November 4, 2018

Reformation Sunday - Habakkuk 2:1-4

Habakkuk’s (and your) enduring Questions and God’s Answer
1. In Fairness 
2. In Feeling  
3. In Faith 

Habakkuk 2:1-4 I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint. 2 The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. 4 Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith.

Dear fellow redeemed:

How do you react when you’re stressed? Psychologists talk about different reactions to stress that have been observed in people. They call them defense mechanisms – ways in which we process hard times that are happening. One reaction is denial – acting like the troubling thing isn’t actually happening. Another is projection – always being focused on what others are doing wrong instead of the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. A common one is displacement – where we cope with our stress by lashing out at easier targets who aren’t responsible for it. Or there’s identification – where we associate with other people or organizations who are popular or successful as a way to mask our own insecurities.

The thing about it is that humans are astoundingly acute when diagnosing the various ways that we handle stress – yet we’re often no better in actually handling it properly and getting over it. Habakkuk was stressed out. We might say that his defense mechanism for handling that stress was to blame God. In chapter one, Habakkuk lobbed two volatile complaints at God in the form of questions. In chapter two, under our text for consideration – Habakkuk gets his answer.

The same pattern plays out in our lives and in our faith. We question God – sometimes honestly and innocently, sometimes not so much. Our questions are similar to Habakkuk’s as we’ll see in a moment. They are the common inquisitions of a mortal human’s heart. And, much like Habakkuk, God doesn’t always give us the answer we want, but nonetheless an answer that satisfies. These questions and this answer, center on three things – fairness, feeling, and faith. May the Holy Spirit who leads through the Word of God bless us through it today.

Part 1: Fairness

Habakkuk’s first question was: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. 4 This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted (1:2-4).

Habakkuk questioned God’s fairness. Like the rest of the prophets, Habakkuk was called to preach a message to God’s people. Like many of the rest of the prophets, the message was hard and the response was not good. In the very first verse Habakkuk calls the message a “burden” which was also a play on words in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for a message from God also contains the imagery of something that is carried under extreme pressure. We don’t know exactly what that message was, word for word. But, Habakkuk is clear enough that it wasn’t heeded. Wickedness had reached such as level that it caused the prophet to doubt whether God cared, or what value the law of God even held. Habakkuk questions the very principle of justice, like it doesn’t even exist. And perhaps most telling of all, this first question is extremely personal. Notice the personal emphasis: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me.

How often have we faced the same personal conflict? What God tells us is extremely clear. His Word is that lamp to light the way. Yet, no one listens. People do what they please with the Word of God. Evil and wickedness abound in the world. The rich and the greedy continue to prosper. The vile and the disgusting continue to find ways to hurt others. Where is justice? Some, like Habakkuk, have felt this so acutely that they even question whether or not justice really exists. Some have given up trying.

Part 2: In Feelings

Habakkuk’s second question may be less personal but it’s certainly more pointed at God, Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he (1:12-13)?

Habakkuk moves on from his personal feelings to now questioning the very nature of God. This is the next logical step. If God doesn’t care about me, but claims to – how can I then trust anything else about Him? Is He eternal? Is He holy? What happens to Habakkuk here is that he allows his feelings to get in the way of God’s Word. Feelings are a lot like temptations. They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re not always controllable. We will feel the way we will feel – no one can change that. Just like we will be tempted – no one can stop that.

The thing is, we don’t have to be dominated by those feelings. Sometimes people get upset at God’s Word or Christians because they think they’re trying to change the way they feel. This gets upsetting to say the least because there is so much to the way we feel that is out of our control. What do you think about Habakkuk’s second question? Have you ever felt the same way? Who hasn’t wondered about the Lord’s eternal nature? Who hasn’t contemplated God’s righteousness? Who hasn’t questioned God’s plan? These are natural feelings – meaning that they don’t come about by personal choice. Therefore, they also can’t be wished away as if they don’t exist.

But, this isn’t what God’s Word is aimed at. Feelings will always be there. God’s Word isn’t trying to change that. Instead, it gives you a way through those feelings to God. Feelings may come natural but that doesn’t mean they won’t betray the truth. Have you ever felt that God is asking the impossible of you? Have you ever been fed up with waiting for God’s answer? God is telling you right now He’s not trying to change you to act like those feelings will never exist. The fact that we see these examples so often in Scripture is a testament to their reality. God is giving you a way through – an answer that fills in your personal need and satisfies your natural struggle with His will. And it is the same answer He gave Habakkuk. The righteous one will live by his faith.

Part 3: In Faith

Here is true justice. Here is where divine righteousness is found. It is by faith. The Bible always means the same thing when it speaks of faith. It is trust in God. It is relying on Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation, even over ourselves. This is where we find answers. This is how we receive justice from our adversaries – through Jesus. Habakkuk would later sing, through a song, at the end of this book: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls-- 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (3:17-18).

Notice that the stress isn’t over. Habakkuk confidently understands, even though evil still exists, even though bad things happen to me, even though I wait on the Lord’s plan – I can rejoice in salvation through my God. Joy in the Lord is not the absence of bad things – or the effects of sin in our lives. Rather it is the ability to get through it in the Lord’s name, with our faith intact.

Our text puts it another way, For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. The Lord tells Habakkuk that His answer will seem like it’s late, but it will not be late. It is according to His plan. Doesn’t that encapsulate the difficulty that we face in matters of fairness and feeling in our lives? It seems like the Lord isn’t listening. It feels like He doesn’t care, or that He isn’t powerful enough. In those thoughts we are tempted to doubt His Word. At those moments there are others who offer more attractive answers – quick answers that I don’t have to wait for. At that time Satan brings the full onslaught of temptation – that God’s Word is false, that God doesn’t care about your complaint, that God has moved on, that there’s no point in waiting because it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no denying the stress – but God openly tells you it’s part of the process. His answer will feel like it’s late – but it never is.

The righteous shall live by faith. That is our motto as believers because that’s the only way through this sinful world. God told Habakkuk that He knew the source of his complaints; Habakkuk’s ego was inflated. He was proud in his own thoughts. But, the Lord didn’t leave him there – Habakkuk already knew that. The Lord reassured him – you are righteous by faith, that will never be late; that will never change. Write it down, make it clear that others may know it too.

How do you handle stress? What is your go-to defense mechanism? Do you hide from it? Do you try to mask it? Do you take it out on others? Is it always some else’s fault? Recognize your questions and God’s answer – just as Habakkuk did. You, also, are righteous by faith in Jesus. Tempted to question that? Ever feel like it isn’t true? Consider this word from God about His timing – explaining why you can have confidence.

Romans 5:4-8 We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There’s an answer worth knowing. It’s okay to witness the evil. It’s okay to feel the stress. It’s okay to have the feeling of uncertainty. You have a way through – Jesus, the one who died for you. We can glory in those conquered things, because it’s glorying in our Savior. We can see and appreciate God’s hand at work, because it is. He died and lives for sinners and so I am righteous by faith. Amen.      

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