The Futility of Fear, 6

Haggai 2:5

All Christians understand the importance of “the Great Commission.” It’s found at the very tail end of Matthew’s Gospel:

He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:18-20 TLB)

Even though these words were spoken only to the disciples who were with Jesus that day, we all understand that they apply to us today. As Christians living in 21st century America, a world away from where and when Jesus gave it, we all know that this “Great Commission” is the last command Jesus gave ALL of His followers. He expects us to do what He expected His disciples to do.

Any Christian who takes his faith seriously has a genuine desire to share His faith with others; to introduce the lost to Jesus Christ. Nobody wants anybody damned to a miserable eternity separated from God. Yet there exists two foes of all serious Christians: depression and discouragement. These twins have always wreaked havoc on Christian workers. The moment after Jesus gave His Great Commission, disciples have been plagues with depression and discouragement.

The need for Christian witness has never been greater than it is today. This seems to be the era of lost souls. We are surrounded by people – young and old – who are busy going nowhere; people who think they “have it all together” but really they have nothing. People have always needed Jesus, but today they seem more distracted, cynical, and sometimes hostile to the things of God than ever. Whether these people realize it or not, what they need is a good word from a Christian. But, sadly, when the Christian warrior should be buckling on his armor for spiritual battle, and when the sowers and reapers should be getting ready to do their work in God’s field, depression and discouragement seem to settle in, paralyzing the Lord’s servants.

In the past, we’ve written about various futile fears – fears that have no foundation in fact or reality. We argued that would be most fears, but this is especially true of fears of being left alone to do the work of the Lord. Before getting into the meat of this message, let’s make one thing clear: when we, as Christians, share our faith with the lost, we aren’t out their alone. We are surrounded by and indwelt by the very Spirit of God. We are full of the Holy Spirit and He helps us; He gives us insight into what that lost soul needs to hear; He gives us the words and the opportunities. We need never fear that we are alone when we are doing the Lord’s work. There is a great verse in Haggai’s small book of prophecy that should be a comfort to all believers:

And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:5b NIV84)

Of course, there is a context to that sentence, so let’s take a few moments to learn why God said it.

Some history…but not too much

Before the prophet Haggai began his work, Israel had suffered through a long, dark period of humiliation and spiritual malaise during their Babylonian Exile.

It was the decree of Babylon’s Persian conqueror, Cyrus, that brought Israel’s Babylonian Captivity to its end. For the first time in generations, the Jews were allowed to return home. Cyrus made a way for them to go home and rebuild Jerusalem and restore their Temple, which both lay in ruins. Many Jews had built lives and business in Babylon, later Persia, and rather than give all that up, they chose to remain as expats, sending money and provisions back to Jerusalem while they themselves remained away.

But there was a remnant – a small group – of some 50,000 brave souls that stepped up and chose to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Among this intrepid, fearless group were the most godly, enterprising, and talented members of the expat Jewish community in Babylon/Persia.

When they began the daunting task of rebuilding their city, the people faced stiff opposition from their neighbors, the Samaritans, and eventually the work ceased. Cyrus had reneged and forced them to stop. It looked as though Jerusalem would never be rebuilt and the remnant had failed. But God is always at work in the background, manipulating people and events to His glory and to the benefit of His people. Cyrus’ successor to the throne was a man named Darius Hystaspes and he restored Cyrus’ original decree and, 17 years after they stopped, the people were to resume their work. Seventeen years is a long time for folks to stand around, waiting. They needed to be encouraged and it was up to Haggai and Zechariah to urge them on.

This is the world in which Haggai’s writings need to be understood. Even though we have no record of his birth or death; no record of his parentage, and we would have never known he even existed had he not written these two short chapters, Haggai was an important figure. How important was he? Bible teachers like say:

No Haggai, no Temple.

It’s a good thing Haggai didn’t let discouraging circumstances get him down, isn’t it!

Called of God, yet still human

Can you imagine how the Jews must have felt when they left Persia to return home? Many of them had never seen Jerusalem, having been born in Babylon. The grandeur of the great Temple was the thing legends are made of. They had no clue how glorious the home of their parents and grandparents was. All these people saw were piles of rubble, and they were expected to take those piles of rubble and make homes and a Temple out of them. Talk about discouragement! It’s like drawing the short straw.

On top of that, they had to stop work for 17 years! For 17 years they couldn’t even pick up a hammer. These people were depressed, discouraged and despondent. Yes, they were engaged in doing the work of God but they were still human, after all. They needed help – they needed a spiritual tonic, and it was Haggai that would administer it.

Never fool yourself

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?’ (Haggai 2:3 NIV84)

Well, that was about the size of it.  That’s the Lord rubbing salt in their wound. Or at least, that’s what it sounds like, doesn’t it? God is nothing if not realistic, and we should be, too. Nothing kills enthusiasm like unrealistic expectations. Christians are not immune from this. Often we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, thinking we can just about anything. We use all kinds of Bible verses to pump ourselves up; Bible verses like this one:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NIV84)

While it is true God promises us success and prosperity, those things are usually linked to living a holy life or doing work for Him and His kingdom, not necessarily our own endeavors. When we try to do some selfish or self-serving thing claiming this verse or another one like it, we’re asking for trouble. When we live like that, God’s “blessings” seem hit-and-miss. This isn’t to say that God can’t or won’t ever help you, but we don’t have the right to take God’s promises out of their proper context and we shouldn’t make God say things He didn’t.

And we certainly have no right to be presumptuous.

However, when we are trying to do good work for the Lord; when we are sharing our faith with the lost or the love of Jesus with anybody, we are promised help because it’s not easy. God knows working for Him isn’t easy; He knows doing His will is difficult sometimes. He’s a realist. We should be.  We need to realize that serving Him can’t done in our own strength. When we work like that, we get discouraged. That’s why God said what He did through Haggai to His people. He’s acknowledging the reality of their situation. He’s certainly not trying to make them even more discouraged than they already were.

Be courageous

So face the facts, just as the Lord does. But then, be courageous!

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. (Haggai 2:4 NIV84)

Now, obviously these people would not be able to rebuild the Temple the way it was during Solomon’s time. Those glory days were long gone. Still, God called them to do a work in His strength. Verse 4 must have been filled with special meaning to these Jews, who would have remembered the story of their national hero, Joshua. “Be strong and courageous” was God’s word to him, too. In the face of great tasks, God’s people need strength and courage, but not just any strength and courage.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6 NIV84)

That strength and courage must come from God. It takes something divine to do the work of the Lord, which is why there are so many failures. We’re earnest, but too often we try to do His work under our own steam. That’s a fool’s errand, indeed.

But notice this: there are two sides to this word of encouragement. Be strong, yes, but also work. Work to build that Temple. It wasn’t going to be as grand as Solomon’s, but that didn’t matter, as long as they were doing the work of the Lord. Besides, what was important wasn’t necessarily the Temple, but God’s presence among them, which we will get to.

Recall God’s promises

This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.’ (Haggai 2:5a NIV84)

How about that? Isn’t this the best encouragement of all? God’s gracious promise: His Covenant. There was no way these people could fail; they had God’s promise to count on. But, they needed to remember it.

And while you’re remembering God’s Word, you need to remember other times God helped you, or even other people. That’s why it’s so important to share good news, like answered prayer, with other believers. That kind of good news, or more accurately, “God news,” not only glorifies God, but it can serve to encourage others.

Don’t fear!

And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear. (Haggai 2:5 NIV84)

This is the greatest source of good cheer and strength – the fact that God is with us. These Jews with Haggai, really felt alone and isolated. Many of them left their families back in Persia. Some left homes and a decent way of life. And for what? Chasing a dream to rebuild a city they had never seen? You better believe these folks felt alone. Maybe some of them felt forsaken. God gently reminded them that He was with them. They were doing His will.

This remnant had every reason in the world to fear but the most compelling reason of all not to: God was with them. His presence cancelled out their fear.

And so it is with us. We have God’s presence in our lives – the Holy Spirit. We need never fear no matter what the circumstances may be. God never bails out on us! When we get to feeling depressed, discouraged, and despondent – and eventually we will all feel like this – let’s remember that God is right where we are and He has what we need.






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