Psalm 2:4-6 “The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’”
We have here a description of the situation in which the church finds itself in the present day. The situation is this; the world is united in its opposition to God and his Son the Christ. It is a situation where a force of immense numerical strength, of great intellectual prestige and ability is mustered against the servants of Jehovah and against the whole body of revealed Christian truth. It is later described by Jesus as his disciples being sent out as sheep into the midst of a pack of wolves. In Psalm 2 you notice that our opponents, these combatants, are bringing all their resources to bear upon this particular enterprise. They use their minds, and their imaginations, and their creativity, and their access to every kind of communication – today we would talk of the media and the whole educational industry, to the publishing houses and the newspapers, and to entertainment.
So in and through all of this they are raging against the Lord. It is an intellectual confrontation, but it is also an emotional attack too. They are completely involved in this particular anti-Christian crusade. They co-operate with one another, politicians and executives of the television companies, teachers and publishing houses, newspaper tycoons and even the famous festivals at Hay-on-Wye, Wales, and in Edinburgh, Scotland – they are in them men and women taking counsel together and they are restless that there are still people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that they believe the Bible, that these Christians believe in a God who will condemn the wicked. The atheistic hegemony is enraged that this is so. When they hear that children are taught by their parents to fear God and keep his commandments then some of them label this ‘child abuse’ and they openly wonder when government action will be taken against these mothers and fathers. Preachers in the open air have becomes a special target for their abuse. People have lost their jobs when their Christian convictions, expressed privately, have been made known to the authorities. When a Christian family baking business has refused to bake a cake celebrating homosexual marriages with pro-homosexual slogans iced upon it then they are taken to court and charged with an offence.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS RAGE AGAINST GOD.
i] The focus of their rage. We are told what is written on their banner, what their slogan is; “Let us break their chains . . . and throw off their fetters” (v.3). “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been our masters for too long,” they say. “We have been imprisoned by them for years. It is time for us to thrown off our fetters and break the chains of religion and proclaim that true freedom has at last come.” Go back to the source of the opposition than confronts these atheists. Go back to the first cause. Go back to origins. Where did it all begin? With God the Creator. It is he that has made us and not we ourselves. In the beginning he created the heavens and the earth and he made man in his image and he gave man the Ten Commandments and wrote those ethics on the hearts of everyone. That is where it began, and that is where their rage is focused. It is against the power and sovereignty and leadership of the living God whose glory is revealed day and night and who has given each of us a conscience rebuking us when we defy God. It is the response of resentment to the inescapable and obtruding authority of God. It is a rejection and repudiation of the life of Jesus Christ and his great claim that he is the way and the truth and the life and the only access to God is by him. They are opposing any right he has to exercise dominion over the whole of human life, especially over our eternal souls.
So we ask ourselves whether this isn’t exactly our own position today. Isn’t it this point at which the Christian faith sticks in men’s throats, this particular assertion of the exclusive sovereignty of Jesus Christ? In other words they may defend the rights of men and women to believe what they wish, and will even say kind words about moral principles and influences, and tolerate the good works that the Christian church does, but when we say, “He is your God too. He made the world and you, and after death we’ll all have to give an account to him and he will decide our destiny,” then their much vaunted tolerance disappears. Al Mohler the Souther Baptist Seminary President was being interviewed by talk show host Phil Donahue and Al simply repeated what Christians have believed from the time of Christ, that he is the only way to God, and you would have thought that he had shot the Queen. “You believe that is true for everybody? That those who don’t believe are going to hell? That’s arrogance!” Such media men take their stand and gather against God and Christ. They are not prepared to bow the knee and submit to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus over them. He may not exercise dominion over their lives. They are saying, “We will not have this man rule over us.” They claim that they are the ones who give us the right to gather and worship and preach. No they do not. This is a God-given right. They say that they can admire the Sermon on the Mount and I Corinthians chapter 13 about love, but they object to Jesus Christ chaining them to himself to follow him and obey him for the rest of their lives. They hate those bonds and they want to break them in pieces. So there is the focus of their rage on God in Christ.
ii] The antiquity of their rage. Atheists claim that their unbelief is simply a necessary consequence of being modern men and women. This is the essence of being 21st century people, that this is the mark of being contemporary. This is the march of progress and sophistication encouraged, they claim, by the advance of science and archaeological discoveries and the theory of evolution. There has been new research, they claim, and new information and progress and so it is intellectually impossible to hold to the teaching of the Bible. But you go back, right back to the centuries before Christ. Go back to the remotest points of antiquity 3000 years ago when David lived, and what we find is the same repudiation as today, the rejection of the one true and living God and the strongest opposition to his word. We see it here at the beginning of the book of psalms, that the whole world a thousand years before Christ was united in their resistance to the God of Genesis one.
You go back to Isaiah who lived 700 years before Christ and you find the same great fact. He preached to them with such clarity and authority and pathos of the suffering Servant of God, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace, and they looked back at him in silence. He cried, “Lord who has believed our report?” It was as discouraging then to preach the Messiah to people as it is today. And in the days of the Lord’s apostles, during the time of the decline of Greece and Imperial Rome’s domination over Europe then you read that Christians were rejected and persecuted. When Paul preached the resurrection and divine judgment at Athens this was his audience’s response, “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered” (Acts 17:32). There was the same mixed response to preaching the gospel as there is today. There was scorn, and blindness, and ignorance, and prejudice, and refusal to look at the evidence as there is today. There were books written against Christianity in the first centuries, and they beheaded and crucified Christians then just as in recent weeks.
They were mocked at that time by people who then thought the earth was flat, and that the sun went round the earth, and that our planet was the centre of the whole universe. They had no learning whatsoever, and yet in their blindness and backwardness and superstition they were convinced about one thing that Jesus of Nazareth was a blasphemer and a liar. They were as prejudiced and ungodly as Richard Dawkins, because it has nothing to do – nothing whatsoever to do with sophistication. This scorn concerning the existence of God has nothing at all to do with being contemporary or being modern. The roots of men’s centuries-old opposition to God’s word lie much deeper than that. Their resistance is earthed in the depths of human depravity and rebellion against God our Maker. The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are utter foolishness to him and he cannot know them without a significant change of heart, what the Lord Jesus called a new birth. This opposition is not because they lived 3,000 years ago and we live 3,000 years later. It is because man lacks a sense of spiritual beauty, that he is blind to the spiritual and moral glory of the Lord Jesus. You take it even to those terrible words of the apostle Paul when he tells us that the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not. And if people in the 21st century reject Christ it is not because of universal education, or superior intelligence and scientific discovery, or scholarship and learning. It is because they are blind; they’ve been blinded by the god of this world. And I wish today that those who crave so much to be considered modern and pride themselves in being contemporary would look at that, and see how old-fashioned it is to repudiate the God of the Bible and his Christ. Then shall I go beyond that? Not only is this an opposition of long standing . . .
iii] The prestigiousness of their rage. Who is leading this outcry against God? Is it the subsistence farmers, and the mothers, and the unemployed, and the beggars? No. It is the kings of the earth and the rulers. It is the movers and the shakers. They are the ones who are giving their prestige and their ability and their ingenuity and intellectual clout to this movement. They were men of self-discipline and men of indomitable determination, men whose decisions were listened to by the press, men of gifts and aptitude, men who formed public opinion. They are the ones who stand in opposition to the Lord. Paul Johnson in his book about them dubs them, The Intellectuals.
There were men at the time of our Lord Jesus who listened in amazement to his teaching and saw his mighty works and yet they said to one another afterwards in the cold light of day, “But haven’t you noticed that none of the rulers have gone after him.” His disciples were just country bumpkins from Galilee and a few fishermen and women, no great men, no public figures. And so it is today, People ask, “Did the Beatles or Tom Jones go after him? Did members of the Welsh rugby team become his followers? Hollywood hasn’t fallen before him. What TV personalities are following him? How many of the political leaders in our land confess him?” There are many people on their way to a godless eternity – and that is only the logic of their unbelief – and they are saying, “No thinking people, no intellectuals, no important people are Christians.” It was that way then, and it is that way now.
Think of the rise of atheism, where did it begin? Always with the rulers. It began in wealthy cultured Germany and Vienna, and then it spread to the U.K. and the battles of Spurgeon in the late 19th century and then across the Atlantic to America and to Machen’s fight for supernatural Christianity after the First World War. It began in universities with philosophers, and then it spread to the theology departments, and then to the arts and sciences. It began with intellectuals, and then to the bourgeois and on to the working classes. It began with learned treaties, and then it spread to Victorian novelists, and finally it reached popular music, John Lennon and the Manic Street Preachers. It began with the Bloomsbury set and the nobility, and then spread to the liberal minded intelligentsia and middle classes, and finally it reached the teenagers who showed increasing opposition to religion.
You take so many of the most famous public figures who helped and shaped the poor, calamitous and tragic 20th century and you find them standing united in total opposition to revealed religion, to God and his Christ. The men who were the giants, like Darwin, and Marx, and Freud, who have made our civilization what it is, they were the absolute supremos of the western world, the super-stars. We have imbibed their values and we practice their principles quite unconsciously. Who are they? They are the rulers of this age. They are the kings who lead the movement against Christ, and how they influence the younger generation who are so impressed that that is where the scholars stand, and the wealthy, and the famous, and the people in the media, and the big personalities, and so they gain a following, very often like lambs to the slaughter.
I ask, will they ever pause, and will they take courage, and will they ask, “Why do I take the trouble to find out what the in-crowd are thinking and think it, and find out what they are laughing at and laugh at it, and find out what they are wearing and wear it, and find out what they are buying and buy it. Why must I follow them like a lamb to the slaughter? Don’t I have the courage to think for myself?”
The psalmist says two phrases to them, “Be wise . . . be warned” (v.10). Remember Daniel in Babylon. He was wise, but by himself. Remember Athanasius how he stood alone in saying that Jesus Christ was not simply divine but that he was as much God as God himself. Athanasius was opposing the world all on his own, and he was a wise man, the wisest of his age. Weren’t Machen, and John Murray, and Van Til, and Dr. Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaeffer wise men? Be an independent thinker! Read the life of Jesus Christ, he who is so uninventable, his extraordinary personality, his meekness and majesty, holy and humble, loving and righteous at the same time, that incredible combination. It is only dead fish that have to be carried on by the river wherever the currents will take them. Go against the stream! Then you see something else, not only is it long standing and prestigious but it is immensely popular.
iv] The popularity of their rage. It was not like Islam, concentrated among the Arabs and Pakistanis and Malaysians, from where millions want to escape. This fierce opposition to God is not in some ghetto, it is world wide; all the heathen are raging; all the nations are up in arms against Jehovah and his anointed Son. There was this tremendous unanimity at the time of David, and that’s how it is still. The drops-outs and the intellectuals, the Essex man and the Oxbridge man; women and children, teenagers and the elderly, no one is exempt. Europe is indifferent; Harvard, Yale, and the Ivy League universities in the USA are quite contemptuous; the vast nation of India, over a billion people, and they are centres of world indifference and opposition to Jesus Christ.
But what of our town? What is the total church-going population? How many of the thousands who live in Ceredigion today have made their way to a place of worship? If you judge 5% then that is too high – one teenager in every 20, one man in every twenty worshipping God? No, and so it is over 95% who are alienated from our Lord and his Christ. Just 100 of the 8,000 students at the local university gather on a Friday night at the Christian Union. 7,900 are absent. People follow the tide; they go with the majority; learn what others think and think it; learn what others drink and drink it; you have the men and women who are envied, the people of prestige, and then you have their lieutenants, the party members and the holy fools who simply follow, the rank and file, the apathetic, those who drift along with the multitudes, not with commitment, for they have very little commitment. They drift; they are neither for Christ not against him in their own consciousness. And I want us to pause and ask where we stand. Do I stand with the conspiracy? Do I stand as one of the zealots? Do I stand in committed opposition? Do I stand, in spite of my presence here today, as another of the rank and file of this powerful world-wide, ancient, anti-God movement? Or do I simply drift along as the mood takes me, sometimes keen, sometimes bored?
GOD’S RESPONSE TO THIS RAGE AGAINST HIM.
Do you see this? You have the omniscient King, and he is standing before the conspiracy, surveying it all and, in the marvelous eloquence of this psalm the king says one word, “Why?” This living God whose glory and design are all around us, who has blessed us with every good and lovely thing, who sends his Son to suffer and die as the Lamb of God to save us and to become our eternal Father taking us to himself, he says, “Why?” Why do they rage against me? Why do they imagine vanities and serve them rather than me? Why do these favoured, intelligent, moral men and women cast their lot in with the atheistic conspirators? Let us ask this question.
i] Why is all this energy focused on opposing God? Look at all the activity and the planning, the column inches, the meetings, the hiring of halls, the advertising, the reporting on what was said, the publications and their promotion, the discussions on ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Today,’ the announcements of the latest books, the new court cases bringing cooks to justice, and doctors, and registrars, and owners of Bed and Breakfast establishments. Why are the police spending their time arresting open air preachers of the Bible? What intemperate zeal! What determination to silence a Christian voice and totally marginalize the faith of the Bible. What is this great evil that is being opposed so unanimously? What pestilence, what deadly epidemic – like the ebola virus – is threatening to destroy our whole civilization? What wickedness resulting in their beheadings and the destruction of communities that have existed for almost 2,000 years causing 100,000 people to flee from northern Iraq for their lives, many of them having nothing but the clothes on their backs – of what wickedness, I ask, are those Christians guilty? What is the appaling peril we followers of the Lord Jesus present to the world that police and magistrates go to such measures in their attempts to annihilate us? Who are these Christians victimizing? No one at all. Is the unborn child at risk from them? No. Is the comatose patient going to be ‘put to sleep’ that is, killed, because of us? No.
We are told that these opponents of religion are in fact opposing a King. Then he must be an appaling king if everywhere you meet such zeal seeking to destroy him. Is he a tyrant? Is he a worthy successor to Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible and Genghis Khan and Hitler and Stalin? Is he just another despot? No. Jesus is the king of love telling his followers to love one another and love their enemies and overcome their evil with good. Then why do they go to such lengths against him? What absurdity! You stand before the marvel of this biblical picture; there is a throne with a Lamb sitting on it. The Lamb has been killed. The Lamb is King Jesus. We see the young Prince of glory. Incarnate love and incarnate pity reign from that throne. What goodness, benevolence and longsuffering he shows. His judgments are all fair. What is it that justifies men’s antagonism and reluctance to be identified with him? Haven’t we seen time and time again young people, for example, students who deliberately plan their lives motivated by the fear that they might get converted? I know a student who chose to go to Lampeter University as far from any Christians he’d heard about as he could get. He was certainly not going to attend the university in Aberystwyth, and yet when he arrived in his designated room on his first night his fellow room-mate at Lampeter college he discovered was a Christian who helped him greatly come to the faith. He had been frightened that grace would get him, and that he would fall under the horrible negative influence of this king Jesus! Yet he was found by this King and coming to him had the promised rest. Another student said, “No! I don’t want to be a ‘super-Christian.’” He was frightened of the redemptive energy of God, and becoming one of his disciples. He feared the love of God flooding his heart, and being saved.
Why this fear? I must stand with the Lord and ask you the question why. Why your opposition? Why do you hesitate? Why are you reluctant? Here he is as we gather in his name, and he is inviting us to come to him to know his rest, to take his yoke upon us and learn of him for he is meek and lowly of heart and we shall find rest for our souls. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. It sounds good to me, very good. What’s the snag? Is there any snag? Is there fine print? Is it that you have to follow him, and go to where he points and refuse anything to which he says no? Are there beautiful and life-enriching things that he scowls at and opposes? Is the life of serving him soul-destroying? Is that why you so fiercely oppose him? Or again there is this . . .
ii] Why oppose God, in the light of the utter futility and patent folly of the exercise? God looks at all the huffing and puffing of this atheistic hegemony, all their endeavours to silence the people of the Way, and God laughs out loud. All the time he is adding new recruits to the kingdom of God, he is giving the new birth to multitudes, thousands every day all over the world, so many are being converted and no one can prevent that reality, while the heathen are prisoners of their imaginations, imagining vain and empty things. They are trying to stop the activities of the Almighty. They are attempting to out-manouver him, and the Lord scoffs at them. What possibility of success is there in such an enterprise? God has set his king on his holy hill of Zion. What rocket from the United Nations can dislodge him from there? Who can overthrow the sovereignty of the Lamb? Who can frustrate the decree that says, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten Thee.” What NATO summit can alter that divine decision? Who is going to change that? Can men frustrate God’s determinate purpose? A student decides he will go to Lampeter to escape from God, but that is the very place where God had determined to meet him. You cannot escape from God. He is the potter and we are mere clay. The nations of the earth at last are going to be the inheritance of our Lord Christ.
Poor men, poor dust of the earth, poor clods of ground! They spend their time, and exercise their energy and ingenuity in anti-Christian propaganda. They commit themselves to the extinction and evasion of the Christian church – how utterly futile! Because at last, what is our security? The God who sits on the throne, the Lord who holds the whole world in his hands. He has made a decree, and in that decree the permanence of Christian truth is assured. “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” In that word the church’s survival is sure; “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The triumph of the Lamb is certain.
There were the famous final words of a virulent atheist named Julian the Apostate. He was in moral and spiritual anguish and he experienced in his imagination standing before the glory of the Lamb, and he tossed out these words to Christ, “You have triumphed, O Galilean.” Now it is not for man to comment on the destiny of any individual, but it is a solemn thing to realise today that those men of immense ability, who have gone to the world beyond, and who spent much of their lives in anti-Christian commitment – I say it is a somber question to ask what are their convictions today. We are asking whether the late Christopher Hitchens still thinks that “God is Not Great” – the title of one of his books. The opinions of Darwin, and Marx, have they undergone revision as they stand now – as they do stand now – in conscious and self-conscious existence before the glory of the Lamb, and they know, even as also they are known? How many men like Stephen Hawking who’s said, “God did not create the universe” and also Richard Dawkins (who feels mothers of Down’s children are to blame for not having them aborted) will one day be saying, “You have triumphed O Galilean.”
iii] Why oppose God in the light of the appaling risk you are taking? What does David say? “You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (v.9). What do you know of the destructibility of the wrath of the Lamb? Have you ever thought of that? David speaks of God here and he says, “His wrath can flare up in a moment” (v.12). He sees the beheading of a journalist in Iraq and his wrath flares up in a moment. He sees the sexual abuse of boys and girls in Rotherham and his wrath flares up in a moment. Should it not? Do you think the Holy One shrugs in indifference? Then wouldn’t he be as bad as the people who behave like that? It would be a very solemn thing if all the energy of the anti-Christ movement ended simply in their lamentable display of vanity and futility. But it does not end there. It ends with the vindication of the crucified Jesus! It ends like this; “Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath” (v.5). That is the end of the atheistic hegemony. It ends in everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. That is not malicious wrath; it is not ungovernable passionate fury. It is the invincible and incomparable rectitude of Almighty God. This is where it ends – in the Great Judgment and the Great Separation. That is not where the leaders said it would end, no more than where Napoleon’s invasion of Russia ended, or where Hitler’s Third Reich ended, or where those who fought for Biafra said it would end. For all of those leaders the end was utter destruction and ignominy. They’d been promised success and glory and pleasure and freedom and prestige, but their end was death and amputation and imprisonment. So too with us, we must all appear before the Lamb, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire. And have men reckoned on that? They have not.
Suppose today that perdition wasn’t a certainty. Suppose that it wasn’t even a probability. Suppose it were only a possibility. Suppose that there is just a remote and outside chance that there is a hell after death, and suppose conceivably that there is one person in this entire congregation who is going there . . . just one. All the rest are safe, just one person possibly going to the place of woe where the worm doesn’t die and the fires are not quenched, that place the Lord Jesus, the Son of God spoke about. And suppose that that one person in this whole congregation who might be going to hell is . . . me, or suppose it were . . . you, then what is the response of a wise man? Will you please check it out? Will you please make sure? There’s the possibility of God having created and explained everything not mere chance, the God who is light in whom is not darkness at all, and Jehovah Jesus is his Son, and he is a righteous and just Lord to whom there is a fixed and immovable distinction between right and wrong, and if there is God then there is evaluation, and judgment and justice, and if this book is the Word of God then, when men perish while on the broad road, they go to destruction.
Now I only mention it as a possibility, that I may perish, so let me check it out. Let me make some inquiries as to whether this can be true. Let me make sure. You know of the Frenchman Pascal and his wager. Is there God or not? Is there hell or not? And will you wager or not. You say, “I don’t want to wager” but Pascal says to you that you must wager because you are mortal and you have to die, and either God is, or God isn’t. If you wager that God is not, and you are right, that what will you get? Annihilation. And if you wager that he is, and you are right, then what will you get? Heaven. The rich man died and he was buried, and that is the only word if there is no God. But if God is, and you have ignored him and dissuaded your friends and children from believing in him, and you have lived your life your own way then what do you get? His wrath, that is his calm disapproval of your whole lifetime attitude to him and his Son. God is determined to express his disapproval of your life. He will banish you from his presence, in other words, he will cut you off from all holiness, and all happiness and consign you to what you have served all your life – sin! That is what you have lived for and that is what you will get, sin and misery.
But David here expresses it vividly in order to bring your affections to the truth. He speaks the truth. Why heed what I have said today? Because it is true. It tells us that if you remain indifferent and at enmity with God then he will break you with a rod of iron and he will dash you in pieces like a potter’s vessel. The Lord Christ even more graphically and earnestly describes the end of those who (while receiving every blessing from God) then proceed to ignore him and live at enmity against him. What does he tell you to do? To come to him with desire and with yearning longing. “Kiss the Son lest he be angry.” (v.12). You know when you see how you have hurt your loving parents or your spouse and your heart is broken at what you have done, then you go to them and hug them and weep and kiss them and say how sorry you are, what a wretch you have been and so on. You would do that to save your marriage or to save your family. You would kiss and hug and beg their pardon for your dastardly behaviour, and so why not to save your soul? Go to God like the prodigal son went to his father and tell him you have been a fool and plead for mercy. Who has ever done that and gone unheeded away? Not one. Don’t be dashed in pieces. Kiss the Son!
7th September 2014 GEOFF THOMAS