Complacency Among God's People
Topic: English Passage: Ezra 5:1-2, Haggai 1:1-6
At the conclusion of our previous study, the Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon and Persia had rebuilt the altar and had laid the foundation of the Temple. But when we came to the end of chapter 4, we found that because of opposition from enemies, construction stopped. In all, the work stopped for more than 15 years.
As we come to chapter 5, we find that the work resumes. Here is what verses 1 and 2 of Ezra5 tell us—Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.  Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
The initial pause in construction was due to powers outside of the Israelites’ control. But after more than 15 years, the Israelites no longer had the luxury of blaming the lack of progress on their enemies. They had fallen into complacency and apathy. One week became one month, and that turned into a year, which turned into two years, and then there was no energy to get back to work.
So, what did the people need in order to get back? They needed to hear the word of God.
Just like God had done so many times before in Israel’s history, He sent them prophets. He sent them Haggai and Zechariah who prophesied in the name of God and stayed with them supporting them. God worked through the proclamation of His word.
To see how important of a role this was, jump over to chapter 6 when the Temple is complete. Look at Ezra 6, verse 14. It says—And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
The prophets were not just fans cheering on the sidelines. They were a vital element of the work, even if they never picked up a hammer or a sword.
This morning, rather than focus on the book of Ezra, I want us to turn our attention to one of the messages given by the prophets. Scripture records that for us, and I think it will be a good message for us as we prepare to partake of the Lord’s Table.
Turn with me to the book of Haggai, chapter 1. If you thought finding Ezra in your Bible was tough, it won’t feel so bad after you have to find Haggai. Haggai is a short book—only two chapters—but he has a very powerful message. Maybe the best way to find the book is to find the gospel of Matthew—the first book of the New Testament—and then start flipping backwards. You’ll find Malachi, then Zechariah, and then Haggai. It’s the third to the last book in the Old Testament, and it might only be a couple pages in your Bible.
Let me read for us from the opening verses of Haggai. Haggai, chapter 1, verses 1-6. Here what it says:
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:  “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”  Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,  “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?  Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.  You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
In a more general sense, Haggai’s message to Israel, and God’s message to us today, is this: God withholds blessings because you withhold obedience. God withholds blessings because you withhold obedience.
The first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem around 537 BC. It was a group of over 42,000 people. I’m sure they came with excitement, energy, and expectation. When they rebuilt the altar and laid the foundation for the Temple, most of the people were excited, not just because a building was going to be built, but because it meant that the blessing of God was coming back. Their mindset was that they were going to build back better. They were going to make Jerusalem great again.
But it didn’t take much for all that energy to fizzle out. They established themselves in their homes, and they got comfortable. The resistance to building was greater than the energy to build. Do you get that?
It wasn’t that the people were against having the Temple getting built; they just didn’t want to do the work themselves. To them, the obstacles and the to building it themselves were greater than their energy to do it.
And so, for over 15 years, the work stopped. Look with me one more time at verse 2. Notice Haggai’s opening words—Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.
They’re not against rebuilding, you see, it just isn’t the right time, they say. It’s not a good time for rebuilding. It’s not a good time to invest energy and effort. One day, perhaps, the time will come, but not today. The time has not yet come.
How does God respond to that kind of thinking? Look at verse 4. God answers with a question—Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
This is God saying, “Let me get this straight. You can work on your own house. You can add adorn it with wood paneling and whatever else, but you can’t work on My house? Is that right? The time to work on the house of the Lord has not yet come. But the time to work on your own house has. Is that right?”
God is pointing out the ridiculousness of their position. And to make that point even more clear, he tells them in verses 5 and 6—Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
How is life going for you right now? Where is all that blessing you were expecting? Is this really working out for the best?
Again, the message from God is simple: He has withheld His blessing because they have withheld their obedience. They have cared more about their own homes and their own lives than about doing what God has called them to do.
What a stinging, and yet appropriate, rebuke or cause for examination as we come to the table of the Lord today.
Take a look at your life. Examine yourself. Try to be honest. How much investment—how much time, how much energy—is going into the things God has called you to do? And how does that compare to the extra stuff?
I’m not even asking you to think about sinful things. As far as I can tell, building up their own homes wasn’t a sinful thing for the Israelites to do. The problem was that it came at the expense of the greater and clearer calling of God.
What are those things that God has called you and me to do? One helpful way to answer that question is to look at our church’s membership covenant. There’s no special authority or power in that document, but I believe it is a faithful representation of biblical truth in what it means to follow Jesus. If you serve Christ, this list of seven items will matter to you—Corporate Worship, Personal Holiness, Stewardship, Evangelism, Prayer, Mutual Care, and Church Unity. Those of you who are members have agreed that those seven areas are important to you.
You cannot legitimately claim to follow Christ if you don’t care about gathering with His people, pursuing personal holiness, giving your resources to the cause of Christ, speaking God’s truth to others, praying for the work, caring for others in the church, and working toward unity.
Are there ways in which you have been neglecting these weightier things because of other secondary things in your own life, even if those secondary things are legitimate?
If you were to ask an elder what an ideal church member looks like, how do you think we’d answer that? We’re not thinking about how much money they make. We’re not asking about how high they’ve climbed the corporate ladder. We’re not focused on how fancy they look on Sunday morning.
The ideal member comes to church regularly. This person connects with others on Sunday morning. They attend the class. They come to members meetings and prayer meetings. They seek to honor God during the week in heart and body. They love their spouse and the rest of their family sacrificially. They pray for the church regularly. They look for, and step into, ways to tell other people about Jesus. They give time and energy and resources to help others in the church. They are trying to be faithful in reading God’s word. They are part of an FLG connecting with others in the church. They are serving in the church. And if they can’t do some of that, there’s a legitimate reason, but their heart is there.
We all have different strengths and different capacities and different schedules. Not everyone can do everything. But we should all be working to grow in all the areas I mentioned.
Is it a time to skip out on church because some restaurant down the street has an amazing Sunday morning brunch? Is it okay to say you don’t have time to read or pray, when you just binge-watched 3 seasons of some TV show in the past 2 weeks?
Those are just hypothetical examples, and I admit a little extreme. But I hesitate to give more because I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to single anybody out. But I can single myself out.
I love my wife and my kids. I love spending time with them, having fun. I love watching them play sports. I love reading silly books to them. But is it possible for me to prioritize my own family, even in some wholesome way, to the detriment of something better for them and for my church? Sure it is.
Even as a pastor, it’s possible for me to be so focused on administrative issues and even preaching that I lose focus of Christ.
Is it possible for you to be so focused on your own family, and your own home, and your own job, and your own whatever else, that you give up the better things that build us together as God’s community? Of course it is.
That’s how we end up saying, “Oh, I can’t go to church today. I’m too tired!” I’ve worked too hard with week, my life is so busy o so hectic, I need to hit pause on church life or scale it back a little.”
We set our alarms for Monday morning, but we don’t listen to it on Sunday morning. We make sure we do what the boss says, but we don’t listen to the King of kings. We get excited when a game goes into overtime or extra innings, but we shoot out of church or FLG as soon as we can.
Over a prolonged period of time, what does that communicate? It says, “I get to decide what matters most in my life. I’m still in charge.”
And the heart of God isn’t to be a slavedriver. My heart as a pastor isn’t to guilt you into doing what I say. It is to help all of us examine our lives faithfully so that we can draw nearer to God and to the life He wants from us and for us.
The heart of the gospel is that we have laid down our lives. We have surrendered to Jesus Christ because, by faith, we know His way is best. The fullness of God’s blessing to us, as an individual and as a church, will be connected to our obedience to His commands and to His priorities. A greater investment means a greater blessing. God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
It’s not necessarily going to be physical blessings, like fame and fortune, but it will be the blessing of knowing God and connecting with His people and being used for His glory. Consider your ways.
In Matthew 5, Jesus points to a sacrifice that God does not accept because things aren’t right with a brother.
In 1 Peter 3:7, we find that God withholds an answer to a man’s prayers because that man is not treating his wife with love and understanding. Blessing is withheld because obedience is withheld.
In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist says—If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Blessings are withheld because obedience has been withheld.
For those of you here today who aren’t Christians, or maybe you’re not sure if you’re a Christian, you need to understand that God is calling you to surrender to Jesus Christ. He died for sin and rose again in victory. And He will come again one day to judge you. The only way to be saved is to be obedient to God’s message to repent of sin and trust in Jesus. Trust fully and exclusively in Him. If you fail to obey that command, you will forfeit the greatest blessing, which is eternal life, beginning now and extending eternity. Reject Jesus Christ, and the only alternative is eternal judgment. Come to Jesus. Pray to Him. Ask Him for mercy. Ask Him for a new heart. And He will hear your prayer. And come talk to us about that and we can follow up with baptism.
For those of us who already know Christ, think. Is there a step of obedience that you can take today for the glory of Christ and the strength of His church? It might not be a drastic change that people are going to notice, but maybe it’s a small step in the right direction. Big or small, give yourself to Christ, and ask for His mercy to continue.
We get distracted so easily. But let’s get back to work.
None of us can do this perfectly, right? No one is perfect. Not one of us. But we know that Jesus was perfect in our place. And by His grace, we keep taking steps in the right direction. And we do so with the confidence that He will keep us to the end.
Just like Israel finally finished the Temple, Jesus will finish the work He began in us. Salvation has come to us by the Spirit of God through the Word of God, and by that same Spirit, through that same Word, we will be sanctified, and we will be glorified forever.