We Live By Faith in the Gospel
A sermon based on Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:2-4
Sunday, October 2, 2016 – Pentecost 20C
A doctor was once wrongly accused of murdering his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But on the way to the prison he escaped when the prison bus crashed. Determined to clear his name and find out who murdered his wife, he ran from the law. And even though he was relentlessly pursued by a U.S. Marshal who would stop at nothing until he was behind bars again, the doctor's determination and ingenuity soon produced results. He found the real murderer and the evidence to clear his name. And in the end, justice was restored.
But, that's in the movies. Sure Dr. Richard Kimble of the The Fugitive finally found the one armed man and got his freedom back. But what about in real life? What about those who really are wrongfully accused while the real guilty party goes free because of a minor technicality? What about those who never see the happy ending to the cruel injustices of life that always come at the end of a movie? It doesn't always work out after two hours. At times there is no justice.
Really, these questions aren't new to us today. The prophet Habakkuk asked the same questions around 600 BC. And the answers he received from God were perhaps surprising, but shed some light on his situation. And the answers he received hold true for us today.
In our text for this morning God reminds Habakkuk and us that we can rest peacefully in the midst of wickedness, injustice and turmoil, because we live by faith in the gospel. We can trust that God will grant relief in spite of appearances to the contrary because we have God's assurance in his Word. Listen to Habakkuk's complaint and God's response recorded for us in Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:2-4…
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds…
2 …Then the Lord replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 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. 4 "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous will live by his faith.
I. In Spite of Appearance (1:1-3)
Habakkuk had a problem. He had difficulty understanding why God, who had revealed himself as a just and holy God, would allow so much violence, destruction and strife to be carried out among his own people? Why did he tolerate it? It seemed as if either (1) God didn't realize it was happening, (2) he didn't care it was happening, or (3) he had no power to stop it from happening.
Habakkuk was confused. It didn't seem this was the all-powerful perfectly loving God he had learned about. So he voiced his complaint to God. He boldly prayed to him… "2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?"
But Habakkuk received an answer he didn't expect. God told him in the rest of chapter one that he wouldn't tolerate the injustice for long. God would soon send the Babylonian Empire to wipe out all the wicked in Judah. But this answer presented a new problem for Habakkuk. How could God use an even more wicked nation to punish Judah?! Where was the justice in that?!
So he made another complaint before God and God told him, "Don't worry. They'll get theirs too. Their wickedness will also be punished." This brought Habakkuk hope. But he still wondered, "How long, Lord?" And God responded to Habakkuk again…
2 Then the Lord replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 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.
Though it appeared that God ignored the violence and dismissed justice, Habakkuk needed to be patient. God would destroy the wicked in Judah by the Babylonians. God would destroy the Babylonians for their wickedness as well, just… not yet. In spite of appearances, Habakkuk could trust in the Lord. He would bring about deliverance from the wicked and from their enemies in his time.
Does it sometimes seem to you that God is ignoring your prayer? Does it seem that he is slow to act? Slow to end wickedness? Often times, from our limited human perspective, it seems as if God is not in control of all things, that he's not directing the course of history in a way that's right. "Why," we might ask, "does he allow terrorists to destroy people's lives?" "Why does he permit murder and rape, abortion, depression, broken hearts and broken dreams?"
But the truth is we can't blame God for the evil that's in the world. God created all things perfectly. The reason things are less than perfect now is because of sin. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God's command in the Garden of Eden the world has been corrupt and full of sin. James 4:1 asks, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" It is our sinful human nature that causes the injustices of this world. But the question remains, "Why does God allow sin?"
It sometimes appears that God doesn't care about injustice because he does permit sin to continue. But the reason God allows sin is out of love.
"Wait a second!" one might object, "How can it be loving to allow sin?" But the truth is that if God were to carry out his justice swiftly he would destroy us all. He tells us in Romans that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And if we examine our own lives honestly, we realize we too have fallen short of the perfection God demands. We haven't always loved God with our whole heart. We haven't always loved his Word. Basically, in our human nature, we're completely selfish, seeking to serve ourselves more than others, loving us more than God. Really, bad things don't happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. What we all rightfully deserve is eternal torment forever in hell.
But God in his grace doesn't give us what we deserve. He is patient with us. Out of love he sent his only Son. And he placed on that only Son every one of our sins. Jesus paid our debt in full. Jesus suffered the hell that we deserve. Now, in love, God patiently gives us a time to put our trust in him. But a time is coming when it will be too late… "3 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."
II. With God's Assurance (2:2-4)
When we stop to think about God's justice, it can be a frightening thing. Even though it lingers and seems slow in coming, we all deserve to face God's wrath and it certainly will come. But God meant for his coming judgment to be a comfort to Habakkuk. He wanted Habakkuk to write the message so clearly that all would see it and understand it. God didn't mumble his response, but told it plainly with clarity so they could run and share it. God told Habakkuk…
"Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 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. 4 "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous will live by his faith.
Habakkuk may have first wondered if God would bring justice. After hearing God's first response, he was no doubt certain that punishment would come on the wicked. But now he may well have wondered who God's wrath was aimed at.
Here in verse four, God makes it clear that this message was to be a comfort to Habakkuk. He said, referring to the King of Babylon and his nation as a whole, "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright." A time was coming soon when this prophecy would be fulfilled. Only a few years later in 586 BC the Babylonians did destroy Judah. They captured Jerusalem and carried its wicked inhabitants into captivity. But the Lord's prophecy was fulfilled again when 70 years later the Persians destroyed the Babylonians, punishing them for their wickedness, and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.
But like so many prophecies of the Old Testament, these prophecies have multiple fulfillments. Though they waited for a long time, God spoke of an appointed time that did not prove false. Though the fulfillment lingered, it certainly did come. These prophecies were fulfilled again almost 600 years later when God took care of Israel's greatest enemies—not the wicked living among them, not the Babylonians and the Persians, but Satan… their own sin… Hell…
In Habakkuk 2:3 where it's translated, "it will certainly come and will not delay," the Hebrew literally says, "The one coming will come and he will not delay." When the appointed time did come, God sent his Son without delay. Christ died on the cross, enduring the full wrath of God, and paid the price owed for every sin. He won forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all people, destroying the power of the devil and rescuing us from hell. Now, as Habakkuk wrote, "the righteous will live by his faith…"
This phrase in Habakkuk 2:4 is one of the most frequently quoted Old Testament verses found in the New Testament. In Galatians 3:11 Paul writes, "11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.'" In Romans 1:17 he writes, "17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" The author to the Hebrews refers to Christ's second coming on Judgment Day when he will finally put an end to all wickedness and evil once and for all. He writes, "37 For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith." (Hebrews 10:37-38)
A young catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther, was constantly plagued by his sins. He was troubled by his guilty conscience before a just and holy God. He knew his best actions and kindest deeds could never make up for his sins, they could never appease God's wrath. He once accurately described it, "To oppose God's wrath with our good works is like trying to extinguish a fire by throwing straw on it." Riddled by guilt, he was close to despair.
But one day, by the grace of God, he found the verse in Romans 3 (verse 28) which reads, "a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." And when he did, he was overjoyed! He later wrote, "Then the whole Scripture was opened to me and heaven itself. Immediately, I felt as if born anew, as if I had found the open gate of paradise!" He knew that it was by grace he had been saved, not from himself, not from his works, but as a gift of God. And heaven itself was indeed open to Luther. It is open to all people through Christ.
Because Jesus took our sins on himself and suffered the hell we deserve, because Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and credited that perfection to us, because he sent his Holy Spirit to bring us to trust in God's certain promises, we will live. Eternal life in heaven is ours! The very gates of paradise are open!
To be sure, our salvation doesn't change the evil we face in this life. It doesn't take away our every problem. But like a pair of glasses, it helps us bring everything into focus. Whatever injustices or wickedness we face in this life, whatever violence or strife, whatever conflict or destruction, they won't matter at all one hundred years from now. We know that God's promises will hold true. Though they may linger, they certainly will come. So we patiently endure, sure of God's future deliverance and an eternity of glory forever with him. For we know that "the righteous will live by… faith." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.