Not What It Seems!
Read Haggai 2:1-9
Dublin is a grand city, but one of its downsides is the M 50 motorway. For much of the time I lived there the motorway was only partially completed because of the medieval castle that was discovered at Carrick-mines. The discovery of this important archaeological site meant that the completion of Dublin's orbital motorway was delayed for several years whilst things went through the courts.
While not wishing to comment on the archaeologists' case, it is true to say that it is an example of the past coming into conflict with and hindering the future. On this important occasion in your history as a congregation, I want to consider with you a similar situation that we find in Haggai 2:19.
1. Not What they Seem!
We are going to consider three things. First, notice that some things are not quite what they seem. About eighteen years previously the Jews had returned from exile and begun to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but within a year or so, because of various difficulties, the work stopped and the temple has lain idle for sixteen years. So God sent two prophets to kick-start the work. Haggai is one of those prophets and in response to his preaching the work recommenced, but within weeks the people had become discouraged again. The older generation particularly can't help making a comparison between the temple that they are building and Solomon's temple that once stood on this same spot. As they see the new temple taking shape, it dawns on them that it will be nothing in comparison to Solomon's temple.
At one level, their assessment is right. There is little comparison between the new temple and Solomon's temple. To make matters worse, they knew that Isaiah and Ezekiel had prophesied that the new temple would be greater than the previous one, yet here they are and the Word of God seems to say one thing and what they can see with their own eyes seems to be saying something else. You can imagine the thoughts that passed through their minds: "Are we doing something wrong? Aren't things supposed to be better than this? Is Yahweh angry with us? What's the point in carrying on?"
Let's look at the Lord's response to this struggle. Well, he tells them to work. "Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts". (Haggai 2:4) The Lord gives his reasons and we will look at those in a moment, but just notice that the Lord comes to them and says, "I know you are struggling to understand, but be strong. Get on with the work I have given you to do, because things aren't quite what they seem."
Now this is interesting and it has something to say to us. On an occasion like this we naturally think about the past and it is right to do so. As we think of the history of this congregation there is so much to be grateful for isn't there? A long faithful witness, souls saved, saints built up in their faith. We rejoice at all of this, but that makes us vulnerable.
2. Some Things Never Change
Secondly, notice that some things never change. Remember the situation. The people are discouraged. They know that the new temple will only be a shadow of the former temple. They are ready to throw in the towel. So the Lord comes and says, "Work", but that exhortation is given within the context of the wonderful promises contained in verses 4-5.
The first promise is an unchanging relationship. The people are discouraged, they are at the point of giving up and the Lord comes to them and tells them that nothing has changed. The covenant still stands. He is still their God and they are still his people. Despite what has happened and regardless of their present circumstances, the relationship remains the same.
The second promise is an empowering presence. The people are discouraged, they are at the point of giving up and the Lord comes to them and tells them that he is still with them by his Spirit. They should be strong and get on with the work, because his Spirit is in their midst.
3.Some Things only get Better
The third thing to notice is that some things only get better. Look at verses 6-9. We said earlier that the people are discouraged, because they realise that the new temple will not be as grand as Solomon's temple, and we said that that assessment is correct. We also said that the people are confused because there seems to be a discrepancy between the extravagant language of Isaiah and Ezekiel and the reality that is before them.
So what does the Lord do? He comes to the people and encourages them to get on with the work, and then he begins to explain that this temple will be more glorious than the previous one and that he will fill it with his glory. V9 reads: "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts."
We are going to highlight two aspects, first, the extent of the kingdom. "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." (v 7, AV). The phrase "the desire of all the nations shall come" has often been understood as a reference to the coming of Christ, but as Calvin pointed out, that is probably not what is in view here. The ESV renders v 7: "And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts." Some one else has translated this, "and the beauty of all the nations shall come". What seems to be in view here is the coming of the nations. The doors of the kingdom are flung open and the Gentiles are going to be welcomed in.
The second aspect is the enduring nature of the kingdom. "For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land." (v 6) This verse is quoted in Hebrews 12:26-27 and refers to the fact that the heavens and earth will be shaken. The people that he is writing to are discouraged and are seriously wondering whether they can go on. So he points out to his readers that even though God shakes the heavens and the earth to its very foundations, yet there are some things that can never be shaken, and he points out that they already possess the unshakeable kingdom of God, and he uses that fact to encourage them to go on living lives of worship and service.
In recent days we have seen the nations shaken. Think of Burma and China. But the point is that there are some things that cannot be shaken. Perhaps you are concerned that the cause of Christ will never be what it once was. My dear friends, whilst the outward circumstances of this congregation might be changing, yet there are some things that never change, and you already possess those things! You are citizens of this unshakeable and enduring Kingdom that only goes from strength to strength, and you will see the glorious realisation of that Kingdom when King Jesus returns.