Monday, October 07, 2013

Sermon on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, for Reformation 1, "Faith Alone"

Sermon Outline:
·         Reformation month—four sermons on the “mottoes” of the Reformation: 1) faith alone, 2) grace alone, 3) scripture alone, and 4) Christ alone. Meaning; origin in the Bible; application.
·         “The righteous shall live by his faith.” One of the most important statements about faith, in OT and whole Bible—obscure prophet Habakkuk. Quoted by Paul to show that we are saved by faith, not works. What setting did Hab. pen these words? What was his message?
·         Short book—three chapters. Discussion between Habakkuk and God in 1 & 2, where Hab. makes a complaint to God—God answers, Hab. complains again, and God answers a second time, and the book ends with Hab. prayer in 3. Unfortunately the way the verses were selected you only hear Hab’s first complaint, and God’s second response.
·         Quick summary: writing before Jews went into exile and captivity under Babylon. Hab’s sees his nation falling into decline, and complains to God of corruption and injustice widespread, violence and fighting rampant. Cries out to God for help, but God doesn’t seem to listen or to save. God’s first answer (not in the reading) is not what Hab. was expecting/hoping for—God was going to use the Babylonians (terrifying warriors) to judge the people of Judah, who had become so corrupt, unjust, and filled with wickedness. Hab’s second protest/complaint (not in the reading) amounts to, “God, how could you do this? How can you use those wicked people?” Then the reading resumes with Hab saying he will take up his watch (role of a prophet) and wait for God’s response.
·         God doesn’t answer by trying to excuse or defend Himself to man (He is God, after all!), doesn’t need to prove He’s in control, doesn’t need to prove His goodness. Pay close attention to His response: “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.”
·         It’s not hard to commiserate with Hab from his watchtower—to wring our hands and lament about things that sound all-too-familiar: injustice in the land, violence, contention, and a longing for God to help or to rescue us. Sense of futility? Loss? Disbelief or doubt about God’s “methods?” Alternatively, scorn or skepticism—pride in our wisdom, our supposed self-sufficiency. How will His righteousness and justice prevail? Who will deliver? But then we hear God’s Word to Hab and us—the vision, God’s Word, His prophecy waits it’s appointed time—it’s not false. The time will come—God’s timing, not ours. Have patience, and don’t doubt or fear His Word will not come true.
·         Scripture is a record of God’s faithfulness to His promises and His people. Sometimes took ages to fulfill—but God’s Word does not lie—wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Not a moment before nor after God wills it to take place. Hab. waited in apprehension for God’s judgment—his nation would fall. But waited in faith for God’s salvation—his deliverance. We also might wait in some apprehension or uncertainty about how or when the end of times will come, what will be the near future for our nation, the Church, our job, our family, our life, any number of things. And so our faith might begin to falter—to weaken, to doubt. Doubt God’s goodness. His power, His ability to help. Whether He hears, or cares. Or we might become proud and arrogant, claiming we have no need for God. We do well to hear God say of the proud man, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” God calls us to humility and faith. Not an explanation for everything, but to put our trust in Him. To look for His salvation, His deliverance, in certain hope. The righteous shall live by his faith. Knows even when it seems the wicked are “having their day”, that God will have perfect justice in the end.
·         “Problem of evil”. For the Christian, for the believer who follows the trajectory of Hab. & all OT prophecy—the conversation about the problem of evil can only lead to one place—the cross of Jesus Christ. The faith of the righteous is not blind belief in anything we’re told—but it’s a firm trust in the God who truly is all good, all powerful, all holy, perfect justice, and perfect love. While faith can’t resolve all the problems of evil and mysteries of God’s ways—it can grasp the goodness of His promise and the conviction that He will act, and for those who trust in Him—for the righteous who live by faith—that he will act to save and give life. And faith does look to Jesus Christ, the target and fulfillment of all prophecy, who brings the perfect goodness, holiness, and love of God to bear in laying down His life for us, forgiving us, saving us, by the cross.
·         And so faith leads to the cross. The cross of Jesus, where God’s own Son died in the face of most sinister expression of evil—the devilish attempt to destroy God’s own Savior and crush mankind’s hope for forgiveness and rescue, for the triumph of good over evil. And there, after seeming defeat, Christ rose from the dead in victory, vanquishing His foes of sin, death, and the devil. Sin, injustice, and violence all had their heyday, and God even allowed the hands of wicked men to carry out His judgment against sin—but His vision did not lie, His promise was not false. At the appointed time, God carried out His plan of salvation, and Jesus Christ delivered us the victory over sin and evil. God’s decisive address to the problem of evil comes through the cross of Jesus.
·         And so every bit as much as Habakkuk, the righteous still lives by faith—faith in Jesus. Because there is no salvation, no rescue apart from Him. And the Apostle Paul would quote this little known prophet, and God’s response to our complaints, our fears, and our doubts—to show that faith is the way God reveals His righteousness to mankind. We can’t know His righteousness apart from faith. Our bare reason and senses would lead us to conclude that wickedness will prevail. Faith teaches that God and His righteousness will prevail. Paul said, “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.’” (Rom. 1:16-17). Faith grasps the good news, the Gospel, the message that God has rescued us, has forgiven us, in Christ Jesus—and still further that He will come again one day to judge the living and the dead, and give eternal salvation to all who believe—who have faith—as the Words and Promises of God declare.
·         And not only that faith in Jesus is the way to make it through a difficult or challenging life, but that faith is the very way in which we gain the righteousness or innocence of Christ: “The righteous shall live by his faith”. As Paul praises faith again and again throughout his letters, he uses this verse from Hab again to prove that faith is the only way to become right with God—hence our Reformation motto: faith alone. In Galatians 3:11 he writes, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” We are not righteous based on our law-keeping, our works, our reason, or our achievements. None gain us God’s favor—we all fall short of His perfection. But there is one way that God declares us righteous; by faith. Faith alone justifies us before God. Faith alone is the complete, the whole way to live life—both here on earth, and into the promise of eternity. Because faith clings to Jesus Christ alone, and trusts God’s promise that He will rescue and He will save. And God counts that faith as our righteousness, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Read the whole short book of Habakkuk (3 chapters). What made him distressed, and why did he cry out to God? In chapters 1 & 2, see the two complaints he makes to God, and how God responds to each. What does Habakkuk find mysterious or challenging about God’s ways? How does God respond, particularly in Hab. 2:2-4?

2.      How do we sometimes misunderstand the apparent “slowness” with which God acts? Habakkuk 2:3; 2 Peter 3:4-10 (esp. vs. 9); Ecclesiastes 8:10-13; Psalm 73; Isaiah 30:18. What is the purpose for God’s patience?

3.      Why does it take faith to live and trust in God? How are fear and distrust the opposite of faith? If Habakkuk did not “live by faith” (2:4), how would he have responded to his circumstances instead? How does faith in God change our perspective on circumstances?

4.      More than just a changed attitude, we have the confidence that God will act (see Hab. 2:3). Why can we be assured of this? 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Romans 8:38-39; Matthew 19:26.

5.      Finish the sentences: “Without faith it is….” (Heb. 11:6). “Whatever does not proceed from faith is…” (Romans 14:23). “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from….” (Romans 3:28).

6.      When the Lutheran Reformers in the 1500s taught that we were saved by “faith alone”—who was that faith (trust) directed to? 1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:16; Acts 4:12. By saying “faith alone”—what is excluded? Romans 3:28; 4:4-5; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-6.

7.      If good works are excluded from being the cause of our salvation, where instead do they find a place in God’s plan for us? Ephesians 2:8-10. 

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