(Originally preached in March of 2017)
Not a building, a Church
“Do you not know that you (all) are God’s temple and that God’s Sprit dwells in (among) you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pe 2:5, NLT).
The people of Israel sinned against their God and worshiped idols, so the Lord disciplined them by sending Nebuchadnezzar to destroy their temple and take them as captives to Babylon (2 Chron. 36:15-21).
The LORD promised through His prophets that a Remnant would return, however (Isaiah 10:20-22, 11:11, Jer. 23:3).
A Remnant of Israel returned from Babylonian exile to their land under a command from Cyrus of Persia (Ez. 1:1-4).
The purpose this Remnant’s return to Jerusalem was to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:3-5)
Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the return (Ez. 2:2).
Cyrus gave the temple articles back, and many people offered gifts for its rebuilding (Ez. 1:6, 2:68)
Shortly after they arrived the Remnant rebuilt the altar of “Israel’s God” and offered sacrifices according to the Law (Ez. 3:2-3).
Then they bought materials for the temple and laid its foundation (Ez. 3:7)
There was a great celebration when the foundation was completed (Ez. 3:11-13)
Then the people who worshiped false gods alongside YHWH (2 Kings 17:24-28) offered to help build the temple but the builders rejected such help (Ez. 4:3).
These people who had been transplanted into the land of Israel by the Assyrians many years earlier (Ez. 4:2) are called “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” (Ez. 4:1).
So, the idolators and their leaders began to vigorously oppose the rebuilding of the temple (Ez. 4:4).
The Remnant gave up building.
The priests continued offering sacrifices on the altar, even though the temple was still in ruins.
The Remnant was not bothered by this, for they had turned their attention to their own homes.
God tried to get their attention by keeping them from succeeding at their selfish pursuits, but they continued to divert their limited resources to building their own homes and lives.
The Remnant was failing in their personal lives because they had failed to fulfill the purpose that brought them back to Zion.
Enter Haggai, the first authentic prophet to speak since the exile.
To Z & J: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord.’ (Hag. 1:2)
The people had taken opposition to be a sign that it was not yet time to build the temple.
To the Remnant: “Is it time for you to live in nice houses while my House lies in ruins?”
These were not bad people. They had not returned to idolatry… yet. Although, later some of them began to marry idolators, which is a major compromise leading to unfaithfulness to the Lord.
To the Remnant: “Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood to build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified.” (Hag 1:7b-8)
“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.” (Hag 1:12).
The foundation was laid in 538, but opposition followed by apathy and indifference caused building to cease until 520.
That’s 18 years…
Do you see our church in this story yet? Have you seen yourself?
The Temple is not a building any more. It is people; it is the church of Jesus. “Do you not know that you all are the temple?”
The church is not an ambiguous entity. It is local communities of believers called out from the world, called together and established by God to worship, fellowship, become like Jesus in discipleship, minister to one another and preach the Gospel to the poor.
18 years ago the Lord sent me out of the traditional, institutional church to build a people for his great Name. I started with high hopes.
Only a few individuals remain who were members in 1999. Several more are here who joined a year later, and a few more of you who came when we called ourselves Zion.
We came together all those years ago and offered the sacrifice of praise. And we came together to fellowship. I’ve always tried to call people to discipleship.
I led us to lay the only foundation that can be laid to build an authentic church: Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).
However, there were idolators and doubters and even a few who wanted to build something else on that foundation. They all left. We’ve encountered opposition, at times even from former members and supposed supporters.
What began as a fellowship of friends who loved hanging out together has become The Church That Will Not Grow.
Perhaps our small membership is not consciously stating: “The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord,” but we are not, in fact, building this church. We simply occupy what little we’ve built. Most of us feel no more need for fellowship because we have families and friends, often times outside this church. We do not grow, friends, because we refuse to reach out. Now, I know that some of us invite people to church on occasion. Yet I wonder, have we left our first love (Rev. 2:4)? Has your love for Jesus grown cold? The result is that your passion for his church and his Gospel has disappeared. You’re just going through the motions. Some of you have been attending this church for years, but your level of commitment is exactly the same as it was a year ago, five years ago, maybe a decade ago.
You see, you are the material the Lord is using to build his church.
“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pet. 2:5).
However, some of you won’t to take your place in the walls of this temple. You’re like stones that refuse to be mortared and set. You just want to sit on top of the foundation wherever you please.
As a result, we’re effectively saying, “The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord.”
In addition to the obvious fact that our church never grows numerically, I wonder if some of you are experiencing the same issues as the Remnant to whom Haggai preached.
“Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes…!
You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.”
(Hag 1:5–6, 9 NLT).
So, people of Lifewell, I am preaching to you today with the message of Haggai, and I pray the Holy Spirit will speak it to your hearts: “Build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” says the LORD of Hosts.
What do you need to do in order to obey the LORD’s command?
- If you have not yet been baptized into the church of Jesus Christ as he commanded, commit to do it today.
- If you have yet to join this church, takes steps to do so now.
- If you’re not a regular giver to the ministry of this church, start today, or the next time you receive income.
- If you’re not meeting in one of our small groups, choose one today and commit to meet with them beginning next weekend.
- If your attendance is inconsistent, even erratic, make a change this year. Show up to grow up!
- When we’re in worship or Bible study and your attention is diverted to your phone, the coffee machine, kids, FOCUS on the Lord. Take worship seriously!
- If you do not invite people to come to Jesus and our church, start doing so now.
It will require the strength of discipline to follow through with this commitment, and it will require energy and strength for us to build this church as the Lord wills.
Not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD” (Zech. 4:6)
“Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’ (Hag 2:4–5).
There are blessings for our church promised when we obey the Lord. I have always wanted this church to grow according to God’s promises rather than human methods.
“In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies…
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place I will bring peace. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”
The glory is the Presence of the Holy Spirit.
The treasures of the nations are people of all races and ethnicities coming here, worshiping, fellowshipping, becoming disciples of Jesus, ministering and being sent out into all the world to preach the Gospel.
We will have the money to accomplish this goal because the silver and gold are the Lord’s.
We will not have to endure the division and strife that is on the increase in the world because we are promised peace.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (Jn. 14:27)
“I have told you this so that you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)
There are also blessings that extend to your family when you have faith, obey and build this House of the Lord.
“I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”
I said this once in the year 2000 or 01, and those present were not ready to receive it by faith, so I say it to you again this day, Lifewell.
The Lord says, “From this day forth I will bless you.”
Do you receive it?
Then prove it.
Get to work!