************ Sermon on Habakkuk 3:18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 26, 2015
"Yet I will Rejoice in the Lord"
Did you know to rejoice is a choice? That is what I want to tell you this morning. Though joy is a gift of the Spirit, showing it is a choice on your part. So I want to ask you, do you show joy? Do you say with the prophet, "I will rejoice in the Lord"?
I The Reality of Pain, Suffering, and Grief
A One of the dominant philosophies of our culture is hedonism. According to hedonism, man's ultimate purpose or goal is the enjoyment of pleasure. And -- according to this world-view -- pain, suffering, and grief are to be avoided at all costs because they get in the way of pleasure. So, the hedonist motto is: pursue pleasure and avoid pain. We disagree with such a world-view.
By way of contrast, there are Christians who wrongly believe they must seek suffering and flee from that which is pleasant. Their motto is: pursue pain and avoid pleasure. The Bible, however, tells us it is not a sin to enjoy the pleasant and be free from pain. And, it tells us there are times when the Christian must choose the path that results in pain. Furthermore, the Bible tells us what we seek first is the kingdom and its righteousness.
There also are Christians who deny the reality of pain, suffering, and grief. Their motto is: no pain, no suffering, no grief. I call them white-cloud Christians because they never see the grey clouds on the horizon. And, there are Christians who deny the pleasant and see only the negative. Their motto is: only pain, only suffering, only grief. I guess I have to call them dark-cloud Christians because they never see the white clouds on the horizon.
B Our text from Habakkuk speaks of Christian joy. Yet, notice, the prophet does not deny the reality of pain, suffering, and grief. In fact, the prophet speaks of joy in the midst of pain, suffering, and grief.
Did you hear what the prophet said in verse 17? Listen to these striking words:
(Hab 3:17) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls ...Don't forget, at the time of the prophet the country of Judah was an agrarian society with an agriculture-based economy. Judah derived most of her substance from crops such as figs, grapes, and olives; she was also heavily dependent upon sheep and cattle. So, what the prophet is imagining is nothing short of disaster. What he imagines is that everything Judah depends upon for life and sustenance has failed: no crops, no harvest, no flocks, no herds. The disaster he portrays is many magnitudes greater than the Great Recession of 2008-2009 because none of us lacked any of life's basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.
C God had told Habakkuk that He was sending the Babylonians to punish Judah for her sins. So the majority of the prophet's prayer covers this coming disaster. The prophet's prayer reveals that tough times are coming (cf Hab 3:16).
Imagine that this happens, says the prophet. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls ... Imagine that this happens. How would you respond if you lived back then? Would you be one of those dark-cloud Christians I mentioned earlier seeing only doom and gloom? Would you be one of those white-cloud Christians who deny the reality of the pain, suffering, and grief? Or, would you lose yourself in the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure and eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die?
II Yet I will Rejoice
A Notice what the prophet is prepared to do: "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab 3:18). Even in the midst of absolute ruin, famine, and poverty the prophet is prepared to rejoice. Why? Because he realizes that inner peace and joy does not depend on outward prosperity.
Notice this: the prophet does not state that he will merely endure in the hour of distress. That's not what he says. He says that even in time of distress, he will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful.
This reminds me of what is said by James who tells us to "consider it pure joy" whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). As for Paul, he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). "Always" means even in times of suffering and pain and grief.
Neither Habakkuk nor James nor Paul is teaching us that suffering in itself is good. We are not to say that our pain by itself makes us joyful. Nor are we to say that cancer, heart-attack, and stroke make us joyful. Nor are we to say that bankruptcy, job loss, or being sued makes us joyful. You get the picture: we do not rejoice in the effects of the Fall into sin. But we are called to rejoice in spite of the fallen circumstances of life. As believers, we know that we can have joy even during tragedies like accident and death.
B It can be hard to understand this because our culture has made joy something trivial and sentimental. Many of us have bought into the secular idea that joy is possible only if we are happy with our relationships and possessions.
Under this secular view, joy is something that happens to us. It is something we have when things go our way. It is something we have when our plans come to fruition.
In contrast to this, Habakkuk and James and Paul are saying Christian joy is NOT dependent on the circumstances of life. It is not dependent upon wealth and health. It is not dependent upon a satisfying marriage and well-mannered children. It is not something that happens to me. Rather, it is something I choose to have.
C "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab 3:18). The Hebrew word behind "rejoice" emphasizes an inward religious emotion which comes to outward expression. The Hebrew word, then, means you visibly show your joy. People can see it on your face. They hear it out of your mouth. They don't hear you complaining or murmuring or being negative. They don't see you with a perpetual frown. Instead, when it is appropriate, you are singing and praising God.
D "I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab 3:18). The words "I will" reveal Habakkuk's belief that he could choose his response -- either to sink into despair or to rejoice in God's presence and power. I repeat, joy is a choice. We are not a victim of circumstances.
It is our choice to rejoice. Many think that joy is like the flu: it is something you catch. It just happens. Others think it is a personality trait that some people are born with. Yet all through Scripture it is a command from God. Joy is the second listed fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Love is the first. Is love a virus that is caught? Is love automatic? No, God commands us as Christian to love, even in the most difficult of situations. Likewise, God commands us to rejoice.
It is our choice to rejoice. So every day we choose either joy or bitterness, joy or despair, joy or worry, joy or complaining, joy or sour grapes.
III Rejoice in the Lord
A You might wonder, what is there for Habakkuk and Judah to rejoice about when the enemy invades? What is there to rejoice about when the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, when the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, when there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls? How can they possibly rejoice when they are hungry and destitute?
Similarly, how can we rejoice when we are in the middle of a four-year drought? How can we rejoice when milk prices are low and feed prices are high? How can we rejoice when our business is not going the way we think it should? How can we rejoice when loved ones are sick from cancer and under doctor's care? How can we rejoice when a loved one dies?
Think about the Apostle Paul. He is in an inner cell of prison. He has been severely flogged. His back is a bleeding mess. His feet are in stocks. Every movement is painful. Yet, he is praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:22-25). He is being joyful. He is an example of what he himself later wrote to the church at Philippi: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). Paul rejoiced while in prison. Again, we can ask why? How can he rejoice in such circumstances?
B Here is the answer. Listen carefully to what the prophet says:
(Hab 3:18-19) ... I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (19) The Sovereign Lord is my strength ...
What does this all mean? Habakkuk is thinking of the same thing as James. Listen to what James says about joy:
(James 1:2-3) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
What are the trials James is talking about? James is talking, first, about persecution -- since it was common in that day for Christians to be persecuted. Because Christians claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord the authorities entered their homes and businesses and destroyed and ransacked everything they owned, dragged them off to prison, and put a sword to their throat. Trials like these can test your faith to the maximum. But James has other trials in mind too -- notice, he calls them "trials of many kinds."
Thank God that we generally do not face persecution. But we do have trials of many kinds, don't we? I think of family fights and quarrels, cancer, heart-attack, a mental disease, a pregnant teen, bankruptcy, a prison term, addiction, divorce, flunking out of college, breaking up with your girlfriend or boyfriend, a loved one dying without knowing the Lord, a disabled child or parent. I won't pretend this list is exhaustive. I am more than sure most of you can add some other trial(s) to this list.
According to James and Habakkuk we are to be joyful as we face trials. Why? Because our almighty and sovereign God uses trials and times of testing to grow and develop our faith. God uses trials and times of testing to make us mature in the faith. God uses trials and times of testing to make us more fervent in prayer, more faithful in worship attendance, and more trusting in Him and His promises. God uses trials and times of testing to put to death the old self and to bring to life the new self. God uses trials and times of testing to make us more like Christ; God's plan is to make us measure up to the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13).
God wants to change you and He wants to change me. God wants to sanctify you and me. This kind of change is never easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes trials. But ultimately it makes us perfect and complete
Too often, I am afraid, we grow more holy only when trouble comes into our lives. This notion sounds strange to most people today because of the widespread belief that God owes us a life free of emotional and physical pain. But the Lord never promises us an easy life. He does promise, though, that He will be with us in our difficulties and that He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4). Therefore, we rejoice in His presence to guide us and purify us and sanctify us. We rejoice because the Sovereign Lord, the Almighty God -- to use an old expression -- turns lemons into lemonade.
C "I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab 3:18). Especially, the prophet thinks of salvation. When Israel left the tyranny and slavery of Egypt, when Pharaoh and all his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, Israel responded with joy (Ex 15). When the walls of Jericho came falling down, the children of Israel were making the joyful sound of trumpets (Josh 6).
Like Habakkuk, our joy is in the Lord. Our joy is in the cross and the grave of the Lord Jesus. Our joy is in God's salvation from the fires of hell that we so richly deserve. Our joy is in God's forgiveness of our sins. Our joy is in the coming consummation when God makes all things new.
"I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab 3:18). This means the prophet's joy is also in the Lord's coming judgment. Habakkuk has this judgment in mind in verse 16, "Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us." He waits for the day when Babylon too will be judged.
Like Habakkuk, we too rejoice in judgment. However, our joy is in another Day of Judgment when everything that is wrong in this world will be set right. At that time all His enemies and mine the Lord will condemn to everlasting punishment. At that time the devil's work will be destroyed. At that time every conspiracy against God's Word will be destroyed. At that time every force which revolts against God will be destroyed. At that time there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
I hope you see, congregation, that joy is not found in life's circumstances. Rather, joy is to be found in a Person. It comes through an intimate and personal relationship with the Lord, so that even those in the worst of circumstances can always rejoice:
(Hab 3:17-18) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, (18) yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
I invite you, congregation, to come to Jesus. I invite you to believe in Him. Then, no matter how tough life is or becomes, you still have reason for joy!
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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