I don’t know how you got to church today. Some of you drove. Some of you took transit. Some of you walked. I bet nobody arrived here today the way that Ian Morgan Cron arrived to church one day when he was a child. A friend had given his family an old rusty car that could comfortably hold two people. One day they piled seven people into the car on the way to church. As they were driving up a steep hill, hoping they could make it all the way to the top, tragedy struck.
…The seven of us were a nanosecond away from cheering when there was a loud thump, followed by my father yelling…My father’s seat had fallen through the rusted bottom of the car. It was dragging along the pavement, shooting sparks up into the wells of the backseat, threatening to light our socks on fire. My father’s rear end was inches from the ground. The collapse of the seat had shot his legs upward, so that his kneecaps now nearly touched his face, and he was holding down his black bowler lest it be damaged. He looked like a fat kid shoved butt first into a wastepaper basket.
“Pull over, Anne! Pull over!” he demanded…
“Jack, hold on,” she said to my father…
At the bottom of the hill, my mother careened right. An eighth of a mile later, we lurched up in front of the church, more or less in one piece…The seven of us, sweaty and shaken, slowly began peeling ourselves out of the smoking vehicle. It took my brothers several attempts to pull my father out of the car as bemused parishioners gawked and snickered. (Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me
Nobody arrived to church quite that way, but it sometimes feels like it. Sometimes it feels like we barely make it here, and when we do, our dignity is more or less gone. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at the Psalms this summer. Psalms teach us how we can have faith in the middle of the mess of life.
Today we come to Psalm 2, the second gateway psalm. If you were here a couple of weeks ago you’ll remember that I said that Psalm 1 is a gateway psalm. There are two checkpoints, so to speak, at the beginning of the psalms.
Psalm 1 deals with the most urgent personal matter: you must know that you’re part of the congregation of the righteous. You need to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Before you go any further, you need to get this settled. It’s the only way that you’re going to flourish and live well, Psalm 1 says. Psalm 1 takes the camera lens and zooms into your life and asks you to take a close look.
Now we get to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 says that you need to get a big view of things. If you’re to have faith in this messy world, then you need to know where history is going. You must see the whole show; you must understand what God is doing. Psalm 2 zooms back out and gives us a wide-angle view of what’s going on in the world.
We need both psalms. To live well and faithfully, we need to settle the matter of our relationship with God. We need to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But then we also need to see the big picture of what God is doing. I love how Alasdair MacIntyre put it: “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Psalm 2 helps us see the big story so we can make sense of our places in that bigger story. It’s an important psalm; it’s the psalm that’s quoted most often in the New Testament.
So here’s what this psalm is going to do. It’s going to give us a macro view of the world, and it’s going to answer four questions:
- What’s wrong with the world?
- How does God respond?
- Whom does he send?
- What should we do?
First question: What’s wrong with this world?
Psalm 2:1-3 says:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
As we speak, rebels are advancing their front lines as they get closer to Tripoli, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold. A multinational force is assisting with airstrikes and a naval blockade. They’ve created a no-fly zone so that Gaddafi can’t attack the rebel forces. Gaddafi has vowed to “die a martyr” if necessary in his fight against rebels and external forces. You could say that the whole world has risen up against Gaddafi. A State Department official has said, “The guy is getting increasingly lonely, increasingly isolated. His days are numbered. We are confident that his days are numbered.” It’s a war zone, with the whole world rebelling against the reign of this despot.
Psalm 2 presents us with this kind of picture. The whole world is united in rebellion, except not against a despot like Gaddafi, but against God. The psalmist knew that God had promised to bless the world through Israel. Their God, Yahweh, was not some tribal god, but God of all the earth, and God’s purposes for Israel and Israel’s king were global. There’s only one problem. Not everyone was excited about this plan. Psalm 2 pictures a gathering of the world’s most powerful leaders. They’ve decided they’ve had enough. They’re taking their stand (v.2) which is a phrase that means they’re preparing for battle. They want nothing to do with Yahweh or the nation of Israel. They are in open rebellion against God and his people. To rebel against God’s king is to rebel against God himself.
So this presents a very real problem. This psalm pulls back the curtain and shows us a world that’s in open rebellion against God. You just have to look around to see that this is a very accurate description of what’s going on today, thousands of years after this psalm was written. Things haven’t changed. It’s true at a micro level, and it’s also true at a macro level. Ever since Genesis 3 we’ve been chafing at God’s rule over this world and doing everything we can to live as if we’re in charge.
In fact, some contemporary philosophers have admitted that this is at least part of the reason why they’re not so excited about God. Thomas Nagel, an atheist who authored a popular introduction to philosophy titled What Does It All Mean? wrote: “I want atheism to be true … It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for.” You could repeat this over and over. This world is set in opposition to God’s rule. We want nothing to do with God. We would much rather be in charge ourselves.
By the way, this is one reason why sin is so serious. We sometimes think, “What’s the big deal about one little sin?” The reason sin is so serious is because it’s not just a sin – a lie or a thought. Every sin is an act of treason against God. It’s shaking our fist at God and saying, “I choose to rebel against you and your rule. I will do it my way, thanks.” John MacArthur puts it this way: Every sin is “an act of treason against the Sovereign lawgiver and judge of the universe.”
This helps us understand what’s wrong with us and with the world. What’s wrong with us? We have treasonous hearts. We are natural-born rebels against God and his rule, every one of us. What’s wrong with this world? We live in a world in which the nations rage and the people plot against God. We live in the middle of a war zone.
That’s what’s wrong with the world. The world is in open rebellion against God and his rule. It’s also what’s wrong with us. We are rebels ourselves. So here’s the second question.
Second question: How does God respond?
In verses 4-5 we see God’s response to this open rebellion against him:
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury…
So how does God respond to this situation? What is God doing about this problem of the world rebelling against him? If you want to get personal, what is he doing about us? We’re rebels too, so what’s God doing?
Verse 4 gives us God’s response: God laughs.
You get the picture? God is not fazed! The mighty politicians, the dictators in their military fatigues, the terrorists with their bomb loads strapped to their backs – God is unimpressed. If you have imbibed a western sentimental view of God as the great soupy softie in the sky, then you will not understand this picture of verse 4. In fact, it will likely ‘offend’ you. But the psalm implies that nations may strut out their nuclear bombs – it only convulses the Almighty in laughter! To think that a few swaggering sovereigns could destroy God’s kingdom with such trifles! After you hear the kings in verse 3, you need to see this picture of the laughing God in verse 4, in order to get re-focused on the truth. (David Ralph Davis)
By the way, this gives me tremendous comfort. God is not wringing his hands in heaven trying to figure out what to do. He’s not sweating it out on the other side of the cosmic chessboard trying to avoid a checkmate. He’s firmly in control. He laughs at our attempts to rebel against him. He is not fazed by this world’s rebellion against him. He is very much in control.
But then there is a second response, in verses 5 and 6. God speaks against them in wrath; he terrifies them in his fury. This is a far scarier picture. I read an interview this past week with pastor and author Francis Chan. He just came out with a book called Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up
. He’s studied Scripture to really see what it says about God’s judgment. He said this about what Jesus taught about judgment:
As I reread the Gospel passages, Jesus’ words are much harsher than I remember. There’s a tone in some of the things that he said that are really difficult to stomach, and he says things in a way that I would not have.
Because we in America read certain passages over and over to the neglect of others, we start to believe that Jesus had a friendly tone all the time. And that there isn’t any wrath or anger or judgment. When you read it all like you are reading it for the first time, you walk away going, “Wow, he was pretty hardcore.”
Here’s what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus’ statements, because in my arrogance I think, “Okay Jesus, I’m not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this.” Obviously I’ve never said that to God. But that’s the attitude I’ve taken, and it made me sick. Who in the heck do I think I am? To think that I can make God more palatable or attractive if I try and change the tone in which he says some things. I know people say, “Well it’s just cultural this or that.” That’s garbage. People back then had a much deeper reverence for God than we do. Especially the religious community. Yet it’s to those people whom he speaks so harshly.
What in the world would he say to us today? I don’t think it’d be a softer message. I had to come before God and say, “Lord I feel sick.” And I confessed to Mark [Beuving, who edited the book] and Preston [Sprinkle, the coauthor] as we were working on the book, “I confess to you guys, I confess to the church, I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance. I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him.” I had to confess my arrogance.
Let’s avoid this mistake – one that I’ve made as well. Let’s let God speak for himself. Psalm 2:5 says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury…” We do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath and fury. The Bible has plenty to say about this topic right from the beginning. To rebel against God is to incite his wrath and fury.
This creates a big problem for us as well, by the way. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he spent the first three chapters establishing one point: every single person, regardless of religious background (Jew or Gentile), is under the judgement of God. We are all rebels. Both Jews and Greeks, he writes, are under sin, and therefore under judgment. This is a serious problem because God will “he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.”
But there’s more. We’ve seen what’s wrong with the world: it’s in rebellion against God. We’ve seen God’s response: God laughs, and he is angry.
Third question: Whom does he send?
Look at verses 6-9. Verse 6 is God speaking:
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
Verses 7 to 9 the King speaks at his coronation:
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now, you need to understand that this psalm could have ended in verse 5 with God’s wrath and fury. That would be a pretty depressing way to end the psalm. In fact, that’s the way that things ended up with the angels who rebelled against God. God laughed at their rebellion and judged them. End of story. That’s how it could have ended with us as well.
But God responds to the world’s rebellion against him by installing a King. Verse 6 speaks of the Davidic kingdom, one that will rule from Zion. Verses 7 to 9 describe this King’s reign in three ways:
- It’s legitimate – The King is God’s own Son. In 2 Samuel 7:14, God promised to raise up David’s offspring, and he told David, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” A king has legitimacy because of the bloodlines. Here this psalm says that the promised King will have every right to rule because he is God’s own Son.
- It’s worldwide – Verse 8 says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Zion then was a puny 11 acres of real estate on the southern edge of Jerusalem. 11 acres isn’t very big. Zion was a “tiny, banana-shaped hill in a provincial backwater called Judah” (Dale Ralph Davis). But God says that the King who reigns in Zion will rule over the whole world. It will be an international, worldwide kingdom.
- It’s forceful – Verse 9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” This rule, God says, will be a forceful one. Because this Kingdom is present in a world that’s in open rebellion against God, this rule must be a powerful one.
God responds to this rebellion with laughter and wrath. But he also responds by appointing a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force. That is what is happening in this world. It is what God is doing in this world.
Who is this King? On one level, it’s those descendants of David who sat on the royal throne in Jerusalem. But their kingdom ended long ago. The nations of Israel and Judah were conquered and exiled. If you go to Jerusalem today, you will not find a descendent of David sitting on the throne.
I mentioned earlier on that Psalm 2 is the psalm that is quoted most often in the New Testament. There’s a reason. This psalm points to a greater King. In Mark 1:11, God said to Jesus at the start of his ministry, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Hebrews 1:5 we read that this psalm ultimately applies to Jesus. In Acts 4, as the early Christians faced persecution, they quoted this psalm as a description of the rebellion against God in the context of a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force.
Jesus is the King to whom this psalm ultimately points. This is the big picture of the world: it is in open rebellion against God. God is responding with laughter and anger. But he also responds by sending his Son Jesus as King of the world, one who rules the entire world with overwhelming force. His is a Kingdom that will never end. The world -this rebellious world – has been promised to a King.
One last question: What should we do?
Verses 10 to 12 say:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
It’s so important to see the ending to this psalm. God has given us a bird’s-eye view of history this morning. This is the history of the world in 12 verses. But it’s not meant to be just a history lesson. This psalm ends with an invitation. The psalmist ends by speaking to the kings and rulers described in verse 2. They’re given an opportunity for mercy. He calls on them to recognize reality and to be wise, to come to their senses. They’re invited to kiss the Son. Kissing is a sign of homage. They’re invited to become servants and to submit to the reign of this king, to totally and completely submit to him.
The choice is clear for rebels. Verse 12 couldn’t make it any clearer. Submit to him. Pay homage to him. If you do, it says at the end of verse 12, you’ll be blessed as you take refuge in him. I love how verses 11 puts it: rejoice with trembling. There’s a sense of joy in submitting to the King, but it’s a joy tempered with a holy fear of God. That’s the first choice. Or: refuse to submit. Continue as a rebel. If you do, his wrath will be kindled. You will face the wrath and fury we read about in verse 5. We’ll be broken with the rod of iron and be dashed in pieces, as verse 9 says. Those are the only two options.
That’s the message of this psalm. The totality of this world can be summed up in a sentence: The whole world has been promised to the Messiah. Live accordingly.
How do we live accordingly?
One: You need to take the invitation of this psalm very seriously. The message is one of warning: you are a rebel, and Jesus, the King, will deal with rebels. But there’s an invitation to submit to Jesus. The invitation is one that stands. Jesus in mercy offers forgiveness and mercy to all who want to find refuge in him. There’s a warning and an invitation in this psalm. Take the invitation while the King still offers his mercy. Jesus is the King who dies to extend mercy to rebels; receive mercy while he still offers it freely.
Two: We live in the middle of rebel activity. When you live in the middle of rebels, you begin to think that things are looking pretty bad for the other side. We need to see from this psalm that God is very much in control. I think this psalm was written, at least in part, to let God’s people know that God is in control. All is well with this world. We can go to sleep at night knowing that this world has been promised to the King, and he is in control.
I told you how Ian Morgan Cron arrived at church with his father. Sometimes it seems we arrive here in pretty much the same condition: crammed in way too tight, falling, so to speak, through the bottom of the car. That’s life. But we come this morning to Psalm 2 this morning, and it tells us that this rebel world has been promised to the King, so live accordingly. Submit to the King, and rest well knowing that his reign is sure. Let’s pray.