Sunday, May 10, 2015

Overcoming Discouragement: The Best Is Yet To Come

We are into the 2nd chapter of Haggai. In the previous episode, we saw how God brought the nation of Israel out of exile in Babylon after 70 long years. Those who survived the exile (the remnant) uprooted themselves and returned to their homeland around 538 BC. 

Everything was in ruins. They tried their best to pick up the pieces and rebuild up their nation once again.

Now, how does this story connect with the bigger unfolding story of God’s kingdom?

Well, we can trace through the Bible how God longs for His people to live in God’s place under His presence and rule. God’s presence was with Adam and Eve (his people) in the Garden of Eden (God’s place) and they live under God’s rule (to commune with Him, to be fruitful and multiply and to care and rule over the earth).

Then God made His dwelling in the temple at the heart of Jerusalem where His people, the nation of Israel, lived under His law given to Moses. The temple was where heaven and earth met. It’s the place where people make sacrifices and have their sins forgiven.

Now, a remnant of God’s people returned from exile. So they are back in God’s land. But where is God’s reign and presence? His temple still lies in ruin. That’s the missing piece that the message of Haggai seeks to fix.

As Tom and Steven said earlier sermons, it’s not that they didn’t want to rebuild the temple. 

They are saying, “The time is not yet.” Imagine them sitting around a table in the local coffee shop: “You know, it’s a shame that the temple lies in ruins. But the economy is not doing so well. The Jerusalem Composite Index is on a bearish run. We are just so busy building our own houses that we can’t find the time to do it. Give it some time and we can build a bigger, better temple when we are ready”. It sounds very reasonable.

But one year passed… then another year… then another… This went on for 16 years. The project was postponed for 16 long years before Haggai came with a wake up call. This is not just an innocent timing issue. Behind that procrastinating ‘not yet’ is sinful disobedience. It’s a heart problem because God’s presence is simply not their priority. As a result, they are never satisfied. It’s like keeping money in a purse with holes.

The message of Haggai is one that we desperately need to hear here in CDPC Puchong. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says: “ Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Today, the body of Christ, the church is the temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells. Are you investing your life in building the people of God, the church? Will you seek first the kingdom of God and trust that all these things shall be added unto you?

We can understand that there may be certain seasons in life where you can’t invest as much time or energy into ministry as you would like i.e. maybe a baby just arrived, or you are tired and need a rest or you need to be equipped… Whatever it is, but be careful that your ‘not yet’ is not just another excuse that goes on forever, that the right time never comes. Be careful that procrastination doesn’t hide distorted priorities in our hearts.

John Piper says this: If you devote yourself to sowing and eating and drinking and clothing yourselves and earning wages, but neglect building and growing the body of Christ (the temple of God), you will live in constant frustration. If you spend your time and energy seeking comfort and security from the world, and do not spend yourself for the glory of God, every pleasure will leave its sour aftertaste of depression and guilt and frustration.

Then the amazing thing happened, the people actually responded to God’s word. They started working on the temple. They got excited about God’s presence. Their spirits were stirred and roused to action. That’s where we left off two weeks ago.

Which brings us to today’s episode in Chapter 2 and this is what Scripture says:

Haggai 2 

On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Now, about a month has passed since the people of God started rebuilding the temple. Things had been going well until now. They would have removed plenty of rubbles and have some idea of the scope and size of the new temple.

It’s also the seventh month (17 October 520 BC). Around this time 400 + years ago, King Solomon had dedicated his magnificent temple to the Lord with a great celebration. It’s near the anniversary of that great day when the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chronicles 7). On this very spot had stood the temple where heaven and earth met.

Do you remember the splendor of that original temple?

In case you forgot let me remind you that it took 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stone cutters and 3,300 supervisors to build that amazing piece of architecture. It was made of costly stones. From the floor to the walls of the ceiling, expensive intricately carved cedar wood covered everything so that no stone was seen. Then the entire house was overlaid with gold. Can you imagine how glorious it was?  (1 Kings 6-7)

Some old-timers who survived the exile may still vividly recall how it once looked like. You can imagine a young Jewish builder proudly saying to his grandfather: “Look, I want to show you our work in progress. What do you think of the new temple?”

And the old man tactfully said, “Oh… hmmm… that’s very smart of you. It’s very compact this new temple design, isn’t it? You can walk from end to end without getting tired. And the yellow paint you used on the walls looks like gold… Ahh, very clever.. You know what, back in the good old days it’s so different.”

Nothing they are building now compares with that. There’s no hope of beating the original. The difference between the glorious past and the insignificant present is so sad.

So Haggai said out loud what they are already feeling inside (look at verse 3): 
‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?’

Instead of being inspired remembering the temple dedication anniversary, they looked at the relatively pathetic and tiny structure in front of them… And they felt paralyzing despair. They are crippled by discouragement. They have lost heart and their hands turned weak. The work has slowed down or come to a complete stop.

Today, as Christians, our focus is not on a temple made of bricks and mortar. We don’t look at this passage and say: Let’s build a new temple for Jesus! Because we now understand that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God is now present in our lives:

Paul wrote: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

The church (the people of God) is now the temple in which the Spirit dwells today.

And if you have invested your time, energy, sometimes blood and sweat into building a church (I don’t mean the building, but investing your life in people, to make disciples and help them grow as followers of Jesus), you are building the temple of God today.

If you’ve ever done that, you know how easy it is to feel discouraged and frustrated. You can identify exactly with what these remnants of Israel were feeling.

Sometimes, our efforts seem so pathetic and our ministries seem so insignificant that you just wonder: “What’s the point? Am I wasting my time? It’s like throwing pebbles into the ocean. It’s not changing anything.”

Have you ever felt that before? I can honestly share with you that there are days when I wonder if all of this is worth it.

Yes, there are wonderful times when you see signs of spiritual growth. Recently a brother shared with me how after years of asking questions and exploring the Christian faith that he’s now ready to stake his life on Christ and give back to society. And how different people in church have walked with him in this spiritual journey…

Such stories can encourage and motivate me for months, but they don’t happen overnight. They are few and far in between.

Sometimes, our words and efforts seem to bounce off without making a dent in people’s lives or in the wider culture that you just feel like giving up. People may be so responsive to God’s word in this area of their lives, but in some other areas, they are so stubborn and slow to change. (LRT will so many people in KL?)

Gospel ministry is not for the faint hearted. It is hard work.  

And such frustration with the fruit of our ministry is made worse if we compare our present, feeble efforts with a golden age in the past. Back in the good old days (“seong tong nin”)… “Wow! Look at the church during the Great Awakening revival. Thousands of people were converted. The gospel was preached so powerfully. What we do now seems like nothing in comparison.”

Some of you may still recall the golden era of CDPC where we had three full time pastors on top of experienced preachers like Soo Inn and Peter Rowan. Later, we also had Pastor Kay Hoe on board. Back in the good old days… things were really happening! And we may be tempted to look at the present and feel discouraged.   

When we feel like that, we may not to drop out from church altogether. But we may be tempted to scale back on the time and energy we pour into serving others and making disciples. Just do the bare minimum, warm the seats and focus our energy elsewhere.
As a result, the church of God is not being built up and the work is abandoned.
That can be true in other areas of our lives too: in our parenting, in our marriages, in our work lives, we can often find ourselves comparing ourselves to others and feeling discouraged as a result…
That’s why we desperately need to hear the message of Haggai today.

If we are to press on and to persevere in building God’s temple today, to make disciples and invest our lives in the lives of others, we need to know two things:

1)      Can it be done? Can we do it? If it’s a wonderful project but we can’t do it, then what’s the use? Is it feasible or is it an exercise in futility?

Look at verse 4 onwards:
But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

The Lord is saying to His people: Be strong and work! Why? “For I am with you”…
When you came out of Egypt, I promised that I would always be with you. I am still with you, so do not be afraid. I will not break my covenant. I will be faithful even when you were unfaithful. That’s why I have brought you back out of exile into the land again.”

Is there anything that gives you more courage and strength than the presence of God? Would you rather hear God promise that He will send resources, expertise and angels to help us do the job? Or that He himself will be with us and walk with us all the way?

If you’ve ever taken your child to the doctor’s office, or to the dentist, then you understand how encouraging this promise is.  Your child is sitting there in the doctor’s room and what does your child say to you? 

“Don’t leave me, daddy!  Stay right here with me, mommy!”  Now why is that encouraging to the small child?  You see, there’s just something about knowing the parent is there that calms the child. If things get bad, the child knows the parent will step-in there and take charge of the situation.  

And that’s what is so encouraging about the presence of God in our lives.  God says, “Be strong and work, for I am with you.”  I am in control. I’m right here by your side. You will never walk alone. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will keep my covenant with you. My Spirit remains with you.

Look back to how God’s presence has been with you through history.

The history of the people of Israel (how He brought them out of Egypt and then again out of Babylon) proves His constant love. In the seventh month, around this time, the nation celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles where everyone stays outside of their homes, as if they camp out in booths or tents out in the open. It reminds them of how God has brought them out of Egypt and their forefathers stayed in tents like that. It’s a testimony of how God has been faithful in their history.

When we look back through our own lives, perhaps we can trace that God is with us all along even we didn’t sense it at that time. Even when times have been difficult, God’s presence is in our lives.

And that’s exactly the promise of our Lord Jesus when He gives us the Great Commission. As we obey His call to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us, Jesus says: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

You can do this. Because I am with you and I have poured out my Spirit to empower you, fill you and guide you. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord.

So be strong and work at making disciples and building God’s temple. Because you know Jesus will be with you as you obey his call.

2)      Is it worth doing? If we can do it but it’s not worth the effort, then why bother? Is it something significant worth the trouble?

Look at verse 6:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

What Haggai is saying here is: “Don’t look down on this humble temple that you are building. The best is yet to come! The glory of this present house which seems mundane now will be greater than the glory of the former house. You build more than your eyes can see!”

In a little while, sometime in the future, the Lord will once more shake the heavens and the earth… there’s apocalyptic language here that move from the immediate present to the future. It means that God will do something earth-shattering, something planet-shaking, paradigm-shifting so to speak… He will shake the nations and what is desired by all nations will come.

There have been discussions among students of the Bible about: “What is “the desire of all nations’ about? Is it referring to the coming of Christ?” Some beautiful hymns were written referring to Christ as the desire of the nations (which is true).

But it seems unlikely that’s what Haggai is referring to because the “desired” of all nations is in the plural… so it probably refers to the precious treasures that the nations desire will one day come to the temple… That makes more sense of the following verse: ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 

Although the builders lack resources now, Haggai prophesies of a glorious day when the nations’ treasures will be brought into the temple as tribute in honor of Him.     

But how was this prophecy fulfilled?

Like most prophecies, it was fulfilled in stages, and the final fulfillment is yet to come.
There are multiple shakings, multiple interventions of God in history in its fulfillment.

At one level, we can see this happening when the Persian King Darius ordered those who opposed the temple building to pay the costs of this project from the revenue of their own money. The treasures of the nations were used for the temple project. You can read this in Ezra 6. A few centuries later, King Herod would extend and heavily renovate this temple so that it became a truly glorious piece of architecture during the time of Jesus. That’s another possible level of fulfillment of Haggai’s prophecy.

The glory of the Lord came upon Solomon’s temple in a spectacular fashion – fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices. But an even greater glory entered the second temple when Jesus the Messiah, God incarnate himself, walked in it and said in John 2:19, 20, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . By that he was speaking of the temple of his body." In effect, Jesus is making a direct continuity between the temple and himself: once God met his people in the temple, now God meets us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Some students of the Bible believe a glorious temple will once again be built in Jerusalem and stand through 1000 years as Christ rules on earth (Ezekiel 41ff.; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). And the nations will indeed bring their tribute to Christ. If you are premillennial in your eschatology, that might be another level of fulfillment.

That may be the case, but the ultimate fulfillment of the temple is described in Revelation 21:22. In the new Jerusalem (when the city of God descends on earth as it is in heaven), John says, "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb."

There won’t be a temple anymore because God and Christ will be our temple. We won’t need a temple because we will dwell directly in God’s presence, in the holy of holies. God’s people will finally be in God’s place (new heaven and new earth) under God’s rule forever.  

The point is this: God had a purpose for this humble temple. The Israelite builders in Haggai’s time could not see all of this, and what they could see seemed so small.
So God’s promise came to them loud and clear: Be strong. You build more than you see. I will take the fruit of your little labor and make it glorious beyond measure, no matter how trivial it may seem to you now.

The covenant group, the youth group or Sunday school class or English program students you are working with may seem small and ordinary today… you may feel discouraged comparing with others or with the past. 
But God takes small, imperfect things and turns them into public displays for his glory. Nothing you do is insignificant if you do it in the name of Christ, for His glory and conscious of His presence with you. He will shake heaven and earth to fill your labor with glory. 

So take courage, church, you build more than your eyes can see.

If we stay focused on God and trust in his presence with us, he will shake things up in our lives. And the glory of the future temple will be greater than the past.

 So in conclusion, God knows that we all face discouragements in life and in gospel ministry.

But He says to us through Haggai:

If you are feeling discouraged, reflect back on the past and see that God is faithful. He’s a covenant keeping God. If you are feeling frustrated, reflect on the presence of God with you now, in the present by his Holy Spirit. If you are feeling disappointed, trust in the fact that God has a beautiful future for you filled with his glory and peace.

Let us pray.


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