Sunday, December 19, 2010

Field Sermon delivered on the Lord's Day, December 12, 2010

Greeting

I would like to welcome you who have come and assembled together in the name of living God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I bring greetings from our fellow pilgrims at our local church in Moscow. Come, let us humble ourselves before the Lord our God. Please pray with me.

Prayer

Father in heaven, accept us into Your presence this morning as we come to worship you, to hear Your word, and to be challenged and transformed by the power of Your Spirit. We come to You through the sacrifice of Your Son so that we might be made faithful servants by Your grace and power, through the advocacy of Him Who sits at Your right hand. Hear us, we pray, in Jesus name.

Amen.

The Text
Psalm 2


Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

He that setteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.

Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Amen.

Before I elaborate on the text this morning, I would like to make a short mention of historical significance that will, I believe, help us appreciate the text even more. Yesterday, I mentioned the fact that General Gage considered a good many of the Colonial preachers as ‘subversives’. From his perspective, this was certainly true. To lesser and greater degrees, many of the preachers in the colonies had argued from their pulpits against the policies of the British, insisting that they were unlawful and immoral.

I’d like to make mention here of one of those preachers: Pastor Peter Muhlenberg. Here is an excerpt from one commentator’s summary of Muhlenberg’s sermon and actions on January 21, 1776.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” Pastor Muhlenberg proclaimed, reading from Ecclesiastes 3. “A time to be born, and a time to die.... A time to weep, and a time to laugh.... A time of war, and a time of peace.” He stopped and looked at the people God had put in his care—hardworking farmers and their wives, merchants, recent immigrants. The tiny town of Woodstock, Virginia, was a long way from the fighting in the colonies of New England. And the Blue Ridge Mountains had kept its citizens from hearing the news of events in their own state in early January 1776.

“It is a time for war!” Pastor Muhlenberg declared. “And not only in New England. War has come to Virginia! The British have marched on our own city of Williamsburg, seizing our supply of gunpowder and munitions. Soldiers are entering private homes, homes just like ours.

“It is time for war! ‘We are only farmers,’ you may say. Patrick Henry has rallied five thousand men—farmers just like you—to fight back and drive the British out. It is time to act! Many of us came to this country to practice our religious freedoms. It is time to fight for those freedoms that we hold so dear. It is time for war!
“Let us pray.” With that, Pastor Muhlenberg bowed his head and offered the traditional closing prayer. Then, breaking with all tradition, while still standing in the pulpit, he began to remove his pastor’s robes and vestments. “I am a clergyman, it is true. But I am also a patriot—and my liberty is as dear to me as to any man. Shall I hide behind my robes, sitting still at home, while others spill their blood to protect my freedom? Heaven forbid it!

“I am called by my country to its defense. The cause is just and noble. I am convinced it is my duty to obey that call, a duty I owe to my God and to my country.”

With that, he threw off the final layer of his robes—and now stood before his stunned congregation in the full uniform of an officer of the Continental militia. He marched to the back of the church, declaring to all, “If you do not choose to be involved, if you do not fight to protect your liberties, there will soon be no liberties to protect!”

Just outside the church army drummers waited. At Pastor Muhlenberg’s command, they began to beat out the call for recruits. God’s conviction fell on the men of the congregation. One by one they rose from their pews and took their stand with the drummers. Some three hundred men from the church joined their pastor that day to fight for liberty.

You see, Muhlenberg, and others like him, believed that to live as consistent Christian men and preachers, they of necessity must resist the corrosion of their rights and the invasion of the British.

Our text this morning relates to the theme that these preachers ascribed to, that is: there is no barrier between the Lord of heaven, and the gates of politics on earth. Please pay particular attention to what the Word of God declares in this Psalm.

The first verse asks the two part question: Why do the heather rage, and imagine vain things? Another way of putting this would be to ask why they are irrationally riotous and engage in futile imaginations? Why do they wish to behave in such a manner that has no chance of success? Why do they believe they can alter reality by engaging in futile fictions? Yes, why indeed?

In verses 2 and 3, we see that the rulers and kings of the earth (presumably along with their constituents) believe that they can successfully hatch a plan of rebellion, and overthrow the authority and order put in place by God Himself and His anointed one. They figure they can break His shackles and His ropes that bind them from such rebellion. In effect they beckon and boast, “Come on! How can we not be successful?” The futility of such an effort does not even seem to dawn on them. They will organize, gather together, formulate their plans, execute them, and successfully overthrow the rule of God Almighty. There is no consideration of possible failure. They consider their effort to be invincible.

But this is not the perception given to these hapless rebels by the God who rules heaven and earth. He initially responds with a divine version of “This must be a joke.” Surely this is brought on by the sheer ridiculousness of the plot, and the sadly misplaced confidence of the conspirators. The Lord laughs, and does so in a way that illuminates His grasp of satire.

This humor is short lived however. The Lord’s attitude changes and He responds with the severity that the rebellion warrants. He will speak to them, but will do so in His wrath, and He will vex them tangibly in His displeasure. This portion of this Psalm briefly parallels some of Psalm 18 where we are advised that God causes the whole creation to convulse and his spoken words to result in what is pictured as “hail stones and coals of fire” as He brings retribution on the enemies. This is very vivid imagery indeed.

In verses 6 and 7, God declares the immutability of His will. He has firmly set His king on Mount Zion. And that king is His only begotten Son, resurrected from the dead, the first born from that place (Revelation 1:5). Is there a more emphatic manner in which this could be stated or demonstrated?

Further, the Lord explains some of what He has bequeathed to His anointed, His Son, for an inheritance. He has given Him the heathen, even in the most forsaken parts of the world, for His subjects. These are those who plotted against Him, to overthrow His authority and rule. And they will subject themselves to Him either willingly, or under threat of divine retribution. (vs. 8-9) His power is supreme, and therefore cannot be successfully resisted, even by those who are determined to attempt it.

And what is the commentary of the last few verses? The author of the Psalm offers some advice to the rulers of the world. “Be wise”, he says. “Listen up and be instructed”, he advises. Here’s what to do.

Serve the Lord with fear. Understand that this is no game, and you cannot win by attempting to substitute your conspiracy for His rule.

Rejoice with trembling. Be joyous that you have not crossed far enough over the line to warrant complete destruction. At least, not yet.

Submit to the Son. Do not incur His wrath by refusing to do so. Take a long hard look at the consequences of rebelling. How can it possibly be worth it?

Blessed, says he, are they that put their trust in Him. This is a pretty appealing alternative.

This is the time of year where we commonly celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus. It is a reminder of the joy that the shepherds felt when the announcement of Jesus’ birth came to them by angelic messengers. This celebration is full of warm and sentimental images of the Baby in the manger, seemingly insignificant and helpless. This is all fine, but this is not the Biblical imagery of the resurrected Christ, who is Lord and King. He is the Conqueror of sin and death, and has been given all authority in heaven and over earth. He sits now at the right hand of God the Father, expectantly awaiting as His enemies are subdued one by one. “Political realities” do not affect Him in the least. First century Christians were sent to their deaths as they acknowledged a king superior to Caesar. One of the battle cries of our War for independence was “No king but Jesus”.

Let’s not let the worldly, conspiring rulers of this era fool us for one minute.

Amen.


Closing Prayer/Benediction
I Kings 8:27-30

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee today: that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou has said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place and when thou hearest, forgive.

Amen.


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