I want to look at these texts because I believe they reflect much of what we have seen in Habakkuk. I want us to look at what Jesus said in Matthew 24 and what he advised. I also want to take a look at Psalms 13 because the Psalmist also found himself in a time in his life that very much resembled the crisis of Habakkuk.
In Matthew 24, regardless of your position on end-times, Jesus is describing a time that was approaching where there would be natural disasters, wars, deceptions, and betrayals leading to the persecution and death of believers. In the center of all of this prediction in verse 6, Jesus makes two exhortations that must have challenged the hearts of his listeners. He says, that these things must take place, and therefore, they should not be alarmed. Without trying to find some obscure reason for why these things must happen, it is enough to know that Jesus is indicating that it is ordained by God. Perhaps it is just the natural result of the world going down the path of rebellion. The result of the rebellion of the world in any generation is that it leads to a striking out at God through His people. Inevitably as the world hardens its heart against God, it always begins to resent the presence of those who refuse to join in with the rebellion.
In midst of the angry backlash of society against God’s faithful ones, there is always persecution and hate-filled martyrdom of the righteous. But Jesus informs his righteous ones so that they can prepare their hearts for the trouble that is coming. The Greek word for “alarmed” in verse 6 means “to be surprised to the point of crying out”. In other words, it would be like walking around a corner and someone jumps out to scare you. Jesus is warning them that someone is hiding around the corner, don’t be frightened and cry out. No surprises, but still a warning of something that is about to happen that could scare you. It is insightful to search the scriptures where either Jesus or an angel, when they appear suddenly, admonish people, “Do not be afraid”. Each time Jesus makes this statement at his sudden appearance, he adds, “It is I”. So many times, in our lives, we find ourselves in situations that awaken fear. It’s hard to imagine that in the middle of the storm, Jesus might be saying, “It is I, do not be afraid”. But then, we are reminded of his promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you”.
On September 3, 1939, Reverend Donald Grey Barnhouse was preparing to speak in a church service. Many in the congregation were weeping and there was a deep sense of fear in the meeting due to the probability that England was preparing to declare war on Germany. As Reverend Barnhouse was speaking that day, England did declare war. His text in that meeting was Matthew 24:6-8. He encouraged the fearful congregation to remember that Jesus had foreseen times of great distress and had already provided his counsel for such situations, “Do not be alarmed”. So very often the prophetic foreknowledge of God prepares us for trouble.
In Acts 20:22-23 the scriptures tell us that Paul is constrained by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” The Greek word for “constrained” means to be bound by chains. The Holy Spirit was leading Paul like a prisoner to Jerusalem where the Spirit kept telling him that he would be imprisoned for the gospel. The Spirit was leading him into a challenging time, but the Spirit was also giving him plenty of warning so that when the story unfolds, Paul will not be alarmed.
Some teach that we as Western Christians are not destined to trouble, but they are wrong. Jesus said that if they hated him, they will hate us also, John 15:19-21 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they would also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me.” I don’t know if we in America can honestly say that we are so different from the world that it hates us. Certainly, we are not liked, but I’m not sure that we are separated enough to say that we are hated in the same way that Jesus was hated. I don’t think that we need to purposely offend with our message, but I do believe that our message will offend. I don’t look for or advertise the message of the gospel intentionally meaning to stand out as an offense, but unfortunately in our day, the church often does not even hold to a position that would offend. We are innocuous, without any certainty or identity. The church for the most part is confused about its message and mission. It often chooses the political arena to proclaim sound-bite statements that have no context to the gospel. Often, we don’t even have an intention to convert souls as much as to convert opinions and voice our patriotic frustrations. If persecutions were to happen, they likely would not even fall into the category of being for His namesake as much as for our political opinion.
In John 16:33 Jesus says “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Peace in the middle of the tribulation. Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Do you want to be blessed? Acts 14:21-22 “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Do you want to enter the kingdom?
Ok, I confess this is not what any of us should be asking for and even wanting, but there is a blessing in shining so bright that the darkness rebels. I have visited countries where our brothers and sisters in Christ, face persecution and even death for the gospel and it is amazing the peace and joy that rests on their comforted hearts. Jesus draws near and many souls turn to him even as the church is displayed in persecution. I have seen the churches bursting at the seams because souls are coming to Him daily. Right now, among the Iranians, there is a move of the Spirit and spreading of the gospel despite the threats of the government, and that move is not confined to the geographic area of Iran. It seems that the Lord has chosen a people group that is scattered as refugees throughout nations. I spoke in a church in a country where Iranian refugees are fleeing. The church was full and the report was that every day Iranian refugees were turning to Christ!
Philippians 1:27-30 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ …” For now, we in the Western world have not been granted the privilege of suffering, but the time may come when we must remind one another not to be alarmed. As Paul says here in Philippians 1:27 the key to winning in the face of persecution is standing firm in one Spirit and mind striving side by side, with no fear. Does the thought of the real persecution of Christians in America violate your box of belief? Then you can empathize with Habakkuk.
This lesson has become long, so I will close here and finish part II in the next post where we will continue to look at the theme, “Do Not Be Alarmed”