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Author:Dr. Andrew J. Pol
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Church of Carman West
 Carman, Manitoba
 www.carmanwestreformed.com
 
Title:Work, for I am with you
Text:Haggai 2:4-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God
 
Preached:2016-01-24
Added:2016-02-05
Updated:2016-06-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Call to worship
Confession of trust (standing)
God’s Greeting of Peace (standing)
Congregational singing: Psalm 99:1,2 (standing)
The Ten Words of the Covenant
Congregational singing: Psalm 99:3,5,6
Prayer
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:1-9; Hebrews 12
Congregational singing: Psalm 102:7,8 (standing)
Text: Haggai 2:4-5
    Ministry of the Word
    Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts. This is:
    1. a comforting command
    2. an empowering command
Congregational singing: Psalm 118:1,8
Announcements
Prayer
Offering
Congregational Singing: Psalm 89:6 (standing)
Benediction (standing)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
 
Have you ever found yourself dragging your feet as you go about serving the LORD?
You know what you need to do, but somehow it’s difficult to find the energy to do it.
Maybe it’s because of challenging circumstances; or you feel limited because of a lack of sufficient resources; or maybe it’s because you just don’t feel up to the task.
 
Imagine how things must have been for the people of God at the time of our text.
They had a lot of work to do.
The temple was still far from being rebuilt.
The time didn’t seem right to get this project finished, but they knew it had to be done.
The LORD had made that clear to them.
Nevertheless, less than a month after resuming the work, they were apparently dragging their feet.
 
In that situation, the LORD spoke to his people once again.
They needed encouragement.
They also needed a vision for the future to keep them motivated.
Our circumstances are different, but this word of the LORD is also meant for us.
Our God is the same God who spoke to his people at the time of our text.
And he also promises to be with us in the varying circumstances of our lives.
He is faithful and he calls us to be faithful in responding to him.
 
Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts. This is:
1. a comforting command
2. an empowering command
 
The people of God had had been exiled from the Promised Land for seventy years because of their sins.
When the LORD brought them back, according to his promises, one would think their faith life would blossom.
What a demonstration of God’s goodness and grace to them!
But before long, they got caught up in the daily struggle to make ends meet.
Their attention for spiritual matters got displaced by a preoccupation with getting ahead materially.
The initial enthusiasm for rebuilding the temple disappeared.
Sixteen years after their return, the ruins of the old temple were still visible (Hag 1:14).
Meanwhile they had kept themselves busy making their own homes look nicer and nicer.
 
Why hadn’t they continued to work on they temple?
They said “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (Hag 1:2).
 
When is it ever the right time to be busy with the things of the LORD?
It wasn’t as if they had no means to rebuild the temple, at least at first.
Their homes with panelled walls were evidence of material blessings.
At the same time, those luxuriously panelled homes were evidence that they had given priority to establishing themselves as comfortably as possible.
Then things changed.
It seemed they could no longer get ahead financially.
 
The LORD described their predicament very graphically.
Look at Haggai 1:6, “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”
He goes on in verse 9, giving the explanation for their current misery.
“You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
 
The people of God had put themselves first instead of the LORD.
They lost sight of the fact that the temple was important because of the function it was meant to have.
It was the place where the LORD chose to be in a special way.
It was a special place of worship and sacrifices.
His presence in their lives was linked to the ministry of reconciliation that took place there.
The failure to rebuild the temple was a visible sign that they didn’t deliberately make room for the LORD in their lives.
When you don’t do that, other things will crowd out the space that should be meant for him.
 
The warning of the LORD bore fruit.
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the people obeyed and got to work on the temple.
They finally realized that the presence of the LORD in their midst was more important than any financial gains that they tried to make for themselves individually.
Chapter 1 ends on a positive note: “and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king” (Hag 1:14b-15).
Using our reckoning, this would be September 21, 520 BC.
 
Chapter 2 opens by mentioning a date less than a month later.
It’s October 17th, 520 BC.
“The LORD spoke again through the prophet Haggai.”
The author is highlighting the wonder of God addressing his people.
The people have the privilege once again of hearing the very words of the LORD.
The date mentioned shortly before our text is significant.
This message came to them on the seventh day of the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles (Num 29:32-34).
 
What was so special about this Feast?
The Feast was a commemoration of the time when the Israelites made their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
This Feast ended with a solemn assembly where a food offering was to be presented to the LORD who had provided for them (Num 23:36).
It was to be a day of rest after a week of rejoicing before the LORD their God (Num 23:40), remembering that he had brought them out of the land of Egypt.
This would be a feast with a new dimension for the people, since the LORD had also brought them out of exile back to the Promised Land.
He opened up new perspectives for them, giving them renewed hope for the future.
 
But what kind of the future were the people facing at the time of our text?
For them, this was an open question.
The LORD had deprived them of good harvests.
When would the discipline of the Lord be lifted?
The problem that the people faced was one of discouragement.
When you’ve had a whole series of setbacks and realize that this is from LORD, you may wonder when things will turn around.
That’s especially the case if you have already repented as the people did.
 
By the time of our text, they had been busy with working on the temple again for almost a month.
Now that they have the right priorities, when would the LORD see fit to bless them again?
After all, they were now in a very bad spot financially.
The ongoing temptation would be to hoard whatever crops and money they had in this time of financial depression.
It would really take faith to work their way through this in the hope of better times.
 
Another point to keep in mind is that the resources of the people were now quite limited.
They were not in a position to build a temple that would rival the previous one.
That much is clear in verse 3, where the LORD asks, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”
That too could give reason for discouragement.
 
Nevertheless, progress had been made.
The LORD saw the efforts of his people at rebuilding the temple as evidence of true repentance.
He did not wait long to encourage them.
He addressed them as the God who had provided for his people in the past.
Just as he had successfully led his people through the wilderness to the Promised Land and also brought them back from exile, he would continue to provide for them.
There would be no need for them to think that he would not keep his promise to be with his people unless the temple would first be rebuilt.
 
This is something to think about, brothers and sisters.
Never look at repentance and the works that follow as a means to earn God’s favour.
We will never be able to earn forgiveness.
It is God’s free gift to us through Jesus Christ his Son.
Salvation is by grace.
By grace we also learn to live a life of thankfulness.
It is as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
 
In the same month in which our text took place, but 440 years earlier, King Solomon had the ark of the LORD brought into the completed first temple (960 BC, see 1 Kings 8:1-11, esp. vs. 2).
At that time, Solomon prayed to the LORD.
One of the important truths he expressed at this time was the fact that the LORD is not bound to a certain place.
We read in 1 Kings 8:27, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built.”
The earthly temple lay in ruins, but this would not limit the LORD.
In heaven, he would still be able to hear and respond to the prayers of his people, forgiving their sins and providing for them in their needs (see also 1 Ki 8:34-40).
 
The people of God were in the process of rebuilding the temple.
How comforting it must have been for them to hear the command, “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, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (Hag 2:4b-5).
 
Be strong!
That is a familiar command.
It was voiced repeatedly by Moses to the people of God in connection with taking possession of the land the LORD promised them (Deut 11:8; 31:6-7 and 31:23).
It would not be easy since they would be facing a hostile population.
Later, the LORD addressed Joshua with the same word of encouragement (Josh 1:6,7,9,18).
 
Centuries later, King David would speak in a similar vein to his son Solomon when he entrusted him with the task of building the temple.
In 1 Chronicles 28:10 there is a record of his command to “be strong” and to get to work.
After giving Solomon the plan for the temple and its contents, David encourages him further, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you” (1 Ch 28:20).
 
Now, in our text, the LORD of hosts is speaking similar words.
There is continuity but also a further development here.
Zerubbabel, the governor, needed to hear this message.
He was the civil leader of the people of Judah.
Joshua the high priest, as spiritual leader, also needed to be encouraged.
Under the leadership of these two men, the people needed to pull together to get the task of rebuilding the temple done.
So the LORD deliberately addressed the people of the land directly as well.
 
Be strong!
Those hearing it might be inclined to say “That’s easier said than done.”
How can you “be strong” when your circumstances or the challenges you face seem to be insurmountable?
How can you “be strong” when you’re feeling weak or overwhelmed?
 
“Work,” says the LORD to his people, even though he knows this won’t be easy for them.
Is that fair?
The point that we need to keep in mind is that they don’t have to do this in their own strength.
“Work, for I am with you.
The LORD elaborates on that by explaining “My Spirit remains in your midst.”
This changes the whole picture, doesn’t it?
 
Our text highlights how comforting this message is by referring to the LORD as “the LORD of hosts.”
As pointed out when we looked at chapter 1, this reference to the LORD can be found 14 times in the book of Haggai.
Whether the term “hosts” refers to the angels in heaven, the stars of the universe, or the armies of Israel, the point is this: the LORD reigns above them all.
He is the Almighty God.
 
The term “LORD of hosts” reminds us of our calling to obey him.
But the term is also very comforting.
When he sets certain tasks before us that we may find intimidating, we need to remember his promise to be with us.
As the apostle Paul puts it, no matter what we face as children of God, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Ro 8:31-32).
The LORD who calls us to certain tasks also promises to give us what we need to tackle them.
 
Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts.
We have seen that this is a comforting command.
It’s also an empowering command.
This is our second point.
 
**
The people of God at the time of our text may have sighed with discouragement and felt like giving up on the task of rebuilding the temple.
But the LORD wasn’t giving them that option.
“Work,” he said.
At the same time, he made it clear that they were not alone in this.
He would be with them.
 
The LORD of hosts is the God of the covenant.
In our text he is reminding his people of his faithfulness to ancient promises.
“I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt.”
This statement is more than a simple repetition of what we can already find in Haggai 1:13, where we read, “I am with you, declares the LORD.”
 
The LORD is expanding on that promise.
He is reminding his people of what he told them when they came out of Egypt.
Think of Exodus 29:45-46, where we read, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.”
 
“I am with you… My Spirit remains in your midst.”
What a glorious, empowering promise this is!
The LORD is making clear his intent to dwell with his people.
He will fulfil this promise through his Spirit.
Already in the Old Testament there are indications of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Various references to the Spirit, including the one in our text, point to this.
In the beginning, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” when the earth was still “without form and void” (Ge 1:1-2).
Psalm 104:30 speaks of the renewing work of the Spirit in creation.
But there is also the renewing work of the Spirit within man.
Think of Psalm 51:10-11, where David pleads with God to create a clean heart in him and not to take away his Holy Spirit from him.
 
The LORD, our God, is a covenant God.
Ever since he created Adam and Eve, his intent has been to dwell with his people.
Sin became an obstacle to this, but by grace the LORD God opened the way to a new future.
The promise to dwell with his people was initially fulfilled when the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle and later the temple, signifying his abiding presence in their midst (Ex 40:34-35; 1 Ki 8:11; 2 Ch 5:14; see also Ex 25:8 and 1 Ki 6:13).
 
Now, through the words of our text, the LORD indicates his continuing intent to dwell with his people.
“Work, for I am with you.”
This empowering command calls for faith and for the obedience of faith.
The LORD will indeed be present and active in the midst of his people.
There is work to be done and he wants his people to be involved in it.
They will face opposition and setbacks.
But as they obey him, they need to trust that their efforts will be part of his ongoing work.
After all, the LORD is working toward the fulfilment of all of his promises.
This is signalled right after our text where the LORD promises to “shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in,” and he promises to “fill this house with glory” (Hag 2:7).
Haggai 2:9 rounds off the picture with the promise, “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.”
 
How would this be fulfilled?
After all, the temple that was rebuilt would one day be destroyed again.
There is no temple in Jerusalem anymore.
This didn’t happen because the LORD was unfaithful to his promise to be with his people.
It was because he moved forward with his unfolding plan of salvation.
 
A huge step forward took place with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The apostle John writes in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus Christ warned his people about the imminent destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem itself.
He also spoke of the coming of the Spirit as the Helper, whom he would send from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father and who would bear witness about him (Jn 15:26).
 
After his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, our Saviour poured out the Holy Spirit upon his church.
This is how he fulfils the promise recorded in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is how the church as the people of God have become the temple of God.
It is a church composed of members from all sorts of nations.
It is a church that is empowered to bring the gospel throughout the world, calling people to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and to submit to him as Lord.
As members of this church, we are to display the truth of the gospel through our own lives as a church, as families, and as individuals.
 
The greater glory of the church today compared to the temple of Old Testament times is that the Holy Spirit lives and works in our midst.
The Holy Spirit links us to our Saviour.
As a result, through faith in Jesus Christ we receive what we need to become fruitful in his service.
 
You can’t separate faith from the obedience of faith.
Where there is true faith, the fruit of faith will become visible.
The command of the LORD of hosts in our text for this morning already points in this direction.
“Work, for I am with you.”
 
This applies to us as well.
You may not be able to oversee how you are going to get through a certain task or through certain circumstances.
But there are times when you know very clearly that walking away from them is not an option.
Looking at yourself and your own abilities and limitations you feel discouraged and perhaps hopeless.
Then don’t look at the task as such, but look to the LORD of hosts, who is also our faithful covenant God.
He continues to keep his promise to be with his people.
As a result, we can learn to echo the words of the apostle Paul who wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Amazing things are possible when our efforts are in line with the will of the LORD who calls and equips us for the tasks that he calls us to do.
 
As we work, keep this in mind: God’s work is not finished yet.
There is a glorious future that still lies ahead of us.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews points to this in the last part of chapter 12.
He begins this chapter with the exhortation, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2).
He goes on to speak of the discipline of the Lord, which “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11).
This is followed by a call to renewed obedience of faith (Heb 12:12-17).
He then directs their attention not to the earthly but to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 12:22-24).
Finally, he drives his point home by referring to the word of the LORD once spoken through Haggai: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Heb 12:26).
 
What is he talking about?
What would be a previous time when the LORD shook the earth?
Think, for example, of when he appeared on Mount Sinai.
We read in Exodus 19:18, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.”
However what Haggai speaks of goes far beyond such shaking.
This is a cosmic event, also spoken of by other prophets in connection with the coming of “the Day of the LORD,” a Day of Judgment.
Isaiah, for example, prophesies about this in chapter 13:13 of his book as a day when “the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.”
 
This Day of Judgment, however, will also be the Day of the return of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
On that day, the world as we know it will come to an end.
As the author of the letter to the Hebrews indicates, the LORD will then usher in “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28).
This speaks of its stability and permanence.
 
The apostle John saw something of this future reality in a vision.
In Revelation 21 we read, “1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
 
Beloved, that’s the fulfilment of God’s intentions, foreshadowed by the tabernacle and temple of Old Testament times.
It is the fulfilment of the Emmanuel promise: “God with us” forever. 
This is written to give us hope and strength as we go about our work, also in this coming week.
Don’t be discouraged or afraid!
Our labour “in the Lord” will never be in vain (1 Co 15:56).
Our God promises to be with us as we continue our lives in his service.
That should comfort and empower us.
Let the glorious future of which he speaks also encourage us to look forward to him being with us forever.
 
Amen!



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Andrew J. Pol

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