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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Living with Joyful Confidence in a Fearful World
Text:Habakkuk 3:1-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-15
Updated:2021-01-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Psalter Hymnal Selections:

520 – What a Friend We Have in Jesus

110B – The Lord Has Spoken to My Lord

497 – More Love to Thee, O Christ

487 – Sometimes a Light Surprises

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Living with Joyful Confidence in a Fearful World”
Habakkuk 3:1-19
 
Habakkuk lived in a fear-filled world. His nation, Judah, was violent, unjust and wicked. In chapter 1:2-4 he brought this complaint to the Lord:
 
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
 Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
 So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.
 
But the Lord’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint showed that he did indeed see all the evil in the corrupt society of Judah. Because of Judah’s wickedness, the Chaldeans – the Babylonians – would take Judah captive, leaving nothing but misery and sorrow. In Habakkuk 1:6-7 the Lord answered Habakkuk by saying:
 
I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome…

 
The Babylonians (Chaldeans) were known to be absolutely heartless. If there was ever a nation that you did not want to invade your land, it was the Babylonian nation. No wonder in verse 16 Habakkuk writes:
 
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.
 
And yet, in verse 17 and 18 Habakkuk expresses confidence – even joy and thanksgiving – although he faced invasion by the Babylonians.  Amid incredibly hard circumstances, verse 17 and 18 contain a powerful and beautiful expression of trust and confidence in the Lord:  
 
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.
 
What enabled Habakkuk to be so thankful amid impending poverty? What enabled him to be filled with joy amid social chaos? What enabled him to praise God, even as his nation faced captivity to the dreaded Chaldeans – the Babylonians? 
 
Habakkuk could be thankful, rejoicing in God because first, he recognized God’s hand in history.  In verse 2 he writes:
 
 O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
 
He begins by praying, Lord, I have heard the report of you.” Or as some translations put it, “Lord, I have heard of your fame.” And having heard the report of God’s fame, Habakkuk prays, “Your work, O Lord, do I fear.” In other words, “I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.” And then he recounts those deeds, deeds of God’s power and might throughout history, events that are recorded in Scripture.
 
The great and powerful deeds of God that Habakkuk reflected on in prayer included the deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Verse 3 and 4 describe the glory of the Lord. His glory and splendor included the cloud of glory and the pillar of fire that the Lord used as he led Israel out of bondage toward the promised land.
 
Verse 5 describes the plagues and pestilence that the Lord brought as divine punishment. He allowed those plagues and pestilences – pandemics – to come upon not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians in their day, but throughout history, including today.
 
We are living through a pandemic which took us by surprise. But the pandemic is no surprise to the Lord. He allows pandemics for his own purposes. Consequently, when the Lord allows our world to be shaken, we are to respond as Job did. When his wife urged him to curse God and die, he responded, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10)
 
Verse 6 to 10 continue to describe God’s power. His power brought fear into the nations who heard about the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. These verses are poetic descriptions of the Lord making the nations tremble as he brought his people to the promised land. As Habakkuk reflected on God’s work in history, he wrote in verse 7: “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.”
 
Verse 8 and 9 describe God’s power over the waters: In Exodus 7 we read how God exercised power over the Nile River, turning it into a river of blood to the horror of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He displayed his power again, dividing the Red Sea and making a path for Israel to safely cross the sea, before the walls of water came crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians. And later, as Israel entered the promised land, the Lord again separated the waters, this time the Jordan River so that Israel could pass through in safety. No wonder Habakkuk wrote in verse 9 and 10:
 
 You split the earth with rivers.
    The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands (waves) on high.
(9b, 10)
 
Verse 11 speaks of the sun and moon standing still. Habakkuk is reflecting on the record of Joshua with the Amorites when the sun stood still during battle, to give Israel the upper hand against their enemies.
 
Verse 12 describes the threshing of the nations. Even the walled city of Jericho fell by the Lord’s awesome power. Habakkuk remembered God’s mighty work in history. As he did so, he prayed, O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.”  Or, as some translate verse 2, Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord” (NIV).
 
And as Habakkuk reflected on God’s rule in history, he rejoiced.  His primary thought was not that there would be no figs on the tree and no grapes on the vine, that there would be no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stall. His primary thought was not that there would be no crops in the fields.
 
No.  His primary thought was, “God is the Lord of history. All history is truly ‘His story.’  God is working through all the sad events of this fallen world and he is working through the hard circumstances in my life. And because of that, I will rejoice even though there are no figs on the tree or grapes on the vine.”  
 
God Rescues His People
 
As Habakkuk reflected on God’s work in history, he realized, secondly, that the Lord always rescues his people. The entire story of the Bible is the account of God rescuing his people. It begins with the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15, that God would provide the redeemer who would crush the serpent. And that great promise, and all the promises that flow from it, are woven throughout the Bible. Because of sin, God’s people are in bondage, but God always delivers his people.
 
In the Old Testament, Israel was in bondage to Egypt, but God delivered them. Later Assyria took Israel into captivity and the Babylonians would do the same to Judah. But God turned the hearts of kings, raising up the Medes and Persians to topple the Babylonians and to grant the exiles from Judah permission to return to Jerusalem.
 
In the pages of Scripture we see that all people who are apart from Christ are in bondage to sin and to Satan. Indeed, before you and I were graciously drawn to Christ, we were also in bondage to sin and Satan. But God rescues his people. Nowhere is that more clearly seen than at Calvary. As Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified between two criminals it looked as though he was defeated. It looked as though his teaching, healing, and ministry of love and compassion was over. Life ebbed from him while many taunted and ridiculed him. But in actuality, Jesus by his death and subsequent resurrection achieved the biggest victory in the largest war every fought. He defeated Satan, sin and death in all its forms through his life of obedience, his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.
 
But when God delivers his people, it often seems to be just in the nick of time. Habakkuk writes about that in verses 13 to 15 as he describes poetically the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. He also refers to the domination of Israel’s enemies as he notes in verse 13 how the Lord “crushed the head of the house of the wicked” for the salvation of his people.
 
Habakkuk is recounting how “in the nick of time” God rescued his people from bondage in Egypt and also gave them conquest over the Canaanite nations.  It will be much the same way when Jesus delivers his people at the end of time. In Matthew 24:24 Jesus warns, “False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that were possible.”  But Jesus also assures us, in Matthew 24:22, “For the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
 
Admittedly, the grapes would not be on the vine.  There would be no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls; the fields would produce no food. Yet Habakkuk could rejoice because he realized that God always delivers his people in his own way, at his own time.
 
Habakkuk, like all the Old Testament believers, looked forward in faith to how God would send the Messiah – His only begotten Son, the eternal Christ – to deliver his people from the greatest captivity – a captivity not to a nation, but to sin and to Satan.
 
Strength and Encouragement
     
Habakkuk realized that because the Lord directs history and rescues his people, the Lord is also sovereign over even the bleakest circumstances of life. It is that knowledge which gave him the encouragement and strength he needed, even knowing that the Babylonians would take Judah captive.
 
Verse 17 and 18 make for classic poetry. Ben Franklin once read these verses to a group of Bible skeptics. Although they were outspoken skeptics of the Bible they prided themselves on their knowledge of good poetry. The group would get together and share poems they had read that were especially meaningful to them. So Ben Franklin read to them these verses:
 
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.
 
The skeptics were surprised that such lofty and beautiful poetry is found in the Bible, but I don’t know if they ever got the point of the passage. The point of the passage is that the Lord will see his people through even the bleakest of situations. Because of that, we who have saving faith in Christ find strength and joy, even when facing the hardest circumstances of life. Even in adversity, we can echo the words of Habakkuk, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
 
The adversity Habakkuk faced included the impending invasion of the Babylonians. Through their destructive forces and Judah’s captivity there would be no grapes on the vine, no sheep in the pen, no crops in the field.
 
For us it may be uncertainty about the future.  As we see the events of our nation and world unfold, many of us have deep concerns for our children, grandchildren and all the future generations. Looking to the future, we have concerns about the economy, about political leaders and the legislation they plan to impose, not only for our nation but the nations of the world. There are so many concerns.
 
But if we truly see God’s hand in all things – that he is sovereign even in the bleakest, darkest, moments of our lives – then we, too, can say as Habakkuk says in verse 18: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
 
Habakkuk realized that the Lord would give him the strength he needed for the hardships which he faced.  In verse 19, a verse reminiscent of David’s profession in 2 Samuel 22:34, he writes:
 
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.
 
Habakkuk realized that no matter how severe the Babylonian invasion would be, God would strengthen his people. Habakkuk realized the truth that the Apostle Paul would write about centuries later, when he wrote to the Philippians, in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
 
Strengthened Through Prayer
 
How else do we apply the unique experience of Habakkuk to our lives today? We too live in a world that is filled with fear. Yet in such a world we can find joyful confidence in God our Savior, just as Habakkuk did so long ago.
 
What was the source of Habakkuk’s strength? It was the presence of God in answer to prayer. Habakkuk was strengthened through prayer. You may have noticed that the subscript to chapter 3 describes the chapter as a prayer of the prophet Habakkuk. The postscript describes how it was used by the director of music with stringed instruments.
 
In that way the prayer of Habakkuk is like many of the Psalms. Consider how many prayers of David are recorded in the Psalms, prayers that sprang from situations of injustice, violence and evil of every type imaginable.    
 
When David was on the run, hiding out in caves as he was pursued by King Saul, he found comfort and strength in prayer. The same was true when he faced the armies of Israel's enemies. He was often outnumbered but he found strength and courage through prayer. The same was true when as a boy he cared for his father's flocks and fought off the lion and the bear. His strength was from the Lord, and he was already then a person of prayer looking to the Lord. Prayer was also his consolation after recognizing the enormity of his sin with Bathsheba, as he poured out his soul to the Lord in prayer, finding forgiveness and strength to go on.
 
And the same is true for you and for me. As we see that our world is violent, corrupt, filled with injustice, malice, deceit, and hostility, we find our strength in prayer. Through prayer we find a peace that surpasses all understanding.  In prayer we find the fulfillment of Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
 
Habakkuk, David, and all the other Old Testament believers discovered the power of prayer long before the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the letter to the Philippians. And yet, believers in every era – certainly in our era today – are often so sidetracked by the things of the world that we spend little time in prayer. Most of us spend far more time on the Internet than we do in prayer. The vain things of a fallen world draw us from the blessings of a full prayer life, and it is to our detriment. The familiar hymn is such an accurate description of so many of us:
 
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer. (What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Joseph M. Scriven, 1855)
 
Because we get caught up in the trivialities of this vain world, the Lord often allows trouble and hardship to come into our lives to drive us to our knees, to cause us to call out to him prayer.  Another hymn addresses that truth:
 
Let sorrow do its work,
  Send grief and pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
  Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me,
  More love, O Lord, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
  More love to Thee!  (More Love to Thee, O Christ, Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, 1869)
 
Is it possible that one of the reasons why the Lord allowed 2020 to be such a turbulent and sorrowful year is so that people like you and me will be more serious about praying faithfully and fervently – and joyfully – to the Lord?
 
It is in prayer, especially as prayer springs from the faithful reading of the word of God, that we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of Scripture, lives within the hearts of believers and intercedes, we are told in Romans 8:26-27, with groanings too deep for words as he searches our hearts and prays according to the will of God for us. Likewise, Christ intercedes on our behalf at the right hand of the Father. Is it any wonder that in prayer we are strengthened? We are strengthened even as Jesus was strengthened in prayer during all the times of trial and sorrow that he experienced in his life.
 
It was through Habakkuk's prayer, as it sprang from his knowledge of God’s great and awesome deeds throughout history, that Habakkuk was reminded of the Lord’s faithful work in delivering his people. It was through his prayer, which recounted to the Lord the truths of his word, that Habakkuk was reminded of how throughout history God has faithfully preserved his people. And it was through his prayer that Habakkuk was reminded that since the sovereign Lord is our strength, we need not fear the future, for our lives are in His hands (John 10:28-30).
 
The same peace that Habakkuk had, even as he faced the fury of the invading Babylonians, is a peace extended to you and to me, but it is only found through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Habakkuk asked the Lord, in verse 2, to “in wrath remember mercy.” In its ultimate sense, that prayer request was met, not just by God’s righteous and proper wrath at the sins of Judah, as he used the Babylonians to be an instrument of punishment on them. In its ultimate sense, that prayer request asking God to “in wrath remember mercy” was answered more than 600 years later when Jesus bore the curse for your sins and mine on the cross of Calvary.
 
If this evening you have – by God’s grace and indwelling Spirit – true saving faith in Christ alone, then you can out into a world so similar to the world in which Habakkuk lived. And you can go into that world with joyful confidence. 
 
We live in a world filled with violence, immorality and political upheaval. We look at the dawn of each new year, hoping and praying that it is not as turbulent as the year before. But we have no assurance that it will be. Instead, we have the certain statement of our Lord, from John 16:33. In that chapter the Lord explained to his disciples that he would be leaving them. He told them they would be scattered, each to their own place. They would face persecution, sorrow and most of them martyrdom.
 
And yet the Lord offered them peace. Jesus assured them – and assures you and me – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
 
May that comfort, that peace, that joyful confidence, be yours and mine. May we echo from the heart the words of Habakkuk, who even as he faced the hostility, domination and totalitarianism of the Babylonian invasion exclaimed, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Amen!
 
 
                                                             - bulletin outline -
 
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines…yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength…”  - Habakkuk 3:17a, 18, 19
 
                                  “Living with Joyful Confidence in a Fearful World”
                                                           Habakkuk 3:1-19
 
I.  Habakkuk lived in a fear-filled world. The people of Judah were violent, unjust and wicked
     (Hab. 1:2-4), and would be taken captive by an even more wicked and unjust nation, the
     Babylonians (Chaldeans). Yet Habakkuk had joyful confidence because:
       1) He recognized God’s hand in history as he reflected on what the Lord had done (2-12)
          
 
 
 
       2) He realized that the Lord rescues His people, in His way, at His time (13-16)
 
 
 
 
       3) He saw that the Lord is sovereign over even the bleakest circumstances of life (17-18),
            which gave him the encouragement and strength he needed (19; Philippians 4:13)
 
 

 

II. Application: Habakkuk found peace through prayer as he reflected on God’s mighty deeds
     in history and His faithfulness to His people. The same peace is ours because in the
     Scriptures and prayer we find peace which surpasses understanding through Christ
     (Philippians 4:6-7) who gives us His peace in a troubled and turbulent world (John 16:33)

 

 

 


 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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