Posted by: stpowen | February 25, 2013

Rebellion against God: ‘Why do the Nations Rage?’

Jeremiah 18:11-12. ‘Now therefore speak to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, saying, ”Thus says the LORD; ‘Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one of you from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.’” And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”’

Romans 1:28. ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.’

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.

Read Psalm 2.
My reasons for bringing the Second Psalm to your attention today are partly because of its contemporary interest- the nations have certainly been raging in recent times, and the rulers of our nation have certainly been plotting together against the word of God- but mostly because I want to encourage you if you are a Christian today. I want you to lift your eyes up from this world with all its alarms and uncertainty and to look with the eyes of faith into heaven to see there the tranquillity, the certainty and the fixed purpose that exists there. If you are not a Christian today, be afraid; be very, very afraid; for you have set yourself up as a rebel against God and you need to submit to Him while there is still time.

This psalm itself contains no inscription, so it does not tell us who wrote it; but Acts 4:25 tells us that it was David: ‘…. Who by the mouth of Your servant David has said, “Why did the nations rage……?” The first part of David’s life was very turbulent. God had made certain promises to him, but he spent many years as an outlaw, hiding in caves and woods, and it must have seemed impossible that God could keep His word. But David continued to trust God and eventually, despite all that his enemies could do, he became king of Israel. It is David who writes this Psalm out of experience, as one who has tried and proved the power and the purpose of God.

Psalm Two, like Psalm One, is a poem of contrasts. Psalm 1 compares the godly man with the ungodly. Psalm Two contrasts the purposes of men with the purpose of God. It has a very clear and simple structure. It divides itself neatly into four sections of three verses each. In the first section, we see the nations and their leaders conspiring against God. In the second section, God mocks them; in the third, He publishes His decree, and in the fourth the worldly rulers are advised to submit. There is also a sort of A-B-B-A structure to the psalm, which has nothing to do with Swedish pop groups but is a structure typical of Hebrew poetry; the first scene is on earth; the second and third scenes take place in heaven, and the last is back on earth once more. Let’s look at what God is saying to us.

Vs. 1-3. ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.”’

So our first scene is set on earth, and the nations are raging. The word translated ‘rage’ in the A.V. and the NKJV is a difficult one. If you are looking at the NIV it says ‘conspire.’ In the NKJV margin, it suggests ‘throng tumultuously’ which is a good rendering. The nations, says David, are in tumult. They are like a turbulent sea (cf. Isaiah 57:20), tossing to and fro, throwing up bits of spray and spume and generally rocking the boat. It’s a confused picture.. And the people are plotting a vain thing- they are thinking up something worthless; something futile, fruitless, empty; something doomed to failure. What are they doing? They are rejecting the rule of God and that of the Lord Jesus Christ over creation. The great men of the world- the politicians, the opinion formers, the pundits- are saying effectively to God, “We’re not going to be bound by Your old-fashioned morality; we’re not going to follow Your commandments. We’re going to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong and follow the devices and desires of our own hearts.”

The amazing thing is that these verses were written 3,000 years ago and yet they describe the very thing that is happening today. The Bible is a very old book, but it is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newspapers. Way back in ancient times people were rebelling against the Lord. It’s nothing new! The natural state of men and women is hatred against the true and living God. Paul tells us in Romans 8:7 that, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ People haven’t changed all down the ages. They hate the idea of being subject to God’s laws. They are like the folk in the parable of Luke 19, who declared, ‘We will not have this Man to reign over us.’

And of course, over the years, rulers have tried to exclude God from their nations. The Soviet Union, China, Albania and North Korea were all set up as atheist states. Emva Hoxha, the President of Albania after World War II, declared that he had ‘abolished God.’ But the people in this psalm aren’t atheists; they believe in God. They just don’t want to be under His rule. They are exactly like David Cameron and Barak Obama today. Maybe you’re like that too. Maybe you’re not so foolish (Psalm 14:1) to suppose that the universe could somehow make itself. You believe in God, and you approve of some of His laws, like not killing people, but you don’t see why He has such a down on same-sex marriage, adultery or covetousness. If that’s the case, you are just like the people described in verse three; you are a rebel against God.

Vs. 4-6. ‘He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.”’

So what is God’s reaction to this rebellion? Is He concerned, worried, afraid? No, He laughs! Not because it’s funny, but because it’s pathetic. Have you ever seen a little toddler fly into a tantrum because he can’t have his own way and start pummelling his father’s or mother’s knees with his tiny fists? What’s the parents’ reaction? Why, they laugh! The child can’t hurt them. And so it is when men plot and rebel against God; they can do nothing to hurt or hinder His designs. The Roman Emperor Diocletian had a medal struck bearing the inscription, ‘The name of Christians being extinguished.’ He was so proud of having persecuted God’s people. Yet within twenty years of that medal being struck, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. We see the same in China today, and in many other countries where Christianity is growing at a tremendous pace in the teeth of vicious opposition. God scoffs at Man’s attempts to overthrow Him. But that does not mean that He pardons the rebellion. Look at verses five and six. There is a whole sermon in that one word, ‘Yet.’ God is saying, “Yet, despite all your rebellion, your false religion, your philosophies, your scepticism, your political institutions; despite all that men can do against Me, yet I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.”

Do you see the contrast here between earth and heaven in these verses? Here, everything is in turmoil; there all is calm and ordered. Down here, there is darkness and confusion; in heaven, there is light and clarity. Here, there is uncertainty; there, God’s purposes are fixed and sure. Be assured that despite all appearances to the contrary, these purposes are being worked out here on earth. God is not the cause of evil, but He turns even the most sinful acts of men for His own purposes and for His own glory. What was the most wicked act ever perpetrated by men? Surely it was when King Herod, the priests and the people came together to slay the Holy, Sinless, Perfect Son of God. Yet even as they were doing that, they were fulfilling God’s eternal plan for saving sinners (Acts 4:27). God is sovereign; He will do all His will. ‘There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD’ (Prov. 21:30. cf. Dan. 4:35). The kingdom of heaven is not a democracy, thank God. He is its absolute Ruler and it is His will that all power and all authority should be exercised through the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘’There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

We should be in no doubt that the ‘King’ spoken of here is indeed the Lord Jesus. The word which the modern translations render rather pathetically as ‘Anointed One’ in verse 2 would be better translated ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ as it is in Acts 4:26, and in verse 6, Christ is indeed the King installed, not in Jerusalem as now is (Gal. 4:25), but at the right hand of the Father in the Jerusalem which is above (Psalm 110:1-2; Gal. 4:26), that is, in heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ is reigning right now ‘in the midst of His enemies.’ He is a three-fold King: He is His enemies’ King, He is His people’s King and He is His Father’s King. Let’s look at the next section:

Vs. 7-9. ‘I will declare the decree: the LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”’

This is the Lord Jesus speaking and He declares God’s decree: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’ Now when was this decree issued? In eternity! God’s decrees are eternal and they were issued in eternity (eg. Eph. 1:4; Titus 1:2), and so Christ is the eternally begotten Son. ‘But you, Bethlehem……out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting’ (Micah 5:2). In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1). There was never a time when the Lord Jesus was not the Only begotten Son. The Apostles Creed tells us that He is, ‘Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.’ Jesus Christ is very God of very God, far above all created beings. ‘For to which of the angels did [God] ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten you”’ (Heb. 1:5).

And it is to the Eternal Son that all the nations and the uttermost ends of the earth have been delivered. Did not Christ say to His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore go and make disciples……”? What a wonderful encouragement that is to us as we seek to do our evangelism! We are not salesmen, trying to pass of some dodgy product that people don’t really need; we are ambassadors of heaven, come to announce terms of peace to God’s rebellious subjects. There is a day coming when God’s longsuffering will come to an end, and when Christ will return to claim His possession, and when He does the time of grace will be over; it will be a time of judgement. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them like a potter’s vessel.’ ‘And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”’ (Rev. 6:15-17. cf. 19:11ff).

Now this is where modern evangelism goes wrong. We pussyfoot about. We concentrate on “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” at the expense of the call to repentance. We call upon people to “Make Jesus lord in your heart.” You can’t make Jesus lord; He is Lord, and people need to know it! When I was a young man at University many years ago, people from the Christian Union were very diligent to tell me on several occasions that Jesus loved me, and I was very happy to believe them. But that never caused me to repent and to trust in Christ for salvation. Why should I? He loved me already. It was years later that I came to realise that I was a lost sinner and a rebel and under God’s wrath. But for His grace and mercy I might have perished in my ignorance and rebellion. No one in the New Testament tells unconverted people that Jesus loves them. Peter says, “Be saved from this perverse generation,” and Paul warns that, “[God] has appointed a day when He will judge the world by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 2:40; 17:31). The message that won the Roman Empire to Christ had a harder edge than the one that is commonly preached today.

Vs. 10-12. ‘ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed you judges 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, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are they who put their trust in Him.’

The wise and clever people, the opinion-formers, the ‘good and the great’ need to humble themselves before Christ. They need to ‘Kiss the Son.’ What does that mean? Well, in ancient times, when one nation had defeated another, the victorious king would set up his throne at the gate of the conquered city and the defeated chieftains would come and kneel before him and kiss his foot or his signet ring as a sign of subjection and loyalty. Any who refused to do so would be slain at once. So, if there’s anyone here today who has not done so before, you need to kiss the Son. You need to humble yourself, end your rebellion against Him, repent of your sin and wickedness, and put your trust in Him and in His blood shed upon the cross for your salvation.

For until you do that, you are in great danger. You may ‘Perish in the way,’ perish in your rebellion and forfeit any opportunity of salvation. You do not know how long you will live. You do not know if you will ever hear the words of salvation again. Maybe this is your last chance. Maybe even now God is saying of you what He said of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:7): “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” At any time you may die in your sins and be lost eternally. So hear what these verses are telling you: ‘Be wise……be instructed…..Kiss the Son!’ But also hear what God says of those who do so: ‘Blessed are they who put their trust in Him.’ He does not say, “Blessed are they who try harder,” or “Blessed are they whom pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” He says, “Blessed are they who put their trust in Christ.” Those conquered chieftains who came to submit to their new king had no idea whether he would accept them or chop their heads off. But you can know that if you will come to Christ sincerely in repentance and faith, you will be blessed; His word assures you of it. Come to Him now. Kiss the Son; that is, come to God through Christ who has done upon the cross everything necessary to make you acceptable to Him, and know the certainty and the joy of sins forgiven, and the glorious prospect that what you now see only through the eyes of faith will be wonderfully fulfilled when you see your Saviour face to face. Blessed- eternally blessed- are they who put their trust in Him.

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