Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Habakkuk 1:1-4 “Yeah, well if God is so good…”

Stop me if you’ve had this happen to you. You’re sharing the gospel with someone who is trying to come up with some rationalization why they refuse to believe. They get irritated or whatever and blurt out something along the lines of “Oh yeah, well, if God is so good then why…”. And the “why” could be any number of things from something really significant (“…why did my little brother die of cancer when he was 8 years old…”) to some things that are somewhat less than significant (“…why have the Yankees won the World Series so many times…”). I know God is sovereign and we’d be condemned as committing a heresy if we admitted it, but the fact is you and I (those of us who have trusted in Christ’s death on the cross as payment for our sins and have repented) have asked the same question even if we’ve never asked it out loud. I might surprise us to know that people asked the same sort of question in scripture—more than one person actually. For the next few weeks (months?) we’re going to take a look at just such a person, the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem during a time of great spiritual wickedness. If we looked at a two minute highlight reel of the history of Israel from when they entered the land, one pattern would become painfully obvious. They would fall into sin, God would punish them through various means, they would repent, and God would save them. Rinse, lather, repeat. According to Adam Clark’s Bible commentary, Habakkuk probably lived during the reign of Jehoiakim somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 B.C. II Kings 23:37 tells us that this king did “what was evil in the sight of the Lord according to all that his fathers had done” So, while the nation of Judah had good kings from time to time, this guy was not one of them. And, as was typical during the reign of an evil king, he led the nation into committing sin against the Lord. To say the least, our friend Habakkuk lived in troubled times.

So, Habakkuk did as the Holy Spirit inspired him to do—he recorded this prophecy. The first verse tells us that this was an “oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw”. He didn’t make this up. We do not find here the ramblings of some guy who is just ticked off at the government or at God and wanted to vent. In fact, the word “oracle” can be translated “burden” which, as you read the book, becomes pretty descriptive of what the prophet probably felt when he received this divine revelation. He had a burden for his people and what he saw going on. He was burdened when God revealed to him that He was going to do. I suspect, also, that he was still burdened even when he had accepted that God was sovereign and would do what pleased Him, but it was a different kind of burden—a burden to see God glorified even in the midst of horrifying circumstances.

As Habakkuk opens his prophecy, we observe the man being completely raw and honest about how he feels. If I had to characterize his tone I would call it angry. To me, he sounds angry at God. In the second verse of the book, we find that he complains “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” In other words, “God, why are you not doing anything?” And, lest we think that Habakkuk thinks it’s just that God doesn’t see or hear what is happening, he spells it out for us very plainly in verse 3 when he asks “Why do you look idly at wrong?”

He doesn’t just question God’s apparent inaction, but goes so far as to question His character. He continues to describe the awful conditions he lives in as he concludes verse 3 saying he is surrounded by “destruction…violence…strife and contention”. Because of all the evil Habakkuk sees, he believes God should act and judge. However, since he doesn’t see God acting in judgment, he concludes that “the law is paralyzed…[and]…justice never goes forth”. Or to put it more bluntly, “If God is so good, why is there so much evil in the world.”

Habakkuk, then, asks exactly the same question that we are asked so often when we share the gospel. As we continue to study this book, we’ll see the answer he’s given and I believe come to praise God for His sovereignty and justice.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007

Monday, August 15, 2011

Matthew 9:14-17 A Pair of Skewed Perspectives—John the Baptist’s Disciples part 2

The Pharisees had a wrong perspective about Jesus and what He taught. They perceived that He was not up to their standards of holiness because He ate with people they considered sinners. They also believed that they were themselves righteous. Of course, we know that there is no one who is righteous—we all stand before a holy God justly condemned for our sins apart from faith in Christ and His finished work. However, it wasn’t just the Pharisees that did not understand Christ. The disciples of John the Baptist also had a skewed perspective. As we saw the last time we looked at these verses, the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus about fasting. He helped them come to understand that His disciples did not fast because, first of all, it wasn’t time for them to be fasting. Let’s take a look at another reason why His disciples didn’t fast like John’s disciples did.

In verses 16 and 17, Jesus used two illustrations that pretty well everyone in the Middle East would have understood. He told these disciples, in essence, that the new truths He taught didn’t fit with the Jewish religion as they practiced it. In verse 16, he compared the truth of the gospel to a piece of new cloth. Trying to fast as the Pharisees and priests taught while believing the gospel that Christ preached would be like taking that new piece of cloth that was not shrunk and sewing it onto an old coat that had a tear. When the patch shrunk, and it would shrink, it would pull away from the coat and make an even bigger tear. One cannot take the truth of the gospel and pair it with forms of external, man-centered self justification and not expect a problem. The Pharisees and religious leaders taught that it was by keeping the law and ceremonies that a person was made right with God. I don’t think that Jesus is forbidding anyone from fasting but rather he was giving the proper perspective on it. A person cannot be made right with God because they observed some ceremony. Trying to do that is disastrous—it just doesn’t fit.

In like manner, He said trying to take the new wine of the gospel and pour it into the old forms of the religion practiced by the Pharisees would be a complete waste. The truth of the gospel could not be contained by those old forms and customs. The gospel of forgiveness of sins based on faith and repentance could not fit with the doctrine of self-atonement. Because true righteousness is received through faith as a gift it could not be earned through human work. Therefore, the gospel was, and is, incompatible with the attempt that many people, even some of them believers, make to secure their right standing with God by being good. As I had preached to a congregation before, salvation is not about right doing producing right being but rather it is about right being producing right doing.

How sad it is when people try to justify themselves by being religions. It is vain, futile, and ultimately, as Jesus says here, leads to ruin. The gospel that He preached was a pure, life giving gospel that actually saves not a works based gospel that only serves to remind a person that they’re never good enough. We are not good enough to stand before a holy God, but because of the finished work of Christ on Calvary, we are declared righteous. Brothers and sisters, may we rest securely in the finished work of our Lord. As He said from the cross, “It is finished”.