The New Temple

January 28, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Haggai 2:1-9

1. "Now, oh Zerubabel, gather up [your] courage says the Lord. Oh Joshua son of the high priest Jehozadak gather up [your] courage. Oh all the people of the nation, gather up [your] courage says the Lord. Get to work, I will be with you says the Lord of the armies," (verse four). The words from the first reading, where the text repeatedly says, "Gather up [your] courage," [make up] the message given to us [by the Lord] for today.

The Rebuilding Of The Temple

2. These are the words from the Lord originally spoken through the prophet named Haggai who was active for a short period about in the sixth century before the common era. The date when these words were given are clearly specified in the book of Haggai. It is written that "In the second year of King Darius, on the seventh month and the twenty-first day, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai." When it says the second year of the reign of the Persian King Darius, it would fall in today's calendar in the year 520 B.C.E. That was the year when the construction work for the rebuilding of the temple had resumed.

3. I said "the construction work for the rebuilding" of the temple. The reason it must be rebuilt was it had still been demolished. Backtracking about seventy years prior to then, Jerusalem where the temple was built had been besieged by the Babylonian army. There was an overwhelming difference in so far as military force. Although they endured for some two years, at last the capitol fell, the defensive walls were destroyed, and the temple was burned up. Then all the principal people were captured and hauled off to Babylon.

4. And then about fifty years since then went by. The Babylonian empire had collapsed, and it became the era when the Persian empire would rule. The Persian King Cyrus became the ruler and since he adopted extremely generous policies towards the conquered peoples, he even gave permission to the Israelites who had been [his] captives to repatriate back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. It is called "The Imperial Edict Of Cyrus." The period of the captivity was over.

5. Be that as it may, because fifty years had already passed, there were overwhelmingly more people who had been born in Babylon than those who had been captured and transported from Jerusalem. There were not a few persons who had obtained success in that foreign land and who had built up property and position. Quite naturally then, not everybody wanted to return back to Jerusalem. Those who were willing to go back to Jerusalem were highly aware of the fact that there was no basis for any livellihood whatsoever back there. Furthermore, they were burning with the dream of the reconstruction of the temple and of Jerusalem.

6. But, the practical reality of it was quite harsh. What was right before their eyes was desolated land, truly ruins. Nevertheless, they were willing to start on the temple's reconstruction. But, an obstacle had taken place there. There was also economical distress. In the end, the plan for the temple reconstruction ended up being tabled. After that, the repatriated people had kept increasing. Commanded by the Judean governor Zerubabel, greater [numbers] of people went back to Jerusalem. But, the ruined temple was still neglected.

7. Everybody was preserving his or her own daily life with all his or her might. At this terrible time they were too busy to think of a temple. They were too preoccupied to think of worship services. There were no instances where they were talking about faith. It was that way. Even for us today when something comes up and our daily living is threatened, are we still able to think at that time of church things, of worship matters? Or rather instead won't we be more inclined to say, hey, I'm too busy to think about worship services, I don't have a spot for talking about faith right now? When you think about this in those terms, the way they were is not far from us. Any way, thus did eighteen years of time go by.

8. But on the first day of the sixth month of the second year of King Darius, the prophet Haggai opened his mouth and began to speak to these repatriated people the word of the Lord. That's the message recorded in chapter one. "Now, while you leave this temple left in ruins, should you live in paneled houses? Now thus says the Lord of the armies. You must pay heed to the way you are walking," (1:4-5). After that, in one swoop, please read to verse eleven. Haggai's message is so clear that an explanation is entirely unnecessary. [His message] is that their priorities are all wrong. [His message] is that they are letting God wait and have their minds set on putting all they have in preserving their own way of life, but yet, they will not in any true sense preserve it. [His message] is that by all means they need to stop now, to carefully review the way that they have truly been walking, to realize how truly foolish those things are that appear to be wise in human eyes, and to pay strict heed to the way they are supposed to walk from here on.

9. They woke up because of the words of Haggai's prophecy. They did! For what purpose have they been returning back? Wasn't it for the purpose of rebuilding the temple? Wasn't it for the purpose of offering worship in this place? Wasn't it for the purpose of rebuilding the capitol city with its temple? They realized the [purpose]. They rose up again for the rebuilding of the temple. It was the second year of King Darius.

Isn't That Which Is Right Before [Your] Eyes Tantamount To Nothing?

10. Although they rose up to rebuild the temple, they were actually limited in both funds and materials. They couldn't do much. As far as its structure, they weren't building big. The facts of reality really cut at them hard. Worse than that even, the old timers from among the repatriated knew the splendid temple that Solomon had once built. They knew the gorgeousness of its decorations, the amount of sacrifices offered, the amount of priests who used to serve, the vast size of the structure at which respectful visitors from the neighboring nations had opened their eyes wide. They would always compare them and end up having to say, "It's so shabby. It's so small." For the young people, they understood them even though they had not actually seen it. They said they were only building nothing fancy.

11. How about it when other people don't consider big what we are trying to accomplish with frantic efforts, or worse when we ourselves can't avoid thinking that "Even though it was a lot of pure hard work, what was accomplished isn't much after all?" Won't [your] feelings [for it] fade? It just may cause you to lose the spirit to do it.

12. Thus, the Lord spoke to them again. It is the message from Haggai that I read to you today. "Who among you of the remnant have seen this temple in the time of its olden glory? What about its state that you see now? Isn't that which is right before your eyes tantamount to nothing?," (verse three). The Lord knows what's in their hearts. Are they thinking like that, that "Isn't that which is right before my eyes almost nothing?" The Lord said that. God understands [them]. As he understood, the Lord still readily says to them. "Now, oh Zerubabel, gather up [your] courage says the Lord. Oh Joshua son of the high priest Jehozadak gather up [your] courage. Oh all the people of the nation, gather up [your] courage says the Lord. Get to work, I will be with you says the Lord of the armies," (verse four).

13. Why would the words of "gather up [your] courage" and "get to work" have meaning? [Its meaning] would solely come from the promise that "I will be with you." God will be with them amidst the small reconstruction project which would be just a lot of pure hard work. For starters, they would rebuild the temple. So wouldn't the most important thing be that God be with them? The Lord went on to say, "When you left Egypt, you have here the covenant I bound with you. My spirit will remain among you. Do not be afraid," (verse five). Israel had rebelled against God. You could say, they had broken their part of the covenant that they made when they had left Egypt. Also, in the end, they had lost it all, their country, their capitol, their temple. But, the Lord says to them in this condition, you still have that covenant here. He says, my spirit remains among your midst. To get to the heart and soul of it, it would be that I have not forsaken you. God has forgiven them and is with them.

14. We must turn our eyes on God's mercy right now. Whether what we're doing is big or small, how it looks in other people's eyes, how we rate it -- All that is of no count. Because the Lord says, "Get to work, I will be with you." We should work encouraged and with peace.

The Construction Of The New Temple

15. To begin with, if God wanted it, he could build any number of great temples or whatever [he wanted]. Not having the materials and not having the funds are just extremely small matters to God. The Lord said this to them, "Truly the Lord of the armies says this. In an instance, once again, I will shake the heavens and the earth, the seas and the land. I will shake each of the peoples of the various nations, I will bring the treasures of all the peoples of the nations, I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of the armies. The silver is mine, the gold is also mine, says the Lord of the armies," (verses six through eight). Since everything belongs to God, he is able to satisfy all that is needed.

16. As seen from a historical perspective, you might say that Haggai's words were fulfilled in a rather strange manner. In today's gospel reading, a similar such scene is found. "Some people say the temple was decorated with beautiful stones and offerings. Jesus said that 'You are looking at these things with fascination but the day is coming when every single stone will be demolished and there will not remain on them other stones.'," (Luke 21:5-6). Five hundred and fifty years later in the time of Jesus what a great and splendid temple they built in Jerusalem! King Herod the Great had major expansion work done for several decades. You might say that the gold and the silver of God who said, "The silver is mine, the gold also is mine," was used for that purpose.

17. But, that itself is not what's important or what [God] put value on. The important thing is whether or not God is there with them and if true worship is being offered up. If it wasn't -- What did Jesus say? He said something like that would completely collapse. He said, not even two stones would be piled on top of each other. And it turned out just as he said it would. In the year 70 C.E., during the Jewish Wars, the temple was destroyed by the hands of the Roman armies.

18. In that way Jesus had predicted the collapse of the temple. But the Lord does not think that the temple should never be in this world. The crucial thing is that God is with us, God says "My spirit will remain among you." In a sense Jesus came in order to build such a temple, the new temple. It is not constructed from stone or wood, but is a temple that is constructed of human beings. Namely, it is the church of Christ. In today's second reading Paul said it like this, "We are the temple of the living God," (Second Corinthians 6:16). Peter also told it like this, "You yourselves, be used as stones that are alive, be constructed as a spiritual house. And being as holy priests, offer up through Jesus Christ spiritual sacrifices enjoyed by God," (First Peter 2:5).

19. But, when we take for granted the fact that it is a temple constructed with human beings, and we're the materials for it, then in spite of that it may just be an hour when we are becoming of the same mind as those people in the time of Haggai. We think, "It's shabby. It's got no beauty to it. Just a lot of hard work, though, and we can't make nothing big. However, the Lord is speaking to us today, too. He says, "Have courage. Work. I am with you. You have in this place the covenant that I made with you through the blood of Jesus Christ. My spirit will remain among you."

20. The important thing is that God is with us. The spirit of God remains. [The church] may be shabby. It may not be much to show. These kinds of things are not what matters. Let's greatly rejoice in that the Lord makes his temple because God has made clear to us that through Christ's cross and resurrection, and through the descent of the Holy Spirit, God is surely with us with his forgiveness.