Build A House!
1 Peter 2:4 - 10
Build a House
What are they building?
Back in 2008, workers started construction on a building in Bishopsgate in London, which was going to be called the Pinnacle. The plan was for it to be the tallest building in the City of London, at 62 stories, and 288 metres.
However 2008 wasn’t a good year multi-billion dollar investments, global financial crisis and all that, so after some concrete was poured for the first 7 floors, construction halted.
Eventually those 7 floors were demolished, and in 2016 construction was started again, to a different design.
However, earlier this year, new plans were approved for yet another design.
But now even those plans have been withdrawn as well!
What are they building?
Nobody really knows!
Well, “What are you building?”, is the question asked by the prophet Haggai, to the leaders and the people of Judah, God’s covenant people in the Old Testament.
Haggai in salvation history
But to make sure we understand the question, and the answer, let’s locate ourselves salvation history, in where these events fit in the unfolding story of God’s plan of salvation in the Bible.
This is a classic example of where we’ll misunderstand what God wants of his people, if we’re not mindful of which of his people he’s speaking to in the first instance.
We saw in our Genesis teaching series earlier in the year that God had promised the land of Canaan, to Abraham, and to his descendants, the people who became the nation of Israel.
But you’ll remember, if you’re familiar with the Old Testament, that in places like Deuteronomy 28, God had said, that if the people turned their backs on him, and did things that God said were evil, and if they worshipped other gods, then they would lose the privilege of being in that land, and they’d be scattered.
Sure enough, that’s what happened. In 722 BC the Assyrians wiped out the northern part of the people of Israel. They were scattered across the Assyrian empire, and mixed in with all the other nations who had also been beaten by the Assyrians, the kind of cultural melting pot approach, and that was the end of those 10 northern tribes.
In 589 BC, you don’t have to remember the dates, I’m just giving you the sequence, in 589, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon invaded what was left, the southern kingdom, now called Judah, laid siege to Jerusalem, and within a few years, by 586 BC, the city was destroyed.
Which of course, also means that the temple of God, which had been built by Solomon, was also destroyed.
The nobles, the senior public servants, people with good education were carted off as prisoners of war to Babylon, and they were captive there for about 70 years.
Which is how come people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, were all living in Babylon, or the wider area of Persia, what we now know as Iran and Iraq.
But King Cyrus, who came to power in Persia, became God’s instrument in allowing his people to return to Judah and to Jerusalem. And specifically, the edict that God had him declare, was that the exiles from Judah could return to Jerusalem, to build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
That’s part of the edict according to the book of Ezra, chapter 1 verse 3.
And Haggai and Ezra overlap. It’s a bit like reading The Advertiser, and The Australian, for the same day.
And actually the prophet Zechariah, whose book comes next after Haggai, he speaks into some of this same time period as well. So add the Sydney Morning Herald into your newspaper collection, and you get idea.
They pick up some of the same events, they talk about common issues, but also they talk about different things,
So if you want to understand more of what’d going on, read Ezra, and you’ll understand much more of the background.
So some of God’s people have come back Babylon in, 538 AD, and they’ve started work on the temple. That’s what they were supposed to do.
It’s why he had moved Cyrus to make that edict in the first place.
But you’ll see on your outline, 2 little sections from Ezra,
Firstly chapter 4 verses 4 and 5.
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Ezra 4:4 - 5
With the result that, verse 24,
Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
God’s house is in need but God’s people don’t care
And that brings us, to Haggai chapter 1.
In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest
So we’re in 520 AD, the second year of the reign of Darius. And actually the scholars tell us, this is August 29th, 520 AD.
It’s 18 years, since the people of Judah came back to Jerusalem in order to build the temple. But, just like 22 Bishopsgate, they’d made a start, and then ground to a halt.
And so God speaks through Haggai, to Zerubbabel, the governor, and to Joshua, the high priest
Now, unless August 29th happens to be your birthday, we tend not to think too much about the specific dates recorded for us;, first day of the sixth month is a detail that mostly escapes us.
But we read in places like Numbers 28, that the first day of every month was to be a special time of celebration and offering. The people were called to offer two young bulls, a ram, seven male lambs, some grain, flour, and so on, a burnt offering, a drink offering.
All to be offered in the temple.
And so, you can see the problem, can’t you?
There is no temple!
Haggai brings this message from God on the first day of the month, and in doing so, draws attention to the fact that there is no temple.
It’s a bit like when someone throws a fancy dress party, but you’re the only person who turns up in fancy dress.
It draws attention, not just to what you’re doing, but to what everyone else, is not doing
See verse 2, : “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ”
No one is interested in building the temple, but with no temple, the people can’t relate to God,
They can’t give thanks like God wanted them to,
So notice that God doesn’t call the people of Judah “my people” like he does so often through the words of the prophets, he just calls them “these people”
God asks, “what are your priorities?” (v 2 – 3)
On this day, when they should have been at the temple celebrating, God points out the problem, and he asks “what are your priorities?
Is it right for you to be living in nice houses, and me not to have a house at all?”
And we might expect an answer from the people, but instead God keeps asking the pointed questions.
4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
“What is your priority?” God asks.
And the answer’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
It’s not that the people don’t think a house is important. They think houses are very important!
Just houses for them, and not a house for God.
They’ve already finished building their own houses, but they say The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.
We’ll get to you God!
Wait your turn,
We’ll get ourselves sorted first,
Let’s build our house,
And maybe when we’ve got a good job,
When we’ve paid off a bit more of the mortgage,
Once I get my kids established in a good school,
Then we’ll get round to doing what you’d like us to do, God.
Just wait your turn.
‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house’ they say.
It sounds ever so familiar doesn’t it?
When God calls for time, money, effort, priority, those of us, at least who are Christians, are unlikely to refuse him outright. But God does have to go to the back of the queue.
“Let me sort out a few things first, then I’ll start giving,
Let me get my work life under control, then I’ll get involved in serving,
Let me get a few of the key things in place first, before I really play a role among God’s people,
I’m not saying ‘no’ God, I’m just saying ‘not yet’”
And we can become incredibly spiritual-sounding as we do it! We can come up with excuses for putting our priorities above God’s priorities, excuses that sound, really kind of mature and Christian!
That’s what the people of Judah were doing.
The prophet Ezekiel had had a vision of the temple, about 70 years earlier. But God didn’t give Ezekiel any instructions about how the temple was going to be built.
Now, if we buy something that we need to assemble, but it comes without instructions, I imagine we either, press on regardless, or simply give up, depending on our personality.
But because Ezekiel’s temple didn’t come with instructions, some of the people of Judah said “Well, God’s obviously going to deliver it miraculously as a finished product.
And so they said, if you were to start building, then you were being unspiritual.
If you put in effort, you weren’t trusting in God’s provision.
It’s disobedience to God’s command, but it’s dressed up in, spiritual sounding language, isn’t it?
Christians today even, can think, that any work, or effort, or strategy is unspiritual, because it gets in the way of what God wants to do.
So I know Christian people who say we should never talk about money in the church, because that would be unspiritual.
To ask people to give, they say, means you get in the way of God providing.
To have a strategy is unspiritual they say, because God might want to work another way.
God might want to work another way! We’ve got to be ready for that.
But when God has been absolutely clear what he wants us to do, then it’s not spiritual, to stand back and dress up our excuses in mature Christian language, simply because we’d rather not do it.
Simply because we have other priorities besides the ones God has for us.
And like the people of Judah who were saying, “now is not the time to be building the temple”, it’s possible for Christians today to come up with plausible sounding reasons why God’s priorities are not our priorities, but in reality it’s just a cover for disobedience.
Now is not the time for me to get involved in serving others because, I’m quite busy with work, and God wants me to honour my boss.
Now is not the time for me to start setting habits of giving to gospel work because, I don’t really have much money,
Now is not the time for me to get involved in gospel ministry at church because, I’m more interested in taking my time to find a ministry area that I’d find personally fulfilling, .
Now is not the time for me to invest in personal Bible reading and prayer, because, home’s really quite busy in the mornings,
Now is not the time for me to work on putting to death sin in my life, because, I’ll worry about that when I’m older and a bit wiser.
It all sounds more or less plausible, it’s just entirely at odds with what God says, and God’s priorities for you.
God frustrated their efforts because their priorities were wrong (v 5 – 11)
And so God says, things have gone badly, because of your disobedience. Your priorities haven’t been my priorities.
Verse 5, “Give careful thought to your ways”, and the same expression is used again in verse 7.
Do you remember the Mitsubishi ads from a few years ago?, “Please consider” Apologies to those of you who weren’t in the country then!
But, “Please consider”.
That’s the idea here. And some of the English Bible translations even have “consider your ways”
The idea is to look at your life, in the light of God’s Word, and see what you learn, see what becomes apparent when you don’t just look at your experience, but you use the insight God’s Word gives you, to understand and interpret what you see.
They knew their experience obviously,
But they hadn’t understood it.
They’d planted much, harvested little
They never had enough to eat,
Never had quite enough money, it was like putting money in a purse with holes in it.
There’d been drought and crop failure,
Actually, everything they’ve done, has been frustrated, all the labor of your hands verse 11.
They know what’s happened, they just hadn’t understood it correctly.
They need to give careful thought,
There are any number of possible explanations for why these things might have happened, but they need to understand the reason.
Were they just unlucky?
Were some other people’s gods more powerful than their God?
Were they not good enough in God’s eyes?,
No, when they look at their experience in the light of God’s Word, they learn that it’s all because of the choices they’ve made,
It’s all about their priorities.
Why?” declares the Lord Almighty in verse 9, “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.
You’re so concerned with your own life and comfort, that you’ve ignored the priorities of God, and you’ve become disobedient to his commands.
The opposition they got when they started building the temple,
The hardships they faced,
None of that was a surprise to God.
He knew it was coming,
And yet he’d still called them to do it.
The difficulties that God’s people face, today, as they act in obedience to him, the opposition we encounter, the difficulties we face, the struggles of balance, and competing priorities,
And the needs of parents,
And mortgages, and whatever else,
None of that is a surprise to God,
None of that is a reason not to obey.
And so God had used some of the various means at his command, to discipline his people, To give them reason to stop and think, what’s wrong?
The point of the crops failing,
And the drought,
And everything else, was to try and rouse them from their self absorption.
Why?”, “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10
One of the most famous lines from the author C S Lewis, is in his book The Problem of Pain, where he, well actually where he does exactly what God calls on the people of Judah to do here.
He gives careful thought, he looks at his life and his experience, in the light of God’s Word.
In many ways Lewis had really quite horrific experiences.
His mum died when he was only 9,
He was wounded in the first world war,
His beloved wife Joy died only 4 years after they were married.
But he looks at his life in the light of God’s Word, in order to understand his experience. And perhaps his most famous line of writing is this:
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
For Judah, God’s Word allowed them to make sense of their pain.
Their works had been frustrated, because of God’s judgment on their skewed priorities and their disobedience.
But it shouldn’t have taken Haggai to turn up to point this out. At any point they could have stopped and given careful thought to their ways, but they didn’t, so God kept frustrating their efforts.
How terrible it is that God’s people could be so far from God’s intention for them,
So deaf to his Word,
To have made such bad and selfish choices in their priorities, that now God is working against them.
The title, the Lord Almighty is a favourite of Haggai’s, what the old translations called the “Lord of Hosts.” It’s a way of recognising God’s power,
That he stands above the armies of heaven and earth,
That all of the universe is under his control.
And here, we see that the weather, the rain, the heavens, they all obey him, but his people don’t.
It’s kind of bitterly ironic.
This is not the general pattern of suffering in the world
Now, of course, having given careful thought, having made sense of their experience by listening to God’s Word, the people do obey, verse 12, Zerubbabel, Joshua, the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and we’ll come back to that in a moment,
But first let’s make sure we’re very clear on one thing.
Suffering, hardship, poverty, drought and crop failure, these are not always signs of God’s judgement on the people who face them.
Actually if we were to give careful thought, if we were to look at our experience of the world in the light of God’s word,
We’d see that these things are not usually signs of God’s judgment on the sin of the people who experience them.
Add to the list whatever the kind of post-industrial 21st Century equivalents of those disasters are,
Loss of income,
People sometimes like to say that these are God’s judgment on whoever’s facing it.
It comes bundled in with the so-called prosperity gospel, a false teaching that says when you become a Christian God will make you rich and healthy, and if that doesn’t happen, then the problem is with you.
Of course, if all that’s true, that would mean that the church in Africa is incredibly disobedient, and unfaithful, while the church in the West is more or less aligned entirely with God’s plans.
And it would certainly mean that this week, the people of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, have a lot to answer for, while the people of TMB are smack bang in the middle of God’s will.
You can see the flaw, in that kind of thinking, can’t you? To say that any suffering that someone experiences is a direct result of their sin, and disobedience, and their failure to align their priorities with God’s.
Well, if we look at our experience in the light of God’s Word, we’d see that lots of the church in Africa, is much more closely aligned with God’s priorities than much of the church in the west.
Just from that one observation it becomes clear that this experience in Judah isn’t going to be the experience of all of God’s people throughout history.
The Bible pictures suffering as the result of a world out of step with its creator. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans that the whole of creation groans because of the sin that humanity has brought into the world.
Why do 26 people die in a church in Texas? Because of sin. Not their sin, but sin in the world.
Why do 106 people die in Typhoon Damrey in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands have their homes damaged and their livelihoods shaken. Because of sin. Not their sin, But because our world is broken by sin.
There are times when we suffer as a result of our sin. No doubt about that.
If I drink half a slab of beer, then try and drive across town, reasonable chance that’s going to lead to hardship and suffering, either car accident, or jail time, coma, or losing my job. Possibly all of the above!
But most of the suffering we face, the 21st Century equivalents of these hardships in Haggai 1, it’s not because we’ve done something wrong, and God wants to punish us.
But, this is very important, God still wants to speak to us, through the hardship and suffering we face. Do you see the distinction?
When we see hardship, suffering, natural disaster,
Whether we experience it ourselves, like the people of Judah did, or whether we witness it, somewhat removed.
It still speaks to us of disobedience,
Of sin and rebellion,
Of a world that gives no thought to God’s priorities.
Friends, when we see the same kinds of things in our world, that Judah experienced in her day,
We will misunderstand them, if we don’t hear God’s Word telling us, that these events point to a broken world,
A world spoiled by sin,
A world out of step with its creator,
But these specific disasters in Haggai 1, are the very things that God said would happen in places like Deuteronomy 28, if the people abandoned the covenant.
This is what God said would happen, if the people broke their relationship with him.
Which is why, in 520 BC, it was very important to God, that his people build a temple.
Why did God need a temple?
Do you see there in verse 12, and verse 14, the little phrase the whole remnant of the people?
The idea of a remnant is a significant theme in the Bible.
God’s people faced judgment for their sin and rebellion, but God had promised to preserve a remnant.
Even though sin had to be dealt with, God couldn’t just overlook it, that would be entirely unjust,
So God punishes sin, and some of the people rejected God as well.
Through all of this though, God promised to preserve a remnant, a group of people through whom he would continue to work. It would be through the remnant that God would fulfil all the promises that he made, to Abraham, for example;, The promise that all people on earth would be blessed through him and his descendants.
How is that blessing going to be possible if the people of Israel keep abandoning God, and worshipping false gods, and getting carted off into captivity?
Well it’s possible, because God will preserve a remnant.
Now, I’ve been to Spotlight, and a remnant there is a bit of fabric on the end of the roll, just a tiny bit left that’s so small, it’s not really much use to anyone, so they sell it cheap!
This remnant is the opposite. It might be small, it may not be many people, compared to the size of the nation in the past, but these ones are really important, because by God’s grace, they’re the ones God’s going to use to fulfil his plans and purpose.
There has to be a remnant, if we’re to get to Jesus.
All of the Old Testament is working towards the breaking into the world of the Son of God in the incarnation,
And for Jesus to come,
For Jesus to perfectly keep the law,
For Jesus to fulfil all of Old Testament Judaism and the means of relating to God to that God himself had established in the Scriptures, there has to be a temple.
See, God wasn’t just feeling left out. Do you ever have real estate envy? You look at someone else’s house and think it’s better than yours? That’s not God’s problem, looking at the nice paneled houses of the people of Judah, while the temple’s just a bare foundation.
No, God knows there needs to be a temple. The temple was the centre of people’s relationship with God.
The temple was the place where you related to God,
Because of what happened in the temple, you could be assured that your sin and rebellion against God could be forgiven.
God didn’t live in the temple like we live in our homes. Somewhere to stay warm, and somewhere to keep us dry when it rains. Even King Solomon who built the temple recognised that God didn’t live in it, wasn’t contained in it.
And yet the temple is clearly God’s priority, isn’t it?
It matters to God, that his presence dwells among his people,
It’s a priority for God, that his people can relate to him,
It’s a priority for God that there’s the provision for sin to be dealt with.
And so for his people to ignore this priority, means that God will acts, and God speaks, until they respond.
What are you building?
Getting on board with God’s priorities (12 – 15)
Haggai understood that for the people of Judah in his day, everything depended on the re-building of the temple.
This was the priority of God with which they had to align themselves.
And they did, didn’t they?
The specific instruction was back up in verse 8, 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,
And their priorities are rearranged, aren’t they?
So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God
No longer is everyone only concerned for their own house, they now understand that God is utterly committed to the presence of his house among the people, and so that now becomes the priority.
The response to Haggai’s message is the response that every preacher longs for, for every sermon!
God stirs up the spirit of his people, notice it’s God’s work, not just a clever bit of emotional manipulation or whatever,
Having delivered his Word, God stirs up his people to respond, and the whole city heads off to Bunnings to get building supplies.
Actually, you may have noticed that their obedient response is pictured twice. It’s already been mentioned in verse 12, the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai
Do you remember how God spoke of the people in the beginning?
Not “my people”, but “this people.”
They weren’t living as God’s people, because their priorities weren’t God’s priorities,
But now, once they hear God’s Word and obey,
Once they re-align their priorities to fit with God’s priorities, then the author, Haggai himself, or whoever’s writing his history, well, now the people can really can be linked to God in that way, they obeyed the voice of the Lord their God
And it’s at this point that that language of remnant comes in. It’s because of their faithful obedience to the Lord’s message that they can be called the remnant, the ones through whom God is going to work, to bring his plans of salvation and blessing to their fulfilment.
So what are you building?
What are we building?
I don’t think it’s possible to read this account of God’s people in any kind of serious way, and not be forced to consider, what we’re building,
What our priorities are.
Of course, God doesn’t need a temple now, like he needed a temple back then.
The temple was the centre of God’s relationship with his people in the days of the Old Covenant, but as we saw in Hebrews, the way of relating to God in Jesus is far superior to anything that had happened in the past.
Remember the difference between the Queen sending a footman to open the gates of Buckingham Palace, or her majesty coming out herself to show you around and invite you in for tea!
No, the temple has been superseded, God doesn’t need a building. We read in 1 Peter that God is in fact building a temple, a spiritual house for himself out of people.
No, the priority of God today is not to build a temple,
It’s not to rebuild Jerusalem,
But those words from 1 Peter give us some idea, don’t they?
God’s priority, is for us to be a holy priesthood,
A holy nation,
God’s priority is for us to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light
God’s priority, is for our lives to bring glory to him.
Gods’ priority is that we will declare his praises,
That others might see his glory in us, and that he will be honoured.
It’s interesting that it’s the same reason that God said he wanted the temple built in Haggai 1 verse 8, that he would be honoured, that people would see God’s goodness.
What are you building?
How are you,
How am I,
How are we as a church, responding to the unfathomable grace of God shown to us in Jesus?
Do we still set our own priorities?,
Write our own agenda?,
Build our own house?
Or do we show ourselves to be the true spiritual descendants of this faithful remnant of God’s people, and respond to his grace with awe and obedience?
That building at 22 Bishopsgate in London, is going to be finished, at some point in the future. When it is, everyone will obviously be able to look back, and see what they were working towards.
It’s now always apparent in the process, what they’re building, but it certainly becomes clear at the end.
The same will be true, for your life,
And my life,
And the life of our church.
Even if, from the outside, it can be hard to discern at times, what we’re building,
Where our energies are going,
What our priorities are,
It will certainly become clear at the end.
Of course, at the end, if we’ve been building the wrong thing, it’s too late to do anything about it.
Friends we know God’s priority, a holy priesthood,
A holy nation,
Declaring declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
What are you building?