A Call for Devotion – Restoring Worship
June 2, 2024

A Call for Devotion – Restoring Worship

Passage: Haggai 1:3-15

Context of Haggai

This afternoon, we’ll open our Bibles once again to the book of Haggai. You may remember, last week I explained some key parts of the background. Long before Haggai was written, God had established a special relationship with the people of Israel – a covenant. But the Jewish nation here was spiritually unfaithful and ceased to worship the Lord. The people cheated on God and had a love affair with foreign idols. So God gave the Jewish nation over to judgment at the hand of foreign armies. These armies destroyed the temple. And the Jews were either killed or carried out of their homeland.

Yet several decades after this, the Persian King, Cyrus, permitted these uprooted Jews to return to the old capital city, Jerusalem, and to start rebuilding the temple. The future seemed hopeful. But when King Cyrus died, the next king forced them to stop, and last week we acknowledged several discouragements that the Jews were likely facing at this point. The Jews began to devote themselves to other projects and priorities.

And it’s at this point, in the days of the Persian King Darius, that God sends the prophet Haggai with a message. God urges them to rebuild.

So if you haven’t already, please turn with me to Haggai, Chapter 1. And I’ll be reading verses 3 through 15. Haggai 1, verses 3 through 15.


A Renewed Focus on Worship

The overarching concern of this passage deals with the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem. But if we’re going to really appreciate and rightly apply this passage, we need to ask the question why? Why is God so concerned about having this temple rebuilt?

You need to understand – the issue here isn’t that God needs the temple. God isn’t deficient in any way. In 1 Kings 8[:27], the Jewish king who built the temple affirms, “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!” So if God didn’t personally need the temple for himself, why was the temple important? Who was the temple for?

In a real sense, the temple was an accommodation made for the people. It reminded them, not that there’s any sort of deficiency in God, but that there’s a deficiency in them. The worshippers who came to the temple would have been overwhelmed with the visible display of God’s justice and power and holiness. Near the entrance of the temple was the raging fire of the altar, reminding them of God’s ongoing anger against sin. They brought animal sacrifices, as a reminder that they needed a substitute to die for their sin, in their place. And though God’s temple was in their midst, access into the innermost place was tightly restricted – a reminder to them of the High-ness and Holiness of God. These people couldn’t bring themselves up to God in worship. But this temple was a way in which God stooped down to them, to display his divine glory and to invite the people into sincere, reverent obedience and worship.

So the big concern with the temple here wasn’t just about re-installing a cultural monument. The concern here was about worship – about the hearts of the people. The Jews are called to restore the temple, because God is making an appeal to these people, to restore their worship.

The text divides into two parts. First, God makes his appeal in verses 3 through 11: the Lord Rebukes Misplaced Devotion. And second, we see the effect of this appeal in verses 12 through 15: the People Respond with New Obedience. So these will be my two points for tonight: Point 1: The Lord rebukes misplaced devotion, and 2: the people respond with new obedience.

The Lord Rebukes Misplaced Devotion

So first, the Lord rebukes misplaced devotion. Last week we saw in verse 2 that the people of Israel have been saying, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD,” referring to the temple. But why were the Jews saying this? Though some of the people might have been intimidated by the Persian government, it seems like the main reason – the real reason – the people weren’t rebuilding the temple is because they had misplaced priorities. It would seem that many of the Jews here had other personal ambitions they wanted to deal with first: becoming financially well-off, setting up their homestead, starting a family, or whatever. And then, maybe, if it worked out conveniently, (if it wasn’t too costly) they could give some time to a temple-building project. But as for now, it wasn’t the time. Maybe tomorrow.

But notice, in verse 4, God asks a question that’s rather provocative: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house (the temple) lies in ruins?” Does it really make sense that this would be the time for you to put up all the finishing touches on your home – the paneling, the trim, and so on – while the temple of your God is ruined? Does it really seem right that your home and worldly affairs would take precedence over worshipping the LORD?

Now prior to hearing this message, these Jews who returned to Jerusalem probably thought they were on the right track, spiritually. They knew that their forefathers had provoked God to anger by building shrines for false gods. And they didn’t want to repeat those mistakes. Yet it turns out here that people of Israel were still worshipping idols – not because they were worshipping and serving statues made of wood and stone, but because they were worshipping and serving themselves! They gave their attention to gaining health and wealth, comfort and pleasure (which aren’t bad things, by the way!). But all the while, they kept postponing what should have been their first priority: worshipping God. They procrastinated, waiting for who-knows-what, saying “I’ll get serious about the Lord later. I just have one more thing – two more things, ten more things – and then I’ll whole-heartedly worship Him.” But they weren’t being honest with themselves. If they weren’t willing to commit now (to structure their life around God now), they shouldn’t expect to be magically ready to commit later. The time to live for God isn’t tomorrow. It’s today.

So God urges them – two times you’ll notice, both in verse 5 and verse 7 – he urges them, “Consider your ways. Think about the direction of your life. It’s a simple command. It makes so much sense for us to actually consider what we’re doing with ourselves. But so few of us make time to do it. Consider – is your life aimed at the right thing? Are you right with God?

The people of Israel here are urged to consider their ways, and in verse 6, God specifically points out to them that the last few years of their lives have been marked by futility and dissatisfaction. “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.”

And why, after all this work, have the people been coming up short? God explains in verse 9: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.” In other words, God’s saying that he brought poor harvests and rough economic conditions to the people of Israel, because they had neglected the temple – because they had neglected worship. And to some of you – especially if you’ve lived and worked through hard seasons where money has been tight – it might seem like God is being a little harsh.

But I hope you recognize that God is actually being incredibly kind. Imagine if God sent good harvest after good harvest, abundance and prosperity – and he didn’t do anything to intervene. Sure, the people would temporarily enjoy nice big houses, good food, decent lives – but the people would be far from God, guilty of selfishness and idolatry, destined for eternal punishment in Hell. So God brings these temporary trials on his people, in order to press them to consider their ways. What really matters in your life? What’s going to last? Having the right panels for your house? Or having a right relationship with God, revering him with whole-hearted, humble worship?

In verse 8, God commands the people to get their priorities straight. He tells them to “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified.” He directs the people to not live for their own empty pleasures – not for their own self-advancement and glory, but instead he directs them to prioritize what is pleasing and honoring in his sight – to have lives marked by worship.

The People Respond with New Obedience

And verses 12 to 15 show us how the people responded to the Lord’s rebuke. They responded with humility, with a willingness to change, with obedience. And this is my second point: the People Respond with New Obedience. Verse 12 tells us that the people who received this message – Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the remnant of the people – they obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and started to rebuild the temple. But I want to point out, here, not just the fact that these people obeyed, but three factors that enabled and fueled their obedience.

First, the fear of the LORD. At the end of verse 12, after we read about the obedience of the people, the verse adds one more comment: “And the people feared the LORD.” This doesn’t mean that the people were terrified of God. Instead, this fear of God means that the people perceived God’s authority and goodness. They recognized that He’s not just an imaginary grandpa-Santa Claus in the sky, but this is a God of real glory and limitless power. The Almighty Spirit who whispered, and galaxies, stars, and planets rushed into existence – this is the God who is now speaking to them. And catching a glimpse of the worthiness and greatness of God is one of the most helpful things for fueling our obedience to him.

But second, the new obedience of the people was fueled by the stirring of the LORD. Verse 14 says that the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the governor, and the spirit of Joshua the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. As God sent out his Word to the people, God also, along with that Word, stirred the people efficaciously and inwardly to bring forth their obedience. And it’s helpful to recognize in this – we can’t brag about our obedience, as though it’s something that we produce for ourselves out of our own abilities and efforts. But we have a God who supernaturally stirs and motivates our spirit, so that we can obey him with heartfelt joy and love and worship.

This doesn’t mean that everything that looks like spiritual excitement is from the LORD. And this also doesn’t mean that we should wait around for some sort of spiritual experience before we get up and set to work. Yet we shouldn’t hesitate to affirm that God is active in stirring people’s hearts. And we would do well to ask him for more grace as we seek to follow his directives.

But third, and finally, we see that the obedience of the people is fueled by the presence of the LORD. This motivation appears in verse 13, sandwiched in between the other two. Haggai the prophet, speaks on behalf of God, saying, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And it would seem that the promise of God’s presence is at the heart of the whole temple-building enterprise.

In this brief, seven-word statement, the LORD confirms for his people, I am with you, to provide and protect you, to refine and to restore you. The Jews can build this temple with confidence, because the LORD is there, with them, to bring their good work to completion.

Yet notice the timing of when God says these words. The Lord says “I am with you,” not after this temple building was completed, but before. God wasn’t waiting for us to prove that we could obey enough, or worship enough. But God gives the promise of his presence first. The presence of God with sinners like us, to bless us and to rebuild us, is what guarantees the success of our spiritual work.

Restoring Worship

As Christians, the great task God is calling us to in our own day – it isn’t to gather up wood and stones to build a place for worship in Jerusalem. But 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:21, and passages like these indicate that our task is to build up a people for worship – male and female, young and old, rich and poor, near and far – to gather a people to be the Church of the Lord Jesus, to perceive the Sacred Heaviness of His greatness, and to offer worship to him in our desires, in our doctrines, and in our obedience.

This work we’ve been called to – we can engage in it with unshakable confidence. Because even if the kings and governments of this world rage against the Church, even if the devil and his hordes of darkness strike at us with deception and destruction, even if your world falls to pieces and you see no possible way forward, the people of God will find courage and comfort in these words: “I am with you, declares the LORD.”

So consider your priorities. And as you rest in the sufficiency of God’s grace, let’s labor together in building a fellowship where God will be known, and treasured, and worshiped. Let’s Pray: