Cornerstone Baptist Church
Terrell, Texas
Rev. Marq Toombs
Text – Habakkuk 2:4; Hebrews 10:36-39

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Note: I want to thank my friend Pastor Nick Esch for inviting me to preach Christ at his church. It was a privilege and a pleasure. If you live around Terrell, and need a gospel centered family, check out Cornerstone Baptist Church.

May the grace and peace of the Lord our God be with you all.

Today I want to draw your attention to Habakkuk 2:4. That one text is so important that it is cited three times in the NT. Twice by Paul and once by an anonymous pastor.

It is cited in Galatians to demolish the false gospel of the legalists; it is cited in Romans to demonstrate how God turns unrighteous sinners into righteous saints; finally, it is cited in Hebrews to defend the gospeland to discourage/dissuade cross-bearing Christians from going back to yoke-bearing legalism.

In each and every case Habakkuk 2:4 is used to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This text is also so important that it influenced the great Reformer Martin Luther.

According to his son, Martin Luther said of Habakkuk 2:4,

“Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel.

But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words — “The righteous shall live by faith!” “The righteous shall live by faith!”– then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors in to the very Paradise of God. (J.M. Boice, Habakkuk, p 92)

Some of us could add our stories that. And I pray the same thing happens to the rest of you.

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

In light of that text, my purpose and goal today is to answer one massive question: How shall we then live?

Our sermon texts for today are a mashup of Habakkuk 2:4 and Hebrews 10:36-39. If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word:

“Behold, his soul is puffed up;
it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And all the church says: Amen!

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.

CANONICAL CONTEXT

+ HABAKKUK 2:4

You have heard that big things come in small packages; well, Big Truths come in small texts – like this one.

In context Habakkuk the prophet had cried out to God because the wicked surrounded the righteous (1:5). God answered his prayer and showed him his plan to send the Babylonians to judge Jerusalem and Judah because of the many sins. Then Habakkuk cried out to God again and complained: If you send the Babylonians, we will die, Lord (1:12). Then God answered his prayer and showed him his plan to judge rightly and fairly: The wicked will die by his works, but the righteous will live by his faith.

God revealed his righteousness to the prophet and assured him that through his act of judgment he would triumph over the wicked and save all who live by faith. (see M. Seifred, The Faith of Jesus Christ, 139n34)

It is important to mark this down, because just as God used a wicked nation to accomplish his righteous purpose in Judah then, so God used wicked men to accomplish his redemptive purpose in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at Jerusalem later on.

There are many wicked people in the world and in the church who are proud, whose soul is puffed up and not upright within them. But the righteous one will live by his faith. For God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.

Who is the righteous one who lives by his faith?

In context of the OT, it was the prophet who lived by his faith when wicked Jews surrounded him. It was the Jew who lived by faith when the wicked Babylonians surrounded him.

In context of the NT, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who lived by his faith when wicked men surrounded him at the cross. It is also every Christian who lives by faith in Christ in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation.

That includes you, if you live by faith.

CHRISTOLOGICAL / – TELIC CONTEXT

As mentioned earlier, Habakkuk 2:4 is cited in the New Testament three times. If we want to know what it really and truly means, and how it all points to Jesus, we need to do is pay attention to what the apostles and prophets wrote in the new testament. They give us God’s inspired commentary on Habakkuk 2:4.

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

+ HEBREWS 10:37-39

For example, the Spirit cited Habakkuk 2:4 in the Book of Hebrews in order to defend the gospel and to dissuade/discourage Jewish Christians from apostatizing— from back-sliding and falling away from Christ’s covenant community.

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

The pastor knows that his flock had endured real hardships and experienced real suffering. And he knows that it has taken a toll on them.

They have been publicly shamed and personally injured. They wonder if taking up the cross and following Jesus was a mistake.

They feel like the gospel is causing more trouble than it’s worth. It costs more than they are willing to pay. They are trying to convince themselves that the gospel is just not enough, not all that important; they feel like they need something more, or something else, something different. A change.

Besides, they kinda miss the Law, the temple, the priests, the altar, the blood, the water, the incense; they miss concrete shadows, traditions, and programs.

They are thinking about leaving Christ, the cross, and the church and going back to what is more comfortable and less costly.

Once upon a time they went boldly outside the camp and gladly took up the cross of Christ, but now it all seems too shameful and embarrassing.

The cross is too heavy and messy for their pride.

They are seriously considering trading the cross of Christ for the yoke of legalism and moralism.

Their attitude has changed; their confidence is shaken; their joy is fading.

Their world was falling apart. (The Romans were about to come and destroy Jerusalem. “The day was drawing nigh.” Their situation was very much like Habakkuk’s situation with the Chaldeans/Babylonians.)

The pastor knew that some of them were wavering between two sides. So, like a good shepherd, he gets everyone’s attention, and points everyone to Jesus and urges them to stick with Christ and stay in his church with all their heart — no matter what.

Listen to him.

Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

We can relate to them in some ways, can’t we?

We have lost something for the sake of the gospel. And we have left behind many things for the sake of the gospel.

But notice – We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

This pastor is not ashamed to identify with his flock.

We are in this together. You and I are not in this alone.

After all we have been through, now we know by experience what it means to live by faith — to live by “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)

We have joined the communion of all the saints who lived and died by faith — and live again by faith. (Heb 11)

Like them, we acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles on the earth. We are seeking a true and better homeland.

We are not thinking of all the places from which we have gone out, and we are not looking for an opportunity to return to what we left behind.

No, we desire a true and better country, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared for us a city. (Heb 11:13-16)

I imagine that things have not always turned out the way you expected. In your life, your marriage, your career, your family, your school, your health, your team, even your church.

And I imagine that sometimes you (like me!) are tempted to throw in the towel.

You might even imagine that your faith is too weak and too frail to be counted as faith.

Some of you are standing at a crossroads – just like Habakkuk was. Just like the Hebrew Christians were. Just like Jesus did.

But this is your crossroads — not theirs.

You can throw away your confidence or you can tighten your grip on Christ.

You can shrink back in shame or step forward in hope.

You can waver in doubt or you can walk by faith.

But before you decide, before you take one more step, you need to consider Jesus one more time.

In Hebrews 12, the Spirit says through the pastor:

Look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy that was set before him, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

You need to consider Jesus who endured hostility from sinners against himself – why? – so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

In all our faith-struggles, we have not even suffered to the point of shedding blood.

No one is holding knife to our throats. No one is threatening our wives and daughters. No one is breaking into our homes and stealing our things. No one is deterring us from gathering to worship.

Not that any of those would be reasons to turn back and fall away.

The Hebrew Christians had far more reasons than we do to turn back, and yet they were dissuaded from doing so by the gospel! Why?

Because the gospel is a much better reason to stay than any bad circumstances or problems are reasons to go. A much better reason to persevere than to peter out.

In all our faith-struggles, we have not suffered to the point of shedding blood.

But Jesus did.

And he did it for you, for me, for us.

I have been a Christian minister long enough to know the ups and downs of life in Christ, to feel to joys and sorrows, the fears and comforts of life under the cross. To stand in the shadow of a Black Gate and wonder if we should give up and turn away. I know the need to hear the voice of our Lord say,

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!* (Aragorn / Return of the King movie)

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not broken but rather be healed. (Heb 12:12-13)

Just as God shook Habakkuk’s world – and just as he shook the Jewish Christians’ world – so he shakes our world.

And still the righteous shall live by faith.

You do not shrink back in fear.

They do not sneak around in shame.

We do not soak in self-pity.

They do not shy away from their brothers and sisters.

You do not slip away from Christ and his church.

We do not shun the cross.

By faith, our story is tied to the Story of Jesus; our sorrows, struggles and sufferings are woven into his sorrows, struggles and sufferings. Your wounds are his wounds, our weakness is his weakness, my heartache is his heartache. He sympathizes with us in all these things because he has been where we are, and in much worse places than that.

He is able to help us and give us grace in our time of need because he is the true and better righteous one who lives by his faithfulness, so that we who live by faith in him might become his righteousness.

Now, with your permission I would like to say one little word about faith.

The righteous shall live by faith does not mean your faith only counts if it is big and strong faith. No, your faith is counted as righteousness even when it is little and weak faith.

Where do we get this kind of saving faith?

The smallest faith is big enough to save. The biggest faith is small enough to struggle.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this:

  1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.
  2. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

One last thing.

Sometimes we hear stories about the faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, and we think, “Wow! I wish I had faith like that.” We look at the list of names in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 and we think “Wow! I wish my name were on that list.”

I have good news for you. The faith in Jesus Christ that you have received is a gift of grace — and it is better than the faith of Abraham and Moses.

And if you live by faith in Jesus Christ, you are on the list in the Hall of Faith.

As it is written: God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

So, don’t be jealous of their faith, for they are jealous of yours.

For the righteous shall live by faith in Christ alone.

Now, let us bow before the majesty of our glorious and gracious God and pray.

Pastoral Prayer – Grant, Almighty God, that as the corruption of our flesh ever leads us to pride and vain confidence, we may be illuminated by your word, so as to understand how great and how grievous is our poverty, and thus be taught wholly to deny ourselves, and so to present ourselves naked before thee, that we may not hope for righteousness or for salvation from any other source than from your mercy alone, nor seek any rest but only in Christ alone; and may we cleave to you by the sacred and inviolable bond of faith, that we may boldly despise all those empty boastings by which the wicked exult over us, and that we may also so cast ourselves down in true humility before you, that we may be carried upward above all heavens, and become partakers of that eternal life which your only begotten Son has purchased for us by his own blood. Amen. (Calvin)