the king’s invitation - Advent 2018

(Psalm 2)

Jason Procopio

As you probably know, we’re now in our annual Advent series, which we have each December to anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

We have all seen the classic Nativity scene: Mary and Joseph in a stable, surrounded by animals and maybe some shepherds and an angel or two, all focused on the sweet little baby in the manger. We’re going to talk about that scene in a couple of weeks. But it’s important, as we head towards that scene, that we remember what’s actually going on there: what came before and what would come after.

In France we have a difficult relationship with authority. We see it in the history of our country, and we’ve seen it in a particularly up-front way the last three weekends here in Paris. Now, let me be clear: although we absolutely abhor the violence of the last several weeks, and should have nothing to do with it, we also want to celebrate the right to protest peacefully—it’s one of the staples of our democracy.

But it does make our relationship with authority, with those in positions of authority over us, a challenge. 

The reason I mention this today is because that relationship with authority is one thing that can make the entire Christmas story difficult to stomach.

If you were here last week, you know we were in Psalm 1, and like I said then, Psalms 1 and 2 go together, both because they serve together as an introduction to the book of Psalms, and because thematically—although they go about it in very different ways—they both give answers to the same implicit question. 

Psalm 1 begins by saying,  

Blessed [literally, “happy”] is the man 

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, 

nor stands in the way of sinners, 

nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 

but his delight is in the law of the Lord, 

and on his law he meditates day and night. 

And Psalm 2 ends by saying,  

Blessed [happy] are all who take refuge in him. 

So the overarching question of both of these psalms is, “How can man be happy?” 

We saw a first pass at this question last week; in Psalm 2, David takes it in a different direction altogether. In fact, he doesn’t begin with happiness at all. He begins by speaking of the rebellion of other nations against God and the king of Israel. At first, it seems almost like this psalm is a kind of taunt, a song sung by the people of Israel to intimidate any enemy nations that might hear it. But as we continue, we see quite a different sentiment at work.

Rebellion and wrath (v. 1-6)

1 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.” 

We all understand why a kid would lie to his parents. But what I find incredible—especially now that I have at least one kid of my own who can lie, and who does exactly what I did as a kid—is that kids lie to their parents, even though they know their parents can almost always tell when they’re lying. They tell the lie; they see the look on Mom and Dad’s face; they get caught in the lie. And yet, somehow, every time they think, This time it’s going to be different, and they lie again.

That’s the kind of this we see going on in v. 1-3. This psalm was written by David during the “glory days” of Israel, when Israel was a relatively powerful nation which had enemies to spare. 

So the nations around Israel—the enemy nations and their rulers—set themselves against the king, and plot to take him down. Which brings on a particularly frightening response from God, in v. 4:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; 

the Lord holds them in derision. 

This is a terrifying idea. The God of the universe, who can snuff out your life with a mere thought…laughing at you. But it’s not an amused laugh; it’s the kind of laugh that comes when what you’re doing to try to hurt someone is ridiculously ineffective. It a laugh that has behind it rivers of anger.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 

and terrify them in his fury...

Why is God angry? Well, first of all, God is angry against all sin. 

The Bible tells us that mankind was created in God’s image, united to him, and under his gracious rule. But man wanted to be his own God; man wanted to be his own master. Man—even with his very limited knowledge of himself and of the world—presumed to know better than God how best to be happy and how best to run his own life. 

So man rebelled against God. And with that rebellion, sin entered the world. Man was separated from God, and every man, woman and child born after the first man and woman inherited that same rebellion, that same desire to be their own masters. 

And as a result, God was, and is, angry. He is angry at that rebellion. He is angry at that sin.

These enemy nations were still in willful rebellion against God—and not only that, they were in willful conflict with God’s chosen people and God’s chosen king, which only makes things worse. Any parent knows it—you can come after me all you want, but don’t you dare come after my kids.

So faced with the rebellion of the nations, God laughs in his fury; his anger rages against the nations, and he terrifies them. 

And what does he say that terrifies them so?

[He will] terrify them in his fury, saying, 

“As for me, I have set my King 

on Zion, my holy hill.” 

The thing which absolutely terrifies the nations is that God tells them, “The king against whom you’re plotting and rebelling? I’m the one who put him there. He’s my king.” 

I one had a discussion with a group of friends, and somehow we got on the topic of silly first names. And I mentioned one name I thought was particularly ridiculous—I won’t say it again here (let’s just call it BLEEP). But I ragged on this name “BLEEP” for a full two minutes or so. 

A little later on in the discussion, I asked one of the guys in the group (whom I didn’t know very well) what his kids’ names were. He paused with a bit of a smile, then said, “Well my oldest son’s name is ‘BLEEP’.” The exact name I had been insulting just a few minutes earlier.

I’ll tell you: the silence which followed was very uncomfortable.

That’s what’s happening here, taken to a ridiculous extreme. 

Israel at the time was both a monarchy and a theocracy: they recognized both God and king as ruler. God had chosen this people to be his people, and he had anointed the king of Israel to be his king on earth. God is sovereign over his nation, he fights with the king he has put into power… And the nations go after him anyway. 

That’s what prompts David’s question in v. 1—“Why do they do this?!” In other words, it’s fundamentally stupid to try to fight against the God of the universe

There was perhaps a time when all this plotting against Israel’s king was merely political—but now, these enemy rulers realize they’re fighting against much more than a nation. They are terrified because they realize that the king against whom they have been plotting and raging is the very same king God himself put into power, and for whom he fights. They’re not going to win this fight, and now they know it.

Now at this point, the “narrator” of the psalm switches, and the king himself speaks. These words were probably either proclaimed by a prophet or read aloud by the king at his coronation.

The Reign of the Son (v. 7-9)

  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.” 

This is huge. What God promises to the king of his people is nothing less than a reign that is worldwide and absolute. He tells the king, “You weren’t just chosen by me to serve a function; you are my son!” (This echoes what God said to King David in 2 Samuel 7.14.) 

He says, “Because the earth is mine, and because you are my son, I will give you the nations as an inheritance; I’ll give you the world. You’ll reign over foreign nations with a rod of iron; anyone who stands against you will be crushed by you.”

This sounds frightening to us; and it is frightening, if the king in question is a king who desires to rule cruelly, who’s in it merely for his own power. (Which is always our suspicion—again, that difficult relationship with authority creeps up.) The one thing that would make this promise sound good is the assumption that the king to whom God said these things is a good king, and a just king—a king who rules with a rod of iron, but who only breaks out that rod when it is absolutely and strictly necessary.

But we’re meant to understand that if the enemy nations heard of this promise, they would realize that they’re among these people who deserve that rod of iron. It would increase their fear even more. Not only have they rebelled against God and against his king, but God has told his king that he would crush any enemy who continues to pursue him. 

So at this point—after terrifying the nations and giving the king this pretty all-encompassing promise—David surprises us. He speaks once again to the enemy nations he mentioned at the beginning, but this time he’s not threatening them or frightening them; he’s extending an invitation.

An Invitation to Enemies (v. 10-12)

10  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 

be warned, O rulers of the earth. 

11  Serve the Lord with fear, 

and rejoice with trembling. 

12  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. 

In other words, enemy nations, you have one hope of getting out of this unscathed: absolute and total submission.

We spoke earlier about our difficult relationship with authority. The idea of a king demanding absolute submission is an idea that goes against the very values of our society. We remember the presence of Hitler in Paris, when the city was under Nazi occupation. Most people in our church are young; we weren’t alive during that time. But the memory is still fresh and terrifying.

Let’s be clear: God could go that way. He could go the way of the tyrant. He absolutely has the power to exercise his sovereignty in that way.

But he doesn’t. 

Rather than threatening the nations, he invites them to come to him. The same nations which provoked his wrath before are now invited to benefit from his grace.

They’re still aware of the king’s anger over their rebellion (v. 12), but against all logic, the king invites them—not only to not be killed by him, but to find their refuge in him. To be welcomed by him. To be protected by him.

Despite all expectations, this king’s reign is one of grace, and not of oppression.

Now if you were the king of Israel, these promises of absolute and total domination would be nice words to hear. But here’s where we have our first suspicion that something’s off. This psalm was sung by the people of Israel, and by all of the kings who followed after David. 

And none of those kings ever ruled over the whole world. None of them reigned over all the nations. Some of them tried, but none of them succeeded. Because none of them—not even David—was a perfectly just, perfectly righteous, perfectly good king.

King David’s reign constitutes the glory days of the people of Israel. He was, globally, a great king—the nation prospered, the people were safe, and although he was far from perfect, God called him “a man after my heart” (Acts 13.22).

David’s reign is followed by that of his son Solomon, and for the most part Solomon too is a good king—it’s from Solomon that we get the bulk of the wisdom literature of the Bible; many of his proverbs are still well-known today, even to unbelievers. But the roots of idolatry and selfishness show themselves in Solomon’s reign too, and he passes those roots on to his son Rehoboam, whose folly splits the kingdom in two: into the kingdom of Judah in the South, and the kingdom of Israel in the north.

Both kingdoms are unfaithful to God, and they suffer the consequences: Assyria conquers Israel in the north and essentially destroys the kingdom and scatters its people; and Babylon conquers Judah in the south. The city of Jerusalem is captured, the temple is defiled, and the people are exiled.

And although they eventually return from their exile, the glory days of the people are never seen again.

So what must the people of Israel, and the kings who followed David, have been thinking when they sang this? When they sang this song and reminded themselves of God’s promise to the king, what must have been going through their minds?

When they sang the promises of God to the king, and saw that none of this had happened for them, what could they possibly conclude?

I can only think of three possibilities: either God was lying when he said this; or he’s not actually powerful enough to make it happen; or he was talking about a different king, a better king, who hadn’t come yet.

The King to Come

If you know the rest of the Bible, you know that the third possibility is the right one. 

This psalm doesn’t ultimately describe any king in Israel’s past: not even David. When we arrive at the New Testament, we see this psalm quoted again and again, in order to show us that this “Anointed,” this king, this “Son” whom we see in Psalm 2, is in fact Jesus Christ. 

In Acts 4.24-28, we see the apostles gathered together; and they begin to pray to God. They pray:  

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, 

“ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, 

and the peoples plot in vain? 

26  The kings of the earth set themselves, 

and the rulers were gathered together, 

against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 

27 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

You see what they say? They identify the “kings of the earth” and the “rulers” we see in Psalm 2 with Herod and Pilate, and the “Gentiles” and “peoples” with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, who united together to kill God’s Anointed—who isn’t David at all, but Jesus, whom they killed.

Next, God’s decree in v. 7—when he tells the king, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”—is only truly applicable to Jesus himself. When Jesus is baptized, we see (Matthew 3.16-17):  

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

And later, on the mount of transfiguration, we hear God say the same thing (Matthew 17.5):  

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  

After that: the apostle Paul, in in Acts 13.32-33, quotes Psalm 2 to speak of Jesus’s resurrection: 

32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has 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.’ 

In other words, Jesus’s resurrection is the concrete, tangible proof that Jesus was and is the Son, the one true King of Psalm 2.

Again, no king of Israel ever received the world as his inheritance. But following his resurrection, Jesus affirms that he already has authority over the whole world, that he has received the whole world as his inheritance, by sending out his apostles, saying to them (Matthew 28.19), 

Go therefore and make disciples of ALL NATIONS.

And in Acts 1.8,  

…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Next: three times in the book of Revelation, v. 9 is quoted to speak of the reign of Christ. The most striking example, I think, is found in Revelation 19.11-16:  

11 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. 12 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. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.  

This isn’t exactly the picture we think of when we think of Jesus at Christmastime, is it? This isn’t sweet baby Jesus in the manger; this is the all-powerful, completely terrifying King of the universe, who fights for the good of his people and for the glory of his name.

And finally, once again, we see in Psalm 2 that the king invites his enemies to come to him to find protection: David says in v. 12,

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

And it is only because of the grace of God in Christ that v. 12 can truly find its meaning. 

How can we possibly take refuge in a God whose wrath against our sin is so great? Because God sent his King to be punished in our place.

On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin—all of our rebellion—on himself, and was punished in our place, so we wouldn’t have to be. He absorbed the wrath of God against our sin. 

Make no mistake: God’s wrath always burns against sin. No sin ever goes unpunished—if it did, then God wouldn’t be just. 

But if we take refuge in Christ, then we can know and have the full assurance that God punished our sin by punishing Jesus in our place. And in exchange for the sins we put on Christ, he gave us his perfect life: the perfect life without sin that he lived in our place. 

So now the rebels can—in perfect justice—become those who are protected by the King. Justice has been done; the wrath of God against his people has been spent; so there is no longer anything that God holds against us.

Just as we saw last week that Jesus is the “happy man” of Psalm 1, Jesus is the gracious King of Psalm 2. He is the King God put in power over his people; he is the warrior who reigns over the entire world, and who will one day judge the living and the dead. 

And he is the King who invites us—his enemies—to come and take refuge in him. 

So you have to ask yourself this morning: Are you, like these enemies, in rebellion against your King?

Have you rejected him? Have you told him—explicitly, or implicitly through your life—that you want nothing to do with him? Have you perhaps partially submitted to him, while keeping a hidden corner of your life for yourself?

If you are still living in rebellion against Jesus, your King, then you have to know that the threats of Psalm 2 are directed toward you. This psalm is trying to help you see how laughable your rebellion is. It doesn’t hurt God, anymore than an adult is hurt when an angry baby smacks his hand away. When speaking of entire nations, David says,  

Why do the nations rage 

and the peoples plot in vain? 

It is fundamentally stupid to rage and plot and rebel against the God of the universe. If that is true for entire nations, how much truer is it for you?

You might imagine you’ll be able to hide from God in some way, but friends, there are only two choices here. Either we receive the mockery and the wrath of God full in the face (if we persist in our rebellion), or we receive his protection and his grace (if we run to him to find our refuge). 

The question is, how do we do that? How do we come to him?

David tells us how. 

First of all, we listen to his warnings. V. 10:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 

be warned, O rulers of the earth. 

You see, he’s stopped threatening—he is now inviting them to wake up. To realize they are about to fall over the edge of the cliff face, and to run to the protection offered to them.

Secondly, we serve and rejoice with fear and trembling. V. 11:  

Serve the Lord with fear, 

and rejoice with trembling. 

You see the parallel. Serve…with fear. That, we get. Submission and fear often go hand in hand. 

But “Rejoice…with trembling”? These aren’t two things that we would naturally put together.

Here’s why David says it that way.

He says it that way to help us see that God’s protection and approval are not to be taken lightly. When we serve God, we serve him with the full knowledge that he deserves to be served. 

But at the same time, he wants to help us remember the wonderful privilege it is to be able to serve God. Why? Because we were created to serve God, and because we don’t deserve to be spared. We deserve God’s wrath, not his grace. And yet not only did he pour out his wrath on Jesus instead of on us…he now gives us the unique opportunity to finally do exactly what we were created to do.

And there is nothing that produces more joy than doing what you know you were made to do.

Thirdly, we submit to the Son. V. 12:  

Kiss the Son, 

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 

for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

We remember that God’s wrath burns against our sin, and the only way to escape that wrath is to submit to the One who steps in and takes our place. We submit to his authority and to his goodness, and we accept his grace with all of the emotion and all of the fervor he deserves. (This translation “Kiss the Son” is a term of joyful submission, not of half-hearted servitude.)

Lastly, we take refuge in him. 

Psalm 1.1 says,  

Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the Law of the Lord...

Psalm 2.12 says, 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

We can only be truly and fully happy—as we were created to be—if we take refuge in the King—Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the Law of the Lord for us, so that his law might be for us a source of pleasure, and not a reason for judgment.

So take refuge in him this morning. Submit to his gracious rule. Serve him fearfully and gladly. Take what he says seriously, and rejoice with a great and serious joy.