This series explores questions that God asks people in the Bible. One reason God asks us questions is to unearth wrong thinking that leads to discouragement. It is these kinds of questions that God asks in the Old Testament book of Haggai.
As we saw last week, God had freed exiled Israelites 20 years earlier (540 BC) to return to Jerusalem and rebuild His Temple. They laid the foundation, but then became discouraged and quit building because they focused on the human opposition instead of on God and His promises. Then they became distracted by materialism (e.g., home remodeling). So God sent Haggai to call them back to Himself and to their mission. They responded and resumed building the Temple.
But then they get discouraged again – this time for a different reason. That’s why God asks the questions He asks in Haggai 2 (read 2:1, 3).
Don’t nostalgically compare the present with the past
Notice the three-fold question: “Who... among you saw this temple in its former glory? How do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?” Through these questions, God is helping them to see that the primary reason for their spiritual discouragement is the misuse of their memory. Namely, they are indulging in a nostalgic comparison of the present with the past.
The earlier Temple was one of the ancient wonders of the world (SLIDE - SIZE; PRECIOUS METALS & GEMS; ARTWORK). But all of its furnishings had been plundered by the Babylonians, and they had far less money for building materials. The more they thought about the disparity between these two Temples, the more discouraged they became. This started years earlier when they laid the foundation (read Ezra3:12). Now it was breaking out again as they began to build on the foundation: “What’s the point? Why put all the time and money and effort into something that won’t even be close to what we had before?”
This does not mean that all reflection on the past is wrong. The Bible calls on us to remember many things: remembering our conversion (Eph.2:11,12) cultivates gratitude; remembering role-models (Heb. 13:7) develops wisdom; remembering God’s faithful provision and protection builds trust in Him (Mk.8:18-21); remembering earlier spiritual vitality (Rev.2:5) can motivate repentance. BUT NOTE: The value of this kind of remembering is that it fortifies us to trust and obey God in the present.
But nostalgia dishonors God and is personally counter-productive. In general, the older people get the more vulnerable to nostalgia they become. This is not only because they have more memories, but also because they are often facing more difficulties. Those who have declining health or physical vigor may become nostalgic about their youthful health and vigor. Those who are struggling in marriage may become nostalgic about their single romantic encounters. Those who are struggling with the constraints of career and parenting may become nostalgic about comparative freedom of time and schedule in a previous stage of life. Older Christians who are undergoing “spiritual surgery” may become nostalgic about earlier spiritual “mountaintop experiences.” Those who are struggling with a difficult ministry may become nostalgic about earlier periods of greater ministry results (“XENOSTALGIA”).
Nostalgia insinuates a lie about God’s character: “You loved me more or You were more willing and able to bless me back than now.” But God loves us at all times, and He is working in our lives for our good and for His glory at all times.
Nostalgia fixes our focus on the past, which paralyzes us from our primary spiritual responsibility – to focus on trusting and obeying God in the present. This is what God emphasizes in 2:4, 5 (read)...
Focus on trusting & obeying God in the present
Notice the three-fold exhortation to “take courage” and the reminder “do not fear.” Their unhealthy focus on the past (2:3) had bred their present discouragement and fear. So God encourages them by reminding them of His supportive presence in the present. Note the verb tenses: “I am (not ‘was’) with you” (2:4) and “My Spirit is (not ‘was’) abiding in your midst” (2:5). Quote Rom.8:31 – if God is with/for us, then we have all of the provision and protection we need – because God plus one is a majority!
And therefore, whatever He wants me to do in the present is super-significant! That’s why God tells them to “work” (2:4; present tense) – take action on what they know God wants them to do – rebuild the Temple. It may be less glamorous or more difficult in some ways than the past – but it is partnership with the living God!
This is why the Psalmist says Ps.118:24 (read). Today is the day that the Lord has made. Today God is giving me unique opportunities to experience His love, to learn truth from Him, to trust His promises, and to advance His kingdom. I will never have today again. Yesterday’s faith can never fight today’s battles. Therefore, as Francis Schaeffer said, we should live the Christian life moment by moment.”
So here is a critically important question to ask yourself: “God, what do You want me to do today?” Maybe He wants you to receive Christ today (2Cor.6:2). Maybe He wants you to encourage a brother or sister today (Heb.3:13). Maybe He wants you to respond today to something He is correcting you about (Heb.3:7, 8). Maybe He wants you to take on a new role in ministry today (Rom.6:19). I don’t know what it is – but He does have something He wants you to do today, and He knows how to communicate this to you! If you don’t know, ask Him with a willingness to do what He shows you (Jn.7:17)! If you do know, go to work!
Living in the present in this way helps us avoid two other common errors:
Living in regret over our past mistakes. Like nostalgia, this also gets easier to fall into as you get older because the older you get, the more mistakes you have made. Many people (including many Christians) live crippled in the present by their regret over the past. But all the regret in the world can’t change the past. Furthermore, focusing on past regrets prevents you from living in the present – and this omission will only increase your regrets in the future. Besides, God can redeem your past mistakes as you trust and obey Him in the present.
Living in fear of the future. God gives us His presence and help for the present, not for the future. That’s why Jesus said Matt. 6:33, 34 (read). Tomorrow’s help from God will come tomorrow; focus on seeking God’s kingdom today. But there is a healthy way to think about the future as we live in the present. That’s why through HaggaiGod calls on them to work in the present looking forward in hope to the future He is preparing (read 2:6-9 – “For...).
Look forward in hope to the future God promises
In 2:7, 9, God promises that the glory of this (smaller) Temple will exceed the glory of the former Temple. Why? Not because of its size or material splendor, but because of Who will one day visit it. Many Jewish and Christian scholars have seen “what is desired by all nations” as a prediction of the Messiah. Jesus – God-incarnate, the true Temple of God’s glory (Jn.1:14) – came to this Temple 500 years later. And He died on the hill nearby this Temple to pay for our sins so we can have peace with God. And He will return at the end of the age to this very site to establish the world-wide peace of God’s kingdom. So it was totally inappropriate for them to let their memories of the past Temple discourage them from rebuilding the present Temple. Nor should they work on it just to keep busy and/or distracted. Instead, they should work on it vigorously because it would set the stage for the most important Person in human history – the Messiah.
This hope for the future is very different from its counterfeit in western culture. Younger Americans place a lot of hope in future temporal improvements – hope for marriage, hope for children, hope for a good career, hope for a better financial life, etc. Americans in general also place a lot of hope in future technology – that it will make life easier, more entertaining, etc. But these hopes are extremely fragile because they are all subject to the vacillations of a fallen world. They are also doomed to ultimate disappointment because they won’t fulfill our souls, and because we will forfeit them when we die. The realization in old age that the hopes of the American Dream are empty is the reason for so much nostalgia and despair.
Christian hope is fundamentally different than this. God calls us to put our hopes in His proven ability to fulfill His redemptive plan. The vast majority of God’s predictions in the Bible have already come to pass (e.g., REGATHERING #1; 1ST COMING; WORLD-WIDE SPREAD OF GOSPEL; REGATHERING #2), so we can have confidence that the rest will also be fulfilled. If you belong to Jesus, you will spend eternity His kingdom. And if you serve Jesus (through direct witness, intercessory prayer, helping other Christians grow, using your spiritual gifts, etc.), your service will make an eternal difference and will bring an eternal reward. This is why Paul 1Cor.15:58; Gal.6:9 (read). Therefore, it is always true for every Christian that “the best is yet to come!”
SUMMARIZE: 3 theses
NEXT WEEK: 1 Kings 19 – “What are you doing here?”
QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
“Life is a succession of moments, one moment at a time... So when I talk about living the Christian life moment by moment... there is no other way to do it... We must believe God’s promises at this one moment in which we are. (We must) apply them... for and in this one moment – one moment at a time. If only you can see that, everything changes.” (Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Vol. 3 (Crossway Books, 1982), pp. 280,281.
“The rendering, ‘the desire of all nations’ (kjv), has been usually understood as a messianic prophecy referring to the coming of the One desired by all nations. The trend of recent translations and commentators has been away from this personal reference to the impersonal ‘desired things.’ However, the evidence is not all one-sided, and a case can be made for retaining a personal messianic reference. Perhaps Haggai deliberately selected a term that had exactly the ambiguity he wanted in order to include both an impersonal and personal reference (see Herbert Wolf, Haggai and Malachi, pp. 34-37).” Lindsey, F. D. (1985). Haggai. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1542). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.