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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 by Faith in an Unjust World
Text:Habakkuk 1:1-2:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-15
Updated:2021-05-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Psalter Hymnal selections:

252 - This Is My Father’s World

130B – From Out of the Depths I Cry

536 - Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult

244 - A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

(Note for reading services: If using the NIV, change the reference to Chaldeans to Babylonians. The texts quoted are from the ESV).

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


“Living by Faith in an Unjust World”
Habakkuk 1:1-2:4
 
Violence in the United States has increased greatly. We have seen riots in the streets of our major cities. Amid the violence we see injustice. We have seen that evildoers are not called to account for the evil that they do. We have seen that the law is paralyzed. We have witnessed, unfolding before our eyes, the truth of Ecclesiastes 8:11, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people's hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.”
 
When we look at the trends of our culture, which is described as “post Christian”, we are reminded that there is no neutrality with Christ. To be post-Christian is to be anti-Christian. The reason why is because every human being who has ever lived is either living in enmity against God, or by God's grace and indwelling Spirit, through faith in Christ alone, is living in harmony with the Lord, striving to live by his word, and asking forgiveness for the many times when we fall.
 
And in those ways, our situation is remarkably similar to the situation that Habakkuk faced so long ago. Habakkuk lived about 600 years before the birth of Jesus. He lived in Judah at a time when Judah, in rebellion against the Lord, was marked by every type of evil imaginable. But it seemed to Habakkuk that the Lord did not care.
 
The political scene was turbulent and corrupt. The business environment was filled with envy and greed. Unjust scales, tipped in the favor of the merchant, were commonplace. Social corruption was deep and pervasive. Immorality of every type was practiced with impunity. And all the corruption, evil and sin was a result of spiritual apostasy. Most of the people in Judah, along with the majority of their religious leaders, had left the clear teaching of the Word of God.
 
As Habakkuk agonized over the decline of Judah, he was angered that the Lord didn’t seem to see what was going on. Or, if the Lord did see it, he simply did not seem to care. Consequently, Habakkuk brought the first of two complaints to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord, in the opening verses of chapter 1:
 
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.
 
The Lord answered Habakkuk by telling him that he was raising up the Chaldeans to bring judgment on Judah for her wickedness.  The Chaldeans were an Aramean tribe in southern Babylon who are better known as the Babylonians. They took over as Assyria declined.  Other nations lived in fear of the Chaldeans – the Babylonians – with good reason. They were known for seizing other nations and putting them into subjection. As verse 6 puts it, “they march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.”
 
Although the Chaldeans were once under the rule of the Assyrians they broke away and dominated the Assyrians, along with the other nations of the world of that day. And they did so swiftly. Verse 8 describes how “their horses are swifter than leopards”, how “they fly like an eagle swift to devour.”
 
Nations that were taken over by the Babylonians were helpless to defend themselves. As verse 9 says, “They gather captives like sand.” You go to the dunes on a sunny day and the grains of sand are far more than you could count. The same was true for the captives of the Babylonians. The Babylonians swept through the world of their day, taking captives like sand.
 
No wonder the Lord described them this way to Habakkuk, in verse 10 and 11: “At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
 
Habakkuk was understandably shaken. In his prayer, recorded in chapter 3, he wrote:
 
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. (v. 16)
 
But although the news of the Babylonian invasion caused him to tremble, he recognized God’s sovereign power over every nation, indeed, his sovereign power over all the nations of the earth. In verse 12 he says, “O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.”
 
But even as he acknowledged God’s sovereign right to use one nation as judgment on another, by taking them captive and seizing their homes, he also brought up another complaint. It is summarized in verse 13 where he says to the Lord:
 
“You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he?”
 
He is saying, in effect, “Lord, I know that Judah is evil. Our political corruption knows no bounds. Our society is bent on immorality. Envy and greed have taken over our businesses. Our streets are filled with violence. And it is all because of our spiritual apostasy. It is because we have left the clear teaching of your Word.”
 
He is saying,  “I know how evil we have become, Lord. And I recognize you are holy and do not want to look at evil, so why are going to use a nation even more wicked and perverse than ours to bring judgment on us?”
 
Habakkuk stationed himself as a watchman stations himself at a watchtower, waiting for the Lord’s answer. And the Lord answered him in chapter 2:2-4:  
 
And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.
 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith."
 
In that answer the Lord is reassuring Habakkuk that the end would come for the Chaldeans – for the Babylonians. And the end would come for the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. As for the Judeans, their homes would be destroyed, they would be taken into captivity in Babylon. But it would not be perpetual. The end would come. The captives would return and rebuild the ruins of Judah and Jerusalem.
 
But in the meantime, as all this chaos and evil dominated his society, the Lord told Habakkuk – and tells us in his timeless word – how to live. In verse 4 the Lord says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
 
The Lord knows that the soul – collective for all the Babylonians – was evil to the core. They were filled with pride. They did not acknowledge God. Instead they saw their strength as their god. Their desires were not upright. Living under their rule would be incredibly painful and hard.  But the Lord, nevertheless, gave Habakkuk – and gives you and me – the key to live in such a world. In the last phrase of verse 4 the Lord says, “but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
 
The adage of Solomon rings so true, when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:10, “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us.” Our world, and our culture, like that of Habakkuk’s day, is marked by political corruption, envy and greed, immorality of every type, all because of spiritual apostasy. The vast majority are on the broad road that leads to destruction. The truths of God’s word are denied, and in their place are futile thoughts springing from corrupt and wicked hearts.
 
In such a world – (the world unfolding before us in the new year) – how are we as Christians to live? The culture of our nation, and the nations of the world, are filled with pride; their desires are not upright.  As the Lord says in verse 4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
 
Through the Lens of the New Testament
 
That last phrase of verse 4, “The righteous shall live by his faith” is quoted three times in the New Testament.  And through the lens of that verse, quoted in the New Testament three times over, we see how we are to live in a hostile, sinful world.
 
Habakkuk 2:4 is first quoted in Romans 1:17, and most of you know the context of Romans 1. The chapter focuses on the immorality of cultures that have rejected God and the truths of his word. In Romans 1 the Lord paints a graphic picture of a culture that has suppressed the obvious identity of God. Instead of acknowledging God for who he is, they deny his existence. As Romans 1:21-22 points out, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
 
That is a description, not only of first century Rome, but also of Judah back in the days of Habakkuk. And it is also a graphic description of our culture today, and the cultures of nations around the world.
 
What can change that? Can some political power or the recount of an election change that?  Can some new human insight, maybe using social psychologists instead of police lead to less violence as lives are changed? What can change the drastic course of societies and cultures that have suppressed the truth of who God is?
 
The only thing that can change society, that can change the darkness and foolishness of the human heart in its natural state, is the gospel. And that is why, as the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the letter to the Romans, he exclaimed in verse 16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
 
If, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power, your life has been transformed by the gospel – by the good news that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”, then spread that gospel – proclaim that gospel – to others. Proclaim by your words and by the way you live your life that in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
 
The message of the gospel is the only message that can transform lives, that can indeed change entire societies as it did in Nineveh in Jonah’s day, and as it has at many other points in history. In fact, that phrase from Habakkuk 2:4 that “The righteous shall live by faith” has already changed the world. Habakkuk 2:4 changed the world as it changed a monk who lived in the 16th century.  This monk had tried to do everything possible to present himself righteous to God, but all his efforts failed. He denied himself every pleasure. As he denied himself, subsisting on a meager diet and living in a cold, unheated room in the monastery, he tried to do good works to make himself acceptable to God. But he found no satisfaction; he found no peace with God.  
 
But then he came across this phrase from Habakkuk 2:4. He came across that Old Testament quote, not only in Romans 1:17, but again in Galatians 3:11. As he read Galatians 3, this monk read how no one can be right with God by works of the law. In fact, in Galatians 3:10 he read how he himself was under a curse. That verse declares: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 
 
And by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, this monk realized he had not kept “all things written in the law to do them.” He saw that in his effort to be right with God, he was actually under the curse of God’s law. But then, in verse 11 of Galatians 3, he read that life-transforming phrase. He read, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
 
The monk, of course, was Martin Luther. His life was radically changed by the quote from Habakkuk as Luther read that quote in the New Testament. He finally realized that his ascetic lifestyle and vain efforts at good works could never save him. He finally realized that the righteous  live by faith in Christ, not their own efforts to attain self-righteousness.
 
Luther took great joy in his new awareness that the righteous live by faith in Christ alone. But the culture that Luther lived in was like the culture of Habakkuk’s day. It was like the culture of our day. It was similar to every culture since the fall of humanity into sin, back in the dawn of history in the Garden of Eden.
 
The political realm in Luther’s day was marked by turbulence and corruption. Greed, envy, and immorality were woven tightly through the society of his day, even as many were afflicted with great poverty and famine. And there was spiritual apostasy. The church had departed from the truths of Scripture. The church sought power and influence for herself and taught a works salvation instead of the truth of the gospel that salvation is through saving faith in Christ alone.
 
And as Luther’s eyes were opened, and as he tried to reform the corrupt apostasy of the church of his day, his life was put on the line. The Pope declared him a heretic. He was brought to trial. He was commanded to recant his beliefs concerning the truths of Scripture. With his life in jeopardy he was taken by his friends to the Wartburg Castle for his safety.
 
Did Luther then give up? Did he recant what he believed about the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the pressure from society, the wrath of an apostate church and corrupt political system? Not at all. Instead, when asked to recant his beliefs, he famously said: “It is impossible for me to recant unless I am proved wrong by the testimony of Scripture. My conscience is bound to the Word of God. It is neither safe nor honest to act against one’s conscience. Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.”
 
Martin Luther persevered because he recognized the need to persevere from the third quote of Habakkuk 2:4, which is found in Hebrews 10:38. The context of Hebrews 10 focuses on the persecution and the trials of the first century church.
 
Verse 32 describes how life for those believers was “a hard struggle with sufferings.” Verse 33 speaks of “being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction.” Verse 34 refers to Christians imprisoned for their faith. And it describes the plundering of property owned by Christians, as their homes were confiscated by the authorities.
 
And it is in that context – a context that Habakkuk could relate to, that Luther could relate to, a context that you and I can increasingly relate to – that the author of Hebrews writes, in Hebrews 10:35-39:
 
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  For,
 
“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
    but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
 
   But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
_____
 
During 2020 I heard a lot of people say, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over!” The sentiment behind that exclamation was that 2021, and the years following, would be much better. But has that been the case? Has political corruption ended? Will immorality end? Will the perversion of what God ordained as good, when he instituted and blessed marriage, suddenly end? Will churches that have denied the gospel, even the very core of biblical teaching such as the virgin birth of Jesus, his substitutionary death and glorious resurrection – will such churches, ingrained with the vain philosophies of a fallen world, suddenly change?  I pray that those changes take place. And through the power of the gospel they can if God so wills.
 
But the Scripture is clear that there will be terrible times in the last days. Scripture is clear that in the time before Jesus returns there will be widespread persecution of believers. Nations will be in turmoil. Political corruption will be rampant. Envy, greed, immorality and violence will increasingly stain the societies of nations around the world, even as they have throughout history.
 
And it is in such a world that you and I are to live by faith. Not faith in the political system. Not faith in social justice. Not faith in the philosophies of a fallen world. But rather we are to live by faith in Christ alone. Christ suffered far more than any of us. Far more than Habakkuk. Far more than Luther. He suffered throughout his life; and especially, he suffered in his substitutionary atonement – in his death on the cross as he bore the guilt of our sin as "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God"  (2 Cor. 5:21).
 
By his shed blood he covered – propitiated – the sins of all who by grace have saving faith in him alone. By his death he brought reconciliation with our triune God. After breathing his last breath, the temple curtain was torn in two and access was gained into the Most Holy Place. And by faith in him and his atoning work, we are reconciled to God and are presented faultless and without blame, as we are ushered into the most holy place of heaven – not by our merits but by his.
 
Not only did Jesus die a sacrificial death, he also lived a perfect life with righteous obedience to every nuance of the law, and it is by saving faith that his righteousness is imputed – credited – to everyone who has saving faith in Christ alone. The righteous live by faith – faith not in our righteousness which is like a filthy rag before the Lord (Isaiah 64:6), but we live by faith in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
 
And having that imputed righteousness, we are to persevere in our fallen world, holding forth the light of the gospel to a dark and depraved culture. Perseverance in such a world is the mark of a true Christian. Jesus said, in Matthew 24:13, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Habakkuk endured to the end. He persevered. And he persevered gracefully. In chapter 3 we read a prayer from Habakkuk which is no longer a prayer of complaint, but rather a prayer of praise. His prayer (which we plan to study this evening) closes with these words:
 
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.
 
May the sentiment of those words, springing from saving faith in the eternal Christ, describe your life and mine, this day, and always! Amen!
 
 
                                  - bulletin outline -
 
 
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
      but the righteous shall live by his faith. – Habakkuk 2:4
 
                     “Living by Faith in an Unjust World”
                                       Habakkuk 1:1-2:4
 
I.   Habakkuk lived in a society like ours where violence was common
      (2), justice seldom prevailed; the law was paralyzed (3-4), and the
      wicked outnumbered the righteous (4b)
 
 
                                
II.  When Habakkuk asked the Lord why He allowed such injustice to go
      on, the Lord replied that He would raise up the Chaldeans – the
      Babylonians – to bring judgment on Judah for her wickedness (6-11),
      but He would set a limit on their domination (2:3) and the righteous
      must live by faith (2:4b)     
 
 
 
III. Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament as it
      teaches us how to live by faith in a hostile, sinful world:
        1) Romans 1:17 teaches that we need not be ashamed of the gospel,
             for it has power to transform lives in even the most decadent of
             societies
 
 
 
       2) Galatians 3:11 teaches that “no one is justified before God by the
            law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
 
 
 
       3) Hebrews 10:38 quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to teach that since the Lord is
            returning to set all things straight, we are to persevere in our faith
 
 
 
 
 

 




* 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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