Why does God need a house? He has a whole universe—are we restricting Him when we designate a specific place for Him? But we are limited in time and space, and from the very beginning of our relationship with Him, He had a place that He came to be with them. When Jacob had left his home, He dreamed of a stairway to Heaven, and received a promise from God. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he though, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place. this is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of Heaven. (Genesis 28:16). He set up the stone he had used as a pillow, and he promised that this would be a house of God. It became Bethel, a place of worship for many generations.
In the wilderness during the Exodus, Moses was commanded to build a tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, the special place for the tablets of the Law. When Moses was giving the people the final instructions as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, he told them that God would choose a "dwelling place for His Name", for them to bring their sacrifices, gifts and worship. Eventually, a Temple was built in Jerusalem, which became the central place for the Israelites to come and worship as a community. However, the kingdom split; the Northern Kingdom of Israel was demolished by the Assyrians 722BC. The southern Kingdom of Judah lasted a few more generations, and we see Jeremiah telling the people that the Temple of Solomon, without a proper relationship with God, was not necessarily a magic talisman. Between 606 BC and 586BC, the Babylonians besieged, conquered, and demolished Jerusalem and the Temple, and took most of the prominent members of the community to exile in Babylon.
However, they did not forget God, and He did not abandon them. 70 years later, King Cyrus of Persia proclaimed that God had appointed him to sponsor a rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem—at his expense. Several waves of people returned, and with the encouragement of the prophets Zecheriah and Haggai, the Temple was rebuilt. This is the temple, remodeled and enlarged, that was standing during Jesus' ministry.
The story of Haggai is one that we can resonate with. We of the Calvary/NorthPoint family know about burned churches and the struggles of rebuilding. Our Sierra Way sanctuary was burned by an arsonist in 1999, the rebuilding was almost slowed to a stop—like the rebuild at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai—but in our case it was a bankrupted insurance company and a giant financial struggle that we’re still working on. But the build itself went on to completion, and we are privileged to have this place to gather and worship. Yes, we did survive in rented quarters for five years, and we can come together in God’s name anywhere, but there is something special to having sacrificed and doing our very best to honor God and witness to the community that there is restoration possible. Haggai’s message to the people of his day was that they were not returned from exile just to build for themselves and their own comfort, but to show where their priorities were. Haggai told them that God would honor their efforts with blessings; not that He was encouraging them to work just for their own benefit, but a relationship with God is one in which blessings flow in both directions.