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Psalm 2

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Good morning church, it’s my great pleasure to be here with you today and to speak about God’s word this morning. I hope you can all abide my funny accent and can forgive the potential spelling “errors” on my PowerPoint slides!
With that out of the way, I’d like to begin this morning with a few questions. How are we to make sense of all of the chaos and confusion in the world around us, especially during this time of pandemic? How are we to reconcile the facts that we both serve an all-powerful and sovereign God, and yet we find the world, our own hearts, and even creation in what seems like constant rebellion against him? What are we to make of troubled times? Is God there? Does He care? Those are some of the big questions of Psalm 2, and it is my delight this morning to walk us through this glorious psalm and see together what it has to teach us.
Today’s message will, in typical fashion, have three main points. First, we will look at verses 1-3 to see the “already-not-yet” nature of the psalm and what it tells us about rebellion against God’s reign and rule and how we ought to understand this psalm. Second, we will consider verses 4-6 to help us understand the absolute sovereignty of God, his wrath against sin and rebellion, and the foolishness of participating it. Lastly, in verses 7-13, we will consider his promise of redemption and refuge brought by the true king.

The Already-Not-Yet

We will begin with the first three verses of the psalm:

1 Why do the nations conspire

and the peoples plot in vain?

2 The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band together

against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,

3 “Let us break their chains

and throw off their shackles.”

Psalm 2 begins with a common question for the Christian - “Why?” In fact, the question in view here may very well be one that we have asked ourselves - “Why does it seem that so many nations and so many people are in opposition to God?” If we stop even for the briefest moment to think about the world around us today, it becomes manifestly obvious that this is not a problem that was confined to antiquity. The question is as applicable in our day and age as it was in the time of ancient Israel. Why do people rebel against God? Why do they try to throw off his rule and his reign? We only have to look at some of the nations around us to see governments that are actively opposed to the work of God. We can consider the regimes in China and North Korea, as well as various Islamist governments as parties that are quite clearly opposed to the rule of God. But even more than that, we can see smaller examples of this - perhaps is comes in the form of a political party that takes explicitly anti-Christian opinions. Perhaps it comes in the form of a neighbor who belittles the faith and looks down upon us, or the boss who demands you work on Sundays even though he knows you go to church. The examples range from the large to the small, but as Christians it is quite clear that the world and its “powers” are often arrayed against God and against his people. It is with a scene demonstrating this that the psalm opens, taking us to a world-wide rebellion that is occuring against Yahweh and his king.
I’d like to ask all of you a question. If I asked you to name the greatest empires in the history of the world, who would you name? Take five seconds to think about it. I’ll bet a number of you thought of the British Empire. Or perhaps the Mongols? Or maybe the Ottomans? Or the Romans? Or the Babylonians or Assyrians? Maybe even the Khmer in Cambodia? The one empire that I can almost guarantee that no one thought about is the Israelite empire. Frankly, that makes sense, because there never really was one. The nation of Israel achieved some amount of prominence in the age of David and Solomon, but in the big scheme of things, across the ancient world, they were a small, backwater kingdom. Let’s go back quickly to the slide on the British Empire. From there, we can zoom in to the Mediterranean so that we can see the greatest extent of the Roman Empire. From there, we can zoom in even further to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, where we see the “empire” of Israel. If we flip over to take a look at the next slide, you can see that I wasn’t able to figure out exactly where they would have fit on the seriatim of kingdoms precisely because they were too small to even make the list! We should not be surprised by this. After all, Yahweh tells his people in Deuteronomy 7.7-8 that “Yahweh did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because Yahweh loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery”. In the eyes of the world, the nation of Israel was never a major player on the world stage.
But this is not the picture that is presented in Psalm 2. Psalm 2 presents a scenario in which the kings and nations of the earth are all vassals of Israel, where they ought to act in subservience to Yahweh and his anointed king, but where they are instead plotting rebellion, hoping to “throw off the shackles” of Yahweh.
How are we to make sense of this? Even at the height of Israel’s power, there is no situation where it could reasonably be said that this was the case. In fact, throughout most of its existence, Israel would have been in exactly the opposite position, looking to cast off the chains of some other regional superpower! There is a reversal of what we would expect here if we look back through history, and that is instructive about what this psalm is trying to teach us. The fact that this psalm does not describe the historical reality of Israel points us to the fact that there is a deeper reality at work behind the psalm - one that reflects how things really are, even if it doesn’t look like the case in our present world.
So what is this reality?
There is a concept in biblical theology known as the “already-not-yet”. The idea behind this concept is that there is an underlying reality that is already true, but the world itself does not yet exhibit the final fulfillment of that reality. What do I mean by that? Consider our sanctification - as Paul tells us in Romans 6, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”, but we all know that in this present reality we continue to struggle against our sin natures, even though they will one day be wiped away. We are already dead to sin, but we do not yet see the full reality of that. We are slaves to it no longer, it no longer rules us, but we have not seen its extermination like we will on the last day.
Or to use a more secular, tongue in cheek example, consider the television show Jeopardy. They film episodes of Jeopardy in large chunks, so if you are a contestant and know your trivia (based on the pub quiz results that we’ve done during the lockdown, it seems like there are a few of you who would be pretty good at it!) you could be a Jeopardy champion without the rest of the world knowing it. You’ve already won the game, you’ve already gotten the prize money, but as far as the world is concerned nothing has happened until Monday at 8pm when the show airs. You are already a champion, but you are not yet recognized. Once the episode airs though, the already and the not-yet become the reality.
We see a similar situation in Psalm 2. Here, the psalmist pulls back the curtain of the cosmos and shows us what is really going on behind the scenes. Despite the apparent powerlessness of the nation of Israel, Yahweh reigns supreme. The nations are still subject to him and his rule. The Israelites likely used this psalm as part of their coronation ceremonies - they knew the already, but they were looking forward to the “not-yet”. You see, the king that this psalm is telling us about is not one of the righteous kings of the Old Testament - not Hezekiah, or Josiah, or Solomon, or even David. The psalmist is looking forward to a future king, one who will truly unite the world under his rule, who will break the rebellion of the nations with a rod of iron as he takes possession of his inheritance.
I want you to hold this idea in your minds - it is important and we will come back to it later! But it is apparent that this psalm speaks intimately to us about the way that we experience the world. It seems to be in constant rebellion against God and his people. It seems as though there is no shortage of rulers and authorities who will seek to challenge the rule of God and establish themselves as king. But the psalm promises us that despite these rebellions, Yahweh remains in control.

The Absolute Sovereignty of Yahweh

So how does the God of the universe respond to these challenges to his authority? Is he concerned about the power of these earthly kings and how they might challenge his rule? Not in the slightest! In verse 4, the psalmist tells us something absolutely remarkable - “The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.”
Now I don’t want us to misunderstand what the psalmist is doing here. The point of this particular line is not that God finds our sins and rebellions to be amusing. Quite the contrary! We only need to read the next verse to know that our sins and rebellions incite the anger of God and provoke his wrath! Verses 5 and 6 state:

5 He rebukes them in his anger

and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

6 “I have installed my king

on Zion, my holy mountain.”

The psalmist is using a rhetorical device here to help us to understand how fundamentally ridiculous rebellion is in the face of our sovereign God. It has absolutely no chance of success. Far from eliciting concern from God that his authority is being threatened, our rebellions are fundamentally laughable. It is laughable how powerless we are to set ourselves in opposition to Yahweh and his plans and purposes and to expect anything other than complete defeat and judgment for our sin. Yahweh has established his king - there can be no other appropriate response than to acknowledge him and serve him. And yet, the kings of the earth persist in rebelling against him. And furthermore, so do you and I!
I want us to stop for a moment to consider the implications that this passage has for our own petty rebellions against the sovereignty of God. The people in view in this particular psalm are people of earthly power - kings and rulers who could be reasonably expected to have armies and subjects to order around. Yet the psalmist takes great care to demonstrate that despite all of the trappings of earthly power, their rebellion is utterly ridiculous and hopeless. How much more are our own petty rebellions hopeless and ridiculous in the face of the sovereign God!
Yet the reality here speaks to the depths of the depravity in the hearts of men and women. The root of everything that is wrong with the world is the rebellious spirit that lives deep in the heart of man. We see it in the garden, where Adam and Even give into the temptation to take the fruit from the serpent so that they can be like God. We see it in Cain when he murders his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy. We see it in the people of Israel at Mt Sinai - they have just be led out of Egypt by the mighty hand of Yahweh himself. They have seen the plagues that God inflicted on the Egyptians and their gods, they’ve seen the sea parted, they’ve seen the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and still they fall down and worship a golden calf while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law. We can continue to find examples of these rebellions in Scripture, but we don’t have to search far to find them in our own hearts as well.
How many times have we sought our own selfish gain instead of working for the good of others? How many times have we disregarded the good commands of God because we believe in our hearts that we know better? How many times have we confessed our sins by thinking about the things that we ought to have done that we did not do, and the things that we ought not to have done that we did? The picture that the psalm paints here is of earthly kings and rulers casting aside the reign of God himself, but the truth is that each and every one of us has done this in our hearts - we’ve put our own wants and desires ahead of the rule of God and what he has told us we ought to do. We have rejected the rightful king and we have attempted to establish ourselves in his place instead!
That fact ought to be sobering, for it means that we fall under the same condemnation that the kings and rulers of the nations do in the psalm! Despite our rebellions being doomed to failure, they still rightfully incur the wrath of God. Friends, it is important to remember that our own rebellions are as gravely serious as those of kings and rulers with substantial earthly power behind them! Sin is sin - it does not matter how big or how small the offense happens to be, the simple fact that we are in rebellion against God is enough to bring the full weight of his wrath to come to bear upon us.
Sin, as we know, is ubiquitous. It is everywhere and in everyone, and understanding the nature of our rebellion against God actually helps us to better understand the circumstances of the world. The whole world is in a constant state of rebellion against God, and this rebellion breeds conflict and strife. It bleeds over even into the natural world - creation has been corrupted as a result of our sin. In fact, the pandemic that we find ourselves in now is also a result of sin.
Now I want to be crystal clear here - I am NOT saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has come about as divine judgment against particular sins that have been committed. Not at all. I’m simply hearkening back to the biblical truth that sickness, pain, and death entered into the world as a result of sin. The scriptures promise in Revelation 21.4 that when God comes to dwell with us that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Sickness and death are not “normal”, they are not “natural”. The world was never meant to be this way - but it has become so as a result of sin.
So what that means is that we ought to expect these kinds of things to be manifestly present in the world as a result of our sins - but as Psalm 2 shows us, their presence does not compromise the sovereignty of God. God remains in control - despite the challenges to his reign and his rule, he is still the ruler over all, and he will still visit his wrath against sin. We must see this and remember it. It is vitally important. Our sins are not trifles to be forgotten and ignored - they are deadly serious business and incur the wrath of our holy God. Sin is the root of everything that is wrong with the world.
But there is even better news. God, in his goodness, does not only visit his wrath upon sin - he makes a way for us to return to him, ending the dominion of sin and suffering and death. He promises us a perfect king - one who will rule the nations with righteousness and justice, who will crush their rebellion beneath his feet, who will inherit the very ends of the earth. And it is to this king that we turn our attention in verses 7-12.

Redemption and Refuge

I want us to see here not only the power and majesty of Yahweh, but also for us to understand the great mercy that he has towards his people. In verses 1-6 we have been warned about the consequences of rebellion against God, how it is hopeless and will only invoke his wrath against us. But in verses 7-12, we are provided with hope. Here we hear the voice of the king. That scholars believe that this psalm would likely have been used in the coronation of a new king. When the king says in verses 7-9:

7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;

today I have become your father.

8 Ask me,

and I will make the nations your inheritance,

the ends of the earth your possession.

9 You will break them with a rod of iron;

you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

He is speaking about how Yahweh has adopted him as his representative on earth. To be king of Israel was to represent Yahweh’s rule, it was to rule his people on God’s behalf. In so doing, the king became the one who was heir to Yahweh’s power and authority. This is why God told him “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” They already belong to God, and they are God’s to give to his heir.
But as we mentioned earlier, we immediately see what looks to be a problem. While the king would have used the psalm during his coronation, it is quite clear from Israelite history that such a king never existed. For the kings of ancient Israel, this psalm would have been aspirational and ideological. They knew of the power and majesty of God, but they also knew of their own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the entire nation. For them, this was a promise that would have been out of reach. The monarchy ended in exile, without these promises being fulfilled.
But if there is one thing that we know from the whole counsel of Scripture, it is that God is faithful to his promises. 600 years after the monarchy came crashing down with the exile to Babylon there comes another king, born in a stable. When this king is baptized in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, symbolizing his anointing as God’s king, designating him to be the “anointed one”. A voice echoes from heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
The authors of the New Testament knew well that Psalm 2 spoke to something greater than the kings of ancient Israel - both Peter in Acts 4 and Paul in Acts 13 and the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 1.5 ascribe the description of Psalm 2 to Jesus, and John’s vision in Revelation 19.15 shows the risen Christ striking down the rebellious nations and ruling them with a rod of iron. What the earthly kings of ancient Israel could not do, the promised king, God’s own and actual son, will do! He will break the backs of rebellion throughout the nations - he will visit the righteous wrath of God against it.
But friends, Jesus has done even more than that! He has not only come to crush rebellion and to visit the wrath of God against those who oppose him, he has also come to reconcile the rebellious to himself! Verse 5 reminds us that the correct payment for our rebellion against God is wrath - and we know that we serve an infinitely good and an infinitely powerful God! Even the tiniest rebellion is enough to provoke his righteous wrath against us.
And yet God’s one and only son, his true king, comes not only to rule and to reign, but to offer himself to bear God’s wrath in our place. On the cross, Jesus carried the full weight of God’s punishment for our sins and our rebellions. His death is the reason for our life! His resurrection is the validation of his sacrifice, and his ascent to power at the right hand of the Father shows his true power as the righteous king of all the earth. And in him, the righteousness and mercy of God meet, and in that there is hope for rebellious sinners such as you and I, if we turn from our sins and cast ourselves on the mercy of God.
The psalmist tells us that there is a way back from rebellion against God. He implores us in v. 10-13:

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear

and celebrate his rule with trembling.

12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry

and your way will lead to your destruction,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Here God, in his grace, warns us of the consequences of our sin and rebellion. He calls on us to serve him with fear, to kiss his son and submit to him. Here I want to take a brief look into Psalm 103, because that psalm has much to tell us about what it means to fear Yahweh. Verses 8-13 of Psalm 103 say this:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

Long ago, a poor woman from the slums of London was invited to go with a group of people for a holiday at the ocean. She had never seen the ocean before, and when she saw it, she burst into tears. Those around her thought it was strange that she should cry when such a lovely holiday had been given her. “Why in the world are you crying?” they asked. Pointing to the ocean she answered, “This is the only thing I have ever seen that there was enough of.”

God has oceans of mercy. There is enough of it—and God delights to show his mercy and compassion (Micah 7:19).872

To fear Yahweh is to serve him sincerely, with awe and reverence. The psalmist is not calling us to worship God out of fear for what might happen to us if we do not. He is instead inviting us to see and know the goodness of the one true God, to see how he is slow to anger, how he abounds in love, how he does not treat us as our sins deserve. He invites us to ponder, in light of the full testimony of Scripture, how God has laid his wrath upon his own king, his own son, that we might be reconciled to him. Redemption and refuge come in the action of submitting to the Son, turning from our rebellion, and re-ordering our lives around him as a direct result of the grace that he has lavished upon us. To those who do not understand the great love and mercy of God, to sit under his rule feels like chains and shackles that must be broken off. But to those of us who have been brought to life by his Spirit, who have seen the mercy and grace that he has poured out upon us, the rule of God is something to be desired and celebrated!
It often feels as though the whole world is out of control, perhaps even more so than normal in the midst of this pandemic. But Psalm 2 offers great assurance to those who have put their faith in Christ. It acknowledges that the world is in rebellion against God - it helps us to make sense of why things are the way that they are! But in doing so it pulls back the curtain for us to see how the world really is - that despite the ongoing rebellion and the outworkings of that rebellion that we see in the world, God is sovereign. He remains in control. There is no struggle for power - the final result is a foregone conclusion. Most importantly, however, it gives us hope. Hope that no matter how bad things seem to be, no matter how upside down the world is, whatever troubles arise, we can flee to the God of the universe for refuge. He calls us to rest in the depths of the mercy of the finished work of the king, knowing that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west, knowing that we serve a good and gracious Father who has compassion on us, and knowing that one day Christ will return to make the whole world right again. It means that we need not be afraid of the changing winds of this life, as disruptive as they may appear to be, for our God reigns in heaven, he is on his throne, and he has not ceased to care about his people.
I want to end with one last promise. In Revelation 2.26-27, when Jesus speaks to the church in Thyatira and tells them this: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations - that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery.’” Jesus does something remarkable here - he invites his people to share in his inheritance, to do the work of spreading and establishing justice and righteousness in the world and standing in opposition to rebellion. The promises given to Yahweh’s true king are also given to those who find their refuge in him.
Friends, in light of this, I hope that we are doing the best that we can to take advantage of the opportunity that the present circumstances present us with. So much of our lives has been disrupted as a result of COVID-19. So many things that we have taken for granted have been stripped away. For many this is a time of loneliness, hopelessness, and despair. But in the Scriptures, God has given us himself, he has called upon us to come and take refuge in him. So my prayer for us all this morning is that we will see those opportunities when they arise with our friends and our neighbors, that we will be able to give them a reason for the hope that we have, and that we will not be afraid to speak to them about the glorious promises of our God and what he has done for us. To those who are hopeless, may we be able to speak hope, to exhort them to see that things are not as they seem, that the situation is not hopeless and chaotic, but that God remains in control, and to point them to the one true king. When we despair, when things seem so difficult and so hard, let us run into the open arms of Jesus, who bled and died for our sake, that we might be reconciled to him and share in his inheritance, and let us hold fast to the hope of the cross.
I’ll end this morning with a quote from Charles Spurgeon, that I hope will edify your hearts and encourage you to find refuge in the arms of our Redeemer. He says this: “Our best portion and our richest heritage we cannot lose. Whatever troubles come, let us play the man; let us show that we are not such little children as to be cast down by what may happen in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is above the sky, and, therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean; we will see the wreck of everything earthborn, and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.”
Let’s pray.
Gracious God, we thank you for the way that you have revealed your heart to us through your Scriptures. We admit that so often the world seems to be completely out of control, yet we know that you remain sovereign over all. Forgive us, we pray, for the times when we doubt your sovereignty and your goodness, and open our eyes to see, as Psalm 2 shows, that you uphold all of creation with your mighty right hand. Father, while we do not always understand why things happen the way that they do, we thank you and praise you for the incredible love and mercy that you have shown us through your Son, Jesus. We thank you for his perfect life, for his atoning death, and for his glorious resurrection, all done so that rebellious sinners like us might be reconciled to you. In the midst of tribulation and uncertainty, help us to not draw on our own strength, but to cast our burdens and our cares on Jesus. Help us to find that perfect rest in his completed work, and through it all, continue to draw us closer to you. We pray that you will give us opportunities to share the glories of your gospel in the midst of our present troubles, and we praise you for the mercy and love that you have lavished on those as undeserving as us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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