Building a House for God
May 6th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
BUILDING A HOUSE FOR GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-6-73 10:50 a.m.
You are welcome in God’s name as you share with us this service. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled: Building A House For God. It is a presentation of a message of Haggai. And I read the latter part of the first chapter of the prophet Haggai and the first part of the second chapter:
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, 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 did fear before the Lord.
Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord.
And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work, building the house of the Lord of hosts, their God…
Then in the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the Lord by the prophet Haggai, saying,
Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua… the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts…
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give peace . . .
The background of this prophetic message can be simply and succinctly stated. In 587, 586 BC, came the cruel and merciless Chaldeans. And they destroyed the nation of Judah, they destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem, and they destroyed the beautiful temple of Solomon [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30], and the people Nebuchadnezzar carried away into captivity into the Mesopotamian Valley [2 Kings 25:1-2]. But Jeremiah the prophet said to them: “You settle down in the Mesopotamian valley, build your houses and plant vineyards [Jeremiah 29:4-5], but some day, God will visit you and you can come back home” [Jeremiah 29:10].
And the Lord raised up a tremendously gifted general and ruler and conqueror by the name of Cyrus, the Persian. And Cyrus overwhelmed the Babylonian Empire. And in 536 BC, he gave orders that all of the Jewish people could return home; and he specifically stated that they were at liberty to rebuild their temple [Ezra 1:1-4]. So in that year of clemency and liberation, 42,360 of the Jewish people turned their faces homeward [Ezra 2:64], led by Zerubbabel the civil governor, and by Joshua the high priest [Ezra 2:1-2]. And as they began their work of reconstruction and rebuilding, first they built the great altar, and the daily sacrifices once more began [Ezra 3:1-6]. And then second, they laid the foundation for the temple [Ezra 3:8-11].
This is the background of the prophet Haggai [Haggai 1:12-2:9]. Immediately it raises a question. It is this: is God that realistic? Does God concern Himself with such crass materialism as digging a foundation, laying stone and brick, mixing mortar and driving nails? Is God that materialistic? Is God that secular? This brings a positive and zealous affirmation from the revealed Scriptures. For God not only sent Haggai, the prophet, in order to encourage the people in that work; but God sent also Zechariah [Ezra 5:1, 6:14-16]. And those two prophets were raised up together and that was the burden of their message.
And the entire Book of Haggai is about that one thing: building a house for God. And in the text: and the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel; and the Lord stirred up the spirit of Joshua the high priest; and the Lord stirred up the spirit of the remnant of all the people. And they came and did work in building the house of the Lord [Haggai 1:14]. The moving Spirit of God stirred up the people that they did just that: a secular, and material, and realistic work; handling tools, laying brick, digging foundations, driving nails.
Now that leads me to an observation about the kind of God who reigns over this universe, and the kind of a faith that worships in His name. It is very down-to-earth. It is very mundane. It is very secular and material, and it is very earthy. It’s only these hyper-hyper spiritualists who seek to discern between things secular and things spiritual. In God’s sight they’re all alike. He made all of it, and reigns over all of it. And evidently, He likes it, because He created it. He made it.
I want to contrast that, as between the Christian faith, and say, a religion like Buddhism. The highest good, and the sublimest consummation of Buddhism, is to enter the spirit of Nirvana; that is, the bliss of nothingness. So the god Buddha, with his hands folded over his little fat, rotund belly, he sits, and he sits, and he sits, and he sits. And all he does is sit, and sit, and sit. He meditates, I suppose. He speculates, I suppose. He cogitates, I suppose. He ruminates, I suppose. But whatever he’s doing, he’s sitting, and sitting, and sitting. That is the religion of Buddha.
In contrast you look at the healthiness of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is everything but speculative metaphysics. It is everything but introversion. It is everything but psychoanalysis and psychological probing. The Christian religion is: get out of yourself; forget yourself and get to work for God! That’s the way it is from the whole story—all of it, beginning, middle, and end.
- The Lord God says to Noah: “Where is that hammer, and where is that saw, and where is that square? There is an ark to build, get at it!” [Genesis 6:13-14].
- The Lord God says to Moses, “Deliver My people; I have heard their cry [Exodus 3:9-10]. Get at it!”
- And the Lord God says to Joshua, “There is a land to conquer, get at it!” [Joshua 1:1-9].
- And the Lord God says to Solomon, “There is a temple to build, start on it!” [1 Kings 5:5].
- And even Jesus went village to village; healing, and preaching and teaching [Matthew 9:35].
- And the apostle Paul heard the Macedonian call, and said, “We must go!” [Acts 16:9-10].
That is the Christian faith.
Sometimes I hear people refer to the world that is to come as though—and this is a sheer blasphemous caricature—a saint is seated on a cloud with his wings and with a halo over his head, just sitting there doing nothing. There is no syllable of any beginning of a suggestion of such a thing as that in the revealed Word of God. The Lord calls in His redeemed servants and says, “You are going to be head over ten cities, and you are going to be head over five cities” [Luke 19:16-19]. The Lord has never had any other mind or purpose for His creation than that.
When He made Adam, He set him in paradise and said, “Keep the garden and dress it” [Genesis 2:15]. There’s work to do. And in the glorious coming of the future kingdom, the Lord is going to remake the planet, the whole earth, and all of it is under our administration. We’re going to rule over all God’s created universe [Revelation 3:21, 22:4-5]—those stars, and planets, and Milky Way, those infinitudes of Almighty God. There’s work to do, and that work is the revelation of the mind of God in His holy purposes for us.
Now when I look at that little band, I cannot but fall into an admiration for their dedication. I can hardly describe how these people faced an insuperable task, and did it with zeal, and with God’s stirred-up blessing. Now you look at that for a minute. The whole nation—I mean all of them, men, women, and children—the whole nation numbered 42,360 [Ezra 2:64]. All the rest of them liked where they were living. They were merchants, and bankers, and leaders of commerce in Babylon, and Shushan, and all the civilized world. And the whole [returning] nation numbered 42,360. How many people are in the city of Dallas alone? We’re approaching a million; and you’ve got 42,360 neighbors around you.
The entire nation numbered 42,360; that’s how many returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua. And they faced the rebuilding of a land of chaos, and waste, and ruin. Every village had been destroyed. The trees had been cut down. The vineyards had been uprooted. The city was laid flat with the ground and the holy temple was a shambles and a heap of rubble and ruin.
Now that little band of 42,360 faced an insuperable task [Ezra 2:64]. It took them six months, six months just to clear the site on which the foundation of the temple was re-laid [Ezra 3:1-2]. Yet the Lord called on them to do that work. And the Lord has never changed in those heavenly mandates. God is always expecting His people to do the impossible. Our assignment is gigantic, and gargantuan, and tremendous, and colossal. It always has been. It is now and always will be.
O Maker of the mighty deep
Whereon our vessels fare,
Above our life’s adventure keep
Thy faithful watch and care.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boat so small.
We know not where the secret tides
Will help us or delay,
Nor where the lurking tempest hides,
Nor where the fogs are gray.
But we trust in Thee, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
[“O Maker of the Mighty Deep,” Henry J. van Dyke, 1922]
It always is like that. The task is tremendous. And we need God’s help.
Years ago, I was asked to hold a meeting, a series of revival services, in a little tiny congregation trying to get a foothold in our Baptist name and faith in a tremendous city in the north. And while I was there preaching to that little band of consecrated, redeemed saints, striving to get a hold—just to start a witness for Christ and our Baptist faith in that great city—while I was there, the pastor talked to one of the blue-shirted workmen. The workmen had given a gift to the building that they were trying to erect, a house in which to meet. And the pastor said, “I tried to call you on the telephone and the phone was disconnected.” And the blue-shirted laborer said, “Pastor, my wife and I decided that we could do without the telephone and we’d take the money and give it to the building.”
And while I was there in those services, I saw the pastor go to a young woman and he began talking to her, and he said, “By no means you should walk home, you must take the bus.”
“No,” she said, “I will walk.” It was a distance, and the pastor pressed her, and as he did that woman softly began to cry. And then she confessed to him that she walked to work every day, a long distance, and walked back to her little apartment, every day, a long distance—and that she was foregoing her noon day meal; and she was taking her bus money, and her noon day dinner money, and she was giving it to the building fund.
I don’t need to say to you that when they took up the love offering for me at the end of that revival meeting, I placed it back into the hands of the pastor and said, “This is from my heart, to you and these precious people. May God help you as you build this witness for Christ in this vast city.” For you see, it is the sacrifice in a thing; it’s the toil and tears in a thing that God blesses. When we give out of our superfluity, and out of our abundance, it is nothing at all. It is when it costs us something, in dedication to God, this work of love—that’s when God has opportunity to bless His people.
We’d be like Israel, had we lived in the days of King David. The people loved the sweet psalmist. They loved their singer. And we would have loved him, too; for David was like that. When he came to Araunah asking for a place to build an altar before God to placate the wrath and judgment of the Almighty, Araunah said, “O king, it is yours—the threshing floor is given to you and my oxen are yours for sacrifice. And these farming implements are yours for wood. I give them to you. Take them!” [2 Samuel 24:21-23].
But King David said to Araunah, “Not so! Not so! Never so! For I will not offer unto God that which doth cost me nothing!” [2 Samuel 24:24]. You couldn’t help but love a king like that. God loved him—said he was a man after His own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. And God loves us when we give to Him at a cost.
I counted dollars, while God counted crosses,
I counted gains, while He counted losses,
I counted my wealth by the things gained and stored,
But He valued me by the scars that I bore.
I counted the honors and sought for ease,
He wept while He counted the hours on my knees,
And I never knew until one day by a grave,
How vain are these things we spend a lifetime to save.
[Author and Work Unknown]
And the Lord said to Haggai: “Speak to My people that they work and that they build” [Haggai 1:7-8]. So Haggai came, and Zechariah came, and they encouraged the people in building the house for the Lord [Ezra 5:1, 6:14-15]. And the prophet spake saying: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts… The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of hosts” [Haggai 2:9].
Now we must see the background of the meaning of that incomparable and marvelous prophecy. For in the third chapter of the Book of Ezra we read—listen, “Then many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, that were ancient men, who had seen the first house”—the Solomon’s temple—”when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice” [Ezra 3:12]. These men fifty years before had seen the glorious temple of Solomon. And when they looked at the rubbish, and the debris, and the waste, and the chaos that surrounded them, and saw just this one course of stones laid for the foundation of the new house, the book says they lifted up their voices and wept; they lamented before God, “This is nothing compared to the glory that we saw in Solomon’s temple.” And that’s why Haggai says, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” [Haggai 2:3].
And the men who had seen that former house, the chief of the people, the priests and the Levites, when they saw this poor structure, this small beginning, they lifted up their voices and cried aloud before God [Ezra 3:12]. Can you imagine the glory of this prophecy, speaking of the glory of this coming house, which will be more glorious than that of the former house? [Haggai 2:9]. It is an amazing prophecy, but in the economy of God, that is always the Christian faith: there is a greater day coming. Look for it—lift up your eyes!
When the creation falls, it will be followed by God’s redemption. And God’s redemption will be followed by God’s sanctification. And God’s sanctification will be followed by God’s glorification. In the Christian faith, and in the Christian realm, there’s always an upwardness and an onwardness about it all. Not that the Scriptures ever discount, or disdain the past, never! The past is never minimized in order to present the future, not in the Bible. The old prophets had a habit of calling Israel back to a remembrance of those former days. Isaiah, for example, in the fifty-first chapter of his prophecy will say, “Look unto the rock whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you” [Isaiah 51:1, 2].
If you read the seventh chapter in the Book of Acts, which is Stephen’s sermon before his martyrdom, it is nothing but a recounting of God’s mercies to His people in the years past [Acts 7:2-53]. There is never a tendency on the part of God to minimize the glory of the former years. But at the same time, there is always in the economy of the Almighty that glorious prophecy and revelation that there is a better day coming—the best is yet to be! And that never fails, whether it is a prophet preaching or an apostle talking, it is ever yet the same message, “A greater day is coming. It is on the way. It’s just beyond.” The Lord Jesus said to His apostles, “Greater works than these shall ye do; because I go unto My Father” [John 14:12]. And the apostle Paul says, “Eye has never seen, and ear has never heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
There is never despair or despondency on the part of the child of God, or the prophet, or the apostle of God. Always it is the great glory is yet to come. It is yet to be. There is never a night so dark when Christ says, “This is the end of My kingdom—this is all.” But there is ever always that optimism, and that upness, and that assurance that God is going to do some greater thing. “The glory of this second house will be beyond the glory of the first house” [Haggai 2:9]. There’s a better day coming!
When Stephen was martyred, he lifted up his eyes and saw heaven opened [Acts 7:55-56]. Christianity is always seeing heaven opening. The Christian faith is always seeing Jesus on the throne, and the angels ascending and descending before Him [John 1:51]. In the economy of God, this is an epitome of the Christian faith, “The glory of this latter house will exceed that of the former house, saith the Lord of hosts” [Haggai 2:9]. There is an indefatigable, indefeatable optimism in the Christian faith. “Lift up our eyes, lift up our heads; your redemption draweth nigh” [Luke 21:28]. There’s a great day coming!
Now in the moment remaining, I want to expatiate on this glory of the latter house. “Greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of hosts” [Haggai 2:9]. Now there are archaeologists who would say to you, “This second house indeed became more impressive, and certainly vaster and bigger, than the temple of Solomon.” But, however that may be, there is something in this text that makes me think that the glory the prophet is speaking of is something other and something else. Look at the text: the glory of this latter house—when these men who had seen Solomon’s temple; the priests, and the Levites, and the chief of the fathers; these men who had seen, fifty years before, Solomon’s temple, and looking at this second foundation; these men who lamented and wept before God—there’s something about this prophecy that I see in this text that refers to something else besides the magnitude in which Herod expanded that second temple. Look at it: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place”—this second temple—”will I give peace…” [Haggai 2:9] “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6].
And I think what the prophet is saying is that this second house will be more glorious because to this temple God incarnate one day shall surely, surely come! When Solomon’s temple was built, the shekinah glory of God came down on it [1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3]. But when this temple is rebuilt, its glory will be greater to the former because, to this house, the Lord God incarnate, Jehovah, Jesus Himself, shall come to this house where you are lamenting and weeping that it is as nothing. Its glory shall exceed that of Solomon’s [Haggai 2:9].
Is that true? Do you remember when the baby Jesus was born, Mary His mother and Joseph her husband brought the little Child to the temple to dedicate the little thing before God, offering two turtledoves because they were so very poor? [Luke 2:21-24]. And the Child was brought to the temple as a baby. And when Simeon, aged Simeon, looked upon Him, the Spirit of prophecy caused him to say such marvelous things about that little Child [Luke 2:25-34]. And Anna, the prophetess of the tribe of Asher, so aged, began to extol the mercies of God and the hope of Israel [Luke 2:36-38], when that little Child was brought in dedication to the temple, that temple. And do you remember, do you remember when the Child was twelve years of age, Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple, that temple, talking with the doctors of the law and answering their questions [Luke 2:46-47]? Do you remember, do you remember, it was in that house, in that place, in that temple, that the Lord Jesus came preaching the gospel of the good news [Luke 20:1]?
Do you remember, that when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], it was in that place; it was in that house that Simon Peter, and the other hundred and twenty [Acts 1:15], stood and magnified the blessedness of the gospel hope we have in Christ Jesus [Acts 2:14-40]. And there the church began; and there God added to His people [Acts 2:41]. Do you remember—do you remember? “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace” [Haggai 2:9]. It is the presence of Jesus that makes the service. It is the presence of Jesus that consecrates the house.
I was so moved by a little simple thing in the life of a pastor; standing in the pulpit, preaching the gospel, somehow the Spirit of unction had departed from him. And he stopped and he said, “My brethren, the Spirit of unction, of burning, has forsaken me. Would you pray with me that God will be with me and that God will bless me?” And he knelt down in the pulpit and prayed that God would touch his heart and bless his message. Then, when he stood up and continued in his sermon, the Lord God’s presence burned in his heart and blessed the listening people.
It’s the presence of Jesus makes the difference. And that’s what we’re praying, dedicating this house to our precious Savior.
O Lord, meet in every class that studies the Bible, at Sunday school time. Meet in every convocation that shall gather in that holy place. When our deaf people, our Silent Friends, have their church services there, Lord, be present to bless them. When the people go to the library and there find books that magnify Thee, Lord, bless them. When our people gather there and see our elementary school gathered in classes in the days of the week; and when our people look upon our Bible Institute and these men and women studying the merciful revelations of God, O Christ, meet with them and bless them and sanctify them!
That’s what the glory of the house is: that God is in it, that the presence of Jesus is felt, that the Holy Spirit chooses to sanctify and to hallow the dedicated effort that we offer unto Him. Grant it so, Lord, and make it beautifully, gloriously real; that our eyes can see it, and our hearts can feel it, and that our souls can rejoice in it.
Now we’re going to stand in this moment and sing our hymn of appeal. And on the first note of this first stanza, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, answering God’s call, come now. In the balcony round, down a stairway; on this lower floor into the aisle and here to the front, while we sing this hymn of appeal, make the decision now in your heart, and come. Respond with your life [Romans 10:8-13], and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
A HOUSE FOR GOD
I. God’s realism
A. Spirit of God moved
the people to work
B. Working for God
II. Their valiant effort
A. Only 42,360 returned
B. Called to a
C. God blesses sacrificial
III. The greater glory
A. The Scriptural view
of the past and present
1. Always onward
2. The glory of
the past is not minimized
B. The coming of Christ
to this temple
C. The presence of Christ
makes the difference