Raging Nations and the Reigning King (Sermon)
Two different stories caught my eye this week. The first was a statement made by NYC council speaker Corey Johnson. He said: “It is time for Samaritan’s Purse to leave NYC. This group…came at a time when our city couldn’t in good conscience turn away any offer of help. That time has passed.”
He went on to explain why they needed to leave saying “their continued presence here is an affront to our values of inclusion,” they call being gay “an affront to God,” and they require their volunteers to agree to the biblical definition of marriage between “one genetic male” and “one genetic female.” He ended his statement by saying, ironically, “Hate has no place in our beautiful city.”[i]
The second story was about a chaplain in the army who may face a court-martial for sending a digital copy of John Piper’s book Coronavirus and Christ to thirty-five other chaplains with a note saying the book had helped him refocus on Jesus and might be a help to soldiers and their families. The book teaches among other things that God is sovereign and may have a purpose for the coronavirus.[ii]
These stories are alarming not only because the ones targeting Christianity are in positions of power and influence, but also because of the anger that’s evident in their actions. A councilman from the most influential city in the world slanders a charity, a way of life, and a common religious belief because it has no place in his city. A group of chaplains in the U.S. Army want a fellow chaplain put on trial for sending them a book that teaches God is in control.
Why are they so angry? Why are they enraged by common Christian beliefs? Why are they lashing out at those who are simply trying to serve them?
These same questions open the second psalm. The psalmist wonders about the rage directed at the people of God. His questions help us understand why the world around us gets so angry with God and His people, and how a right relationship with God’s chosen king is the key to blessing.
This second psalm is still part of the introduction to the book of Psalms. The first psalm focuses on the fate of a single person while the second psalm focuses on the fate of the entire world. One author said Psalm 1 teaches us that we need to know where we’re going, and Psalm teaches us that we need to know where history is going.[iii] Another author described Psalm 2 as “a Christological interpretation of history.”[iv] The focus of the two psalms is much different.
Psalm 1 focuses on one man while Psalm 2 focuses on kings and nations.
Psalm 1 zooms into a garden while Psalm 2 zooms out on the globe and then to the galaxy.
But the Psalms begin and end in similar ways. Blessing comes from submission to God and His King.
This psalm divides easily into four sections—each three verses long.
1. The Raging of a Rebellious World (vv. 1-3)
Psalms 2:1-3 (CSB) Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One: “Let’s tear off their chains and throw their ropes off of us.”
The psalm begins with two questions. Why are the nations angry with God? And why are the kings conspiring against God’s king? The answer is found in verse 3—they feel enslaved by God, and they want to be free. God’s commands seem onerous to them, and they believe greater freedom will come from casting aside the law of God and rebelling against the rule of God.
In their quest for freedom, they don’t realize they are already slaves. In Romans, we learn that each person is “enslaved to sin” (6:6). Sin is reigning in their bodies and ruling over them (6:12-24). The burden of bondage doesn’t come from God but from sin. Sin is what crushes a person. Guilt weighs them down.
God’s commands don’t produce chains and ropes, but blessing and joy, as we saw in Psalm 1. God’s instructions lead to life and flourishing, to stability and fruitfulness. But those who rage against God are blind to the purpose of God’s law. They ignore the light while cursing the darkness.
Their raging rebellion leaves the Psalmist in disbelief. They have convinced themselves that God cannot be trusted, that His commands are cruel and oppressive, and so they’ve plotted ways to overthrow His reign. Their rage has produced bold and brazen rebellion. We see that the company of mockers (from Psalm 1) includes political leaders and rulers.
The reason these leaders rage against God is because they see His instructions as prohibiting freedom and pleasure instead of producing it. They think God’s law makes a person miserable. Like foolish children, they see the fence at the edge of the road and think it’s there to prevent them from joy, so they climb over it only to find themselves dodging speeding vehicles.
We find accounts of kings and world leaders raging against God and His people throughout the Bible.
Pharaoh enslaved God’s people and issued an order to exterminate all the baby boys.
Philistine kings led raids on the people of God and stole their land.
Babylon captured Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and kidnapped the brightest young men.
The story of God’s people is filled with pagan kings raging against God.
This only heightened when Jesus was born. Herod heard about His arrival, and he ordered the slaughter of innocent young boys. Jesus was arrested by the Jewish leaders and crucified by the Roman leaders. After His death and resurrection, His disciples were arrested and beaten. Once they were released, they gathered back together to pray and quoted this Psalm.
Acts 4:24-30 (CSB) “Master, you are the one who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant: ‘Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers assemble together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
The early disciples looked at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and their own persecution, and they understood it through the words of Psalm 2. The nations rage against God, His king, and His people. This is true today as our Christian brothers and sisters are marginalized and persecuted around the globe. Those with human power don’t want to admit their own weakness, their own limits, and ultimately their own position. The gospel demands submission to God and His King, and submission sounds like slavery to those who don’t know the character of God.
The raging, plotting, and conspiring against God comes out in persecution of His people, but also in other ways. Listen to O. Palmer Robertson describe the “corporate spirit of rebellion.”
“When governments aggressively assault neighboring nations, exploit the poor to satisfy the tastes of the rich, operate on unsound finacial policy, tolerate inefficiency and fail to provide swift punishment for wrongdoers, they are rebelling against the Lord and His Christ.
When trade unions tolerate poor workmanship, imply that it is disloyal to the union to put in eight hours of real work for eight hours on the job, and promote violence and intimidation to attain their goals, they are rebelling against the Lord and His Christ.
When management amasses wealth by paying inadequate wages, requires its workers to report unnecessarily on Sundays and leads companies into bankruptcy while retaining large sums for its executives, it is rebelling against the Lord and His Christ.
When universities show favoritism towards atheistic teaching, deny the basic values of honest enquiry, and provide a safe harbor for depraved morals, they are rebelling against the Lord and His Christ.”[v]
His point is that all rebellion against the commands of God are part of an overall mindset of rebellion, whether its unjust government policies, unfair business practices, or unrighteous spiritual persecution.
Brothers and sisters, we need to perceive what’s happening around us. We live in a rebellious world that rages against God’s rule. The book of Revelation pictures the systems of this world as a harlot trying to stop God’s plan by persecution and prostitution: either crushing the church through violence and physical assault or corrupting the church through temptation and empty promises. Understanding the times protects us from overwhelming anxiety and debilitating despair when we see and experience the raging of rebellion against God and His people. Understanding the source of their rage allows us, like the first Christians, to commit ourselves to God and boldly confess the gospel to those around us.
2. The Response of a Sovereign God (vv. 4-6)
Psalms 2:4-6 (CSB) The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them. Then he speaks to them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
How does God respond to the raging of the nations? Is He anxious or concerned? Does He wring His hands in worry? No, he doesn’t. And we see why He doesn’t when we notice where His throne is set—in the heavens. God reigns not from a capital city, not from a powerful country, not even from a global superpower. He reigns over and above it all. Why would He worry about the empty plots and foolish boasts of those who have no power to reach Him?
Since God is in heaven, reigning over all things, instead of worrying about whether their plot to overthrow His rule will succeed, God laughs a laugh of confidence. Don’t they know who they’re dealing with? Don’t they understand? Are they really this foolish?
God moves from laughter to mockery. He ridicules the suicidal insanity of their plans to overthrow Him. Their foolish plotting is destined to fail. They cannot see God, touch God, or even find God. How can they ever hope to stop Him?
Reading this, I thought of something New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference last month about the downward trend in the virus. He said, “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that. That’s how it works. It’s math.” How foolish! How silly! What an arrogant, egotistical claim. When I heard it I laughed, but not a laugh of joy—a laugh of disbelief and scorn. What a silly statement by a small-minded man—a man who cannot even see the virus claims power over it that belongs only to God.
After God laughs, He speaks (v.5), and the only response to His voice is terror. No one has never encountered anyone like God. Kings and presidents may think they’re strong and secure tucked away in their royal chambers, surrounded by their guards, but one word from God ends them. The voice of the Lord thunders from heaven, and no one who hears it remains standing. All fall as though dead before the voice of our Sovereign God.
God has moved from laughter to mockery and now to anger. The persistent insanity of the word’s rebellion has provoked God to respond in righteous indignation. They have no way of successfully plotting against God, and so their rebellion doesn’t bring God worry, just exasperation. Like a 5-year old threatening to run away, it would be humorous if it wasn’t so persistent.
The anger and wrath of God are made clear in this passage. Do you struggle to understand God’s wrath? How a God of love can get angry? Is God’s anger a hard category for you to comprehend?
Often we view God’s wrath and God’s love as a seesaw. If His wrath goes up, His love must come down. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. God’s wrath and love are like the chains on a swing, they go up together, perfectly in sync. God’s love is what motivates His wrath. God’s love for His King, His people, and His name motivate His wrath on this rebellious world. God’s love for justice and peace produce anger at violence and injustice.
Last year I read a book called Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson. The book describes his fight to free inmates unjustly convicted and sentenced to die for crimes they didn’t commit. The injustice described in that book made me angry, but in a righteous way. Love for justice and love for the oppressed produce anger at injustice and oppression.
Just this week the story came out about another African-American man who was murdered simply for being black. He was out for a jog, and the jog ended with him being shot and killed in the road. The appropriate response to injustice is anger. Anger reveals love. It’s an expression of genuine love. If you don’t get angry when someone is victimized, then you don’t love that person. Anger over injustice is a reflection of God, and an appropriate, even necessary, expression of His image in us.
God is angry at rebellion, but He is not worried (v.6a). He has installed His king in His city, and no foolish plots can prevent the worldwide reign of His King. Aligning yourself against God and His king is not only the height of arrogance, but also of stupidity.
3. The Rule of a Triumphant King (vv. 7-9)
In verse 7, we find the source of the king’s rule.
Psalms 2:7 (CSB) I will declare the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
The initial recipients of this promise were the kings of Israel from the line of David (2 Sam 7:14). At their coronation, they were adopted by God as a son to rule over His people. But this was always looking ahead to God’s own Son, who would rule God’s people forever. God had a unique relationship with the kings of Israel, like a father to a son. This relationship was a picture of the Messiah, God’s one and only Son. Where the kings of Israel were adopted as sons to rule under God, Jesus is the true son of God.
When the writer of Hebrews was demonstrating how Jesus Christ was superior to angels, he cited this Psalm.
Hebrews 1:5 (CSB) For to which of the angels did he ever say, You are my Son; today I have become your Father, or again, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son?
He quoted it again a few chapters later (5:5) to show the divine source of Jesus’ ministry. God Himself appointed His Son, Jesus, to rule over His people.
Some have misinterpreted the word today to mean that Jesus was at one point not the Son of God. But that’s not what the Psalm is saying. The today is the day of an official decree. The Father is making a decree about the authority of the Son and His right to rule on the day of His coronation. The New Testament writers connect this to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 13:33; Romans 1:1-5). When God raised Jesus from the dead, He placed Him on the throne having conquered all of His enemies. The resurrection was the day of Christ’s coronation as sovereign King over all creation, victorious over sin, death, and Satan.
This is an important reminder that God’s decrees determine the direction and destination of human history. We think it’s our decrees—our laws and constitution. These centuries-old documents that govern our world. Friends, God’s ancient decree from before time began was to place His Son on the throne to reign forever. Nothing—no plotting or scheming, no mutiny or rebellion—could for one second hinder God’s decree.
In verse 8, we find the scope of the king’s rule.
Psalms 2:8 (CSB) Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession.
God provides His Son with a kingdom—the nations belong to Him. Everything in God’s created realm comes under the king’s dominion. Verse 8 shows us that this psalm looks past Israel’s kings to someone greater. No earthly king has ever ruled the entire globe, but Jesus will rule the entire galaxy. All of it belongs to Him.
Normally this time of year is filled with graduations. Speeches are made, filled with cliches and platitudes. One that’s often repeated to the graduates is that “the world belongs to you.” “Go out there and seize it, it’s yours for the taking.” What nonsense. The world doesn’t belong to the graduates, it has already been promised to Jesus.
In this promise from the Father to the Son, we find encouragement to share the good news of the kingdom with every tribe, tongue, people and nation. The Father has given a people to the Son, and the way He brings these people to the Son is by sending ambassadors to every corner of the globe. We are the ambassadors, gathering the Son’s inheritance through the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus will reign, and we usher in His reign as we tell others about Him.
We see the strength of the King’s rule in verse 9.
Psalms 2:9 (CSB) You will break them with an iron scepter; you will shatter them like pottery.
Those who don’t submit to the King are powerless to stop Him. Anyone who stands in His way will be destroyed. In their plotting, they may have designed a scheme guaranteed to work, but that scheme, that dream will be shattered like a broken piece of pottery. This verse underscores the sheer insanity of rebellion against Jesus Christ. Like a remote-controlled car playing chicken with a tank, anyone who stands opposed to King Jesus will be crushed.
In John’s vision of the second coming of Jesus Christ, Jesus comes like a warrior to destroy the enemies of God. He rides a mighty white horse, wears a crown, and wields “an iron rod” to rule over the nations. “He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15). This Psalm employs numerous images of the righteous judgment of God on the rebellious as a warning to us about the folly and destruction of those who ignore the Word of God and oppose the Son of God.
In AD 360, Flavius Claudius Julianus became Caesar and reinstated pagan worship. He took pleasure in hunting down and killing Christians. On one occasion after executing a number of Christians, he taunted a believer one Christian, asking, “How is your carpenter of Nazareth? Is he finding work these days?” The Christian responded immediately, “He is perhaps taking time away from building mansions for the faithful to build a coffin for your Empire.”[vi]
Brothers and sisters, why would we ever fear what any man, any king, any country could do to us? Jesus is on the throne for good, never to be removed, never to be overthrown. And because He is on the throne, we look forward to a world without evil. Our triumphant king will one day banish all evil from His world, and we will no longer need to ask questions like the one that started this psalm. We will never have to wonder why rulers rage against Him. Never have to ask, “How long, O Lord?” Never have to grieve evil and injustice.
4. The Responsibility of Human Subjects (vv. 10-12)
This final section presents the same decision as Psalm 1. There is a way of blessing and a way of perishing, which way will you take? The way of blessing comes not only through meditating on God’s Word (Psalm 1), but also through submission to God’s Son.
Psalms 2:10-12 (CSB) So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling. Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for his anger may ignite at any moment. All who take refuge in him are happy.
We see five commands in these three verses: be wise, receive instruction, serve the Lord, rejoice with trembling, and pay homage to the Son. The commands are given to kings and judges but are intended for all of us, great and small. We are commanded to be wise, and the way to be wise is to receive instruction. Only fools ignore what can help them. Friend, don’t be a fool. Don’t ignore what God is saying. Receive His instruction.
What is the instruction? Regardless of position or station, whether a noble or a peasant, become a servant of the King. Pledge yourself to serve His kingdom, not your own. In God’s design, kings lead through service. Leaders are the first to get down on their hands and knees to scrub the King’s floor. When I think of the leaders at Redeemer, I think of men and women who have wisely chosen to serve. Men and women who get down on the floor with toddlers, set-up tables and chairs in the early hours, cut grass in the hot sun and make meals over a hot stove all because they know it will please the King.
We serve the Lord with fear and with joy. It may seem strange to combine these two emotions together—fear and joy. I like how John Piper describes the connection between the two: “There is an awe or wonder or trembling in the presence of grandeur that we want to feel as long as we are sure it will not destroy us. This trembling does not compete with joy; it is part of joy. People go to terrifying movies because they know the monster cannot get into the theater. They want to be scared as long as they are safe. For some reason it feels good. This is an echo of the truth that they were made for God. There is something profoundly satisfying about being “frightened” when we cannot be hurt.”[vii]
Frightened by grandeur with no possibility of being hurt. Only because of the death of Jesus Christ for us in our place bearing our sins can we be confident of not being hurt before God. Our sin, which deserves punishment has been forgiven and banished, so we serve in God’s presence with a trembling joy. We know He has the power to swat us like a fly, but we know He won’t. He will protect us, and He will delight in us.
Blessing or perishing? Blessing comes from bowing before Jesus, kissing His ring, and pledging allegiance to Him alone as Lord. Perishing comes from rebellion. There are two options: either submit to the King or be shattered by the King. Face His wrath or enjoy His blessing.
Friends, we need to take to heart this warning, but we need to see that what shines most brightly in this psalm is grace. I love what one writer said about verse 12: “It is an invitation rather than an ultimatum; grace breaks through completely in the closing line.”[viii] Grace breaks through completely. This psalm which focuses on the world’s angry rebellion against God and His Son ends with a gracious and kind invitation to come to Jesus for safety. The warm embrace of Jesus brings safety, not slavery; blessing, not burden.
Martin Luther is known as the man who sparked the Reformation in the late 16th century. He was studying to be a Catholic priest but found himself weighed down by guilt and shame. His sin was so great, he did not understand how he could ever stand righteous before God.
While on a pilgrimage to Rome, the words from Scripture, “the just shall live by faith” struck him with new force. In that moment, he understood that faith alone in Jesus Christ was all that could protect him from God’s wrath. This was his Psalm 2 moment—the moment he kissed the Son, pledging allegiance to Him alone, coming to Jesus for shelter from judgment and condemnation.
And it was this knowledge in Jesus alone we find shelter from God’s wrath that produced from Martin Luther’s pen one of the great hymns of the Christian faith: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Our helper He amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
Friend, where are you looking for refuge from the evil and injustice of life? What will protect you from the righteous wrath of God? Have you discovered the truth of this Psalm, what Luther learned that day on a staircase in Rome? Blessing—safety and security, rest and refuge—come from submission to Jesus Christ our King.
[i] twitter, @NYCSpeakerCoJo, 5/1/20
[ii] Samuel Smith, “Army Chaplain under fire for sharing John Piper’s book ‘Coronavirus and Christ’” The Christian Post, May 2, 2020, accessed at https://www.christianpost.com/amp/army-chaplain-under-fire-for-sharing-john-pipers-book-coronavirus-and-christ.html?__twitter_impression=true, on 5/4/2020
[iii] Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 27-28.
[iv] Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith, 2000), 3.
[v] O. Palmer Robertson, Psalms in Congregational Celebration (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1995), 31-32.
[vi] Steven J. Lawson, Psalms 1-75, Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 25.
[vii] John Piper, Rejoice with Trembling: A Meditation on Psalm 2:11-12, Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/rejoice-with-trembling, accessed on 5/7/20.
[viii] Derek Kidner, Psalm 1-72, Kidner Classic Commentaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: 1973), 68.