Haggai 1:15b-2:9; 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23
The book of the prophet Haggai was written in 520BC, in the second year if the reign of Darius the Mede. It concerns a time, some 18 years after the return from 70 years of exile in Babylon and the resettling in Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. It was Cyrus the Persian king who had brought the exile to an end when he conquered the Babylonians just as God has prophesied through Isaiah. It was a time when the people neglected the Lord’s Temple and as a consequence there was a drought and signs of a famine in the land. The returning remnant of people were too busy building their own houses that they neglected the house of the Lord, indicative of the place of prayer and symbolising the Lord himself. So, we can see it was a time where prayer was absent and the Lord was ignored. He was no longer acknowledged as the centre of peoples’ lives, the centre of their being. No wonder there were problems.
It wasn’t until the people heeded the word of the prophet and began to lay the foundation stone that things began to improve. When that foundation went down, the Lord spoke and promised to bless his people once more. They needed to get that foundation in place first of all. Anyone who’s ever tried to build something knows how important it is to get a good foundation, a solid grounding, a wide base, a firm footing, starting off on the right foot. We might ask ourselves, do we know whether or not our life is on a firm foundation. If the answer is ‘no’ then now is the time for that to change.
Paul Tillich, a famous American theologian from the 1960’s described God as ‘the Ground of our being’. That’s a sound way of describing what it means to have our life on the most solid base possible. Haggai the prophet alluded to this becoming a reality among people when he prophesied that the Lord Almighty would shake heaven and earth and all the nations and the what is desired of all nations would come filling the house with glory and bringing peace (2:7,9). Another translation of that uses the term ‘the Desire of all nations’, making it a prophecy of a person who would come and bring this word to fulfilment.
The New Testament makes is clear that this person is Jesus. He is the foundation stone, he’s the solid rock, the rock of ages, the rock of salvation, the way, the truth, the life. And its on this rock that we must build our lives because unless we do our lives will be impoverished as they were for the people in the time of Haggai who looked to their own houses and neglected the Lord.
In Luke 6, Jesus says, “I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
We don’t have a God who is distant and aloof. We have Jesus who comes close and speaks his word into our hearts and minds. That’s the foundation on which we build. He is our starting point for everything. He’s the One we should start our day listening too. And I’ll confess I don’t always do that. I have a bad habit of wanting to turn on the radio first thing in the morning and before I know it I’m taking in frightening stories of war in Syria and economic meltdown due to Brexit. I need a better start to the day than that, a better foundation, listening to the voice of the one that matters and who knows all things and who loves us more than anyone else ever could.
Once the foundation is there, there will be others who God uses to teach us. But when we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians chapter 3, we hear him emphasise that the only foundation is Christ. Yes others will come along and build on that foundation but the only starting point must be Christ Jesus. As he says in verse 11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ”.
I like how Paul describes teachers who come after Jesus. Listen to verse 12-13, “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done.” In other words, some teaching will be precious like gold, and some will be worthless like straw and won’t survive. The good stuff will prevail and the teacher will be rewarded for building with gold. I think that applies to any good works any of us is inspired to do in the name of Jesus. It’s not just about preachers and teachers though in a sense it is, if we consider all to be preachers and teachers.
And maybe that’s partly what Paul is hinting at when he says in verse 21, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
“Everything belongs to you” is an amazingly freeing statement which we can only begin to wonder at yet surely it means that in Christ we have no need nor want, everything is provided that could possibly satisfy our thirst for life. In Christ, God has given us life itself, full and free. What more could we need?
So how do we enable this life to thrive within us and among us as well as overflow out of us? Well, somehow there is sense that it can only happen corporately, with all of us together. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (16-17).
Yes, each of us is a temple whereby the Spirit of God dwells but together we are the temple of God where the Spirit dwells among us and flows outward. Think of that lovely picture of the glory of the Lord filling the temple in Ezekiel 43 and then the river of God flowing out from the temple in Revelation 22, the fulfilment of the story,
“Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the centre of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.”
We’re part of something that is so much more than what we are on our own. The Body of Christ is the temple of the living God and it is meant to burst forth with life and we’re caught up in that flow, glory in and glory out, life in and life out, restoring, healing, bearing fruit, shining, worshipping, forever and ever.
Why not take a moment to be still and breathe some of that in and listen to the voice drawing us near and sending us forth, together, moving forward, in the glory of God.