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It Is Time to Renew the Word of God
Text: Haggai 1; Zechariah 1: 1-6

By Lindell Mitchell

religion, articles, christianity
I.  Introduction
    A.  Following the revival under Josiah, God's people drifted 
        back into sin, cultivating the seeds of wickedness planted 
        during Manasseh's administration.
        1.  It became necessary for them to learn through adversity 
            what they had refused to learn from the word of God.
        2.  Accordingly, Judah spent seventy years in captivity in 
            Babylon, stripped of the comforts of Jerusalem.
        3.  Mercifully God had once more intervened by raising the 
            pagan king Cyrus, who released the people and assisted 
            them in reestablishing their place of worship.
        4.  Isaiah had foretold this, predicting not only Cyrus's 
            two great merciful acts but his name as well.
    B.  So it was that in 538 B.C. the decree was signed and a small 
        band of less than fifty thousand persons returned to 
        Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity.
        1.  Some estimate this represented less than one out of 
            every six Jews in Babylon.
        2.  Even more discouraging is that the returning group 
            evidenced little spiritual concern and depth.
        3.  It is true that they immediately began construction of 
            the temple by laying its foundations in the second month 
            after their arrival but discouragement quickly set in, 
            and the work ground to a halt.
            a.  During the next sixteen years, not an ounce of 
                energy was expended on this project, and the people 
                were content to let the matter drop.
            b.  Finally, 100 years after the previous revival under 
                Josiah, both Haggai and Zechariah came preaching the 
                word of the Lord in 520 B.C.
    C.  Ezra 5-6 describes the condition of things at the time.
        1.  Zerubbabel, the grandson of Judean king, Jehoichin, who 
            had been taken into captivity in 598 (2 Kings 24:15), 
            became "governor" and led the first return in 537 B.C.
        2.  His designation as governor was a reminder of the 
            Babylonian appointment.
        3.  Even his name was a loan word from Akkadian/Babylonian 
            into Hebrew.
            a.  That is, Zerubbabel was also known as Sheshbazzar 
                (Ezra 1:8; 5:14), for the same work said to be done 
                by Zerubbabel in Ezra 3:8 is said to have been done 
                by Sheshbazzar in Ezra 5:16.
            b.  Zerubbabel belonged to the continuing line of David.
    D.  Suddenly in the midst of his governorship (520 B.C.), God 
        sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to rekindle the 
        vision and the hearts of his covenant people.
        1.  It was the sixth month.
        2.  The season for summer fruits was now ended, and the time 
            of harvest was over.
            a.  You can almost hear the mournful sigh of Jeremiah: 
                "The summer is over and we are not saved" (Jer. 8:20).
            b.  What did God have in mind by sending these prophets 
                at this stage in the year and after sixteen years of 
                no temple, no worship, and no concern for spiritual 
                things?
    E.  The message of Haggai, which came first in this revival and 
        is recorded in Haggai chapter one, stressed four ways in 
        which the work of God could be renewed in their day if the 
        people would respond positively.
        1.  Refuse to blame the providence of God (vss. 1-2)
        2.  Set priorities for the work of God (vss. 3-6)
        3.  Get involved in the work of God (vss. 7-12)
        4.  Receive the enablement of God (vss. 13-15)
    F.  Haggai challenges God's people to face up to the weakness 
        of their silly excuses.
II.  Refusal to blame the providence of God (Haggai 1: 1-2)
     A.  Exposition: Late in August 520 B.C., according to the 
         nomenclature of our calendar, the Lord sent Haggai to 
         challenge the people of God.
         1.  The message itself was direct and simple.
             a.  It was what the Lord of hosts had observed: "This 
                 people say, 'The time has not yet come to build the 
                 Lord's house."'
             b.  The distance that had come to exist between God and 
                 his people is suggested by one of the rare uses in 
                 the Old Testament of the expression this people to 
                 describe them.
             c.  Surely it was a mark of divine displeasure.
         2.  Their lament that the time had not yet come to take up 
             the work of rebuilding the temple was most telling.
             a.  They had found time and materials to rebuild their 
                 own homes.
             b.  Clearly this was a flimsy excuse for delaying the 
                 job for sixteen years.
             c.  A whole generation had been raised without any 
                 provision made for the corporate worship of God.
         3.  Furthermore, when the people used the word time, they 
             were saying in effect: "If God wanted us to rebuild the 
             temple, he should have seen to it that we were better 
             off than we are at the present time."
             a.  That is, the word time was only a stand-in word for 
                 the Lord, and they were hiding their own 
                 delinquencies behind it.
             b.  This was a mere pretext for their own laziness and 
                 selfish reinvestment of time and interests.
     B.  Application: To the one who wants to do what is fight, the 
         time is always now and available.
         1.  Men are ingenious when it comes to inventing excuses 
             for their failure to obey the word of God and pursue 
             the mission of God.
         2.  We must recognize in the national situation the rebuke 
             of God.
             a.  The time has never been more ripe for doing God's 
                 work.
             b.  We must loudly and boldly challenge the present 
                 sinful system in our land!
             c.  We know the solution to crime, family 
                 disintegration, sexual immorality, corruption, and 
                 hatred.
             d.  Let's stop making excuses and start preaching the 
                 word!
         3.  We must recognize the rebuke of God in the distresses 
             within the church.
             a.  There is no excuse for the institutionalized 
                 mediocrity, easy apathy, and spineless acceptance 
                 of the status quo.
             b.  There is no excuse for aping the denominationalists, 
                 seeking to restructure the government of the church, 
                 attempting to make the militant gospel of Christ more 
                 palatable to worldlings by diluting it.
             c.  Those who perceive the enormity of the sin and 
                 offer no word of rebuke are cowards.
             d.  None of us is too good to follow God's instructions 
                (Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 5:20-21)!
             e.  Let us fight the adversary in our lives, the lives 
                 of families, and among our brethren!
         4.  We simply must stop making excuses.
             a.  There is no excuse for being unfaithful and 
                 forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:25).
             b.  There is no excuse for failing to put the kingdom 
                 first (Matt. 6:33).
             c.  There is no excuse for being ignorant of God's word 
                 (2 Tim. 2:15).
             d.  There is no excuse for failing to carry out the 
                 Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
         5.  We are in the richest country in the world with 
             unprecedented freedom of thought, movement, and speech.
         6.  We must boldly do his will.
         7.  The time for excuses has passed, especially blaming God 
             for not providing sufficient resources.
III.  Setting priorities for the work of God (Haggai 1:3-6)
      A.  Exposition: Again the word of the Lord came to this 
          prophet, and he asked, "Is it time for you to live in your 
          paneled homes?"
          1.  The point was not that nice homes were a mark of 
              wickedness or that believers would be better served 
              by rejecting all material things.
              a.  The Bible clearly teaches a full proper use of 
                  things both beautiful and mundane.
              b.  But there is the issue of priorities; we must put 
                  God's work ahead of our work.
          2.  In this case the choice had to do with building the 
              temple.
              a.  The religious condition of the people's hearts 
                  could be seen by their attitude towards this need.
              b.  Actually, it could have come in the form of any 
                  task to do for the Lord; this was only the most 
                  pressing need of the moment.
          3.  If times were hard, and there was no denying that they 
              were, why had Judah not cried out to God for help to do 
              this work of building?
          4.  Furthermore, if they were really so poor, how had they 
              been able to spend so much on themselves?
              a.  This was the real point in bringing up their houses.
              b.  Meanwhile the temple of God remained "a ruin" (vs. 3).
              c.  It was time for God's people to evaluate where this 
                  reversal of priorities had gotten them.
      B.  Application:  There is always a connection between the 
          moral and spiritual condition of a people and their 
          material and economic condition.
          1.  Modem men completely fail to recognize that there is 
              often a moral cause for the seasons of drought and 
              plenty.
          2.  We too must take time to evaluate what is happening to 
              us from a moral/spiritual perspective.
              a.  Are you working harder and getting less out of it?
              b.  Are you eating more and enjoying it less?
              c.  Do you have more stuff and think less of it?
              d.  Are you earning more and accumulating less?
          3.  If you say yes to one of those questions, it is time 
              to re-order your priorities along these lines.
              a.  You must help maintain the church as a community of 
                  faith (John 8:24).
                  (1)  Israel failed God through lack of faith more 
                       than through an inadequate law.
                  (2)  However, the Lord's church was founded on the 
                       prospect of a sustaining faith relationship.
                       (a)  This theme is stressed throughout the 
                            gospels and the letters.
                       (b)  It is the man of faith that is freed 
                            from undue worry and doubt 
                            (Phil. 4:11-13).
               b.  You must help maintain the church as a 
                   proclaiming community (Matt. 28:19-20).
                   (1)  When people are sold on Jesus, they can't 
                        contain their faith.
                   (2)  The ministry of the church must stress the 
                        proclamation of Christ in all that it does.
               c.  You must help the church be a worshipping 
                   community (I Pet. 2:9).
                   (1)  The church offers praise and adoration.
                   (2)  It is also God's institution for offering 
                        therapeutic instruction.
               d.  You must help the church be a compassionate 
                   community (Gal. 6: 1 0).
                   (1)  Every Christian has an obligation to the 
                        church and to the community at large in this 
                        matter.
                   (2)  There are spiritual, material, and emotional 
                        needs that must be met.
               e.  You must help the church be a holy community.
                   (1)  A church of Christ must be characterized by 
                        ethical purity.
                   (2)  Sin must not be a way of life with God's 
                        people.
               f.  You must help the church be an encouraging 
                   community.
                   (1)  The church is a building under constant 
                        construction.
                   (2)  Every member is expected to build the body 
                        up and to contribute to its health 
                        (I Cor.12:12-27).
IV.  Getting involved in the work of God (Haggai 1:7-12)
     A.  Exposition: Verse 7 again stresses the importance of these 
         matters and is reminiscent of verse 5.
         1.  The title Lord of hosts is never used of deity in the 
             Pentateuch, Joshua, or Judges.
            a.  It appears first in I Samuel 1:3.
            b.  But it is the favorite expression of the prophets 
                from that time forward.
            c.  The meaning of Lord of Hosts, that is, Master of the 
                heavenly and earthly armies, is "that he is the 
                absolute sovereign with invincible might, holding 
                both terrestrial armies (I Sam. 17:45) and celestial 
                armies of angels (Psa. 24:7-10) at his beck and call."
         2.  The purposes of obedience are set forth in verse 8:  
             "So that I may take pleasure in that work."
             a.  It is not that God is pleased or impressed with 
                 building per se, but that building represents their 
                 attempt to express praise and worship to God; to 
                 that degree it brings him pleasure and magnifies 
                 his name.
             b.  It is a matter of interest that it was necessary 
                 for the people to go up the mountains to cut timber 
                 and bring it down to build the temple.
                 (1)  Sixteen years earlier they had been given 
                      lumber for this purpose.
                 (2)  What had happened to it in the meantime?
         3.  This section also deals with the cost of disobedience.
             a.  When God's work had to go begging for lack of 
                 interest, punishment fell affecting the very ground.
             b.  Once again, scripture repeatedly underlines the 
                 intimate connection between man's performance and 
                 nature's productivity.
         4.  Verse 12 is one of those rare verses in the Bible that 
             indicates that the preaching of God's word had an 
             immediate and wonderful effect.
             a.  it celebrated the beauty of obedience, because all 
                 the people along with the leadership obeyed the 
                 voice of the Lord.
             b.  The fear of the Lord mentioned here is an attitude 
                 of wholehearted trust and glad submission to the 
                 living God.
             c.  It meant a turning from evil and holding to the 
                 Lord by faith (Phil. 2:1 1).
             d.  Only by meeting these conditions can the work of 
                 God break out in our own hearts and in a needy 
                 world.
     B.  Application: It is time to get involved with the work of 
         God.
         1.  Increasingly Christians view themselves as consumers of 
             Christianity and not ministers and servants of the Lord.
         2.  I see it constantly as people come by and say "We are 
             visiting around."
             a.  What they are doing is shopping the churches.
             b.  What they should be doing is trying to be of the 
                 most service to the Lord's cause in their home 
                 community.
             c.  If there isn't a church there, they should plant 
                 one.
         3.  You see this consumer mentality when people complain 
             about not having their needs met.
         4.  Such people demonstrate a skewed concept of what 
             Christianity is.
             a.  All who are truly disciples of Jesus will follow 
                 his example of service (Matt. 10:25-28).
             b.  None is too good to serve (Matt. 10:24)!
V.  Receiving God's enablement to do the work (Haggai 1: 1 3-15)
    A.  Exposition:  Simply put, God will help his people discharge 
        their mission.
    B.  Application:  Many are tempted to cry in exasperation, "But 
        I am so weary and so unable to do anything more, how can I 
        receive this challenge to renew the work of God?
        1.  The good news from the Old Testament is that God does 
            not ask us to do that which he hasn't enabled us to do.
        2.  Jesus promised always to be with those who preach the 
            gospel and teach men to do all that he commands 
            (Matt. 18:19-20).
        3.  He promised that we will not be tempted above our 
            ability to endure and overcome (I Cor. 10:13).
        4.  The conclusion is before us once again.
            a.  We must stop giving God the scraps of our time and 
                energy as a people.
            b.  It is useless to whine that life has dealt us a 
                blow, so we can't do other than what we are now 
                doing.
            c.  If you really want to fight stagnation, blight, crop 
                failure, spiritual depression, drug abuse, violence, 
                and immorality around the world, begin with personal 
                repentance and reordering your priorities.
            d.  Stop pretending to be too poor or saying that the 
                time is not quite right, because your possessions 
                are like tongues wagging and telling on you.
            e.  Plant, my brothers, water, and let God give the 
                increase (I Cor. 3:6)!
Conclusion:
Now is the time to renew God's work!

Published December 1992