Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 2 What makes God laugh?

I wonder if you’ve heard of the ‘Bad Joke Challenge’? Two people go head to head, telling bad jokes, and the person to laugh first loses. Youth leaders have been doing it, Ulster rugby players have had a go. So here are a few bad jokes, to see if I can make you laugh...

A man goes in to the doctor, and says, Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains. Pull yourself together man!

What do you call a man with a car on his head? Jack.

What do you call a man with a seagull on his head? Cliff.

What sort of photos do turtles like to take? Shelfies.

What do you call a Spanish man whose just got out of hospital? Manuel!

Well, maybe those didn’t make you laugh. You can tell me your best joke later on. But what does make you laugh? When I was wee, I loved watching cartoons. Tom and Jerry, or Roadrunner. In every cartoon, Tom the cat would try to catch Jerry the mouse, and every time, Jerry escaped. It was the same with Roadrunner. Wile-E-Coyote would try to catch him, he would paint what looked like a tunnel on the rockface; Roadrunner would run through it, but Wile-E-Coyote would bang his head off the rock.

The cartoons were funny. But after a while you started to think ‘Why does he keep doing it?’ You’d think by the tenth or the hundredth cartoon that Tom would realise that he wasn’t going to win!

It’s the same sort of ‘why’ question that we find at the start of Psalm 2 (p. 543). ‘Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his anointed one.’ (1-2)

Do you see who all is involved? Nations, peoples, kings, rulers. They’re opposing the LORD and his anointed one. The LORD in capital letters - that’s God’s name, the covenant-making, promise-keeping God of Israel. And his anointed one? Well, to be anointed is to have oil put on your forehead, to be set apart for God’s service. In the Old Testament, kings were anointed, priests were anointed, prophets were anointed. But the ‘Anointed One’ is the word Messiah, or Christ.

Nations conspiring and peoples plotting - it happens all the time. Kings and rulers gathering together against the LORD and his Christ - we’re seeing it more and more. Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s top advisor famously declared back in 2003 ‘we don’t do God.’ We’ve come a long way since then, with a widespread rejection of God. Now, whatever you might think of the DUP, think how they’ve been portrayed in recent days by the mainland media - dinosaurs, bigots, homophobes and more. Why? Because they hold to moral positions on abortion and so on.

Or think of the nations where it is illegal to be a Christian. Open Doors is a mission agency working with persecuted believers, and every year they produce a World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution. North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan are the top 5.

In Psalm 2, we hear different voices speaking, and in this first section, we hear the words of the kings and rulers as they stand against the LORD and his anointed. So what are they saying? ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ (3)

They imagine that God has them chained up, handcuffed, and so they need to throw them off in order to be free. We don’t need God. We’ll do our own thing. We’re not interested in his Christ. We’ll break free.

And what is God’s reaction to this opposition? ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them.’ (4)This is what makes God laugh. The idea that kings and rulers can get the better of God. It would be like us gathering up a jam jar of ants, watching them try to get out to attack us. Or like a peashooter trying to attack a tank. While to us the kings and rulers can seem important and powerful, they just make God laugh, thinking they can get one over on God.

And then we hear God speak. It’s a word of rebuke, a word of terror and wrath, as he reveals his answer to this opposition: ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ (6) Zion is another name for Jerusalem, the place where the Old Testament kings of Israel (and then Judah) reigned. God’s answer to this opposition is to appoint his king to reign.

Straight away, we get another voice. This time, it’s the voice of the king himself. On Thursday, there was an interview with Prince Harry, in which he said no one in the Royal Family wants to be king or queen, but that they would do their duty if it came to it. Well here, we have an exclusive interview with the installed king.

Verse 7: ‘I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”’ Now this Psalm may have been used for the coronation of the kings of Israel - the king symbolically becoming God’s son. But those words are an echo of what we hear in the New Testament. Do you remember at Jesus’ baptism, there’s a voice from heaven, and what does it say? ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Luke 3:22).

The words are said again (in a ‘This is my Son’ form) at the Transfiguration in Luke 9:35. They’re quoted in Acts 13, Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5. There’s no doubt that the king who is God’s Son, this is Jesus.

As Jimmy Cricket would say, come here, there’s more. God the Father tells God the Son to ask him for something. ‘Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’ (8-9)

The King will receive the nations as his inheritance, the ends of the earth his possession. Isn’t that what Jesus said in our reading a fortnight ago - all authority has been given to me (Matt 28:18). Jesus is in charge of the universe, and is the king of all kings. He will rule with an iron sceptre - that word rule is ‘shepherd’.

It’s the picture of the Lord as our shepherd king. Do you remember in Psalm 23, David says that even though he passes through the valley of the shadow of death he will fear no evil. Why is that? ‘You are with me, your rod and your staff them comfort me.’ Rod and staff aren’t the names of his teddy bears. The rod and staff are his protection against those who are out to get him! In the same way, Jesus rules the universe with his iron sceptre. And he’s not afraid to use it - dashing nations like pottery.

You know the way the Greeks smash the plates after dinner - probably just saves on washing up - well Jesus can do the same to nations. In pieces.

The last section gives us the response. Did you see the way the Psalm is broken up into four bits? The middle two bits, 4-6 and 7-9 are both about God and his king. They match each other - a bit like a sandwich with two bits of ham in the middle. On the outside you have a bit of bread on top and another bit of bread on the bottom. The first section - what was it about? The nations, the kings. Well, now we see the last section matches it.

‘Therefore’ - because of all that we’ve already heard; because God laughs at the plans of nations and kings; because God has established his king to rule the nations and, if necessary, dash them to pieces. ‘Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.’

I know this is the NIV, New International Version, but sometimes I wonder if it was the Norn Iron Version - this bit would say ‘kings, wise up!’ It’s like parents putting their child in ‘time out’ to think about what they’re doing.

So what is the wise thing to do? They should hear and heed the warning, to not continue their self-destructive plans of opposition to God’s king. And what should they do? Look at the active words in verses 11 - serve, and rejoice. Serve the LORD with fear (respect), and rejoice with trembling. There’s another active word in verse 12: Kiss. Kiss the Son - kneel before him and kiss his feet, submit to him. Why? ‘Lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.’

We are just like the kings and rulers. We too can go in our own way, but in the end, it leads to destruction. Far better to hear and heed the warning, to kiss the Son.

The Psalm ends with a great promise to all who come to the Son. It’s the promise for you today, if you’re trusting in Jesus; or even if you trust him today for the very first time. ‘Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’ There is a blessing today, for all who shelter in Jesus.

In Star Trek, there’s an alien group called the Borg. Their catchphrase is ‘Resistance is futile.’ That could equally be the strapline for Psalm 2. No matter our schemes or plans, no matter how important or powerful we might be, our attempts to resist or overthrow the LORD and his Christ are futile - they make God laugh. But he offers us wisdom - pardon and peace and blessing as we take refuge in him.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 25th June 2017.

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