What kind of business are you in?
Scripture Text: Haggai 1
Sermon by Rev. Mitchell Persaud
Guest minister at the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Bowmanville, Ontario, April 10, 2002
Rev. Persaud is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone United Reformed Church of London, Ontario.
He is involved with the Chinese community in church planting in Scarborough, a region of Toronto, Ontario
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 19, No. 7
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
What kind of business are you in? No doubt everyone has some sort of business or skill that you use for your daily support and sustenance. But we want to talk about a slightly different one that is foundational; the kind of business you ought to be in first of all.
The Medo-Persian king Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. This was after 70 years of captivity under the Babylonians. After the Jews returned, they started to rebuild the temple, but they were distracted by threats and troubles, and soon stopped rebuilding the temple after only laying the foundation. This is where we are picking up today. They have stopped for some 20 years after their first return and laying the foundations.
We will consider this lesson under a number of headings. I’ll give you quite a few headings and you can fill in the rest as you go home. I’ll get you started on some of these points, and hopefully you will be encouraged as you examine this chapter.
First of all, we will consider:
1. The condition of the people;
2. The condition of the temple;
3. The chastisement of the people; and
4. The command to the people.
Then for homework you will be called to examine:
5. The companionship of the people; and
6. The construction of the temple.
It will be easy to remember since they all begin with C.
We will begin at verse one in order to understand this lesson. The facts are these:
In verse one, Darius, a later king of the Medo-Persians, urged the Jews to continue to build the temple, which they had started. Now think about this — this was the pagan king who is telling the Jews, “Get back to your worship. Get back to rebuilding the temple that was destroyed, which you started to build 20 years ago but you somehow let slide.” Why did the Jews stop building? We eluded to that before. They had skirmishes with their neighbors, especially with their half-brothers, the Samaritans. Their troubles affected their building.
If we think about some of our brothers and half-brothers and denominations, we start to see how fights can distract from the real purpose of building the church of Jesus Christ.
The Samaritans saw the Jews as a threat, so they tried to stop them from rebuilding the temple. You see, the temple was so central to their lives. If the temple were built again, they were afraid Judah was going to be built up. Remember, these are the suburbs. One and a half tribes in the southern kingdom would be strong again, and the Samaritans saw that as a threat to themselves, who had been decimated earlier by the Assyrians when the northern kingdom was destroyed by 10˝ tribes.
It is now 20 years later and Darius says, “You can go. I’ll take care of the Samaritans.” God’s kindness was shown to the Jews through the evil, pagan king.
Verse two says “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’”
While you may be busy with your business — perhaps caring for your animals or crops — are you forgetting to worship God? Are you distracted from your family and your corporate worship? While you pursue that new career or business, does worship take second place? We are talking about crops and such things, but there is something foundational to that. Get worship in its proper place and things will come into order. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Let’s jump to verse four for a minute. “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” They lived in comfortable houses, houses that were paneled. That was a sign of wealth, and a lot of time on their hands. In my home country, walls are made of green heartwood, and there is just one wall on the outside. They can’t afford paneling and some of things you can do here, such as lovely interior paneling. There you might find concrete blocks all the way up. To have the time for paneling shows that you are looking for comfort and that you indeed have a lot of time on your hands. The Targum, which is a Hebrew paraphrase, says that the houses were paneled with cedar, so it wasn’t just convenience. We also read in some of the books, like Amos, that there were some who had houses in the city and in the country.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. If you think there is, I have my bank account number I can pass to you. No, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, but when worship is put in second place, it becomes dangerous. They had good food, good wine, good clothes, and good savings. Materially and physically they did well. But they not only wanted the necessities, they wanted these very pleasures before God’s honor and worship.
They should have learned from Noah and Abraham and many of the saints of old, who put worship at the forefront of their lives. When Noah came out of the ark, he could have thought, “We have to build houses and plant gardens. We have to organize our lives together. We have to think about clothing.” I’m always struck by the fact that the first thing he did was to stop and worship God. He realized that if you get that in order, all the other things will come in their proper place. There will come a time when you will be busy, as the season comes around. Watch how easy it is to push aside the family devotions, maybe, or miss a meeting here and there, which you would usually attend because you think it would be good for the kingdom of God. But you start pushing things aside because you choose to spend the time with the crops. Look at Father Abraham as he came out from Ur of the Chaldeas. For all of his life, almost every place he went, as soon as he stopped somewhere, he built an altar and worshiped God—except in Egypt. It is not mentioned there. As soon as he left Egypt and went back to Canaan, the first thing he did was to build an altar to worship God. With Isaac and Jacob we see the same principle. Worship was primary.
Here, the condition of the people was that they were very comfortable. But what about the condition of the temple?
Let’s deal again with the facts. The end of verse four says the temple lies in ruins. The foundations were laid, but the walls were not raised. It’s interesting that the name Haggai means “my feasts.” God used the man named Haggai to go to them and say, “What about my feasts? What about my worship?” These feasts were missing in the lives of the Jews.
So how much do you care about the preaching? How much do you care about the sacraments? How much do you care about singing songs of praise to God? As the song goes, “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.” What are the sacrifices? We don’t have to kill animals today. But the writer in the New Testament says we bring the sacrifice of praise, which is the words of our lips, before God.
Look also at what God says to the Jews in verse 7: “Consider your ways!” Who says “consider your ways”? The Lord of hosts does. Consider is different than looking at your ways. Consider here means “to spend time and think about what you are doing.” It means to spend time in your bed at night before you go to sleep, preparing for the next day and thinking about whether you have robbed God of something. Have you robbed Him of your time, your tithes, or your talents, to be used by Him? Consider your ways. Why does God use “the Lord of hosts”? God was speaking to His people, and He usually doesn’t use this name when He is speaking to His people. Usually it’s the enemy, because the Lord of hosts is the Lord of armies, which is the judgment name of God. This is what He uses when He is angry. Why consider what He is going to say? Because the worship in the temple was central to Israel’s survival. You cannot live without worship. If you don’t have a personal devotional life with the Lord, you have to ask yourself if you are a Christian. A Christian must have fellowship with God. You will spend the time praying to God, reading His Word, gathering for worship. You must do that. God was saying to them, “Consider that if that is not there, you will be destroyed.” It was the abuse of the temple that caused them to go into slavery in the first place. How corrupt they were!
So for you, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worshipping must always be central to your life. It’s the food that keeps you going. But the Jews had become spiritually bankrupt. They were what we would call “practical atheists.” If you ask them, they say “Of course we believe in God.” 92% of Americans believe in God. How many do you think are Christians? In Canada, the statistic of people who say they believe in God is also a very high number. But they are really practical atheists. So are the Jews here, too.
There are many things that can make God’s temple lie in ruins in our setting today. You say, “Well we don’t have some of those concerns. We don’t have to build a temple.” But of course, we realize the temple means to gather for worship. Consider in your own life. I’ll give you a few ideas you can think about. Think of how quickly school work can take over your life, especially if you start going to college. You can become busy, and worship gets put in second place. Winter has passed, but you could think of the amount of time you spend considering shoveling or clearing the snow on the ground, the time you think about your job. What occupies your time? On Saturday night when you are preparing for worship on the Lord’s day, are you wondering how you are going to deal with your income taxes? Is that overwhelming your mind, or are you preparing your mind for the worship of the holy God, and saying, “How can my heart become clean?” Do we prepare more to meet the tax-man than we do to meet with God? Who is more important? We take time if we are going to the doctor; we want to look decent and clean. What about when we will meet with God? There is preparation needed there also.
There are many things that can make God’s temple lie in ruins today. Those of you who live in large cities know the pressure of people who are trying to do two or three jobs. They come from foreign countries, and all they can think of is work, work, work. Work is good, and is commanded and blessed by God, but overwork is a sin. Money, clothes, fields – even your children can be the cause. I remember that some months after my baby sister died at only 8 months, my mother said, “Now I am beginning to understand. Knowing that this was our last child, we had come to the point where we started a little bit of idolatry here.” She wasn’t surprised, and understood what God was saying to her and to my family. When God’s worship is ignored, it is not just sad, but dangerous.
What happens next is the chastisement of the people in verse 6. “You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink;” and so on. What the Lord does is to intersperse the chastisement that would be coming to His people. He not only mentions it here, but also in verses 9 -11, and sort of intersperses it with instructions that are given to them. He is saying, “Do right, or these things will happen.”
I put them together so we can deal with them together. The Lord points out what will happen if they ignore worship. What would happen? First of all, you see the tense in verse 6. “You have sown much and bring in little.” This is written in perfect tense, yet these things did not happen yet. This is actually a future prophecy of what will happen in the future. God is saying to them, “These things are almost certain to happen to you because you will not worship Me.” He is giving it in the tense that makes people think seriously about what He is saying.
What is He saying? First of all, “You have sown much and bring in little.” Blessings will be withheld from the earth from their labors because of their sins. The Lord says “You need, but do not have enough.” They will not be satisfied with the food; their stomachs will remain hungry. The Lord says, “You drink, but you are not filled with drink.” There would not be enough drink to quench their thirst, let alone to drink to be merry. The Lord says, “You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm.” Even in a warm climate with their clothes, they will still be cold. And the Lord says, “He who earns wages, earns wages to put in a bag, or a pocket with holes in it.” It doesn’t last. We say today, “I don’t know where all the money went. It is spent so quickly.” Examine your worship if some of these are your problems, and if there is not true satisfaction. Find out if you are doing your part first in the worship of God. Again, Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” the things you need.
Verse 9 says “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little,” and so on. This is terrible because it is not like the poor peasant. The poor peasant always expects bad times. But this is when you are expecting good produce, and prosperity, because you are doing the right things. You are planting the seed, watering the crops, and doing all the things that are necessary. But somehow it is not prospering. Here the men were to earnest, eager and diligent in building, beautifying and adorning their own houses, but their crops will blow away, and their houses will fall down. Blasting wind will drive them out. Diseases will come upon them.
You may work hard all your life, but unless God is first in your life and you worship Him, all your accomplishments will come to nothing. Yes, all your accomplishments will come to nothing. One really spectacular thing that you notice about those with Dutch background is their hard work and determination. You can work hard to leave the best future for your children, but if that’s all you are going to leave for your children it’s going to come to nothing. Unless you set the foundation to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, your money will become nothing. It is only through God that you will be able to get these things and only through God you will be able to enjoy these things.
Verse 10 says, “Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.” The time was August and September. The wheat crop, which was about to ripen, needed that extra amount of dew to strengthen and grow properly. God used the perfect timing to get this message across. “You see the crops you have there? Watch what will happen to them. They will die.”
When you are living for yourselves, you don’t need to wonder why you may lack that contentment. God makes it clear that it is His doing; that He will be the one who will bring the blight and the dry winds upon your crops. Living for ourselves is about the most dangerous thing we could ever do. Do you know what is the biggest killer between the ages of 5 and 30 for men in Ontario? Suicide. Suicide is the highest form of self-love, which the Bible warns us against (regardless of what professors say in seminary). We are called to love God and man. But when people are told that they have to live for themselves, they go against the teachings of God, and the example of Jesus Christ, who came and died for us. He gave Himself as the ransom for us. When you start living for what you want, your walking on dangerous ground.
Additionally, he says that there will be a lack of water, which is so necessary to sustain life. It will not come upon God’s people because they will not support worship. Can you imagine if modern nations reflected more deeply upon the connection between their character and obedience to God, and the condition of their countries? If they considered the difference between their sin and their sufferings? There is certainly a link, and if nations, churches, families and individuals would only think of this, they could save themselves much grief.
In verse 11 God says, “I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil...” Those were the three most important things to sustain life there—grain, wine and oil, and also not having fresh water. God called for a drought on whatever the ground brings forth. Along the mountains the grape vines were very famous. Not only on the mountains, but on the men and also the livestock that often grazed upon those mountains. Those mountains will become dry again, and there will be nothing to sustain the life of the animals. At the end of verse 11 He includes all the labor of your hands.” This just about covers everything. There was nothing that was going to be untouched by God for the sins of His covenant people.
Let’s go back to verse 8, which is the option out. We have the instruction God has given to us, which are these facts regarding the condition of the people. They are comfortable, but they ignore worship. The condition of the temple is barren. What does God say as a result? The people will be chastised. But He provides a way out. He says, “This is certainly going to happen to you,” as He said to Nineveh through Jonah. “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The people repented. That was the goal of the threat that God made.
And so God offers an option here in verse 8. “Go to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified.” So the command is to build the temple of the Lord. “Get the wood and the stones.” God wanted His feasts observed again for His glory and for man’s good.
While He was telling them to build the physical temple, He had in mind a spiritual worship. Don’t confuse the two. Why? You see, the temple was only the picture. Today Jesus Christ is the temple. As we read in John 1, He came in and “tabernacled” among us. Jesus came and spread a tent. He is the picture of God with us. That’s what Emmanuel means. The temple itself could not contain God. God wanted to take pleasure in seeing the love of His people, who would go out and work hard to build the temple and begin the feasts again. The temple was only a symbol of the presence of God among men. It was a picture of Jesus Christ to come. You need to make the effort in your own life, brothers and sisters, to worship God in purity of heart, not polluted by sin. God is not just saying, “Help put up the church building,” but He is saying, “Worship Me in it.”
There is also the other picture, as I have mentioned. This is a picture of Jesus Christ, who would live in His people and in their bodies by His Holy Spirit. God commands them to start building. How do you build? You build by your support of worship, by your presence, by your prayer for the preacher, by teaching your children, and by giving your tithes and offerings to God. If you have robbed God of these things, do you expect God to prosper you? Do you expect God to prosper your crops? In the grace of God, He is sometimes very merciful to us, as we see in Psalm 78. Even though they rebelled against Him, yet God opened a way, and gave them water. Yet God gave them quail. Yet God gave them manna, but it will not be forever. Be warned about that.
I want to emphasize this part, in verse 13, for you to consider at home. The Lord says, “I am with you.” I have just two minutes of notes on this as a reminder.
We read in the scripture that Jesus says, “I am your present aid in time of trouble.” In Psalm 23, you know it says, “Yea, though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me.” Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And He says, “I will be with you to the very end of the age.” What benefit was the statement to the people and the leaders who were going to build the temple? Everything. God was with them.
God says in verse 13, “I am with you. I am with you to pardon your sins; I am with you to remove the rod of punishment. I am with you to assist you in building the temple. I am with you to protect you from your enemies. I am with you to bless your worship. I am with you to strengthen you when you go out or when you come in. I am with you until the end of the world. I am with you until your work is finished.”
This is a short promise, but this is a full one. It is saying much in a few words. It is enough to remove their fears and scatter their doubts; to bear them up through all their discouragements in the forty years of construction of that temple. So when you are struggling with building God’s kingdom and promoting His worship in your life, in your home with your wife, children, or brother; when you are struggling with witnessing; when you feel like you are about to die or you are going through a dark time, maybe from a long sickness, as the valley of the shadow of death, remember that God is with you. What a blessing this is! Then your crops are in His hand. Even if your crops were to be destroyed by some strange thing that happens, you know God is still with you to provide and to care for you. God does not cause anyone to go without food, clothing, or shelter. God’s worship is central. This is the best insurance against your crops. This is the best insurance for your children, your carpentry, whatever you do. This is the best insurance. It’s the right thing to do under the blessings from doing it.
The construction of the temple began. First note in verse 12 that they feared God first. Their practical atheism was abandoned. Notice how it started, by the repentance of the governor and the high priest that started the acknowledgement of sin and repentance. There is no better way to set an example for your children when you have publicly sinned, than to say publicly, “I did wrong.” For example, if you have been unkind to your wife in front of your children, there is no better way than to say in front of your children, “Please forgive me. I have done wrong.” That is quite an example! You are leading them, and teaching them. What an example it is that you are not complaining that worship goes too late, or maybe the preacher went on too long. That is the example you are teaching them, good or bad. Worship is central.
The high priest and the governor led them in acknowledgement of their sin and repentance.
When did they start? Verse 14 says, “And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts...” It did not take them very long. They no longer waited until they were perfectly settled and every aspect of their life was perfect before they worshiped God. They realized that this was the thing they should be doing first, following the example of Abraham, Noah and other fathers of old.
So as a result of God’s word that convicted man, the worship of God finally came first. In fact, they were able to complete the construction of the temple. Though it was small and less expensive than the temple made by Solomon, it was actually a better temple and a more glorious temple. Why was it more glorious? Because Jesus taught in this temple. He was there Himself, and He spoke. The temple was built, and worship was restored.
To summarize, the Jews were free from slavery and started with great zeal on the Lord’s house in 538 B.C. They laid the foundations but they were quickly distracted. First they had to deal with troublesome neighbors who interfered with their work. But then when they were free to do resume, they became busy with their own lives. They built houses, planted fields, harvested crops, drank wine, and saved up for old age. They also intermarried with their enemies. Worship was thrown on the back-burner, as we say. God was not pleased. He showed them that everything they would put their hand to do would come to nothing. Their house would fall, their crops would suffer blight, their money would come to waste, and their hearts would not be satisfied.
Are you so busy with your interests that you forget the interests of God? Think for a minute—what things hinder your worship and cause you to ignore God’s feasts? Is it your crops, your business, your children? If you do not deal with these problems and remove the things that are obstacles to your worship of God, they will be removed by God. We don’t know when, but they will be removed. Are you trying to remove these things that hinder your worship? Are you trying to put these things off? And in turn, are you trying to put these things on? Start listening to God’s word and participating in the Lord’s Supper, so that you continue to build the temple, telling others of the work of Jesus Christ and bring new flocks in so that the church can be strong. Do you support these things with your tithes and offerings to God? Remember also God’s help in putting off and putting on. He says, “I am with you.” If God is with you, you are able to put worship first. He will give you all things needful to your body and soul—your crops, your children, your business will prosper.
Of course, as always, you have to be freed from the bondage of sin by the work of Christ in order to worship and properly support worship. Every sermon comes down to this. Have you been freed from the captivity of sin? The Jews were freed from the captivity of sin also. We see a beautiful picture of this in the fact that they were freed from the captivity of the Babylonian slavery. But have you been freed from sin? If you have not been freed from sin, you are unable to worship God. The non-Christian cannot worship. His worship is an abomination to God because it proceeds from a wicked heart. If it’s not from faith, it’s sin.
If you have been freed from slavery, are you getting lazy? Are you forgetting that Jesus Christ died so that you can be free? Then, in turn, are you worshipping? If you are not worshipping God and you’ve been freed from slavery, you are saying Jesus Christ died in vain. The beautiful thing of the Garden of Eden is the fact that man and woman could worship God. We were made to be creatures of worship. If you do not take the opportunity of getting back to the worship of God you are saying “Jesus died in vain.” Is that what you want to say? I trust it is not the case. I trust you will live as those who have been freed from sin, death and misery, and that you will worship the Lord, setting in place the priorities that He has established, so that all things will be added unto you. Amen.