03.19.17 It’s All Relative—To God Psalm 2 Sermon Summary
Psalm 2 not only gives us a key to appreciating the rest of the book of Psalms, it serves the same purpose for the whole of the New Testament, and thus, all of Christianity.
- How Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the life of faith
- Five places where Psalm 2 is used in the Newer Testament and what this suggests
- The biblical image of the king
- Two aspects of the biblical king: laughter and anger
- How the sixth place Psalm 2 is used in the Newer Testament calls us to God’s Kingdom
The book of Psalms is rightly seen as the prayer book of the Bible. It is the Older Testament book most quoted in the Newer Testament. For the early Reformers Johns Calvin and Knox, it was the only hymnal used in worship.
Psalm 2, coupled with Psalm 1, serves as an introduction to the Psalms. Psalm 1 introduces the “two ways.” There are those who delight in the Law of the Lord and are blessed. And there are those who walk with the wicked and perish. Psalm 2 urges God’s people to align their lives with the Lord’s anointed. On this basis, the rest of the Psalms are to be understood.
Sixty percent of Psalm 2 is quoted or alluded to in the Newer Testament. This means that Psalm 2 was an important interpretive key for the early Christians. Here are five instances of its use in the Newer Testament and what they mean.
- Jesus Baptism. As Jesus was baptized, a voice from the heavens declared, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) This statement combines Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. Some early manuscripts of Luke and some early baptismal liturgies quote Psalm 2:7 in its entirety: “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”
The significance here is that Jesus was anointed by God, at his baptism, by God’s Spirit, to be the Messiah—the long awaited King of Psalm 2.
- Paul quotes Psalm 2:7 in his sermon in Perga (Acts 13:29-45). Here he identifies Jesus’ resurrection as the fulfilment of the Psalm. In this passage, the resurrection proves that Jesus is the Messiah King of Psalm 2.
- Hebrews relates Christ’s kingship to his Ascension (1:5 and 5:5). That Jesus is God’s Son is revealed by Jesus’ ongoing high priestly ministry of intercession on our behalf. This ministry establishes Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 2.
- Psalm 2 is alluded to at the end of Mark, during the “Big Reveal.” Throughout this gospel, Jesus’ identity as God’s anointed son is kept a secret. It is only at the end that Mark allows a Roman centurion’s testimony to be made public: “Surely this was the Son of God.” Earlier in his life, this Roman soldier would have pledged allegiance to Caesar Augustus, the son of God. Here, the Roman centurion confesses that Jesus, not Caesar, is son, king, lord, and savior.
- Revelation chapters 19, 11, and 2 also quote or allude to Psalm 2. These chapters depict Jesus as the King of Psalm 2 who reigns supreme over all other kings and kingdoms.
What does the biblical image of “the king” entail? In instances like Psalm 2, which probably reflects the inauguration of an actual king, the text is really best understood as ideal or confessional. This means it refers to the way the perfect king should be, not what the present king actually is. In other words, Psalm 2 is not historical, not specific, but rather speaks of the role of an ideal King.
The ideal king is a representative of God. This is why God “begets” kings through adoption. Such a king is a warrior protector of the people, and a faithful provider for their needs. This king is a representative to the nations, and a witness in the world of God’s reign.
Two images from this psalm make for interesting conversation about God as King. The first has to do with faithful laughter. The Psalm says the one who sits in the heavens “laughs” and holds “in derision” those kings and rulers who plot against God and God’s anointed. God laughs not out of delight, but because he knows the outcome.
It’s easier to accept, even find humor in, present situations when we take the larger view. In Isaiah 40:15 the prophet reminds us that, “Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales.” It is an expression of our Ash Wednesday acknowledgement with Genesis 3:19 that, “From dust you came, to dust you shall return.” The kings and rulers, and we also, to the extent we are striving against our dust-nature, we are “chasing after the wind.” (See Ecclesiastes 12:7, and throughout the book.) God sees this and is amused.
The second intriguing image of the ideal king found in Psalm 2 has to do with divine wrath. It’s fascinating that in the span of two verses we find a laughing God and a furious God. God’s wrath is best understood as divine passion with a purpose. Wrath as it applies to God is not primarily emotional anger, but judgment upon sin. Here I’m talking about sin as the distortion of God’s intention for creation.
The reminder of our dust-nature was necessary only after the introduction of sin in Genesis 3. Only after sin distorted our divine image, and as part of “the curse,” did we begin striving against it. This situation frustrates God’s intention for us and all creation, and it results in divine wrath. (You also get angry when your intentions are frustrated.)
While God is angry about it, his response is not one of punishment, but of salvation and redemption. This is best depicted in Jesus’ ministry. The distortion of his creation upsets God, and out of love for his creation God saves and redeems it. That’s the true nature of divine wrath.
Returning, now, to Israel’s kings and all they represent. Eventually the kingdom is split into two, and then lost altogether. In this calamity, the scriptures transfer the role of the king to the people of God as a community. It is God’s people who assume the role of God’s anointed. All of us represent God, provide for and protect others, and bear witness of God’s kingdom.
This evolution is nowhere more obvious than in the Church where, in the absence of our King Jesus Christ, we have been given the Spirit. We are now, according to the Newer Testament, the Body of Christ. We are God’s anointed. Through baptism we are God’s children; in that day God adopted us.
- There is a sixth time when Psalm 2 is quoted in the Newer Testament. While describing the events of Jesus’ betrayal in Acts 4, Peter and John list the kings and rulers who opposed God’s anointed king: Pilate of Rome, other Gentiles, Herod of Jerusalem, and even the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time. In other words, no one is exempt, not even us religious folk. All of us can find ourselves opposing “the Lord and his anointed.”
The season of Lent calls us to remember that we are the people of God, it reminds us that we are called to “serve God and to kiss the feet of his anointed” in the words of Psalm 2. And in this time of political posturing in our country and throughout the world, I find myself drawn to this image in prayer. How transformed our world would be if not only the church worshiped God, but Vladimir Putin knelt and kissed the feet of Jesus? Same for Assad, Netanyahu, Abbas, Jong-un, Khamenei, and even and especially Donald Trump?
Psalm 2 was written to guide the kings of the earth, and us as well, to the right worship of God. For Presbyterians, we are also guided by the Confession of 1967. In a time when we were appreciating that our country is both a country of nations and a leader of nations, the church confessed what it means to be a Christian in the United States:
“The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. . . Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.” (9.45)
In Psalm 2 God laughs and cautions and says, “I have set my king upon Zion, my holy hill.” The Hebrew word for “set” includes the image of “setting up,” like a cake or jello or hot wax cooling into form. It refers to the pouring out of a sacrifice.
Jesus is God’s anointed because he sacrificed himself in love. Jesus was poured out for God’s purpose and that allowed him to “set up,” to be established as God’s anointed, as the King in God’s realm. And God calls us to that same kingdom.
Almighty God, at the top of every political system, a peak that is difficult for us to see sometimes, you have established your King on your holy hill. We thank you that your King, our Lord Jesus Christ, came as one who serves. Though we may struggle to see him atop the monarchies, dictatorships, and democracies of this world, we know we can find him lowly providing for the needy and protecting the vulnerable. Help us to seek and find your King and your Kingdom, and to live as those who faithfully worship you alone. Send your Spirit to melt down our hardened hearts and stiffened necks, that we may be a people of God poured out for the love of the world, as we follow Jesus Christ our Lord and King, in whose name we pray. Amen.