June 1, 2008
Through the final chapter of Habakkuk, Alistair Begg explains that the prophet rejoiced not because the circumstances surrounding him were resolved but because through God’s answer to his prayer the prophet gained a renewed, eternal perspective. God understands perfectly the cries of our hearts, and the right response to His answers is to do as Habakkuk did: wait patiently and pray fervently.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to the Old Testament with me, to the prophecy of Habakkuk, which is on page 664 in our church Bibles and which, if you’re not using a church Bible, you will find in between Nahum and Zephaniah. It’s almost at the end of the Old Testament.
So, let me read chapter 3 for us:
“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
“Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
“God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed.
His ways are eternal.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
“Were you angry with the rivers, O Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode with your horses
and your victorious chariots?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.
“Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
“With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.
“I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
“For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Father, now we pray that in turning to your Word, the Spirit of God will teach us and that we will be changed as a result of our encounter with you, the living God, through your written Word, the Bible, as we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Life by its very nature is untidy. It constantly defies our attempts to control it. We are challenged by it on multiple levels on virtually a daily basis. Physically, we are clearly not in charge and silly if we think it to be other than that. Emotionally, we are often very quickly overwhelmed and find that things that we thought we had control over have unraveled before us, and we find ourselves in difficulty and often in sadness and chaos. Spiritually, by our nature without God, left to ourselves, we are confused; we are like those who are always learning and yet never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And all of these circumstances and more besides are inevitably represented when a congregation of this size gathers, as it does routinely, on the first day of the week. And this congregation represents a whole variety of perspectives on life itself, on who God is, on what the Bible is. And I am not unaware of that when I speak Sunday by Sunday. But I want you to know, especially for those of you whose view of the world differs from this, that all of our study of the Bible here at Parkside starts from the position that the Bible is God’s Word—that God in his Word has said exactly what he wants to say and that he has said it in precisely the form that he wants it to be said.
Some who are here today may doubt the very existence of God and therefore would have no truck with the idea that the Bible is God’s Word. Why would anybody be concerned about it, to study it, and to declare it as being authoritative? I recognize that. Some regard God either as a figment of their imagination or as of their own creation, a God who exists for them, not by whose power they exist; and they determine just what it is they believe and not least of all about the Bible. And I recognize that some are in that position too. But we’re starting from the position that the Bible is God’s Word.
That doesn’t clean everything up. Some people think it does. Some people think that the reason that we would be prepared to affirm that is in order to remove the difficulties. But in actual fact, it introduces almost as many difficulties as it removes. For example: if our world is chaotic, haphazard, and devoid of meaning, then while we may be disappointed by the horrible events of life, we should simply take them in our stride. After all, what do we expect? There is no one in charge, there is no one responsible, no one has made anything, no one has appointed anything; it’s all just unfolding before us. Interestingly, those who would affirm that kind of existence, when things go wrong, often immediately want to lay the blame at the feet of some god, real or imagined—a god in whom they say they do not believe but yet whom they want to hold responsible for the earthquake in China, or for the tsunami, or for whatever else it might be. Why they say that they’re not even sure themselves. What the Bible says is that God has set eternity in their hearts, that they know of God by their very creation, and although they turn their back on God and they marshal arguments in order to make it possible for them to deny God, yet when the chips are down, he is once again reintroduced not as a God to be praised but as a God to be abused.
For the believer in this God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we also have the challenge that comes as a result of affirming that God is all good and he is all-powerful, and yet we face disappointment, disease, chaos, heartache, and violence. And so people justifiably will ask the question, “If this God of creation is all powerful and all good, then why are things the way they are?” Such questions are not unusual. They come routinely, and they’re found frequently in the Bible. And indeed, the prophecy of Habakkuk begins with two of those very questions.
Let me rehearse it for you, for those of you who have not been here in the evenings, but this little prophecy, about six or seven hundred years before Jesus, begins with Habakkuk bewailing the fact of injustice and violence, strife and conflict. The law of the land is paralyzed. The wicked seem to be winning out over those who are seeking to do the right thing. Not an uncommon set of circumstances, and yet all those years before.
And his dilemma is the dilemma that emerges from a belief in God. And he is concerned about two things: one, God’s timing (“How long is this going to go on?”), and two, God’s apparent tolerance of evil and of injustice (“How long is this going to last, and why do you tolerate it?”) Again, I say to you, those are contemporary questions.
The answer that God provides begins in 1:5, and the answer that he gives presents an even bigger problem than the first one introduced by the prophet. Because what God says in response is that he is raising up a pagan people who will punish his people. So his people have been doing bad things, and he’s determined that he will raise up a nation that does really bad things to punish and to take care of those who are doing quite bad things.
Oh, now Habakkuk has a double problem: the problem of his initial question and then the problem of God’s answer. Well, God replies in chapter 2, and he says, “Well, the actual fact of the matter is that justice will inevitably prevail, that the earth will be filled with the glory of God,” 2:14, “as the waters cover the sea.” And as Habakkuk sits or stands, in the beginning of chapter 2, in expectation, laying his request like the psalmist before God, he’s waiting “to see” what God “will say.” Interesting verbs, aren’t they? You usually listen to hear what somebody will say, but here the prophet is listening to see what God will say—a reminder to us that actions, in this instance, speak louder than words as well. And in chapter 2, in this wonderful, poetic, challenging chapter, God says, “Don’t you worry. The instrument that I am raising up to deal with problem number one I will deal with, and deal with properly as well.”
And so, in coming to chapter 3, we notice first of all that the prophet reacts. The prophet reacts. If you take verse 2 and 3, you can see this initial reaction:
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
And we might want to add to that verse 16, where his reaction to the further statement that he himself is the bearer of is, as described there,
I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
So what we discover is this: that the complaints with which he has begun—“How long and why?”—are now replaced with awe and with wonder. And there in verse 2 of the chapter, you will see that he stands to attention, as it were, before the display of God’s power. If you like, God provided his own firework display in verse 4:
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
And immediately, instantaneously, Habakkuk finds that he stands, he rises to his feet, in the display of God’s majesty and power.
If you’ve been at events where something of significance takes place—not just the singing or the playing of the national anthem, but if somebody does something spectacularly well, whether it is in a concert or someone playing a guitar or whatever it might be—and all of a sudden you discover that people all around the place just stand to their feet, and they stand in awe and in wonder: “Isn’t it awesome that this person is able to do this!” That’s what they’re saying by standing. And the prophet stands in awe of God’s deeds.
God in his majesty has brought him to his feet, but in verse 16, it is the same majesty and power of God that has floored him. Floored him. He not only rises to adore God’s splendor, but he falls on his face before all that he has revealed of himself. And you will notice his heart pounds, and his lips quiver, and his feet give out, and we find him literally flattened by the devastating impact of God’s might.
You see, this is in direct contrast to the invented gods with which chapter 2 has closed. At the end of chapter 2, the pagan nation that was being used in order to punish God’s people is described under the rubric of their pathetic and futile idolatry. And the prophet asks in verse 18,
Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For he who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
Now, just pause here for a moment and think this out. Because this is the issue of idolatry. The issue of idolatry is that it is not only futile, but it is foolish. It is eminently foolish for people to say, “Well, no, I don’t believe in the God of the Bible. I don’t believe in a creator God. I don’t believe in the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob. But I’m not saying I don’t believe in God.” “Well, all right, well then, tell me what you are saying.” And then they will say things like “Well, I believe that God is a cosmic principle into which I plug,” or “I believe that God is inside of myself,” or “I believe that, essentially, since I am part of humanity, since humanity is part of creation, since God himself is part of the creation that he made, then I am somehow or another part of God myself.”
So, when you run up against it, when life is so horribly untidy, when the wheels fall off, when tragedy hits, when sickness beckons, when you stand before an open grave, to whom do you go? To the god of your own creation? “I like to think of God as…”? As opposed to a God who stands outside of time, who has created the world and all that is in it.
Who stands to attention before a block of wood? Who falls on the floor between an idol of my own invention? No, you see, the God of the Bible is a God who calls people to their feet, is a God who demands attention, is a God who in the display of his sovereign power and majesty causes men and women to put their hands over their mouths, brings them to their feet in adoration and in awe, and puts them down on the floor of their bedroom before the displays of his majesty and his power. Small wonder that when J. B. Phillips, our favorite paraphraser of the New Testament, wrote his book concerning men and women’s view of God, the title of the book was Your God Is Too Small.
You see, what Habakkuk is doing here in his very own prophecy is that every display of God’s power, every revealing of God’s character is like, for the prophet, another piece of the jigsaw. He reaches, as it were, into the box that God has provided, and he picks out another piece, and he places it in the picture that is being formed. He is, if you like, developing his own theology as he goes along: logos, the word, or knowledge; theos, God; knowledge of God. His knowledge of God is growing as he comes along. And as the pieces go into the puzzle, he realizes, “This is why God is doing this. This is who God is. I asked him why, and he answered in this way. I asked him how long, and he responded in this way.”
And so it is that now you find him waiting patiently. Verse 16b: “Yet I will wait patiently.” Well, that’s a bit of a change, isn’t it? Because you weren’t waiting patiently when you started your little prophecy, Habakkuk! No, you were shouting. You were banging on the table: “How long, O Lord? How long is this going on? Why is this happening? Why isn’t this sorted out now?” Look at the change: “I will wait patiently.” What happened? Did he get an answer? Yes. Did he get the answer he expected? No. Did his circumstances change? Not a bit. God just displayed himself. And then he said, “You know what I think I ought to do? I think I should wait patiently.” Good idea, Habakkuk. God perfectly understands your questions at the beginning. He understands that.
Well, that’s the right response. “I will wait patiently,” verse 16, and “I will pray fervently,” verse 2. And his prayer is clear: “Do in our day what you’ve done in other days. Renew your deeds in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember your mercy.” It’s as though Habakkuk is living in a kind of flat, uneventful era. Nothing much is going on. And then all of this violence and destruction and injustice breaks out, and he knows that God needs to intervene. And he cries out to him. And now, as he says, “I’m going to wait patiently,” he says, “I’m also going to use the time to talk to you. And this is what I’m asking you: in your wrath remember your mercy”—incidentally, a prayer that would only finally be answered if you fast-forward seven hundred years to a scene outside of the walls of Jerusalem and to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ the Son, hanging on a cross and declaring, “It is finished.” What is finished? The work of redemption, whereby he took in himself all of God’s righteous wrath against sin and he displayed in himself all of God’s mercy provided for the sinner.
Well, that’s something of the prophet’s reaction.
Secondly, the prophet reviews. The prophet reviews. And in verses 3–15, what you have is a wonderful poem. It is a classic example, I’m told, of Hebrew poetry. My time in Hebrew class was fairly brief and rather unrewarding, and so I read that it was a classic example of Hebrew poetry; I’m passing that information on to you. I don’t want you to get any impression that I actually know that firsthand. So, for those of you who read the Hebrew Bible, you can check, then you can let me know; and I know there are some who can. But I’m going to take it at face value, because it certainly reads very well in the English, doesn’t it? And I tried to read it as best as I could.
It provides a magnificent and a frightening picture of God’s acts in history. It displays his power not only over nature but also over all of the nations. So, for example, look at verse 6: “He stood, and shook the earth.” That is a metaphor; you understand that. It’s all anthropomorphisms. It’s describing God, who is Spirit, in an anthropomorphic way so that we might have some point of identification. “God stood,” as it were, “and he shook the earth. He looked and made the nations tremble.”
You know, we all had schoolteachers like that, didn’t we? They never had to raise their voice. Mrs. Walker, my English teacher, she never raised her voice—never, ever. She only needed to raise her eyebrows. And that was it. I don’t know how she did it. Other teachers had mayhem on their hands, chaos. “Would you please be quiet? I’ll send you to the headmaster. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da!” Mrs. Walker? No. Just [gives stern look].
This is the picture of God. He just looks. So when you’re tempted to get all bent out of shape about the United Nations or phenomenally excited about the United Nations, when you see them all sitting in their circle there with their microphones and their little signs, all resplendent in their glory… If you’re old enough to remember Khrushchev and the shoe-banging incident, let me tell you: God just cast a quizzical eye down on Khrushchev. Never mind your Bay of Pigs. Never mind your shoe. And all the events of the nations as described here and as described on a daily basis in our news broadcasts are under the control of the creator of the ends of the earth, who doesn’t grow weary and whose wisdom is unsearchable.
You see what a radically different view of the universe one has as a Christian? To be a Christian is a mind-altering experience. It is not simply the addition of some spiritual dimension to our already fairly good life. It is not the inclusion of a god that exists simply to fill in the inconsequential gaps that we cannot handle by virtue of our own reason. No, it is to fall down before the display of his splendor and to look at our world, even as Habakkuk does here, and to realize that he has given to us this great panorama of God’s intervention. I’m going to leave you to tie the poetry to the history. All you need is a Bible and a knowledge of the English language, and you’ll be able to see the different places that you can find in Judges 4 and 5 and in the book of Exodus and so on. And some of them you won’t be able to get; I’m not sure that I could. But what you have here is just this great mural, as it were, painted all across the walls of these scenes of God’s activity in the unfolding story of history.
Now, when I read, I’m always looking for the one paragraph that summarizes the chapter, ’cause I’m lazy. And I’m always looking for the one sentence that summarizes the paragraph, and I’m always looking for one good phrase that gives me the handle on what’s happening here in this section. And I think I have it in verse 13. If somebody said, “What is this whole poem about? What is it? Why does he take from 3 to 15 to say what he’s saying? What is he saying?” Well, this is what he’s saying: in each of the scenes described in the poem, what is happening is that God was coming out to deliver his people, to save his anointed ones. All right?
Now, again, you see, this is why it’s important that we understand the way the Bible holds together—that the story of the Bible is the story of God’s promise to Abraham to make of him a nation that will be so vast that no one would be able to count it. Into that nation God plugs believing gentiles along with believing Jews and makes a community of his own that will eventually be innumerable in the portals of heaven. And in order to achieve that ultimate objective, God throughout all of history protects and preserves his Anointed One, his anointed ones, those ones eventually embodied in Christ himself, who is the very Israel of God. So when you read the Old Testament and you look at the exodus and you say, “What was happening when Moses said, ‘Let my people go,’ and they came out and the churning of the water swallowed up the chariots?”—the answer is here in verse 13. God was coming out to deliver his people.
What was happening in the conversion of Ruth, the Moabitess girl, when in the encounter with her mother-in-law she pledges allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God was preserving his Anointed One. What is happening when David steps out onto the battlefield before the vastness of Goliath and all the hosts of wickedness arrayed against God’s people? God is coming out to deliver his anointed ones. And throughout all of history, including present-day history, God continues to act in that way. And that is why it is always vitally important for us to keep our eyes on, first of all, what the Bible reveals concerning God’s activity and then to be sensible in looking at the way in which that is happening throughout our world. “You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” If you want a cross-reference, go to Psalm 105. You can go, I think, to Psalm 132 as well.
The hymn writer summarizes it again. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons I like hymn lyrics so much, is because they often summarize a great deal of theology and do it in a poetic form that someone like myself can remember. If they did it mathematically, it would be hopeless to me. If they do it lyrically, at least I’ve got a chance. The hymn begins, “Praise to the holiest in the height, and in the depth be praise.” But that’s not the verse. The verse is:
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight,
And to the rescue came.
That, you see, is all tied into the wonder of God’s purposes—the theology that Paul gives us: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ [will all] be made alive.” Adam has fouled it up, turned his back on God, and we with him have come crashing down in our rebellion against God and in our sin. How are we then to get back to that place of fellowship with a God against whom we have offended? Can we do it by our good deeds? No. Can we do it by spiritual experiences within us? No. Well then, how is it going to be possible?
And the answer is in the loving wisdom of God, in the terms of verse 13: the Father said to the Son, “Go out, my Son, and be a champion for my people. Go out, my Son, and redeem my people Israel. Go out and bring them home to me.” And out onto the battlefield of life strides, like a colossus, Jesus of Nazareth, taking on the evil that is ranged against him and bringing it to its knees at the cross. And when it all looked like it was completely finished, God was yet protecting his Anointed One, and up from the grave he arises and shows himself to people. And the gospel goes out, even today, to the very ends of the earth.
Oh, I get excited about this. There is no story like this. I’ve studied comparative religions. I don’t know all that they say, but I know enough of what they say to know they don’t say this. How could it be, with such a magnificent story, with such a wonderful provision, that the minds of men and women would be turned again and again and again away from this story of amazing grace? There is only one answer, and the answer is again in our Bibles, in 2 Corinthians 4: that the god of this age has blinded the minds of men and women so that they cannot see the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ. They cannot see it. And they cannot even see that they can’t see, until God in his mercy shows them their blindness, so that in acknowledgement of their blindness they may, like Bartimaeus, cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me. I want to see!”
And if you want to see today—if you want to see your world the right way, if you want to see God in all of his provision, if you want to make sense of these bits and pieces—cry out to God from where you are. Acknowledge your blindness. Acknowledge your rebellion. Acknowledge the fact that you like to have a god of your own creation, ’cause you don’t have to obey him. He has to do for you; you don’t have to do for him. But it doesn’t work! It doesn’t work before an empty grave. It doesn’t work before the inhabitation of your body by temptations and all kinds of invasions. You are powerless to deal with it. You need a God outside of yourself. And it is that God displayed in this wonderful poem that Habakkuk is reviewing.
Finally, the prophet reacts, the prophet reviews, and the prophet rejoices. This is a great finish! The key to a good sermon, said George Burns, is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and then try and keep the two of them as close together as you can. So here Habakkuk does it. He has a good beginning with all the questions and complaints: “How long is this going on? Why does this happen?” And look at this phenomenal close: “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” In other words, he takes the fact of God’s disclosure in the past, his sovereign control of the affairs of time; he brings the apparent out-of-control-ness of his personal circumstances, nationally, within the perspective of God’s revealing of himself; and then that is what allows him to get perspective.
You see, he doesn’t end up rejoicing because the circumstances are fixed. There is no indication of the circumstances being fixed. The circumstances may actually be a little worse. But the prophecy which had opened with doubts and with problems ends with delight and praise. And I want you to notice carefully that the affirmation with which he finishes is not engendered by happy circumstances. It’s not engendered by happy circumstances! And until God’s people are prepared to get our hearts and our heads underneath this truth, we will continue to present to our unbelieving friends and neighbors a posture which is neither true to life nor true to the Bible!
Our friends are not drawn by the idea that… It goes something like this: “I have a dreadful problem. I went to God. I don’t have any more problems; therefore, we’re having a picnic! I will rejoice, we will rejoice, and we would like you to come over and see what it is like to rejoice.” Well, you’re flat-out not telling the truth. Eventually, the picnic is in heaven; no doubt about that. That will be untrammeled joy. That will be unmitigated praise and wonder. But right now, all hell lets loose against us: fightings outside of us, fears within us, doubts, disappointments, cancers, broken relationships, children that drive us crazy—and I’m only running through the first little section! And everybody goes, “That’s right! That’s right! No! He’s telling the truth! That’s right! I know that’s right!”
Okay. So how do you get to “I will rejoice”? That’s the $64,000 question. And the answer is right here. He doesn’t say, “I will rejoice.” He says, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful,” notice, “in God my Savior.” Who is “God my Savior”? He’s “the sovereign Lord.” “The sovereign Lord”! Not a wooden thing that I have at the end of my bed. No! No! No! I’m coming to the sovereign Lord, who made himself known in the Bible, who revealed himself in the acts of history. “Sovereign Lord, I have cancer! Sovereign Lord, my uncle is in a wheelchair! Sovereign Lord, my kids are killing me! Sovereign Lord!” This is the Christian experience. “Through many dangers, toils, … snares I have already come.”
Tell your friends that. That’s believable! Tell your work colleagues that. They’ll identify with that! Tell them, “When it all hits the fan and you feel like running for it, the answer is not in the transformation of circumstance, but the answer is in the revelation of God in and of himself, in his Word, the Bible. I have nothing else to hold onto except that he promised, except that he made himself known to me in this way.”
And a brief prophecy such as this points us always forward. The prophets are always pointing forward—in the middle of his disappointment, in the absence of everything that would be regarded as God’s blessing, especially from the mind of Judaism. This is what he’s saying, isn’t he? This is an agricultural economy: “Though the fig tree doesn’t bud, no grapes on the vines, all the crop fails, fields produce no food, no sheep in the pen, no cattle in the stalls.” What is that? That is absolute the destruction of society. That is just everything is gone to pot. Everything is shot!
And listen to us: “Can you believe the price of gas? I am… Unbelievable! It’s terrible. This is America, you know! I mean, this is ridiculous!” Well, yeah, maybe, maybe not; I don’t know. You pay more for water than you pay for gas; you’re still walking around with all those bottles hanging off you. I don’t know what your deal is.
But to contextualize it, I mean, what he’s really saying is: “Though the stock market collapses, though my property loses 75 percent of its value, though the price of gas goes to eight bucks a gallon, though we have a food shortage and we have to line up outside Heinen’s, still I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign Lord gives me strength and Air Nikes!” Just look at that, 19: Nikes! I should… Man, I should… Somebody send this tape to Oregon; I might get a free pair for this. But listen: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer.” The average young person is going, “I don’t want my feet to look like the feet of a deer. That’s… I don’t like…” It’s a metaphor! For goodness’ sake! “I’m walking on air!” he says. “I’m walking on air. I got the springs in my heels.” Why?
You see, we’ve got loved ones in this congregation right now that are facing horrible battles with illness. The sovereign Lord, even in the midst of all of that pain, in the face of the threshold of death, is able to assure his children that he has come out onto the battlefield to secure them for himself, and having taken them into himself, he will not let them go.
If we had time, we would go to Romans 8, but we don’t. So relax. And if you go to Romans 8 and allow, as it were, Paul—in that magnificent chapter that begins, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them [that] are in Christ Jesus”—if you allow Paul, as it were, to backfill for us or to paint another few scenes into this great mural of Habakkuk, then you will be tremendously encouraged. Because it’s there, remember, he says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” See, he doesn’t say, “Who can be against us?” Because the answer to that is “Well, a lot of people and a lot of stuff.” But what he says is “Get some perspective. If the sovereign Lord of the universe is for you, has redeemed you, then, you know, Khrushchev banging his shoe—hey, come on! Or your wife banging her shoe, or somebody banging theirs… Hey!”
And then he says, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” You see, what he means by that is not that people won’t come and accuse us. The devil accuses us. Our consciences accuse us. People accuse us. But at the cross, the case is closed. You can’t file with any higher court than this. God has brought the judgment of eternity into time in the death of his Son, and all who are in Christ, who have been justified and set apart, there’s no condemnation to them. So let anybody come and accuse in any way they want! “Who [will] separate us from the love of Christ?” Well, stress might, opposition might, danger, violence, and so on. “We’re given over to death all day long,” he says, “and for your sake.” But ultimately that can’t do us. You can get separated from your wife, you can get separated from your kids, you can get separated from your house, you can get separated from your body, but you can’t get separated from the love of God. Cancer can’t get your soul.
Listen to how Richard Sibbes puts it. Who’s Richard Sibbes? Don’t worry. “God takes care of poor weak Christians that are struggling with temptations and corruptions. Christ carries them in his arms. All Christ’s sheep are diseased, and therefore he [takes] tender care of them.” “All Christ’s sheep are diseased, and therefore he [takes] tender care of them.” What a tragedy it is when our friends and neighbors who are wondering about life and death and the things of the Spirit, when they’ve got this idea that somehow or another God is taking care of us, by our profession, because we are the undiseased ones. We’re the diseased ones! Every day we need fresh forgiveness. Every day.
Well, that’s Habakkuk.
Father, we thank you that the Bible is such that we can never plumb its depths, that it is actually the Book that understands us more than we even understand it. We thank you that in it you have disclosed yourself precisely as you chose to say exactly what you want. So come to our complaining hearts and lives, come to our superficial views of history, and set us right, Lord, we pray, not simply that we may be settled, as it were, in our own equilibrium but in order that we might be what you have desired for us to be: shining as lights in a dark place, bearing news of the fact that Christ is the one who comes to those who are diseased and provides the very answer in his own sacrifice.
And come to our untidy lives today, Lord, we pray, and help us, whether our circumstances alter for the better or not, to be able to affirm that, Lord, you are sovereign over everything you’ve made. And then help us to live in light of that. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 See 2 Timothy 3:7.
 See Ecclesiastes 3:11.
 See Romans 1:20.
 See Habakkuk 1:1–4.
 See Habakkuk 1:13.
 John 19:30 (NIV 1984).
 See Isaiah 40:28.
 See Exodus 9:1; 14:26–28.
 See Ruth 1:16.
 See 1 Samuel 17:48–51.
 See Psalm 105:15.
 See Psalm 132:17–18.
 John Henry Newman, “Praise to the Holiest in the Height” (1865).
 1 Corinthians 15:22 (NIV 1984).
 See 2 Corinthians 4:4.
 Mark 10:47, 51 (paraphrased).
 John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).
 Romans 8:1 (KJV).
 Romans 8:31 (KJV).
 Romans 8:33 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 8:35 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 8:36 (paraphrased).
 Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 7, Miscellaneous Sermons, Indexes, &c., (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 185.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.