The Works of the LORD

O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.  (Habakkuk 3:2, ESV.)

I wonder how many of you enjoy meditating on the minor prophets?  They, sadly, are often books that are skipped over and ignored.  This is a terrible thing, for the minor prophets are the very word of God, they are infallible and perfect, full of power and sharper than any two edged sword, just like every other word of scripture.  Yet we tend to ignore them a bit.  The fascinating thing is that when we start to look and meditate on the minor prophets what we quickly discover is that many of them are very relevant to what is going on in our society today.  Habakkuk is a classic example of this.  He was facing a very similar context to us, he was serving in a society which had all but rejected true faith and had taken to worshipping idols and living life as one well pleases.  Is this very different to today in our 21st century context?  The church has been rejected by almost all in society.  We are seen as nothing but old folks and bigots, riding our hobby horses into town wielding our old fashioned ‘rules and laws’ that have nothing to do with post-modern relativism.  Granted, God’s declared action to Habakkuk cannot be directly correlated to our society, God has not prophesied that he will bring a foreign nation to come and destroy western world.  But the cry of Habakkuk that he brings to God in our text is a very powerful cry that we as the western church must take up.

You see, Habakkuk was deeply troubled by the fact that Israel would face God’s wrath and that it was by the hands of the Chaldean’s, yet he looked back to the previous works of God and declared, “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear.”  He is reminded of the works of old, the way that the LORD delivered Israel from Egypt, how he brought them across the red sea, how he helped them in the wilderness, how he defeated kings and armies in their journey into the promised land, how he defeated all those that opposed them, how he protected his new nation and governed them justly.  How he didn’t just destroy them in their wickedness and a thousand other things that the LORD of hosts had done.  And when Habakkuk stopped and meditated on the works of God he was filled with a holy fear of the LORD.  He was filled with awe and reverence for the LORD almighty.  And my dear brothers and sisters, this is where we too should be at, when we consider all that the LORD has done.  Did our God not create the heavens and the earth?  Did he not create mankind?  Did he not deal justly with a sinful humanity?  Did he not provide a way for salvation?  Did he not come down in the form of a servant in order to justify his elect?  Did he not awaken your soul through the regenerating power of the Spirit?  Does he not sanctify you through and through?  Will he not carry you home to be with him?  This is just the beginning of the works of our LORD, consider his works and be filled with awe and fear!  Recognise that if he did not plan together each and every part of history you yourself would never have even been born or existed!  Yet you are fearfully and wonderfully made, this is our LORD.  If you are not filled with awe when you consider the works of his hands then I must ask whether you truly know the LORD, for our LORD is the one before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is LORD, no one can boldly stand before him by his own rights.

It is from this position of holy fear, reverence and awe that we come before the LORD with Habakkuk and cry out in our broken society for God’s works to be done once more.  When we consider the way he has worked before through men like Luther and Calvin, Whitefield and Spurgeon, Carey and Marsden, we cry out that the LORD would work once more.  We cry out for God’s works now, based not on ourselves, but based on his previous works, we cry out, “You worked once before O LORD, work again!”  And we cry out with Habakkuk for his works to be revived, made known, and done in mercy.

Habakkuk asked in the midst of the years, meaning in our time, now, not in later years, but in today’s years, that the LORD would revive it; it referring to his works.  What does Habakkuk want?  He wants the LORD’s works revived.  To revive something, means to bring something that is dying back to life.  He wants the LORD’s works to be aroused, to be resurrected, to be rekindled.  Habakkuk sees the works of the LORD as being a bit like a fire.  When the fire burns down low it smolders down into just embers and there is no flame and little heat.  But when one crouches over the fire and blows gently, what happens?  The flames of fire and heat roar back to life, and when it is stoked and cared for and fuel is added it roars into life and soon enough one cannot even bear to stand near it.  This is what Habakkuk wants God to do with his works, he wants the LORD to crouch over his works and tenderly bring them back to life, fueling them until they rage with power and might.  And is this not what we want?  Is this what you want?  O I tell you the truth this is what I want!  O how I long to see God crouching over his works and reviving his might deeds of old to life.  I long to see his church worked upon and revived to life, I long to see his church refined and renewed, strengthened and polished, that his glory may be displayed.  The church in the west has withered down to embers through the neglect of men, through corruption and sin, through all sorts of atrocities committed by us.  We care for the world more than the things of God, we, like Israel, chase after idols while ignoring the one who made us.  LORD bring your works and make us knew!  Is this your desire brother, is this your desire sister?  Is this the cry of your heart when you see the church?  Or are you happy being like Laodicea saying, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing”, recognise the words of the Lamb, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3.)

But Habakkuk doesn’t just ask God to revive and make new his works, but he asks God to make his works known.  This goes hand in hand with the last point doesn’t it?  Return to the image of the fire, if the fire of the LORD’s work is raging, if it is stoked and fed fuel and is roasting hot, will not men from all around see and hear of it?  Will they not feel the heat it gives off?  And the bigger the fire gets and the hotter it gets, the further off it is seen and felt.  Habakkuk longs for the works of the LORD to be so big and mighty that all around will know and see that he is God!  That his glory will be displayed on high!  See, we do not come to the LORD and cry out for works so that we may be honored, so that we might be seen as a strong people, or an awesome church, or great preachers, teachers, evangelists, workers of God, rather we cry to God for his works so that his glory might be displayed before all men!  The world is very good at this, you cannot move or do anything in this world without seeing men declaring their own glory and products.  Is this not what advertisement is?  It is men declaring the glory of their works.  They declare, ‘come and I will fix your car’, ‘come and I will sell you a house’.  The world has mastered this technique.  The question is, have we?  Have we mastered the old art of declaring the works of God?  We play a part in this!  If we are crying to God to make his works known, then we play a part in declaring his works.  Are his works on your lips?  Or are you ashamed to declared what he has done?  Do you go about in life with an advertisement on you that shows what God has done?  Or do you hide your fire under the bushel?  Do you turn your light off and remove your salt from the earth?  We tell each other our testimonies, we tell each other – sometimes – what God has done, yet we go to work and spend life with lost damned souls and do not open our mouth to tell them of the LORD who does wondrous things!  Shame upon us brothers and sisters for we hold hidden in our hearts what should be declared allowed.  LORD make your works known!

Lastly, Habakkuk asks that God would remember mercy in wrath.  What a stunning request, Habakkuk recognises the punishment that is due upon Israel, he knows that God is going to punish Israel, he does not ask that God would change his works, but rather asks that God would remember mercy.  One of you asks, ‘But how is that relevant to us, God is not punishing the church like he did Israel, you already said that?’  See and understand the beautiful truth in Habakkuk’s words that he himself did not fully understand.  Habakkuk looked forward to judgement and asked God for mercy.  Brothers and Sisters, we look backwards to judgement and ask God for mercy.  God judged the Israelites for their sins, but God in the future judged an Israelite for our sins!  And while that Israelite, that Jew of Jew, that King of Kings hung upon the old rugged cross with judgement and wrath heaped upon him, do you know what held him their?  Do you know what made it so that he would not come down?  HE REMEMBERED MERCY!  He knew what he was doing, the father and the son, both knew that they were doing it so that God’s mercy could be extended to you and me.  If you do not know this mercy, turn and look at Jesus for he had the wrath of God poured upon him so that you could have God’s mercy!  Take it, take it, take it!  And if you have received his mercy, cry out with Habakkuk, LORD REMEMBER MERCY!  Look at our nation O God, look at our people, look at our churches, look at our world, bring your mercy to rise!  When you consider your friends, family, those dear souls who you see each day who know not the Lord, do you cry out for mercy for them?  Look out the door brothers and sisters, we don’t have to look far to see men and women damned to eternity without hope, cry out for them, cry out to God for mercy on their souls and go and tell them the good news, that there is a God who remembers mercy in his anger!

Brothers, sisters, friends, I challenge you to join Habakkuk in crying out to God, cry to him each and every moment, cry out for him to revive his works, to make his works known, and to remember mercy.  He did it in the past and  he will do it again!

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The Joy of the Gospel

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Luke 2:10, ESV.

One thing I have never been able to enjoy in my life is Christmas movies, not sure about you, but for me it is that scene where someone in the movie says, “The real meaning of Christmas is…” And then the actor proceeds to talk about being kind to people, showing love, family, giving gifts to others, or some form of heart felt sentiment.  The problem is the reality of many peoples lives shows that Christmas is not always such a joyous occasion.  For example, Christmas 2013, Tao Hsiao was shopping in East China with his girlfriend.  After five hours of shopping with his girlfriend he had reached the point where he was sick of it and wanted to go home.  Unfortunately his girlfriend insisted that he must go into another clothes shop.  After continual insistence Tao Hsiao chucked the shopping bags to the floor and jumped off the balcony in order to commit suicide.

The fact of the matter is Christmas is often a hard time for many people: Families are reminded that their loved one is no longer present, parents struggle financially to give the gifts the world expects, people sit alone reminded that there is no one that cares, families descend into bitter arguments over pathetic issues over ‘who should cut the Christmas turkey’.  Christmas is not always that joyous occasion that we get told it is in the media.

The problem is not that we face difficulties at Christmas, because the truth is we face problems all year round; they tend to just be intensified at Christmas.  The problem is we do not have, or have not recognised what true joy is.  While we follow in the worlds ways of focusing on the exteriors of the world – family, gifts, community service, friends – we will never find true joy.

The question then is, if our problem is that we do not have true joy, then obviously we know what we need; true joy.  But what is true joy? And where do we get it from?  In the story of the shepherds and the angels we find the answer to both of these questions.  Interestingly we are not told anything about who those shepherds were.  Were they happy shepherds or sad shepherds?  Were they hired hands or owners?  We have no clue, and I think Luke does not give us the information for a reason.  It isn’t important for the story, but it also means we can apply what happens to the shepherds to us without reservation.

You see on that fateful night, things were probably the same as every other night, shepherds sitting quietly in the field watching their sheep.  Only one thing we know of these shepherds and that is their reaction to what happens.  We are told in verse 9 that an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them, their response – as is common when an angel appears to people – is fear.  Just like when Manoah and his wife are visited by the angel in Judges, or when Zechariah was visited, or Mary, or Daniel.  The response is always the same, one of terror.  Why?  Because when a sinner is confronted by the glory of the Lord the first reaction that comes to a sinners mind is judgement.  Who of us can stand before the glory of God?  The same response that the people of Beth Shemeth gave in 1 Samuel 6 would have gone through the minds of the shepherds, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

But the shepherds were not to remain in fear, the same God who commanded the angel to say to Zechariah, Manoah’s wife, Mary and Daniel, do not be afraid, also commanded the angel to say to the shepherds, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”.  Why should they not be afraid?  Because the angel has not come in judgement but the angel has come in peace, he has come to bring good news of great joy.  Not just news, not just good news, not even just good news of joy, but good news of great joy.  Yes, we have a great need, we need true gospel joy at this time of year and all year around, but we have a God who is greater then our need, for he promises as true joy that conquers all things.

Brothers and Sisters we must have joy, we must have true joy and we must have it in all situations.  True joy only comes through the announcement of the gospel, it only comes through the birth of our faithful saviour.  We can look to alcohol, work, family, friends, money, sport, cars, computers, internet, pornography, sex, drugs, or any other human creation, but we will never find true joy.  We will always be left wanting, like a child opening an empty Christmas present.  We will be left with tears in our eyes.  Why?  Because when we open those things and seek joy it is like grabbing a thorn bush for support, it gives support for a short time but it also destroys your hands, rips at your flesh and gives way eventually.

So what is true joy?  It is beholding the birth of Christ, it is looking to the coming of our saviour, it is seeing God who came to be man, who came to live amongst us and to die for us.   It is all these things but it is more, it is having a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The fact of the matter is when life gets tough, when life gets turned upside down like a carton of milk, nothing will sustain you, nothing will bring you joy other then your relationship with an all sovereign God.  What does joy look like in different situations?  Let us briefly consider that before concluding.

Life’s pretty normal?  When you live life and everything seems normal it can be easy to become complacent and think to yourself that you need nothing more for your joy and peace.  This is one of the most dangerous places to be.  From here the person most commonly stops looking to Christ for joy, stops looking to the gospel of peace, the true joy that comes with having a right relationship with Christ.  There is no rejoicing in what Christ has done, pride creeps in and our joy turns into selfish pride of what we have obtained.  If your life feels like is going smoothly, safe guard yourself, you must make sure you joy is in God and not in yourself.

Life’s pretty hard?  When your life is at its worst, maybe the death of a family member, a decision is made you disagree with, work is getting you down whatever it is.  This is the time when you must look to God for your joy.  This is when you must cry out with the Psalmist, “From where does my help come from?” And respond with,

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forever more.

Psalm 121, ESV.

When you turn to him in hardships he will provide what you need, and your joy will be great.  Not because you will be happy, not because your hardships will instantly go away, but because your faithful God will come to you and be known by you.  He will be your God and you will find all joy and peace in him!

Life’s end?  Sickness and death, what joy can there be?  Look to the stories of those faithful Christians who have died.  Their testimonies abound, I remember the story of the death of a man who said, “I am seeing into heaven and I can see the saviour.  He is with me.”  When his wife began to cry he said, “Peggy, don’t cry.  This is what I have been waiting for.  This is my coronation day.”  He remained like that until he passed into glory.  Death can be a wonderful thing for those who are experiencing the joy of the gospel, because they view it with hope.  But how atrocious is the death of the wicked, they die in utter fear and hopelessness.  May your joy be found in Christ if your time is near!

Dear reader, the fact of the matter is, in all of your life you can look to yourself for your joy and be disappointed throughout your life.  Or you can turn to the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ for your joy and you will NEVER be let down.  You will experience joy in every area of your life, not because you are strong or great, but because you have a faithful Lord and saviour who will supply you with all your needs.

Our problem in life so often is that we do not have true joy, we need true gospel joy and that gospel joy is announced to us just like it was to the shepherds at the birth of Christ.  Reader, the choice is yours, do you accept the joy on offer, the joy that comes only through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?