It's hard to be joyful in the midst of prolonged suffering, but that's exactly what the Bible says we ought to do. Today on Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, we'll find out why and how we can rejoice in troubled times as we conclude our study in Habakkuk. And so, in coming to chapter 3, we notice, first of all, that the prophet reacts. The prophet reacts. Secondly, the prophet reviews.
The prophet reviews. And in verses 3 to 15, what you have is a wonderful poem. It is a classic example, I'm told, of Hebrew poetry. 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. 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, because 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 ones—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 Moabitesh 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 is 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 the 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 men like Bartimaeus cry out, Lord, have mercy on me.
Well, 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, because 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-controlness 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 sixty-four-thousand-dollar 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 on to 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, olive 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 has 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 seventy-five 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—Nike's! Look at that, nineteen! Nike's!
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's going, I don't want my feet to look like the feet of a deer. 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 their shoe—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. 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 un-diseased ones. We're the diseased ones. Every day we need fresh forgiveness.
Every day. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg assuring us that as believers we can rejoice no matter what our circumstances.
Alistair will be back in just a minute. Today's our final day in this short study in the book of Habakkuk. If as you listened to this teaching, God brought to mind a friend who is struggling with some of the same questions Habakkuk ask, questions like why does God tolerate wickedness?
How long must we suffer? You can download and share a single message or the entire series for free at truthforlife.org. In addition to the daily Bible teaching you here on this program, part of our mission is to carefully select high quality books we can recommend to you that will help you better understand scripture and apply it to your life. And I think today's book is in line with that agenda. It's Alistair's new book, The Christian Manifesto. In the book Alistair explains what genuine Christianity looks like according to Jesus by unpacking the Lord's well-known sermon known as the Sermon on the Plane in Luke chapter 6. This is foundational teaching for every believer. In fact as you read The Christian Manifesto you'll learn how Jesus values are vastly different from modern culture and why as his followers were expected to be different from the world as well. Alistair explains that Jesus teaching challenges us to take a long hard look at ourselves but also invites us to enjoy the blessings of life in his kingdom.
Ask for your copy of The Christian Manifesto when you give a donation to Truth for Life at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us at 888-588-7884. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. 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. 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. I'm Bob Lapine. Has the church in our day lost sight of its purpose? Have you? Tomorrow we'll find out how we can tell and how we can get back on track. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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