Psalm 2 at Christmas

by Dec 24, 2017Exegesis, Piety, Preaching5 comments

I was given the privilege of preaching briefly this morning at my church after our annual Christmas program, and I chose what might seem an odd passage for Christmas: Psalm 2.

During the time of year at which we are celebrating what is in one sense the beginning of Jesus’ story, the birth of the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah, it is appropriate for us to look to the end of Jesus’ story, too. And, interestingly enough, the end was predicted before the beginning.

This psalm, written probably at the time of King David, the ancestor of Jesus, is always relevant, because it describes the way the world always is. I want to take a quick trip through this psalm, stanza by short stanza.

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.”

There have always been rulers of the earth taking counseling together against the Lord and his Anointed. King Herod did it shortly after the first Christmas by trying to kill the Anointed one in a murderous purge of all the baby boys in that region.

Pontius Pilate took counsel against the Lord and against his Anointed years later by giving into the fear of a bloodthirsty crowd that wanted the adult Anointed One dead.

And many rulers of American society today take the same counsel together today, counsel against the Lord and against Jesus—who, if you haven’t figured it out, is God’s Anointed. Psalm 2 describes all history up to the present time.

I’m going to make a small stretch from the word “rulers” here to the word “influencers.” Today it is quite possible to be more influential than the top politicians in the country—we have more “rulers” of public opinion because of our mass media than any society could ever have had in the past. And one of these “rulers”—my favorite liberal, Nick Kristof—used his column in the New York Times yesterday in part to express his skepticism about claims the Bible makes about God’s Anointed.

[I] am…skeptical of…the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles [of Jesus] and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief [within Christianity], or can I mix and match?

So God’s word expresses truth claims about Jesus, and Kristof won’t accept them. He is trying to burst the bonds of truth that God laid on the world. He’s saying, “I don’t want God’s cords wrapped around my mind. Get ‘em off me! I’ve got my own thoughts!” He may not be a ruler, per se, but he’s doing the same thing Psalm 2 describes from a perch of influence few kings could have dreamt of in the past.*

How does God respond to these challenges against his rule and that of his Anointed?

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.”

God laughs at this opposition. And then he turns to the rulers of this world in fury and says something to terrify them: they have already been displaced by a greater ruler. “I have set my King on Zion.”

The first Christmas was the birth of that king. As the song goes—and I find it so interesting that so many non-Christians sing this every year,

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Mary had some idea, yes. And God the Father knew. The one who anointed Jesus to fill that role knew.

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.”

Jesus came to this earth to seek and to save the lost. He told us this himself, and he accomplished it at his first coming—the one he launched on Christmas day 2000-plus years ago.

But that first coming was never meant to be the final one. Psalm 2 predicted it: one day Christ will come and make all the nations his, possessing the entire globe—even though it will take great violence for him to do so. When God’s anointed takes up a rod of iron, the nations opposing him will be dashed in pieces like a ceramic vase on your kitchen floor.

One day Christ will “make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness.” And how do you think he’s going to do that? By fulfilling Psalm 2.

So Psalm 2 has counsel for the kings of the earth:

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.

Come obediently and fearfully before this king—O, come, let us adore him. Rejoice at his coming, yes, but do so with trembling. The King of Kings salvation brings, yes, let loving hearts enthrone him—yes. But one day it will no longer be possible to do these things. His wrath will be quickly kindled, and some will perish.

Now this is a scary psalm, not a text normally turned to at Christmas time. But I get to end on a positive note, because the psalm does. During this era of opposition to Christ, it is possible to take refuge in him. The same ruler who will, yes, be dashing his enemies to pieces will have behind him a host of people whom he has rescued from among those very enemies. What the writer of Psalm 2 saw was far off in the future, and it may still be. What he did not mention is all the time in between, the time in which we all are permitted to “take refuge in him,” to be in a state called “blessed.”

When the Bible makes a claim—that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He rules the world with truth and grace, that he died for our sins, rose from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us—when the Bible makes those claims, take refuge in him by believing them.

We live right now in rebel territory, the one tiny spot in all the cosmos that we know of that has been permitted to turn against its true ruler. Stars, I presume, don’t do this. They obey. Whole galaxies of stars likewise. But on our little blue planet, we think we can go our own way despite being upheld every moment by his hand. When you live in rebel territory but are loyal to the true king, and when that king is in a kind of exile, an exile that last a long time, it’s tempting to go with the flow and accept whatever illegitimate ruler is placed over you—from Baal to Napoleon to conspicuous consumption of material stuff. But Christians are exiles in our society, because we’re the ones blessed to take refuge in him even before he comes to set the world right.

Christmas was a down payment on the salvation of the planet. God broke into creation mightily and gloriously. He sent his Anointed King to earth as a tiny baby. Take refuge in him.

* I really like Kristof. A lot. I respect him, I really do. So I find it all the more funny and interesting that his objections to Christ’s virgin birth and Resurrection are so flimsy. He sounds like an unreconstructed theological liberal of the 19th century.

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  1. Paul

    I memorized this psalm many years ago, but only after memorizing it did I come to realize all the many quotations of it and allusions to it elsewhere in Scripture. It’s one of my favorite psalms.

    • Mark Ward

      Amen. Me too.

  2. Troy

    Thanks for these excellent Christmas reflections on Psalm 2. We can’t only focus on the niceties of the Christmas season but must instead see the incarnation within the full scope of God’s plan.

  3. Brent Karding

    Thanks for that sermon, Mark! The second-to-last paragraph, about living “in rebel territory,” really resonated with me. That thought deserves some meditation. We’re loyalists living in a land with everyone around us fomenting rebellion, and it is indeed easy to start listening to the rebels and submitting to their rulers because it makes life easier in a way. That’s why we need to take the king’s letters that he wrote from exile to encourage us and let them burn in our hearts, so we’ll remember that things won’t always be this way.

    • Mark Ward

      Thanks for the kind word, Brent. And the biggest problem for me is that those fomenting rebellion around me have a beachhead in my own heart. Till Christ finally does smash the nations with a rod of iron.