“I give up!” (Ezra 5 v1-2; Haggai 1v1-12) (John MacDiarmid)

Talk given at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 25 March 2018.

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References: Ezra 5v1-2 and Haggai 1 v1-12

Which of us has not used these words. Sometimes tongue in cheek, but often serious. Something that started off with such promise, optimism and hope – yet after a while we feel that we’re hitting our heads against a wall. We can’t take any more.

Broken relationships, shattered dreams…it’s easy to get despondent when things just haven’t turned out the way we thought they would. For someone who is not yet a Christian the remedy is to put your trust in Jesus. But for those of us who have followed Jesus for some time, we too can experience discouragement and disappointment. Here we meet a group of people who experienced just that. And by the end of the passage we are going to look at today , they were fully restored and firing on all cylinders. And that can be your story too. So let’s take a look at their journey.

1. The Road to Discouragement

It had all started off with such optimism. A group of people heard God’s call, stepped out in faith and made the long and dangerous journey back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. They came with the promise of God ringing in their ears and all the optimism that is felt by those who know they are going to do what God has called them to do .
But they found – as we often do – that it was not as easy as they thought. At the end of Ezra 4 we read these words:

Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

What a disaster! A journey of faith that had started off so well had ground to a halt! Do you know Christians like that? Are you like that yourself? The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint and it si so easy to get waylaid. Opposition, the enormity of the task and weariness had set in, and they said: “I give up”. And they did.
Maybe that’s your story too. What’s the way forward?

2. The Response to Discouragement

Fortunately, when we say “I give up” – God does not. He does not give up on His people, He does not give up on His plans, and He has not given up on you.

As always – God takes the initiative:

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them.

God sends not one prophet, but two. These prophets speak the “now “ word of God into the situation and galvanise God’s people into action. Notice that this is not “teachers” who God sends – it is ”prophets”.

Later in this book the teacher Ezra comes to bless God’s people – but this is not what is required here. They need a prophet. This is still true today. In the early church we read that at Antioch there were prophets and teachers – two different ministries. There were prophets galore in the early church – Philip’s daughters, Agabus and many others, and writing in Ephesians Paul points out that Jesus has given Prophets and Teachers. Although the ministries overlap, we desperately need prophets who will speak the now word of God into a situation. It is the word of God spoken into a situation that releases a locked up situation.

3. Reasoning with Discouragement

Let’s have a look at the first few words of what Haggai has to say:

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,] the high priest:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’”
Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.”

What does Haggai have to say?

  • Exposing excuses – “the time has not come” – just one of many excuse that people use for not being about the Lords’ work. What’s your favourite excuse?
  • Exposing hypocrisy –actually they do have time and money – it’s just that they’re putting it into the wrong thing
  • Exposing futility – it’s not as if the wrong things that they invest their time and energy in are producing a good result. The crops are failing, inflation is rampant – it’s just not working
  • Exposing where the true fault lies – and the fault lies with them.

Harsh words – but God loves us far too much to beat around the bush with us. If as a Christian you have become discouraged and stopped serving Him – “give careful though to your ways!”

4. Reacting to God’s word

We always have a choice as to how we respond to God. Here there is no doubt:

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

And

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

5. Reassurance from God’s word

Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.

In a way we can understand why the people had given up. It was hard work, it was discouraging work. But the greatest encouragement of all was surely that the God of the universe was with them and that he would never leave them or forsake them. What more encouragement do we need than that?

6. Results from God’s word

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

What a result!

From demoralised and defeatist to triumphant and victorious. It all depends on how you respond to the word of God.
Whatever your state of mind, it’s quite clear what God is saying to us as a church. It’s “Rise Up and Build”.
How are you responding?

John MacDiarmid
March 2018