RAGING NATIONS/ DANGEROUS GOD – Pete Bauer (Overcoming the Rage of the World)
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 9th, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Ps 2.
The Nations Are Raging.
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,’Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
Why Do the Nations Rage? But we no longer live in the situation of the ancient Israelites, so in what sense does this militaristic Psalm apply to our lives in the present day? We are not under military threat. But there is a sense in which the exclusive worship of Jesus makes people rage – or react to angrily. People rage against any exclusivistic claim or notion that Jesus is the Son of God. People rage against what the Scriptures teach. They rage against the way Christians live. The author, Christopher Hitchens has written a book entitled, “God is Not Great: How religion poisons everything”.
What the Psalmist says is very true – people rage against God. And in some instances, the church in its teaching or example has given reasons for people to be disappointed or angry – with the church. Yet, even if every failure and corruption and shallow message of the church were removed – people would still rage against the church and speak against Christian faith and malign it and explain it away – and they would still rage against God
Why? Why do they rage? Why bother to expend the energy? Because people are already worshipping something – and our exclusive claim of the way of Jesus is a threat to the other things people worship. In fact, Paul says, in 2 Cor.2:15-16, that the Gospel smells, to those who do not know Jesus, like a corpse. In other words, when we talk about Jesus to someone who is worshipping sex or money or power of comfort, the thing they are worshipping smells like death in the presence of the true worship of Jesus. And this is why people rage.
The Dangerous and Unthreatened God Loves Us.
God Remains the Dangerous and Almighty King, Despite What We See Happening Around Us: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
Psalm 2 is the kind of thing you write when there are enemies on your doorstep – raging and threatening. Whatever the threat was, (and Israel was often under threat), the Psalmist, rather than expressing fear, expresses confidence in a God who is the Great King and Ruler of the earth – and who can laugh and scoff at any attempted uprising. In other words, Psalm 2 is a Psalm of confidence, probably written during a time of threat, that calls Israel to see God as the great and unchallenged King that he is: Powerful, Dangerous and Unchallenged by the raging and plots of mankind.
And this is what Psalm 2 calls us to recognize as well. Despite all of the rage and anger and unbelief that is expressed towards God and towards the church… Despite the fact that the church has, at many times and in many places and in many ways failed to be the true reflection of what we are called to be… Despite all of the fearful, violent mayhem and unbelief and the changing technologies that make people feel like we are entering into a new age when things like faith are obsolete and pointless… God remains Powerful, Dangerous and Unchallenged – and gracious.
The Dangerous God is Nevertheless Compassionate: The Psalmist speaks about God – the Great and Unchallenged King – as laughing and scoffing at those who rage. This is a picture of confidence, meant to communicate confidence to the people of God.
Yet, we should not take from this Psalm the idea that we are to scoff and laugh at those who rage. Rather, despite the fact that God is the Great and unchallenged King, nevertheless he does not scoff at those who rage but rather shows compassion – and this is expressed again and again in the NT…
- John 3:16 – God so loved the world (substitute “nations” there)
- Matt.5:43-48 – You have heard it said love you friends and hate your enemies, but I tell you, Love your enemies…
- Rom.2:1 You have no excuse, who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
- Rom.12:21 – Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And if all of these Scriptures are not enough, we have the cross, on which Jesus died for the sins of his enemies who were raging at him.
Reading Psalm 2 through a New Lens: And so, now, we are able to re-imagine Psalm 2 in a less militaristic way. Psalm 2 is a Psalm of confidence and confrontation. God Almighty demands to be worshipped and obeyed – He has installed his King (Jesus) – but now we see that his desire is not to destroy his enemies. Rather God looks on them with compassion – not desiring that any of them live out their lives in emptiness and die – but that they might come to Jesus and find meaning and freedom and live.
The Dangerous God Takes Us Over.
God’s Son Has Broken Us and We Have Become His Inheritance: “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, you shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
The Psalmist writes out of a cultural understanding – the idea of military conquest. In essence the Psalmist is saying: This is what God told me – I am his son (that is, the Nation of Israel) and God has promised the entire earth to me – to destroy all the threatening armies and rule.
But the Psalmist’s understanding of conquest is expanded in the NT. What God has always really been after – from the Time of Abraham – is that his people would be a blessing to the whole earth. God’s desire is not bloody conquest, but to deliver people from empty worship and destructive lives – to worship and know and trust Him, the living God.
And so, God sent his Son, Jesus, on conquest – to take over the nations as his inheritance. And Jesus, who alone had the right from God to do so, defeated us and shattered us, not with a rod of iron, but with his death on the cross for us. Jesus, by his death, showed us the true nature of our sin and rebellion. Jesus by his resurrection showed us the possibility of forgiveness and freedom and life of the sons of God. And so, we are now bought with a price – taken over – not our own. We have become the inheritance – the joyful possession of Jesus. He claims us for his own.
The Dangerous God Has Made Us Dangerous As We Love Others.
Therefore, Nations Be Warned – God’s People are the Real Threat! “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”
The Psalm ends with a threat and a call to the nations to surrender and worship God. The Psalm has come full circle – the nations who are threatening God’s people are themselves the ones who are – and always were – under threat. They need to fall down and worship Almighty God – to take refuge in him lest he become angry with them. It is as though a king marched against a city and surrounded it, only to find that, inside the city was a great power to whom he owed his allegiance – so that he came inside the city in submission. This is the final image the psalmist leaves us with – what Israel actually is – the mighty son – the people of God – the city of God.
But we know what happened to Israel – how they failed to be the people of God – how they became just like the nations around them. Therefore, the fulfillment of this Psalm only comes about at the coming of Jesus, and the new people of God – not a military people but a spiritual one. So now, the challenge of this Psalm is for us to begin to think about the church, and ourselves, in this way. Not as a threatening military power backed by God, but as a people who have come to know the love of God – and who, for that reason, have become something dangerous in the world – because we carry the Love of Christ that overcomes the world – people’s raging, hatred and unbelief.