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God Our Refuge: The King We Need
Psalms 2:1 - 2:12
July 17, 2022
Reverend Chris Hildebrand
Psalm 2 teaches us to recognize the chaos in this world as a reality that results from our attempt to declare independence from God. While we cannot find solace apart from God, we can find refuge in him as our King and Redeemer.
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Last week we began a sermon series in the Psalms called God our Refuge: Finding and Delighting in the God who Saves Us. It is my hope that as we give ourselves to the Psalms throughout the rest of the summer, we'll learn more about who God is, the world in which we live, and ourselves. In turning to the Psalms each Sunday throughout the summer, the Psalms would become the place we turn, that it would be our practice in our daily lives to turn to the Psalms in the midst of our joys, in the midst of our sorrows, in the midst of indifference, or boredom, or deep anxiety. The hope is that the Psalms would be the commentary for our lives and for our world. It's the playlist that would activate our imaginations. It would give us words to speak to any sort of context, any emotion we might have. It would just fill our minds and imaginations and give hope where we need hope. It will give us wisdom where we so desperately need it, and it will guide us on our way.
I mentioned in the last sermon that Psalms 1 and 2—many commentators and many Biblical scholars think that they are meant to be part of the same Psalm—are two halves of a whole. They're so closely linked together, you actually need one to help understand the other. In this sermon, I'm going to read both Psalms 1 and 2. Let's give our attention to God's Word.
1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners
nor sits in the seats of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
1Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss 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 the word of the Lord. It’s absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.
Will you pray with me?
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we have sung of your great mercy. We have had children delight in sharing the good news of the gospel with us. We have asked for your healing in an offertory. We've confessed our sins. We've heard your assurance of pardoning grace. Now Lord, we need you to speak to us through your Word, by the power of your Spirit. Would you make us a people who cling to these Psalms as words of life, as the words that they are? May they help us to understand the world that we live in, and the king that we so desperately need, and we have in your Son, Jesus. We pray these things in his name. Amen.
This week, there was an article in The New York Times with this headline, it was really a question that says, “Is the world falling apart? Or does it just feel that way?” Immediately my reaction was yes. Does it need to be one or the other? In many ways, it does feel like it's falling apart. It is falling apart, and I feel that way. According to the author, however, the answer was inconclusive, which I didn't find helpful. Articles like that one are written constantly. And the answer to that question that the author was asking is sought out all the time because depending on the day or the week that you're having, depending on the latest news, and depending on what's going on in your life, the world could be falling apart—and it could actually seem that way. With or without a pandemic, with or without inflation running rampant, with or without a looming recession, this is the question that we ask ourselves all the time: Are things falling apart? Are we going to be okay? It seems like the answer to that question stems largely in just how closely you're willing to pay attention to the world around you, how deeply you want to pay attention to the news, how widely you want to read and understand what's going on in the world, and then also what you're facing in your own personal life.
Living in this world and being a human means we will always be faced with that question. Are we going to be OK? Are we going to make it? But then, what do we do? What do we do with all of the chaos? What do we do with what we see around us? We have to answer those questions. We have to make room for that, and so we all turn to what we know, to what will give us answers, to what can help us interpret either the madness going on in our worlds, or our country, or even the madness going on inside of us. We turn to distraction, we turn to news, politics, any sort of entertainment. We all have the places that we go to seek comfort—when the world does feel like it is in chaos—looking for comfort, looking for answers, looking for escape. All of us, no matter what your faith background is, no matter what brought you here, you are looking and seeking for refuge—shelter in the storm. Psalm 2 invites you to take refuge in God. That's how the Psalm ends, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” When faced with the upheaval, uncertainty, chaos, brokenness, rebellion in the world, Psalm 2—and the God that we find in Psalm 2—is the place that we ought to turn. That's the case I want to make for us in this sermon. I want to look at two things from Psalm 2. First, I want us to see the chaos we face, and then, the king we need.
The Chaos We Face
Notice that Psalm 2 is not asking us to close our eyes to the realities of the world. In encouraging us to turn to the Psalms before and more often than turning to the news feed or turning anywhere else, you're not being invited to ignore the realities of the world. You're not being asked to close your eyes to what's going on around you. The perception is when you give your attention to God's Word it's in this moment where you have this nice mountaintop vista, you're on vacation, because you have time to do this, you have your Bible open, you have the perfect cup of coffee, your favorite pen, your journal, and you're just ready to go. That's what it means to give yourselves to God’s Word. If you get that this week, go for it. Do it. Do it for all of us. If you have that opportunity, by all means.
But that's not all there is. That's not what we're talking about here in Psalm 2. The Psalms are where you take your hardest, most painful, most pressing questions about the world—the frustration, the injustice, the hurts of all of it. Psalm 2, being the introduction that it is, opens with a frequently asked question: Why? “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.”
This is important to understand because the question isn't will the nations rage, or what happens if the nations rage, or even when will the nations rage? It's not, will the kings of the earth plot? But why is the question, which tells us that we should expect chaos. The world will feel and seem at times as though it is falling apart. The question isn’t when, the question is why. We're given this picture of nations raging, of people's plotting, of kings and rulers gathering together against God. It's a world of chaos. Does that world sound familiar to you? Are you familiar with this world in which you inhabit? I think you are. We all are.
V.3, in some ways, answers the question asked in v.1. Why? Why is this happening? Why do the nations rage? V.3 tells us this is because we want our independence. V.3: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” Remember, Psalm 1 told us that “Blessed 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…the wicked are like chaff.” Blessedness, for the Psalms, is complete reliance, meditation, and devotion to God and to his Word. In Psalm 2, the nations are not meditating on God's law, they're meditating on vanity. V.1 in Psalm 2 uses the same language that Psalm 1 did. “The peoples plot in vain.” It's meditating on vanity. In v.3, the bonds they want to burst apart, the cords they want to cast away, is a reference to God's Word, to his law, and all the promises he makes to us, and to the world. They want nothing to do with them. Psalm 1 lays out for us the invitation, that path to life, that we're all looking for. It's found in accepting God's rule and living by the hope for what he promises. Psalm 2 tells us that the nations want no part of that. This is their great Declaration of Independence. Let us free ourselves from this God. Let us break free from the chains and the shackles that tell us how to live our lives, who we should worship, what we should do, how we should live. The nations want freedom from all of that.
If you're familiar with the Bible, you will know that from nearly the very beginning of Biblical history this has been the plot. This has been the cry of the people: desiring and longing for independence. Let us declare our independence from God and free ourselves from his reign because we can do better. This is what the serpent suggested to Adam and Eve in the garden, when he convinced Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was the hope of the nations that gathered together to build the Tower of Babel. They were saying, “we are better off on our own. We need to be free.” This is what kings and leaders of nations would do time and time again all throughout the Old Testament. This constant plotting and scheming to separate themselves and the world, from the God who had made them, from the God who had promised to rescue them, from the God who had provided for them.
This was also, oftentimes, the cry of Israel, the very people of God, as they wandered through the desert even though they had seen God rescue them from the mighty hand of Pharaoh, even though God had promised to be with them,they took up this call to independence, believing that there was a better way, that there was another path, a better path. Maybe that through independence from God, they could find their own way through the desert, that they could find the Promised Land, the land that they were hoping for on their own terms, in their own wisdom.
If we're honest, we too find ourselves joining our voices, crying for independence from God. “Let us burst their bonds apart.” Let us be free from the God who made us. It's not just the world out there that is chaotic, that wants freedom and independence. It's also us. When we are left to ourselves this is the cry of the heart, “I want independence. I want to do it my own way.” Psalm 2 is an invitation to declare our dependence upon God, to admit that we too often join our voices with a rebellious cry of the rest of the world. Instead of proclaiming the hope to a watching world, of a God who promises blessedness, we add to the chaos. Any exercise, any endeavor to separate us from God's rule, Psalm 2 tells us, is absolutely futile. It is to meditate on vanity, and it doesn't lead to life, it actually leads to death. This is the chaos that we find ourselves in. Psalm 2 opens our eyes to the chaos of the world.
The King We Need
Psalm 2 also shows us that we actually have the king we need, the refuge we long for, the refuge we need. Notice in v.4 the first time we hear God in the Psalms is not a command. The first time we hear God he's laughing. “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” I don't find anything in the first three verses of Psalm 2 very funny. The world that is painted for us is a world fraying at the seams, rebelling against its creator, a world that instead of following the path of righteousness, as it is invited to in Psalm 1, is now trying to unleash its shackles, burst its bonds apart. They've taken the path of the wicked. That's where we are when we get to v.4. The first thing we hear from God is not a command. It's not a rebuke. It's not an anguished cry. It's laughter. Why is God laughing? First because he sees what is happening. That's why he's laughing. He's not far off. He's not unaware of the state of the world. He's not aloof. He actually sees what's going on.
I think this is, oftentimes, our first assumption, or even our accusation, we level against God when our world is in chaos. Where are you? Our assumption is that God simply isn't paying attention. But Psalm 2 tells us that God actually sees. Notice, first of all, that for the psalmist—Acts 4:24-25 tells us that David wrote Psalm 2, so for David—the chaos of the world does not mean that God is asleep at the wheel, or that he's far off, or that he's uninterested. David knows that God is keenly aware, that he sees everything that is going on. Then the other accusation we level against God when the world has gone mad is that, if he's not distant, then he must be powerless. He must be overwhelmed by the power in the rebellion and the chaos. Where the wicked in Psalm 1 sat in the seat of scoffers, what is God doing in Psalm 2? God sits in heaven, and he scoffs. Yahweh scoffs at the scoffers. That's what it means when he holds them in derision. He mocks them. He laughs.
This might seem startling, offensive, perhaps rude on the part of God. You really want a God who mocks the nations, who scoffs and laughs as the nations rise up? Yes, we do. You and I, so oftentimes, can get so overwhelmed at the state of the world around us. I think it's safe to say that will describe how so many of us, if not all of us, have felt over the last few years. It’s been just overwhelming. The brokenness and injustice washes over us. It seems to sweep us out to the sea. There are things we can't fathom, things we don't understand, powers and dynamics, and pandemics that we are completely powerless to stop. It is the reality of the helplessness of our situation. Of course our helplessness leads to hopelessness. We believe that because we are overwhelmed, because we don't understand what's going on, then God doesn't either. If we're overwhelmed, if we don't understand, then so is God. But God sees, and he is not overwhelmed. He is not at a loss. He's the Creator and the Redeemer of the world, the one who sustains you, and the one who sustains the nations, and he will not be overthrown.
No matter the scheme, no matter the plot, no matter the power, he laughs. He laughs because he loves this world. He laughs because he loves his creation, and he loves you. He loves this world too much to turn it over to the hands of those who think they know better. He loves it too much to turn it over to the hands who think they can do better. Not only does this laughter show us that God sees, but also that he's not overwhelmed. The laughter of God, the first thing we hear God doing and saying in Psalm 2, this laughter also indicates that there is a plan. There is a way. There is a greater hope. God has a plan for this world. That's what the rest of Psalm 2 tells us.
V.1-3 are not the last words—the rebellion of the nations that kings and powers gathered together to declare their independence. That's not all that is happening in the world, even though, so often, it can seem like that. Look at v.6. V.6 tells us that God is at work in the world even in the midst of anger and the rage of the nations, to bring about its healing. God is at work by appointing a king. V.6, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I love those words, “as for me.” The kings of the earth, the rulers gathering together, you can go about your plot, you can try and do all the schemes, and it is going to be in vain because as for me, I've got a plan. As for me, I'm going to end futility. As for me, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to “set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
For the rest of the Psalm, we have God's response, his answer to the hopelessness we see in the world and the helplessness that we find in our lives, the answer to how we can cope with our fears, the answer to how we can manage and cope with our anxieties in the face of a world that is against God and against his people. “As for me, I've set my king on a hill. In v.7-12, we learn about this king and how he is the answer to and the hope for the world that stands against God. This is the king we need. V.7: “He's been rightly appointed.” So many kings and so many rulers have no right to rule. They have no right to have the power they have, which is why that power is so often abused, both today and throughout history. But this king, this king is the Son. This is the king that God has put on Zion. He has a right to the throne. In v.8-9, we see that he is a powerful king. Listen again to v.9, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” Setting this world to right is not too hard for this king. It will not be a struggle. There is no enemy, there's no opponent that can overwhelm this king. This is the king you need.
It's not just that he's in his rightful place. It's not just that he's powerful enough to dash the nations to pieces. This king is also a forgiving and a welcoming king. Look at v.10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
This isn't a king who looks only to crush his opponent, or any rebellious people. He offers them an invitation to return to him. The call here, to rejoice with trembling, is to return to a powerful king with great joy. The nations tremble because of his power, but they rejoice because at last they are serving the very king that they were made to serve. All of this, this is why God laughs from heaven, in the face of the chaos and the rebellion of the nations, and the world, and the rulers. This is how he responds to the rage of the nations and to the people's rebellion. This is how he answers the very first word of the Psalm: Why?—by putting his king on his rightful throne, a king who sees, a king who forgives, a king who is powerful enough to rule the nations, and even to subdue rebellion, and the king who welcomes the nations back into their rightful place. Under his rule, this is the king we need. This is a king for the world of chaos. This is a king for your life.
This Psalm, because it was written by David, was written in the early days of Israel, and then it was taken up and sung all throughout Israel's history. You can imagine the longing that this Psalm must have invoked, generation after generation, as they took up these words and asked this question: Why? Why do the nation's rage, and what, O God, are you going to do about it? Where's this king that you have promised? Was it David? Was it Solomon? Was it the kings that followed? Where is the one who sits on Zion? Where's the one who can subdue the nations and welcome the rebellious ones home? In fact, this question gets asked over and over again, all throughout the Old Testament, where's the king? Where's the promised one? We know v.1-3 are absolutely true. That's everyone's experience all throughout history: send us a king.
As the New Testament opens, we see that this king that was longed for, the king that was promised, arrives in Jesus. He is the rightfully appointed Son. He is the one who at long last had come to rule and reign over the nations. Jesus is the answer to the rebellion and to the rage of the nations, the plots of vanity of kings and rulers. You can see this all throughout Jesus' life. You see it put on display in his birth when the Magi come bearing gifts from the nations. Even as a baby, the nations began streaming to him. Yet, there's Herod looming in the background, plotting his death. His plot is utter vanity because God has appointed his king. You see it in Jesus' life and his ministry. He's always so patient, always forgiving, welcoming the stranger, the sinner, the tax collector, the prostitute, eating and feasting with them. He is welcoming the world into his kingdom, Jew and Gentile alike finding shelter in him because God has appointed his king.
You see it in his death. In Jesus' death on the cross he faces the anger and the rage of the nations. The point of all that rage, all of that scheming of the Romans and the Jewish leaders, puts Jesus on the cross to die a terrible death. That's where all the scheming from v.1-3 leads, but, of course, it doesn't end there. You also see it in his resurrection, that what was promised in v.8-9, that he is going to break them with a rod of iron, and that he's going to dash all his enemies to pieces, this is what he's done in his death. This is what he has done to death. Death cannot hold them down. The greatest enemy, the greatest point of our fear and our worry, the thing that causes so much chaos in this world, death, itself, has been defeated in his resurrection.
You see it in his ascension. Jesus takes his rightful place on Zion as a victorious king, with the invitation for all the world and all the nations from v.11: “To serve the Lord with fear and rejoicing,” serve with joy, because Jesus is now in charge. This is our hope in the world in which we live. This is the song that we sing. We have an answer to the chaos. We have an answer to the pain. We have an answer to the longing heart. We have an answer to the confusion of the world. We have an answer to the rage of the nations. We have a king. He sits on a holy hill. He sits on Zion. He is our answer. He is our home. His death is our death. His life is our life. Jesus is the king that we need, which means this. Because Psalm 2 is true, we can move into a world where nations rage, where our neighbors want nothing but independence from this God, and we can say, with great courage, love, and patience, that there actually is hope. There is an answer. God has set his king on a holy hill. Christ is our life and he is at work even now. He's at work through you, leading you into conversations and places where you might not have any idea what to do, conversations where you might not have any idea what to say, but there's your king, sending you into the chaos of the world. He's the king you need.
Jesus is our only hope, and this Psalm invites us to cast our total allegiance and all of our dependence upon him, to give ourselves to his healing work in the world, and to rejoice with trembling.But we need not fear because we have a king who sits in his rightful place. Where Psalm 1 started with a promise of blessedness, “Blessed is the one.” Psalm 2 now ends and concludes with the same promise of blessing. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Psalm 2 reminds us, and it tells the nations, that as they rage and as they seek to undo God's rule, that there is no refuge from God. No one can hide, but there is refuge in God. He has set his king on a holy hill, and he invites us, each and every day of our lives, to find our refuge and our hope in him. Jesus is the king we need for the chaos of the world and for the chaos of our hearts. This table invites us to seek refuge in him, to rest and receive upon him alone for our sustenance, for our hope, and for our joy. We have the king we need. We should celebrate.
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we thank you that for the chaos of the world that so easily undoes us, and threatens us, and causes us great pain and sorrow, you have given us an answer. You have given us a king, the king that we need. God, I pray that you would equip us to take up the call to face the chaos of the world, and to seek total and utter dependence and reliance upon you, to find hope, and refuge, and shelter in nowhere else and no one else than in you, in your word, in your truth, in your promises, and in your son Jesus. Help us to be a people who seek that with great joy, with joyful trembling before you, knowing that you have called us to your very self. We pray this in Jesus' mighty name. Amen.