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The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

The Righteous Shall Live By Faith
5th June 2011

The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Speaker:
Passage: Habakkuk 2:2 – 20

Habakkuk 2:2 – 20
The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

God’s word to the righteous

I wonder if there are any Bob the Builder fans here this morning. Most of them are probably out in the Kids’ Programs, but not all I suspect!
Who knows the Bob the Builder theme song?
Bob the Builder
Can we fix it?
Bob the Builder
Yes, we can!
Can we fix it? Yes we can!
There’s no challenge too great for Bob and his trusty team,
But that could just as easily be the theme song for 21st Century Australia, couldn’t it?
Our society says there’s no problem that we can’t deal with,
Nothing broken that we can’t fix.

If humanity pulls together, we can solve whatever lies before us.
And yet, it just doesn’t work that way does it?

The 20th Century was supposed to be the century in which humanity triumphed,
We even had the war to end all wars, and yet by one historian’s count there were 165 separate wars last Century.
Can we fix it?
Well actually, it seems not.

Something’s broken, and we need someone to step in, do something about sin,
Bring an end to evil,
Bring justice to those who currently miss out.
That was Habakkuk’s cry in chapter 1, wasn’t it?

When are you going to step in Lord?

When are you going to do something about sin and evil?
And when we left Habakkuk, he was waiting,
Waiting for God to respond.

Waiting for God to do something.

He has absolute faith that God is going to act,
And today, Habakkuk’s faith in God is vindicated.

God is going to act against sin.
And so here are words of comfort for Habakkuk, but also for any of us who get impatient when God doesn’t act according to our timetable!
God says, you want to know what I’m going to do about sin?

About those terrible idolatrous, blasphemous Babylonians?
Well “Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

Write
it down,
Make it plain,
God wants people to know and understand his plans.
This is the language used to describe Moses explaining God’s Word to people.

Other times it means writing something down in such a way as to make sure people can understand it.
It’s not that God’s saying Habakkuk has messy handwriting and he has to try extra hard to stay within the lines,
One translation says “Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance”
It’s the 7th Century BC equivalent of roadside billboard isn’t it?

Companies spend a fortune distilling the essence of their product into just a word or two so it can be read at a glance.
You could have a billboard advertising sporting equipment, filled with words, extolling all the virtues of exercise and activity, and all the benefits of this particular product, or you could have 3 words, “just, do it.”
Write it down, make it plain.

God is active in history, and he’s moving it towards his appointed ends.
He wants people to know it.
He wants Judah to know, "my word comes true,
My promises will all be fulfilled."

And those who hear and are convinced of that, will be able to live in accordance with it. They will be able to live by faith, verse 4, even when evil people seem to go from strength to strength,

Those who hear this message “God acts, God keeps his promises”, will know, justice will be done, even when justice seems far off.

That’s living by faith.
And those of us who are Christians see this message fulfilled in the cross of Jesus. And so we trust in what God has done for us in Jesus’ death, and that shapes our life.

I wonder, what are the tablets for you?
I don’t mean what message has God told you to write down,
But where is your reminder that God’s promises come true, that his plans succeed?
Who points you back to the promises of God?
Who asks you if the message of the Bible is having an ongoing impact in your life?
Who is it, that when it looks like God isn’t in control, reminds you that yes, of course, he is?
Maybe your answer to that question is nothing, and no one.
In the next little while we’re hoping to set up a system of mentoring in our church, to help us disciple each other, and to do this very thing here, remind each other of God’s Word.

Remind each other of what it is to wait on God,
Remind each other how to live, when what we see around us is distressing and difficult.
We’re not really sure how we’re going to go about setting this mentoring thing up, but now that I’ve announced it, I guess we’ll be figuring it out!
How to live by faith, when evil doers go from bad to worse?, that’s the situation that Habakkuk’s in isn’t it?

Babylon is about to wipe out God’s people.

And God says, the righteous will live by his faith,
These words are quoted in the New Testament 3 times, In Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. And each time, those New Testament authors are contrasting people who live according to the rules of this world, with people who live, trusting in God’s goodness and action and provision.
You see Habakkuk would have us know, that even when God appears distant, he is near.

Even when he seems uninvolved, he is at work among his people.
God says to Habakkuk, write this message down, I am coming to fix things.

I am not absent .
Those who have faith will receive life,
But woe to those who, by their lives, show that they’re far from me.
The puffed up, verse 4,
The arrogant, verse 5,
The greedy.
God has the problem of sin and evil firmly in his sight.

Words of Woe

And the heavenly perspective is presented to us in what really is quite an interesting poetic form.
Here we have these 5 words of woe against Babylon, coming from God, but spoken in the voice of the inhabitants of the nations that Babylon has wiped out.
It’s a bit like God is the ventriloquist and the nations are the dummy!
You see there in verse 5, the evil people in Babylon are personified as a man, he gathers to himself all the nations, and takes captive all the peoples,
Then verse 6, Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying ‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods’ etc etc.
And so this series of words of woe, illustrate the key verse, verse 4, the wicked person is, puffed up; his desires are not upright—
 They do not live like the righteous person, who lives by his, or her, faith in God

Woe to the extortioner

First of all, woe to the extortioner,
Woe to him who piles up stolen good
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
7Will not your debtors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their victim.
Remember first of all, Habakkuk has the Babylonians on view,
But from what God says, it’s pretty clear that these words apply to anyone who oppresses other people. Whether that be an individual, country, whatever.

No wicked person or nation or group will escape God’s anger.
It’s interesting that in the last couple of weeks, the whole issue of war crimes has come to the fore with the arrest of Ratko Mladic. And just yesterday I heard some of those who survived the Srebrenica Massacre saying, “no matter what happens at the International Criminal Tribunal, justice still isn’t done. There’s no punishment that can make up for the deaths and bloodshed, and the destruction of lands and cities, all done simply so that one group of people could get ahead, over another.”
Well, Habakkuk chapter 2 speaks directly into what will be on the news tonight.
And what’s promised here? It’s a just, deserved consequence, isn’t it?
The punishment fits the crime exactly.
If we think that someone is escaping justice, Habakkuk would say to us, “No, no, turn your eyes to the heavenly courtroom, and rest assured that justice will be done. It might happen in this world, the Babylonians got wiped out, just like every evil empire before them, but even if you don’t see the sentence carried out, they’re still facing God’s anger.
And if we want to know how serious that punishment is, look at God’s anger poured out on Jesus, on the cross, what a frightening thing to face.

Nobody escapes justice.

Woe to the greedy

The second word of woe is addressed to the greedy – verse 9

9        “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain
to set his nest on high,
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10       You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11       The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
The language in verse 9 about building by unjust gain, gives the sense of selling what they called an “evil cut”, that is a shorter length of whatever it is than you promised. It was a common scam in selling cloth, which was bought by the length.
Which some of you do, I’m sure, buy fabric, or to translate it for the blokes who prefer to sit in the car when the ladies go into Spotlight and so have no idea what happens inside that strange building, If you went to Bunnings to get a piece of timber, and they said this one is 3 metres long, that’s $30, but in fact it was only 2.8 metres long, that was called an evil cut.
And if you do that enough, to enough customers, you can make a lot of money while ripping off a lot of people.
Do you know I think the people who made a habit of selling evil cuts probably thought, it doesn’t matter.

I reckon they would have convinced themselves, that it doesn’t really hurt anybody,
It’s just a little amount,
10% here, 15% there,
And on this unjust gain, they built their life.
If you’re a Christian person, then you know that God’s judgment against you has already been poured out in its entirety, on Jesus, when he died in your place, taking the punishment for sin that you deserved.
And so we might be tempted to think, it doesn’t matter what I do.

A little sin here,
A little sin there,
10% here, 15% there.
A little bit of dishonesty,
A little bit of unjust gain,
Not quite the whole 100% truth.
That kind of wickedness, stealing from others to feather your own nest, to build a better life for yourself, look at how God describes it in verse 11,
11       The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
So great is this offence, that we might think is a trifling matter, that the very house you built with unjust gain will cry out against you.
It’s almost comical. Imagine if you built a house, and as you’re showing it off to your friends, the garage door starts speaking, “I was paid for with a dodgy tax return!”

And then the airconditioner speaks “Because he ripped off his family, he could pay for me!”

And so you run inside, and the flat screen TV pipes up “I’m only here because he tricked his neighbours in a financial deal.”
When God says the stones and the woodwork will cry out, you know things have got pretty bad. No trifling matter at all.

Woe to those who build with bloodshed

The third word of woe is to those who build with bloodshed.

12     “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by crime!
13     Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14     For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

Maybe like Habakkuk, you’ve thought sometimes that sin and evil are just going to continue and grow and just get worse and worse?

Maybe you’ve watched some of those, kind of apocalyptic movies where sin and evil reign, and there’s no stopping them, life just goes on forever with more bloodshed and more corruption.
That was absolutely the world that Habakkuk lived in. It was the way the Babylonians, the world superpower of the time conducted themselves, and it was what life in Judah looked it.
And about 100 years earlier God had spoken against Judah through the prophet Micah, and said these very things are going to happen to you, because you have built your city with bloodshed. Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, a mound overgrown with thickets.
And that’s exactly what Habakkuk is looking down the barrel of a century later.
God did it to his own nation Judah, his own city Jerusalem, he did it to the Babylonians, as he promised here.
But God’s purpose is more than just retribution.

He doesn’t just stop the Babylonians in their tracks,
He doesn’t just punish them for their terrible bloodshed.

He wants people to know him.
He wants people to come to him.

And so the punishment for sin and the bringing down of empires is actually part of his plan to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of himself.
If we really want to get a handle on this, we need to look at the ultimate punishment of sin, that is, the cross of Christ. Because here these dual purposes of God can be see just so clearly.
Is sin punished on the cross? Absolutely. It is a terrible event. As we sing in one of our songs, How Deep The Father’s Love,
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
While, of course, the Trinity isn’t broken in any way, this perfect relationship between God the Father and God the Son suffers as the Son willingly, let me repeat, willingly, takes the full force of the Father’s anger at sin, the full punishment that we deserved.

We talked last week about how the cross demonstrates the terrible, terrible nature and cost of sin.
And yet, also in the cross, the way is thrown open for us to know God,
The cross is talked about in the Bible as Jesus’ glorification. What do we mean by glory? The best there is! “They were my glory days.” That was the best I ever was.
Well the cross is Jesus’ glory, where we see the nature and character of God in the very best way possible, The very best way there is.
How do we come to a knowledge of God?

Through trusting in what God provides at the cross, what he demonstrates of himself at the cross.
The way is thrown open for people to come to know God.

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
Not only does Jesus take the punishment for sin, for all those who trust in him, but he brings the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in a way that Habakkuk couldn’t even dream of.
God’s plan is not just to punish sin, but to make himself known.

Woe to the drunk and violent

The next woe is to the drunk and the violent.
“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!
The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed man’s blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
The first bit’s pretty easy to understand and not unexpected. Depravity and sin don’t like to be alone, do they? John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, once reflected on his slave-trading days and described how he always sought to draw others in to his sin and immorality.
But the cup with which Babylon indulged themselves, has been replaced with the cup from the Lord’s right hand, it will pour out God’s wrath on them.
But there are 2 little things I want to highlight in this word of woe, firstly in verse 16, God says to Babylon, Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!
Now we probably blush a little bit when we read this,
Any reference to nakedness, and we’re not quite sure where to look, and in church especially! For the people of Judah though, this wouldn’t have just been about embarrassment, but even more than that, if the Babylonians were exposed and naked, one thing would be very obvious.
They’re not circumcised. For them, being exposed is not just about being shamed, it demonstrates that they are outside the covenant people of God.
You could spin the finest argument about how good you are, and yet the moment you’re exposed, you would instantly be shown to be outside God’s people.
You see God hasn’t abandoned his people, even at this terrible stage, when it looks like all is lost, God is still faithful to the covenant he made, to the relationship he established with his people.
The other interesting observation is in verse 17,    The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.

All of creation suffers because of sin. It’s a picture we get in the New Testament, Romans 8 for example.
Now, standing on this side of the cross we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, but still let’s remember God’s command in Genesis 1, be stewards over the earth.
Don’t ever think that because we are the pinnacle of creation, that we are the only part of creation God cares about.
You might be familiar with that old proverb “We don’t own the earth, we borrow it from our children”, you see it on posters around the place. And I get the sentiment, They’re saying don’t “trash the place!”
But a better proverb to stick on your wall would be “We don’t own the earth, we’re entrusted to care for it by God.”

Not quite so catchy maybe, but Habakkuk 2 tells me, it’s not my children who will call me to account for how treat creation, but God.
All of creation is affected by sin.

Woe to those who worship idols.

Last one, and slightly different pattern here. Woe to those who worship idols.
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.
19       Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.
20       But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”
This last one comes across, almost as much pity as judgment. Those who worship idols, cry out to a god who can neither hear nor respond. What value is an idol?
You can pour out your soul before it,
Implore with all your heart, And it can do nothing. Just sit there silently.
Remember those terrible pictures that came out after Romania opened up at the end of the cold war? Orphanages filled with babies, silent babies.
They had cried, and cried, and cried, and no one came, so they learned there’s no use in crying, and they became silent. Silent, and scarred.
If you cry out to an idol, no one will come.
Someone told me once that out the back of the shopping centre near their home in Sydney, one of the shopkeepers had set up an idol, it was his god.
But when it rained, the god got wet and started to peel, so the man built a little shelter over his god, to protect it from the rain.

And the neighbourhood dogs used to like coming and relieving themselves on the god, so the man built a little fence, to protect his god from the dogs,
And the birds would come and sit under the shelter, and the god was getting covered in bird droppings, so the man had to hang some old CDs on fishing line, to scare the birds and keep them away from his god.
And I can’t help but think, “what good is your god? If you need to do all that for it, what can it possibly do for you?”
There is a God who is real and present, and people can come to him, and there are worthless idols that are not gods at all.
The prophet Isaiah describes a man, who down a tree, cuts the log in half, and with one part of it, he cooks a fire, makes his dinner, and with the other bit, he carves a god, and he bows down to it.
Half an hour ago it was a tree, and it could have just as easily gone into the fire to bake your dinner, and you’re bowing down to it?
We don’t have idols like this, gods, most of us. But here’s the warning for us, verse 18, do not trust in something that is your own creation.
One commentator says this: Worship an idol, and you receive from it what human beings can accomplish;, but worship the Lord God, and you receive what the creator of the ends of the earth can accomplish.
5 words of woe.
Though probably not in the timeframe that Habakkuk had hoped for, maybe not in the way that Habakkuk would have planned, nevertheless, God proved faithful, . And Babylon fell to the Persian Empire in 538 BC.
The wolves, the vultures, the leopards, of the Babylonian army, were themselves swept away.
Woe to those who worship anything or anyone other than the Lord God, before whom no one has any word of defence.
5 words of woe.

What do you think?
A bit harsh?

Think God’s overreacting a bit, at the drunks, the immoral, those who go after ill-gotten gain.
But we long for justice, don’t we?

We hate it when people who do wrong get off scot-free.
Just the other day there was a huge outcry because some people thought that the charged brought against a man who shot at 2 police officers weren’t severe enough.
We demand justice.

Think even of the TV shows we watch.
They’re all about bad guys getting caught and getting what they deserve!
City Homicide, bad guys getting caught in the city.
East West 101, multicultural bad guys getting caught in Sydney.
Sea Patrol, bad guys getting caught on the water.

But what happens if the TV stations wanted to fit some more ads in each hour, and so they cut of the last 8 minutes of each show, which is invariably the bit where the bad guys get what they deserve.
Drug dealers go to prison,
Murders get caught,
Terrorists get, shot, or something.
If every week the show ended before the bad guys get punished, do you think we’d keep watching?

Of course not!
We demand justice.

We long for it.

We couldn’t think that God would demand any less.
But we also need to remember that justice will be demanded of us.
Every sin,
Every evil word,
Every act for unjust gain,
Will be paid for,
Either, by Jesus Christ standing in our place, and therefore allowing us to live by faith in difficult times.

Or by us, standing, trembling, before the God who will sweep the world with his justice.
Can we fix it?

No we can’t.

But God can. God has. Will we take him up on his offer?