I Am With You
Key Verse Haggai 1:12c
“And the people feared the Lord.”
As you’ve already know, this book of Haggai is a mere 2 chapters in length, but in all honestly, its known to have been the moving force behind some of the great works of God in history. Scotland experienced spiritual revival and reformation under John Knox when the reformer turned his attention to and took to heart the words of the prophet Haggai. We have a great opportunity here to listen carefully to the Lord’s words through the old prophet here in this short book and to reflect upon them in a way that could easily shake the foundation of the modern church, as well as our own ministry, since we’re not immune to corruption. Here’s one consoling factor regarding the focus of this book. What’s striking about it is that the prophet’s [actually God’s] complaint, or let’s say challenge or rebuke to his own people, surprisingly wasn’t their sins of idolatry; and it wasn’t their sins of immorality and such. What it was however, was his deep concern over this one thing that irked him more than anything else— their seeming indifference when it came to the Temple and Worship. God was very much concerned with their attitude towards worship— and how their own personal affairs had taken first priority over serving God. In other words, their priorities were all screwed up!
So, his message to them was very clear and sharp and cutting right to the heart of the matter. He calls them to take a hard look at their priorities. He wants them to look deep into their own hearts— what are your heart’s priorities— because that’s what the Lord is concerned with the most— their hearts. Of course, he also calls them to take a hard look at what’s going on in their own outward lives as well. Why? Because whatever is happening on the outside is a clear sign of the deeper problem one has on the inside! And in their outward lives they were simply too busy and consumed with too many problems to worry about rebuilding the temple, and with setting up altars to meet with the Lord; And to sacrifice to him; And to worship him in spirit and in truth as they should. Temple and Worship and Sacrifice to the Lord were the furthest things on their minds at this time, although it was the Lord’s will that the returned exiles do just that! After encountering difficulties, they managed to convince each other that it wasn’t time to rebuild the temple. (Haggai 1:2) Their priorities shifted. They lost sight of what’s most important in their own lives, and now they needed to take a hard look at what’s going on, heed the warning, and restore the priority of their lives.
When God Almighty challenged them to take a hard look at their lives so that they might recognize the sin of their heart, what was going on in their outward lives should have made them take notice that something was terribly wrong. When the Temple and worship and sacrifice were no longer a priority in their lives, they thought they would now have time to tend to more urgent [or to more important] things in their own lives. But in terms of Biblical truth, that kind of thinking or mindset or worldly philosophy never ever works! [consider Matthew 6:33-34] Review what the Lord says to them in verses 5-11. It’s almost like a question the way God puts it to them! “Look at what’s going on in your lives! Are you planting lots of seeds and getting a very small yield in return? Do you eat good food but never actually feel as if it satisfies you? Are you earning more only to see it slip right through your fingers?” In reality the big question is this: “What makes you think that’s all been an accident? Think carefully and take a hard look at yourselves! I did this myself! And why would I do such a thing? Because my house is still in shambles while you’re all busy with your own lives and houses.” It’s because they missed the signs the first time and refused to heed the Lord’s warning that they were sent to exile the first time. Now seventy years later, these few returned exiles seem to also be missing God’s warning signs as well. The question is “Will they put their priorities in order! Will they do the right thing before God! Will they turn away from their own affairs and give their hearts once again to the Lord’s work to rebuild the temple, to restore worship at the center of their own hearts and community?”
In verse 8 the Lord’s words to them once again shine a bright light on his purpose and will. He says to them: “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.” The Lord couldn’t be clearer than this in what he wants of them and of us: Build the house! In other words, build his house— the Temple that’s been neglected and abandoned and laid to waste all these years— relegated to least priority in their lives. Yet God was clear that he wanted them to set their priorities straight, to rebuild the temple and to restore worship and sacrifices. But why was that so important to the Lord our God? As he tells them, so that he might take pleasure in it, and that he might be honored. God never takes pleasure in any man made structures, nor have any magnificent buildings ever honored him. Our God takes pleasure in dwelling among a people who give their hearts to him in loving worship him, and who honor him for who he is and as they should as the Holy God who’s worthy of our loving worship. When the Lord God called his people to reexamine their priorities, and to rebuild the temple, it was a loving challenge to restore their lives of faith and mission. It was the best way to please him and to honor him in their own lives and in the sight of the whole world. Some people genuinely ask, “How can I please God with my life?” It pleases God for you to live in obedience to his will, and then to fulfill or to complete the task or mission he’s given to you to do. Others also genuinely ask, “How can one best honor God?” Giving yourself to the Lord as the priority in all you do honors him because it is the true act of worship, as the apostle Paul tells us: “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
So, when the returned exiles who were living in disobedience to God heard the message the prophet Haggai gave them from the Lord, what was their response? This brings us to heart of our passage today. Read verse 12. “Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.” What an amazing response, and how swift it was. How we wish there were more responses like this especially among us! Clearly they responded with obedience. They obeyed the Lord! But here’s something very interesting. Haggai doesn’t tell us that they obeyed the Lord; he says that they “Obeyed the voice of the Lord” which they heard through the prophet Haggai. Look again at verse 12 and listen to this: “The people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him”. “Because the Lord their God had sent him” are significant. How beautiful that is! They had suffered enough and didn’t need any more aggravation, especially from a senile nor sentimental old man looking to recover some old memories. Suffering people, especially those whose personal lives are laden with many troubles are loathe [hate; can’t stand] to hear rebukes that their lives are displeasing to the Lord; That they aren’t giving enough time and effort to the Lord and his work and are too involved in their own worldly affairs; That they ought to repent and return to the Lord with a broken heart. They would rather hear encouraging words, albeit [although] lies, such as “It’ll soon get better; God will get you out of this mess; The Lord is with you, hang in there; You don’t deserve this!” But not these people. They heard God’s voice through the old man Haggai, and honored the prophet’s words as the Lord’s words. And they obeyed the voice of the Lord believing that God had sent him. How could they believe? They believed God had sent him because they recognized the Lord’s voice! But how could they recognize the Lord’s voice? That’s because they had been waiting to hear it. And when they heard it, they embraced it, harsh as it was— they took it to heart— by faith. That’s the only way to take in God’s word you’re your heart. There are always those who hear and those who will never hear the voice of the Lord. There are always those who wait to hear the voice of the Lord and recognize it when they hear it, and those who aren’t waiting, who often get deceived by devious voices who lead them astray. Jesus said: “He calls his own sheep by name… and his sheep follow him because they know his voice…. [His] sheep listen to [his] voice.” (John 10:3,4,16,27) Those who want to hear God’s voice can always hear it in Christ’s words and they always listen to his voice regardless through whom that voice comes!
And when they heard God’s words they responded in an amazing way. Actually they responded in two ways. First they obeyed the voice of God and Second they feared the Lord. Let’s think about their obedience first. Their obedience wasn’t some casual sort of obedience. In other words, they didn’t decide to obey emotionally. That kind of obedience happens a lot and often just disappears as soon as the emotion wears off. We see that kind of obedience in those whose heart soil is rocky (Matthew 13:20). They are quick to obey, but as soon as they encounter a little difficulties or challenges, they give up. That’s not the obedience we are talking about here. These people obeyed from the heart— their obedience involved repentance and a faith commitment to the end to remain faithful to the Lord’s will to the end! They repented and restored their original decision to live by the will of God— to rebuild the temple for worship and for sacrifice— whatever the cost. Listen to how the prophet Samuel once rebuked the casually obedient king Saul: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams….. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Real obedience is how a servant reveres his master’s words and carries it reverently.
Their second response was that they feared the Lord. Now that is a very interesting response that we need to reflect on. What is the fear of the Lord? This fear is not a terror but rather a deep healthy sort of reverence. As Solomon would teach us, it takes wisdom to develop a healthy fear or reverence for the Lord our God. Foolish people cannot properly fear nor revere God, because their hearts are set on the things that do not please God; nor do foolish people have the desire to honor and glorify God in their lives, for to them such things are foolishness and a waste of time. But when people do not revere God, or hold him in esteem in their hearts; When they do not know him for who God is in relation to who they are, it truly shows how utterly foolish they are. So were these people for a time! For a time, they were acting foolishly when they were making excuses and abusing God’s will to their own advantage. They showed utter disregard for the Lord; They showed utter unbelief in his sovereign cause and history. But when they heard the voice of the Lord through Haggai, they came to their senses; and something glorious happened in their hearts and in the hearts of their children. The fear of God awoke in their hearts; And That reverent fear of God woke them up from the spiritual slumber the enemy had lulled them into. Suddenly they realized their sin of disobedience; They recognized their sin of not honoring God; They saw how they had been worshiping at the wrong altar— occupied with their own lives rather than with the Lord and his work. Suddenly they saw how their priorities were messed up! They obeyed. But they obeyed with a healthy fear of the Lord in their hearts. It was what motivated them to obey the Lord— the fear of the Lord.
Fourteen times in this small two chapter book the Lord is referred to as the Lord Almighty, the commander in Chief of all the armies of heaven, the Savior God, the TSABA, Lord Sabaoth, Almighty God; he is the Mighty fortress that God’s people can shelter in and wage war from and win battles— every battle— because the Lord is Almighty. Fourteen times Haggai calls him the Lord Almighty. And for a good reason. Those who know him fear him. And those who fear him, have nothing to fear in return. They fear no nothing and they fear no man. These people heard the voice of the Lord and came to fear him. From then on, nothing could stop them from fulfilling their destiny and all that the Lord had called them to do.
[Our Lord Jesus faced difficulties and even death many times. His enemies were relentless and vicious. But he wasn’t afraid of doing what the Lord God wanted him to do from the smallest to the greatest mission the Lord God gave him to do. He obeyed God’s will without fear of men, but motivated by the fear of God alone, and anchored only in that reverent fear of Almighty God. Jesus is the one who also taught his disciples and all those who love him and follow him why we should only fear God and no one else. He said: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him whom after the killing of the body, has the power to throw into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5) What he meant was that while people, regardless of who they may be— be they the antichrist himself in the flesh— have limited power. They can only harm the flesh, and that, only when given permission from the throne of God. But God Almighty is sovereign and his power extends to body and soul. That is what real power is and worthy of our reverent fear, since God is the author of life and the one who has the final say in the destiny of our souls. When Jesus faced the might of Rome who thought had the power to crucify him or to set him free, Jesus didn’t even flinch. Instead he challenged that pretentious power saying: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:38) There was no fear in him except the fear of God.]
The fear of God is the single-most driving force that shakes up, or motivates the soul of man into its right place before God Almighty. The fear of God is that one thing and one thing alone that’s able to stir up and awaken the heart and soul of a person to see who we really are as we stand before the majesty of this Almighty God. Isaiah the prophet was already a man of God, snug and secure in his own righteousness, a holy prophet who thought he feared God in ways no one else had! But one day, God called him in a vision to visit the holy throne of Almighty God in heaven; And on that day, the holy Isaiah tells us that he “Saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” (Isaiah 6:1) And all about that throne there were holy beings called seraphs who couldn’t even look upon the holy God themselves, so they covered their own faces and feet; And they were calling out to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) Meanwhile, the foundation of the temple shook, and it was filled with smoke. Imagine the terrifying scene Isaiah was witnessing at the moment he opened his eyes at the throne of Almighty God!
How much of one’s holiness or righteousness can remain in a person’s heart at a moment like that you think? Does it matter how holy or righteous one’s life had been! Let the holy man Isaiah tell us in his own words how he felt in the presence of the Holy God. [Can someone please read Isaiah 6:5] “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” (Isaiah 6:5) In the presence of the Holy God, Isaiah saw himself as he really is— unclean. [Unclean lips does not mean he spoke dirty words; Jesus said it’s what comes from the inside of a man that makes him unclean, meaning that Isaiah saw his own heart and realized that his heart and soul were unclean, greatly sinful and unworthy before the Lord] And when he saw himself in the light of God’s truth, for the first time, the fear of God Almighty rose up in his heart, and he cried out “Woe is me…. I am ruined!” But God didn’t leave him in that condition. [Can someone please read verses Isaiah 6:6-7] “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Whenever anyone awakens from the illusion that they are good enough for God; whenever they recognize their own uncleanness of heart and soul; whenever anyone confess their sinfulness; whenever they fear God and rely on his loving mercy, God atones through the blood of his Son the Christ.
Like I said, the fear of God is the single-most driving power that can shake up the soul of a man to submit and finds its right place before God Almighty. Isaiah went on to know who he really was before God. He wasn’t a holy righteous prophet— a cut above the rest of the people. He was a sinner like the rest of the people, who’s been redeemed by the loving mercy of the Holy God. How the fear of God humbles a man or woman and makes them a beautiful and powerful and useful instrument in the hands of God Almighty. Otherwise, even prophets and holy men and women are most pathetic and useless to God and to people if the fear of God is missing from their hearts. Whatever they do, they usually do in the sight of others and for their own glory rather than in the sight of God and for his glory alone. But if they find the fear of God in their hearts, then their lives change and they begin to live only in the sight of God; And they begin to live only to do the will of God; And whatever they do in their lives, they do for the glory of God alone. It is our responsibility to teach our children to fear God, until the fear of God becomes the mainstay of their hearts and power source of their lives. (Deuteronomy 31:12-13) [As the apostle Peter followed Jesus, he also witnessed the Lord’s teaching and preaching and healing, and casting demons out of many. It should have been enough to plant the fear of God in his heart. But Peter was a stubborn man, and over confident. One day while Jesus was preaching on the seashore, Peter who had experienced a night’s failure in fishing, ignored Jesus and was washing his nets and getting ready for bed. If he had the fear of God in his heart, he would not have done that. Jesus challenged him to go out fishing again. Respectfully but reluctantly Peter did as Jesus suggested and that morning, against all odds, he and his companions experienced a fishing miracle. Do you know what Peter’s reaction was? “He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8[9-11]) He saw the Holy God in Jesus. Then he saw his own condition. And with a growing fear of God in his heart, he did what any person who fears God would do. And of course, Jesus blessed him. It was at this time that Peter left his stubbornness and over confidence behind and began to obey the will of God in his life. It was beautiful fruit of the fear of God working in his heart.]
Read verses 13-15. “Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: ‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius.” Before he ascended the Lord Jesus gave his disciples and all Christians the world mission directive, to go and make disciples of all nations. And he promised us: “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That promise has been our hope and encouragement. I am with you— always. When those words are taken to heart by faith, trusted and relied on in sunshine or rain, there is nothing that you or I cannot endure or fulfill because The Lord Almighty whom we love and fear is with us, and we have nothing else to fear. In fact the world should fear whenever we go out to do the Lord’s work! Look at these verses again. God himself stirred up the spirits of the people to do his work. They were helpless in their situation. But when the Spirit of God stirs up their spirit, nothing can hinder them nor delay the work God gives them to do. So they finished the work, as Haggai’s contemporary prophet and coworker prophesied: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) May the Lord Almighty, give us the grace to be obedient to his will in our generation and to do so with reverent fear of him. May we fulfill and complete the rebuilding project the Lord entrusted to us many years ago when he sent us here to build up his house and to fill it with students to raise them as disciples and disciple makers for our times. Lord please make Triton UBF once again a house of prayer for all nations and World Mission Center. Amen.