The Lord reigns! - Habakkuk 2
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Surely one of the basic cries of the human heart about living in this world is 'Why?' Particularly 'Why does evil seem to prosper? Why do evil actions seem to go unpunished?'
There's something deep in us as human beings something present because we're made in the Image & likeness of the true & just God, something that is outraged when despotic rulers avoid justice after perpetrating genocide, when obviously guilty people get away without punishment on a legal technicality, when an unscrupulous business man makes a fortune through exploitation & extortion & seems to live a life of uninterrupted success & pleasure.
Why? It's just not right!
And we can feel it too as believers.
Why do anti Christian opinion formers get away with their influence in the media out of all proportion to their number? Why do politicians succeed in the name of political correctness in getting civil laws passed that are contrary to God's law & damaging to people? Why does the colleague at work or fellow student seem to have such a whale of a time even though they have no time for God & even seek to put down Christians that they know?
Why does evil seem to proper? Why do evil actions seem to go unpunished?
This perennial question is something of the concern of the prophet Habakkuk whose OT book we began learning from 2 weeks ago. Turn to it p 941.
Habakkuk living some 600 years before Jesus, has been engaging in an honest no holes barred dialogue (even argument) with God. As an OT prophet God speaks to him for the benefit of believers down the ages even us in 2002AD.
We saw last time in Ch 1 that Habakkuk is distressed by the state of the people who bear God's name, a people where violence is commonplace & where God's word is ignored. So in a passionate prayer he asks God; 'Lord, Why don't you stop the rot amongst your people?'
God makes his 1st replay - 'I am going to stop the rot amongst my people I am going to judge them & I'm going to use the Babylonians as my instrument!' This was a huge shock to Habakkuk he had to learn that God is in control - He is sovereign & whilst humans are responsible for their actions, God can use all things to serve his purposes.
But Habakkuk makes his 2nd complaint the one our passage this eve engages with.
He asks 'How can you, the holy God, use these disgusting violent pagans to judge your people? I know we deserve your discipline but these people are far, far worse. It can't be right that they get away with their evil behaviour Can it!?'
Having got his concern off his chest Hab tells us ch 2v1; 'I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he (the LORD God) will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.'
God's reply to Hab makes clear some vital things for us as we struggle with similar perplexities over 2thousand years later; See from notes -
The LORD still reigns &
1) clearly about his purposes. v2-3
Hab in his honest complaint before God needs to know what God's mind is on the situation his people are in. As an OT prophet (1:1) Hab looked for God to speak to him a new message as NT believers we also look to God to speak, but since he has spoken decisively & finally through Jesus (as we learn in Hebs1:1) we look to what God has said through him in his written word, we look to what the HS has to say to us through the Bible. (as we're trying to do this eve)
In v2-3 the LORD God begins his reply to Hab & before we hear the content of the message itself we're given what is a pattern concerning how he makes known what believers need to know to get this life into perspective;
V2 Then the LORD replied: 'Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay...'
i)God makes his message known
v2Then the LORD replied: 'Write down the revelation..' What Hab received & what we have in our Bibles is something God has revealed, something he has made known.
Today is Pentecost or Whit Sunday in the Church's year where we remember God's gift to his people of his Spirit, Jesus' 'other self' come to bring glory to Jesus, so it's appropriate to be reminded that what we have in our Bibles are the revealed words of God inspired by his HS. The Apostle Peter in his 2nd letter (1:19f) speaking of books like Hab says 'no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophets own interpretation, for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the HS'.
You see the prophet didn't look within himself & think up a message, he was 'carried along' by the HS. This message is a revelation. He doesn't leave us to share our mutual ignorance or use more or less educated guess work God reveals truth to people, God makes known in his word, what really matters & what men & women need to know.
ii) It is clear & durable V2'Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets'
God intends people to hear his word & to understand it, so this is a message that is to be 'made plain'.
Hab is told to use writing tablets for this revelation. God wanted him to use a durable medium God's revelation is too important to be preserved only though word of mouth, in modern terms it needed to be more permanent than electronic data that can be lost in seconds through a computer crash!
God's message has been preserved & it's not going to be destroyed or lost. 2, 600 years after Habakkuk wrote this we can still read it. It is as alive and relevant for us as the day it was written. Just think about that for a moment. That's like something written today still being read in the year 4600. I doubt Harry Potter will still be in the playgrounds then! But until the day Christ returns, the Bible will always be read. It is permanent.
iii)It is to be proclaimed to others . The
message of Hab (& this is true for the whole Bible) is clear & will be preserved so that 'a herald (or footnote 'whoever reads it') may run with it'. This is a message to be taken to others & the only qualification you need to tell others about this message is to have heard it.
There is no Official Secrets Act in relation to what God says. There is no restricted circulation list to prevent it getting into the hands of the wrong people. It is an open secret. Anyone can read it, & it needs passing on formally or informally, in books, sermons or over a cuppa in the staff room, common room or over the garden fence.
iv)It has a future perspective v3 'For the
revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end'. We shall see more of this as it relates to the prophecy of Hab later but this is a principle about the Bible we so often forget. We want to know about now - & there is plenty in the Bible that directly connects with where we are at this point in history yet we won't understand properly unless we have a future perspective an awareness that whilst God's Kingdom has come in Jesus now, there is far more of God's loving, saving rule to be made known when Jesus returns.
v)It will come true v3 '(it) will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay'. What we have here are not just ancient writings but because they have their origin in God what is recorded for us is the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth. As we'll see in a moment we may have to wait for their fulfilment, but what God says is reliable. The record of what God has said & by his HS says today, from his word, is reliable, trustworthy & will come true. (p)
Here's the pattern, but what of this particular revelation God gives through Habakkuk? See this in v6-20
The LORD still reigns &
2) judge evil so it will not prosper for ever v6-20.
You'll remember Habakkuk finds it extremely difficult to understand what God is doing. How can he use the appalling Babylonians to fulfil his purpose? As he says to God in ch1 v13 'Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?'
God enables Habakkuk to see what the future outcome for Babylon is going to be It's expressed in victory songs of those who were once victims seeing the downfall of their one time oppressor.So in a poetic proverbial way Babylon this great evil superpower becomes a model of God's judgementP
Now it's quite clear that this pagan nation has acted appallingly & has been motivated by equally sinful motives. We see these in v4,5; there is pride, arrogance, greed & an insatiable lust for power & domination;
But what follows shows this is not the end of the story. Look for eg at v6-8:
6'Will not all of them (the oppressed) taunt him (Babylon) with ridicule and scorn, saying, ' `Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?' 7Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim.
8Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.' 'Make no mistake,' says God, 'the plunderer will be plundered.'
And what's more v16 the shameless will be shamed; 'You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. 17The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.'
What God makes clear here is that he does see the full extent of Babylonian evil & whilst in his sovereignty he will use it in his good purposes God is going to judge them. They may have been God's instrument, but that does not in any way remove their accountability before him for their wicked behaviour. He will pay them back for what they have done. God will judge the Babylonians. Evil will not always prosper.
This is a huge encouragement isn't it? (We don't need vengeful feelings for it is God's place to judge) but in our world it is very good to know that evil will not prosper forever,evil actions will be punished?' (P)
And positively we see here in this revelation that God will ultimately triumph. His judgement will restore things as they were created to be - with God at the centre and everyone who is left living his way;
V12 'Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people's labour is only fuel for the fire, that nations exhaust themselves for nothing? 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.'
One day God will act in a decisive way in his world he will remove everything and everyone that refuses to acknowledge him & he will remake his world in perfection.
Last time we thought how Habakkuk struggled to see what was going on because he knew that God had promised that his people would one day be in a place where sin & the consequences of sin were removed yet the people were moving further & further away from this purpose. Like us so often Habakkuk had to reckon with God's time scale being different from ours.
But now this fulfilment is in view. One day God will be finally honoured as he ought to be. Human life will be finally renewed, unspoilt by either sin or the consequences of sin. One day 'the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' (cf 2cor4)
This gives us a great basis for hope - God reigns he will judge evil & he will fulfil his ultimate purpose of a renewed universe where goodness & righteousness dwells.
It is 5 years ago this month that a Labour Govt was elected after being in opposition for 18 years if you were around you may remember the theme song was 'Things can only get better'. Well it's a matter of debate whether they have(!!) but that is the hope of the people of God things can & will ultimately get better yet this hope is one we have to wait for. Do you remember v3?
'For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.'
We shall still have to see people & nations apparently getting away with evil, we shall still have to observe things in our world going pear shaped, we shall still have to face unjust opposition of Christians, we shall still have to struggle with our falleness & it's consequences in sickness & discouragement or depression. But not for ever.
God's ultimate purpose is focussed on Jesus, his Son. That's why, in the New Testament, Hebrews 10.35-37 is right to apply these verses to the Second Coming of Christ like this:
'So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while [quoting Habakkuk], 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith
That leads to our final truth from this revelation;
The LORD still reigns &
3) a principle trust in his promises brings life. v4
There is hope in the knowledge that evil will be punished but anyone at all realistic about themselves must stop for a moment & recognise that if sin is to be judged that includes my sin & your sin too! Do I have any hope for rescue?
Eight words from Hab 2v4 must be some of the most important in the history of God's people. It's quite possible to trace the spiritual revival of bible based faith & spiritual life that was the 16th century Reformation to them, but more significantly the NT itself sees in them the heart of the good news; that God in Jesus can rescue guilty rebels from the judgement we deserve.
Here in Hab 2 we see a contrast v4 'See, he (wicked Babylon) is puffed up; his desires are not upright then those 8 words 'but the righteous will live by his faith'. The idea is that if God's people trust him & his promises, then one day there will be fulfilment, life, when their oppressor (Babylon) meets it's demise. The 'righteous' will live safely through the judgement that lies ahead through one thing: Faith, trusting God.
The NT writers see in these words the same principle but also a pointing forward to something more wonderful.
In our other Bible reading from Galatians the Apostle Paul reminds these Christians that they have been made right with God, they have had righteousness 'credited' to them (v6). Being 'righteous' doesn't mean perfect behaviour but rather somehow being made acceptable to God, righteous before him.
He explains that this has not happened by being good & doing everything God wants done because v10 'cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the law' & seeing as everyone fails to do everything written in God's law, all are worthy of judgement before God. No they are 'righteous', right with God, because v13 'Christ redeemed (rescued) us becoming a curse for us..' Jesus died in place of sinners, he died bearing the consequences of sin judgement. He took it in himself & therefore opened the way to rescue & life. He replaces our deserving of judgement with his righteous goodness. (Rom1:17).
How is this wonderful blessing received? It can't be by keeping the law because no one can. It's not DIY religion in any shape or form. No it's because of Jesus & it's received by faith & he quotes Hab 2:4 'one is justified (put right) before God by the law because 'The righteous shall live by faith''.
Faith in Jesus, who for those who believe took the judgement they deserved in their place, makes us righteous & brings escape from judgement.
This brilliant truth that we are put right with God because of his undeserved grace & that is received by faith is so liberating. It frees us from worrying if we've done enough to please God, it gives us great assurance because it's not based on us but him all we do is receive what he has done in that sense faith is simply putting out our hands to receive the benefits.
Is there anyone here tonight who needs to do that for the 1st time? To simply take hold of what Jesus has done?
Is there anyone who like the Galatian Christians needs to be reminded?
The cry of the human heart is so often 'Why does evil seem to prosper? Why do evil actions seem to go unpunished?'
There are really 2 choices for the believer; we see evil in world & with no clear sign God is concerned about it, we can deny our faith. Or we can keep believing God will act even without proof he will, because he's promised it.
We've seen this eve that God's promise is clear it's a promise revealed in his clear, permanent, forward looking reliable word. It's a promise of judgement on evil so evil will not continue to prosper, yet also it's a promise of rescue from judgement, a rescue made possible through Jesus, for 'the righteous shall live by faith' (in him).
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