This last Sunday, in Calvary’s morning gathering, we studied the book of Haggai together as part of God’s Whole Story. Together we heard God speak through his prophet to his people after the exile, challenging them to remain faithful and to rebuild the temple. Why would God have to issue such a challenge?
Because the people were not being faithful. They had pursued a vision of what they wanted life to be like, and God was not at the center. Their priorities were messed up. And God had responded with these simple words, repeated five times in various ways in the course of Haggai’s sermons,
the God-of-the-Angel-Armies spoke out again:
“Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.”
This was not a gentle message. Take a moment and read Haggai—God is clear and stern with his people. He accuses them in no uncertain terms of unfaithfulness, selfishness, and sin. He describes how their wearisome situation is a direct judgment by him on their disobedience. It’s hard to read and take in.
But thankfully, it doesn’t end there.
The wonderful news is that God’s people respond in repentance.
Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the entire remnant of the people obeyed Yahweh their God and the words of the prophet Haggai, because Yahweh their God had sent him. So the people feared Yahweh.
Then Haggai, Yahweh’s messenger, delivered Yahweh’s message to the people: “I am with you—this is Yahweh’s declaration.”
Yahweh roused the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, the spirit of the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. They began work on the house of Yahweh of Armies, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of King Darius.
(Haggai 1:12-15, CSB)
By God’s grace—his Spirit rousing the leadership and the people—all the people repent. For that’s what it means when the author tells us that they “obeyed Yahweh their God” and they “feared Yahweh.” It’s a good ending to a difficult story.
We spent the better part of the sermon Sunday (watch or listen here) exploring how this book is still demanding this of God’s people today. For God is still asking us to “take a good hard look at your life. Think it over.” Said another way, “What would your life look like if you got what you really wanted? Do you have a picture of that in your mind? Now ask yourself—is God there?”
For many of us, we’d admit that God frequently slips from being the center of our lives. And actually, the Christian life really is a long repentance in the same direction. But what does that look like? How can we—like the people of Haggai’s day—pursue obeying God, and living in a healthy fear of Yahweh?
I was greatly helped by reading Mark Dever this past week on the book of Haggai. He asked a similar question in his study of these post-exile sermons of the prophet. Namely, “How can we cultivate lives of repentance?” His answer included four simple aids, which I want to share with you now. And I’ve included a fifth of my own.
Study the Word of God. The Bible is the central way God corrects us. This is how the people in Haggai’s day were corrected. God’s word came to them.
Consider God’s nature, particularly in contrast with your own nature. I assure you this will prove significant and humbling. As you consider more of who he is, you will find yourself more ready to submit to him and to trust him obediently and confidently (“So the people feared Yahweh”, 1:12).
Pray for God to “rouse” your affections for him. Pray also that he would make you disaffected toward your sin. May we Christians not be a people who are stoically obedient, but are roused up!
Seek out the wisdom and leadership of Godly individuals around you. We must open our lives fully to at least one other person. You cannot grow without feedback. You cannot.
Practice urgency and patience in your repentance. Remember, urgency doesn’t mean speed, it means you are treating something as important and with all seriousness. And, measured with that comes patience. Change doesn’t happen quickly. Behavior often takes time to come into alignment with new convictions. The people in Haggai’s day repented over the course of three weeks, and spent the next four years completing the temple, and the rest of their lives making God the center of their living. Remember what we said last week about Daniel—we want to be faithful, lifelong plodders as God increasingly shapes us into the image of his Son, Jesus, by the power of his Spirit “rousing” us.
May it be so.
For further reading on Haggai, see Pastor Matthew's blog post titled Haggai.
Pastor Matthew will be preaching on the book of Mark this coming Sunday, January 20. Here are some tips for your Bible reading that you received in last week’s Weekly Bible Reading email.
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