Monday, October 28, 2013

Sermon on Romans 3:19-28 for Reformation Day, "Christ Alone"

Sermon Outline:
·         Last in our Reformation series: Christ alone. Previous weeks—faith, grace, and scripture alone. Triangle diagram: three points with Christ alone at center—all are interconnected. How does faith, grace, and scripture intersect with Christ alone? Christ stands as heart and center of our salvation, because faith or trust depends on Him—without the powerful Savior, faith would be aimless or helpless. Faith aimed toward anyone or anything else than Jesus Christ, is a vain and empty hope. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:60. Christ alone is our salvation. There is no other name under heaven, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
·         Without Christ, we would not know grace, as scripture says, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Because of Jesus’ incredible self-sacrifice and love, salvation comes to us as a free gift. Grace means God’s undeserved love and favor, and that comes to us because Jesus has erased our debt of sin. So salvation is not a work-exchange program with God, it’s not a contest of merits to win His approval, it’s not a debt-reduction or payment plan that we work out to cover our sins. Rather it is a completely free and undeserved gift to us, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
·         And without Christ alone, the Scripture would be missing its beating heart. All the Scriptures testify of Him (Luke 24; John 5:39), and the life we have in His name. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God, and the Bible is the record of this “word of life” (1 John 1:1-4). Disconnected from Christ, faith, grace, and Scripture all falter and fail—but Christ holds them altogether.
·         Rom. 3 talks of two kinds of righteousness—righteousness of the law, and righteousness that comes apart from the law. We can understand them in this way—the first kind of righteousness is measured by the law—whether you have obeyed or disobeyed. The rightness or wrongness of your life and deeds. It consists in whether or not you have good character, are a trustworthy citizen, take good care of family, etc, or whether you don’t do those things.
·         This righteousness of the law is also called civil righteousness. It’s how we look in the eyes of the world. And the world grades on a curve, or a sliding scale. We are impressed by the outward goodness of some people, and by the outward wickedness of others. We rank people on a scale of their righteousness (by the law).
·         But this righteousness is so far removed from what God demands, that Paul will later say in chapter 4, that if Abraham was justified by works, that he has something to boast about—but not before God. So we must mark the sharp difference between man’s opinions about righteousness, in terms of ordinary civil goodness, and God’s declarations about righteousness. Because no human righteousness of our own, no civil righteousness, no good citizenship or exemplary life of good works is anything to boast about before God. When it comes to matters of salvation, and where we stand before Him—only God’s opinion matters. By God’s measure, none of us attain to the righteousness of the law. God does not grade on a sliding scale or on a curve. It’s all or none with Him, and His verdict is that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.
·         That is a devastating verdict—that our civil righteousness doesn’t justify or put us right with God. The law of God delivers that verdict, stopping every mouth and holding the whole world accountable to God. No protest, no objection. The law shows our sin, and it announces the judgment for that sin is death. This message of the law is a terror to sinners—and it was a terror to the young Martin Luther. Before he discovered the good news, the gospel—in this very book of Romans—perhaps even in this very chapter, he despaired of God. Despite all the spit and polish of his best efforts to gain righteousness by the law, he knew it was all a sham before the Holy and Righteous God. And the Righteousness of God terrified Luther! He saw God as a fearful judge. That is, until he discovered what Paul taught about this other righteousness, the second kind of righteousness that has been revealed apart from the law.
·         Righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Since none can attain a righteousness that holds up before God by the law—God has given us His righteousness by faith in Jesus! This second righteousness, a spiritual righteousness or the righteousness of faith, is not our own, but it is granted to us by Jesus Christ alone. It’s a gifted righteousness. God gives you credit for what you didn’t do, but Christ did—keeping God’s law. Jesus Christ forgiving all your debt of sin on the cross. And faith finds this righteousness nowhere else than in Jesus, who lived, suffered, died, and rose for us.
·         Discovering this glorious and free gift, and how we’re set right with God, or justified, was a marvelous experience for Martin Luther. It’s sometimes described as his “tower experience”—where he finally grasped that we could never satisfy God’s justice by our good works, but that Christ has done so in our place. This is the most freeing and beautiful truth, to know that Jesus Christ has redeemed us, and that His work of salvation is all-sufficient. That means that Jesus did everything that is required, so salvation is a pure and free gift, with nothing of ours added to it. And Luther grasped that anything we add to Christ’s completed and all-sufficient work, just reduces His grace by that much. Our additions just end up being subtractions from Him and His glory. Even the smallest piece of our own work diminishes the glory of what Jesus has done, when it comes to salvation. That doesn’t mean that there’s no place for our good works, but it does mean that their place is not in accomplishing our salvation. That is reserved for Jesus Christ alone.
·         Paul drives this point home by showing the reason why God intends to exclude our every effort, our works, our own civil righteousness, our merit, and any other Savior etc, from the equation. God excludes everything that we have done so that there will be no room for our boasting. We are justified by faith apart from works of the law. No room to boast in ourselves—which means all glory, honor, and praise is due to Christ alone.
·         We don’t hold up ourselves, we hold up Jesus Christ alone. He is our salvation and life. Romans says that God put Jesus forward as a “propitiation” by his blood, to be received by faith. What does that funny word “propitiation” mean? In the words of the song “In Christ Alone”, Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied; For ev'ry sin on Him was laid. Propitiation means that the wrath of God against sin was satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross. Or in the words of the old hymn, Jesus Christ our Blessed Savior, turned away God’s wrath forever. Propitiation means that Jesus turned away God’s anger against sin, and that now in place of God’s wrath and judgment against sin, we face His loving and forgiving face. And now and forever, if we stand in Jesus Christ by faith, there is no condemnation for us! God declares us innocent, just, and pure, just as His sinless Son Jesus is innocent and pure. It’s the great exchange—Jesus trading all His goodness, innocence and blessing for our sin, guilt, and the curse we bore for it. The great exchange of Jesus taking what was ours, and giving us all that is His.
·         And Paul tells us why God did this—he repeats it twice—that it was as a proof of God’s righteousness, and His divine forbearance. What’s that? That God was not hasty in punishing sin, that He did not rush to judgment, but that as the OT describes Him over and over, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). It is proof of God’s righteousness, because the propitiation of Jesus shows God’s perfect justice and mercy. God’s justice is upheld because He did not ignore sin or its penalty, but rather delayed it, to be fully paid in Jesus’ death. And God’s mercy is upheld in that He forgives sin and graciously clears us from our guilt. We sinners have hope and a way to salvation by faith in Jesus.
·         According to His strict justice, none of us could be admitted to heaven, because we have completely failed in His law—in that first kind of righteousness. But according to His infinite grace, heaven stands open to all who trust in Jesus, because He grants to us the infinitely superior, second kind of righteousness, that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. This spiritual righteousness stands up before God, and is pleasing to Him, because it is God’s own gift to us, received by faith. This gift, this joy, is worth all the celebrating and the triumph of this Reformation Day, as this good news broke afresh on the Christian church in the time of Martin Luther, as it returned to the Word of God, and as it continues to echo and reverberate through the churches of the Reformation today—we poor sinners are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, revealed to and shown to us in God’s own Word, the Holy Scriptures. It is our joy to celebrate all that Jesus has done for us. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Romans 3:19-28. What’s the stated purpose of God’s law? What does it accomplish in us? 3:19-20, 23; 2:12-16; 5:20; 7:1-15. What’s the law unable to do? 3:20, 27-28; Galatians 2:16-3:14. How are we accountable to God? Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13-14.

  1. In Romans 3, Paul speaks of two kinds of righteousness. See vs. 21-22. What are they? How did the Law and the Prophets testify of this righteousness of God through faith? Genesis 15:6; 2 Chronicles 6:21, 26-27, 30, 36-39; 7:12-14; Psalm 32:1-2; Exodus 34:6-7; 85:2-3; Isaiah 53:5-6, 10-12; Habakkuk 2:4.

  1. This righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ is freely given to all who believe. Why is Jesus perfectly righteous, and able to grant us or credit to us, His righteousness by faith? Matthew 3:15; 5:17; Hebrews 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21.

  1. The term “propitiation” (Rom. 5:25) is an unfamiliar one to most of us. It means that Jesus Christ turned away God’s wrath over our sin by His death on the cross. What is the effect of this “propitiation” for us? 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:9-11; Isaiah 53:10; Galatians 3:13; contrast to John 3:36 if we don’t believe. If we no longer face God’s wrath because of our sin, what is His attitude toward us instead? Numbers 6:23-26

  1. Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross and His justification of sinners proves God’s righteousness. How does this remove from us any ground for boasting in ourselves? Why is Christ the only way of salvation? John 14:6; Acts 4:12

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sermon on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, for Reformation 3, "Scripture Alone"

Sermon Outline:
·         Week 3 of Reformation series—“Scripture alone”. Week 1 & 2, faith alone and grace alone—show that we are saved by faith in Jesus to the exclusion of our works, and by God’s grace, to the exclusion of our having merited or deserved it. Pastor Roschke made the excellent point that these truths stand “altogether”—that is that grace, faith, scripture, and Christ stand together. Clarifies that “alone” here does not mean “in isolation from everything else”. For example, you could say “Jenny is alone in the room”; or you could say “In our class, Jenny alone passed the test.” In the second case, it doesn’t mean that Jenny is by herself, but that the others didn’t pass.
·         Think about what this means when we say “Scripture alone.” Are we saying that we should not read or study or learn from any other book than the Bible? If so, then you shouldn’t even be listening to me preach. Rather, it does mean, that God’s Word alone is The rule and judge for all teachings and teachers and preachers. Indeed we must preach—the Bible text from Timothy commands it! But “Scripture alone” means nothing else is on a par with God’s Holy Word—not man’s opinions, not pastor’s sermons, not human writings, nor pope’s decrees, nor the declarations of church councils or assemblies. See lengthy quote in bulletin: God’s Word over all other authorities and teachings. God’s Word alone judges all other things. Any spiritual authority they hold must only be a derived authority, from Scripture. Our Lutheran teachings, a devotional or prayer book for your study, or any other teaching is judged by the Bible, God’s Holy Word. God’s Word is master, all other teachings, teachers, or authorities are servant. Includes our human reason. Our reason perceives and comprehends the teaching of Scripture, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, but our reason must never be the judge of Scripture. Would reverse our places. Scripture alone is the judge of all teaching & authority.
·         How do we know God’s Word, the Bible, has such authority? What does the Bible claim for itself? What does Jesus claim about God’s Word? Start with 2 Tim. 3. Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy to continue firmly in the faith that he learned from “the sacred writings”—that is holy Scripture. Note—he was acquainted with them from childhood (lit. from infancy)—can’t start too early! Since it is the Holy Spirit’s tool, the power of God’s Word is not limited by our age. Don’t forget that Jesus’ Word made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and the blind to see! What power do these scriptures contain? Made wise for salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. Salvation is the Bible’s central message, and it’s God’s own words about Jesus. Goes on, “All Scripture”—the whole of it, every part—“is God-breathed”—spoken by Him and His direction, through the voices and pens of the prophets and apostles of Old and New Testament.
·         Lest there be any doubt that the books of the New Testament were counted as Scripture also, the apostle Peter, in his second letter, wrote that the ignorant and unstable were liable to twist and distort the apostle Paul’s writings, just as they do the other Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16). And the statements “All Scripture is God-breathed” and “from childhood you have known the sacred writings” only make sense if he’s referring to a definite set of books—not a vague or open ended group. Clearly they had in mind which books were sacred, and which weren’t.
·         “God-breathed” tells us that all Scripture is of divine origin, not human origin. Not by human imagination or cleverness. One could do a whole study on how God’s plan of salvation is contrary to the ways of man, and “how we would do things.” Because it is from God, it is “useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” God’s Word is a teaching Word—a “Lamp to our feet and a light for our path” (Ps. 109:105). And it is a correcting Word—it sets us back on the right path, and turns us away from error.
·         What authority does Jesus claim for Scripture? He says in the Gospel of John that “your word is truth” (John 17:17), and that “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Jesus taught in the Gospel of Matthew that He did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them, and that not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:17-18). Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” In other words, the witness of Jesus and the rest of the scriptures is that no word or thought of man rises to the level of Scripture, and that God’s word is the unqualified truth.
·         But let’s return to a point we mentioned briefly—what is the power and the purpose of Scripture. It is to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ! This is why we hold so strongly to the authority of Scripture, because it teaches us of Jesus Christ, and because it is His own Word! God’s Word is the ultimate authority because it speaks about the matters of ultimate significance—matters of life and death, and our eternal salvation. Our soul is at stake, and the devil, the world, and our sinful nature will make every attack against the authority of God’s Word, to avoid its rebuking or correcting word against our sin.
·         Faith in Jesus as God’s own Son that prompts us to fully accept God’s Word—because Jesus Himself says it is truth. So Scripture alone holds this high authority, but Scripture stands together with faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word aims to produce this very faith in us, as John wrote in his Gospel: John 20:30-31 “ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” God’s Word is aimed and directed at giving us life by believing in Jesus.
·         This is the very same urgency that filled the apostle Paul when he told young pastor Timothy to “preach the word, be ready in season and out of season”. At any and every time, preach God’s Word. It doesn’t need “updating” to be “relevant for our times”, but is already relevant to all people and for all times. It doesn’t depend on the cleverness of the preacher, but on the power and authority of God’s Word. But Paul goes on to warn that “the time is coming” (and we could agree that we’re already there!) “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” We have long lived in these days already, where people prefer to hear what suits their own passions and ideas, and will decline to listen to God’s Word of truth that challenges us and even rebukes us to turn away from a sinful path.
·         Do we endure sound teaching? Or do we want our “ears tickled” instead? Will we bear it to hear that we are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of the One, Holy and Righteous God, and that those sins demand their wages in death? Will we bear it to hear that Jesus Christ went to the cross to die and bear those wages of sin and death in great agony? God’s Word urges that we hear this message, and that we believe it. And when we do believe it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are not left in dismay by the guilt of our sins or the terribleness of the cross, but we are lifted from despair by the Good News of the Gospel, the goal and aim of the Scriptures. That we would believe that Jesus died for us, for love’s sake, and that He wills to give us eternal life and reconciliation with our Father, even as He is risen from the dead. God wills that we know the depths of our depravity that we might know the even greater reach and strength of His love.

·         It’s not for idle curiosity’s sake, nor for some kind of intellectualism that we confess the authority of Scripture as God’s perfectly true Word—rather it is because this Word alone teaches us of the salvation and life that we have in Jesus Christ. It’s truly a matter of our heart. “Stay with us Lord, and keep us true; preserve our faith our whole life through—Your Word alone our heart’s defense, the Church’s glorious confidence” (LSB 585:6). Turn to those pages of Holy Scripture, and hear in them of Christ’s mighty deeds and His words of eternal life. Alleluia! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      In 2 Timothy 3:15, the Greek word for “childhood” is brephos—which is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe both unborn and newborn infants (i.e. the New Testament holds no distinction between the two, accounting both as living children). Based on this New Testament understanding of “childhood”—when is “too early” to begin instructing children in God’s Word? Psalm 71:5-6; 22:9-10; Luke 1:15, 41-44.

2.      What is Scripture (God’s Word) able to do for us? What is it useful for? 2 Timothy 3:15-17; John 20:31; 5:39.

3.      What does it mean that Scripture is “God-breathed”? 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Hebrews 1:1. What do people in the Christian church today do with God’s Word to suit their itching ears? How have we done it ourselves? What sins do we desire to “protect” by trying to hide them from God’s judgment? What does it mean to hold to “Scripture alone?”

4.      How is God’s Word different from man’s word? Jeremiah 23:25-32, 36; 2 Peter 1:16-2:3.

5.      How and when was Timothy instructed to use the Word of God? 2 Timothy 3:14, 4:2, 5; cf. Romans 10:14-15; Acts 20:27.

6.      All Scripture points us to Jesus Christ. John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-47. What do we find in Him? 

Pastor’s Note: Below you find the opening words of what is called “The Formula of Concord”. ‘Concord’ or ‘concordia’ mean “with heart”, and expresses harmony and agreement. This writing is part of the larger work, the “Book of Concord”, which contains the “Lutheran Confessions” or teachings of the Lutheran church. The words below capture the essential Lutheran understanding of how our teachings relate to the Word of God. In short, it confesses that the Word of God alone is the only rule and norm by which all other teachings and teachers must be judged, and that all other writings, including the Book of Concord, are not judges, but witnesses and explanations of the faith taught in Holy Scripture. Creeds and confessions are therefore always beneath Holy Scripture, but must conform to it. They are nevertheless useful as they provide a public expression of our Christian faith, that may therefore be tested and examined in the light of God’s Word, which stands above all. (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1-6).

The Comprehensive Summary, Rule, and Norm According to Which All Doctrines Should Be Judged and the Errors Which Intruded Should Be Explained and Decided in a Christian Way

 1. We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

 Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times.

 2. Immediately after the time of the apostles — in fact, already during their lifetime— false teachers and heretics invaded the church. Against these the ancient church formulated symbols (that is, brief and explicit confessions) which were accepted as the unanimous, catholic, Christian faith and confessions of the orthodox and true church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. We pledge ourselves to these, and we hereby reject all heresies and teachings which have been introduced into the church of God contrary to them.

  3. With reference to the schism in matters of faith which has occurred in our times, we regard, as the unanimous consensus and exposition of our Christian faith, particularly against the false worship, idolatry, and superstition of the papacy and against other sects, and as the symbol of our time, the first and unaltered Augsburg Confession, which was delivered to Emperor Charles V at Augsburg during the great Diet in the year 1530, together with the Apology thereof and the Articles drafted at Smalcald in the year 1537, which the leading theologians approved by their subscription at that time.

 Since these matters also concern the laity and the salvation of their souls, we subscribe Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms as both of them are contained in his printed works. They are “the layman’s Bible” and contain everything which Holy Scripture discusses at greater length and which a Christian must know for his salvation.
All doctrines should conform to the standards set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith.

 In this way the distinction between the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong.

 Other symbols and other writings are not judges like Holy Scripture, but merely witnesses and expositions of the faith, setting forth how at various times the Holy Scriptures were understood by contemporaries in the church of God with reference to controverted articles, and how contrary teachings were rejected and condemned.

Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (464). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 

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.