Reading Sermon by Rev. Ronald Hanko
THE LESSER GLORY OF GODS HOUSE IN THE LATTER DAYS
I. Evident Then and Now
II. Always Non-essential
III. Necessary In the Latter Days
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2
Text: Haggai 2:1-5
Each year we celebrate the beginning of the great Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, the day Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. That was a great day for Gods church, and in the years that followed, the church flourished and grew by leaps and bounds and the doctrines of the Reformation took Europe by storm. Only the days of the apostles can be compared to that great era in the history of the church.
There are those who believe that days such as those are yet to come for the church days of peace, spiritual prosperity and even of earthly dominion. Such days, they believe, will be the principal fulfilment of all the prophecies concerning the coming and establishment of the kingdom of Christ. Such days, they suggest, will eclipse even the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century or the spread of the church in the days of the Apostles.
What do you think of all that? Do you believe that the church here in the world will ever again be as large and glorious as she was in the days of the Reformation? Is there any hope that we shall see such days or that our children will see them. Do the Biblical promises concerning the kingdom of Christ lead to such conclusions? Does Isaiah 11:9, for example, a favorite text of the postmillennialists and Christian Reconstructionists, mean that the church will yet again be outwardly great and prosperous? What is the testimony of Scripture concerning these matters?
The truth is that Scripture does answer such questions. They are answered in our text which speaks of the lesser glory of Gods house in the latter days. The closer we come to the return of Christ, the smaller is the possibility that we shall ever again see such an event as the Reformation, and on such a scale. Living in the last days we can only expect that the church in comparison to the church of the past will be as nothing.
That certainly is what we see today. The true church today is very small, and appears, as the Belgic Confession says, to be reduced to nothing (Article 28). She is scattered and despised, and there seems little interest anymore in the doctrines or practices of the Reformation. As discouraging as that may be to us, and as much as we may desire and pray that it may be otherwise, this, the Word of God assures us, is what we must expect. It is and will always be the condition of the church in the latter days.
We call your attention therefore to:
THE LESSER GLORY OF GODS HOUSE IN THE LATTER DAYS
I. Evident Then and Now
II. Always Non-essential
III. Necessary in the Latter Days
I. EVIDENT THEN AND NOW
The book of Haggai was written at the time of Judahs return from captivity in Babylon. After seventy years of chastisement for their sins, God brought His people back to their own land and established them there. Haggai, along with Zechariah and Malachi, was one of the prophets whom God sent to His people in those days. Of that we read in Ezra 5:1; Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
Haggais message, along with that of Zechariah, concerned the rebuilding of the temple. The Jews had begun to build the temple, Gods house, as soon as they returned from captivity, and within two years the foundations had been laid and the sacrifices restored. Nothing more, however, was done for over 10 years. The interference of enemies and the decree of the king forced them to stop working on the temple. You can read the story in Ezra 4. It was at that time that God sent Haggai and Zechariah to them.
The problem, you see, was not any more the presence of enemies nor the decree of the king. The king, in fact, had died and someone else was on the throne. The problem now was the peoples own sloth and indifference. They, so much like us, were more concerned with their own houses than with Gods house. They were living in well-built, nicely decorated and comfortable houses while Gods house lay waste. Of this we read in chapter 1:4 and 9; Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses and this house lie waste? ...Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.
When they were reminded of their obligation to build Gods house, they said that the times were not right and continued to neglect it. That is the point of chapter 1:2; This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lords house should be built. Through the prophet Haggai God admonished them for their coldness and lack of zeal and ordered them to get busy with His work. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the descendant of king David, and of Joshua the high priest, the people obeyed God and began once again to build the temple, referred to throughout the book of Haggai as Gods house.
Having begun to obey, however, they immediately faced further difficulties and discouragements, and it is one of those difficulties that the Word of God through Haggai addresses here in our text. It was immediately obvious when they began to work that the temple they were building was far less glorious than Solomons temple. It was, in fact, a larger building, but it had none of the outward splendor and beauty of the first temple. Indeed, that lack of glory had been evident already at the time the foundations were laid. That was the reason why some who remembered Solomons temple wept when they saw the foundations of this temple. Of this we read in Ezra 3:12, 13; But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people. Now they were reminded again of the poverty and insignificance of this house in comparison to Solomons.
There were several reasons why this temple was so lacking in glory. For one thing, the people were desperately poor for the most part and were still struggling to establish themselves in the land, and did not have an abundance of gold and silver with which to adorn the temple. God makes reference to that in chapter 2:8, when He says; The silver is mine, and the gold is mine. Most discouraging of all, however, was the fact that the furniture of the temple, including the ark of the covenant, had been destroyed, probably at the time of the captivity. The temple they were building must have seemed to them, then, like an empty shell hardly worth building.
Nor does God, in sending Haggai to them, make any effort to minimize this difficulty. In fact, He Himself points it out and almost, as it were, rubs the fact under their noses. Thus God asks in verse 3: 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? In Gods own words, this second temple was nothing in comparison to Solomons! He Himself recognized that and reminds them of it.
That, of course, seems all wrong to us and must have seemed so to them. One would think, you know, that Gods house ought to be the most splendid and beautiful of all buildings. Especially in the Old Testament it should have been very glorious, or so it seems, for the temple and the things that belonged to it were types and shadows of spiritual realities, especially of Gods covenant with His people. Surely the things that pictured that glorious and everlasting and gracious covenant ought themselves to have been most glorious!
That all parallels our situation. If we are to take this Word of God and make it our own, applying it to ourselves with the help of the Holy Spirit, then we must realize first of all that we are the people, the Israelites, to whom Haggai was speaking, and that in the New Testament the church is Gods house, the temple, about which Haggai was speaking. That we are Israel is clear from Galatians 3:9; Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. That the church is the temple and house of God is made very clear in I Timothy 3:15, where the church is given the same name that Haggai gives to the temple. In the New Testament the church is Gods house: That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Not only that, but we are called to the same work as that to which God through Haggai called Israel in the Old Testament. We too are called to build Gods house. All our work and efforts in the church, in prayer, in worship, in evangelism, in preaching the gospel and teaching catechism, in studying Scripture are for that end. By them all the church is built, not of timber and brick, but of living stones, a fit dwelling place for God Himself. The word edification, a word we often use when we speak of our efforts in the church, means to be built up.
This prophecy of Haggai, then, is as relevant today as ever it was in the days of the Old Testament. We are the people to whom God is speaking. The work is our work and the house in which we must work is the church to which we by grace belong. If that is not true, of course, then this book might as well be torn out of our Bibles and discarded. The Word of God is true in all ages and to all generations.
With that in mind, it hardly needs to be pointed out that we often feel the same as these Jews did. The insignificance and littleness and lack of outward glory which today characterizes Gods house, the church, can be a huge discouragement to Gods people. Not only that but it may even seem to us that it ought not be so, since the church, after all, is GODS house. How can He be glorified in a church which is so small as to go almost unnoticed in the world, and which often appears as nothing, especially in comparison to the church in ages past?
Perhaps one feels that more in a small congregation, but certainly our own denomination is nothing in comparison to most others and the largest congregations quite small and insignificant in comparison to others. Most people have not even heard of the PRC or of its congregations, even if they live in the same area as one of our congregations. Even such a large congregation as South Holland or Hull or Hudsonville is nothing in comparison to those churches that number their members in the thousands, sponsor TV programming, and have all sorts of programs and activities for their members. Is that Gods will for the church? It certainly can be discouraging to us.
II. ALWAYS NON-ESSENTIAL
These questions and discouragements God addresses in various ways in the passage. In verse 8 He reminds the Jews that the silver and the gold belong to Him, meaning, as we might guess, that if He had wanted to provide these things for the adornment of His house He could easily have done so in spite of Judahs impoverished condition. Even that, however, still does not answer the question why He did not give them gold and silver and why He did not want His house to be outwardly glorious.
He also assures them in our text that the real glory of the house was His presence and that the outward glory did not matter. That is the point of verses 4 and 5. God says: I am with you, and that was all that mattered. He says: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you. Nothing else was really important. The word to which God refers is His covenant promise, recorded in Exodus 29:45, 46, and given at the time the tabernacle, Gods first dwelling place, was set up: And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am the Lord their God. Thats the promise, and God is now telling His people that this second temple did not need gold and silver and outward glory to be the place where God would fulfil His promise to dwell among them.
The outward glory of the temple, therefore, was not essential. Nor is the outward condition of the church. No more than the glory and beauty of the temple really had anything to do with its outward appearance, does the glory of the church have anything to do with her outward appearance in the world. There are those who think so who think that Gods promises to the church have no real fulfilment unless the church obtains world dominion and is very large, encompassing many or most of the inhabitants of the world, and unless all of earthly society and its institutions are brought under the influence and rule of the church. The promises of God concerning the church, so they thing, cannot be fulfilled unless the church experiences a huge increase in membership, becomes a mighty influence in every area of earthly society, and is the means by which the whole world and its institutions are christianized.
But it is not so. The number of her members, and her position in the world have nothing whatever to do with the churchs glory. She is as glorious when she is a small and despised remnant as she is when a multitude. She is as gloriously the dwelling place of God when she is reduced to nothing in the eyes of the world, as when the world notices and trembles at her growth and doctrines, and gives some heed to what she says.
Even that, however, does not completely answer the concerns of these Jews. They, and we, might have responded, that even if all we have said is true, we still desire a temple like Solomons and a church like that of the Reformation. Why in the latter days, is it better for Gods house, the church to be insignificant, despised, and completely lacking all outward glory? Why cannot it be so in these days as it was Solomons or in Calvins or in Pauls days?
God, therefore, gives them a third reason why the temple was less glorious in their days and why the church is so small and despised in ours. That third reason answers their concerns completely and shows why it is necessary for Gods house to have lesser glory in the latter days.
God speaks in the verses that follow our text of the coming of Christ. He is the Desire of all Nations, spoken of in verse 7. By His coming God would fill His house with glory such as it had never had. Indeed, Christ would not only fill the house with glory. His body would be the true temple, the true house of God, as He Himself says in John 2:19-21. There we read: Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. In Him God would not only fulfil His promise to dwell with His people under one roof, but would unite Himself to them and be one flesh with them. The glory of the church as the body of Christ would be the glory of God Himself, to which gold and silver and outward appearance can never compare.
In connection with the promise of Christs coming both then and now, the church, in Gods will and wisdom, must have a lesser outward glory. In those latter days, the days that preceded Christs coming in the flesh, and in these latter days, the days that precede His coming again on the clouds of heaven, it is necessary that the outward appearance of the church be nothing in comparison to former days. How is that? That, too, we must explain in our last point.
III. NECESSARY IN THE LATTER DAYS
That it was and is necessary for Gods house to have a lesser glory in the latter days we can understand if we put ourselves in the place of the Jews of Haggais day. They lived in the latter days of the Old Testament. They were not only waiting for Christs coming but knew that it would not be long before Christ actually came and fulfilled all the promises of God. We know now that it was less than 500 years, from Haggais day to Christs coming.
Because Christ was coming soon they had to begin turning their eyes away from the types and shadows to the reality. They had to stop looking at the temple and they had to begin to look for Christ. God helped them to do that by taking away the glory of the earthly types and shadows. By seeing to it that the furniture of the temple was destroyed and that the temple they were building was little more than an empty shell, without any of the splendor of Solomons temple, God was helping them to see beyond the shadow temple to the real temple, beyond the earthly house to Christ.
It was not always easy for them to look away from the types and shadows. There were those Jews who could not and would not look beyond them to the spiritual realities, and to Christ. Paul describes them in I Corinthians 3:15 as having a veil over their hearts. They were the ones who rejected the true Lamb of the passover in the middle of their celebration of that very feast. They were the ones who destroyed the true temple, the body of Christ, even while they admired and were so proud of the earthly temple. They were the ones who came to the temple to offer their sacrifices, never seeing that the death of Christ was the one sacrifice that removes the sins of Gods people completely and forever. They fell in love with the shadows and rejected the realities. The outward appearance of things meant more to them than the spiritual realities.
God would not let His people fall into such evil ways, and so, already in the days of Haggai, He began to take the pictures away from them, so that when Christ came they would be ready for Him and would welcome Him with open arms. He began to show them that the types were only shadows and not the reality, even while commanding them to honor the types. He showed them that the earthly temple really was nothing at all, even while He required them to rebuild it. Thus He prepared them in the latter days in which they lived
What is the parallel for us? Certainly this Word of God has something similar for us, for we too live in the latter days of the New Testament, not so far any more from the return of Christ and the fulfilment in Him of all Gods promises. As does all prophecy, so this prophecy reaches to the end of the world. No matter when it was given, no matter what its immediate concern may be, prophecy always reaches all the way to the end of all things. So does this. Not only are we the people to whom Haggai was speaking, not only does his prophecy concern the house of God to which we belong, not only is the work to which He calls Judah the same work to which He calls us, but His prophecy concerns the latter days in which we live and of which the latter days of the Old Testament were the picture and parallel.
All this is clear from the verses which follow our text. The shaking of which God speaks there began in the days of Haggai, but the book of Hebrews tells us that it is not finished. There is always a once more until Christ returns and all things are shaken completely to pieces. Those words, once more, signify according to Hebrews 12:27, the removal of heaven and earth and all things in them, and not until that happens will any prophecy be finished, not this one either.
What, then, is the application of the passage to us? It is this, that because we live in the latter days, so near to the coming of Christ, we must begin to turn our eyes away from this world and expect and hope for Him. We must remember that the church on earth, however glorious she may appear at times, is not the final glory of the church, not what she will be when all Gods promises concerning her are fulfilled. What the church has now and has had in days past is not her real glory. That shall be revealed only in the new heavens and earth when Christ takes her to Himself.
That there is a temptation to forget that Christ is coming again and that the final and true glory of the church is heavenly, is evident from what is being taught in so many Reformed churches today. They, like the Jews, are completely enamored by the outward glory that the church has had in days gone by. They have almost completely forgotten the real glory of the church and the fact that it is in the coming and revelation of Christ at the end of the world.
Thus, while claiming to be Reformed they speak of an earthly kingdom, of a Christian civilization in which the church dominates all of society. They think that what belongs only to the present outward condition of the church is the thing that really matters. They believe, that unless the majority of mankind are gathered into the church in this present age and she becomes a larger kingdom than the kingdoms of this world, that she has no glory at all. They are convinced that unless she has earthly dominion and political clout, she has no dominion and no power that unless she is able to change governments and social institutions, she is useless and fails to live up to the standards Christ set for her.
God will not let us think that way, to exchange in our minds the heavenly for the earthly, and to become enamored with outward appearances, no more than He would allow the Jews to think that way in the Old Testament. We must look away from this world and away from the outward situation of the church in this world, to the everlasting glories of the heavenly kingdom of Christ. We must do that more and more as the latter days wear on and the end of all things approaches.
God helps us to do that by leaving the church in these latter days, a remnant, scattered and despised, a besieged city, a hut in a garden of cucumbers, in her outward situation and appearance as nothing in comparison to the church of former days.
Indeed, we learn from Scripture that immediately preceding the end the church will be persecuted and scattered, that the two witnesses will be slain and their voices silenced. The church in those days will be nothing at all, reduced to a few, hiding in caves and trying to preserve their lives. That is the ultimate fulfilment of Haggais prophecy concerning the lesser glory of Gods house in the latter days. That is Gods purpose with the church and with us.
And we must not be discouraged. We must remember that this is necessary because Christ is coming soon and rejoice that even the condition of the church proves His soon coming. The lesser glory of the church in the latter days is proof that she lives in the latter days and that her redemption is nigh! Thus Luke 21:28 says: When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And we do not complain about the outward condition of the church, but say, Even so come, Lord Jesus.