The Promised Glory of the New House
1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 2 "Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. 5 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
6 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 8 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 9 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty."
The year was 520 B.C., eighteen years after the people of Israel had returned home to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. In 586 B.C. the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the Temple and deported to Babylon the leading citizens of Jerusalem. Then Babylon itself was defeated by the Persians, and King Cyrus of Persia declared that the Jews could return home. In 538 B.C. a remnant of the Jews did return, but what they found was a scene of utter desolation. The Temple lay in ruins, the city walls destroyed, most of the buildings reduced to rubble. They set at once rebuilding the city, and the Temple. But for some reason the work on the reconstruction of the Temple stopped, and the unfinished Temple stood as a sad reminder of the glory that had departed when Jerusalem had fallen. But in 520, eighteen years after the return from exile, a prophet named Haggai summoned the people back to work. Haggai scolded them for reconstructing their own houses, while leaving the Lord’s house in ruins. Haggai told them that they had forgotten their purpose as a people; they had lost track of their priorities. Haggai challenged Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, to lead in the reconstruction of the Temple. The book of Haggai is a series of addresses that the prophet delivered over a three month period in 520 to encourage the Jews to resume the work on the Temple and restore the Lord’s house to its proper place as the center of the Jewish nation. Assisted by the prophet Zechariah, Haggai was the man principally responsible for the completion of this vital project.
In our scripture passage for this morning, Haggai contrasted the present state of the unfinished Temple with a vision of the future glory once it would be completed. Haggai reminded the older generation of the glory of the original Temple, the one the Babylonians had destroyed. Some of them could still remember the Temple that Solomon had built, a Temple that had stood for almost four hundred years. Seeing that once magnificent sanctuary in ruins must have been a painful sight. But Haggai told them not to focus on the Temple in its present state of disrepair, but to imagine the rebuilt Temple as it would be. Haggai said that the glory of the rebuilt Temple would surpass even that of the original Temple. The glory would come, not from the building itself, but from the presence of God. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” Haggai said. It was a prophesy of hope that inspired the people to rebuild.
This afternoon we will dedicate this new house of worship to the glory of God. I’m not going to preach a sermon this afternoon during the Dedication Service—I’ve invited several area clergy to take part in the service, and Rev. Richard Dowhower, the former pastor of the All Saints Lutheran Church, will deliver the message in the form of a Charge to the Church. So, this is my dedication day sermon, delivered to you this morning. Like the ancient people of Israel, we saw this house of the Lord fall into ruins, not from the destruction of an invading army but from the burning of a devastating fire. Like the people of Israel, we saw this holy place lay in ruins for many months. It was not our choice to delay the rebuilding of this house of worship, but delay we did. Now that the rebuilding is almost completed, we can look ahead and anticipate the glory of the Lord filling this place.
It sounds audacious, I will admit, to expect that the glory of the Lord will fill this place. It would be audacious if it were something we could claim to do and take credit for, but of course we cannot. Only God can fill this house with his glory; only God can transform this building into a holy place. But that is exactly what we do expect to happen, not because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Haggai said “the desired of all nations shall come.” Some translations say “the treasure of all nations.” As Christians we know that “the desired, the treasure of all nations” is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is his coming that will fill this house with God’s glory. It is his presence that will give this house greater splendor than even the former house. We must never forget that this is God’s house, and that God will use this house to draw people to himself. But we can have a part in that; in fact, God wants us to have a part in making this house into a House of the Lord.
I can think of no better way to inaugurate this house than with the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Communion reminds us of the core of our faith—the sacrificial death of Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins, and the new life that is ours through his victory over the grave. That is what will fill this house with God’s glory—the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first Sunday of Advent is actually the beginning of the Christian year. For the church the year begins not on January 1, but on the first Sunday of Advent. What better time to dedicate this church building to God than on the first Sunday of Advent? We could not have planned it better if we had tried, (and Lord knows we tried). Those of us who can remember the old church building can recall the times when God’s glory was present in this place. But the promise of scripture is that this new church building can be a place of even greater glory if we truly dedicate this house to God.
Harry Emerson Fosdick told the story of a little church on the coast of England that was destroyed by a fierce storm. This was in the days before insurance, and the congregation thought that it would be impossible to rebuild. One day a representative of the British Admiralty came to the pastor and asked him if they intended to reconstruct the church. The pastor explained that they dearly wanted to rebuild, but they lacked the finances to do so. The Navy representative replied, “If you cannot rebuild this church we will help you. You see, the spire of the church is on all of our charts and maps. It is the landmark by which our ships steer their course.”
God planted Village Baptist Church in this place to be a lighthouse to this community and beyond. The steeple of this church stands to point people to God and to draw them into closer relationship with himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is the landmark by which all people can steer their course to the safe haven of heaven. Greater glory in this house—God willing, yes!
Bruce Salmon, Pastor, Village Baptist Church, Bowie, Maryland
December 1, 2002
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