Hag. 2:1-9 is a familiar story for many of us. The people of God after being in Babylonian captivity for almost seventy years were finally allowed to return to their native land by King Cyrus. After the return, the major task that was before them was to rebuild the city of Jerusalem from its ruined state …the temple, the walls, their homes, their market places…all had to be restored. And the first thing they did was to start the restoration work of the temple which was completely destroyed during the Babylonian siege. However, soon they were overwhelmed by external opposition and apathy. They forgot their purpose and lost their priorities. This upsets God.
In order to reawaken and challenge them, a few years later God sends among his people his prophet, Haggai. And in the first chapter of the book, we see Haggai reminding the people of their unfinished work and calling them to action. Hag.1:7-8 – “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up to the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured.” What is so heart-warming here is the immediate response of the people. Hag.1:14b. “They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God.” It was an amazing event.
What I wanted to point out is what follows next. The work on the temple progressed well and within a month they were able to lay the foundation. In the book of Ezra we read that they even had a time of celebration at the completion of the foundation work. Ezra.3:10-11. Many rejoiced and praised the Lord for what God had done through them. But the Scripture also notes that many from the older generation instead of rejoicing, they were weeping (12). What was the reason? When they compared the temple they were building with that of Solomon’s, they felt they were not doing anything significant. The smallness/simplicity of their work discouraged them.
The temple built by Solomon was in fact a great structure. It was a grand project that involved thousands of skilled labourers (the supervisors alone counted 24 thousands) working day and night for about seven years. The materials used for the building were some of the best available in the world during that time – imported wood, gold and silver. It was truly an imposing building – grand and beautiful. So, when the older generation compared their work with what Solomon had done, there was enough reason to be discouraged. For some the present project looked like nothing…totally insignificant. At this juncture, God sends his prophet one more time amidst his people. This time with a message of encouragement. He knew exactly how they felt in their hearts. Hag.2:1-3.
The Lord first addressed the leaders…encouraging them.. Zerubabel be strong, Joshua be strong…and then to the people be strong….for I am with you…do not fear…carry on the work. It was a declaration from the Lord.
In other words, God was telling them- “although your work may not match with the greatness of Solomon’s, I am pleased with what you are doing. I am taking note of what you people do for me.” And then comes the punch line – v.9 “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.” What we see here is amazing. God is redefining the meaning of Significance. Significance is not all about doing something big, grand or noteworthy. It is doing the will of God and completing the God given task. It is not about numbers and networks. Rather, it is being faithful to whatever task God has called us.
When we do the will of God in our lives, however small, simple or ordinary it may look (in the eyes of others or even to ourselves), we can be assured that our Lord is pleased with our work. Our work is indeed significant to the Lord irrespective of the recognition the world gives.
History is biased. It is often written from the stand point of the popular. Historians naturally tend to write about people who have achieved greater things or extra-ordinary feats in the world. People who go about doing simple, unattractive and ordinary tasks seldom find a prominent place in history. Rev. Robert Eaglen is one such name. He was one of the circuit preachers employed by the Methodist church in the middle of the 19th century in England. Apart from a line or two in the Methodist registers, not much is known about this person. He was a thin looking man with a weak body. There was nothing remarkable about his preaching. His messages were simple and his voice was not attractive. Did he make significant contributions through his life? Yes, at least in the life of one person. January 6th, 1850, on a Sunday morning Eaglen was invited to preach in a primitive Methodist chapel in a place called Colchester to a very small congregation. He was not the first choice. As the appointed preacher did not turn up, he was given the opportunity. He spoke from Isaiah 45:22. The sermon was very simple and brief but it made a fifteen year old boy commit his life to Jesus. The teenager who offered himself to the Lord through Eaglen’s message was none other than C. H. Spurgoen…the man who was called later as the prince of preachers.
Let me give you one more illustration before I close the sermon. Edward Kimball was a Sunday school teacher. For a long time, he had set his mind on winning a particular young man who occasionally attended his Sunday school. One day, he prayerfully decided to meet the boy at his work spot. The 18 yr old boy was working in a boot store as a salesperson. Let me read to you remaining part of the story. This is Kimball’s own words, “I found him in the back part of the building wrapping up shoes. I went up to him at once, and putting my hand on his shoulder, I made what I felt afterwards was a very weak plea for Christ. I don’t know just what words I used, nor could the boy tell. I simply told him of Christ’s love for him, and the love Christ wanted in return. That was all there was. It seemed the young man was just ready for the light that then broke upon him, and there in the back of that store in Boston, D. L. Moody gave himself and his life to Christ.”
The likes of Robert Eaglen and Edward Kimball will not occupy the front pages of history. If at all they are mentioned, it will only be a passing remark. However, what they did with their lives for the Lord are significant. So friends, whatever work the Lord has entrusted us, however small or hidden it may be, let us continue do that faithfully. Remember this: Only eternity will fully reveal the real significance of our labours for the Lord. So, can something be small and yet be significant? Yes!
By Sam K. John