My former roommate from college sang a song with a quartet about excuses: “Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day, / The devil will supply them, if from church you stay away.”/1 Unfortunately, even the people of God can be good at inventing excuses and justifications.
The prophet Haggai dealt with excuses and reversed causes. This short book packs a powerful punch against illogical thinking and unwilling hands.
The post-exile people excused themselves from obedience by saying, “The time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple has not yet come” Haggai 1.2. But they had plenty of time to build fine homes for themselves. How can that be right, points out the prophet: “Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins?” v. 4.
Excuse number 1: It’s just not a good time to do the Lord’s work.
The reasons get piled on to prove the point. But go back and look at the Great Commission. How many escape clauses did Jesus include?
- Go and make disciples, until you start to be persecuted, Matthew 28.18-20.
- Go into all the world, unless it gets expensive, Mark 16.15.
- Proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, except when you have to pay the pulpit minister, the youth minister, the involvement minister, and college minister, Luke 24.47.
- Go on the mission (“sending”) of Christ, as he was sent by the Father, until you start missing folks back home, John 20.21.
It is no little irony that congregations have built multi-million-dollar buildings and centers and now 99% of them have been empty of saints for months, because virus.
The Lord of Heaven’s armies then says to Israel,
Think carefully about what you are doing. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags, vv. 5-6.
Why did this occur? The Lord explained, “… my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce” vv. 9-10.
But the people got it backwards. They reasoned, When the Lord blesses us then we can build! They took the consequence of their disobedience for the cause of the inaction.
Fortunately, they repented and got to work.
They believed the promise:
“And take heart all you citizens of the land,” decrees the Lord, “and begin to work. For I am with you,” decrees the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” Haggai 2.4.
Haven’t we received a similar promise, capping off the Great Commission? “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” Matthew 28.20.
Do we all live in the Show-Me State, where seeing is believing? Or will we believe in the Lord and his promise, obey his order, and preach the gospel to all the world, so that he can bring forth a bountiful harvest?
Let us sweep away the excuses, and see the real reason for the lack of our harvest — we’re devoted to our own houses, both private and religious, and have left off from building up the Kingdom of God.
Oh, and Haggai makes one more point. The people remembered the glory of the first temple, recognizing that they could never build anything like Solomon’s glorious construction project, Haggai 2.3. Sometimes we get starry-eyed about the first-century church and sad that the church doesn’t grow now like it did then.
But the original promise still stands, Haggai 2.5. And, even though miracles have passed, the power of God still works, vv. 6-8. We will experience greater things than before, v. 9. We will do greater works than Christ himself:
I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father, John 14.12 CEB.
We enjoy, of all ages of the world, the most advantageous position of all. We have been chosen, Haggai 2.23. We have God’s authority to do this work. We have the Lord Almighty. Let us rise up and build.
1/ Apparently, it originated with The Kingsmen.