Monday, November 07, 2011

Sermon: Psalm 2 The King Reigns

God is under attack in modern Britain. Whether it is politicians saying ‘we don’t do God’ or policies which seek to prevent any mention of God or nurses praying with patients; God is under fire. And that’s not to mention the vocal assaults by the media and the new atheists - people like Richard Dawkins arguing that it’s just a God Delusion or

As we see these attacks, we might be left wondering what in the world is going on? These people seem to be so very powerful; and often they’re very passionate in their opposition to God. What will happen? Will God be able to cope?

In our reading tonight from Psalm 2, we’re given a behind the scenes view of how God sees such opposition. We might just find a surprising reaction on God’s part, before we see his solution, and what it means for us.

Psalm 2 is broken down into four equal sections, so we’ll look at each of them briefly as we go along. First up is a big question. We’ve already thought about the opposition that big and powerful people can present towards God. It’s illustrated in verse 2: ‘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.’

We can be easily impressed by kings and powerful people - just think about the way Barack Obama swept into power as he caught the mood of the American people three years ago. The kings are setting themselves against God, thinking that they’re powerful enough to take him on.

But it’s not just kings and powerful people who try to take on God. Aren’t there times when we try to get rid of God, wanting to go our own way?

But there’s that big question in the opening verse: ‘Why’ - ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’ They might do it, but why? I understand that if you’ve got young children, then that’s a question you hear a lot - why, and it’s as if the writer of this Psalm is going up to the kings and powerful people and asking why they set themselves against God.

The reason he asks why is because of the second section, verses 4-6. In the face of all this opposition, what is God’s reaction? ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD hold them in derision.’ The way to make God laugh isn’t by telling a joke, but by trying to oppose him.

Imagine that you caught a number of ants in a jam jar. The ants would not be able to gain the upper hand - they’re simply so small and puny compared to you. It’s something similar when we compare ourselves with God. Even the most powerful person on the planet (whoever that might be - Barack Obama, or the head of the EU, or the top banker) is still just like a puny ant compared to God Almighty.

God’s answer to this opposition is to say: ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ We’re in the Old Testament, and hearing that location should immediately ring bells for us. Zion is Jerusalem, the place where the king of Israel reigns - the place where David conquered and established as his throne.

The King of Israel is therefore facing all this opposition from the surrounding nations, but God just laughs at it, because he has placed Israel here for a reason. But these days, there is no king in Israel. What does the Psalm mean for us? Who is the Psalm pointing towards? Who is this king God has appointed?

In the third section, the psalm changes again, and we discover that it’s the king himself speaking. He’s reporting what God has said to him as he installs him as king: ‘I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, “You are my Son: today I have begotten you.”’

There was a sense in which the king of Israel was regarded as God’s son, but when we hear those words ‘you are my Son, today I have begotten you’ we should know who this psalm points forward to! Just think of the start of the gospels, when Jesus is baptised and that voice from heaven comes:‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11); or again when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, and the voice comes: ‘This is my beloved Son: listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7)

It’s as if Psalm 2 is the exclusive interview - we hear God’s king speaking. We get to hear what it is God has said to his king: ‘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.’ Israel’s king ruled over a relatively small area, but Jesus’ kingdom is a worldwide kingdom - it reaches to the ends of the earth. He has the authority to smash powerful kingdoms in the same way you might smash a plate at home. No wonder God laughs at opposition - a powerful nation is no more able to destroy heaven than death could defeat King Jesus.

The final section is the appeal. Given that we now know that resistance is futile; that King Jesus is in charge with authority over the whole world, so what? Just as in Psalm 1, so we find in Psalm 2, there are two ways to go, two ways to live.

‘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, let he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him’

Will you continue in your rebellion against God? Will you risk meeting the wrath of God?To continue in that path is to face perishing.

Instead, there is a better way. It’s as if Psalm 2 is concluding with an amnesty. When I was wee, I never remembered to take my library books back. They might end up under the bed, or forgotten about. At one stage, we had had books out for over a year, I’m ashamed to admit. But then one week in the local newspaper there was an advert - library amnesty. No fines if you bring back overdue books. We quickly found and returned those books, enjoying the pardon (and saving the £3 or whatever it might have been!).

Here is the amnesty, the offer of peace. Rebels can lay down their arms, surrender, and submit to the king. That command to kiss the son is to come and kiss his feet, to come humbly. The amazing thing is the promise of the very last line. ‘Blessed are all who take refuge in him’. Come and find pardon, blessing and peace.

The offer is for each one of us. We too have been in rebellion against God; we have sought to go our own way, fighting against God. But most amazingly, God’s king came to rescue us, came to die for us, his enemies! Will you be reconciled to this king, who ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’?

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 6th November 2011.

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