Thy Kingdom Come
This weekend we celebrate the birth of our nation. I was actually born on the 4th of July, so I share a birthday with the United States of America. My younger brother’s birthday is just 10 days earlier, on June 23, and believe me I grew up thinking that he really got the short end of the stick in terms of birthdays. We both got parties, and because they were only 10 days apart they were similar parties. But dad usually had to work on his birthday. He never had to work on mine, no matter what day of the week it was. My parents did a great job of always making our birthdays special, but mine just felt more special. We got a parade for my birthday. And on my birthday we could blow stuff up in the back yard and the neighbors would clap. Try that on my brother’s birthday and they’d call the police. My birthday just felt more special, because it fell on a special day. And it is a special day. It is a day we set aside to celebrate freedom.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” wrote Thomas Jefferson as he drafted, with the help of others, our Declaration of Independence from British rule. “… that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …” He concluded with these words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”[i]
Powerful words. Words that over the last two centuries have influenced events not just in this country, within our borders, but around the world. In the minds of many, they are words of freedom. They established the great American experiment: government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But human governments, regardless of type, are made up of human beings, most of whom really are trying to do their best to lead well. And because governments are made up of human beings, no government, no matter how noble, is perfect. And we have made many grievous mistakes. Sometimes our leaders are forced to decide which option before them is the lesser of two evils rather than an ultimate good. Regardless, they don’t always decide correctly. Leaders, even leaders with good intentions, fail. If there’s one thing human history has taught us, it is that human leaders, no matter how noble their intentions, will fail. And their failure as leaders to really solve the problems facing us, and it seems that for every problem solved two more are created, leaves us as citizens feeling discouraged, filled with fear; those who have been used and abused and mistreated angry. And in this election year, fear, anger, and discouragement are rampant.
A January article in Esquire magazine begins with this quote in bold capital letters: WE THE PEOPLE ARE PISSED. THE BODY POLITIC IS BURNING UP. AND THE ANGER THAT COURSES THROUGH OUR HEADLINES AND NEWS FEEDS—ABOUT INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY, ABOUT MARGINALIZATION AND DISENFRANCHISEMENT, ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO US—SHOWS NO SIGN OF ABATING. ESQUIRE TEAMED UP WITH NBC NEWS TO SURVEY 3,000 AMERICANS ABOUT WHO’S ANGRIEST, WHAT’S MAKING THEM ANGRY, AND WHO’S TO BLAME.
Here’s one of the most interesting statistics: “Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago.” And white Americans are the angriest of them all. Here is a summary of how they see life, “From their views on the state of the American dream (dead) and America’s role in the world (not what it used to be) to how their life is working out for them (not quite what they’d had in mind), a plurality of whites tends to view life through a veil of disappointment.” The first question in the survey is “About how often do you hear or read something in the news that makes you angry?” The top three responses are: 37 percent once a day, 31 percent a few times a day, and 20 percent once a week. In total, about 88 percent of all Americans are angry at least once a week.[ii]
The Psalmist asks the question, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” If you’re new to this church, or new to me as your pastor, one of the things you’ll learn about me is that I love the Psalms. One of the reasons I love them is that they don’t shy away from the really tough questions, and the Psalmist asks a really tough question here: Why are the peoples of the world so angry? “Why do the nations rage?” It seems that not much has changed in the last couple thousand years. The first two psalms together serve as an introduction to the entire book. The first psalm focuses on how we as individuals are to live in the face of the evil of this world. Psalm 2 focuses on us corporately as the people of God, how we are to live together as the people of God in the world, faced with the trouble created by governments bent on chasing power and all of the chaos it brings. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” he asks. Why are the nations bent on destroying one another? Why the constant chasing after power? Why the constant conflict and destruction? In V. 2 he answers the question. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” The problem is an innate human tendency, as both individuals and nations, to want things our way, to do what we think is best for us, regardless of the cost of others. We want to be our own authority. We want to be our own God. Remember the words of Satan, in the form of a serpent, in Genesis 3: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it (eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, AND YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The key words there aren’t “knowing good and evil.” The key words are “you will be like God.” That desire is at the heart of sin, and lives within every human heart. Those words create separation between us and God. They are at the heart of all of the chaos and evil the world has ever known and will ever know. “You will be like God.”
With the poet William Ernest Henley we declare: “Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find me, unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” No matter what pain I may face in this life or the next, declares the poet, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” I, and no other, am the captain of my soul.
The great Frank Sinatra said it this way: “And now, the end is near And so I face the final curtain My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again, too few to mention I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew When I bit off more than I could chew But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way. I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried I’ve had my fill, my share of losing And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing To think I did all that And may I say, not in a shy way Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way. For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels The record shows I took the blows and did it my way Yes, it was my way.” I am the captain of my soul. I did it my way. A declaration of independence … from God. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Because as individuals, and as nations, we declare, “To heck with you God. I’m doing it my way.” “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” We’re doing it our way. We are the master of our fate. We are the captain of our souls.
But God is neither surprised nor bothered by this. Look at V. 4: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God laughs, not because he doesn’t care what happens to us, not because he isn’t concerned by the chaos and destruction rampant in the world he has created, but because he knows that his salvation is coming regardless of the opinions, attitudes, and plans of the peoples of the world. He laughs as a parent laughs at the antics of a young child. When he was a toddler, my brother was kind of famous for yelling “My do it!” whenever someone tried to do something for him. Children in general are kind of known for that, aren’t they? My do it! I’m gonna do it … my way. And as parents we might sternly correct the child, but inside we’re kind of laughing. Why? Because we can pick them up and put them where we want them, regardless of their declarations of independence, can’t we? My daughter Aubrey is pretty playful, and every once in a while she’ll just look at me and say, “You wanna go? Square up. Let’s go.” And then she’ll bump into me like she’s trying to knock me down. Kind of, in a playful way, picking a fight. And most of the time I give just enough to be playful without letting her knock me down. But every once in a while, just for fun, I bring all of my strength to bear, and I lift weights pretty regularly. When she goes to bump into me I’ll stand rigid and then bump back and she falls down. Just to remind her that I can still take her out. Gregg Law always said something to his kids that I say to mine, “If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better kill the king. Otherwise he’s going to get you.” And of course it’s all done in fun, and there will probably come a day when I’m too old and Sterling gets me. But it isn’t coming any time soon and by that time he’ll be wiser too. But every once in a while, Aubrey gets what she asked for, a rumble, and down she goes. Through it all, I’m not all that concerned. Why? Because I’m still in charge, whether she admits it or not.
Now, notice that God speaks in wrath. Now, God’s wrath is different than human wrath. Wrath is probably one of the strongest words we have for extreme anger. Far more than irritated, or mad, or angry, wrath in human terms pictures an almost out-of-control angry response – anger on a rampage. Not so with the wrath of God. In fact, the wrath of God isn’t an emotion at all. Emotions ebb and flow, come and go. A child does something terribly wrong and a parent flies into a fit of rage but then it subsides eventually. Not so with God. The wrath of God is God’s fixed orientation toward those things that separate us from him. It is consistent, dependable response of true holiness, true justice, true goodness to all that is wicked, and exploitative, and evil. It refers not to a fit of divine rage but to the final judgment, when God deals once and for all with evil in the world. And the wrath of God is never his final word. The great theologian Karl Barth has said that the wrath of God is his second to last word. The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is God’s final word. In Christ, God has said all that he needs to say, and has done all that he needs to do. And the rage and plotting of the nations against God has done nothing to derail God’s plan.
We may think that we are in charge, but God’s purpose will prevail, regardless of the plans of the nations. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man,” says the book of Proverbs, “but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov. 19:21). And again: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). Our ranting and raving, our insistence on going our own way, hasn’t derailed God’s plan one bit. “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” This Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. Why? Because it finds its fulfillment in Christ. On the surface, this Psalm speaks of a godly king reigning on Israel’s throne in Jerusalem. But ultimately it points past any earthly king or ruler, even a king in the line of David, to Christ, the Messiah, Son of the living God.
Look at V. 7: “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” John 3 says of Jesus that “For God so loved the world (in all of its rebellion), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The text literally reads “only begotten Son.” It’s the exact same language as Psalm 2. In Colossians Paul said “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together … He is the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven …” Same concept as Psalm 2. Far more than any earthly ruler, this Psalm points us to Christ. God’s wrath, God’s attitude and orientation toward all that separates us from him, might be his second to last word, but the Gospel, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is his final word.
Look at V. 10: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers 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, for his wrath is quickly kindled …” It doesn’t end well for those who refuse to place their trust in God. But then look at the words that close the Psalm: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” God’s answer to the rage of the nations, to their plans for advancement and power at the expense of others; God’s answer to the pain and turmoil in the world today is to take refuge in Christ, to turn to, trust in, rely on Christ.
When we think of the word “son,” we think of male offspring. But here God saying “You are my Son,” says more than that. These words are echoed in the baptism of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17), and again on the mount of transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). In this sense, to be called “Son” is to be the one God has chosen to represent his kingdom in the world. When Jesus said over and over again that in him the kingdom of God was drawing near, he was saying that in him, a new day had dawned, that God’s kingdom was no longer a kingdom represented by political ideologies and national boundaries, by one nation striving against another, but by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is a kingdom that recognizes no boundaries for its citizenship is open to all who will bow their knee before Christ as Savior and Lord.
Every declaration of independence is actually a declaration of dependence as well. The writers of our national declaration acknowledged our dependence on “the protection of Divine providence.” In the last days of the Civil War, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, fell to the Union army. Abraham Lincoln insisted on visiting the city. Even though no one knew he was coming, slaves recognized him immediately and thronged around him. He had liberated them by the Emancipation Proclamation, and now Lincoln’s army had set them free. According to Admiral David Porter, an eyewitness, Lincoln spoke to the throng around him: “My poor friends, you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it …. Liberty is your birthright.” But Lincoln also warned them not to abuse their freedom. “Let the world see that you merit [your freedom],” Lincoln said, “Don’t let your joy carry you into excesses. Learn the laws and obey them.” That is the message Jesus gives to those whom he has liberated by his death and resurrection. Jesus gives us our true birthright—spiritual freedom.[iii] As we celebrate our independence and the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this nation, may we also celebrate the freedom we have in Christ, freedom from our bondage to sin, a freedom that comes not through declaring our independence, but our dependence upon Christ. And as we face the challenges before us as a nation, may we take refuge in his welcoming embrace.
[ii] Esquire Editors, “American Rage: The Esquire/NBC News Survey, Esquire (1-3-16)
[iii] James L. Swanson, Bloody Crimes (William Morrow, 2010), p.46