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The Promise of the Spirit's Abiding Presence

The Promise of The Spirit’s Abiding Presence

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 25 March 2010.


3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? 4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: 5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not” (Haggai 2:3-5).

The book of Haggai is the first of three prophetic books written by prophets who lived after the exile of God’s people. It is the second shortest book in the Old Testament. Only Obadiah is shorter. But the message in Haggai is a very powerful one, which shaped the history of God’s people in a very dramatic way.

To understand the ministry of Haggai, we must remind ourselves of the ministry of the pre-exilic prophets. What was the recurring theme of the pre-exilic prophets? The recurring theme is warning of judgement against God’s people for their sin and departure from God.

Despite their urgent and repeated call, the people became apostate. God would not allow His name to continue to be blasphemed. He would judge the people.

Judgement for God’s people in the North fell on 722 BC with the invasion of the Assyrians. The 10 Northern tribes of Israel were scattered. They never returned, at least not significantly. Judgement for the people in the South fell on 586 BC. In that year, God allowed his temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians. God was chastising His people.

The destruction of the temple marked the end of an era in national and religious life of the Jewish people. During the next 70 over years, the Jews would be without a temple to worship in. It was only when King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539 BC that he allowed a large group of Jews, of almost 50,000, to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

The Jews arrived in 538 BC, and one of the first things they did was to rebuild the altar to worship the Lord with burnt offerings (Ezr 3:1-6).

The next year, having collected sufficient funds, they began to rebuild the temple. They laid the foundation of the temple and there was a great celebration (Ezr 3:8-13).

But sadly, there was very little further progress in the rebuilding effort. At first, the people were discouraged because of the harassment by the Samaritans who were living in the land. The Samaritans were both jealous and sore that the Jews were building the temple and would not allow them to have anything to do with it. So they made things very difficult for the Jews.

Well, eventually the Jews became so discouraged that they actually gave up and became apathetic towards building the temple. They began rather to build their own homes.

So for about 16 years the temple remained in ruins. What happened ought to serve as a warning to us. It is so easy for us to become discouraged and to give up. Satan would be most happy to see anyone of us giving up.

But thank God that though the people of old gave up, God did not give up with them. After allowing them to stray and wander for 16 years, God began to restore them.

It was in the second year of King Darius in 520 BC that year, God raised up the prophet Haggai to encourage the people to complete the rebuilding of the temple (cf. Ezr 5:1-2).

We don’t know much about the Haggai. Jewish tradition says that he was a young priest who returned from Babylon. But many commentators believe that he was an aged prophet who saw the Temple of Solomon before its destruction. If so, Haggai must have been at least 70 or 80 years old.

In any case, Haggai’s call was to preach to the leaders and the people of Judah to awake them out their spiritual slumber and apathy so that they might pick up where they left off in the rebuilding of the temple.

His ministry was short and succinct. If this book contains all that he preached, then he preached only 4 short messages. Chapter 1 contains his first message, whereas chapter 2 contains the other 3 messages! Brevity must have been one of his strong points. But these short messages,—in the hand of God,—were so powerful that the people were provoked to begin rebuilding the temple again.

Haggai’s labour was supplemented by Zechariah who began preaching two months later and continued until the rebuilding of the temple was completed in 515 or 516 BC. But it was Haggai who started the ball rolling.

In this short study, the Lord helping us, we want to consider the promissory part of Haggai’s 2nd sermon from chapter 2, verses 1-9. This sermon or sermonette has 2 parts. The first part from verse 3-5 contains a promise of the LORD help to those who would be involved in rebuilding the temple. The second part, from verses 6-9 is a proclamation of the future glory of the temple. For our purpose we will only be looking at the promise.

Let’s approach our study under 3 heads. First, let us ask: (a) What is the Occasion of the Promise? (b) Whom is this promise for? (c) What is this promise?


1. The Occasion of the Promise

Haggai’s 2nd sermon was preached on the 21st day of the 7th month of the Jewish Calendar (v. 1). That would be October 17, 520 B.C. It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, nearly a month after the rebuilding work on the temple resumed.

This first month of work must have been extremely difficult. There was 66 years of dirt, rubble and rubbish to clear, and the place must have been overgrown with weed and thorn. All these things had to be removed manually. They did not have modern machinery in those days. And the people did not have a fraction of the tremendous reservoir of raw material that Solomon had when he first build the temple. And not only that, but they could not afford to pay any skilled craftsman as Solomon did.

The progress at rebuilding would have been very slow; and no doubt made slower by the fact that they entered into the 7th month a week after they begun. Now, the 7th month is a very busy month in the Jewish Calendar (cf. Lev 23).

No doubt, this would have been quite discouraging for the people who had been stirred up in their spirit to do the work. Some might even have been tempted to give up.

It is no wonder that God called Haggai to preach another message on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles to encourage the people to persevere on zealously in the work that they had begun.

With this in mind, we can think of how the promise we are considering tonight would serve especially to prod God’s people on the in good work that they have begun in obedience to the Lord.

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, Christ our King has begun a good work in our midst. He has been working in us and through us.

Yes, there are discouragement and setbacks along the way. There are the cares of the world. There are disciplinary issues. There are relationship issues. There are departures from the church—whether to the Lord, to other churches, to other countries or to the world.

But shall we allow ourselves to be side tracked and cease from the great work that the Lord has called us to? The Lord forbids. Let us rather turn to the Lord to find strength from Him, especially from His promises.

But who must especially take heed to the promise we are considering tonight?


2. Beneficiaries of the Promise

Haggai begins the sermon by addressing specific parties in the congregation:

3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?

It was 66 years since the temple of Solomon was destroyed. Most of the people who were listening to Haggai would not have seen it, not to mention remember anything about it.

But there were a few of the very aged men who would remember the glory of the former temple. Haggai himself was probably among these. So he knew how they must have felt.

It must have been a very poignant feeling. 16 years earlier, when the people first rebuilt the foundation of the temple, the same feeling had overwhelmed those who saw the first temple. Ezra tells us that many of them wept when they saw the smallness of the foundation laid (Ezr 3:12).

How sad it must have been for these aged people who knew the days of Israel’s glory and the splendour of the former temple. All that was gone; and by the look of things, it does not seem at all possible that the temple will ever regain its former glory.

How discouraging it must have been for them. That thought, together with all the difficulties they were facing as they try to rebuild the temple must have made many of them wonder: Is it worth it? Is it worth it even to try to do the rebuilding? If we cannot bring back the former glory why not leave it in memory, rather than frustrate ourselves more by trying to achieve that which is impossible.

Haggai knew how they must have felt. God understands. God understands too how some of us who began this congregation together can become disillusioned and discouraged because our vision for the church has not materialised.

But let us not revel in negativism. Let us look to the Lord and find strength from Him. We can do all things in Christ who strengtheneth us (Phil 4:13).

4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work:…

‘Yet!’ what a wonderful word from the mouth of God. Everything is so discouraging, yet! Everything does not seem to work out, yet! It does not seem worth it to try, yet!

God’s ‘yet’ is not a pathetic, resigned-to-the-situation ‘yet.’ It is a ‘yet’ of encouragement. ‘Yet now be strong!’ I understand your discouragement, yet be strong! You have every reason to be strong!

Notice how the call to be strong is given three times. “be strong, O Zerubbabel”; “be strong, O Joshua”; “be strong, all ye people of the land.” God wants the leaders of the church to take the lead to be enthusiastic and optimistic. And He wants the people to take courage and be strong. He is urging them not to be discouraged by all the difficulties.

Elders and deacons of God’s flock—you must take the lead to be strong. God’s people, let not your hands hang down. Straighten your feeble knees, strengthen your arms. Be strong and go labour on!

But on what basis should they be strong?


3. The Promise

For I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts

What a simple promise! But what a strong consolation and assurance! The LORD of host, Jehovah Tsabaoth (t/ab;x] hw:hyÒ) is with us. If he who is with were merely a strong leader and a great preacher, we will find some encouragement. But He is not just a strong leader or a great preacher. If He is who is with us were a mighty angel, we would have found much encouragement. But He is not just a mighty angel. He is the LORD of hosts, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the one who decreed all things and brings all things to pass by His mighty power.

We need to take a step back out of the situations in life that we are in to see who it is that is with us in all that we go through! It is the LORD of hosts!

The LORD of hosts has promised to be with us, to help us and to bless us.

He is with us as He was with the Jews as their covenant God, verse 5—

5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.

What was the word that God covenanted with the people when they came out of Egypt? Turn to Exodus 19:5—

5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.…”

God had redeemed a people for Himself. He has covenanted to take them as His people and to be a God unto them. He promises to be with them and to bless them.  As long as they walked according to his laws, the people would be a peculiar treasure unto Him; and a kingdom of priest and a holy nation. As long as they feared Him, God’s Spirit would remain with them, and the need not fear anything else!

My spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not,” says the Lord through Haggai. The LORD would later enlarge on this promise through Zechariah when He says: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” (Zec 4:6).

Now, this is a remarkable promise, isn’t it? God promises to be with us by His Spirit. His Spirit will always be there. As long as we are walking in His fear, He is working in us and through us by His spirit. We need not pray for revival as if God has withdrawn His Spirit. No, no; unless we have, as a congregation, apostatised, we need not doubt that the Spirit of Christ is with us. He is there to give us His seal of approval. He is there to strengthen us and to encourage us.

The Jews rebuilding the temple need not fear that they could not finish the work, nor do they need to be discouraged by at the setbacks? If God is with them, why should they worry about not having sufficient resources or time to do the work? If God is with them and has called them to rebuild the temple, why should they worry about the temple not being as glorious as the previous?

Dearly beloved brethren, this word of encouragement is for us too. Some of us are discouraged when we think about the smallness and lack of progress in the church and in our lives. Some of us may even be tempted to say: Why bother? Why bother to start a church when it cannot be great and huge and so cannot have much of an impact on the society, and cannot have all our dreams fulfilled?

Well, remember that we started because we desired to walk in the ways of the Lord. We started because we wanted to obey God’s voice truly and keep His covenant.

When you remember this, then bring to mind the covenant that God made with the people after He rescued them from Egypt; and remember that the same promise is applied by the apostle Peter to the New Testament Church in 1 Peter 2:9-10.

Oh beloved brethren, let us not be discouraged nor despise the days of small things. Is it not enough for us to know that the Lord is with us? And the LORD of hosts is with us by His Spirit to empower us to serve Him!

Therefore, let us be strong! Be strong elders! Be strong deacons! Be strong brothers and sisters in the Lord! Be strong, boys and girls! The Lord is with us. His Spirit dwells with us and is ever working in and through us. Let us serve Him faithfully and fearlessly without allowing Satan to distract us.

Today is a day of small things, tomorrow we shall know exceeding glory. The suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.


Conclusion

Dearly beloved brethren and children, have you grown discouraged in your service and walk for the Lord?

May I encourage you to be strong! You are doing a great work. As you are being polished to be part of the great heavenly temple, you are also involved in building the temple.

Thank God for the part you play. May the Lord grant you strength! May you take courage that God is with us and His spirit dwells with us according as we walk in His ways!

But let us also repent of our hardness of heart and sluggishness.

Haggai preached on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles. He offered the people words of encouragement. More than 500 years later, the Lord Jesus Christ, the antitype of the temple, stood in the very temple that Haggai was urging the people to rebuild.

It was also the last day of the feast of Tabernacles. It was the 552nd anniversary of Haggai’s second sermon. Christ preached a sermon on that day. What did the Lord have to say on that day? Turn to John 7:37—

37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

Have you become complacent, beloved brethren? Have you become spiritually dry as a result?

Will you not flee to Christ and ask Him for a drink? Will you not go to Him to ask Him to renew a right spirit in you that you may serve him with new zeal for His own glory? Amen. Ω

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