Friday, October 19, 2007

When God Doesn't Make Sense--Habakkuk

What to do when God doesn’t make sense?
The Message of the Prophet Habakkuk

Sermon Introduction:

Habakkuk asks some very serious questions. In fact it gets to one of the core questions that we ask of God and that is, “why”? Habakkuk is living in a time of much wickedness and it appears that God is just sitting idly by and not doing anything about it. So, Habakkuk is asking God if He is going to do anything about it. That is the story of Habakkuk, what is God going to do to preserve the righteous and punish the wicked. At its core it is a question of the problem of evil…how can a good God allow evil and suffering. My guess is that not many of you have thought that deeply. It is to our shame that we do not think deeply. You probably have many of the questions that I had whenever I was your age. The good news is that because God’s answer to Habakkuk is so deep it can answer all the other questions. And that is the beauty of going deep; it answers all the surface questions more effectively. So what are some of those questions that you have? Discuss.

Here are some of mine that I had whenever I was your age:

Why do girls always fall for the jerky guys and I’m alone on a Friday night?

Why do some people have parents that love each other, have money, etc. and my parents are broke and fight all the time? Are you going to do anything about this God?

And these are ones that I experienced from the other side of the coin. Why can some people not study and make good grades (like me) but I have to work my butt off just to make a B?

Why do some kids have parents who let them do anything (like mine) but mine are so strict?

What are yours?

Fortunately God has an answer for Habakkuk. Tonight’s sermon will be a little different, it will not be three separate points but we will follow Habakkuk as it is written…we will start with Habakkuk’s complaint, move to God’s answer, then discuss Habakkuk’s beef with God’s answer, God’s answer to Habakkuk’s beef, and then we will apply this by looking at the way Habakkuk responds and applies God’s final answer.

I. Habakkuk’s complaint

Habakkuk is a broken man. You can feel the passion in this verse; you can sense is hurt, you can identify with his cry. Have you ever wondered where God is? Have you ever cried with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

Habakkuk is looking around and he sees nothing but evil. His own countrymen who should be following whole heartedly after the Lord are selling out to the nations. They are vile. Sometime during Habakkuk’s ministry one of his fellow prophets was murdered by the king. Perhaps this is why he cries, “violence”. Lord are you going to protect your servants? Why do faithful Christians still get cancer? Why do Christians get murdered by unbelievers? Why do God’s messengers die just like everyone else? Why do we still suffer? Habakkuk cries out to God and he sees no change. He pleads with God, heal Your land, bring revival, and bring about holiness. Nothing. Lord, create in your church a heart to serve you. Lord, bring about salvation. Habakkuk looks around and sees nothing but wickedness…no answer from God…no change…no punishment…no revival.

Then Habakkuk says, “why do you idly look at wrong”. It’s as if Habakkuk is saying, I thought you were holy God, I know you are holy God, how in the world are you sitting up on your throne permitting this? God do you not care about the slaughter of babies? Habakkuk is telling God how wicked his nation is and how it is increasing in wickedness and he wonders, “How can a holy God permit this”? Why are you not executing your justice God?

We probably miss this because we do not have the vision of God that Habakkuk has. He realizes that God is unflinchingly holy. He cannot be tainted with sin and his wrath goes out fiercely against it. God hates our sin. He hates our sinful hearts. Habakkuk knew this. Habakkuk knew that God’s character was holy. Therefore, because Habakkuk is living in an unholy time it messes with his theology. God is holy therefore you would think whenever people are unholy God would bring forth his justice and strike them dead…especially in Judah. But again Habakkuk sees nothing. It is as if God is sitting on his hands and letting the nations and Judah have their day in sin. And Habakkuk asks as we do, Lord what are you going to do about this sin in our land? What are you going to do about our wickedness?

Before we move on we need to understand something essential to this text. Habakkuk’s opening complaint is not against the foreign nations or for us his complaint is not against the world, it is against the injustice inside the fold of God, those who are believers. Habakkuk wants to know why God is permitting such sin within his own people. He is not asking, “How are you letting these flaming liberals get away with such sin? He is concerned with the people of Israel…or for us today…the church! God why do you not purge the sin from the church? And to this God is going to answer.

II. God’s response

As always God’s response is both comforting and shocking. He gets to the core of the issue. He does not answer the specifics of Habakkuk’s complaint but he gets to the heart. Habakkuk, do you want to know what I am going to do with the sin of Judah? Here you go Habakkuk, but you might want to be sitting down because what I am getting ready to do is utterly amazing. Are you ready for this…I am going to purge the sin out of the land of Judah. I am going to punish them. And I am going to do it with the Babylonians! Now I can tell by your lack of sigh’s and astonished, waah’s!?!?!? that you do not get the full thrust of this. This should be your response (show hamster video). The reason this is so utterly shocking is because God is going to use wicked people for his glory and to judge his own children. That is why God said they would be utterly amazed.

I’m not sure that you would find a sermon preached on, “The Man God uses” and it list these following qualities. Bitter. Hasty. Take things that are not theirs. Dreaded. Proud. Violent. Arrogant. Blasphemous. You would not expect to find these things in a list of the men God will use, but that is precisely what he is going to do. God is using godless men to accomplish his purposes. That does not sound right. This shows how awesome and amazing God is in His sovereignty. What is the last thing that the unbelieving Babylonians wanted to do? Submit to the lordship of God, they wanted to be God. Therefore, they became wicked and did just want their hearts wanted to do. Yet in all of this they were, even by their own desire, accomplishing the purpose of God.

This is a very difficult thing to understand and I do not claim to fully understand this. A wonderful place to see this tension is in Acts 4:27, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”. Did Herod and Pontius do the very thing that they wanted to do? Yes. Did they want to do God’s will? No. Did they do God’s will? Yes. How? I have no idea, but all I know is that God in His beauty and infinite wisdom is able to allow us to freely make choices yet at the same time dictate those choices in such a way that we do what He has sovereignly planned. This is the same thing that happened with the Babylonians. Perhaps this does not set right with you. Perhaps it seems just weird and wrong that God would use a wicked person to accomplish His holy purposes. Maybe that makes it seem like God is evil. If that is the case then you are right here with Habakkuk. Habakkuk is upset by God’s response. He has another question or another complaint if you will.

III. Habakkuk’s beef with God’s answer

Verse 12 then turns back to Habakkuk’s response to God’s answer. He has a beef with what God is doing. To Habakkuk this does not make sense. He cites God’s character and His history and then looks at the Babylonians and says, “God this just does not match up”.

Habakkuk points us first to God’s character. Again Habakkuk cites God’s holy character but this time he is asking how in the world could a holy God look upon a sinful man and remain silent when this wicked guy swallows up those who are more righteous than he? Habakkuk was saying, God judge Judah, we are so sinful Lord. And then when God says I am going to judge Judah, and do it using the Babylonians, Habakkuk is perplexed. Judah is wicked, Judah is not doing what it should, but the Babylonians do not even acknowledge the Lord. They are idolaters. They aren’t even His children. How then can God use such wicked people to judge those who are less wicked? Can a holy God do that?

And we also see that Habakkuk points us to God’s history. You Lord are from everlasting to everlasting. You do not change God. You are THE God. You have always been there for us. It is in your nature to be a rock and a strong tower in a time of refuge, are you not there for us now? Are you going to now not be a rock for us?

And we know God that your great aim and passion is for the spreading of your glory and that your name might be great. How does this match up with what Habakkuk says of the Babylonians in verse 14-17? Habakkuk is portraying the people of the earth (including Judah) as merely fish in the sea that are helpless before these mighty Babylonians. They are going to drag them up with their dragnet and destroy them. Then the Babylonians are going to make and offering and begin worshipping their nets and fishing tackle, because it is because of these things that they have their luxury. This is a reference to their weapons, horses, and awesome military power. They are basically worshipping themselves. Rather than worshipping God they are going to be worshipping idols; whether it be themselves or the gifts of luxury themselves they are NOT worshipping God. Therefore, Habakkuk is perplexed and appalled. God you say you are passionate about worship, and I know this is your history but it appears that you could care less about your worship. You are using these blasphemers who are going to give credit to their false gods to judge us who would worship you with victory. God you are not looking good here.

Do you hear your complaint in Habakkuk’s? Why do you let the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Moreover how are you using the wicked to judge us? Should they not be judged? Should this not be reversed? Use some of the examples given earlier.

Therefore Habakkuk is going to camp out and wait for God’s answer. There is something to be said for that. First of all it is not as if the Lord is displeased with our sincere questions and wanting to understand Him more. And we should take the posture of Habakkuk when we are confused; we should sit at the Lord’s feet and wait for Him to answer.

IV. God answers Habakkuk’s beef

We have no clue how long Habakkuk had to wait for the Lord’s answer. It could have been hours, days, month, or even years. But we do know that God answers. And his answer is one of the most significant in all of the Old Testament. Therefore, God tells Habakkuk to right it down and make it simple. Put it on a billboard so that those who are running by could even see the answer. And wait for it. It might take awhile to be fulfilled, but wait for it. It will certainly happen. And just like on a billboard Habakkuk pens God’s mighty words, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” God is declaring that those who are proud and puffed up with pride like the Babylonians will certainly die—but those who have faith will live. In the context that means that God is calling Habakkuk to trust him. In a world that is seemingly controlled by the Babylonians (or those in our day like them) you must hang on and trust in God in the midst of disaster…you must live by faith.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in the New Testament 3 times. One that is especially important is Romans 1:17 where Paul says that this is what the gospel is revealed as, “the righteous shall live by faith”. You are made right with God by grace through faith! It is through a belief and trust in God that we are made right with Him. And this is what God is revealing to Habakkuk. The Babylonians are going to be judged and if you trust in me and look to me as your rock and your Redeemer though they die and though you might be dealt difficult times you will live. Some 100 years after Habakkuk’s message it came true for the Babylonians. They were defeated by the Persians and their mighty empire came crashing down—they were judged and destroyed. But the message still rings true today, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Or to again use the words of Habakkuk, “the righteous will live by faith”.

Notice how God does not ever specifically answer Habakkuk’s questions. He just says trust me and you will live. He lets Habakkuk know that the Babylonians will be judged, their being used by God is only temporary and they will be judged for their wickedness, pride, and blasphemy. This is sufficient for Habakkuk. And Habakkuk begins to expound upon this through oracles of Woe. In other words proclamations of “you’re in trouble Babylon”. He mentions 5 different areas where the Babylonians are going to be judged and we will only mention them in passing because we need to move on to the last section to see Habakkuk’s response as well as ours.

1) Those that plunder others will themselves be plundered.
2) Those who seek security and economic gain at the expense of others will be condemned
3) Those who seek to further their own kingdom by unholy means will be brought low, and those who seek their own glory will bow at the glory of the Lord.
4) Those that humiliate and shame others will themselves be shamed.
5) Those that trust in idols will become like them, dead and nothing.

Those that we have just described are examples of those who are puffed up and living for their own glory. They are not the righteous. Therefore they will not live, they will perish. Only those who live by faith will live.

V. Habakkuk’s set position (response) and ours

What does it look like to live by faith? Habakkuk gives us an example in his prayer, he gives us advice on what to do when we do not understand God, he shows us how to live by faith.

1) Remember
In 3:2 Habakkuk is reminding himself of the mighty works of God. He remembers the stories of God leading his people out of Egypt, of parting the Red Sea, of crossing the Jordan, of David slaying Goliath, of God coming down in fire to consume the false prophets of Baal and to show himself real in the life of Elijah. The Old Testament is full of stories of God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk is remember his history. Perhaps we would do well to look at the history of God in the Old and New Testament. It reminds us that he is faithful. But we can also look in our own life. Remember your salvation? Remember those times when God came through? Remember those marvelous times when you knew for certain that God was real? Do you remember his mighty deeds?

Also it does us well to be like Habakkuk and remember and meditate upon the great purpose of God. God’s purpose is not to exalt you and me. So Habakkuk is quietly praying before the Lord, “let your will be done” display your glory. Make your glory known. But God remember mercy as you execute your plan. Don’t forget us. We want to see you again. And that is precisely what God does in verse 3-15. God shows himself—it is what is called a theophany, an appearance of God.

2) Rest in God’s character

God is really big. That is what you can learn from 3:3-15. He displays his character in these verses. Remember that Habakkuk was wondering how God could still be holy and use unholy men. In this verse God appears to Habakkuk as “The Holy One”. Thus showing Habakkuk, “I’m still holy and will always be holy…nothing can taint my holiness”. This means that God is good, nothing He does is motivated from evil—but it all flows from the goodness of God therefore we can trust Him, that His plans are good.

The Lord also reveals himself to be powerful, or omnipotent if you will. This lets us rest in the fact that God is fully able to accomplish all that He intends to do. With just a look at the mountains he causes them to crumble before Him. What then makes us think that He does not have power to save us? God is more than able to deal with not only the sin of Judah and the arrogance of Babylon but also our sin and the arrogance of those who oppose Him.

We also learn from this theophany that God is sovereign. God is in control. The same God who controls the rivers, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the stars, has more than enough power and control to be in charge of my life. God is holy, he is powerful, and he is in control. Therefore, we can rest in Him in difficult times.

3) Remain still until God speaks

This seems to be Habakkuk’s response. He sits still and waits for the Lord. He cries out to God, and he sits and waits until God delivers. What awesome faith this takes. How often do we do the opposite, we cry out to God in prayer and then instead of remaining quiet until God moves we go out and try to help Him along. Yet Scripture admonishes us to be still, to wait upon the Lord. And this is precisely what Habakkuk does and it is what we should do. Whenever you do not understand what God is doing, you should cry out to God and then remain still until he answers. This is what Habakkuk does in 3:16, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” This means that Habakkuk knows that difficult times are coming and he is not denying the fact that he is scared. But yet he is going to remain still and wait on God, because he knows that God will eventually come through.

4) Rejoice in God’s salvation
In 3:8 Habakkuk asks, why do you demonstrate your lordship for us to see? Verse 13 provides for us an answer, “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.” Habakkuk knows that God is going to come through and eventually save his people from the grip of the Babylonians, but something more is being said here. This is pointing us to Jesus.

Our enemy is not Babylon. Our enemy is not Osama Bin Laden. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is Satan and the bondage he holds us in because of our sin. Therefore, Jesus Christ came to earth, “he went out” for the salvation of His people and He took our place and died to take the wrath of God away from us. He took God’s wrath that was upon us and placed it on Himself. Then when God raised Him from the dead it took the power of sin and death out of the hands of Satan. He no longer has a hold on us. We no longer have to fear death nor do we have to partake in the wrath of God poured out against sin. All of this because of what Jesus has done. He has crushed the head of the wicked.

Therefore, we must rejoice in His great salvation. And we see this awesome prayer of faith in Habakkuk 3:17-19. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Can you pray that prayer? Can you say along with Habakkuk and Job, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him?”

Do you trust God even when things are difficult? Can you say, though I have no fun, though I have no food, though I see no light at the end of the tunnel, though I do not understand what is going on, I am going to sit here and wait on God and rejoice in His great salvation? In other words, can you say, If all I have is Jesus it is enough?

If you cannot honestly say that you need to cry out to God. We need to pray that God might show Himself and be the blazing center of our existence. If Jesus is not enough for you now, what makes you think He will be enough for you in heaven? If Jesus is not enough for you then what more do you want? You need to repent and believe. Cry out to God for His great salvation. Christian you need to pray for more of God in your life so that you can honestly say that Jesus is enough. Unbeliever, you need to repent of your self-righteousness and know that someday unless you repent God is going to humble you and bring you down. You need to forsake your idols and put your faith in Jesus.


Marshamcc7 said...

I have been going throughan issue for a year now and like Habakuk I have been wondering when is God going to show up and deliver me. The more I cry out the more I see the unrighteous being blessed. I cannot understand it. But my ways are not his ways and His thoughts are higher than mine and though he slay me yet will I trust him until my appointed time is come. We all have an appointment with God, what he has in store for you is good and perfect.

Anonymous said...

for a very long time i have looked for answers as to why and how evil people get away with so much today at church hearing this sermon and now reading and understanding things better i now just have to WAIT for God to give His wrath upon the evil and wait on God for my answers i am looking for