In order to study Haggai we need to go back a bit and review what had happened just before God speaks to this prophet. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah help us out in this. In Ezra we discover that after 70 years of captivity and exile in faraway Babylon, the people are allowed to return.
In Ezra we read that as soon as the people returned to Jerusalem they started to rebuild the temple and set up an altar [Ez 3:1-6]. With everybody working together and with adequate finance, things start to happen quickly. In Ezra 3:11-13 we read of the people celebrating the completion of the temple foundations (in 536 B.C.).
The people had a right, even a duty to celebrate. God had done great things in bringing them back from exile. He had fulfilled a prophecy of Isaiah given 143 years previously about a coming disaster, a period of exile but then a glorious return to the promised land. Amazingly the prophecy even gives the name of the emperor who would be God’s instrument in doing this [Is 45:1, 13]. You can imagine how during the period of disaster and exile how the people held on to these words. You can imagine their excitement as an emperor named Cyrus comes to power. Another prophecy given through Jeremiah even gave the timescale of all this [Jer 29:10-11] I think of the people of Israel, like prisoners in their cells, chalking off the days of their exile. Waiting for God’s deliverance. Wondering how it would come about. No wonder they wanted to celebrate when God finally did it! But not only did they return to the Promised Land, but they did so with full pockets. Cyrus had commanded those Jews who chose not to return to nevertheless contribute financially [Ez 1:4, 6]. Cyrus also gave them back the treasures that had been taken from the temple [Ez 1:7].
What tremendous answers to prayer! They were now re-installed in the place where they belonged. Remember, few of these people had ever seen it, only a few were old enough to have seen Jerusalem before. This is the land of their dreams. This is an impossible hope fulfilled. No wonder they were excited!
Quite rightly, their first priority was to re-establish the worship of God. They had lived without a temple for 70 years. It was during this period of exile that the synagogue system of worship was developed. Now they are on the threshold of once again being able to worship God properly. In his temple, in Jerusalem.
But their celebrations were way over the top. They celebrated like the job was finished. In reality it was only just begun. Their celebrations aroused the anger and opposition of the surrounding peoples. The last thing they wanted was a resurgent Israel as a neighbour. They were therefore hit with a barrage of political, psychological and spiritual weapons. They were in a very real danger of physical attack. The end result was that the rebuilding of the temple was stopped for 16 years.
Application – Don’t start celebrating too early.
Foundations are great. We absolutely need good foundations. But foundations aren’t the goal. The completed building is the goal. It is right a proper that we should celebrate the work of God in building good foundations in our lives – both personally, as we come to faith and corporately, as God gives a vision and a shape to the activity of the local church.
We certainly need to pay great attention to our foundations. What are your foundations like? How are the fundamentals of your relationship with God? How well do you know God through your reading and meditation on the Bible? How healthy is your conversation with God through prayer? How well are you integrated into the fellowship where God has placed you? How are your life’s priorities? Do you really seek first God’s kingdom?
If all these things are in good shape that’s brilliant! But it is just the foundation. Don’t think that you’ve achieved anything yet. You’ve just arrived at the place where God can use you.
Some celebrations ARE in order. With good foundations in place you have achieved something significant. Or, rather you have co-operated with God to allow him to do something significant in you. Tragically, some Christians never get to that place. But foundations aren’t the goal. The goal is to contribute to the building of the Kingdom. The goal is to get your assignment from God and do it – in a continuing process.
I always remember Steve Sjogren’s picture from ‘Conspiracy of Kindness’, his book about kindness evangelism. He pictures the Kingdom of God as a funnel. Around the lip of the funnel you have ‘God-fearers’. People with some vague sense of God but no real engagement with him or his church. As these individuals progress with God they move inside the ‘funnel’ and enter the ‘hospital’. This is the place where people who have become Christians, get some of their problems and hurts sorted out. Then they move further down the ‘funnel’ into the ‘school’. This is the place where they learn the fundamentals of the Christian faith and how to live it. Then they move into the ‘army’. This is the place where they actively start to serve the Kingdom and contribute to its activity. Until they get into the army they are totally parasitic. They consume resources, they aren’t a resource.
To put this in relation with our idea of foundations, the hospital and school build foundations. The hospital clears out the rubbish and the school puts everything in the right place. When we arrive at a place where we have good foundations we are at the point where we can start to contribute to the activity of the Kingdom of God. We can move into the ‘army’.
I want to speak specifically about Burton Community Church because I sense that God has done something special in bringing this church into being and to the place where it is now. I remember sitting in this hall in a semi-circle with 10 other people on a Sunday night going through ALPHA! I look around at the people here. I see how many of you have grown – some of you have even come to faith through what God has done through this church. I have personally seen the transformation in many of your lives through the discipleship, love, prayer and example you have received through this church.
I recently came across an interesting picture in Isaiah 29:24. This verse describes what a redeemed community of people are like;
Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction.”
(Isaiah 29:24 NIV)
We all have a natural human tendency to be wayward in spirit. To wander off in the wrong direction. We start off right, but we soon lose our way and end up in touble. In a redeemed commnity the wayward in spirit gain understanding. They learn about themselves. They learn what tends to knock them off course in their Christian lives. They learn what helps them stay on track. As they put this knowledge into practice they become mature. They don’t wander off as often, or as far.
Isn’t that what we have seen happening with us in BCC as we have studied God’s word together, encouraged one another, prayed for one another?
Also, this verse tells us that in a redeemed community, complainers learn to accept instruction. Instead of wanting things to be changed in order to please them, they are willing to be changed in order to please God. They start to look at things in a different way. They become less and less self-focussed. They become more and more God-focussed. Which in turn leads to them being ‘other people’ focussed.
Haven’t we seen the Holy Spirit bringing some of those kinds of changes our lives and characters?
We all have a long way to go, for sure! But God has done and is doing, some wonderful things through BCC.
Why has God gone to the trouble to bring about all these changes? Is it just about us and our personal lives? No. The purpose of these changes is to build the Kingdom of God. God is preparing a people to be a part of what he is going to do.
I’m excited to see that some of you who were helped by this church have already gone on to be evangelists and disciplers yourselves. That’s a glorious thing!
This church has also been a force for unity amongst the body of Christ in this community. You have begun to have a positive impact on your community. People speak well of this church.
These are wonderful, glorious, amazing things. Those of you without much wider church experience may not realise how unusual this is! Many churches would give their right arms to be in the position you are – active in evangelism, active in discipleship, active in gift-discovery and in releasing people into ministry, active in building community within the church and outside it. You have a leadership desperate to hear from God, to get his vision for the church. A leadership who prioritise prayer, who commit themselves to pray for you and for the work of the church.
This is an incredible catalogue of blessings! Definitely worth celebrating and thanking God for! But they’re only the foundation. What I want to say to you is;
Stay hungry! Stay focussed!
You are getting to the point where God can really use you. You have the people, you have the contacts. You have and you are putting the fuel in the tank through your prayer engagement – how many times have we prayed for each person in this village?!
Stay hungry! Stay focussed!
Because this is just the beginning…
Introduction to Haggai
Date written – 520 B.C.
Author – Haggai was probably an old man. Perhaps, he was one of those who had been carried off to Babylon 70 years ago (inferred from Hag 2:3 that he himself had seen the original temple). He had Zechariah as a companion prophet – he was a young man [Zech 2:4]. It is great when different generations can serve God together. The old catch the fire of the young and the young benefit from the wisdom and experience of the old.
In literary terms the book of Haggai is described as not having the “rhythm or rolling grandeur of Nahum, the poetry and charm of Habbakuk, or the fire of Amos. In comparison his work seems subdued and prosaic.
However, as for the ministry of Haggai he was completely successful“ 3 weeks after his first sermon the people restart building!
Context – Haggai’s ministry takes place 18 years after the return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon (537), under the leadership of Sheshbazzar [Ezr 1:11]. Immediately on their return from exile the people had begun rebuilding the temple. However, opposition from the surrounding peoples and their political trouble-making in Babylon, had led to the work being stopped. Note that the opposition to the people of God continues through the reigns of Cyrus (559-530 of Persia, 538-530 of Babylon), Xerxes (486-465) and Artaxerxes I (465-424) – over 100 years of continued opposition to the work of God and the people of God. Satan is nothing if not determined.
At the time of writing the king who had imposed the ban was dead and his edicts no longer applied. To be precise, they had never really applied to the building of the temple, only to the walls and the foundations of the city [c.f. Ezr 4:12-21]. However, the people had not recommenced the rebuilding of the temple.
 Given in 597 B.C. 59 years before its fulfillment.
‘ The Minor Prophets’, Homer Hailey, The Waterman Trust, 1993
 This was probably the same person as Zerubbabel (Ezr 5:16). Thus the former would be his Chaldean name and the second his Hebrew name c.f. Belteshazzar/Daniel.