Matt Chandler: Good morning. It’s good to see you. I have a fairly easy job today. I’m just going to introduce the one who will be preaching the Word of God this morning. We have brought Steve Timmis in from Sheffield, England, to preach this morning on the subject of The Nations. Steve Timmis is the CEO of the Acts 29 church-planting network. Acts 29 has 620 churches on six continents. Over the last five years, I have worked alongside Steve in that network.
In fact, we are an Acts 29 church, so we have been actively partnering with this organization. I have been president for the last five years. Steve is the CEO. Steve runs our offices in Sheffield, which is north of London, and has done just a superb job over the years globally. I wanted him to come in as a man who has seen with his own eyes the work of God all over the world. He has planted churches. He has written many books, my favorite being Total Church. He’s as English as English gets, so we want to give him a warm Texas welcome. Will you say hello to my friend Steve Timmis?
Steve Timmis: Good morning, everyone. It’s a delight and joy to be with you. I flew in on Thursday, which was quite providential, as the executive order was signed on Friday. I still managed to get through. They can come and get me now. It doesn’t matter because I’m finished after this morning. It’s a joy to be with you. I bring greetings from my church in Sheffield in the north of England. We’re called The Crowded House.
It’s just a delight to be with you, particularly because of the focus, the subject of this weekend, namely, The Nations. To have the opportunity to participate with The Village Church as you consider the theme of The Nations… I think that is just something that really does grab the imagination. It certainly grabs my imagination. I get a real buzz out of something that focuses upon our privileges and our responsibility of getting the gospel out from here, wherever here is, to there, wherever there is.
If people are being stopped from coming here now, it just means we have to be more resourceful in actually finding ways to get the gospel there, doesn’t it? The kingdom of God will know no constraint, no restraint. The kingdom of God knows no boundaries. It has no borders. The kingdom of God is the kingdom of God.
When I think about it in those terms, in the context of missions and the nations, I kind of get all gung-ho and think this really is exciting. It’s a bit like Buzz Lightyear, isn’t it? “To infinity and beyond.” To the nations and beyond. Let’s go get them, guys. Actually, Captain Kirk is probably more appropriate for my generation, his stirring rhetoric to boldly go. Great rhetoric, poor grammar. Split infinitives, for the nerds among you.
Anyway, let’s get back. I don’t want to rain on your parade. I know I could easily do that. I do think I want to alert you to a danger in the very thing we’re doing here this morning. I’m sure you haven’t fallen into it, but it’s the trap of unintended consequences. What I mean is we nominate a particular time, a specific time to look at a particular issue. It’s a vital issue, a very important issue, but the very fact that we give it a time, give it a date that we focus on it means that we’re less likely to focus on it in the rest of the year.
Now, I’m sure you haven’t done that, but it is a danger that you need to be aware of. If you think I may be overstating the case, just think about something we’re all very familiar with. Namely, Christmas. Let me ask you this question. How many of you have sung in a formal meeting (I’m not talking about in the shower) Hark! The Herald Angels Sing outside of December? You see? We just don’t do it, do we?
The truth of that hymn… It’s a glorious hymn, isn’t it? It’s a glorious truth because the truth of the incarnation is something that is meant to thrill our souls, to shape our lives 365 days a year, but that’s the danger of unintended consequences. Well, it’s exactly like that with missions, isn’t it? A missions weekend is a good thing as long as it encourages missions rather than compartmentalizing missions.
The reason why we can’t compartmentalize missions is because the Bible doesn’t. You know, when we’re talking about reaching the nations for Jesus, we don’t need to go rooting around in the Bible to find some obscure, isolated proof text. It’s not as though everything about the nations depends upon Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus says, “Go and disciple the nations.”
No. The Bible, from beginning to end, is a book about missions. The Bible, from beginning to end, is a book about God’s heart for the nations, for the peoples of the world. It really is. This book, the Bible, is a missional handbook. For example, why does the Bible start where it does in Genesis 1, with God making the world? In that chapter, God is making a statement. He’s saying, “This is the object of my affection.”
When he says to the first man and woman, “Go fill the earth and subdue it,” he’s saying, “I want you to fill the earth with people like you because those are the objects of my affection that I want to reach for, that I want to see won.” The Bible starts there because it’s a missional cry. When God calls Abraham out of that migrating mass of humanity, why does he do that? Because he has a vision for the nations.
He says to him, “I’m going to make you a great nation, and I’m going to bless people who bless you, but I will bless the nations of the earth through you.” It’s a missional promise. Let me give you one more example, the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6. You might be familiar with it. What does it say. It says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Now that sounds like it’s very specifically directed at Israel, and in its context, it is. Aaron, the high priest, is to hold his hands up and to issue this blessing upon the nation, but look at how a psalmist in Psalm 67 takes that blessing and uses it. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”
He takes that prayer of a blessing on Israel, and he turns it into a missional prayer. “Bless us, Lord…” Why? “…so you might bless the nations through us.” You see what I mean? It’s not an isolated text we need for the nations; it’s the whole of the Bible. We’re going to focus in upon one small book that is tucked away in the Old Testament. I realize my mistake. I should have told you that at the beginning because the danger is you’re going to spend the rest of the sermon trying to find it in the Bible.
It’s sandwiched between Nahum and Zephaniah, and it’s a book called Habakkuk. Let’s go to Habakkuk and have a look here at God’s global vision. Habakkuk is a short book, just three chapters long, and it’s a very powerful and troubling prophecy. Habakkuk is showing himself to be very bold in his relationship with the Lord, in fact, even impudent in his relationship with the Lord. Let me just read a few verses at the beginning of chapter one.
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ’Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”
You see, Habakkuk comes to the Lord with a complaint. He was a prophet, a spokesman to the people of Judah, a spokesman for God, and he knew that God had called them to be a light to the nations. He knew that God had set them apart as his people so that through them, he might bless the nations. Instead of being a light, he saw that was being smothered under a cloak of disobedience, and things were rotten in the state of Judah a long time before they were rotten in the state of Denmark.
Habakkuk, instead of seeing righteousness go out to the nations to show the world God’s character through their behavior and their faithfulness, he looked around in Judah, and what did he see? He saw injustice. He saw violence. He saw destruction. He saw strife. He saw conflict. It became too much for him, so he goes to the Lord. That was a good thing for him to do, but he goes to the Lord.
He takes it to the Lord, and he cries out to the Lord, “Lord, how long are you going to let this go on? Doesn’t it bother you that people treat one another like they do? Doesn’t it bother you that your people live so disobediently to your Word?” It turns out that his problems had only just begun because God answers the prophet, but the man of God doesn’t like the answer that the God he serves gives.
Look at verse 5 of chapter 1. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Now, if you ever see that verse written on a poster with beautiful scenery as a background, you should take that poster down and rip it up, because it is not a good thing that God is referring to here. He is about to say something that will blow Habakkuk’s mind. He is about to say something that will chill Habakkuk to the very core.
He is going to use a wicked, godless, cruel nation as an instrument of judgment against his people. He’s going to raise up the Babylonians, who will come sweeping down through Judah and destroy them and take them captive and leave Jerusalem and the temple in ruins. That’s what he’s going to do. It is God who does it, not Nebuchadnezzar. It is God who raises up the Babylonians, and God tells Habakkuk this, and Habakkuk cannot believe his ears.
Look what he says in verse 13. “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” He said, “You can’t be serious God.” By the end of his argument with God, Habakkuk assumes a rather smug, self-assured position.
You can almost imagine him standing there, arms crossed, eyebrow raised, saying, “Okay, Lord, let’s see you get out of that. I think I put up a pretty good case here. I think, Lord, you’ll see the error of your ways, a mistake in what you were going to do, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to tell me that if I just wait long enough that you’ll say, ’You’re right, Habakkuk. I got it wrong. Thanks for pointing it out to me.’”
But the Lord responds very directly and with a sting in the tail. We’re going to look at chapter 2. We’re going to look at it in two sections of disproportional length. In the first section, verses 2-4, you’ve gotta have faith. The first thing that we notice is verses 2-4 of chapter 2 is that the Lord is quite unfazed by the prophet’s self-righteous protest.
It’s as though he says to him, “Okay, son. You’ve had your say. That’s okay. I don’t mind that. You’ve had your say. Now just get on with your job.” What is his job? His job is to be a spokesman for the Lord. The Lord says, “Habakkuk, a nation is going to be raised up and then come sweeping down and destroy Judah as an act of judgment on my part for them. That is what you have to say to the people of Judah. You don’t get a choice in the matter, Habakkuk,” he says to him.
Despite his incomprehension, despite his outrage, he still has to tell the people what is going to happen. The sword of judgment is going to fall. The Babylonians will sweep into the land. Look at verse 3 of chapter 2. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” It may not come today, and it may not come tomorrow, but come it most definitely will. It will come in God’s good time and at God’s sovereign bidding.
This is an important lesson for Habakkuk, and it’s no less pressing for us. You see, God was no geographically challenged tribal deity. He wasn’t merely the God of Israel, the God of Judah. He wasn’t. He was never that. That’s why, as I said, he made the whole world, because he’s the God of the whole world, and he’s showing that by sovereignly raising up the Babylonians to act as instruments of judgment against his own people.
They may labor. The Babylonians would labor, as we’ll see, under the delusions of their own sovereignty. They’re think they’re a lord to themselves, but it is God the master craftsman who is shaping history according to his own ends and for his own purposes. This is a God thing. Make no mistake about that. God, in his expansive and intimate sovereignty, is fulfilling his purposes through their decision. Yes, they acted of their own free will. Of course they did. But God was raising them up and using their free will to his own ends.
God’s sovereignty was a problem for Habakkuk. It’s a problem for us, if we’re honest. We’re just not comfortable with the idea that God is a sovereign God, but he is. I think it’s a similar reaction we get with control freaks. See, you can never call somebody a control freak and them take it like a compliment, can you? “You’re the biggest control freak I’ve ever met.” “Wow, thanks! Nobody has ever said something as nice as that to me.” That’s just not going to happen, is it?
It’s an insult to be called a control freak, and even people who are control freaks don’t like being called control freaks. I know. For example, when my wife and I are in a moment of conflict, and I say, “Just stop being such a control freak,” she has said to me on more than one occasion, “Actually, Steve, you only complain about me being a control freak when it infringes upon your control freakiness.” She’s right. Annoyingly, irritatingly, she’s right.
That’s what it is with us and God, isn’t it? We don’t like the idea of a sovereign God for the simple reason that we want to be sovereign. We are the ones who want to see ourselves as being the autonomous beings. That’s what we labor under, delusions of our own sovereignty. It isn’t the fact that somebody is in control. We know that. We accept that. We just want it to be us, not God.
That was Habakkuk’s problem. He had identified the problem in Judah. He had gone to God for it, and he expected God to answer it according to how Habakkuk wanted him to answer it, but God was going to have none of that. We’re going to come back to this issue of God’s sovereignty, but I want you to just look at verse 4 in chapter 2. There’s a phrase there that I’m sure you’ll be familiar with. “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The reason you’re familiar with that (I suspect for many of us) is because it occurs three times in the New Testament. One of those times is by Paul in Romans 1:17. He says, “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ’The righteous shall live by faith.’” Now, if we go back to Habakkuk 2:4, we have to acknowledge that this is not an easy phrase to understand. It isn’t. It has foxed a lot of commentators and scholars. It’s difficult.
Here’s something you need to know about the English, a bit of cultural sensitivity here. We are very good at the art of understatement. It’s just one of our cultural highlights, if you like. Let me give you a few examples. If I say something is okay, you would probably say, “This is great.” I would say, “Yeah, it’s okay.” Okay is a compliment. My wife puts a great meal in front of me. She says, “How was that?” I say, “Yeah, it was okay.” She knows that I think, “This is a great meal.” She’s not offended at all.
If I say something is fine, you wouldn’t probably think, “This is awesome.” Your awesome is my fine. So if I say something is not bad, I probably mean that was the most impressive display that has ever been seen on planet earth. We’re just masters and mistresses of the understatement. When I say this is not an easy phrase to translate, you get my drift.
How are we going to understand it? Well, let’s go to Romans 1. Flip over in your Bibles or your app. We won’t spend a lot of time there, but it will profit us to spend a little bit of time there. What is the book of Romans about? The book of Romans is about mission. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the nations.
It’s about Paul saying, “Look, church, I want to stop by on my way to Spain because I want to go where the gospel has never been preached. I want to reach people who have never been reached before with the good news of Jesus Christ, and I want you as a church in Rome to get on board with this apostolic mission with this gospel expansion.”
He expounds the gospel to them so they’ll understand the gospel. Therefore, they’ll understand that it has the nations in view. He expounds the truth of justification so they might know that we’re made right with God, not on the basis of anything we’ve done or anything we are but solely on the basis of God’s declaration to those of us who are in Christ, that we are not guilty, that we are acquitted. That’s why he does it, so we might know that God can rescue people from every nation under heaven.
The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe. Anyone who believes, whatever their background, whatever their personality, whatever their ethnicity or race or color, it doesn’t matter at all because it’s not about our heritage. It’s not about the Mosaic law. It’s not about being a special people. No. It’s about trusting in the one who has kept his promises to his people through his Son.
That’s what being saved means. That’s what being rescued means. It means we are in a right relationship with God because we believe the good word God has spoken to us in the gospel. We rely wholly, only, and always upon him for our salvation. Now, Paul uses that reference, that quote from Habakkuk, and that helps us to understand why Habakkuk uses it here and what he means by it.
How are the people of God, the righteous people of God, going to cope with the Babylonians come sweeping down to devour them? That would have been terrifying, wouldn’t it? How would they cope when that was happening? By trusting in the God who keeps his promises. The righteous live by faith, by trusting in God. This is the defining characteristic of the righteous. It is now. It was then. The righteous are those who rely only, always, and wholly on the God who has made promises to us in Christ as his people.
Let’s just take a brief look at the Babylonians to give us further context for the key, critical, crux verse of this prophecy. The point here is you can’t touch this. Now, if we had time to read verses 5-19 (which we don’t), you would think that God was sweetening the pill that Habakkuk was having to swallow by telling him, “Look. Don’t worry. The Babylonians are going to get their just reward.” It’s the Babylonians who come into full view.
Look at verse 4. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him…” Who is the he there? It’s the king of the Babylonians who, it turns out, was Nebuchadnezzar. He’s talking about the king of the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar, who was the one who epitomizes and embodies all that is evil. He’s the one who, on behalf of the Babylonians, will be held accountable to God.
God may be using him to judge his faithless people, but they themselves, he himself, will be subject to judgment. You don’t get to mess with God’s people. You can’t touch the Lord’s anointed. You just can’t, even when they’re wayward, but the Babylonian war machine is rolling on, only for the glory of Babylon, and for that, God will not let them go unpunished.
What we find in verses 5-19 are five sins of the Babylonians being exposed, being named, and five corresponding woes. Now, we don’t have time to unpack this element to it, but as we do, just reflect, albeit briefly, upon the pertinence of these sins and these woes to where we are in 2017 culturally. It is disturbingly apposite. What are the things that drove the Babylonians on that God identifies here?
- Wealth. Verses 6-8. There is nothing particularly sophisticated about it. They just share an adulterated greed. The Babylonians have gone on a rampage because they wanted to prosper as a nation. They wanted to go and ransack the other nations and take their wealth home. It was a pretty radical Babylonian first policy. The warning there in verse 7 is, “The worm will turn.” “Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?”
- Security. Verses 9-11. In a dog-eat-dog world, the Babylonians were never going to be vegetarians, and they plotted, and they schemed about their world conquest and about protecting their own borders, but their own houses where they were doing this plotting and scheming would be the places that haunted them. Look at verse 11. “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”
- Fame. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build a kingdom that would last for generations, if not forever. They wanted to make Babylon great again. Why? For what? Verse 13. For nothing. “Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?”
- Superiority. It was a basic lust for increasing their own sense of significance by demeaning others. That’s a basic stance of the bully, isn’t it? They’d only be satisfied as top dog when all of the other packs cowered at the thought of their approach. Instead of their glory, their superiority, what would come? Look at verse 16. “…and utter shame will come upon your glory!” “Shame will engulf you rather than the sense of dominance that you so long for.”
- Control. Verses 18-20. You see, the Babylonians served their own imaginary gods who were mere projections of their own desires. They had gods of war. These gods were cruel gods who demanded human sacrifice. That was merely so the Babylonians could justify their own bloodlust. They thought they were accountable to no one, but look at verse 20. “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
In other words, that temple is from where he reigns, from where he rules, from where he raises up this nation and puts down this one, from with here he judges these people and prospers this one, where God sovereignly acts. The fact is the Babylonians would last a mere two generations. They would come in, and they would conquer. They would seem to be prospering, but then God would raise up Cyrus, and the Persians would come in and defeat the Babylonians.
Then the Greeks would defeat the Persians, and then the Romans would defeat the Greeks. Then the Barbarians and the goths and the vandals would come in and defeat the Romans. So it goes on. Kingdoms rising. Kingdoms falling. So it goes on with our Western culture too. Kingdoms rising. Kingdoms falling. But the kingdom of God expands.
You can almost hear the prophet breathing a sigh of relief as he looks as this exposé of the Babylonians and the fact that they’re going to get their comeuppance. The exposé does reveal a sordid story of violence and wickedness and greed and destruction, doesn’t it? But remember the start of the book, because that’s exactly what Habakkuk himself has identified in Judah.
God was saying, “Yes, I’m going to judge the Babylonians for these vices, but remember these are the very vices you exposed in Judah. Therefore, just as my judgment against Babylon is righteous, Habakkuk, so too is my judgment against Judah righteous, Habakkuk.” Now, look. I get it. This all sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it?
I started off by being kind of gung-ho and all, “To infinity and beyond,” and all of that. It doesn’t seem that I’ve quite lived up to those expectations that I set. You may be sitting there thinking that you knew that the English were a pretty unemotional race, but actually, this is so down-beaten that it makes Canadians look like they’re party animals by comparison.
There really is a reason why I’m doing this. There truly is. It’s vital that we understand that reason if we’re to understand just how significant the nations are in the purposes of God. The reason? It’s life itself. See, I look around this room, and what do I see? I see people who are like me who have lived life. All of us who have lived any kind of life will know already that life is a puzzle inside a conundrum wrapped inside an enigma. It is just troublesome to us, isn’t it?
Stuff happens in life, and we don’t understand the stuff that happens. It happens, and it’s troubling, and it’s perplexing. What are we to make of this stuff that happens? How do we understand this stuff that happens? How do we make sense of this stuff that happens? What could this stuff be? It could be betrayal. It could be rejection. It could be disease. It could be redundancy. It could be repossession of home. It could be any kind of thing, any number of things, but these things happen to us.
So often, they happen one thing after another, so we find ourselves saying, “Lord, what on earth are you up to? What are you doing in my life? What are you doing in our nation? What are you doing in our world? Lord, we don’t understand what is going on.” The answer to that plaintive cry, “Why, Lord, why?” is found here, almost buried in the text.
Chapter 2, verse 14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” You see, this was meant, in its original context, to reassure and re-center God’s people. The Babylonians would overreach themselves, as evil often does, but it is the Lord who will be known. That’s what God is saying here. It’s his kingdom that is going to extend. It is his glory that will permeate everything everywhere.
There is coming a time, he’s saying, when the earth will fulfill its original mandate, and that is to be a stage upon which the Lord will display his unrivaled, unmatched majesty. The Lord will keep his promises. He will bless the nations. He will embrace the whole world. Even when trouble comes, and avalanche smothers, and the tidal wave engulfs, they have God’s promise to hope in and live by.
Yes, he’s raising up the Babylonians to fulfill his ends, but there is coming a time when the knowledge of the glory fills the earth as the waters cover the sea, and that’s the thing that matters. This is what God says to them. “When you see the Babylonians coming, as frightening as that is going to be, trust in me and hope in my promises.” This is so significant. “It is not going to stop the hoards, but it is where you will find strength in hope.”
You see, the book of Habakkuk proclaims God’s sovereignty, doesn’t it, in bold and unapologetic terms. We know that life throws up so many questions, in fact too many questions. It never gives us the answer to those questions. That wouldn’t be so bad if that wasn’t compounded by the fact that God often doesn’t give us an answer to those questions either. He doesn’t. He just doesn’t. We live in the here and now, and the message of the Bible can be summed up in two beautiful, simple, compelling words.
The message all the way from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 with the thousands upon thousands of words that are written there can actually be compressed into just two. “Trust me.” That’s what God is saying. That’s what he’s saying here to the people of Judah with the prospect of the Babylonian hoards coming and devouring them. He’s saying, “Trust me, even when the hoards come.” You read all the way through the Bible, and that’s what he’s saying.
What’s he saying to Adam and Eve when they’re in the garden? He’s saying, “Trust me because I’m trustworthy. I’m a good God.” What’s he saying to Noah when he tells him to build a boat in the middle of nowhere? He’s saying, “Trust me.” What’s he saying to Abraham when he calls him out of the Ur of the Chaldees to go as an old man with a barren wife to be the father of a great nation? He’s saying, “Trust me.”
What’s he saying to Moses when he sends him back into Egypt to lead his people out of captivity. He’s saying, “Trust me.” What’s he saying to Israel as they stand on the bank of the Red Sea with this vast expanse of water in front of them and the marauding Egyptians coming behind them? He’s saying, “Trust me.” What’s he saying as they come into the Promised Land that is inhabited by these fearful people, the Canaanites? He’s saying, “Trust me.”
What’s he saying to the people of God as the Babylonians take them away into captivity? He’s saying, “Trust me.” What’s he saying in those 400 years of silence between the closing of Malachi and the opening of Matthew? In the silence, he’s saying to his people, “Trust me.” What’s he saying to Jesus when he’s in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil? He’s saying, “Son, trust me.” What’s he saying to Jesus when he’s in the garden of Gethsemane before he’s about to face the most awful ordeal of all? He’s saying, “Trust me.”
What does Jesus do? He trusts him. He says, “Father, if it’s possible, please, please take this cup from me, but not my will but yours be done, because I trust you, Father. If that means I go to the cross, and if that means that my enemies have their way with me, do with me as they please, if that means that my arms are outstretched, the nails are driven in, if that means that darkness engulfs me, if that means that I’m even separated from you as you turn your face from me as I cry out in dereliction, ’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Father, I’m going to trust you.”
You see, none of his promises have failed, have they? Ever. He will not fail us now. They are all, “Yes,” and, “Amen,” to us in Christ Jesus, but our confidence is in the Lord actively working in our circumstances, even when there is no resolution. Even when there is no resolution, our confidence has to be ultimately in the prospect of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth as the waters cover the sea, because that’s what God is ultimately concerned about.
We can say that, but an inevitable necessary consequence of that is if that is what God is ultimately concerned about, then he is not ultimately concerned about my comfort. He is not ultimately concerned about my transitory happiness. He is not ultimately concerned about everything going well with me. He just isn’t because he’s ultimately concerned with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth like the waters cover the sea.
Everything else is a means to that end, just as it was for Judah, just as it was for the Babylonians. See, God is not a caped crusader to step in and save the day, to kind of untie and whip us off the railway track as a train comes careering down toward us. Sometimes that train hits us, and God stands by and watches it. In fact, if you take the message of Habakkuk seriously, then God sends that train down that track.
There are times when we sit in the doctor’s office, and she says to us, “The scan results came back.” God doesn’t change the words that come out of her mouth to say, “No, it’s all clear.” But she will say, “I’m sorry, but yes, there is a tumor, and we’re pretty sure that it’s terminal.” He doesn’t stop that from happening. He doesn’t stop redundancy from occurring. He doesn’t stop our homes from being repossessed. He doesn’t stop our bank balances from being emptied.
He never promised to do any of that. What he has promised (and this is where our hope lies) is that the knowledge of his glory will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea, because that is ultimate, and everything else, therefore, is temporary. Everything else therefore is partial. Everything else, therefore, serves and feeds and accomplishes that.
Now, what does this have to do with this theme of nations? Well, so, so much. You see, the nations will be reached with the good news of Christ crucified. They will if the people of God understand that God’s ultimate ambition is the knowledge of his glory filling the earth like the waters cover the sea. Therefore, they believe that to the extent that they know that is the ultimate, so they are not. That means that I will be prepared to invest all of my resources so that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea.
I will be prepared to give up my job and go so that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea. I will be prepared to send others, good friends, and say goodbye to them, even family members, so that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, but I will only do any of those things when I know that is the ultimate, that my comfort, my security, my happiness, my wealth, my prosperity, they are not the ultimate. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth like the waters cover the sea, that is.
You see, the mark of the elect is that we view our own personal circumstances through the lens of he God’s glory, not vice versa. That’s a hope that purifies. That’s a hope that sustains. This is how the nations are going to be won. It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? “…as the waters cover the sea.” See, the waters don’t cover the sea, do they? Not really, not technically, scientifically. The waters are the sea. The waters is the sea.
So it is with the prospect of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. It’s not an aspect to the future. That is the future. That is what the future is all about. That’s not one of the things that God is doing. That is what God is doing. Everything else…everything else…serves that goal, that objective, that divine ambition.
If that’s everything for him, then can it be anything other than everything for us? Until it is, then the nations will not be reached. Missions will not be resourced as it needs to be. Churches will not get planted where they need to get planted until the people of God know that this is the ultimate, and everything, that I serve that end. Let me pray for us to that end.
Heavenly Father, Lord, I pray this for my own heart, and I pray it for the hearts of my brothers and sisters here, Lord. Please, let us be captivated, captured by this great and glorious vision of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth like the waters cover the sea. Help us to see, Lord, that that is the ultimate, and therefore, we’re not.
Lord, help us to be prepared to give up everything to see that achieved, to see that accomplished, to see that realized. Lord, please, do that great work in us. Forgive us, Lord, when we have been reluctant, when we have been accusing in our “why?”s and say, “What are you doing in our lives?” Help us to see it all through the lens of your glory, Lord, so you might transform our hearts individually and corporately as your church, so that the nations, yes, even in this generation, may be reached for the glory of God. Amen.