Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Scorn of God (2)

Psalm 2:10-12 “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

One of the great titles of the Lord Christ is King of kings, and in the words before us he is addressing the rulers of this world, to those who walk the corridors of power in politics and government and science and the media, the movers and the shakers of society And he calls on them to be wise, “Be warned, you rulers of the earth” (v.10). Gentle Jesus, meek and mild addresses the greatest of men and women in the world, people who are untouchable, who never go anywhere without bodyguards. When they hold a summit somewhere on the coast warships fill the bay and a ring of steel is put around the cities where they meet. But the Lord Christ sees all this and is unintimidated. He coolly opens his mouth and addresses them about them getting real wisdom, “Be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth!” Can’t the Lord of the whole heaven and earth the Son of God say words like that to politicians? Doesn’t he have the authority and the right to say this?

1. THE AUTHORITY OF THE LORD IN CHALLENGING RULERS.

You go right down into the history of the Biblical revelation, and you realize just what might and majesty is his. You imagine for a moment that scene which no human eye saw, and no creature ever witnessed, the extraordinary moment of creation. There was utter and absolute nothingness at first. There was no space; there were no dimensions; there was simply unimaginable nothingness, and then the Lord God determined, “Let there be heavens and earth.” So God spoke and said, “Let there be light!” You have been plunged into total darkness with people searching for a light switch or looking for their phones in order to switch them on and get some light, and suddenly all the lights come back on and you blink and look around. Multiply by infinity. Utter darkness ended with the words, “Let there be light!” There was another extraordinary act when God said, “Let there be a sky;” and then that incredible event when God said, “Let there be sea and land.”  Just imagine if we had been privileged to have seen that. What would Hollywood give to have been there with cameras, and for Stephen Spielberg to shout, “Shoot!” and to capture it all for a film epic entitled “The Creation.” Imagine we saw the making of the sun and the moon and the stars, that we witnessed Cader Idris built up, and Snowden, and the Beacons, and Cardigan Bay. What wouldn’t the world and scientists and artists give today to see those dramas, those terrifying acts? And we know that the Word who was in the beginning with God, and who was God, that he made it all, that without him was not anything made that was made. Jesus Christ made everything, so doesn’t he have a right to address his creation and to speak to his creatures whom daily he supports, and say to them, “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth”? (v.10).

Or think again of what God did at a time when every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts were only evil continually and God sent his servant to address the few inhabitants who existed at that time. Noah preached the righteousness of God to them for decades, but their rulers and their people mocked him and continued in ungodliness and unrighteousness. Finally God said, “I’ll start again,” and he wiped out that generation by a great calamity, a fearful judgment in the flood. How awe-inspiring that must have been, the rain that fell in torrents, and fountains of the deep that opened up with their boiling floods of water surging up through earth’s fissures in extraordinary eruptions, so that level of the seas rose and covered the land. What a sight! One ark with eight people and the animals bobbing around on this – the only survivors.

Or think again of the city of Sodom, twin-towned with Gomorrah, two communities with shared values of immorality and crime, and God had a righteous man living there too, but he was not strong like Noah, and the man’s wife was corrupted by the decadence of the place. On those towns God finally rained down his judgment and destroyed this depraved and perverted society. You think of world leaders meeting earlier this month in Wales and discussing what to do with the emergence of a satanic new power that is so heinous in its cruelty that it beheads innocent men and takes a film of the event and shows it boastfully to the world and warns of the next innocent hostages they are going to kill in the same way. Then those men go home to their wives and read nursery rhymes to their children. These normal men are going to destroy all the people who oppose them. They cause hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes to live in wretched refugee settlements, many dying in the flight. Doesn’t the God who pours out his wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah have the right to speak to every kind of leader and to them all, “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth” (v.10).

Was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah a one-off event or was it a pattern of the righteous dealings of God when nations conspire and peoples plot in vain, when the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One saying, ‘Let us break their chains, and throw off their fetters’? (vv.1&2). Don’t we read of the plagues coming on defiant Egypt, of Pharaoh and his host destroyed by the waters of the Red Sea, of a whole generation of the children of Israel perishing in the wilderness, of the destruction of ancient city of Jericho, of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib being wiped out, and the writing on the wall in the feast of Belshazzar – “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting” – and the destruction of Babylon the next day? Don’t we read the chronicles of those events, and so shouldn’t the Lord address the kings and rulers of the world today with solemn warnings? Be wise! Be warned! Serve the Lord with fear!

Or do you recall the awesome actions of the Lord Jesus Christ? He spoke a word to a tempest and it stilled. We have known some storms in our town this last winter and the destruction that ensued. Imagine a real flesh and blood man speaking a word to more terrible gales than those we’ve known and immediately a great silent calm! The mighty waves that were one minute crashing across buildings and cliffs forty feet high, stopped in a second! Who wouldn’t be afraid? We would be filled with terror. What kind of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him? He addressed a barren tree and it withered. When he commanded the fish of the Sea of Galilee they all swam into the nets of Peter so that the boat almost sank under the weight of the haul. Peter fell at Jesus’ feet amidst the fish, crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord!” Who was there in the boat with Peter? It was Jehovah Jesus and he was overwhelmed. Should not kings and rulers be overwhelmed by the Lord Jesus today?

Of think again of the first visit of the disciples to Jesus’ grave to see the place where his body had been buried to discover that the tomb was open, and the grave-clothes folded on the floor but there was no Jesus. Then messengers from God glistening in white asking the disciples why they were seeking the dead among the living? “He is not here he is risen!” Resurrected from the dead! More powerful than death, their Jesus! They were so afraid, absolutely filled with terror. Does not the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” have the authority to speak to kings and rulers?

Or let us think again, and now I tell you that everyone is going to see this, that great moment when the world will end, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth, a throne of judgment will be set up and sitting on it the Lamb of God. Everyone will receive their eternal destinies as he addresses all men and as he separates them into two categories, the sheep and the goats. Then he will welcome his own, a vast company, into a new righteous cosmos. Who will not be afraid and tremble at the thought of what lies before us all? What king or what ruler would boast, “I will not be afraid of this”?

Time forbids me to speak of the scene in Jerusalem where 3,000 men are cut to their hearts, crying out, “What must we do?” What an unnerving sight, the grocer, and the blacksmith, and a town councillor, and the teacher, and the stonemason all white with fear and conviction longing for forgiveness. Or the whole city of Samaria similarly transformed by the preaching of Philip, or the most fearful inquisitor-general, Saul of Tarsus, seeing a retina-damaging light, hearing a voice from heaven speaking to him and being blinded and transformed. Or again there was the sight of the mighty God approaching him that the apostle John had on the Isle of Patmos that made him fall to the ground as if he were dead. Should not rulers and kings fall before him too? When Paul spoke to one named Felix that king trembled as he heard the word of God about righteousness, self-control and judgment to come. Another king under conviction mockingly said to Paul, “You are almost persuading me to be a Christian!” I am saying that our Lord who deals with people is great in his acts, full of majesty, full of power, full of wonder, filling the hearts of men with dread and fear.

2. HOW WE ARE TO RESPOND TO THE COMING OF THE LIVING GOD.

i] Be wise. Now you notice that the Lord doesn’t challenge them about making a decision, or joining the gang of average, casual, laidback, chuckling, chatting, coffee-sipping, entertainment-addicted churchgoers. Rather the Lord says to them, “Therefore you kings be wise” (v.10). In other words they were being foolish in refusing to think about Almighty God. What folly! Their great need was wisdom. There’s no word for religion in the Bible, but the nearest we get to it is this, “the fear of the Lord.” We are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is the first rung on the ladder of wisdom, first of all seeing  God as he really is, vast, infinite, thrice holy, beautiful in his absolute perfection, limitless in power and glory, and then to see myself as what I really am, puny, limited, dependent in every way for my very existence on him, morally defiled by nature and by choice, in need of every atom of grace, forgiveness and wisdom that God can give me, needing a salvation that is no less extreme than the death of the Lord Christ on cursed Golgotha. That was its price.

Well, are we wise? Do we listen? Or do we run away from holy preaching of the word? Will we hear? Do we look at the facts? Do we consider the cause-lessness of our estrangement? Do we look at its futility? Do we consider the risk of being associated with rebels? Let’s be wise, or shall I put it more broadly? Act according to what you know! Act according to what you believe. Suppose today you believe that you have an immortal soul. Let’s suppose you believe in a heaven and a hell. Suppose you believe in the Saviour-hood of Jesus – then for mercy’s sake be wise! Act according to what you know. From the youngest of you to the oldest of you, you are learning the truth. I believe you do know the truth and I believe that you believe the truth – “we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus Christ because he loved us gave his life for us.” Do you act according to what you know? Be wise. Then the second way of deliverance . . .

ii] Be warned.  Are there warnings in the Bible? Are we told that it is appointed unto men once to die and after death the judgment? Are we told to prepare to meet our God? Are we told by Jesus to remember Lot’s wife? Are there other warnings as solemn as those words of our Lord? J.C. Ryle has a powerful message on that warning and he starts it in this way . . .

Lot’s wife professed the faith: her husband was a righteous man. She left Sodom with him on the day when Sodom was destroyed; but she looked back longingly and sadly towards the evil city from behind her husband, against God’s express command; she was struck dead at once, and turned into a pillar of salt. And the Lord Jesus Christ holds her up as a beacon to his church. He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.” It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names; he doesn’t bid us to remember Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Sarah, or Hannah, or Ruth. No: he singles out one of those whose soul was lost for ever. He cries to us, “Remember Lot’s wife.” It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus was talking about. He’s speaking of his own second coming to judge the world: he is describing the awful state of unreadiness in which many will be found. The last days are on his mind, and then he says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

It is a solemn warning when we think of the person who gives it. The Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy, and compassion: he is one who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and pray for the men that crucified him; yet even he thinks it good to remind us of lost souls. Even he says, “Remember Lot’s wife.” It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to his disciples: he was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees who hated him, but to Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved him; yet even to them he thinks it good to address a caution. Even to them he says, “Remember Lot’s wife.” It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, “Beware of following, or take heed of imitating, or don’t be like Lot’s wife.” He uses a different word: he says, “Remember!” He speaks as if we were a1l in danger of forgetting the subject; he stirs up our lazy memories. He bids us to keep the case before our minds. He cries, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

Bishop Ryle strikes that note that’s often ignored in our day. Let’s heed the warnings of Scripture. Let’s not think we are happy to hear sermons which contain warnings because we see other people in the congregation and we think that they need such messages. We need to be warned. Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is God-breathed and it is profitable for correcting and reproving us. No preaching is true biblical preaching if it omits the note of warning. So God says here, “Be wise; be warned.”

iii] Serve the Lord with fear.  See your life in those terms. When we think of fear our first thought is probably of the emotion, that paralyzing, mouth-drying, stomach-clenching dread that seizes hold of us in the face of an imminent threat, like a noise downstairs in the middle of the night, the sound of a window being broken and footsteps. That connotation is not altogether absent from the fear of the Lord. Anyone who can think of God and shrug is not thinking of the God of Scripture.

But a primary and basic element in the fear of the Lord is the concept that God is not silent. He has revealed himself to us. For example in Deuteronomy chapter 4 Moses calls the people to cling to the words of God (and that means to cling to God himself). Moses recalls the day when they the people stood before God in Horeb and God gave his servant these words, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.’ You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets” (Deut. 4:10-13). To reverence or fear is clearly not merely an emotion to be attained. If it were then the blazing fire and black clouds and deep darkness would have achieved that for the congregation listening to Moses. The fear of God . . . of the living God . . . is an attitude and an affection that we must learn. It requires the Bible and its teaching and its application to our lives to teach us about fearing the Lord. Joseph confronted with the temptations of Potiphar’s wife resisted because he had learned to fear the Lord more than to give in to his baser feelings.

I am saying that if anyone would fear God today – and we all must – he won’t do so by chasing after reports of revivals of religion in south Wales, or Toronto, or Florida, instead he will sit under biblical preaching and study Scripture for himself and pray that he will learn who God is and how he can serve him. Fear for God is produced by the Word of God, but there is one other essential requirement. That is to serve him in the way that the Bible requires, in other words, you don’t neglect the assembling of yourselves together, you remember the Lord’s day, you love your neighbour as yourself, you turn the other cheek, you who are strong bear the burdens of the weak, you deem other people better than yourself, you see the bowl of water and the towel and the unwashed feet and you kneel down and wash them and dry them. It is in doing the humblest service that you’ve been taught by the Bible that you show you truly fear God.

iv] Rejoice with trembling. Don’t serve the Lord with a studied expression on your face of how demanding it is to be a Christian. Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice! His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Remember the happy words of Billy Bray. He said, “As I go along the street I lift up one foot and it seems to say, ‘Glory!’ and I lift up the other foot and it seems to say, ‘Amen,’ and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking.” He had learned to rejoice in the Lord always. The Puritans had learned this lesson. Richard Baxter would counsel people, “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly. There is no mirth like the mirth of believers.”  Don’t we know that! Or there is Walter Cradock saying, “Take a Christian; put him in any condition, and he will know how to rejoice in the Lord.” Don’t we possess all the promises of God in Jesus Christ? We have the confidence that he is at work in us and that all things are working together for our good. He has promised us his presence; he will never leave us. He has promised us the all sufficiency of his abounding grace. He either gives us what we ask from him as we pray or he will give us something better. He has promised us eternal life and we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Don’t we have good grounds to rejoice?

But we rejoice “with trembling.” In other words Christian rejoicing is not to be confused with religious levity that has no depth. It is a holy joy. There are such mysteries in life. We tremble before the solemnity of God’s will for us, the cup he may give us to drink, before the uncompromising holiness of God, before the mysteriousness and unfathomableness of God’s dealings with us. We rejoice with trembling. Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “The happiness of a Christian is a serious happiness.” In other words this rejoicing is a state of mind more than an emotion. It is earthed in Christian thinking. It is delighting in knowing God and experiencing his grace knowing that that alone will take us through our trials. There is as much difference between spiritual joys and earthly joy as between a banquet laid out before you to be smelled and tasted and swallowed, and another that is merely painted on the table mat in front of you.

We rejoice with trembling as we consider our latter end. When John Snow the English batsman was interviewed by a journalist he was asked, “Is the ultimate thing in your life that you have played for England?” Well, John Snow knows much better. “No,” he said, “the ultimate thing in life is death.” Let’s have our ambitions. God made us that way, but if we want ultimate ambitions that is a different ball game. Ultimate ambitions cannot ignore man’s latter end. Those ambitions cannot ignore the moment of confrontation with God. We may choose to ignore it, but that will not delay it for a second. We may say, “I believe that heaven and hell is inside you,” and that you think there is no objective place where the Lord Jesus and all his people are gathered in glory knowing joy unspeakable, but the truth is different that heaven or hell are daily nearer all of us. So serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.

v] Kiss the Son. Come close to him. In other words, don’t ignore him. Don’t keep him at arms’ length as if he were an Egyptian mummy to be examined with a face mask. Don’t avert your eyes from Jesus. “Look unto me and be saved,” he says to us. I was in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg on Friday and I spent time in the Rembrandt gallery and a gazed and gazed at his painting of an old man. I stood an inch away and I look at the pores of his skin and the lines on his nose, and the hairs of his eyebrows. I really entered into that man. Look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, and as you look you will want to come closer and scrutinize this beautiful man, this altogether lovely one, the loveliest person that ever there was, and you will come nearer to him, and, do you know that he won’t prevent you from kissing him? Embrace him in trust and thanks and affection and allegiance and delight. Cling to him with all the conviction and all the emotional content that you can possibly muster. Say to him, “I will not let thee go until thou bless me.”

Think of Mary who seems to have walked the waterfront, whose heart had been possessed by demons that had wounded her so deeply, but the Lord Jesus had found her and he had cast out of her all those demonic influences. The wild light was gone from her eyes, and the wild life was gone from her behaviour. She was a new Mary. Everything was new and it was all because of the Lord Jesus and she knew it, and so she went to a house where he had been invited. She was a gate-crasher. She had had no invitation, but she went there and walked up to him and poured over his head most fragrant perfumed oil and she sat at his feet and wept and wept and wept over them, and then she loosed her hair and dried his feet with her tresses. What man here would or could allow that to be done to him? None of us. We would be embarrassed and we’d feel utterly unworthy. Nothing we had done could be worth such a response, but the Lord Christ did not prevent this display of her love, and when others objected he told them, “She has been forgiven much and so she loves much.”

Have you been forgiven for your sins? Have you been forgiven much? Do you love him much for the vastness of his mercy to you? Do you long to come by faith near to him, your eyes closed and your heart full of gratitude for what he has done for you? “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment” (v.11). Show Jesus Christ affection! How much? I will tell you; this is the standard, to love him with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength. That is what this exhortation is all about, not to show him some intellectual, gospel understanding, but deep abiding love. Let me use this comparison. Has you wife been a blessing to you through your life? But have you ceased kissing her? Has your husband nourished and cherished you for all the years of your marriage and yet do you cease to kiss him? Show him your love. If you turn your head away from him, after all his love for you, mightn’t his love change and turn into anger and you be destroyed in your way? Can’t the provocation of refused embraces mean that “his wrath can flare up in a moment.” So, kiss the Son. Draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you. Tell the Lord Jesus that you wish you loved him a hundred times’ more than you do. “Lord, it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint” and yet tell him that you do love  him and long for grace to love him more. “Help me to love you dear Saviour,” you say to him. Isn’t he worthy of your love? Isn’t he lovable?

vi] Take refuge in him. All are blessed who shelter in the secret place of the most high and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. We have a battle on our hands with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Then go to your refuge! Cry,

“Hide me O my Saviour hide!

  Till the storm of life is past.

  Safe into the haven guide

  O redeem my soul at last.”

What does David say here? God can be angry “and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment” (v.12). So flee to your refuge and hide in him.

There’s a way that seems right to men, to many in your families and to your friends. It seems sensible and O.K. but like all ways your way is also going somewhere and this way is the grave. It is the broad road that Jesus spoke of and many walk along it and they talk to one another and they assure one another that all is well and they encourage one another to keep going along that road which men take who live without God; its terminus is destruction. Yet there is another way, a blessed way, a narrow way, and it is only entered by a narrow gate. Only one at a time can you pass through this gate. There is no way that those whose trust is in their pensions and bank accounts and winning the lottery can enter through the narrow gate. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It is too narrow for you to pass through if you’re carrying all the sins you love. Like Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress the burden on your back needs to be removed. Calvary is the place! That’s where Christian lost his burden. It fell off at the cross. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, and down the hill that burden tumbled and rolled until it fell into the sepulchre, gone for ever. Jesus Christ can forgive you your sins; that is why he became the Lamb of God.

The narrow way is the blessed way. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. They are the only blessed people in the whole universe. When their hearts break then they trust in him. When death comes then they trust him. When their hopes are dashed and love dies and rejection enters their lives, when everything goes wrong, then all along the way they are putting their trust in him. This is a cruel world, but there is one fearful world beyond it where there is even greater stringency. What are you trusting in? Who are you trusting in? All around us there are kings and rulers, politicians and scientists, singers and economists and they all say, “It’s all right. You can trust us, trust us, trust us, trust us.” But blessed are they and they alone who put their trust in the Lord.

21st September  2014    GEOFF THOMAS