Looking for the King | Psalm 2
Brian Hedges | December 9, 2018
Well, turn in your Bibles this morning to Psalm 2, the second psalm. We’re beginning a new short series this morning our Advent season, where we’re looking at Christ in the Psalms, and in particular some of the psalms related to the kingdom of Christ.
While you’re turning to Psalm 2, I wonder if any of you saw this week the drop of the new trailer for The Lion King? Anybody see that? There’s a new Lion King movie coming out; it’s not the animated, they’re doing a live version now. I don’t know if that’s really necessary or not. I liked The Lion King; it’s hard to see how they can improve on the original film.
There are things about The Lion King I like and things I don’t like. So, the whole “Circle of Life” thing is really bad theology, so don’t take my mention of the film as recommendation on that front. But I love that scene (and this is the scene that’s in the new trailer) when all of the animals are coming from all these different directions, they’re coming, and then up on the mountain is - is it Mufasa, who’s the father, who holds us Simba for the first time, and the baboon, whatever his name - Rafiki, I think it is - anoints him. It’s like a coronation scene, and you have all of these diverse animals who are bending the knee to this newborn king.
I can’t see it without a thrill down my spine, and I think, of course, of Philippians chapter 2, which speaks of how there’s coming a day where at the name of Christ every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The reason I like films like that, the reason I like fantasy and Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis, those kinds of stories, is because they help us capture something that I think is sadly lacking in our culture today, and that’s a sense of majesty. Especially for American Christians, because our nation, of course, is a democratic republic, it’s not a monarchy. In fact, our whole nation was born out of rebellion against a king. We don’t really get the pageantry and the majesty of the coronation of a king. We don’t quite understand the pathos of that kind of a scene, and sometimes these films and stories can help us grasp that.
I think it’s important that we grasp some of that emotion as we come to the second psalm this morning. This is a psalm of coronation. It’s a psalm that would have been read or would have been sung at the coronation of Israel’s kings in the Old Testament following David and, of course, throughout the Davidic line. It’s a psalm that would have been read and would have been understand as both applicable to the king at that time, but also anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, that there would be a Son who would sit on his throne forever and ever, that promise made in 2 Samuel 7. For us to grasp the psalm, we have to enter into that emotion of the celebration the people would feel at the coronation of their new king.
So, Psalm 2, the second psalm. This will be, as I said, the first of several messages in the Psalms where we’re focusing in on the kingdom of Christ. Let’s read it together, Psalm 2.
“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.’
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, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’
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 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.”
This is God’s word.
I think you can’t read this psalm without almost immediately feeling some cognitive dissonance. We’re thinking about Christ the newborn King during Advent season, we’re thinking about Christ in the manger, and we’re thinking about the wise men, these kings are coming from abroad to worship him; and it’s a tender scene and it’s a gentle scene. But then we read a psalm like Psalm 2 and you have language about wrath and fury and trembling before the Son. You have language of the kings of the earth raging against God, against the Lord, and against his anointed, this anointed king. So there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance here. It rubs us, perhaps, slightly the wrong way. We don’t quite know what to make of this.
But it is a psalm that is quoted over and over again in the New Testament in reference to Jesus Christ, so it is one of these biblical passages, one of these Old Testament passages, that shapes the imagination of God’s people in the New Testament that help them understand who Christ is and what he came to do. So it’s an important psalm for us to grasp, and I think it has important things to teach us about God’s kingdom, about how we relate to that kingdom, both wrongly in our sin and yet what we are called to do and how we are called to respond.
So, to break it down, let’s look at three things in this psalm. There is:
I. The Rebellion against the King (vv. 1-5)
II. The Dominion of the King (vv. 6-9)
III. The Summons of the King (vv. 10-12)
I. The Rebellion against the King
So, first of all, the rebellion against the King in verses 1 through 5 - especially 1 through 3, where you have the nations raging against the Lord and against his anointed. That’s how the psalm begins. Look at verses 1 through 3 again. “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.’”
So, you have four different groups of people. Of course, there’s some Hebrew parallelism here, so they’re not necessarily four distinct groups, but four different ways of describing people in rebellion against God: the nations, the peoples, the kings, and the rulers. They are raging. “Why do the nations rage?” So they’re angry; there’s anger here.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” The word “plot” here is an important word. In a few weeks Phil Krause is going to preach on Psalm 1, which commends as blessed the man who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night. The word “meditates” is the same word, “plot,” here. It’s a word that really carries the idea of murmuring or muttering to oneself. So you have a contrast between Psalm 1, the righteous who meditate on the law of the Lord, who delight in the law of the Lord, who like to be under the rule of God’s law; and, in contrast to that in Psalm 2, you have the nations and the peoples who meditate in vain, who plot in vain, who murmur under the rule of God. They don’t delight in the law of God. That’s the contrast that’s here.
They are raging, they are plotting, and then notice in verse 2 they “set themselves” and they “take counsel together, against the Lord.” So it’s rebellion! They’re setting themselves against God. It’s rebellion against God. Why do they want to rebel? Look at verse 3, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” They want to cast off God’s rule.
So, it is a picture of rebellion, the rebellion the nations, the rebellion of the peoples of the world against the Lord. And it’s a picture of why the kingdom of God is so desperately needed.
There are two ways, I think, for us to apply this, and one is a historical way, and that’s just to remember that throughout the history of the human race, by and large, the rulers of men have set themselves against God and against his people. I mean, you can go all the way back to the book of Exodus, where you have Pharaoh oppressing the people of God. They are enslaved in Egypt. You think about Nebuchadnezzar, Israel in exile, and how Nebuchadnezzar once again is leading God’s people into captivity.
When you get into the New Testament, the story of Christ in Matthew chapter 2, the Christ child is born, and what happens almost immediately, as soon as he’s born? You have Herod, the king, who’s seeking to snuff out the life of this child and goes on a murderous rampage, murdering countless children in his attempt to stamp out the kingdom of God.
Throughout Jesus’s ministry you have opposition. We’ve seen this over and over again as we’ve studied the gospel of John, as people are rising up in opposition against Jesus, they are plotting his death, they are trying to stone him, they’re trying to seize him, they’re trying to take him. Of course, that culminates in the resurrection of Christ. And then when you get into the early church, what do you have? You have Caesars, you have Roman emperors who are persecuting the church, the people of God.
When you look through most of human history, most of the time what you see is that the powers that be are antagonistic to the kingdom of God, the rule of God, and to God’s people. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” That’s one reason why this psalm was so important for this tiny little country in the Middle East, the nation of Israel. They weren’t a great kingdom. They were a persecuted people, they were a despised people. They weren’t a great people. And yet this is an important psalm, so that when a Davidic king, a Davidic heir is enthroned, they are looking to God, they are looking to God as the King of all the earth, and this king of Israel is his anointed. He’s set in opposition to the great, worldly powers that be.
So, there is a historical component that’s important for us to understand, but there’s also a personal application to make; not just the historical, but also that personal application, because these verses give us the profile of rebellion against God’s kingship, and it shows us the heart of sin. The truth of the matter is that every single one of us, at some point in our lives, have manifested the same attitude that the kings of the earth show in their opposition to God. The same arrogance, the same wickedness, the same pride.
You know, C.S. Lewis calls pride “the complete anti-God state of mind,” and that’s what you see in these verses. It’s anti-God. “Let’s throw of his reign, let’s loose ourselves from these parameters. We don’t want the bonds of God’s law; we don’t want these cords. We don’t want to be constricted. We want our freedom.”
It was the very first sin of human beings, wasn’t it? Man and woman in the garden, God had given them the whole garden, every tree of the garden you could eat, except one. There was only one prohibition.
You might ask, “Why did God do that? Was he just trying to set them up? Was he just trying to tempt them?” No! No, God was establishing this one central, important fact that human beings must never forget: God is the Creator, you and I are the creatures. He is the Lord, we are not. We exist by his will, by his power, for his glory, and therefore we are obligated to obey. That was the one restriction that Adam and Eve cast off, and we’ve all been casting it off ever since.
Let me ask you this: has there ever been a point in your life when you have thought about the requirements of God - you’ve thought about the law of God, you’ve thought about what God’s plan is for human beings - you know this is right and this is wrong and there’s something in your heart that rebels against it. “I don’t want those to be the rules! I don’t want to have to obey! I don’t want to have to do it that way!”
I mean, it may be something like forgiveness. You read a passage of Scripture, you hear something in Scripture that says, “You must forgive your enemies.” That gets pressed upon your conscience, and you’re angry. You don’t want to forgive your enemies. Or it may just be you don’t want to forgive your spouse, or you don’t want to forgive your parents, or you don’t want to forgive your sibling who wounded you 20 years ago and you haven’t spoken since. It is rebellion against God. God says you must forgive, and you refuse to forgive.
Or it may be a failure or a refusal to submit to some hard providence in life that God has brought something into your life, he has allowed something in your life. You don’t like this, you’re not content under this. You don’t particularly enjoy this, and you want to cast it off. You want to live life by your own terms. I’ve certainly felt that rebellion in my heart; I think if you’re honest, you’ve felt it as well. I think what we have to understand is that that rebellion is exactly what’s being described here in verses 1 through 3, and it’s something we need to check our hearts for.
I think this rebellion is, perhaps, never more powerfully expressed than in the very famous poem by William Ernest Henley. I’m sure you’ve heard this poem, “Invictus.” The first line goes like this:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
The very last line I think is especially poignant in showing us the very heart of pride. This is celebrated, by the way. This is a celebrated poem, and last time I remember seeing this in popular culture was in the film about Nelson Mandela a few years ago that Morgan Freeman starred in. This was the poem! They actually, I think, quote it in the trailer, and it’s like a celebratory thing. Here is human independence, it’s celebrated. But listen to these last words.
“It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
He’s using biblical language, and it’s saying, “It doesn’t matter how straight the gate”; utter disregard for what Jesus says. “It doesn’t matter how charged with the punishment the scroll - it doesn’t matter what my crimes are, what my sins are, what my accountability to God is. It doesn’t matter; I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
What is that? It’s human arrogance. That’s what it is; it’s human pride, it’s human arrogance. It’s rebellion against the King.
But get this: it’s absolutely in vain. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” It’s just silly, really! Who are we, human beings with a lifespan of 70 or 80 years, absolutely dependent on the will of God for life and breath and everything - who are we to shake our fists in the face of God and say, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”? How dare we? How dare we? It’s treason against the Creator; it’s treason against the King of the universe, and I want you to notice how God responds in verse 4.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord holds them in derision.” God is not threatened by human arrogance! This is no threat to God. He sees the puny creatures that human kings and emperors and governors and presidents and potentates are. He sees them in their arrogance, and he sees the absolute futility of it, and the Lord laughs. However powerful the kings of the earth may seem in their oppression and persecution of God’s people, however boastful proud earthlings may be in their defiance against God, they are no real threat. God mocks their insults, and in his sovereign power and authority he will always turn the events of human history to serve his purposes.
I want to give you the most crucial example of this, illustration of this. It comes right out of the New Testament, and it comes right out of this passage in Acts 4:24-31. Here’s the context. God’s people are being persecuted - this is the New Testament church, they are being persecuted - and when the early church hears about it they go to pray, and this is what they pray. They’re praying Psalm 2.
“And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his anointed.” For truly, in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand your plan had predestined to take place.’”
Here’s the greatest act of human rebellion and defiance in the history of the world: they crucify the Lord of glory, and the Lord looks down from heaven and laughs and says, “You’re not thwarting my plan. You’re doing exactly what I predestined to take place, and through your murderous deeds of crucifying my Son I will bring redemption to the world, I will bring my kingdom to earth.”
That’s what gave the early church comfort. That’s what gave them hope in their persecution. We don’t experience a lot of persecution today. It may come within my lifetime, and certainly within the lifetime of my children. It may come in our own nation as Christians are more and more marginalized in an increasingly pluralized and secular society. But I want to tell you: if it comes to you personally, to your family, as it comes to our brothers and sisters across the face of this globe - as it comes, here is our comfort: the Lord is sovereign, God sits on his throne in heaven, and his purposes will not be thwarted!
Charles Wesley said it so well:
“His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus giv’n.
Lift up your hearts!
Lift up your voice, rejoice;
Again, I say, rejoice!”
The Lord reigns, and he reigns even over the rebellion of sinful men.
II. The Dominion of the King
So we see the rebellion of the king, and the reason why God can laugh at the rebellion is seen in the next four or five verses, verses 5 through 9, and it’s seen in the dominion of the king.
Derek Kidner wrote my favorite, I think, little commentary on the Psalms, and Derek Kidner in his commentary on this says that Psalm 2 is “unsurpassed for its buoyant, fierce delight in God’s dominion and his promise to this king.” That’s what you have; that buoyant, fierce delight. That’s what you have in verses 5 through 9.
There are three steps to it. There’s a coronation, there’s an inheritance, and there’s a conquest. These are the three aspects of the dominion of the king. This is speaking, as we’ve just seen in Psalm 2, this is speaking prophetically of Christ. The New Testament interprets this as a Messianic psalm. So, three things here that we see about the dominion of Christ as our King.
(1) So, first of all, the coronation, verses 6 and 7. Read it again. “As for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’”
This is a coronation scene. That word “set,” “I have set my king…” Kidner says that word is “especially associated with leaders and their installation and office.” Again, we have to try to enter imaginatively into the pageantry and the majesty of this scene, as a king is freshly anointed.
You know that’s what “Christ” means, right? The word “Christ,” Christos (χριστος), Messiah, means “the anointed one,” because a king of Israel would be anointed with oil as he was coronated, as he was installed into office. It was to show that he was set apart by God for this special office. Jesus, as our King, has been anointed by God, he has been coronated by God, set apart by God for this purpose.
We see this at least three different ways in the New Testament. We see it, first of all, in Mark chapter 1, in the baptism of Christ. Do you remember when Jesus was baptized, he enters into the Jordan river, and you remember that when he comes out of the river there’s a dove descending upon him. It’s the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove; Luke tells us in the bodily shape of a dove. The Spirit descends on him, and you remember a voice comes from heaven. Do you know what the voice says? The voice says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” and it’s conflating Psalm 2 with Isaiah 42. You’re getting two images together, two passages together, Christ as the Son of God, the King of Israel; and Christ as the servant of the Lord, in Isaiah 42.
“You are my Son.” “You are my Son.” That’s what this psalm says. “The Lord said to be me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you,’” and when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river the Father says, “You are my Son, my beloved Son.”
Then you have this passage directly applied to Christ in reference to his resurrection, in Acts 13:33. The apostle Paul is preaching here, and he says, “We bring you the good news, that what God promised to the fathers, this he fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’”
So, the baptism of Christ was, I think in a very real sense, something like an anointing of Christ, the coronation of Christ. It was the beginning of his earthly ministry, and he comes, of course, preaching. The kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the gospel.
But then, when Jesus is resurrected from the dead, there, in a very special sense, he is declared to be the Son of God. In fact, Paul says this, doesn’t he, in Romans chapter 1. He is “declared to be the Son of God in power...by his resurrection from the dead, by the Spirit of holiness.” So Jesus rises from the dead and he is seen in his kingship. It’s vindicated in his resurrection.
And then here’s another passage where this quoted: Hebrews 1:3-5, and this has to do with his enthronement at the right hand of God, his exaltation. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins,” his work on the cross, “he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’?”
Christ, supreme over the angels, exalted to the right hand of God. This is his coronation. Notice that God says this. He says this, even as the nations rage against God. In the very moment when the nations are rebelling against God, God says, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten.’” Here the voice is the voice of the king: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son.’”
I loved Spurgeon’s comment on this in The Treasury of David. Spurgeon says, “He has already done that which the enemy seeks to prevent. While they are proposing, he has disposed the matter. Jehovah’s will is done, and man’s will frets and rages in vain. God’s anointed is appointed, and will not be disappointed.”
Christ the anointed is established by God, and he will reign. Here’s his coronation.
(2) And then, secondly, we see his inheritance, verse 8. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.” Can you read that phrase, “the ends of the earth,” without thinking of Acts 1:8, where Jesus says that his disciples are to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit, and then when the Spirit comes they will go from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria, to all the ends of the earth, bearing witness to him?
The missionary charge of the church, the Great Commission to go to all the nations - here are the nations in rebellion against God! God sets his King, he appoints Christ as Messiah, and says, “Ask of me, and I will give you the nations.” “I’ll give you the nations! They’ll be your inheritance.” Jesus Christ reigns, and he reigns not just over one people group, he reigns not just over one ethnic group, he is the Messiah not just for Israel; he is the Lord of the world, he is the Lord of the nations!
Our mandate to go and to make disciples among all the nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is grounded in this promise. God makes a promise to Jesus and says, “I’ll give you the nations; ask me! I will give you the nations. You are my Son, I have appointed you as King; ask me, and I will give you the nations.” Then Jesus rises from the dead and he sends us to the nations to declare the kingship of Christ.
(3) Then number three, his conquest, verse 9. “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” As one commentary notes here, “The kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ does not come because the world welcomes his reign and evolves into the kingdom of God, but it comes because Christ imposes his reign by force on his rebellious people.” It’s a conquest.
C.S. Lewis describes the incarnation as “invading enemy-occupied territory.” Jesus comes by conquest, he comes with a rod of iron. “He shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now, this is descriptive of Christ’s conquest of human rebellion, and here’s the picture. Have you ever taken a clay bowl and broken it with a hammer? You can’t glue that back together. There’s no restoration at that point, right? You dash it into pieces and it’s destroyed, it’s utterly destroyed.
This is the picture. This is a frightening. This is why I said cognitive dissonance at the beginning! You’re coming to hear a sermon about Christmas, and I’m going to talk to you about the wrath of God, because that’s what Psalm 2 does. It says that Christ will dash the rebellious in pieces with a rod of iron, and they’ll be like the pieces of a potter’s vessel.” Irreparable devastation to those who rebel against God.
We have to grasp this. This means that we have to take seriously the lordship of Christ in our own lives. Do we submit to him or not? It means we have to take seriously the plight of all those who do not know Christ. They’re going to hell. What are we going to do? Join with God in his mission to bring the message of salvation to the nations. The conquest of Christ.
Here’s how it’s quoted in the New Testament. Revelation chapter 19 - it’s quoted three times in Revelation: chapter 2:27 and chapter 12:5, but here’s the most lengthy, Revelation 19:11-16.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.” There it is, Psalm 2. “He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
This is good news, and it is a frightening announcement. It is good news for those who bend the knee to Jesus, because it means all of our enemies will be thwarted, it means that Christ will reign, it means righteousness and justice will be done, the persecuted Christians of the world who lose their lives a the hands of murderous, wicked men will be vindicated by Christ the King! That’s good news.
This is a frightening announcement for anyone who persists in rebellion against God, because Christ will come with a rod of iron.
William Plummer, in his commentary on Psalms, applies this to the victory of Christ over the kings and the kingdoms of the world. He recites something - I’d never seen this before, I thought it was interesting - that of the 30 Romans emperors, governors, and others in high office who distinguished themselves by their zeal and bitterness in persecuting the early Christians, of those 30, this is what happened to them by the end of their lives.
"One became speedily deranged after some atrocious cruelty, one was slain by his own son, one became blind, one was drowned, one was strangled, one died in miserable captivity, one fell dead in a manner that will not bear recital, one died of so loathsome a disease that several of his physicians were put to death because they could not abide the stench that filled his room. Two committed suicide, a third attempted but had to call for help to finish the work. Five were assassinated by their own people or servants, five others died in the most miserable and excruciating death, several of them having an untold complication or disease. Eight were killed in battle after being taken prisoners."
These are the kings of the earth who set themselves against the Lord and against his anointed. These are the kings, the emperors of the earth who persecuted Christians. Justice will be done! It will be done, and if it’s not done this side of the second coming of Christ, when he comes again on a white horse as King of kings and Lord of lords, he will rule the nations with a rod of iron. So it is good news for those who submit to Christ and love him, and it is a frightening announcement to everyone else.
The passage doesn’t end with that. It ends with something else. It talks about the dominion of the King in these almost frightening terms, but it ends with a summons.
III. The Summons of the King
So, final point, the summons of the King, verses 10 through 12. The summons of the King. “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 those who take refuge in him.”
Notice the verbs. Be wise, be warned, serve, rejoice, kiss, take refuge. We could summarize all of those in two statements that describe this summons.
(1) This is an invitation from the King, and it is a summons, first of all, to give homage to the King. To give homage, to give honor, to bow before him. And it’s an urgent summons! “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.”
This is the language that describes how a subject should respond to his rightful King - to serve - and it’s the kiss of homage, right? This isn’t a romantic kiss; this is a subject kissing the feet of his King. It’s a lowly position of the servant before the King, and there’s an urgency to this. It’s a call to submission.
One more quotation here from Derek Kidner. I found this really helpful, and I think we need this. I’m emphasizing a little, because this is somewhat different, I think, than what often gets emphasized in sermons and, as I survey my recent sermons, perhaps even somewhat different than what I will usually say, but I want us to get the whole balance of Scripture. So, this is what Derek Kidner says.
He says, “This fiery picture is needed alongside that of the one who is slow to anger. Just as the laughter of verse 4 balances the tears of, for example, Isaiah 16:9 or 63:9. That is, God’s patience is not placidity, any more than his fierce anger is loss of control, his laughter cruelty, or his pity sentimentality. When his moment comes for judgment in any given case, it will be, by definition, beyond appeasing or postponing.” The wrath of God, a clear theme in Scripture, the judgment of God.
But notice that there is a juxtaposition here. We are to serve the Lord with fear, but it’s also a call to rejoice with trembling. There’s never triviality, should never be triviality in our worship and in our response to the King of kings and Lord of lords, but there should be joy. Do you know the difference between the two? Do you know the difference between rejoicing and triviality? There’s a big difference between those two things.
This is a call to serious joy. This is a call to celebratory reverence. This is a call to rejoice before the Lord. It’s celebration! - but with fear, with trembling, because we take this God seriously. We need passages like this to balance things out, and especially in the Christmas season.
I love Christmas, folks, but I tire pretty quickly of the sentimentality. I love the incarnation of Christ, but I want a full-orbed Christ, not only the precious Christ child in the manger, but the King of kings and Lord of lords who rides on his white horse, bringing the nations to judgment. That’s the message of the incarnation, of the advent, the second advent of Christ. It’s a call for us to give homage to the King.
(2) Okay, one more thing to say. What, then, do we do if we’ve been rebels? I mean, is there a little bit of trembling this morning? When you think about how you respond to the Lordship of Christ in your life, to the law of God in your life, do you see rebellion in your heart? What do you do?
It’s a call to give homage, but what if you’ve been a rebel? What if you’ve broken this law, what if you have tried to throw off his rule? Well, here’s the second part of the summons: take refuge in the King. It’s not only a call to give homage, but it’s a call to take refuge in the King.
Look at the very end of verse 12: “Blessed is the man [or blessed are all] who take refuge in him.” Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
What does it mean to take refuge? It means to hide from danger. It means to take shelter in. It means to flee as a place of refuge. Think of the cities of refuge in the Old Testament; do you remember the cities of refuge? There were these cities that God had appointed in Israel; when someone had inadvertently killed someone in an accident and the avenger is coming to get them, they fly to the city of refuge. If they get into the city, they’re safe. They’re given asylum.
God here is saying, “You will be blessed if you find asylum in Jesus.” There is asylum for rebels in Jesus; take refuge in him. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Wesley, once again, says it so well.
“Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on thee.
Leave, ah! leave me not alone;
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring.
Cover my defenseless head
In the shadow of thy wing.”
The psalmist here says, “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” Not a curse, not judgment, not wrath, but blessing! I think that connects right back to Psalm 1. I didn’t see this until I read it in a commentary yesterday, and I thought this was so insightful.
Psalm 1 is all about, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,” right, “stands not in the place of sinners, sits not in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Here’s a blessing, and it’s a blessing for those who delight in the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who delight in Scripture, right? We’re going to hear about that in a few weeks.
But this passage says, “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” You put those two things together, and Psalms 1 and 2 are something like an introduction to the whole psalter, the whole book of Psalms - you put those two things together, and what it’s telling us is that Scripture leads us to Christ. Scripture leads us to take refuge in Christ.
Paul told Timothy that he was to be true to the Scriptures he had learned from his childhood, “which are able to make you wise for salvation, which are in Christ.” Why do you need your Bibles, Christian? Not because you’re just trying to be a good Christian and get your brownie points with God! That’s not the point. You need your Bibles because you need the word of the King that shows rebels how to find salvation. We need it because we need the gospel. We need it because we need redemption, and that redemption is found in Christ.
Let me ask you this morning, as you think about Christ in his kingdom, have you recognized his dominion? Have you rebelled against it? Have you taken refuge in him? Have you heard the summons and responded to the invitation to bend the knee and to confess with your tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God?
Every single human being, all seven billion of them that live on this planet right now, and all of the countless billions who have lived throughout history; every single human being will one day bow their knees and confess with their tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord. You can do it now and find mercy, or you can do it when Jesus comes again, after a whole lifetime of rebellion, and you’ll find justice. Take refuge in his mercy today. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you for your word, even such a word as this, that confronts our rebellion and yet summons us to both faith and obedience in Christ. We pray right now that you would subdue our hearts, subdue the rebellion of our hearts. Help us see the good news that is here for us, that there is salvation, there is refuge for all who flee to Christ. If there’s anyone here this morning who hasn’t done so, I pray that you would give them the heart to do so right now.
As we come to the Lord’s table, we thank you for what this table represents. It shows us the broken body and the shed blood of Christ, our King and our Savior; it reminds us of what he has done for us, of all that he has given to us; it shows us that we serve a King who is characterized not only by justice, but a King who is full of mercy and of love, a King who died for his subjects. So we thank you for it, and as we come we come in faith, we come submitting ourselves to Christ and to his lordship. So draw near to us in these moments as we continue in worship, and be glorified in our hearts this morning, we pray in Jesus’s name, Amen.