Building a House for God
May 6th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
BUILDING A HOUSE FOR GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Haggai 1 and 2
5-6-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are with us in heart and spirit in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Building a House for God. It is a message from the prophet Haggai, and I read the concluding part of the first chapter 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 in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God . . .
Now 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 you 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 the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.
[Haggai 1:12- 2:4, 9]
The background of this prophecy is very simply stated. In about 587 or 586 BC, the merciless and bitter Chaldeans came and destroyed the nation of Judah, their capital city of Jerusalem, and their holy and beautiful Solomonic temple. They wasted the land and carried away the people into captivity [2 Kings 24:1-4]. But the prophet Jeremiah said, "You settle down in the Mesopotamian Valley, and after seventy years," that would be from the time that the Chaldeans first came in 605 BC [Daniel 1:1-2], "you settle down and you build homes and plant vineyards [Jeremiah 29:5]. And after seventy years the Lord will visit you, and you can return" [Jeremiah 29:10]. So after the passing of the seventy years, the Lord remembered His people and raised up Cyrus, the Persian king and conqueror. And Cyrus, having overthrown the Babylonian Empire in 536 BC, gave opportunity for any of the captives to return home, and especially and specifically gave them the privilege to rebuild their temple [Ezra 1:1-4]. So, in the year of about 536 BC, forty-two thousand three hundred sixty of the captives, under Zerubbabel the civil governor and Joshua the high priest, came back to their home in Judea [Ezra 2:64; Nehemiah 7:66]. The first thing they did was to rebuild the altar of sacrifice. And the sacrificial offerings before God were reinstituted [Ezra 3:1-6]. Then the next thing they did was to lay the foundation of the temple [Ezra 3:8-13]. And it is concerning that foundation of the rebuilding of the temple that the prophecy of Haggai is concerned [Haggai 1:12-2:4, 9].
That immediately raises a question in my mind concerning the realism of God. Could it be that the great Lord Jehovah God, Creator of heaven and earth and the universe [Genesis 1:1-2; Hebrews 11:3], is interested in such crass materialism as digging a foundation and laying brick and stone, and mixing mortar and driving nails? Now, all I know to do is to expound the Word, the Holy Scriptures. And the Holy Scriptures present our Jehovah God as that kind of a God, with a vast affirmative. If a man expounds the Scriptures, with a decided "yes," do we answer that question: God is that crass and that materialistic. For example, He raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah [Ezra 5:1-2], for that purpose, to encourage His people in building this house of the Lord. And one of those prophets, Haggai, has no other thing in his prophecy, in his message, in his book than that: encouraging the people to build the house of the Lord [Haggai 1:1-2:23]. For example, he says in the prophecy, "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, and the Lord stirred up the spirit of Joshua, and the Lord stirred up the spirit of the remnant of the people; and they did work building the house of the Lord their God" [Haggai 1:14].
Now I want to pause here to show us something that sometimes we might have a tendency to forget. Let’s compare the Christian faith with Buddhism. Buddhism has as its highest good and its sublimest goal to be absorbed into nirvana. That is their name, the Hindu name, for "blissful nothingness." So, Buddha the god sits and he folds his hands over his rotund little fat tummy, and he sits, and he sits, and he sits, and he meditates, and he meditates, and he meditates, and he sits, and he sits, and he sits: that is Buddhism. I want you to compare that with the Christian faith. "Even in the world to come," the Lord God says, "some of you will be rulers over ten cities, and some of you will be rulers over five cities" [Luke 19:16-19]; and the whole life in the world to come is intense! There is work to do, there is administration, there is governing, there is the taking care of the whole creation of God. If the Lord God made Adam in order to dress the garden and to keep it [Genesis 2:15], think of the assignment when the Lord creates, recreates the whole creation and we have to keep it all! What a different kind of a faith, and what a different kind of a religion is the Christian faith and the Christian religion. If there is anything that characterizes it all, it is this: that there is more to worshiping God than just to sit, and to sit, and to sit. But there is work to be done; and that is characteristic of it everlastingly. Noah, where are those hammers and saws and squares? There is an ark to be built [Genesis 6:13-14]. Moses, I have people to be delivered [Exodus 3:9-10]. Joshua, there is a land to conquer, and I am with you [Joshua 1:1-9]. Solomon, there is a beautiful temple to be erected [1 Kings 5:5]. Even in the life of Jesus: "And He went from village to village, healing and preaching and teaching" [Matthew 9:35]. And the apostle Paul answers a Macedonian call [Acts 16:9-10]; and the whole story of the Christian religion has ever been that: it is intensest life.
Another thing: I am overwhelmed; I am absolutely astonished at the spirit of toil, tears, labor, sacrifice, of this little remnant that returned to Judea. You think of this a moment: there were only forty-two thousand, three hundred sixty of them that came back [Ezra 2:65]. That is the entire nation. Can you imagine the United States if it had a population of forty-two thousand, three hundred sixty? How big is Dallas? Dallas now is approaching a million people. Well, I’ve got forty-two thousand, three hundred sixty neighbors out there where I live. And yet, that forty-two thousand, three hundred sixty is the entire nation that has returned to Judea. The rest of the people have settled down and they are merchants, and they are bankers, and they are tradesman, and they are in commerce all over the civilized world; and this little band under Zerubbabel and under Joshua have come back. And they have come back to what? As far as their eyes can see there is nothing but chaos and devastation and waste. The Babylonians literally plowed up that entire country. They laid Jerusalem level with the ground. They cut down the trees, they dug up the vineyards, they destroyed the villages; there was nothing left but illimitable ruin [Nehemiah 1:3]. And it took them six months just to clear the site for the laying of the foundation of the temple [Ezra 3:1, 8]. It was a disheartening assignment. It was hard, it was difficult; and the whole nation numbered just forty-two thousand three hundred sixty for the replanting of the vineyards, for the clearing out of the debris, for the building again of their homes, and for the reinstitution of the work. Sometimes I am just astonished at the assignments that God gives His people.
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, what e’er befall;
Thy seas so great, our boats 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.
We trust in Thee, what e’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
[adapted from "O Maker of the Mighty Deep"; Henry J. van Dyke, 1922]
I went one time, this is years ago, I went one time to a big city in the North in which our people, our Baptist people, were trying to found, to get hold of a little foothold, a witness, a lighthouse, just the beginning in that vast northern city. And the church in which I was holding this revival meeting was striving, a little band of them, was striving to build a church house. And I saw a man there – it was a church in a working section of the vast city – and I saw a working man in that church. The pastor called him on the telephone to thank him for a gift to the building. But when the pastor called on the telephone, the telephone had been disconnected. So the pastor saw him at a service in the revival meeting I was holding, and said to him, "I tried to call you on the telephone to thank you for the gift." And the working man, the blue-shirted man said, "Pastor, I don’t have a telephone anymore. My family and I thought that we could do without it, and take the money and give to the building." I saw a young woman in the services, and the pastor went up to her and said, "You should not walk home, you ought to ride the bus."
"No," she said, "no." But the pastor pressed her, "You ought to ride the bus." As he pressed his observation that she ought to ride the bus, the girl began softly to cry. And as the pastor continued talking to her, I found out that she not only walked to church a great distance, but she walked to work every day, and back from work every day, and that was a great distance; and not only that but she forwent her noon meal every day and took the money of a bus fare and of a noon meal and gave it to the building. I don’t need to say to you that when they took up the love offering for the revival meeting, I very carefully and lovingly and prayerfully placed it back into the hands of the pastor. And I said, "This is for the building."
What God blesses is not the abounding superfluity and abundance of our lives; but God blesses the sacrifice and the cost of our offering unto Him. That is one of the reasons why Israel loved David their king. When Araunah offered to the king his threshing floor, and his oxen, and his implements of farming and threshing as an offering to God, "Here," said Arunah, "take it, I give it to you;" David replied, "No, Araunah. No, Araunah, I will not offer unto God that which doth cost me nothing" [2 Samuel 24:22-24].
I counted dollars while God counted crosses,
I counted gains while He counted losses.
I counted my wealth by the things gained in store,
But He valued me by the scars that I bore.
I counted the hours and sought for ease,
He wept because He counted the hours on my knees.
And I never knew until one day by a grave
How vain are the things we spend a lifetime to save.
[Author and work unknown]
I repeat: you cannot help but admire that little band of forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, who as a tiny nation surveying chaos, destruction, and waste, began under God to rebuild [Ezra 2:64].
All right, the last thing and we must hasten: do you see here, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former?" Talking about Solomon’s temple:
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord.
Well, what is He talking about? Here is what happened: when finally they cleared the site, it was covered with vast ruins. When finally they cleared the site and laid the foundation, that first course of stones, in Ezra chapter 3, it says, "But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house" [Ezra 3:12], now this is about 536 BC, and the house of Solomon, the temple, was destroyed in 586 [2 Kings 25:9-19], so this is fifty years later. Many of those priests, and Levites, and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men – fifty years before they had seen Solomon’s temple [1 Kings 6:1-38] – when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice [Ezra 3:12]. Then Haggai, seeing them weep and lament, Haggai says:
Speak now to Zerubbabel, speak now to Joshua, and speak now to the priests and to the residue of the people, the little remnant, saying, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? All of you here, remember Solomon’s temple? How do you see it now?
This vast, chaos, waste and this one course of stones, just the foundation, "is it not in your eyes in comparison as nothing?" [Haggai 2:3]. And that is why they were lamenting with a loud voice [Ezra 3:12], remembering the Solomonic temple in all of its glory [1 Kings 6:1-38], and now surrounded by waste on every side, they see just this one course of stones, the foundation laid. And Haggai says, "You see this and it is nothing in comparison, and you weep." Then the prophecy, "Thus saith the Lord, The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord" [Haggai 2:9]. As great as was this Solomonic temple, it will be nothing compared to the glory of this new house.
Now may I pause to say, here in the economy of God is one of the great, tremendous, and astonishing, and marvelous characteristics of the Christian faith and of the Lord God whom we serve. It is this: no matter how glorious the past, there is never a prophet, and there is never an apostle, and there is never a preacher of God but who lifts up his eyes to a more glorious future; always it is that! There is a greater day coming back, is the Christian faith and the Christian message. If creation falls, then creation shall be followed by redemption, and redemption shall be followed by sanctification, and sanctification shall be followed by glorification; always in the Christian faith there is an upness, there is an onwardness, there is an optimism of triumph and consummation.
Now, the Scriptures do not disdain or discount the past or its former glories. Isaiah, for example, as typical of the prophets will call the people back to a remembrance of their glorious heritage. Isaiah will cry in chapter 51:
Look, look unto the rock from which ye are hewn,
and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah who bare you.
Do you remember the address of Stephen’s in the seventh chapter of Acts, the whole thing is nothing but a recounting of the glories of God upon Israel in the centuries past [Acts 7:1-53]. There is never a tendency on the part of the Holy Scriptures to disdain or to discount the glories of the yesteryears, but there is at the same time, always, that wonderful optimism of the Holy Scriptures: the best is yet to be! The glory that is to come is nothing in comparison with the glory that has already passed. Jesus said to His apostles, "Greater works than these shall ye do; because I go back to My Father" [John 14:12]. And the apostle Paul will say, "Eye has never seen, and ear has never heard, and it has never entered into the heart of a man, what things God hath prepared for those who love Him" [1 Corinthians 2:9].
There is no such thing as a Christian faith lost in despair. However the dark of the night, Jesus never says, "This is the end. This stops My kingdom, it is buried in midnight blackness"; never! But always it is, "Lift up your eyes; your redemption draweth nigh!" [Luke 21:28]. There is a greater day coming. If Stephen is stoned, while he is being stoned he lifts up his eyes and sees heaven open [Acts 7:55-56]. The Christian faith is always looking upon heaven opening. And the Christian faith is always seeing Jesus on His throne, and the angels ascending and descending before Him [Genesis 28:12-13]. "You weep," says Haggai, "you weep and lament over this slight humble beginning of the course of stones laid in this chaotic waste [Ezra 3:12]. Thus saith the Lord God, The glory of this latter house shall exceed that of the former" [Haggai 2:9]. Always, it is up, it is better! The Lord will triumph, and the consummation will be incomparably precious.
Would you listen to me for two or three minutes more? How can I speak of this and not expound just for a moment on what I think is the real glory of the latter house? It may be, in some of these archaeologists – we’ve got one here that is a sweet member of our church, Bob O. Coleman – it may be, Bob O., that these archaeologists are correct when they say that as beautiful and as wonderful as was the temple of Solomon, this second temple under Herod became even more massive and impressive. That might well have been. But let me expound this just for a moment or two, if you’ll listen. What is actually the glory of the latter house that Haggai is prophesying? [Haggai 2:9]. Well, because he says this little edition, "And in this place, in that house will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts" [Haggai 2:9], I think he is talking about, "It will be to this house that the Messiah Christ will someday come; here in this place, in this house." The glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former; for to the former house, to Solomon’s temple, the shekinah glory descended, the light and the flame of the presence of God [1 Kings 8:10-11]; but to this second house, God Himself, incarnate, will come [Ezekiel 43:1-7]. Is that so?
Do you remember when He was born, Mary and Joseph took the little Baby Jesus to the temple, and there dedicated the Child to the Lord, offering two little turtledoves because they were so very poor [Luke 2:21-24]. Remember that? That house, the glory of that house? Again, do you remember that when the Child was brought in, old, ancient Simeon and the ancient prophetess, Anna of the tribe of Asher, glorified God when they saw the hope of salvation in Israel in that little Child [Luke 2:25-38], remember that? Do you remember again, that when the Boy was twelve years of age [Luke 2:42], they found Him in the temple – that temple, that house – talking with the doctors of the law, hearing and answering questions [Luke 2:46-47], do you remember? And do you remember it was to this temple that the Lord Jesus came, and He taught the people and preached the good news of the gospel of the kingdom [Luke 20:1], do you remember? And do you remember it was in that house and in that temple that the Pentecostal outpouring and the message of Simon Peter and the conversion of the people and the building of the church in that house, in that temple [Acts 2:1-47], do you remember? "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, said the Lord" [Haggai 2:9]. And I think mostly the prophecy refers; it will be to this house that Jesus will come. And His presence makes the difference.
O Lord, come and indwell our house of God. Come here, Lord Jesus, in the assembly.
You know, some things just move me when I think of them. A pastor was standing in his pulpit, and the Spirit of prophecy had left him, he had no divine unction from heaven. You know what he did? He said to the people, "My dear people, the Spirit of God is not with me. Let me kneel and pray, and you pray that God will help me and bless me as I deliver this message." He did that right in the middle of his sermon. And he knelt and prayed and asked God to be with him. And the Lord answered that prayer, and the people were so blessed in the service. You know that little humble thing moved my soul, it is the presence of Jesus that makes the difference.
And that is what we pray for our Sunday school classes, and our assemblies: may the Lord Jesus be there. That is what we pray for our library in our new building, that Jesus will be there; and all of those things that witness to Him that we read in books shall bless our hearts. That is what we pray for in our First Baptist Church school: that God will be present in those classes. And that is what we pray for in our Bible Institute: that when those men and women gather around the Word of God to be trained and to be taught in the deep and precious things of Jesus, that God will be with them. That is the glory of the house; it is the glory of the church; it is the glory of the presence of God.
O Master, take to Thyself the work that we dedicate to Thee, and make it wonderful, glorious, by Thy divine benedictory presence.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or one somebody you, in the balcony you, on this lower floor you, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Come, "Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I am." And when we stand up to sing, down one of these stairwells, into the aisle on the lower floor, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." Do it, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.