Introduction: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 esv). Here is God’s major answer to the struggles of the prophet. It became the foundational doctrine of the Protestant Reformation and is a rock for the darkest days in our Christian walk.
Introduction: When I was on a tour of the Bible Lands, we made a stop in Rome. I remember our visit to the Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs. Tradition says that Helen, mother of Constantine, underwrote the expense of relocating these steps from Jerusalem to Rome; and it was believed that Jesus walked on these steps in His journey to the cross.
Pilgrims today can still be seen painfully climbing these stairs on their knees and kissing each step until they reach the top. When Martin Luther was a monk, he was one of those who made this climb. But midway on his ascent, this text from Habakkuk 2 came to his mind and heart. He realized that his climb was based on good works as a way to heaven, yet the text was teaching faith as the truth. The rest is history—the 95 Theses at Wittenberg, excommunication from the church, and the launching of the Protestant Reformation.
This text not only transformed Luther, but it was also a great answer from God to the puzzled prophet Habakkuk. God had revealed that He was about to use the Babylonian army as a chastening rod for Judah’s sins. A 70-year captivity was on the horizon. The prophet had gone to the tower for an answer to his perplexity. The answer was faith in God!
1. A truth to embrace
The main message from God to the prophet is found in Habakkuk 2:4b “The just shall live by his faith.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in his book From Fear to Faith: “It is an absolute law in the spiritual realm that if we adopt Habakkuk’s method, and behave as he behaved, God will always honor His promises. In effect, God said, ‘It is all right, Habakkuk. I have heard your prayer; I understand your perplexity. Here is my answer. The Chaldeans whom I am going to raise up to punish Israel will themselves in turn be completely routed and destroyed.’ The greatness of the Chaldeans was to be short-lived. It was God who for a special purpose raised them up; but they took glory to themselves. Then God struck, and raised up the Medes and Persians who utterly destroyed the Chaldeans” (pp.39-40).
In a later paragraph, Lloyd-Jones reminds us that there are only two attitudes available to us in this world—faith or unbelief. We make the choice. And no passage of Scripture explains what this life of faith looks like in a clearer way in the lives of believers than does Hebrews 11.
2. A reality to live out
For Abraham, it was a trust in God’s promises so deep that he placed Isaac on the altar on Mt. Moriah (Hebrews 11:17-19). For Moses, it was the whole Exodus experience and trusting God to open a dry road through the mighty Red Sea (vv.27-29). For Joshua, it was following God’s plan to conquer Jericho. With shouts and trumpet blasts, his people brought the walls down! (v.30).
The strange thing about faith is that no one knows you possess it unless you live it out. We can suppose that Abraham had faith to believe God could raise someone from the dead. But when he obediently placed Isaac on the altar, it left no doubt.
3. Faith in the real world
For my wife and me, it was facing a Moses-sized task. Would we leave our church and move to the Middle East to pastor an international church? Would we leave behind our home, children, and grandchildren to experience a different culture and language? This international church was made up of believers from 30 different nations and a multitude of denominational backgrounds. Were we up for the task? Could we trust God to take care of our family while we were gone? Would He provide for us as He did for Abraham and Moses?
Looking back after 20 years, we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It taught us much about faith.
4. The reassurance from past faithfulness (Habakkuk 3:4-18)
I am struck by the honesty of the prophet as he wrote about his feelings while facing an enemy invasion: “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones and my legs trembled” (3:16 niv).
Habakkuk 3:4-15 is a rehearsal of God’s marvelous deliverance from Egypt and the miracle at the Red Sea. This chapter reminds us of God’s protection of His people that was so great that He caused the sun to stand still so they could win the battle. Babylon might destroy the crops of Judah (3:17-18), but faith in who God is and what He can do gave hope to the Israelites.
Uncertainty, loss, threat of violence, and need can cause the faith of the most faith-filled of us to waver. But when we remember that God has shown himself faithful time and time again, we can rejoice just as those in Habakkuk’s day did: “I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!” (3:17-18 The Message).
What can we learn from the prophet Habakkuk? What do we do when God seems silent, injustice seems to prevail, prayers go unanswered, and wickedness surrounds the righteous? We remember. We hold fast. We look back as we look ahead.
It’s not easy to remain faithful when God seems distant. But we must remember that even in times of hardship, God’s people are called to live by faith. Sometimes that means trusting even when we don’t understand. Sometimes that means believing even when the circumstances seem impossible. Times of hardship allow us to grow in ways that comfort never would. So no matter the situation, living by faith is more about who God is and what He is capable of than it is about our ability to understand our situations and circumstances.
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