Sermon Manuscript – November 25, 2007

HABAKKUK HAS A VISION

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles 6 about the prophet Elisha. The Syrian army has surrounded his hometown and they’re looking to kill him, because he’s been passing information about Syrian troop movements to the Israelite army. And Elisha is standing on the city wall with his servant, looking over the hundreds of tents and fluttering banners, watching the hot sun glinting and flashing and reflecting off the polished steel weapons and armour of thousands of enemy soldiers. His servant is in bad shape – he panics. “What are we going to do?”And Elisha just prays to God that his servant’s eyes will be opened. And suddenly, the servant sees thousands of fiery chariots and horses surrounding the enemy troops. He had a vision of God’s awesome power.

I think Habakkuk must have had something similar. Earlier in the book, in Chapter 2, verse 1, Habakkuk declares that he’s going to take his stand at his post. Like a sentry, he’s going to climb the stairs up to the top of the city wall, he’s going to take a position with a clear field of view, and he’s going to watch. Patiently. Passing the hours, staring across the plains below to the distant mountains, expecting at any moment to receive a vision. Habakkuk had been waiting patiently for an answer, and we read part of that answer last time – the five woes that God pronounced against the Babylonians. Well, Habakkuk responded with the psalm of praise we’re reading today, and I think that this song is itself a revelation from God.

Verse 3 – maybe he was looking to the southeast, toward Sinai, where the Israelites had received the Law, the direction that they had come from to conquer the promised land. And Habakkuk sees something awesome. From Teman, and Mount Paran – in the kingdom of Edom, down in the southeast – he sees a great light. Look at verse 4 – dazzling rays of light, so bright that God is veiling them so that they don’t destroy everything they touch. They’re veiled because no man can look upon God’s face and live – Exodus 33:20 – because God is that glorious.

THE POWER OF THE MOST HIGH

And as the light approaches, something even more terrifying happens. There’s a terrible earthquake – verse 6. The city walls are cracking and crumbling under his feet, bricks and rocks are falling from the buildings into the streets, and everyone in the city is screaming and shouting. And Habakkuk looks across the plains and sees an incredible sight. The mighty mountains to the east, that towered over the city, that year after year, age after age, never moved or changed – verse 10: those great mountains are writhing. Like a ball of snakes, the mountain ranges themselves are twisting and rolling as if in excruciating pain. And as the great light of the Lord passes through them, they are actually leaping out of His way, scattering every which way like antelope fleeing before a hungry lion. And as the light draws closer, the foothills that surrounded those mountains are sinking. Like balloons losing air, or a pile of sand collapsing, the hills are wasting away as God approaches, making the way clear and flat before Him.

And as the ground shakes, it begins to crack, and water from seas and lakes and oceans pours in. Verse 9 – raging rivers divide the land, sweeping aside houses and animals and people, splitting the landscape like a spiderweb of cracks spreading across a windshield. Off to the west, Habakkuk hears a growing roar, the crashing of waves and the thunder of surf. Verse 10 – the great Mediterranean Sea is frothing and boiling, great waves of water stretching out toward the light of the Lord as he approaches.

This is our God. This is the One we’re here to worship today, the God who made the entire universe with just a word, who personally shaped and molded each one of us, forming us tenderly and lovingly in the womb. This is a God of unimaginable power. This is a God of unthinkable might and strength. Nothing man has devised can even begin to measure up against the awesome power of Israel’s God. Who can scatter whole mountain ranges? Who can stop rivers with a word, dry up seas with a gesture, flatten hills with a thought? Our God is a God of staggering power. That’s our first point today. “Our God Is An Awesome God” –you know, that’s an understatement. I want you to keep that in mind as we go on. Ours is a God of power.

GOD OF JUDGMENT

Habakkuk’s still in this vision, clinging for his very life to the crumbling walls. And as the light approaches, he sees an even more terrifying sight. The golden fields and the green orchards below begin to turn brown. The leaves curl up and dry out; the animals fall to the ground and die; men and women and children cry out in pain and sickness. Verse 5: a plague is coming, driving in front of God as He approaches. And way off in the distance, beyond the great light, Habakkuk sees pestilence – disease and suffering and death, all following hard on God’s heels. Plague and pestilence – we’re not used to that in our world of healthcare and vaccines and disinfectant. But in Habakkuk’s day, even something as mild as the flu could wipe out whole villages. Think of the pictures you’ve seen on TV about Ebola in the Congo, or of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa – that’s plague and pestilence. And it’s coming Habakkuk’s way.

And another sound comes to his ears, growing and getting louder. It’s a pounding noise, like distant drums. The thudding gets louder and faster, and in the light Habakkuk can see shapes. Horses – great, big, powerful horses. And as those figures become clearer, there’s another sound – a rumbling and clattering sound. And Habakkuk sees the horses are pulling something – verse 8: a great big chariot, with huge wheels and a figure of blinding light driving it. More horses appear – hundreds, thousands of them. An army, a horde of huge beasts carrying a fierce and angry host of warriors on their backs.

Verse 11: at that sight – thousands of glinting swords and polished helmets – the sun, which had been sinking down to the horizon, suddenly freezes. The moon, which had been rising in the evening sky, stops cold. Like in the days of Joshua, the sun and the moon stand still in the presence of their maker. Like they did for Joshua, they will hold their place so that the army of God can do their dreadful work.

For this heavenly host has come for war. Look at verse 12. Their Lord is angry. No, actually, not just angry. He’s furious. His people have ignored Him and despised Him and rejected Him long enough. His people have killed His messengers, crushed the poor, abused the orphans, stolen from the widows for far too long. The nation that bore His name had chased after other gods, very literally prostituting themselves with the idols of the nations. They have chosen their path. They’ve had their chance.

And that’s not all. Israel isn’t God’s only target. The Babylonians, that “bitter and hasty nation” spoken of in chapter one, have also drawn God’s wrath. They’ve swept across the earth like a swarm of locusts, devouring everything in their path. They’ve crushed every nation that arose to oppose them – including the people of God. They’ve raped and pillaged and slaughtered, committed unspeakable crimes, unthinkable atrocities. And the Lord of Hosts has come in judgment – come to set things right.

Suddenly the figure in the chariot roars – verse 9. The voice is like thunder – it splits the ground and shakes the stars: “Arrows! Bring me my arrows!” In His hand appears a great bow – so huge, its ends stretch out like the wings of an airplane, the string so thick it could tie a ship to shore. And the Lord lets fly His arrows – flashing like lightning bolts, smashing towers, striking down giants, piercing city walls like paper. The armies of the nations, soldiers beyond number, chariots and horses and kings fall before the Lord. Look at verse 12: the nations are threshed like wheat at the harvest, beaten and tossed in the air for the wind to carry away the chaff. Nothing stands in His way. Nothing stops Him. In His fury, He marches through the nations. In His wrath, all who dare to rise against Him are destroyed.

This is our God. This is the Lord who we’re here to worship today, the God who wrote His Law on stone tablets, who made His will known to shepherds and fishermen, whose legions of angels cry, “Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord Almighty!” This is a God of unimaginable perfection. This is a God of unthinkable purity and beauty. And he sees the sin of the nations – His own people of Israel, and all the others who have taken His love for granted, who have forgotten His ways, who have rebelled against His authority and done things their own way. This is a God who is enraged with sin. He sees the moral decay of humanity and it makes Him angry. He hears of the crimes of men and women and He rises up in anger. This is a God who can’t stand His law being broken, who cannot bear His perfect image being tarnished by the bad things that His creation has done. Now He’s coming in judgment.

That’s the second point today. Our God is not just a God of unspeakable might, who can make mountains scatter and oceans boil. No – all that terrifying power and immeasurable might and strength is being directed in anger at the sinfulness of human beings. All that power is being channelled and pointed in wrath at living, breathing people on the street. Ours is a God who is marching through the nations bringing terrible judgment on sin. Ours is a God who brings calamity, who takes life, who judges and sentences to hell. Ours is a God furious with sin, because it is opposed to everything that He is. Ours is a God of judgment. That’s our second point.

That’s just terrifying. That’s what Habakkuk has seen.

FEAR THIS

Listen to our prophet’s response – verse 16. He shakes like a leaf. Have you ever been so scared, that you couldn’t stop shaking? Habakkuk sees the power and the wrath of God, and his lips quiver, his teeth chatter with fear. Rottenness enters his bones – a cold and empty feeling fills his body, the blood rushes from his arms and legs and his skin goes pale. His legs go weak –he leans against the wall, trying to keep his composure.

He fears the Lord. And you know, that’s not a bad thing. A little fear is often a very healthy thing. We fear electricity, for instance. We know that it can hurt us or even kill us. So we fear it – not a terror kind of fear, not a paralysing or depressing kind of fear, but a respectful, careful, wary kind of fear. A fear that keeps us from touching bare wires or setting appliances next to the bathtub. Now, my son Caden doesn’t have that fear. He doesn’t fear electricity. I see him trying to put knives and screwdrivers into electric sockets now. I’ve had to cover them all up. Why? Because Caden doesn’t fear electricity. He doesn’t know what it is! If he knew it – he would fear it, right? Fear is a good thing in this case. It’s a mark of maturity, right?

When I was a kid, we were living in Elkford, in the Crowsnest Pass, in an apartment building. One night I was in bed, and I was sleeping, when there was this tremendous BANG. The whole room flashed with this blue light – the flash was just huge. I remember literally jumping out of bed. That scared me – I remember my heart racing and my muscles tensing and that cold, trembling feeling you get after a sudden surprise. What had happened was this: there was a thunderstorm, and a lightning flash hit an electrical box or transformer and blew it out. It was so powerful that the blast ripped a hole in the side of the building, broken glass everywhere. I think the telephone pole was thrown into it. That’s what electricity can do if you’re not careful.

God is like that. Just like you don’t mess around with electricity or take chances with it, don’t mess around with God. Ours is a big God. Ours is a dangerous God. He is holy and powerful, and He takes His purity and His justice very seriously. To really know God for who and what He is, to actually understand Him, is to fear Him. Habakkuk saw what happens when people stop doing that, what happens when people get careless with God. And his healthy, respectful fear turned to terror, just like it did for me that moment I was scared out of bed.

HE COMES TO SAVE

Is it any wonder that Habakkuk cries out, “In wrath, remember mercy!”? If God gave us what we deserved, who could stand? If God was “fair,” what would we get? Which of us has done nothing wrong? Which of us hasn’t at one time or another taken something that wasn’t ours, or looked at a woman in a lustful and dishonourable way, or hidden the truth with lies, or built up bitterness and hate in our hearts for another person? We have all sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God – all have turned away, done what is wrong, earned God’s wrath.

This is a vision, yes. A picture, a verbal painting. But its message is true – this mighty God will one day come in judgment. It’s terrifying. But – it’s not the whole story. That’s not the whole vision.

Look at verse 8. That great chariot, that terrifying war machine, what is it named? What does the prophet call it? “Your chariot of salvation.” Salvation!

God is angry, but it’s not an uncontrolled rage. He has a purpose. In the midst of all these fearful things, the prophet sees a promise: God is salvation. That’s our third point. God comes to save. He comes to protect and defend and to set free.

Who is He coming to save? Look at verse 13: God goes out for the salvation of His people. That sounds strange, actually. The whole book of Habakkuk is about God’s plan to destroy the kingdom of Judah – His people! – and have them dragged off into exile. Habakkuk has bad news. Babylonians are coming. When they get here, it’s all over.

How is God coming to save His people, then? Has He changed His mind? No. In verse 2, Habakkuk asks that God remember mercy in His wrath. The wrath is coming for sure. It’s certain. Habakkuk doesn’t ask that the wrath be cancelled – only that God temper and moderate it with mercy. But it’s still coming. In verse 16, the prophet says that he will wait patiently for the day of trouble to come on the invaders – he assumes, he takes for granted, the fact that the invasion is still on. Judah will be destroyed. So whatever this salvation is, it’s not that Judah will be saved from the Babylonians.

What is it, then? The answer is in verse 13: God is coming for the salvation of His anointed. The Hebrew is singular – it means “anointed one.” For a Hebrew, this would have two possible meanings. First, it might be the king of Judah. The king was God’s “anointed,” set apart by God to rule His people. As a descendant of King David, the king of Judah was special – because God promised David that one of His descendants would rule forever. The second possible meaning was that promised ruler himself – the Messiah, the Son of David.

God is coming to save His people, and to save His anointed one. That is, even though Judah will be conquered and the Jews sent into exile, God will keep His promise. The Jews will not be stamped out of existence – God will protect a remnant, a faithful few, and He will preserve them and save them. And the line of David will not be destroyed – it will be preserved. There will still be a king from David’s house. God will save His anointed one – He will preserve Him and protect Him.

What does that mean for us? We know who that Anointed One is. The Son of David, the promised King, was Jesus Christ. God became a man and came to earth to bring salvation for anyone who believes in Him. Jesus Christ came to save us from the terrifying vision Habakkuk saw. He came to save us from the wrath of God, from the punishment we all deserve for our sins. And He did so by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross and left to die – the only good man died for sinful human beings, the innocent dying in the place of the guilty. On that cross, Christ absorbed the wrath of God that Habakkuk describes so graphically for us. Christ received the punishment that was meant for us. He died in our place. And God kept His promise that we find here in our passage – on the third day He saved His Anointed One, by raising Him from the dead. By going out for the salvation of His Anointed One, God saved His people.

So the question, then, is: who are His people? Our passage is clear: some are saved, others are not. God saves His people. Who are they? Habakkuk 2:4 – everyone who lives by his faith. God’s people are everyone who believes in Jesus and trusts in Him for their salvation. Are you one of God’s people? You are if you believe. You are if you, like Habakkuk, cry out to God for mercy, and, like Habakkuk, trust in God’s promises. If you do not yet believe, if you haven’t trusted in Christ for your salvation, read this passage again. The wrath of God is coming – God will judge the earth, and no one will survive unless they believe in Jesus Christ. Don’t wait. Cry out to God, like Habakkuk. Ask for mercy and trust in the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, to save you.

REJOICE IN THE LORD!

In light of all the bad stuff, it seems strange to read the last three verses. In spite of it all, Habakkuk rejoices. The fig trees don’t blossom, there’s no fruit on the vines, the olive crop’s failed, no sheep can be found – for an agricultural society like Judah, this was a disaster! There’s no food! There’s no clothing! So why does Habakkuk rejoice?

Because of the awesome power of God. We’ve already seen how incredibly powerful God is. We’ve seen what He can do. See, Habakkuk believes in God. He has faith. He knows that he is one of God’s people. And he rejoices, because all of the awesome power of God is being employed to save him and to keep him from harm. It doesn’t matter how bad things get! Habakkuk has God on his side! What more does he need? What could be better? For what more could he ask?

Now, that doesn’t mean that life won’t get uncomfortable. Habakkuk’s nation is about to be conquered and its people dragged away to a faraway land. Even the faithful will feel the pain. They’ll suffer alongside everyone else. We don’t know what happened to Habakkuk after this. Maybe he died before it came true. Maybe he died in the invasion, or was dragged off into exile like Ezekiel was. We don’t know. And Habakkuk knew that hard times would come – he describes them here. See, being a Christian does not insulate you from hard times. Jesus Himself said that those who follow Him would be persecuted and killed for His name’s sake. Paul reminds Christians that they will suffer in this life.

But God is on our side! As Jesus said, do not fear those who can destroy the body. The worst that can happen to a believer is death. With the promise of eternal life, what is that? Compared to endless ages without pain or suffering or disease or tears, what is death? It’s not the end! It wasn’t the end for the Anointed One – God raised Him from the dead! And so He will raise us too! In the face of trouble and suffering, we rejoice, because God has already won the battle, because God has already saved us, and the worst that the world can do is to open the door to eternity a little bit sooner!

But it’s more than eternal life. We rejoice now, because God is with us now. The whole book of Habakkuk is a conversation. God talks with a mere human being. God explains Himself to a mere man, indulges him and gives him the answers he was looking for. God cared enough to listen and to answer. And Habakkuk learned not only that by believing, he was safe. He also learned that, no matter what, but that God was with him – and that God is still fully in control.

Maybe you wonder why I chose to preach through this book. Let me tell you why. In February of 2006, Erin was three months pregnant with Caden, and I was studying the Minor Prophets in Old Testament class. I’d decided to do a research paper on Habakkuk. Well, all of a sudden, Erin began having complications with the pregnancy. We took her to the hospital, and they tested her hormone levels and found out they were very low. A second test found that the levels were dropping. They tried to detect a heartbeat, but they couldn’t hear one. The doctor told us it was almost certain we had lost the baby – that the dropping levels meant the baby was dead, and her body was ending the pregnancy.

We felt horrible. We cried, and we prayed that God would save the baby. They scheduled an ultrasound, but it was a few days away. Those were the longest days of my life. So for those long days, we prayed and hoped. To get my mind off all that, I tried to get to work on my school project, and so I remember reading Habakkuk during that time. In that book I found one thing that kept me going, one lesson from Habakkuk that sustained me during those hard days, and that was this: even when the fig trees do not blossom, even when there is no food on the table and everything is going wrong, rejoice – because God is in control. That kept me going – God was in control, and no matter what happened, no matter how things turned out, I knew that God had a purpose in it and that He loved us and was working for our good. I knew that our baby – and we, too – were in the strong hands of this mighty God, and that no matter what happened and how hard it was we would be okay in the end, because God was with us and He was in control.

God was merciful to us. He saved our baby. Our doctor was totally confused, but God is more powerful than doctors. He can answer prayers. Now, he won’t always say yes, but he can say yes, and that’s why we pray. He has all power and might and strength, and that is our hope.

That’s why I chose this book. Because it teaches a lesson that we all need to hear, so badly, and especially when the worst happens. That lesson is this: we can find joy in any situation, any circumstance, because God is in control. He can’t be defeated. He can’t be frustrated. He can’t be thwarted. Ours is a sovereign God! That’s why we rejoice. Even through tears, through suffering, through the worst pain, we can rejoice, because God is completely in control. This awesome and powerful God cares for us personally and has promised to save us. This mighty and unstoppable God has promised that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Take joy in that. It’s the most beautiful truth in the world.

– Jeff Jones

Sermon Manuscript – November 11, 2007

This is a “fire and brimstone” section of the Bible. There are five “woes,” which are pronouncements of destruction and punishment by God upon the Babylonians. There’s a woe on those who pile up what isn’t theirs. There’s a woe on those who set their nest on high to glorify themselves. There’s a woe on those who delight in shedding others’ blood. There’s a woe on those who cause others to drink from the bitter cup of suffering. And there’s a woe on those who fashion and worship idols. God is very angry about these things, and He’s going to deal with it.

This passage is bad news for a lot of people. And there’s no sense denying that. This is the side of God that many people don’t like to think about. This is the God who comes in wrath. This is the God who is angry, who punishes, who destroys, who takes life. This is the stern God who sits in judgment, taking vengeance upon the wicked.

So, right at the start, we face an undeniable truth about our God. This is no teddy bear God; the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion. He is love, yes, but he is also just. To emphasize one aspect of God to the exclusion of another is irresponsible. In fact, to paint God as being simply positive, warm, soft, and safe while downplaying the sterner stuff of his character is perilously close to creating a god of our own liking. And look at verses 18-20, where God pronounces woe upon those who do just that.

I want everyone to notice this. This is God’s plan. God isn’t just saying that this is bad karma or something – he’s not saying that bad stuff will just happen of its own accord. Verse 16: the cup is in the LORD’s hand, and it is God who will force the Babylonians to drink it. What does that mean? The image of a cup is fairly common in the Bible. And very often, like in this case, it is a cup being served to human beings by the Lord. So what’s in the cup? In the words of Revelation 16, it’s “the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” I think Psalm 11 sums up the idea quite well: “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” The consequences of sin don’t just happen on their own. God “dishes it out.” God will take a very personal role in punishing the wicked.

Listen. God doesn’t need to be “let off the hook.” God’s not trying to hide anything! He is the Righteous Judge of the whole universe, and He’s proud of it! He’s looking for glory in His punishment of the wicked – who wants to rob God of His glory? The whole Bible – not just the Old Testament – makes clear that God values His character and His justice as being matchless treasures. God will not compromise His principles, like we so often do. That means He’s got some unpleasant stuff that He has to do. Ezekiel reminds us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked – but God certainly does take pleasure in goodness and righteousness and justice.

That is good news. Not for those who oppose God, for sure. But for those who love justice as God defines it – that is, those who long for the day when all things will be conformed to the image of Christ, those who long for everything and everyone to be in submission to God and practicing His ways – for those people, God’s love of justice and willingness to punish evil is good news. If you’ve ever been cheated or robbed by someone else – read verses 6-8, and take comfort in the fact that God will deal with those sins the way he dealt with the Babylonians’. If you’ve ever been walked over by someone else on their way up the ladder, read verses 9-11, and see what God thought of the Babylonians doing the same thing. God’s going to judge the world, and every wrong thing will be punished and set right.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, that’s good news, because we will inherit a world where God’s justice reigns. Where life is like it was supposed to be – free of fear and pain and suffering. Where, finally, love and truth and peace and joy can actually flourish. Have you ever thought about how all these good things are possible? It’s all because God’s not just a cuddly, teddy bear kind of God. It’s all because He’s willing to be tough. Because He’s willing to deal with evil. Because He won’t compromise. Because He is a just God. And He will do what He says. He’s got a plan to punish the wicked, and it will happen.

That’s why we can afford to turn the other cheek. Yes, bad things happen, but God will take care of it. We don’t have to. In fact, as Christians we are commanded to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive the brother who hurts us. It’s not an option! If someone hurt you recently, if they did something wrong, bring it to God. Ask Him to help you forgive. And ask Him to help you leave the settling of scores and getting even in His hands. That’s His plan. He’s going to make things right.

That’s our first point. God has a plan. He plans to punish the wicked. He plans to bring justice to the world. And He will bring it to pass.

THE UGLINESS OF PRIDE

Why is God so angry? Why does He hate evil so much that He’s willing to suffer the death of His own Son rather than just sweep sin under the rug?

Look at verses 6-14. The Babylonians were sweeping across the Middle East. They defeated every army in their path. The superpowers of the day, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, tried to stop them but were crushed. Walled cities were no defence. The first chapter of our book said that the Babylonians just piled up earth and took those cities, and there are pictures and sculptures from the time that show them doing exactly that.

They pile up what isn’t theirs – verse 6. They plundered the nations – verse 8. Back then, warfare was very profitable. You capture a city and you get to loot it. This included people, as well – warfare resulted in prisoners, and quite often these prisoners were sold as slaves – for a tidy profit. The soldiers would quite often get a cut of what the army took, and this was a way to maintain discipline and keep morale up.

They shed a lot of blood – look at verse 12. Why? Killing people was, and is, a means of control. An invading army might kill a large number of people simply as an example, to encourage obedience and dissuade anyone who might resist the new order. Blood was the price paid to build the empire – to found a city of iniquity. To create this kingdom of man and to maintain it against opposition required killing a lot of people.

For what end? Look to verse 9. They seek to build a nest on high, the prophet writes. Why do birds build nests on high? Erin once told me a story about a hawk that built a nest on a telephone pole in her hometown in New Brunswick. Hawks are beautiful birds, but like these Babylonians, they are ruthless. One day, this hawk went hunting. And the townspeople learned very quickly what that hawk had caught. Up in that nest, high above the road, where no one could reach, no one could interfere, that hawk had brought a little puppy. And Erin told me how horrible it was to listen to that puppy cry, and how the people of the town tried to rescue it. That’s why birds build nests up high, though. They keep their young – and their food – up there so others can’t get at them. So others can’t interfere in what they were doing. Those people couldn’t save that puppy, because that hawk had build its nest on high. And like that hawk, the Babylonians lifted themselves above other men, building a great empire that was too strong and too high for others to interfere or to tell them what to do.

In the Bible, the image of lifting up high means to make oneself great. The Babylonians craved greatness. They were proud. They exalted themselves. And they crushed everyone else to make it possible. Their high perch was build with other people’s stones, their nest lined with the soft, cushy things they robbed from others. All to make themselves great. All to become the highest and the most important. How often do we seek the same thing? Let’s examine our hearts – which of us want to be famous, want to be important, want to be above the rest, want to be better than everyone else?

It’s so easy to do. Some of us try to dress better than everyone else. Some of us want to build something that makes us special – a nice house, a big personal library, the fastest computer, the most powerful sound system in your car – you name it. We gossip about others who stumble or fall or do something wrong, even though we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations. We look down at other people because of their behaviour or values or social status, when it is only the grace of God that makes our position any better than theirs. We all have this tendency to try to be better than other people.

God hates human pride. He hates it because, in its essence, pride is the declaration that we don’t need God. That God is irrelevant, useless, that we are His equals or even better. Pride is replacing God with self.

THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW HIS GLORY

We live in a world dedicated to exalting itself. And it’s all pointless. It’s all so silly. Why? Why is it so absurd? After all, many of these people succeed. They get the bigger house, the fatter wallet, the faster car.

It’s pointless because it won’t last. Eventually, every one of those proud people will die. And then they’ll come face to face with the One whose glory they tried to take.
The prophet writes, “is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?” What’s so ironic is that this frenzied rush by so many people to raise themselves high is itself “from the Lord.” Why? It’s judgment. God has given them over to a wild-goose chase. He has sentenced them to a life of chasing something they can never have. The ancient Greeks had this story of a man who was sentenced by the gods to roll a stone up a hill, and then when he got there, watch it roll down the other side and have to start over again, for all eternity. That’s kind of what the True God does here – he gives these sinful men (and women!) over to their evil desires, and they spend the rest of their earthly lives pushing the stone of worldly fame and fortune up the hill of life, only to watch it roll down the other side – whether during their lives or at the end when they meet the Living God.

It goes on: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” This is the aim of creation. This is the purpose for which God created the world – that it might be filled with people who know who God is and recognize Him for just how valuable He is. This is our second point. God has a purpose. That purpose is that all creation will know His glory. That all the earth will acknowledge His greatness and worth.

The rat race is pointless because all of its participants are losers. They lost the moment they entered the game. Only God will get the glory. Only God will be exalted and lifted high and worshiped – forever and ever. What is a world empire compared to that? What is a business monopoly or the world’s fastest car or the possession of a few million dollars compared to that? What are a few short years – as comfortable as they may seem – compared to the riches of everlasting life with God… or never-ending years of suffering under God’s punishment in hell?

God’s aim is that the knowledge of His glory will fill the earth. Not just the glory itself – His aim is that it be acknowledged and recognized. That’s the real purpose of evangelism and missions, you know. Worship. We evangelize because there are people out there who don’t worship Him, and to bring them to do that. The only life that matters, the only life that will ultimately make any difference, is one lived to the glory of God. Do you want to matter? Do you want to live a life that’s not a waste, that means something? Live your life in service to God, every moment as worship to Him.

One day, every human being will know God’s glory. Some will do so joyfully and willingly. The rest will do so grudgingly and angrily, not wanting to admit it, but unable to deny that God is indeed the most precious and valuable thing – Person – there is. That’s our second point this morning – God’s purpose, that the knowledge of God’s beauty and goodness will one day fill the whole earth. That’s His purpose. That should be ours as well.

SHALL THE MAKER SERVE WHAT IS MADE?

Now, some of the most biting sarcasm we find in the Bible is reserved for those who make idols. Our passage is a classic example. Look at verses 18-20, and see how God ridicules them.

It’s quite a contrast being made here, and it revolves around one quality – the ability to speak. See, idols can’t speak. They’re rocks. They’re blocks of wood, hunks of metal. They are speechless. And yet human beings, who have the gift of speech, who can communicate, for some reason will carve an image out of some material and put their trust in it. They will cry out to these gods, who cannot cry back. Their prayers go unanswered because their gods cannot answer. We have the power of speech – God gave it to us. Yet we try to serve things that cannot speak – things like money, like ideas, like possessions – while ignoring the One whose words created the universe from nothing. It’s the height of foolishness.

It’s also exactly backwards. There’s a good definition of idolatry in verse 18: “its maker trusts in his own creation.” The way things should be has been turned around. Creation is supposed to serve the maker. Yet idolatry is an attempt by the maker to serve the creation. Could God be pointing out something about sin here? We already saw that God is fighting human pride here – the human urge to exalt himself, to be his own god. Could it be that it’s even worse than that? Could it be that idolatry expresses one of sinful, fallen humanity’s most perverse desires – that its True Maker be subjected and made to serve the creation?

How many times do we as believers try to make God serve us? We pray for things we should not have. We substitute faith in God for faith in our own faith, or believe in what we think God will do for us instead of believing in God Himself. We demand and we claim things from God as if we are somehow entitled to His service. We turn prayer, which is supposed to be an act of worship and submission, into an attempt to dominate and manipulate.

That’s a lot of noise that God has to put up with from us. You know, we talk an awful lot, we human beings.

THE VALUE OF SILENCE

Ever notice how much we like to immerse ourselves in noise? Erin can’t sleep without “white noise,” a fan or something making noise to soothe her to sleep. And for my part, I can’t seem to drive anywhere without the radio on, listening to music or talk shows. People in our culture leave their TVs on just for background noise – without even paying attention. I did it as I wrote this sermon! We even put soundtracks to speeches and sermons these days, even. It’s even a technical term now: “surround sound.”

We’re afraid of silence. I don’t know why that is. But silence makes us uncomfortable. If I was to stand here and stop talking, and just let the silence hang there, everyone’s skin would be crawling after just a few moments. Am I right? Ever been there with a person, trying to think of something to talk about, desperately uncomfortable in the silence?

Silence can carry a message all its own. When a person goes silent in a conversation, something is wrong. When you see something so beautiful you can’t find words, and you just stand there speechless, it means something.

Our inclination is to make speechless things to serve and devote our lives to. In contrast, look how our prophet wraps up his message: “Let all the earth keep silence before him.” Just – don’t say anything. The gods of the nations are silent before their worshippers, but with the True God, it’s the other way around.

Job, when his life fell apart, presumed to question how God ran His world. God responded, essentially asking, “Who are you to question God?” And Job’s answer? “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Paul, in Romans 9, is describing God’s choice of some people over others. And he describes an objection: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” Paul’s answer? “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

God knows every word before we even say it. He knows the very thoughts of our hearts. So really, isn’t there a sense in which we really don’t actually have anything to say to God at all? This passage reminds us that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Sometimes, God just wants us to be quiet before Him. I wonder sometimes if we don’t spend enough time in silence before God – time spent not talking to him, not even praying silently, but just silent before Him.

CONCLUSION

Let all the earth keep silence before him! And so, to close today, we are going to do something different. We’re going to have another moment of silence. We do this for men on Remembrance Day; I think it’s fitting that, today of all days, we take another moment and spend it in silence in honour of God. This one is going to be an offering of worship to Him. Instead of a song of praise – us talking again – we’re going to praise Him with our silence.

– Jeff Jones

Sermon Manuscript – November 4, 2007

INTRODUCTION

It’s been a while since we looked at Habakkuk. We’ve actually already made it halfway through! Today, our passage is Habakkuk 2:2-5. Before we get into it, we should spend just a bit of time recapping where we’ve been so far.

Habakkuk is a dialogue, a conversation between God and a man about the problem of evil in God’s world. We started way back in September with Habakkuk’s first complaint to God. He lived in Judah, the land of God’s own people, and yet everywhere he looked he saw injustice – cheating, theft, lying, murder, all being done by a people called by God’s name. It was like being in a church whose people acted pious on Sunday and then went out and robbed and swindled and assaulted one another during the week. Habakkuk was disgusted and cried out to God – “Where are you? Why do you do nothing?”

God’s answer was, in a way, an even bigger problem. Yes, God would deal with the sin of his people. The congregation would be punished for profaning His name and reputation. It was how God would do this that confused Habakkuk. A powerful pagan nation would conquer and destroy the nation of God. Worshippers of idols would be the instruments of the true God. The sins of Judah would be dealt with by means of the even greater sins of Babylon.

And here is the problem. We mentioned it last time we looked at this book. The problem is this: How can God use wicked Babylonians to punish His own people? If the Jews are to pay for their crimes, what about the Babylonians, who destroy whole nations, who kill thousands of people, who steal lands and homes not their own? Will justice be done in God’s world? Will God set things right?

And what about God’s promises? What about his promise to Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, that his descendants would outnumber the stars? How can God destroy his own people? Is there any hope?

This raises a practical question. How is a person supposed to live, in light of this problem? What are we to do, since we just don’t know all the answers?

OUR KIND OF PROBLEM

Our passage today speaks of a “vision.” This is a vision God gave to Habakkuk. We’re going to see the details next week – it’s a vision of judgment. God will punish the Babylonians. God will make things right. The whole book of Habakkuk is, really, the “vision” that verse 2 talks about. God will punish Israel for its sins using the Babylonians, and when they are done, God will punish them for their sins. You can sum up the vision like this: God sees evil, and He will deal with it.

Fast forward to today. We are Christian believers – we now know what Habakkuk could only hope for. We understand how God deals with the problem of evil – He does it through His Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for human sin with His own life and is now, through the Holy Spirit, drawing all His people together into the Church. And at the end of this age, Jesus will come back and separate those who believe in Him from those who are still in their sins, and He will punish all the sins of those who are opposed to Him by sending them to hell. God sets things right. God sees evil, and He deals with it. Just like in Habakkuk’s vision.

Okay – but we’ve still got the same problem that Habakkuk did. It’s not hard to relate to our prophet in his confusion. You look around our world and what do you see? On the news Thursday, I saw a story: two kids speeding in a Quebec neighborhood collided at a stop sign. The cars were carried by the momentum into the front yard of a house, where a three-year-old girl was playing with her babysitter. One of those cars ran right over that little girl, and she died.

Why, when we turn on the news, morning after morning, do we have to watch stories like that? Why aren’t things getting any better? Where’s the justice in this world?

And for Christians, it can seem even harder. We know God is real. We know He’s fully in control of the world. And He’s promised to set things right. Why, then, are three-year-olds getting run over? Why are wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, why did a hurricane just kill hundreds in Haiti and the Dominican?

Yes, justice will be done. That’s a promise. But it can be awful hard sometimes to hear that in the midst of a crisis or tragedy. What if that were your three-year-old daughter? Even for a Christian, the promise of God finally setting it all right sometime in the undefined future can seem a bit hollow when you’re in the midst of a fight with cancer, or when that terrible telephone call comes, or when you get a pink slip at work just when the rent goes up.

This vision – of justice, of right finally overcoming wrong – where is it? The Bible was written thousands of years ago. When’s it going to come? What’s taking so long? Why does God delay? And – what are we to do until then?

A MAN OF THE WORLD

Let’s get into our passage. Looking at these three verses as a whole, you see a contrast being made here. There is a puffed-up, arrogant man, and there is a righteous man. Two men. Two kinds of men. Two types of people. Righteous and unrighteous. Good and bad.

Let’s look at the bad guy first. Verse 4: “Behold, his soul is puffed up.” Look at this man. He’s full of himself. “Puffed up” – he’s got an inflated ego. He’s proud. Haughty. He’s done Hollywood. He’s got all the self-help books. He watches Oprah faithfully. He hears the siren song of the world – “Believe in yourself!” “Have faith in yourself, and you can do anything!” He’s self-sufficient – he doesn’t need anyone else. That’s pride. And that’s not a good thing, because “his soul is not upright within him.”

You go to this city in Italy, and there’s a tower there. A very famous tower, in the city of Pisa. Why is that tower famous? It’s not because it’s very tall, or because it’s spectacular in its design. No – the tower is famous because it’s leaning. Why would the fact that it’s leaning make it famous? Because that’s weird. Towers aren’t supposed to lean. They’re supposed to be straight. Even though this tower’s a tourist attraction, they’ve had to restrict access to it from time to time. The leaning renders the tower unsuitable, even useless at times. They worry that it will fall over – now, there’s a safety hazard. The tower’s not upright. It’s crooked. It’s off. It should be straight, but it leans. It should be even, but it’s off.

So is the soul of this man. He thinks very highly of himself, but he’s bent. He has a lofty and exalted opinion of his character and worth, but he’s crooked. His soul is not upright. Its usefulness is gone. In fact, its imperfection means it’s unsafe. He’s useless, really, except as a spectacle and as an object lesson for others.

Jump to verse five: “Wine is a traitor.” Now, I don’t think Habakkuk is condemning wine in general here. Remember who the bad guys in Habakkuk are. The Babylonians were legendary for their alcoholism. The ancient writer Curtius, for example, describes the Babylonians as not only excessively addicted to wine but also to the consequences of inebriation – they enjoyed the loss of control and lack of inhibition that comes with drunkenness. The Bible itself tells the story of how Babylon would finally itself be conquered – the book of Daniel describes its leaders carousing at a drunken feast as the Persians take the city. Our passage here in Habakkuk may be a hint at the Babylonians’ downfall – their addiction, like a “traitor,” will paralyze them at a critical moment.

This man is “arrogant.” He treats others with disdain. He is the centre of the universe, and everyone else knows it. Disagree with him – you’ll regret it. Even worse – he’s greedy. We already saw that he’s given to addiction – he likes his wine. Well, he likes other things in excess, too. It doesn’t matter, really, what it is – money or cars or books or shoes or employees or friends. All good things in themselves, but when they become the object of greed they lose their value and are corrupted. He craves more and more – looking for the rush or the thrill that these things, once, long ago, gave him, a feeling long since gone – and no matter what he gets, no matter how much or how many or how expensive it’s never enough. Just like death is never satisfied, says the Lord, just like the yawning mouth of Sheol, the realm of the dead, this man is never filled.

Let’s sum this man up. What is this man’s highest value – what is most important to him? Himself. And what is his hope? Stuff. The things of the world. His faith is in himself, his hope is worldly. If he dies with the most toys – he wins.

Our text here is using the Babylonians as a representative, as an example. Really, there are only two types of people in the world – people of the world, and people of faith. And even people of faith all start off as people of the world. This Babylonian here is just a face God uses for anyone with these values.

Listen – this is everyone. Every human being falls, or once fell, into this category. Every person has or had the same disease – the same values. We’ve all been there – looking for that new thing or new relationship or new position or job or a few more bucks that will make all the difference, that will make you happy. We’ve all been there, where the most important thing in the universe is ME! Now, it’s expressed in different ways by different people. Maybe instead of being puffed up, they hate what they are – their appearance, social status, gender, skin colour – and, because they too value themselves above all else, are consumed with a desire to change themselves, to make themselves better. Because then – only then – might the world agree with them that they are the most important thing in the universe. Maybe then will their conscience agree with them that they are the most important thing in the universe – and that annoying little voice will go away.

See? It’s the same sinful heart – it values itself above all else. We’ve all been there – or, even worse, maybe you’re still there. And every time we disobey God, every time we hurt another person out of indifference or spite, every time we turn a blind eye to pain and suffering, every time we choose to chase something of the world like money or fame or power or sex or intelligence instead of seeking the glory of God, that heart of selfishness comes out. This is the mark of people of the world: the self is the most valuable thing, and their hope is the stuff of the world. When you believe in yourself, you become your own god. And God is a jealous God. This is the kind of person that God can’t tolerate, the kind of person who will not live.

THE RIGHTEOUS MAN

We see this in contrast to the other guy. God is painting a picture in our passage. There is the selfish, arrogant man of the world. But – the righteous will live by his faith.

Just one short phrase. Look at all that is said about the wicked man – he’s proud, he’s arrogant, he’s addicted, he’s like death, he’s not upright, he’s not at rest. Compare that to the other man. Only one thing is mentioned. And that’s his faith.

First, everything said about the wicked man is about himself. About his character, his lifestyle, his works, his behaviour – it’s all centred on him. But look at what is not said about the man of faith. God doesn’t describe him in that kind of detail. He doesn’t say that he is upright, or that he is self-controlled, or that he is humble, or that he is meek. The man of faith doesn’t trust in himself. He can’t – because he’s just like the other guy. He is greedy, too. He gets puffed up. He hurts other people. He is a sinner, and he has brought the threat of God’s judgment on himself, just like the wicked man. But there’s something different.

The only thing said about him – that he is faithful – really says as much, or more, about whatever it is that is outside himself that he has faith in as is might say about the man himself. The one attribute mentioned about the man of faith points away from himself. This person of faith has their values in order. The most important thing to this man is not himself. He can’t rely on himself. No, he has faith – trust, belief- in something else, something outside of himself. And there is the key difference.

HE LIVES BY FAITH

There’s two lessons we can draw from this. First of all, while the wicked man believes in himself and hopes for the things of the world, the man of faith believes and hopes in – what? Look back to verse 2. God begins our passage by telling Habakkuk to write. Write what? The vision. Habakkuk is to write what God has shown him. God has promised judgment. God has promised that everything would be made right. This is the God who answers – look at verse 2 again! – the God who hears His people cry and answers them. The man of faith looks to this God and he believes. His faith is not in himself – it’s in the Lord! The man of faith looks to what God has revealed, to what God has spoken – to what is written! – and his hope is in the promises and the character of God. His hope is not the world! His hope is what God has said, what God has promised, what God has done!

And this is a steadfast hope. Look at the contrast again. The wicked man “does not rest.” He flits from one object of hope to another. The new house doesn’t make him happy anymore, so he buys another one. It takes more and more wine to get that buzz now, so let’s try scotch instead. And when that doesn’t do it? Drugs, maybe? Or something else – maybe a fourth or fifth husband? Or dispense with marriage altogether – live with whoever you like until that excitement wears off, then find a new person who can give it to you.

That’s the man of the world. Not the man of faith. The Hebrew word translated “faith” here also means “faithfulness.” It comes from a root with a connotation of steadfastness and firmness. The man of faith trusts in God and His promise, and there he remains. He is not moved. Now, that hope may be strong, or it may be weak; it may shine brightly, or be clouded in darkness. We’ve all been there, in our own walks of faith. That hope can feel close, or it can feel distant. BUT IT DOES NOT MOVE. It does not change. That hope, however dim or confusing, no matter how bright and clear, stays the same. And that hope is what God has promised. That hope is in who GOD is.

See, God knows what we’re going through. Life gets rough. Cancer, or betrayal, or unemployment, or disaster make it hard to hold on. But God has a plan. Everything that happens – even sin and disaster, as we saw a few weeks ago – is completely under God’s control and is a part of His plan. And God’s timetable is carved in stone. Where is the justice God has promised? When will He appear and set things right? When will every tear be wiped from our eyes? God tells the prophet, “It will surely come.” God has an appointed time for everything. But He will make things right. The vision is coming. Our text says “it hastens to the end.” The Hebrew is literally “it pants for the end” – it is straining at the leash, it is champing at the bit. It is not slowing down. When the time arrives, it will hit like a ton of bricks. There is no slowing down or stopping God’s plan – He is never frustrated, He is never defeated. God said it. That is enough! The man of faith believes that, no matter how long or hard the wait may be, and he is faithful.

That’s the first lesson. The righteous man is the man who lives by faith – that is, he trusts in God’s promise, he rests on God’s word, he believes in God’s character and he clings to it no matter what.

SOLA FIDE

The second lesson is this: The righteous man lives by faith alone! God mentions nothing other than faith here as the reason for this man’s living. With the wicked man, he talks about arrogance, and drunkenness, and crookedness, and greed, and addiction. See, what you do, the kind of character you have, the things you own – they’re enough to damn you, to condemn you, but nothing of that sort can save you.

God mentions only faith here. Not works. Not faith plus works – it’s not like Joseph Smith once said, that grace saves us after all that we can do. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing! Faith and faith alone, in Christ and Christ alone, is what saves.

This verse, verse 4, is quoted three times in the New Testament, and in two of those – in Romans and Galatians – Paul is making the point that the Law of Moses cannot save a person. There were a lot of people back in Paul’s day who thought that they could earn their salvation. Just like our day. They think they can buy it, qualify for it, by something they did or owned. If I’m a good person, they think, then surely God would be a good sport and let me into heaven!

It’s never been that way! Paul’s whole point in using this verse was that the Law can only condemn – it can never save! The Jews of the Old Testament, before Jesus came, were not saved by works or obedience, any more than we are today! What I as a pastor want you as Christians to understand about your Bible, about your Old Testament, is this: The God of the Old Testament is the same God as in the New Testament! We are saved the same way as they were before Christ, and here in our Old Testament passage is the verse that makes it clear: it’s by faith, and faith alone! Not works or obedience or by being a good person, or anything we do! Not even a prayer for salvation can save you – it can only express the thing that actually saves, which is faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ as the saviour of the world!

Don’t trust in what you do or did – not even a prayer for salvation. Don’t put your faith in the kind of guy you are. Don’t think that because you’re not as bad as the other guy, you’ll make the cut – Jesus forgave the thief on the cross, not the religious leaders of his day, because of his faith!

CONCLUSION

How are we to live in a world filled with disaster and evil? And – even more important – how are we to live through the wrath of God for all the bad things we have done in our lives?

In World War Two, Germany conquered all of Continental Europe. The Luftwaffe ruled the skies. The Wehrmacht rumbled through every street. The Gestapo ran every town. Thousands of people were killed as examples and warnings to the public. Radios were taken away. Informers lurked in every community. Saying the wrong thing would make you disappear. Life was terrible. And yet a movement began in the occupied countries – men and women who resisted. They hid Allied airmen. They blew up railway trestles. They sheltered Jews. They were surrounded by one of the most formidable war machines man has ever created, a few thousand scattered civilians against legions of professional soldiers. And yet they fought. They resisted. They kept going. Why? Because they thought they could beat the Nazis? Not a chance. They didn’t think they could do it. But they knew that, one day, a day they did not know, the Allies were going to land on the coast and start pushing the Germans back. They looked toward the day that the Germans would receive their punishment. They trusted in something that seemed far away, something that in the cobblestone alleys of France or the polders of Holland must have seemed like just an abstract idea, a pie-in-the-sky dream compared to the harsh reality of German jackboots crunching through the streets. That belief, that hope kept them going despite the impossible odds.

That’s the Christian life. In the world but not of it. Living for the Kingdom – fighting for the Kingdom – even when the world seems to overwhelm us. Why? Faith – and faith alone. How can we live? By faith. Don’t believe in yourself. You were born, you’ll live, and you’ll die in a few short years, just like everyone else, and the world will be the same. Don’t believe in yourself – you’ll be a pretty pitiful god. No. Believe in the God of the ages, and in Jesus Christ. Believe God’s promise – that He will set things right and wipe every tear from your eyes. Trust God’s timing – wait for it, because it is coming. Believe God’s words, for He had them written so that you might be saved. Trust God’s character, for He never changes and is never defeated or frustrated. Believe God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, who became a man and lived the perfect life we could never live, and suffered the punishment that we could never endure, so that we might be called “righteous” before God for His sake and for His glory.

The most important thing isn’t me. It’s Him. That’s faith.

– Jeff Jones