Build the Church of God

Text: Haggai 1:1-15

KJV*
1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying,
2 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.
3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?
5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.
9 Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.
10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.
11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.
13 Then spake Haggai the LORD’s messenger in the LORD’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.
14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God,
15 In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

image from joynusstaffing.com

Introduction: Have you ever felt like you had a hole in your wallet, like no matter how much you worked, you never had enough money to get by? This was the situation that the Jews found themselves in, in 520 BC (Aucker). They had been restored to the land of Judah, after a time when their best and brightest were taken captive to Babylon, and the temple was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar almost seventy years before. They were not entirely free. They were subject to a foreign King, a distressing detail highlighted by the words “in the second year of Darius the king”, where a Medo-Persian Emperor is now used to count the year instead of a Jewish King as would have been done before the exile. It is at this time that God speaks to them by the mouth, literally “by the hand” of his chosen messenger, the prophet Haggai. This prophetic oracle was given on August 29, 520 B. C. Now those who had been left behind all those years, and those that had come back, were working hard to plant their farms, but not getting much crop to harvest. The LORD was blowing away all their income, like a strong wind blows away kernels from a wheat crop in a field. They were hungry and thirsty despite all their hard work, and the LORD tells them why. He tells them through his prophet Haggai, Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.  Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

God takes away the prosperity of his people to bring them back to him, as a loving father chastens his children. The blessings that God gives are meant to drive them back to him, but how often, like the Jews, do we take the blessings that God gives and use them for our own comfort and pleasure, instead of his glory, while at the same time the more important causes of helping those in need, and providing for the gospel ministry, go neglected.

When we look at the situation of the Jews in the mid to late sixth century before Christ, we find much that reminds us of our own day. The Church of Jesus Christ seems at best a nostalgic memory, like something that once existed in its defining force and vigor many decades ago, but is long since become a heap of ruins. Where once the good news was proclaimed fearlessly, now the world is imitated. Where God was once worshipped in Spirit and in Truth, now a Me-centered feel-good experience is sought. Meanwhile, families are working harder than ever, with two incomes often required to raise a family where one used to be enough, to procure stuff, goods for themselves, whether larger houses, nice cars, or the latest gadgets as Christmas gifts, and the true churches of Jesus Christ are either non-existent or struggle to keep their doors open. Would not God be merciful to withdraw our material blessings to drive us back to him and cause us to maintain stated worship in his house? For although it is worship from the heart which is truly pleasing to God, the external is not to be neglected, or the internal will be in danger of being extinguished. God draws his true followers from the heart, but he does it using specific means, especially, public worship on the Sabbath day, where his people gather to hear his word to them, to praise him together, confess their sins, and be blessed by him. It is not enough to go to church on Sunday. Yet it is also not safe to neglect it. God who commanded us to Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy knows what is best for us. He knows our weaknesses, and has instructed us for our good, to keep the flame of the fire of our faith alive. Just as fire is not started by wood or oxygen, it uses these things to burn. And so the Spirit stirs up our faith through the word of God, especially as it is preached, and increases our faith as we lift up our hearts to God in prayer, not only individually, but together as one body in Christ. So, brothers and sisters, let us diligently work together to establish a new church here in this area which is faithful to God in doctrine and practice.

Doctrine: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

The Church of God is his dwelling place and temple, the assembly of the saints. It is made up of believers, though it is not merely another word for believers. It is the Lord’s flock assembled. When we are gathered to do everything that God commanded, and to build up one another in love and truth, our hearts united in the truth and walking together in love and the fear of the Lord, it is then that we represent the Church of God, and not merely as a formless collection of individuals with something in common. The stones of the temple of the Lord were not a temple when they were loosely lying on the hills and in the mountains before they were gathered and “fit together”, as we are by his Spirit into one house of God, the Church. (Ephesians 2:22) But how are we “fit together” in this house? The ties that bind us together are not mortar and nails, but a common confession of faith, the election of officers, times of formal worship, godly and loving church discipline, and vows of membership. These things will make us one more tightly than any cement or mortar, should the Lord will to establish a new church here among us. To build this church, let us continue to gather, assembling regularly to hear the word of the Lord, to pray together, and receive his blessing. Let us give of our income, gifts, and time to build this church, and invite others to come and join the effort as well. Your work is a labor of love, that the Lord takes pleasure in.

Private devotion cannot ordinarily be kept up without the means that God has provided of gathering to pray and to hear the preaching of the word as the visible church. It is not enough to go through the motions without having the reality of faith that is expressed in our words, but without expression in the ways that God has appointed, the faith of us feeble, sinful, human beings will eventually wither away. Let us build the church of God here in this place.

Let us build the Church of God, because in doing so we will ensure our own prosperity. In the New Covenant this blessed promise is to be understood differently from the way it was understood in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament material possessions were a sign of God’s blessing. Although in the New Testament everything we have is a gift from God, and we ought to give thanks to him for our income, and use it for his glory, yet we are not promised material wealth as Christians. The prosperity that God promises to us who are faithful to him in this time before Christ’s second coming, and after his first coming, is a spiritual happiness in the Lord in keeping with the fulness of his revelation to us in Christ, as we commune with him now in true faith, in prayer, and look forward to enjoying our life with him in eternity. As the apostle writes in the epistle to the church in Rome:

Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the New Testament we are not promised wealth. Our Lord promises to send us persecution for his name’s sake, so that we may be a testimony to the world in this age when the gospel is being freely preached throughout the whole world, and the nations are being gathered in. But will the Lord bless our testimony if we are not diligent to build his church? Will he continue to shower us with blessed signs of his presence in our lives, and a foretaste of eternity? Surely not. Let us build the Church of God.

And in this work, we are not alone. It is Christ himself who is building his church through us. In the time that Haggai spoke the word of the Lord to the inhabitants of Judah, there was a king, who was really a vassal governor, named Zerubbabel. He is listed as an ancestor to Jesus the Messiah in the gospels. There is a high priest named Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is identical to the name of Jesus. (In the Greek versions of the Old testament, “Joshua” is iesous, where we get the name Jesus.) His name means, “the LORD saves.” These men both fell short of the status that their lineage and office would suggest. Zerubbabel was forced to do homage to Darius the Emperor, and Joshua was a high priest without a temple or altar in which to make offerings and sacrifices. Scholars even wonder what it could mean that Joshua was the “high priest” despite the ruined condition of the temple. What was it that he did as priest without a temple? Doubtless he had an important role in leading and stirring up the people to the work of rebuilding the temple, but the priesthood was diminished by the very lack of a temple. More than that, the promised restoration of God’s people in the land of promise was something much greater than that experienced under the terms of these two officers, Zerubbabel the king and Joshua the high priest. Not only was the nation not free, and the temple unbuilt, but the northern tribes had not been restored to the land as had been prophesied (Jeremiah 3:18). The inadequacy of the rule of Zerubbabel and the service of Joshua, due to limitations outside of their control, and the stunted fulfillment of the promises of restoration, point to something greater to come. A descendant of Zerubbabel, according to Matthew’s gospel, and the namesake of Joshua the high priest, is foreshadowed in this, Jesus Christ our Priest and King. It is under his blessed monarchy that Israel is finally restored, and the nations gathered, not so that God’s people may do obeisance to them, but so that they will submit to King Jesus. And he is the one who has the authority, power, and work of building his church. He expresses this in words such as all authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth, and I will build my Church. As we labor to establish a church here let us do so in prayer and faith, because Christ is building his church in and through us. Just as the builder uses the lower rows of stones upon which to set more stones, so he is using each of you to build his church in this place. You are like the lower rows upon which more rows of stones will be set by him, as he builds us up into a glorious dwelling for himself.

Use: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

Build the Church of God by regular attendance at worship, because this is where and when his church is gathered as one. Build the church of God by giving of your income. It’s tempting to cut corners on giving to the Lord, and spend money on ourselves. But let us remember that all that we have is a gift from the generous hand of our loving father, and that he has blessed us to bless others through the sharing of the gospel that we are engaged in together as his church. Give of your income to support the gospel ministry and the work of the church in this place, before we spend it on making ourselves and our lives comfortable. And give of your time and effort to build his church. Look for opportunities to share Christ with people that live around and work with you, and invite them to come and experience the presence of the Lord in his church. God has gifted each member of the body with different and specific gifts that can be used to bless and build his church: whether helping, hospitality, or many other kinds of work, and prayer. Let us work to establish a church in this area which is faithful to the good news of Jesus Christ and submitted to him as he has spoken to us in his word by the hand of the apostles and prophets. For they are God’s messengers to us, the ones by whose hands the bucket of cool clear water of life is carried to us so that we may drink it and live. And everything that we do as a church is to be conducted according to this rule: God’s inerrant word in the holy Scriptures. By establishing a faithful church, we are laboring to the end that God’s blessed presence will be experienced and known in this place for generations to come, for us and for our children and grandchildren. In this way souls will be saved, the saints will be built up and prepared for life with God forever, with the one who said, “I am with you.”

Remember that it is Christ Jesus who is building his Church through you. Let this knowledge sustain us when trials come. This is no easy work, and the enemy will seek to divide us between one another. The world will bite at us from the outside, and even neighbors will oppose God’s work among us, just as he did in the days when the temple was being built, and neighbors to the Jews complained to the Emperor to force the Jews to stop the work, making up lies about what they were doing. The same kinds of things will happen to us. Know that we are not doing this in our own strength. Christ who is building his church through us will accomplish his purpose. We can trust him securely knowing that his will shall be accomplished, and that we do not have to worry about the outcome. This will sustain us in the difficult work of forming a new church. It is our Priest and King Jesus Christ, much greater than either Joshua or Zerubbabel, who will build a church here through us.

Conclusion: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

Let us labor to build the Church of God. Even here in this place, let us work to establish a faithful church, for in this way we will have God’s presence among us, and he will bless us spiritually as we commune with him. Let us build it knowing that the work is not dependent upon the strength of our own hands, but that it is Christ Jesus who is building his Church through us. May he grant that there be a faithful church established here through us. Amen.

The preceding is a synopsis of a sermon to be preached on the Lord’s Day, November 30th, if the Lord wills.  

*The King James Version has been used because it is free of copyright restriction in the United States of America.

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