don't have the same old 'behaviour/blessing' principle that they had. In a sense you are correct, our place in Christ is secure, but what about our blessing? He may have blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph 1) but where are we told that our blessing down here is independent of our behaviour? In fact if you read 1 Co 3 I think you will find that even our heavenly position (or more accurately our reward) is dependent upon the work we do down here!
V10-11 These people were too busy, too tired and too fragile to do the work God wanted them to do. And the reason they were too busy, too tired and too fragile is because they weren't doing the work that God wanted them to do! Are you too tired to go to the meeting? Then get up earlier, do an extra half-hour of prayer in the morning, go to the meeting and then stay up late doing a Bible study. How will that reduce your tiredness? Well, where does our strength come from? Are you having trouble making ends meet financially? Then give more to the Lords work? How will that help? Well who owns the universe? Are you worried about the spiritual condition of your family? Then spend more time worrying about the spiritual condition of God's family and let him (and the rest of the assembly) worry about yours? (Think about it - it is a very good swap). Do you need worry about your health? Then drive your body forward in God's service? How will that help, well it actually makes you fitter but the real answer is "Who designed your body".
V12 And the people responded, they weren't actually doing anything by verse 12 but their hearts had changed. They feared God, God wasn't now just theoretically in first place in their lives but he was actually there. Notice the use of remnant of the people. The message came to the leadership but to get the success they were about to get they needed a wholehearted response from everybody, and they got it. If we are going to move forward as a church then we must go forward together, with unity and joint commitment. The church we come from in Clacton has 10 people in fellowship, it was nine last week, they had their first baptism in twenty years today. They have a gospel meeting every Sunday there have been bad weeks but there have also been weeks when 14 unsaved people were under the sound of the Gospel including 7 children. In fact when we first turned up not a single child from the neighbourhood had been into the building, by the time we came here every child in the neighbourhood had been in to the Sunday School and most of them to the Gospel service. In fact when one of the kids mum & dad decided to get married their daughter insisted that they had to get married in her church, we had more than a hundred people under the sound of the Gospel that day. On top of the Sunday evening meeting there are also three old peoples homes where we go to preach the gospel each week. There is also a Tuesday afternoon evangelistic work with the ladies and a workers together with the save ladies. There is then the Tuesday evening ministry meeting. You may wonder where they get their speakers from, well largely from within the meeting itself, they are the people that have been placed in Clacton so they are the people that speak to the people of Clacton. I guess you are wondering how God brought together such an energetic and fit group of believers. He didn't, this group is neither energetic nor fit. The youngest was baptised today, she is late fifties. Her unsaved husband and son now come to the meeting. The next youngest is early sixties, her son is an ex convict with a drink problem, he comes to the gospel too. Then we have the youngest couple in the meeting, in fact the only couple in the meeting, Bernard and Muriel they are mid-seventies. Bernard is the main Gospel preacher. Then a couple of ladies Connie and Mrs Meek. Then there is a bit of a gap to the other two preachers, Raymond and George. Both are 86, George has a severe wasting disease so he has to preach sitting down. Then the senior brother, Tom Anness, the treasurer and correspondent until a couple of years ago, weighing in at 98.
And we think we may be a bit to small and a bit too old to work for God, I don't think so. There is one thing, and one thing only, that can stop us serving God, and that is simply if we choose not to.
V13 I want us to see this, they haven't started work yet, that comes in verse 14, but as soon as the heart of the people turn towards serving God then God declares he is with them. This is an opportunity we have available to us this evening, in fact right now. Is our heart fully turned towards God because then I believe we can be sure his heart will be fully turned towards us. How will we see that?
V14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit - and they came and did the work. If we have made that move towards God then he will stir up the spirits within us to keep us going. And let me kid you not, there will be tough times, disappointments. There is an adversary who will do everything he can to persuade us this is a bad idea, but the spirit within will burn, and we will work, and God will take pleasure in us and be glorified. And that is enough!
V15 Do the math, from day one to day 24 was 23 days, 23 days that turned Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant of the people upside down. In about 23 days time we will have started the summer season, the season when, by tradition, we all go into hibernation and await the return of winter. Or it will have marked the start of the evangelistic season, when the people of God, called to Boca bring glory and pleasure to him.
Your call. Keith and I really want to keep the doors open through the summer but it all hinges on the consistent support in prayer and attendance over everyone who is going to be here. I would also like to start thinking about what we can do to bring people in, both to the Gospel meeting and to the Sunday School. If enough of us are interested in making this happen then let us get together either this evening after the meeting or next week and let us plan how we can make this a reality.
In his name, and to his glory, Amen.