This Easter, the world is in chaos. A new cold war has frozen relations between Washington and Moscow. President Trump is putting his military hardware to use across the world, and in the most enduring military standoff ever, tensions could hardly be higher along the DMZ in Korea. So many new beginnings have held such promise – the ‘New World Order’ of 1989, the ‘Arab Spring of 2011 – but in each case the promised new era of peace is swiftly ruined by hatred and violence. So why should the first Easter Day be any different? Because it is the fulcrum of history, and the victory established that day is still working itself out as history rolls on. How does Easter affect the nations of the world?
Christians are passionate about the nations of the world. We believe this is God’s world, and that he holds the nations in the palm of his hand. Our concern is to see people from all nations turning to Christ and being reconciled to God. So our hearts are troubled when nations are divided, and it seems like the world is breaking into pieces. How can we make sense of it? The answer is to turn to Scripture and to look at the world as God sees it. One obvious place to turn to for wisdom is Psalm 2. It takes us from a world in uproar to the throne room of heaven, to see God’s plan for the nations. Psalm 2 presents to us God’s King and shows us how he will rule the nations. It is a short psalm in four paragraphs, and with each paragraph the scene changes. If Psalm 2 was a film, the camera angles would keep changing, and the voices would keep changing. It is a powerful drama wrapped up in 12 short verses.
- The Nations against God V1-3
‘Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?’ The psalm-writer is so distressed by the evil and upheaval in the world that he begins his psalm with the question ‘Why?’ Why is the world like it is? Why is all this happening? Why do the nations conspire against God? David wrote this as king of Israel, enjoying the heights of God’s blessing to them as a nation. Yet there were surrounding nations who worshipped pagan idols and who wanted to destroy him. There were enemies within, even his own son Absalom, who wanted to destroy David even though he was Israel’s anointed king, chosen by God. At the heart of human history is a divide, between people who worship God and people who reject him. David describes in V1 those who conspire, rage and plot against God. (It hardly needs explaining that to plot against God is to ‘plot in vain.’) They ‘take their stand…they gather together…’ They make God out to be a wicked tyrant who is always against them. Why wouold they want to worship God. All he does is stop them having fun: V3 ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.’ There is a kind of ‘group-think’ going on here. Everyone together is saying ‘We will not bow down to the living God, because that would require us to change every part of our lives, and we’re not going to do that. The God of the Bible cannot be true, so let’s pretend his view of the world is wrong, and he is just there to enslave us.’ So they portray God as a nasty, cruel tyrant whose commandments are chains, and who must be rejected.
Notice this key phrase: V2 ‘The rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Who is the anointed one? At one level David is speaking about himself. As God’s anointed King, to reject David, as his enemies wanted to, was to reject God’s chosen one. Anointing was the sign in Israel that a prophet, priest or king was God’s choice and therefore to reject them was to refuse the divine decree. Reject the words of God’s prophet, or the rule of God’s king, and you were rejecting the word or rule of God himself. But such rejection also pointed forward to the rejection of the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King, the Lord Jesus himself, which happened in the events of the first Easter. ‘The Kings of the earth’ – King Herod, the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, and the spiritual leaders, the nations and peoples of the day – gathered together with evil intent ‘against the Lord and his Anointed One’, his Messiah. The nations raged against each other, but most of all, they raged against God. And the one person above all others than they cannot cope with is Christ himself. This enmity hasn’t stopped. It can be felt today in all those who still rage against the name of Christ, and in every heart that secretly, defiantly refuses to bow to him as king. If that is you, read on….
- God’s answer to the Nations V4-6
Now the psalm writer changes the scene and takes us to heaven. Here is God’s answer to the nations in all their rebellious pride, and to every individual who ignores him: V4 ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs!’ He looks at us in our stupidity and he laughs with scorn. God greets the evil schemes of wicked men and women with gales of laughter because they are so pathetic. But his laughter quickly turns to a very justified anger. V5 ‘Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.’ However politically correct it is to talk about the wrath of God, the Bible makes it very clear that God does not change. The God of Psalm 2 is still God today. Saying we no longer believe in his wrath doesn’t abolish it. It merely ignores it, which is total foolishness. I could deny that I had cancer. It wouldn’t happen to a nice person like me, would it? But my wishful thinking wouldn’t change the reality. It cannot do away with the wrath of God. We have to deal with it. The nations of the world have rebelled against God. Because of that we stand under the wrath of God, and it is terrifying, and it is richly deserved by me and you. But read on, because in his wrath God makes a great declaration in V6, and it is rather odd.
In his wrath, God says ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ That doesn’t sound like a statement of judgement, but actually it is. Let me explain. ‘Zion, my holy hill’ refers to the mountain on which Jerusalem is built, Mt Zion. This is a psalm about a king, and God is saying ‘You rebellious nations have mocked my king, but I have set him as my king in this city, Jerusalem, and you are not going to destroy him.’ Picture the scene: David as chosen king over Israel has conquered Jerusalem and he is paraded into the city and a fine new palace has been built for him there. He is enthroned in the city and everyone knows that God has installed King David in Jerusalem. But David was just a prototype for Jesus. The phrase ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill’ finds its fulfilment in another procession. Jesus is led from the house of Pontus Pilate and the palace of King Herod on Good Friday, and he walks the Via Dolorosa, the road of suffering to his cross. Those who conspired against Jesus were doing the work of God, for God’s answer to the rebellion of the nations was to set Jesus on a cross, on his holy hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, and there V5-6 is completely fulfilled. God rebukes the world in his anger and terrifies us with his wrath, but his wrath fell on Jesus! Jesus in his death paid the ransom price to set us free from sin, taking the full force of God’s wrath to purchase for God men and women and children from every nation and tribe and language. He became a king on his cross. I love the words of Stainer’s Crucifixion.
From the throne of his cross the king of grief cries out to the world in its unbelief. O men and women, both far and nigh, is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?
Behold me and see: pierced through and through with countless sorrows and all is for you; for you I suffer, for you I die; is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
Oh! Men and women, your deeds of shame, your sins without reason and number and name, I bear them all on this Cross on high; is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
This is the King who really changes the world, and he does so by dying in the place of sinners. The very worst that was plotted against him only served to achieve God’s greater plan of salvation. Just as we are absorbing the magnitude of this scene, the scene changes again.
- The Risen Jesus inherits the Nations V7-9
The voice in V7 is the voice of the victorious King. These words relate to the promises God made to King David in 2 Sam.7, but they have a fuller meaning in Jesus. At his baptism and his transfiguration the disciples of Jesus heard the words of God the Father saying ‘You are my Son’. But the next phrase ‘Today I have become your Father/begotten you’ is a little more difficult. Acts 13:33 connects it very clearly with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has died and risen again, the ‘firstborn’ or ‘first-begotten’ from among the dead. The moment Jesus rose from the tomb was the first moment of victory. It tells us that God the Father has accepted his death as payment for sin, that Jesus has broken the power of death, and that there is no limit to his power. ‘You are my son, eternally, and today I have begotten you from the dead as the first to conquer it.’
Then God the Father makes him a promise so vast that its fulfilment will spread through the rest of history. Not only will Jesus be King in Jerusalem, but he will also be King of the nations. V8 ‘Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ Does this promise mean that Jesus will build some violent nasty Caliphate that extends itself by brute force? No. The complete opposite! Kingdoms will still stand and evil kings will gather together against the Lord and his Anointed One, but the kingdom of Jesus will spread in spite of them. His kingdom will take root in every nation on earth. This promise in V8 is the foundation stone of the Great Commission. Jesus can command us ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ because God has promised him the nations as his inheritance. Jesus could tell his disciples to be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth’ because God the Father promised him the ends of the earth as his possession. Are you intimidated by nations that seem absolutely set against Christianity? You see black flags flying from the back of a stream of pickup trucks filled with Isis militia and you think the gospel can’t go there. Not true! The promise of Psalm 2 is that even through the witness of Christians being beheaded for their faith a new church is being born through suffering in the very likeness of their crucified Saviour. Can there be hope for the street children of Peru, and even the gang leaders who exploit and abuse them. The ‘ends of the earth’ can look dark and despairing, but they are not beyond the reach of King Jesus! He can break the most severe and sinister power that works against God, however strong it appears, for he will take barriers to the gospel and ‘dash them to pieces like pottery.’ He can end cruel oppressions so the gospel flourishes, and he can break hard hearts as well so that they repent. Look at these places with the eyes of faith and see what God is doing even there by his Holy Spirit. The promise of Psalm 2:8 means we had better take seriously the Great Commission and act on it. We have a part to play in taking the good news of this King to the nations.
- The Summons to the Nations V10-12
Psalm 2 ends with a summons in V10-12. Those who conspire against God had better be warned and be wise, and turn their arrogant scheming into humble worship. God can destroy the most powerful nations in a moment. Nations rise and prosper, but just as easily fail and die, yet all the while the Kingdom of God presses on. You can live your life without God, but ‘his wrath can flare up in a moment.’ He can take your life and he can take mine, and then it is too late. But here is the best news, right at the end of the psalm. ‘Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’ At the beginning of this psalm those who conspired together against God said all he does is to hold us in chains. The reality is quite the opposite. He is a a redeemer for the enslaved and a refuge for the weary, and however rebellious and proud we have been, when we come to surrender to Jesus we find him to be our refuge for all eternity.
This was a sermon that I preached in a number of churches in 2015 and 2016.