A fresh start - success because of the promise of God
A fresh start
Success because of the promise of God
Doxology Hymn no 53: “All people that on earth do dwell”
Musical introduction without announcement
Call to worship
I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5-6)
The Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you from God our Father, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter.
Hymn No 105: “O Praise the Lord, his deeds make known”
Almighty God, who fill all things with your infinite presence, but primarily bring your mind to life in the house of prayer, and by the preaching of your Word in the minds of men, give us grace to enter your courts with reverence, and so call upon You in our prayers, that we may receive your help, instruction and encouragement that we will depart from here with your blessing. For the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord. AMEN
Hymn No 404: “Let Christian hope and faith dispel” (Tune: 514, 7 verses)
Scripture Reading Hebrews 10:19-25
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Gracious heavenly Father, we are your redeemed people and, as we gather in your presence, how we rejoice in you. We rejoice in the majesty of your character, the sheer perfection of your being. You are the only wise God, the one true and living God, the Almighty, the all-knowing one, the ever present one, the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We rejoice in the perfection of who you are. And we rejoice in the works of your hands, in the wonders you have done: the splendour of your creation, the generosity of your providential care, the sheer grace of redemption, the mystery of your purposes in election, the infinite wonder of your everlasting love, the gift of your Word, the power of your Gospel, the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit, the blessings of your Church, the glories of Heaven and the wonders you have prepared for us there.
When we consider the wonder of who you are and all that you have done for us in Christ, we rejoice with trembling. We stand in awe of you. We realize something of the greatness and grandeur of who you are, the high and holy God who inhabits eternity. We also realise the finite, weak, limited, sinful condition of ourselves by comparison. But we rejoice in the fact that despite the vast gulf between us, you nevertheless delight to dwell with those who are humble and contrite in heart and who tremble at your Word. We rejoice that you have appointed Christ to bridge the gap between us, and that he has reconciled us to you through the cross. We rejoice that with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
We come before you this day, yielded and still in the presence of you, our Lord and Master. Continue and bring to completion the good work you have begun in us. Humble us in our pride. Condemn in us any wrong. Wash us with water through the Word to make us holy and send us to our homes rejoicing that we have met with you, the Sovereign Lord, in Jesus’ name.
Father, it is with a sense of shame that we confess our sins to you. It grieves us that we continue to fall short of your glory. We feel the burden of our guilt, but if we are blind to sins in us, trouble our souls about them, prick our consciences, bring them out into the light, show us the true nature of our hearts, and the deceitfulness that resides there. Give us no rest until our sins have been dealt with by the cross, until all sin has been forsaken, its power broken and put to death.
Lord God, you have been very patient with us. You have disciplined us. You have corrected us and rebuked us. Grant us the grace to heed your corrections and yield to your gentle rebukes. We do not want to provoke you. We do not want to grieve you. We do not want to resist your Holy Spirit. Make us humble, keep us responsive, and enable us to keep short accounts with you.
It is our hearts' desire to be your holy people, set apart to you and unspotted by the world, wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Keep us by your almighty power. Increase our faith in you and lead us in the way everlasting, for we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Declaration of pardon
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Hymn No 243: “Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour” (Tune 102; 5 verses)
Offering and Dedication
Remaining seated, all sing:
Hymn no 612: “As men of old their first fruits brought”
Heavenly Father, we are mindful that you are concerned, not so much with what is in the hand, but with what is in the heart while the hand is giving. Your acceptance of the widow’s mite teaches us that you delight in cheerful and sacrificial giving. As we present your tithes and our offerings before you, cause our hearts to be right with you. Teach us more of what it means to give cheerfully and to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. Be pleased to bless these gifts and we who bring them, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer for others
Our Lord, our God and our Saviour, save us, Lord, from being self-centred in our prayers, and teach us to remember to pray for others. May we be so caught up in love for those for whom we pray, that we may feel their needs as keenly as our own, and pray for them with imagination, sensitivity, and understanding.
Awaken those who slumber and slide so easily from vows and promises and purposes made before you. Touch their hearts and consciences this day and raise them to new spiritual life.
Sustain by your grace all who seek to remain loyal to you and your cause under trouble or difficulty and often against the subtle pressure of those whom they love. Preserve them from the evil one and uphold them by your saving Spirit.
We pray for those who have no personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus and no saving interest in him. Bring them to know the Saviour, to discern his beauty, to believe his power and to trust in his grace. We especially pray for your church in Papua New Guinea. We pray that your will destroy the powers of the false prophet, trying to confuse your elect; putting stumbling blocks before those who must yet bow before you. Bless the efforts of the missionaries, especially Chris and Narelle Bubb and other MAF officers.
Anoint all who minister the Word of God that they may do so faithfully, as they should. Enable all who hear the Word of God to receive it mixed with faith, that we may be not only hearers of the Word, but doers also. May the seed of the Word be sown in the soil of human hearts, and may your Holy Spirit water the seed so that it brings forth fruit to eternal life.
Hear us now for those who are suffering or experiencing dark and difficult days; the lonely and solitary and afflicted; the sick and the aged; the hungry and cold; the homeless and imprisoned; the persecuted and grief stricken. Lead them to the one of whom it is said: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Help them to see that you are the one who sticks closer than a brother, who never changes, who is the same yesterday, today and forever and that in you we may have comforts and encouragements far greater than our deepest and darkest needs. Comfort us with the certainty that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us, that far outweighs them all. We pray for the McDowell and Sneddon families. Comfort them in their grief with the loss of Gabrielle. We know You are merciful to those who seek You. Hear their supplications before You and give them strength for the days to follow.
Prosper our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and all who are set in authority under her, especially in our own land. Remove far from us those sins that are a disgrace to any people and bring in that righteousness by which alone, as a people, we shall be exalted as a nation.
Prepare your church to meet you. May she be as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. Send your Spirit to revive us again. Restore sound doctrine and holy living. Rekindle within our hearts our first love for you. Remove from us all attachment to this world. Take us again to the foot of the cross. Remind us again of the doctrines of grace. Establish within us again the centrality and supremacy of Christ. Cause the wonder of your redeeming love to be our souls’ delight both in time and in eternity, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Scripture Reading Ezra 5:1-2; 6:12; Haggai 2:1-9
With the return from captivity back to Judah, the Israelites had the task to rebuild not only the altar and the temple, but also the city. We know from the Word of God according to the first few chapters of Ezra that God called only the people He elected for the task to go back. God also provided in all their needs. God wanted his people, like in the case of the Israelites who left Egypt under the Pharaoh to worship Him. He prescribed the worship, and upon their return they reformed their worship back to the ordinances of God , restoring the altar and the offerings.
We heard about the amazing waning of their commitment to the Lord to rebuild the temple. Instead, in forgetting their priorities, they were more concerned with their own business than with the business of God. Haggai the prophet proclaimed the Word of God to them and they recommenced the work on the temple. This led to opposition in the form of false unity, psychological warfare and political oppression. The people of God were compelled by force to stop the work.
The last verse of Ezra 4 reads:
Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:24)
8 God’s plan?
We ask, “What then? Was it God’s plan for them to stop, to halt the work and temporarily give up the rebuilding of the temple?”
Is it ever the plan of God that the church should stop proclaiming the Word of Christ, even in the face of severe opposition, or even when the church faces persecution, and even when all political force is turning against them?
No! It was in times of persecution that the church grew. Augustine coined the phrase: “The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.” Banyan, the author of “The pilgrim’s progress, on his deathbed said the following:
I have often thought that the best of Christians are found in the worst of times. And I have thought again that one reason why we are no better, is because God purges us no more. Noah and Lot – who [were] so holy as they in the time of their afflictions? And yet who so idle as they in the time of their prosperity?
God has a perfect plan and nothing will ever frustrate the plan of God. No political power, earthly ruler, political system, or dark forces in the air will be able to stand against God.
8 But how do you mobilise a church that has forgotten their task of evangelising? Do you follow grand new programs, or do you design impressive ways in which the church will become acceptable to the world? Do you engage in social gospel to mainly concentrate on the political oppression and social justice in the world? Or do you design new worship services aimed at the satisfaction of those who lost their love for God, or to draw the numbers of those who want to see the church comprise her gospel?
How do you once again revive the love of God’s people to serve Him, whatever the cost? How do you strengthen the feeble arms and the weak knees to stand in the power and strength of the risen Lord, even in the face of persecution?
8 The powerful Word of God through a humble prophet
As we pointed out, the last verse of chapter 4 reads:
Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:24)
The next verse, the first verse in chapter 5 reads:
Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. (Ezra 5:1)
What was the message about? We need to go to Haggai 2 to read that sermon.
8 “Thus saith the Lord”
In verse 1 of Haggai 2 we read: “The word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai.” It was not the prophet who had the urge to spur the people on with what he thought would be a word of encouragement. It was God who spoke to the people. Of this word David writes in Psal 33:
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. (Psalm 33:4)
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (Psalm 33:6)
Of this Word the writer of Hebrews proclaims:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The Word of God is the powerful hammer which destroys opposition, crumbles the heart, wipe out resistance and empowers to serve.
Let us once again take it from the Word of God: it is the centre of worship, the focal point of service, and the source of empowerment to the church. It should not be replaced by man-made programs, by entertaining agendas to draw the world to enjoyment, or by human schemes to engage in social-political programmes. The true Word of God should be preached and adhered to; feeble knees and weak arms must be lifted up; sin must be exposed; idleness in God’s service be addressed, and worldliness be named as a cancer which weakens the church in its task to build the church of Christ under his headship by the power of his Holy Spirit. Nothing else will work; nothing else in history has succeeded.
8 The promise
“Does it seem like nothing? I am with you, declares the Lord Almighty.”
They looked at the rubble. They looked at the foundations covered in weed. They looked at their wallets, empty and full of holes. They remembered the one failed crop after the other. They remembered the opposition, how they were forced to put the shovels and the trowels down. And they looked into their own hearts, their excuses, their unwillingness and their failure to win ground for the God of gods and the King of kings. And it all seemed so difficult to be a child of God; so impossible to succeed with the task.
We are in the same boat this morning. We have all sorts of excuses why we have lost vision for the building of God’s Church. And we have become complacent in the knowledge that at least we have the privilege to attend the worship services and sing and pray. But of the building, the active building, the active pulling down of the fortresses of the enemy, the active involvement in the war for the glory of Jesus Christ and the making every thought captive to Him and his Kingdom not much is done.
We don’t have the means, we are too old, too young, too sick, too busy, too idealistic to first see our dreams come true. We are afraid that others may think we are too religious, too pious, and maybe even too fundementalistic.
But listen to the Word: Do you think that church is too weak, too hopeless to be restored? Do you think it is impossible to see that once again there will be a revival and souls will be won for Christ? Do you think we are losing the battle against the forces of darkness? Think again.
God said to his people in distress, in need, void of courage and dead in their vision for the advancement of the kingdom:
8 “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. 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. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘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.” (Haggai 2:6-9)
8 And on top of all these promises, there is this golden phrase that should wake us out of our idleness: “I am with you.”
Our Saviour knew that his disciples will need that vision of his presence and victory over all that would become their experience, so He gave them this assurance:
8 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
8 To them and to us, with this Great Commission to fulfil, He gave his Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. He proclaimed through Haggai:
This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:5)
8 God is the God of his covenant. He rescued them out of Egypt. He wanted them to remember his mighty deeds: How He trampled the enemy underfoot, how He provided when they had no hope and how He made true his promises to their forefather Abraham.
He wants us to understand that He is the same God of the covenant, that He sent us the Saviour, and gave us the Holy Spirit; that He gave us his powerful Word to resist the enemy and destroy the fortresses of this world. He wants us to know that He promised to be with us; that indeed He is with us and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his church.
My dear brother and sister, this is the Word of God. Let your heart not depart from it. Hold on to its promises and its truth.
8 Be strong and work
Three times in verse 4 do we read “be strong”. This is a command. It is not just a pat on the back, or a bit of pep talk before the race. It is a command. Joshua had the same command:
8 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7)
But, as with Joshua who had to lead the people of God to victory as they drove out the nations before them to actively inherit the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the command to the strong is added the command to work. Put shoulder to the wheel. Take your hands out of your pocked, roll up your sleeves and get ready for the battle. Work! It is a command. Take the shovel and the trowel and enrol for duty. There is work to be done. There is a victory to be won. There is a house to build.
The leaders spurred the people on. They recommenced the work in the face of opposition. And they completed the work. The splendour of the new temple caused people to weep for joy. God did as He promised. And so He will do once again.
8 Draw from the Word. Draw from others in worship of God. The people then understood the power of worship and fellowship. Listen:
And the prophets of God were with them, helping them. (Ezra 5:2)
May God give is strength. AMEN.
Hymn No 316: “A mighty fortress is our God”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)