Exegesis

Piety

Preaching

Psalm 2 at Christmas

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.

Culture

Personal

Piety

Condoms and Consent

Mark Regnerus in Public Discourse:

Saying that it’s all on men to change their behavior may signal progressive virtue online, but it will do little to diminish real-life grief. The realities of sexual exchange will not disappear and cannot be eviscerated by fiat or reformed by speech rules. And eventually, the social media shaming will come to an end. Then what?

Regnerus suggests establishing and/or reinforcing cultural norms, clear “no-fly” zones in which men know not to make a pass and women insist on the boundaries.

I have a two-part suggestion for my fellow members of the XY chromosome club, one that comes from the inventor of sex: 1) marriage is a “fly zone”; 2) every other situation is not.

Rachel Lu shows through her experience in the Peace Corps that the progressive liberal method of chucking abstinence before marriage and boiling the norms down to condoms and consent still puts women (especially women, but not only women) in danger:

If you’re accustomed to thinking of Hollywood as a cesspool of sin and vice, you may not find [the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, et al.] surprising. Many were surprised, though. Progressives assume that their own mores protect and affirm women while the traditionalists objectify and repress. It’s worth thinking through the logic of a libertine environment, to see how mistaken this reasoning may be.

Traditional sinners and progressive ones can both objectify and repress women; there are ditches on both sides of the highway. But which worldview best protects and affirms them? I believe it is the one that says they’re made in the image of God, just like men, and that their sexuality is a precious gift meant for their husbands alone (Prov 5:15–19). My wife and I have talked this over extensively: we see clearly that biblical guardrails shaped our singleness toward the happy marriage we now enjoy. We are so grateful that the fly and no-fly zones were clear—and were reinforced by our Christian communities.

Lu shows the mistakenness in the progressive worldview by describing what it was like as a conservative Mormon to be in a libertine environment, the Peace Corps of the early 2000s.

In the absence of a more elevated sexual ethic, baser realities tend to assert themselves. No social engineering can really change the fact that men have a higher sex drive than women, while women remain more vulnerable in sexual encounters. Any sane response to this will demand that men take reasonable steps to discipline themselves, and women to protect themselves. Society at large should support both efforts, while providing especially strong protections for children, the most vulnerable of all. Obviously there is much room here for debating what is “reasonable,” but if we reject even that broad framework, we inevitably set the stage for uncomfortable professional and social dynamics, which may also facilitate more-serious forms of sexual predation.

And she makes this very important point:

“Consent” offers at least some standard of behavior as a lowest common denominator that no decent person can reject. That principle is grossly inadequate, though, for grounding a healthy sexual dynamic. Rape, after all, is not the only form of sexual misbehavior. If it’s the only one we discourage, we’re likely to end up with more rapists.

I love my liberal neighbor, and I want to ask him or her, are you sure that your sexual ethic is leading to human flourishing? Are any partisans for the sexual revolution out there engaging in any true soul-searching, or are they going to pin the Weinsteinian downfalls on a few bad apples? Perhaps the apples are rotten because the tree is—but God is in the business of replanting people. Repent and believe.

KJV

Linguistics

Authorized on Lexicon Valley

Check out my interview with John McWhorter on his Lexicon Valley podcast! McWhorter actually read the book, and I concur with him when he says in the piece, “I get it, Mark.” He does, he clearly does. I’m praying that a lot of Christians join him in getting it.

And for you faithful blog readers, here’s a small bonus part of the interview that got cut from the final product:

Image of John McWhorter from CNN.com.

Pre-order Authorized now at Amazon or Lexham/Logos; the price may change after the book releases in January.

Culture

The Labels “Republican” and “Evangelical” for a Christian Pilgrim

A top-rated relative asked me what I thought of Peter Wehner’s piece in the New York Times, “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself An Evangelical Republican.” This was my reply:

***

I kept saying “Amen” the whole time. I feel the pain of anyone who is sick, sick, sick of being “evangelical” and “Republican” in the Trump era.

Republican

But as for formal voter registration, I remain registered as a Republican and will continue to do so as long as 1) there are effectively only two political parties in the U.S. and 2) the GOP platform aligns more closely with my views than does the Democratic platform. I could totally see another faithful Christian choosing differently here. I feel quite open to disagreement here, especially since November 8, 2016.

I have publicly vowed (something I do not do lightly) never to vote for a pro-abortion candidate on the strength of this article by John Piper, which has never ceased to be persuasive to me. He basically argues that being pro-bribery, pro-extortion, or pro-racism would disqualify a candidate—so why wouldn’t something even worse, pro-killing-babies? This makes it unlikely that I will ever vote for a Democrat, if only because they (as Kenneth Woodward describes with chagrin in his Getting Religion) chose a long time ago not to permit a pro-life wing to develop in their ranks. As long as they think it’s okay to murder unborn babies, I’m out.

Though I would love to say “good riddance” to the Republicans, and though the national leadership is frustrating and galling and emetic to me, and though I think David Brooks is right that they’ve made a deal with the devil and ruined the “evangelical” name for a generation—registering as an Independent (which would feel so good!) only means that I don’t get to vote in primaries and try to push the party back toward my more or less “conservative” political ideals. I have little hope right now that that will ever happen, but I have even less hope that it will happen with the Democrats—even though I do share some of their values and I refuse to demonize them. Politics is about choosing the best means to ends that a lot of us, left and right, still agree on.

I’m willing to abstain from given votes: I did not vote for Trump but went third-party. But I want to abstain as a Republican so that the party leadership comes to see me and mine as a constituency to please. 2016 showed us that anything is possible in American politics. It’s possible that the party will lurch back toward its Burkean conservative roots. There are other “Biblical Refuseniks” out there. There have to be, if my Facebook feed is any indication. I’m holding out a little hope that I’m letting the feelings of the moment sway me too much, that the good the GOP has done isn’t all rotting around me.

Evangelical

As for “evangelical,” words about religious groups will always have sociological and theological definitions; they’ll be defined by the people that actually make up the group and by the ideals that were supposed to have formed it and still, at least officially, guide it.

Sociologically, empirically, the polls seem to be saying that self-described “evangelicals” are woefully shot through with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and nationalistic civil religion. They apparently deserve their hero, Donald Trump. I don’t identify with that crowd at all; I’m ashamed of what they’ve done to the precious Bible word, “evangelical.”

But, theologically, I do identify doctrinally with the 1) biblicism, 2) conversionism, 3) activism, and 4) crucicentrism (the Bebbington Quadrilateral) that generally define evangelicalism among people who try to map out such things. And until the sociological and theological definitions drive so far apart that one has to give, I’m happy enough to call my theology “evangelical” (Bible word, remember). Labels will always be contested. I think this one still is; neither side has won.

I’m a Christian; I’m a pilgrim who lays no permanent claim on this world—yet. I’m waiting for the next age when Christ will put it all under his feet. So I care a lot more about “evangelical” than I do about “Republican.” And I lead with neither, especially now, and especially if doing so tends to conflict with my goals as a Christian pilgrim.

Books

Personal

Thanks for Praying

I talked with John McWhorter this morning for about 45 minutes to record an episode of Lexicon Valley focused on my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. I’m an even bigger fan of the guy after this experience; I’m still both shocked and over the moon that he’d pick up a book by a no-name Christian author and actually read it. He did, as his interview questions prove, and he totally got it, as I knew he would. I encourage you to sign up for his podcast, as I have done since before he even came on the show. I still think that good Bible interpretation has a lot to do with being sensitive to the way language works. McWhorter makes that kind of learning go down as easily as possible.

A few of you prayed that I’d have discretion and wisdom as I spoke. I feel as if the Lord answered our prayers with a yes, but you be the judge: the episode in which I appear should be released next Tuesday around noon Eastern time.

(Note: though McWhorter does occasionally discuss—I didn’t say “use”—explicit language, he does so in what I’d consider an appropriate way given the linguistics focus of his entertaining and nerdy show. And warnings occur before those episodes. Cf. Phil 3:8.)

Pre-order Authorized now at Amazon or Lexham/Logos; the price may change after the book releases in January.