Most people would appreciate some help when it comes to praying.
Many of us doubt whether God hears us if we pray. Many of us are unsure what we ought to pray for. Which means many of us don’t.
If you were here last week, we began a journey through the first few chapters in the book of Psalms. Psalms is part of the Bible, which means it’s God’s word to us. But unusually, it also contains our words to God. It’s a collection of hymns and prayers, for the people of God, all down the ages. It’s God giving us words to pray, and words to sing.
Which means, when it comes to praying, help is at hand.
We also said that the first two Psalms are slightly different from the other 148. The first two act as a kind of introduction for the whole book of Psalms. They tell us about the kind of attitude we should have as we come to pray. How should we see ourselves, see God, see the world, if we’re to approach God in the right way.
Psalm 1 told us that there are two approaches to life. A road to life, and a road to destruction. And before we come to pray, the most important thing is to make sure we’re on the road to life.
Psalm 2 does something similar. We’ll work through it in a moment, but let’s start first at the end. The last line of verse 12 says: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him”, that is, in God. That word, “blessed”, is the same word that opened Psalm 1. Psalm 1, verse 1: “Blessed is the one who …” Those two sentences form a kind of bracket around the first two Psalms.
Psalm 2 will tell us the path to being blessed by God. The road through life that enjoys God’s favour, his goodness, his blessing.
And as we come to pray, we need to know this path to blessing for ourselves. We need to know what it is to be those who are blessed, to be those who take refuge in God.
But we also need to know this path of blessing for others. We look out on a turbulent world. Full of chaos, pain and difficulty. We need to be clear: Where does God put his blessing? How do we make sense of this world if we are to pray for people and situations within it?
So Psalm 2 is the second half of our orientation. Part 2 of getting our bearings in the world as we come to pray.
It has 12 verses, and it divides clearly into 4 blocks of 3 verses each. Let’s work our way through. I’ll give each block a heading.
First up, verses 1 to 3: A rebel alliance. Rebel alliance.
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’”
The nations of the world are in turmoil.
It’s a scene full of energy. They’re conspiring. Raging.
It’s a scene full of scheming. They’re plotting. Whispering away in the corner to each other.
Trying to work out how to get rid of this troublesome God.
Trying to get rid of this troublesome God and his anointed king.
In our day, we crown someone when they become king or queen. They have a coronation. Back in that day, they were anointed. They had olive oil poured on them ceremonially.
The people of Israel had a king who reigned in Jerusalem. King David was the first.
It’s a big theme in the Bible, God’s anointed king in Jerusalem. This Psalm will lay that theme out for us. For now, you have a pair who rule together. The Lord God in heaven, and his anointed king on earth.
And the nations are raging, plotting, mumbling, trying to find a way to rid themselves of this pesky pair.
The word for “plotting” is actually the same word as the word for “meditates” in Psalm 1, verse 2. The nations, and their rulers, should be talking about God, his wonderful ways, his wonderful laws.
Instead they’re talking about how to overthrow God and his rule.
This is the United Nations. The word “together” in verse 2 is emphatic. The nations have come together to overthrow the God they see as a tyrant. Nothing like a common enemy to bring people together, and the hatred of God can be very powerful at creating unity.
Here’s what they say, verse 3: “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’”
That’s how they think of God. They think he’s treating them like slaves, and treating them like animals. The “shackles” are the ropes you’d use to keep your animals in line.
That’s how they think God treats them. So their rallying cry is “freedom”!
In Acts chapter 4, the apostles are forbidden from preaching about the risen Jesus. As they turn to pray, the words of this psalm are on their lips. The death of Jesus is the peak example of powers and authorities wishing they could get rid of God, and his chosen king in Jerusalem.
Now, as we come to pray, we have to recognise that this is indeed how the nations of this world can behave. Nations, and other institutions.
You get some nations explicitly hating God and his people, making it illegal to convert to Christianity, and using imprisonment and death to enforce that.
But you get it more subtly as well. Leaders, parliaments, seeing the authority they have to rule as absolute. No recognition that they are themselves under the authority of God. So passing laws that go against what God says about when life begins and how it should end, abortion and euthanasia, as though we were free to make up the rules for ourselves.
Not just nations. Other institutions too. Workplaces treating employees like their property. Or the dear Church of England, of which we are a part, having its bishops make public statements that undermine what God has to say about marriage.
“Freedom”, they cry. “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’”
But it’s not just nations, institutions, structures. It’s you and me, if we’re honest.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, do you not look at God and see his ways, his rules, his approach to life, as a form of slavery that cramps your freedom. Do you not cry out with the kings and nations of this psalm for “freedom”? Freedom from such old fashioned rules?
This rebel alliance is not just a description of “them out there”. It’s a description of “us in here”. It’s a description of my own heart. And yours.
And yet, as we’ll see as we work through the psalm, this rebellion is utterly irrational. The psalm opens with the word “why”. Why would nations do this? Why would we do this? We do, but it makes no sense. As we’ll see.
Let’s move on to verses 4 to 6. God responds to this rebellion. The heading here is “roaring laughter”. Roaring laughter.
Let’s read verses 4 to 6. “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’”
On the face of it, this rebellion could have been threatening and intimidating for God. Nations across the face of the planet, joining forces against a common enemy, to scheme and to plot his overthrow.
So does he feel threatened by this?
Not a bit. He finds the rebellion absolutely hilarious.
He roars with laughter.
He’s never seen anything so funny in all his life.
It’s like having a goldfish revolt against its owner.
It’s like a dandelion plant deciding it’s going to root itself into your lawn so you cannot dig it out.
The other week, I saw a car that decided to take on a brick wall. A few years back, another decided to pick a fight with an oak tree. In both cases, the car lost.
These nations look so intimidating. We rebel against our maker and it feels so real. But it’s actually a massive joke.
It may be that you don’t like the idea of God roaring with laughter.
It’s actually not a laughing matter at all, this. Verse 4 tells us that God laughs, but then in verse 5 God speaks. And, to coin a phrase, he is not amused.
It may be hilarious that we think we can take on the maker of heaven and earth, and win. But God is angry at such insolence. And when he catches up with us, it really won’t be funny at all.
And people can do a lot of damage, cause a lot of hurt, when they defy their maker like this. So for those who find themselves on the receiving end of the lawlessness, the selfishness, the exploitation, of those who want to throw off God’s good ways, it is tragic rather than funny.
But from God’s point of view, the idea that we can shake our puny fists in his face is hilarious. It’s like punching the wall. No idea why we thought we could hurt God, but somehow we did. But we only hurt ourselves.
Rebel alliance. Roaring laughter.
Then third, a royal son. A royal son. Verses 7 to 9.
Here’s why our rebellion is so futile it’s funny. God’s installed his chosen king in Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem. And then that chosen king speaks. He tells us his words of coronation. The words God spoke on the day he was made king.
“I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’”
One king to rule them all.
When God installs his king, he pronounces him his son.
This comes from 2 Samuel chapter 7. God promises David that he’ll always have a descendant to rule on his throne, and he says this: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” All the privileges of being a son will be his. He’ll be a son of God.
Then God says that this kingdom will not just rule over Judah. Nor even just rule over Israel. This king will rule every nation on earth. The ends of the earth will be his possession.
That kind of language is extraordinary. Jerusalem is set on a pretty small hill really. The kings of ancient Israel never had a particularly large territory. They certainly never had an empire, of the kind that Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Greece enjoyed. So the idea that the kings of Israel would eventually rule over the whole earth seems exaggerated.
These promises to the descendants of King David are way too big for any of his immediate descendants to fulfil.
Which is why the New Testament opens, in Matthew chapter 1, with Jesus’ family tree. Many modern readers find that boring, but it’s everything but. It shows that Jesus can trace his ancestry back to David.
And then he’s baptised in the River Jordan, and he hears these words: “This is my Son, whom I love”. Psalm 2, verse 7.
He’s the one this promise was looking forward to.
Things could have got derailed a bit after that. He went into the wilderness where the devil tempted him. In one of those temptations, he took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. “All these I will give you, if you bow down and worship me”, said Satan.
Essentially, Satan said to Jesus: “Ask of me, and I’ll give you…” Only the nations of the world aren’t his to give.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He’ll have those nations, but he’ll do it God’s way. He goes to the cross, and dies in our place. He rises from the dead victorious. And then he gathers his disciples together and says this, Mathew chapter 28, verses 18 and 19: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”
All the nations have been given to him. And it’s their job and ours to turn those nations into disciples of Jesus.
Just before he ascended into heaven, he gathered the disciples again. And he said this to them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is how the nations of this world will become Jesus’ inheritance, become his possession. As people like us go to the ends of the earth and bear witness to him. Make them disciples.
But willingly or not, every nation belongs to him in fact, and one day will belong to him in practice.
In Luke 19, Jesus told a parable about a man who went away to be appointed king. Some of the citizens of that country sent a message after him: “We do not want this man to be our king”. But he was made king. And he did come back. And he dealt with those who said they did not want him as their king.
Many of the nations of this world, and many people all over the world, will gladly choose to be part of the inheritance of the Lord Jesus. But it is not an option. It is required. And those who persist in saying of Jesus, “We do not want this man to be our king” will find that he becomes so anyway.
Those who persist in resisting will find themselves broken. Like broken pottery being smashed.
There is a company that for £35 offers you a 10 minute smashing session. You book your slot, and as you book you choose your choice of music and choice of weapon. They give you safety gear to wear, and off you go.
There’s something seriously wrong with taking pleasure in breaking things. And the Lord Jesus certainly derives no pleasure in breaking people. It brings him a great deal of pain and heartache. But an experience like that you’d certainly gives a taste of how fragile many everyday objects are. Indeed, who hasn’t dropped a glass or a plate and been amazed just how far the shards spread.
This Psalm is clear. This is no laughing matter. Persist in rebelling against the Lord Jesus and you will be broken.
Here’s why the rebellion is so hopeless that it is funny. Because God has installed his king. A royal son.
Road to Blessing
Which brings us to the last section of this psalm. The road to blessing. The road to blessing. Verses 10 to 12: “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
The Psalm ends with an invitation.
God does not want the nations to be dashed to pieces like pottery.
Make no mistake – if the nations continue in their wish to overthrow God and his rightful king, then that is what will happen. His wrath can flare up in a moment. Sure it can. Resist him, and keep doing so to the end of your life, and your way will lead to destruction.
But that is not how God wants the story to end.
And the ending is not a threat either.
It’s an invitation. It’s advice. Advice to take the road to blessing.
That road is to “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son”
It’s to recognise that the Lord’s ways are not the path to slavery but to freedom.
It’s to recognise that living for God is something to celebrate not something to resent.
You’re serving the God of heaven and earth, so a bit of fear, a bit of trembling, is perfectly in order. You’re in service of the king of heaven.
But he’s good. He’s very good. He’s only good. So being in the king’s service is something to rejoice over. To celebrate.
That is the path to blessing for the kings of the earth. That is the path to blessing for us.
And as we come to pray, we need to make sure that’s the road we’re on. To turn from the attitude that wants to throw off God’s rule, as something that cramps our freedom and holds us back. To celebrate God and his ways as the path to life.
And then we turn our minds to the messy situations in our own lives, in the lives of those we know, in our country, in our world. Many of them spring from people thinking they’d be better off if God wasn’t in the way.
And we come to pray, knowing that any such attempt is laughable. Those troubling situations no longer trouble us as situations that have no solution, no cure, that will run havoc forever. They may seem to pose a massive crisis to us, but they don’t pose any threat to God.
And then we have a framework within which to live our own lives, and within which to pray for many things.
The path to peace, the path to safety, the path to things being well, is found in taking refuge in God and the king he has installed.