A Call to Spiritual Renewal (Sermon)
Updated: Apr 15
Have you ever started a project and found it very difficult to finish? We all have a hard time with follow-through. If you’re a homeowner, I wonder how many unfinished house projects there are right now in your house or around your yard. If you’re in school, you’ve probably had some project you started full of energy and interest, but then could barely bring yourself to turn in by the due date. And in book of Haggai, we read about a group of people who had started rebuilding their community but then gave up. This is the problem that Haggai addresses. I’m introducing you to this short book today, in fact the second shortest book of the OT, though maybe not the second shortest sermon you’ll ever hear. Haggai is a brief message with a very particular concern.
Historical Context. So here’s the story behind Haggai. The people of Judah (southern Israel) had been invaded and carried off into exile in three phrases, concluding in 586 BC. They are exiles, displaced from their homeland, and living now under foreign powers. Morale is very low. But then 50 years later (538 BC) there’s a new king on the throne, and God stirs his heart so that he makes a proclamation allowing the surviving Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem (Ez 1:1), and he even supplies them with the resources they need to rebuild the temple so they can worship God. So under the leadership of governor named Zerubbabel and then a priest named Ezra, over 50,000 Jews return to Jerusalem. And they begin rebuilding and there’s great excitement. They’re back in their hometown and they’re rebuilding God’s house and their own houses.
But then reality sets in, and two things happen. First, they become somewhat disillusioned as they think through the blueprint for the temple, because they realize that they can rebuild, but there’s no way they can regain how impressive the original temple had been. It had been massive and beautiful, attracting tourists from all over the world and leaving them jaw-dropped. And there’s no way they can match the former glory, so the winds a bit out of their sails. And then second, they were surrounded by detractors. As Ezra tells the story he says, Judah’s adversaries in the land “discouraged the people of Judah and, and made them afraid to build, and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ez 4:4-5).
They had started off in obedience to God and excitement about worshiping him seeking to honor him, but their zeal had quickly cooled. They had just laid the foundation of the temple when they stopped altogether. And they left behind those good intentions. And so onto the scene step two men: Haggai and Zechariah. And they begin preaching with a very particular concern, to encourage the people to begin again, to renew their commitment to seek the Lord by rebuilding the temple. Don’t be afraid. Pick up where you left off.
We are very much like them. We often begin well in spiritual pursuits, and then get distracted or weary, or desires for comfort and ease slowly overtake us.
The message of Haggai is a call to God’s people for spiritual renewal, recommitting yourself to obedience to God, along with God’s encouragement.
This message comes in four stages, four sermons given over roughly four months. Each of these sermons has a clear theme: first challenge, then encouragement, instruction and promise. And so, we’ll take up each of these four themes in order, beginning with the message of challenge.
1. Challenge (1:1-15)
The first message is one of challenge: “Consider your ways.” This is the whole first chapter, including Haggai’s preaching in vv. 1-11, as well as the response of the people in vv. 12-15.
The Lord rebukes the people of Israel. They had started rebuilding the temple. They had just laid the foundation, when opposition arose and rather than press on, they walked away and found it easier to work improve their own homes and building up their wealth. So in v. 2, the Lord says, “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”
As if they planned to get around to it eventually, but not while there is opposition. Let’s add panels to our own houses. And so they divert their attention to home improvement projects, initial wealth accumulation through agriculture. So they have a priority disorder. What should be number 4 on the list, they move up to number 1. And what should be number 1 on the list of priorities, they move down to “maybe eventually if we get around to it.” They have a priority disorder.
So in v. 4, the Lord says, “It is a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruin? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways!” Think very carefully about what you’re doing.
Then God poses a question to them, “Why?” You see it in v. 9, “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
So what was the basic problem with Israel, They prioritized personal gains in short-term wealth and comfort, over and above loving, obedience and worship. The symptom was that they abandoned temple-building, but the underlying spiritual malady/sickness was their failure in obedience and dependence upon God.
This is the timeless dynamic, where we, like them, begin with zeal and then abandon good and right efforts because the labor involved is difficult. We often find our spiritual lives either on a downward trajectory, our best days are in the past, or perhaps in a cycle of slowing, then idling, stalling out, then trying to restart. We hit some discouragement from within and opposition from without, and so easily give up.
For instance, Jesus says to his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be witnesses.” Spirit-empowered witnesses to the saving news of Jesus Christ. You’ve hopefully at some point in your Christian experience really worked to live that out. But perhaps you’ve hit some discouragement or opposition and so witness in the power of the Spirit is not something you’ve made any recent efforts at.
Or perhaps there’s some sin in your life that is what the Puritans called a “besetting sin.” It repeatedly shows up despite some efforts you make at getting rid of it. But if you’re honest, maybe your efforts have stalled. You aren’t making any effort any more. Sin can be like barnacles that attach themselves to us, and produce drag, which over time you may get used.
If these things describe you, God is speaking to you from Haggai: Consider your ways. Think very carefully about how you’re living. Why? Why? You’re working so hard to be happy, why do efforts fall flat?
Because you’re busying with the wrong things. You’re looking for happiness in the wrong place. All they were seeking comes up empty because they weren’t seeking God.
Well how does Israel respond to this message of challenge? They restart the engine. Look at v. 12, it says Zerubbabel, the governor over these recently returned Jerusalemites, and Joshua the priest or religious leader (not the Joshua who was successor to Moses), together with all the remnant of the people “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.”
Take note of these things: 1) God sent Haggai. God graciously sends his word to them 2) They heard the Word, 3) They obeyed, they weren’t just hearers, they were doers, 4) They obeyed because they feared the Lord. Meaning they came to think more of God’s opinion than of those adversaries in the land around them. They feared the Lord’s displeasure more than they feared anyone else. They are deeply concerned about God’s opinion of them. So they hear, they obey, and they fear God.
And we’re told how this came about, v. 14, “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God…”
What a wonderful episode in Israel’s history. This was a period of national revival. Under the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, a great awakening. The Lord stirred up the hearts of the people leading them to renewed obedience. The opposition was not gone, the work was not easier, but the Lord stirred up their spirits by his Word to obey.
We should desire such a work of God in our own lives and in our own church. That God would stir up our spirit, so that in response to his word, we obey him because we fear him. Spiritual renewal is what happens when stalled-out Christians renew their commitment and do basically what Israel did here, 1) carefully listen to God’s word, 2) carefully obey God’s word, 3) because of a new inner disposition in which we fear God, we both love him and stand in awe of him.
If the first message is one of challenge or even rebuke, the second message is a message of encouragement to them as they renew their commitment to obedience. This message of encouragement comes in 2:1-9.
2. Encouragement (2:1-9)
Perhaps they got a slow start or found the earliest work to be the hardest. Or maybe remaining discouragement over inability to recapture the former greatness of the temple. In any case, they were discouraged, and God meets them not only with the needed rebuke (chapter 1), but also with words of strengthening encouragement.
(2:4)“Yet now be strong” Zerubbabel, be strong Joshua, all you people of the land. Work for I am with you, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”
This is perhaps the strongest statement in the OT of God’s Spirit dwelling among the people. Zechariah, which Tom will preach from next week, was preaching right alongside Haggai in this national revival. And giving some very similar encouragement. Zechariah says to Zerubbabel, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6). In other words, both Haggai and Zechariah are saying, this temple will be built by your hands, but by God’s power. My Spirit is with you.
This is the same promise that Jesus gives his followers: You will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8). Or in Romans 8, Paul says it is by the power of the Spirit that you put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13). Or in Galatians 5, Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. God’s Spirit dwelling within is the empowering strength for walking in obedience and daily renewal of our efforts to kill sin and cultivate fruit (of the Spirit).
This is encouragement for those of us who need spiritual renewal. But how is this encouraging? Many Christians find it difficult to get our minds around what it means to walk by the Spirit. Paul says we are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another…this comes from the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). But what does it means to walk in active dependence on the Spirit? Well that would be a great topic for a whole series of teaching, but walking in active dependence at least means this: 1) you determine to walk in obedience and 2) you depend on the Spirit as you do it. Someone called it “dependent effort.” We make effort, but do it dependently.
Our three-year-old Olivia has been saying a lot lately, “Daddy, it’s hard to obey.” We all say the same thing. It’s hard to obey. But determine/resolve/intend to obey. But then depend. God, by your Spirit empower me to say no to sin and yes to obedience. The Spirit is God’s empowering presence in us, don’t ignore him.
The encouragement he gives them is our as well. “Be strong, my spirit is with you.” In fact, the new covenant blessing for the Christian is that the Spirit is within us. Romans 8, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your moral bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Be Strong, My Spirit is WithIn You!
And not only does God ensure them that his Spirit remains in their midst, but he gives them another encouragement in vv. 6-9.
“ For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.  And I will shake all the nations so that the treasure of all the nations shall come in and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts…  The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”
God promises to give the temple greater glory than they could imagine. He is going to shake the nations. Like you might take a purse and turn it upside down and shake all the contents to find what you’re looking for. Shaking out every last bit of what’s in that bag. God will shake out all the treasures of the nations, in order to fill up the house with glory. Now keep this in mind, from the tabernacle to the temple, the significance of the building was that this space was the physical representation of God’s presence among his people.
So the promise is that God’s presence will have a greater glory among his people than it ever had previously.
This promise then is fulfilled not in stones and architecture, but ultimately in the fact that Jesus came to earth, and became God’s presence dwelling among us. In Matthew 12:6, Jesus, referring to himself says, I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus himself read these sermons of Haggai. How do you think he would have understood them? We don’t need to guess. Jesus tells us. He himself fulfills the promise of Haggai.
The latter greater glory of God’s presence among us is Jesus himself. Jesus is the new temple and the new sacrificial who brings to his people sacrificial forgiveness and ceremonial purity. And he gives us a template of a life fully pleasing to God for us to follow. So through the presence of Jesus among us, we have forgiveness, cleansing and a model to follow. This is God’s encouragement.
And so we have proof of God’s presence among us both his Spirit dwelling within us (Rom 12:8), and his Son “dwelling in our hearts through faith,” as Paul puts it (Eph 3:17). His Spirit in us, his Son with us.
If some of the minor prophets are full of doom and declarations of judgment, Haggai is one of those prophets that that we call a “prophet of hope.” When you think of Haggai, you should think of hope. This is a message of encouragement for us as it was for them.
But there’s more. There’s a third message that Haggai preaches in vv. 10-19. This is a message of instruction.
3. Instruction (2:10-19)
The message begins with a couple questions to illustrate a point, v. 11: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law:  If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy? The priests answered and said, No.  Then Haggai said, ‘If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean? The priests answered and said, It does become unclean.  Then Haggai answered and said, “So it is with this people, and with this nation before me declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.”
Now I’m guessing the principle Haggai is teaching is not quite transparent. The principle is this: You don’t become holy merely by contact with holy things. However, you do become unclean by contact with unclean things. Holiness is not transferrable, uncleanness is transferrable. 
They were making sacrifices and offerings, they were obeying in that sense. And yet in many other very important ways they were not walking in obedience. They were not prioritizing worship of God at the temple. And yet they thought their partial obedience in one area over here (sacrifices), more than compensated for their disobedience in other areas. They were naively optimistic about the position with God…inflating their good works and trying to sort of hide their disobedience behind their backs.
We’re often naively optimistic. I attend church somewhat faithfully, and lots of people say I’m a really kind person. And I rarely get really angry. Again, you don’t become holy by contact with holy things, like going to church or occasional good deeds. We often inflate those things.
And at the same time we often minimize our shortcomings. We like not to think about how often we’ve actually sinned in the past ten days. Breaking the law once makes you a lawbreaker. So you can’t say, I attend church on Sundays, therefore I’m doing well. You broken the law a thousand times, how could some acts of kindness compensate for that. Even if righteousness were just a matter of weighing scales, which it’s not, the scales would never fall in our favor.
We are all like Israel, totally unclean because of our sin. Totally unacceptable to God because of our sin. So how in the world can we come into the temple, that is his presence? How can we come into God’s presence and get his blessing?
Now here’s the beautiful news of Christianity, Jesus is the holy temple, the fulfillment of what the people were supposed to build, God’s presence among us. And he introduces a new principle that was not at play for Israel: his holiness is transferrable. And by contact with his holiness, we can become holy. Luke 8:43-48, “Your faith has made you well.” By faith in Jesus Christ we get cleansing for our sin, and we get his righteousness. Jesus has offered to “give” his righteousness to us.
But then what of punishment? According to this principle Haggai is teaching, we are lawbreakers and lawbreakers should be punished. Again, just as Jesus was righteous for us, so he was punished for us. And he was punished in our place. At the last supper before he was to be crucified, Jesus said, “This is my body broken for you.” And, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26-28).
His righteous life stands in the place of your wicked life, and his punishment takes the place of your perishing. Listen to how Paul says in 2 Cor 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” By depending on the forgiveness of Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus, we can come into God’s presence for blessing.
And then look what God says to Israel in v. 18-19, “Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” They had experienced famine and setback and this was in part because of their failure to obey in temple-building. The foundation was laid, but then they stopped.
But now that they have turned to God says, I will bless you. I will cause you to flourish. In all the ways you’ve been looking for happiness and come up short, I will bless you. I will move you from floundering to flourishing.
This was God’s instruction for a stalled-out community about how to restart the engine. Turn to me in obedience. And now that means turning from sin and turning to Jesus, depending on him.
So God has challenged them, then encouraged them as they pursue obedience, given them instruction, and now Haggai delivers a fourth and final message in vv. 20-23, a message of promise.
4. Promise (2:20-23)
Read with me beginning at v. 20:
The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month,  ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth,  and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.  On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of host.
There are two main components to this promise, first judgment (vv. 21-22) and then salvation (v. 23). The promise of judgment is against the nations. There’s a threat throughout the minor prophets of oracles of judgment against nations. Woe to you Nineveh, Woe unto you Assyria and so on. And the point is that the nations are representative of those who rebel against God. The threat of God’s judgment is against those who do not fear him and seek him.
On the other hand, there’s a promise of salvation. In v. 23, “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”
What is going on with Zerubbabel and with this promise? Now Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David, and Jesus was a descendant of Zerubbabel. In terms of the family tree of Jesus, Zerubbabel is about halfway between David and Jesus (cf. Matt 1:1-17). And the Lord calls Zerubbabel “my servant” (as well as “chosen,” cf. Is 42:1; 49:5; 50:10; 52:13), which was a term very typically associated with David or the Davidic king, a role fulfilled ultimately in the Messiah. And then the Lord says, “I will make you like a signet ring,” which was a symbol of royal power much like a crown or scepter. In other words, the Lord is promising to re-establish a king over his people; the promise of Messiah has not evaporated.
So the promise is this: The nations will be judged and evil will be overthrown, but those who fear the Lord will live happily ever after and eternally under the reign of the promised Messiah.
This is a word of promise that brings eternal perspective. A promise shapes the Christian worldview. We are living in preparation for a world that is yet to come. These kingdoms will be shaken but an unshakeable kingdom is coming.
Listen to Hebrews 12:25-29, “…but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven’ This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.”
Christians are those who live in the midst of kingdoms that will be shaken, awaiting a kingdom that cannot be shaken, ruled by a king who is Jesus himself. So we may be fighting sin within us and experiencing opposition around us, and yet we have hope that this promise will be fulfilled for us.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, the sting of death is gone, which John Owen called “the death of death in the death of Christ.” So by faith in Jesus, we too will rise again from the dead. The past victory of Jesus assures us of the future kingdom.
In general OT prophecies that looked forward to the coming king, did not anticipate that he would come in two stages. First to deal with sin and then a second time to fully establish his victory over all things. But now we live between those two comings. The coming of the king has already been fulfilled in part. Leaving us with even greater confidence about his final return when he will come “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28).
We live between D-Day and V-Day. D-Day was the death and resurrection of Jesus, the decisive defeat of the enemy. V-Day is the second-coming of Christ, when the enemy will finally fully surrender. “The hope of final victory is so much more vivid because of the unshakably firm conviction that the battle that decides the victory has already taken place.”
As you reflect on this book, perhaps you identify with Israel, disordered priorities, stalled-out spiritually in one way or another. The message of Haggai is to renew your efforts. And even if you don’t feel totally stalled out, listen the dynamics that Haggai describes are really what every Christian needs for the process of daily renewal.
God has graciously spoken to you in his word, are you reading, meditating, delighting
Listen to the word of the Lord. What is he saying to you?
Fear the Lord, think highly of his opinion of you, determine to avoid his displeasure
Assess yourself, Consider your ways, are your priorities aligned with God’s priorities or not, where are they out of order?
Go to Jesus, for forgiveness, for cleansing
Walk by the Spirit, he empowers change and growth.
Ask God to stir up your heart as you listen to his word. Obediently respond as you fear the Lord. Go to Jesus and by faith depend on him for forgiveness and cleansing for sin. And trust in the eternal promises of God with gratitude, that we have received an unshakeable kingdom.
This sermon was originally preached at Christ Covenant Church (Raleigh, NC) in May 2019.
 Review from previous three sermons: We’ve been going through the twelve shorter prophets that come at the very end of the OT (both canonically and chronologically). These twelve prophets, all rather short, so we call them minor prophets, say very similar things. The themes of the various books are somewhat unified around judgment and salvation. The day of the Lord is coming, and that day will bring judgment for those who have rebelled against God, but salvation for those who have turned to him and feared him and earnestly sought after him. We began the second half of the Minor Prophets: Nahum declares God’s judgment against Nineveh, which will mean salvation for Israel. Habakkuk laments that God’s judgment against evil is delayed, but rests in the promise of God’s salvation Zephaniah warns the day of the Lord will bring severe judgment against complacent people, but promises salvation to those who seek the Lord, to be hidden/protected by him on the day of his anger.
 Return from exile happened in three phases, first under Zerubbabel (Ez 2:64; about 50,000 people), then under Ezra (Ez 8:1ff; about 1,500 households), then third under Nehemiah
 Ez 5:2 says, “The prophets of God [Haggai and Zechariah] were with them, supporting them.”
 The final six of the Twelve may be called prophets of hope, but especially Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (from Heath Thomas, lecture notes, p. 3; see also Andrew Hill, TOTC, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)
 Andrew Hill, “The distillation of Haggai’s exchange with the priests on the question of ritual purity is the theological truth that holiness is not transferable, while impurity is transferable. The prophet then draws the logical and disturbing conclusion that the work and the worship of the people are defiled by virtue of impurity contaminating the community” (TOTC, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 86).
 The gospel of Mark records eight “touches.” For instances Mark 1:31; Mark 1:41: 9:27; 936. He touches a leper. The leper is the unclean one who passes disease but Jesus touches him and says “I will, be clean.”
 Beale and Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 124-125.
 Andrew Hill has an excellent though brief discussion about whether v. 23 is Messianic or not. He concludes “No doubt, the reinstatement of the Davidic line rekindled hope for the Hebrews that God intended to keep his pledge about fulfilling the new covenant promises announced by Jeremiah and Ezekiel concerning the future shepherd-king David” (TOTC, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 100-101). Not an affirmation that it is messianic, though acknowledging it likely renewed messianic expectations among the community. Michael Rydlenik is almost ardent in his view that v. 23 is messianic.
 Oscar Cullmann, Time, 87, cited by Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 21.
 There are five basic dynamics of spiritual renewal in the book of Haggai: 1) By his word, the Lord stirs up your heart (1:1, the word of the Lord came…; 1:14); 2) Obedient response: obeying and the fearing the Lord (1:12-14); 3) Depending on the empowering presence of the Spirit and Son (2:4-9); 4) Recognizing the depth of sin and turning to Jesus for cleansing (2:11-14); 5) Trusting in the eternal promises of God (2:20-23)