It’s Time! 4. Time to Stop Looking Back
Haggai 2: 1 - 5
How many of you can remember the “good old days”? Do you find yourself longing for what used to be and lamenting how bad things are today?
In our passage for today we’re going to see that while the past is important it can keep us from the present if we make it all-important. We could say it like this: We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future.
Chapter 1 is a call to have the right priorities while chapter 2 is a call to perseverance. After returning from exile in Babylon, God’s people had been tasked with rebuilding God’s Temple. They eagerly laid the foundation but because of opposition and selfish priorities, they stopped working for 16 years. Haggai was called on the scene to mobilize the people to get back to work. After putting God back at the centre of their lives, they went to work doing what they were called to do. That’s how chapter 1 ends.
The setting for Haggai’s next sermon: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet.” This book has a number of time markers in it so we can determine exactly when something occurred and how much time has elapsed from the previous message. They began to work on God’s house “on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month” so we know that about a month has gone by and they are already discouraged.
The 7th month was a busy time on the Jewish calendar. The sacrifices and feasts had been reinstituted when the altar was reconstructed. There were 3 big feasts in this month which correspond with our months of September and October • The Feast of Trumpets took place on the 1st day of the month • The Day of Atonement was on the 10th • The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated on the 15th through the 22nd.
Maybe they had a hard time staying focused on the work because of all the feasts going on. Haggai is going to speak to them on the 2nd last day of this feast, which celebrated the harvest. As they looked around their harvest was nothing. It was supposed to be a day of joy and praise.
The people of old went into the land flowing with milk and honey; now they were struggling to even subsist on the land. This was to be a time of reflecting and rejoicing but they had no temple to go to and no fruit with which to decorate their tents. Instead of praising, they were reminded of their problems. But God moves Haggai to bring the fresh water of His Word to satisfy the thirst in their souls.
Friends, it is very common to experience discouragement and even despondency after starting out strong with something. A good example of this is Elijah, who after experiencing an incredible power encounter on Mount Carmel, ended up running for his life and later wanted God to take his life.
In Haggai 2: 2, God tells the prophet to preach to the leaders and to the remnant and he does so by asking 3 questions in v. 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” It’s the right message for the right people at the right time. These questions are very personal and very direct. The first step in dealing with discouragement -
1. Identify the Causes
It’s good to just get it out and face it head on. God knew what they were feeling and so He wanted them to know that He understood. Are you aware that God knows what you are thinking right now? He understands and cares about the discouragement you may be facing. Luke 11: 17 “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them…” 3 common causes that lead to discouragement -
A. Comparison with the past
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?” There were probably some 80 year olds who remembered what Solomon’s temple looked like. There was no comparison to the good old days of Israel when people came from far and wide to see the Temple and to hear Solomon’s wisdom and to sing praises to God in the courts.
The new Temple was not going to be anything like the old one. The new Temple would not have the Ark of the Covenant; there would be no gold furnishings, no carved cherubim, and no Shekinah glory. There was a lack of good materials (they had used some of them on their homes), there wasn’t much money and there was much opposition.
Here’s what’s happening. Those who had seen Solomon’s temple wept out loud while those who didn’t have that memory worshipped out loud. The older people were weeping while the younger were worshipping. One generation groaned and another gave glory to God. Those who remembered Solomon’s temple filtered everything through the lens of past glory and whatever was going on in the present simply didn’t measure up.
Guess what? That same tension exists today. Unfortunately the older tend to dismiss the younger, discounting what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. At the same time the younger look down on the older, thinking we’re just relics who are not fired up to do God’s work like they are. God reminds us that He’s at work in every generation.
Here’s what I’m learning about myself. When I remember the past as better than it was, the present will seem worse that it is. It’s OK to look at the past, but I can’t live in the past. We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future.
There may have been something else going on with the remnant. While some were focused on the good things of the past, others may have been feeling badly about how much they had messed up. All they had to do was look around and see the consequences of their behaviour. Some of you are so filled with guilt and shame about your past that you choose to not live in forgiveness and freedom in the present.
Friends, whether you’re locked into the glory of the good old days or you’re replaying the pain of your past, it’s time to put it all behind you. We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future. Paul remembered his past accomplishments and his past failures - Philippians 3: 13, 14 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
B. Focusing on flaws
“How does it look to you now?” Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find fault in others? These older people were recalling the good old days and to see such a shabby structure being constructed made them want to stop working. Instead of looking at what was, they looked at what wasn’t. They noticed the negative without applauding the positive. Some of us are like that. We find the flaws and are quick to criticize because in our minds something or someone just doesn’t measure up to our standards.
C. Overstating issues
“Does it not seem to you like nothing?” The people thought of the new temple as an old shed. Many of us are experts in overstating how terrible something is. Do you ever hear yourself using phrases like these: “You always” or “You never” “So and so is worthless…he doesn’t know anything.”“They’re so out of touch.” Do you write people or projects off just because you don’t like something? Or does it bother you that it’s not being done like you think it should be done or its not moving as quickly as you’d like?
Let’s stop demonizing those we disagree with. It’s easy to write people off. Don’t treat people as if they are nothing and let’s make sure we don’t treat God’s work as if it’s nonexistent.
God is always doing more than we see and what we might think as small and insignificant isn’t small to the Lord of Hosts. To those of us who are older, let’s not quench the enthusiasm of the young. Here’s a news flash. The old days aren’t coming back!
Let’s celebrate what God is doing now. To those of you who are younger, respect the older and listen to their wisdom – we may just have something to say. Let’s all watch our words because our complaining can discourage, our comparing can deflate and our criticizing can dampen others.
Satan has many weapons in his arsenal but his most effective may be discouragement. It’s still his major tool, and he uses it constantly on God’s people.
2. Apply the Cure v. 4, 5 Let’s stand and read this together.
A. What we must do
We have a responsibility to respond, even when, or especially when, we are discouraged.
• Be strong Can also be translated as courageous. The people were living in the land that God promised them. They were in the right place at the right time and they were experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham given centuries earlier. Now God speaks to them. Joshua 1: 9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
• Get to work This is really the command that is flanked by the challenge to be strong and to not fear. They were sent back to the land for a specific purpose. God wants us to work because He’s put each of us here with a job to do. We’ve been saved to serve as we seek to live out the mission the Master has given us.
• Don’t fear The first 2 things we must do are positive – our attitude must be strong and our action must lead to work. The final one is a negative command and refers to what we must not do.
B. What God will do
God now promises that He will do 3 things for the people. If God brings you to it, He will lead you through it. We can be strong, get to work and not fear because of what God will do.
• His personal presence is with us “Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD Almighty.” The God of the Angel Armies is with us. This thread weaves throughout the OT - Exodus 33: 14 “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
• His personal promise is for us “This is what I covenanted with you…” God promised to be their protector and provider by reminding them of the covenant He had made with them. God stands by every promise He has ever made to His people. He had not forgotten them for the 900 years since this covenant was first made. Here’s the issue in a nutshell. The remnant had a good memory of the wrong things and a bad memory of the right things. They needed to remember God’s presence and His promise.
• His personal power is within us “My Spirit remains among you.” One of the few references to the Holy Spirit in the OT and is a reminder that whatever we do is done by God’s power, not by ours. Abraham is gone. Moses is gone. David is gone. Solomon is gone. But God is in their midst!
We also have another huge advantage over the OT believers because Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would not just be among us but He will dwell within us. John 14: 16, 17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Courage comes from knowing God is with us, for us and within us! This truth should help us see possibilities not problems. We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future.
3. Putting into Practice
A. Let go If you stay in the past, whether locked into the good or the bad, you will look down on the present and you’ll forget God’s promises for the future. It’s been said that if you’re still talking about what you did yesterday, you haven’t done much today. We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future.
B. Look up Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.
C. Lean forward You can’t bring history back. God only sends His people in one direction: Forward! These days are the glory days! With Christ at the centre of your life, these can be the good “now” days. Someone has said that these are the “good old days” we’re going to miss in the days ahead. Take the next step. And then the next step. What is God calling you to do?
We must remember the past while embracing the present so we can be faithful in the future.