From Fear To Faith (2)
“Faith Tested & Faith Triumphant”
Habakkuk 2 & 3
Nick Vujicic was born with no arms & no legs. Life was understandably incredibly hard. Young Nick did not understand why he was like he was. He felt so sad & discouraged that he often felt like giving up. However when he was fifteen years of age Nick came to know Jesus & that changed his outlook on life completely. Nick is not bitter or angry & now travels the world sharing his testimony & the Good News of Jesus with thousands. Nick says, “If I can trust in God in my circumstances, then you can trust in God with your circumstances…The greatest joy of all is having Jesus Christ in my life & living the godly purpose He has for me.”
Last week we looked at the doubts & questions which the prophet Habakkuk brought to God. One of his questions was why God would use the wicked Babylonians to punish His people. In answering Habakkuk God said He would reveal His plan at the “appointed time”. Speaking of His righteous judgment God told Habakkuk, “Though it linger it will certainly come & will not delay.” (2:3) This brings us to our first point for today:
1. Sin & Pride Will Be Judged (2:4-20)
God assures Habakkuk that although He is going to use the Babylonians to punish His people, He is also going to judge the Babylonians. The “appointed time” for that judgment came 48 years after Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem & burnt down the Temple. Yes, in 539 B.C. Cyrus King of the Medes & Persians conquered Babylon. The once powerful Babylonian (or Chaldean) Empire was itself totally destroyed.
Habakkuk knew none of this, of course, for he was living in the years when Babylon seemed invincible. All Habakkuk had to hold onto was what God told him – but that was enough. God’s Word is always enough for those who live by faith. Habakkuk came to believe that God’s plans both for His people & for the world would, in God’s perfect time & way, be fulfilled. In the meantime the righteous must not rely on feelings or on their own ability to understand, or on outward circumstances. They must live by faith, faith in the promises of God, faith in the justice, the power, the wisdom & love of God.
The rest of chapter 2 is a warning to Babylon & a warning to all proud regimes & individuals that use their power, wealth, status or position to exploit or abuse others. There are warnings here for the wicked, the arrogant & powerful – whether they are politicians, business people, academics, media personalities, sporting heroes – whoever they may be. The arrogant & the powerful may live it up in feasting & drinking but they are never at rest. They are never satisfied. They never find peace of heart & mind. They may win the world but will be left empty & lost.
Babylon was greedy for power (v.5) but the day would come, says God, when those Babylon had conquered would themselves “ridicule & scorn” Babylon. From v.6 are a series of 5 ‘woes’ spoken against Babylon. These ‘woes’ come as a warning not only to Babylon but also to all proud regimes & individuals down through history.
The first woe, in vrs 6-8, speaks of the folly of gaining wealth through extortion or corruption, through plundering & killing. God says in v.8, “Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you.” The second ‘woe’, in vrs 9-11, warns against gaining power or wealth by unjust means. The third ‘woe’, vrs 12 & 13, is spoken against those who build a city or an empire through bloodshed & exploitation. As it says in v.13, such nations, empires & individuals “exhaust themselves for nothing.”
After the third ‘woe’ we come to a truly wonderful Scripture: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (v.14) Every part of the sea, every channel, every ocean depth, is filled & covered with water. And one day every part of the world, every corner, every community, will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of God. This is a great encouragement for Christians who obey the Great Commission – His command to take the Gospel to the nations! After working in India for 5 ½ years pioneer missionary William Carey & his colleagues finally led one person to Christ in 1800. They said, “He is only one, but a continent is coming behind him.” Since then God’s grace which touched one Indian’s heart has touched millions of hearts in India. Yes, one day everyone will know about God’s wonderful plan of salvation. The Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. One day, as Paul says, “...at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow ...& every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11)
So brothers & sisters, do not lose heart as you witness to your family & unbelieving friends! And remember right here in Auckland we have people from many nations, some that are closed to the Gospel. As Christians our aim should be to glorify the Lord in our own lives & to see His name being glorified in the world around us. Are you bringing glory to the Lord? Are you pointing others to Jesus?
After such a wonderful verse it may seem strange coming back to two more ‘woes’, but that is what happens. The 4th ‘woe’, in vrs 15-17, warns about the evils of immorality. Immorality strips men & women of their dignity & honour. It fills us with shame. The Babylonians were immoral & so are many nations today, including our own, where drunkenness & pornography are causing untold harm to individuals & to society. Kiwi Olympic athlete & committed Christian Nick Willis recently spoke up bravely about his battle with pornography. With the help of his loving wife he has broken free. Remember immorality, of whatever kind, leads to shame & misery. It leads to broken relationships & broken dreams & can even lead to disease & death.
The final ‘woe’ in vrs 18-20 focuses on idolatry. Some people, like the Babylonians, make idols of wood, bronze, silver or gold, but idols have no life in them. People in Asia know all about such idols, but here in NZ we too have idols. We make money or property or success our idol. Many people make ‘self’ their idol. Idols cannot give us the protection, the power or guidance we need. Idols cannot save. The idols of the Babylonians did not save them, nor will our idols save us.
Chapter 2 closes with another wonderful Scripture. V.20 says, “But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” Idols have no life in them. Our God is the Lord & Giver of Life. He is alive. He is powerful. He saves. As we come before our holy awesome God all noisy chatter, boasting, clever arguments fall silent. We bow in reverent worship.
Yes, all sin & human pride will be judged. This brings us to our 2nd point:
2. Habakkuk Prays For Mercy (3:1-16)
Chapter 3 is a prayer, possibly intended for singing. Habakkuk’s questions & doubts have been replaced by a sense of awe & wonder. He prays, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (v.2)
As he looks back over history & sees what God has done for His people, Habakkuk says, “I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.” There is a custom that people stand up when the magnificent Hallelujah Chorus, part of Handel’s Messiah, is sung. Some say this practice originated in 1743 when King George II of England was so moved he stood up as the words “King of kings & Lord of lords” were sung. It is not uncommon for people to stand in awe & appreciation following an outstanding performance of wonderful music – and Habakkuk stands in awe at God’s wonderful deeds. Habakkuk then pleads with God to do such wonderful things again in his time – “Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.” (3:2)
This is my prayer for MBCC. We have seen God do many great things. Our wonderful facilities are testimony to what He has done but an even more wonderful thing is His working in people’s lives. The fact we are looking forward to more friends being baptised on Easter Sunday, is also testimony to what He has done. My prayer is “Lord, continue your gracious work among us! Do even more wonderful things for your honour & glory.”
The prayer of Habakkuk is a prayer asking God to move in his day – as He had in the past. I believe we should be praying that God would move in New Zealand in our day as He has in the past. We need a revival. We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit bringing salvation & renewal.
Let us also notice the final phrase of verse 2, “…in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk knew that God’s people deserved to be punished. God’s anger against their sin was totally just, yet, Habakkuk pleads with God to show mercy.
A mother begged French emperor Napoleon to pardon her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed an offense & justice demanded the death penalty. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, & mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son. Habakkuk pleads with God to show mercy.
Did God show mercy? Let us fast forward to the first Easter. What do we see? We see the spotless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, dying on a cruel Roman cross. What is going on there? God is displaying His incredible love & mercy. How? He Himself, in Christ, takes the punishment we deserve. Jesus dies in our place. The wrath of God is poured out on sin, but it is Jesus who carries our sin. He pays the price for our freedom & for our forgiveness. Paul writes about this in Ephesians 2:4 & 5 – “…because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
My question for you today is: Have you come to Jesus for mercy? Have you asked Him to forgive your sins & be your Saviour & Lord? It would be truly wonderful if today you make this decision.
Habakkuk goes on in 3:3-15 to give a brief panoramic view of God’s acts in history & in nature. We do not have time to look at this section verse by verse. Just notice, however, that in all that happens, God is working in order to deliver His people. “In wrath you strode through the earth & in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” (vrs 12 &13) The word “anointed one” is actually the word Messiah. God delivers His people, but He does it through His anointed One, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus rose from the dead conquering death, sin & Satan.
As we come to the end of the overview of God’s working in history & nature we find Habakkuk not only standing in awe but trembling in fear. He is very aware of the invading Babylonians & writes, “I heard & my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, & my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” Habakkuk knew God’s judgment was about to fall upon His people & that someday it would also fall on the Babylonians.
This brings us to our final point:
3. Habakkuk Rejoices In The Lord (3:17-19)
Comedian George Burns said the secret to a good sermon is to have a good beginning & a good ending & to try to keep the two as close together as possible, in other words keep it short. I am not sure I agree but anyway, Habakkuk does have a gripping beginning, with all his questions, & he also has an amazing ending. Verses 17-19 deserve a sermon all on their own, but sadly, for me, this being my last sermon as your pastor at MBCC I can only be brief. Habakkuk says, “Though the fig-tree does not bud & there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails & the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold & no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” (vrs 17 & 18)
Can you believe it? Habakkuk has just said his heart is pounding & his legs are trembling as he looks at what is happening, yet he goes on to say, “I will rejoice.” Has he lost his mind? In his context, in an agriculture-based economy what he has just described is total disaster. In our context it is like ‘the stock market collapsing, the banks going bankrupt, the housing market crashing, the NZ dollar losing half its value, & petrol & commodity prices going through the roof.’ Would you be rejoicing if all that happened?
Notice, Habakkuk does not say he rejoices in such terrible circumstances. He actually rejoices despite the circumstances. And the reason he rejoices is not because things are getting better. In fact things are getting worse. How is it possible then for Habakkuk to rejoice? What is the source of his joy? Notice he does not simply say, “I will rejoice.” It is not a case of positive thinking or gritting his teeth & saying, “I will…” No, he says, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Habakkuk’s secret is that he rejoices in the Lord. His confidence rests in the Lord, not his feelings or his circumstances.
Christianity does not promise a trouble-free life where believers never get sick, never face trials or temptations, never experience sorrow or fear or pain & never die. In fact the opposite is true. Jesus tells His followers to count the cost before following Him. The wonderful thing, however, is despite the challenges we face as Christians the Lord is our Saviour & He is the source of our joy. In Him we find strength to overcome for as v.19 puts it, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”
The picture here is of a deer fearlessly climbing the steep rocky slopes. It does not stumble. It goes on the high places & is safe from predators. In the same way, the Lord enables us to stand firm in tough times & He gives us the desire to climb the heights with Him. The Sovereign Lord by His Holy Spirit enables us to overcome the trials & temptations that threaten to destroy us. He gives us victory over the evil one.
I am reminded of an old Gospel song, “God has not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labour, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing kindness, undying love.”
I think Habakkuk would agree. And no doubt so would the apostle Paul who said, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is something worth getting excited about!
How wonderful that Habakkuk which began with doubts & questions ends with trust & praise. This is my last Sunday message as your pastor. I think it is sermon number 395! What a privilege it has been to preach God’s Word! Elizabeth & I can testify to the truths of which we have been speaking. Indeed the Lord has been our strength. In Him we rejoice. There have been some hard times, over the past ten years but like Habakkuk we stand in awe of all the Lord has done & all He, I am sure, will continue to do. To Him be all the praise & glory.