Here is a sermon from Equipper editor and Regional Pastor Ted Johnston. It’s based on the second chapter of Haggai.
God has led GCI on a remarkable journey: from legalism to grace; heresy to orthodoxy; self-sufficiency to radical dependency. With this came a renewed sense of purpose—a growing understanding of our divine mission: “Go” says Jesus, and “make disciples.” And so we got going.
But when we think of mission within our denomination with its very small churches, it’s easy to get discouraged, even overwhelmed: competing needs, things to do, pressures, demands, expectations and tasks pushing from all sides, assaulting our schedules and sapping our energy. Do this! Be there! Finish that! It can suck the joy out of being part of the body of Christ.
Here is the age-old challenge to the people of God to remain on-mission in the face of adversity—to be strong, willing and committed.
About 2500 years ago, God spoke through the prophet Haggai to call the people of God (Judah in that case) back to active participation in God’s work in their time. Haggai was a man who understood what God was doing, and how God’s people should respond:
- In 604 B.C. the Jews had been conquered and taken to Babylon.
- In 586 the armies of Babylon destroyed the temple in Jerusalem—the focus of God’s presence with his people.
- In 538 King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. About 50,000 of them traveled back and many of them got to work.
- But by 530 that work had stopped—the Jews had forgotten their purpose and lost their priorities as opposition and hardship set in.
- But in 520, God raised up Haggai to call his people back on mission:
Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:3-4)
The people of Judah were more concerned with their own lives and comfort than with God’s work. So Haggai stirred them to action:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. (Haggai 1:7-8)
Today I’m addressing people who have faithfully followed God forward on an unprecedented journey of reformation. I thank God for you, and I praise you for your faithfulness, resiliency and determination. And today I call upon us all to heed God’s admonition through Haggai to be strong, willing and committed to the mission to which we are called.
1. Let us be strong
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 Jehozadak, 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?'” (Haggai 2:1-3)
Viewing the new temple in contrast with the grand appearance of the old, made some of the Jews feel weak, insignificant, overwhelmed, dispirited. We could feel that way too within the house that God is rebuilding here. We are small, with limited resources. Our challenges are great. But hear God’s word to the leaders of the rebuilding in Haggai’s day:
“But 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, “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.” (Haggai 2:4-5)
We can be strong in the face of adversity knowing that God is with us and that he is who he says he is: a mighty God! It’s a matter of faith and vision—and note the command to be strong. It is, in part, a choice—a decision. We can choose to focus on our weaknesses or we can choose to focus on and lean into God’s strength. It was God who challenged Zerubbabel through Zechariah, another prophet of the same period, to look not to his own strength, but to choose to work in God’s strength in order to finish the task the Lord had given to him:
This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)
“But look how puny this new temple is!,” the Jews protested. Or we might say today, “Look how puny we are as a church!” But hear Zechariah’s words to the Jews as they gazed upon the emerging new temple:
Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range throughout the earth.) (Zechariah 4:10)
God often begins small—like the tiny mustard plant seed Jesus says grows into a tall plant. And so God’s challenge to us as we participate with him in rebuilding our congregations and denomination is this: Don’t be discouraged—BE STRONG! And what does that strength look like? Relying on God, and in doing so being about his work—sharing in what he is doing. And what does that look like? Making disciples who make disciples. That’s what Jesus is doing, and he calls us to participate with him in that work in the power of his Spirit. It’s not about how puny we are, it’s about how great God is, and the glory of what he is doing! And so let us be strong.
2. Let us be willing
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 the desired of 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. (Haggai 2:6-8)
Note the repetition of God saying “I will,” both here and in Haggai 2:19, 21, 22, 23. God is an I will God: a God of purpose, passion, persistence and power. HE WILL!! But how about us? In the power of his Spirit are we I will people? Well, let me say this—it’s not about us. It’s not about our plans, power, will, ideas, or accomplishments. Rather, it’s about us seeing and being motivated by a vision of what God has promised that he will accomplish through us:
“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. (Haggai 2:9)
It’s about what God has done and will yet do, and about our willingness to do it with him. Look, we have no idea exactly what God will yet do. As those Jews worked on the temple, they had no idea how God would fulfill his promise of greater glory. They had no idea that over 550 years later the Lord Jesus would walk into that temple and his personal presence—the presence of God in the flesh—would infuse that space with a glory far greater than the Shekinah glory of God present in Solomon’s temple. They certainly did not understand the greater glory of the ultimate temple—the body of Christ, in which the living Lord dwells by his Spirit in his people. We are that temple, and we are called to choose to be willing to participate with Christ in the work he is doing in and through that temple!
And so we are challenged to trust God, leaning into what he will accomplish in and through us. Even if we never see the finished product, we’re privileged to help lay the foundation.
Let us, therefore, hear and submit to the Lord:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:8-9)
God who includes us in his love and life, wants all of us—all we are—including our willing heart—a heart broken by his love and motivated by that love to be active in what Jesus is doing to fulfill the Father’s mission to the world in the power of the Holy Spirit—a work our Lord is doing in and through his body on earth, the church. So let us be willing.
3. Let us be committed
The issue for us to consider today is acknowledging and being committed to our calling—to God’s sovereign appointment upon our lives:
The word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.”
“On that day,” declares the LORD Almighty, “I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,” declares the LORD, “and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the LORD Almighty. (Haggai 2:20-23)
A signet ring was a symbol of authority, the evidence of the Sovereign’s appointment. In this case it was God’s appointment of Zerubbabel to be the principle builder of the new temple. To what has God appointed us? What is the calling we share? In general outline, it’s the same for all who follow Christ:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Do we see Jesus, and in seeing him, see our calling? Are we committed to living out that calling in the place where God has placed us? To do so is to be actively involved in what Jesus is doing here—in this place; now. It means having a sense of divine purpose, appointment and expectancy. It means living on mission with intentionality, passion and vision.
Dear ones, in the power of Christ and his Spirit, and for the sake of the world that God loves, let us together be strong, willing and committed!
[Note to pastors: Following this sermon, you might hold a town hall meeting to lead your congregation in discussing its understanding of its part in God’s mission in your particular community.]