Be Strong and Work, the LORD of Hosts is With You

Westminster Abbey, London

The gray hairs and old bitties looked on, underwhelmed, at the sight of the new temple. They had memories from their childhood years of a glorious structure that reached upward and sparkled in the Middle-Eastern sun. How pitiful the modern recreation must have seemed to them. The temple had been destroyed by the Chaldean army under Nebuchadnezzar, and now the rebuilding had begun. But the people were discouraged. Even the foundation seemed to pale in comparison to the former glory of the temple. It was during this scene that a word came from the Lord to the prophet Haggai.

Haggai 2:1 KJV* In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,
2 Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.

The essence of Haggai’s message from the Lord for was this: Be strong and work, for the Lord of Hosts is still with us, and the glory of his house will be greater than in previous years.

When it comes to the great promises of the Lord through the prophet Haggai, although much was anticipated, and a good deal experienced by the Jews in his day, It was not fulfilled fully in the 2nd Jewish temple. The heavens and the earth could have hardly seemed shaken in their favor when the Jews were ruled by a filthy pagan gentile hundreds of miles away to the East, under the Persian Empire. Yet God gives a bold promise. It takes faith to believe God in the midst of hardship. The Lord promises that he who was with the Hebrews when they walked out of Egypt, and got away from Pharaoh and his great army, is yet with them. The temple would be rebuilt, but much was lacking, as the old timers were already starting to notice when this word was preached. The glory of the Lord’s house did not seem to be what it had been in generations past. The governor Zerubbabel and the Joshua the high priest must have been at a loss as to how to motivate this people to finish the rebuilding effort. But how could that be, when the Lord was promising such a glorious blessing for the future? There came time when the earthly building was superseded by that building not made with hands, in which the Lord has his dwelling forever. This, brothers and sisters, is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is that temple which was restored at the resurrection, and dedicated on the day of Pentecost, the pillar and ground of truth.

God’s promise of the rebuilding of the Temple is fulfilled in the church today in Christ. We are that holy nation, that peculiar people, according to Peter. We are stones fit together tightly, placed upon that foundation which no man can lay, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Verses 7-9 prophesy about the wealth of the nations being brought to the temple of the Lord, to replace that which had been stolen by the Chaldeans, but how far off this promise must have seemed to the people of God in Haggai’s day! They were beholden to the Persians to even have permission to build on the mount where YHWH (the LORD) had placed his name, and now they were being promised that the nations would bring tribute to Jerusalem??? These things are more than fulfilled in the Church of Jesus Christ. He who is called the LORD of hosts cannot fail to execute that which he has promised.

The glory of the Church consists: in her being gathered from many nations, in the fellowship of the family of God, and in the grace and peace in Christ experienced by her members.

The Church of Jesus Christ is gathered of many nations. No longer constricted to the Jewish nation, our Lord now calls through the preaching of his good news throughout the world, sons and daughters from every nation under heaven, to come taste and see that the Lord is good. We are one family in Christ. The riches of the nations coming to him are the peoples themselves, of every nation, who come and give fealty to our King, having been invited by the preaching of the gospel and drawn by his Spirit to a loving submission. This temple is rich indeed.

In the Church of Christ, members have a family of God. Though many have given up much to bear the name of Christ, yet our Lord assures us that we will gain all the more, in the family that he has created:

Mark 10:28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

There is sacrifice in the Church of Christ, as many of us have experienced, but there is also a blessing. There is that love that the world cannot know. There is a unity between brothers and sisters in Christ: a love that causes us to share our goods and efforts with one another. So the person who has forsaken much for the name of Christ feels like he has gained all the more, through the bonds of love that he has received with all of his brothers and sisters who are blood-brothers, having commonly been bought by the precious blood of the Lamb.

In the Church of Jesus Christ, believers experience the grace of God and peace that passes understanding.

Forgiveness of sins, and adoption into God’s family. What more could anyone ask for? What further riches could be sought after? We who know the grace of God count the riches of the world but dung for the sake of Christ. We have that peace with God. I don’t know if you knew this, but he owns everything. If we are trusting in him, we are confident that our heavenly Father will withhold from us no good thing. Let us revel in that grace of God that we have experienced, in the peace, and joy that we have known by God’s grace to us through Christ, that surpasses every earthly bauble.

Be strong in faith, and work, for the LORD of hosts is on our side. He has not left us. He who has saved us from our sins and redeemed us by the blood of Christ will also establish his name here in this place where we gather. He does not have his name placed only on one mountain in Jerusalem, but in every place. Let us be diligent in prayer and in action that God will establish his Church here in this place. He has given to each one of us gifts with which to bless the body: whether hospitality, or service, or being a witness to friends and neighbors. Let us all use our gifts as he has enabled us with the intention of growing his church here in this place, for he has promised that the glory of his Church will surpass that of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Let us work to establish his kingdom here in this place where he has planted us. We cannot fail with the LORD of hosts on our side, with him who controls all the armies of heaven, and works everything according to the counsel of his will. Everything he intends will come to pass. All the silver and the gold belongs to him. If we have him, we have all riches.

Be strong and work, for the Lord of Hosts is still with us, and the glory of his house is greater than in previous years.

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

The preceding is a short synopsis of a sermon preached at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue, on December 7, 2014, in Bellevue, Nebraska.


God Blesses Hypocrites Despite Them

On December 18th, 520 B. C. a word came from the Lord to a man named Haggai. He was the chosen messenger who was to bring to the people of Judah a word of rebuke and blessing. This word has significance for us today. And we are now even close to the original date that it was proclaimed!

Haggai 2:10 KJV* In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
11 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying,
12 If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No.
13 Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.
14 Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.

Haggai asks two questions of the priests who served in the temple of the Lord that was being reconstructed. Both involve aspects of the ceremonial law. Consecrated meat, that is meat from altar sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep, had been set apart In the Old Testament by its having been offered to the Lord in sacrifice. Now, Haggai asks the priests of Judah, if someone is holding consecrated meat in his tunic, like a priest bringing home some tasty dinner from the temple, and he bumps into other food like bread, fruit, or wine with his tunic fold, will these things take on some holy significance? The priests give the obvious answer in response: “No.” But if a man who has been in contact with a corpse touches food or wine, will it be unclean, Haggai asks them. Yes, it would, the priests reply, according to the ceremonial law given by God through Moses. “Such is this people to me”, the Lord says.

The outward practice of religion cannot make holy the unholy. There is nothing more detestable to God than the outward form of religion without the heart being close to him. Rather than a pleasing aroma of sacrifice, when the people of God have their hearts full of pride, lust, greed, and sinful oppression of one another instead of being oriented toward him, yet continue to gather to do everything that he has commanded when it comes to externals, like gathering for public worship: prayer, songs, and hearing, it gives a stench to his holy nostrils. The people of Judah to whom this message was first delivered did not have the matters of the heart right. They had been oppressing the poor, lying, stealing, and cheating one another, and were more concerned with their own paneled houses than they were with the things of the Lord. When they gathered to worship according to his commandments, the ceremonies, although adhering to the letter of the commandments, were considered to be an unclean thing by the Lord because they were being performed with tainted hands and estranged hearts. Hypocrisy is a sin which Jesus often preached against, calling the Pharisees “white-washed sepulchers”, who were clean on the outside but inside were full of dead men’s bones.

Imagine that you were on the market for a house. You found one that had great curb appeal. On the outside there was pretty shiny white paint, with turquoise-painted trim around the windows. The lawn was well-manicured, and fenced in the back. But when you opened the door, you gazed into a dwelling that was completely filthy. The dust lay an inch thick on the floor and on the counters. There were spider webs and a foul odor like urine. You would not want to buy that house. That is like the sin of hypocrisy. Instead of having hearts full of selfish pride and self-serving desire, let us be like houses swept clean on the inside, in true and constant faith, in need of God’s mercy, trusting in him, and desiring to please our heavenly Father as his beloved children. Then we will offer pleasant and acceptable sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to our heavenly Father. When, instead of lying to, oppressing, and using one another, we love as we have been loved by God in Christ, we will show ourselves to be true children of our heavenly Father, those who have experienced his grace indeed.

The second part of Haggai’s oracle reminds the Jews of the material hardships and struggles that they had endured in recent times.

15 And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD:
16 Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty.
17 I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD.
18 Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider it.
19 Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.

Blasting wind, hail, and mildew had damaged the grain. The vineyard had not yielded much fruit, and neither had the pomegranate, fig, or olive trees. These things were loving instances of discipline from God’s fatherly displeased hand. God will often take away the material blessing of his people, lovingly, in order to draw them back to himself. Christians experience this very thing today. When we are fat and happy, when our wallets are chubby and our material worries few, we tend to forget God. Though we should remember to thank him for all his benefits, and to use them for his glory, how soon we begin to put our confidence in our material possessions instead of in him, who is the source of every good thing. Yet when our bank accounts are slim and we have to wonder what we might eat tomorrow, we have no choice but to have our trust and confidence in him. In this way God’s chastisements bring us back to our knees in prayer to him. But the just chastisements of his fatherly hand do not endure long. Though displeased with our lack of faith and ruthless behavior, God will not let his chosen ones remain chastened forever. His mercy soon lifts what his love hand executed against our material wealth.

God will bless his chosen ones, despite their weakness, when they deserve his displeasure. His favor is not based on our merit or deserving. His sovereign will distinguishes the recipients of his grace from the rest, due to nothing in them, but only on his good pleasure. He chooses one and not another as he wills, and not as we will. In time he works this holy favoritism out in two key ways: in the new birth, and in the gift of perseverance. Jesus said, “if any man wish to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again.” The new birth is an absolute requirement for salvation. It is a sovereign act of grace upon the heart, from God through the Holy Spirit. It is not something that we can do, choose, or control. It is an act of God, turning hatred into love, disbelief into faith, and lawlessness into obedience. By the new birth God changes our orientation from against to for him, and rather than rebel as much as humanly possible, the reborn soul now desires to do anything to please him. In this way God blesses those who deserve only his displeasure. He is found of those who did not seek him. And in truth, there is no one who is seeking him, apart from this work of grace. It is not enough to be diligent in attending church or to be born into a Christian family. The new birth is absolutely necessary to gain eternal life. Yet there is another grace of God that is equal to this gift of the new birth. It is the gift of perseverance. Just as a sow, if she’s hosed clean, goes right back to playing in the mud, so we would go back to a life of sin and wickedness in a moment if God’s grace did not preserve us. The Holy Spirit works within all those whom God has chosen, to guard and keep their faith in Christ the Savior until the day of his return, or their death, whichever happens first.

God blesses his chosen ones by making himself known to them in Christ, the descendant of Zerubbabel. Zurubbabel, the governor of Judah in Haggai’s day, whose name means “seed of Babylon”, was in the royal line. He would have been a true king of Judah except that he is only noted as a governor because he was still subject to the King of Persia. But God gives a glorious promise through Haggai to him to silence and put down all his enemies and exalt him as his chosen king.

20 And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
22 And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.
23 In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.

These prophecies never were finally fulfilled in Zerubbabel’s lifetime. Yet Zerubbabel is noted within the ancestry of Christ in Matthew’s genealogy. In this prophecy he stands for Christ, who in a manner of speaking, was still “in his loins.” In ancient times a signet ring was used to stamp a seal on a letter or important document, in order to prove that the source of the letter was who it claimed him to be. In the same way Christ is the stamp of the Father to prove to us the truth of all the blessed gospel promises that we have in him. In Christ we have the forgiveness of sins, a declaration of righteousness, adoption into God’s family, and he proved it to the entire universe when the Father’s stamp of approval was put on everything Christ the Lord had preached and promised, when he rose again on the third day, thereby validating Christ’s ministry to and for us as our Savior. Christ is the signet ring of the Father upon us.

The language of putting down chariots and horsemen is reminiscent of the Exodus. Contrary to the popularized view of the Exodus in a modern movie, where reportedly the Hebrews cross over the Red Sea at low tide, Moses’s account speaks of a wall of water on the right and on the left of the Hebrews as they crossed the sea, which came crashing down upon the high tech (for that time) chariots and horsemen. They were pounded and smashed on the bottom of the sea floor as the walls of water came crashing down on their heads, when they tried to pursue the Hebrews down into the sea. Though we are not today enslaved in Egypt in a literal sense, we live in a world which is hopelessly enslaved to sin and Satan. Christ Jesus is our Exodus, our liberation from enslavement to sin. Once we have been saved by his grace, we cannot go back. When Israel had crossed the sea, they looked back and beheld the dead Egyptian soldiers floating on the sea shore. They knew at that moment, that they would never be slaves in Egypt again. In the same way we who are risen in Christ can never become subject to the shackles of sin and Satan once more, but he will lead us to a place of eternal rest.

The name “Zerubbabel” is a reference to captivity in Babylon, where he was born. From that place of captivity, God had restored his people. They went from a strange land that was not their own, to the land of Canaan, the land of promise, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is leading us to an eternal rest in Christ our Lord. Let us believe and trust him. We have already experienced the forgiveness of sin. Our guilt is gone. It was nailed to the cross. But we still struggle with daily temptations and sin. And we live in a wicked world, where we must groan everyday, vexed in our souls by the wickedness that surrounds us. But one day all of this struggle will come to an end. The wicked will be destroyed, and our sin will be gone, not only in principle, but in practice, when we are entirely made new in holiness to dwell with God forever. Let these thoughts be a comfort to us as we go through life trusting in our King Jesus Christ.

The outward practice of religion cannot make holy the unholy, but the Lord will bless his chosen ones, to whom he makes himself known in Christ.

*The King James Version is used, it being free of copyright restriction within the United States of America.

The preceding is the synopsis of a sermon preached on December 21, 2014 at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue, in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Build the Church of God

Text: Haggai 1:1-15

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.

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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.