God’s Foreign Policy –
Sermon 5 of 6 from the Psalms for Today series
February 2011 – Sudden turmoil grips the world.
Then there were hints of trouble in China, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Oman, Kuwait, and Uganda.
Now the focus shifts to Libya.
How much longer can Gaddafi cling to power?
The headlines tell the story:
“The Last Days of a Desert Despot”
“It’s Time to Get Tough With Gaddafi”
"If Saudis Revolt, the World’s in Trouble”
“Is North Korea the Next to Fall?”
“Mideast Wave Continues”
"Al Qaeda Calls for Revolt Against Arab Rulers”
Writing about the situation in Egypt (The Plagues of Egypt, February 2, 2011), Walter Russell Mead notes that America cannot control the outcome in that country or in any country currently in turmoil:
The Obama administration is now living through one of the oldest and most difficult recurring problems in American foreign policy: what do you do when revolution breaks out in an allied country?
The only clue history offers is not an encouraging one: there is often no satisfactory resolution of the dilemmas revolutions present. . . .
All spirituality flows from a correct
perspective of God, and all
heresy begins with a
misunderstanding of God.
Egypt has serious problems that have no obvious or simple solutions. That is the fundamental issue that confronts Egyptian authorities and protesters alike. . . .
Nobody connected with Egypt - its own policymakers whoever those turn out to be, foreign diplomats trying to adjust to new realities, and above all the Egyptian people themselves - is going to have an easy life in the months ahead. President Obama will do well if he can avoid being blamed by everyone involved for all the ways in which the new situation in Egypt falls inevitably short of their hopes. Most of his predecessors have not escaped the fallout from foreign revolutions; President Obama must hope that this time is different.
When President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast (February 3, 2011), he included this sentence in his remarks:
We pray that the violence in Egypt will end and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world.
Foreign policy has spiritual overtones most presidents never think about.
As of this moment, it is not clear how or when that prayer will be answered. Foreign policy has spiritual overtones most presidents never think about. The Bible says much about the nations of the world–their origin, their alliances, their political power, their military might, and their ultimate destiny.
Isn’t it interesting that in times of turmoil we always return to God? Warfare drives us to our knees. We are good at killing each other but not so good at making peace. Even the irreligious pray because they realize that only God can help us. We know instinctively that man cannot deliver us in the day of trouble. That raises an interesting question: Does God have a foreign policy? The answer is yes. Does God care what the nations do? Yes. Does he pay attention to world leaders? Yes. Does he take their threats seriously? Yes.
Psalm 2 shows us God’s foreign policy. That’s good to know in times like these.
This is one of the most famous psalms in Christian history. The New Testament writers quoted it often because of its high view of Christ and its triumphant vision of his coming kingdom. It opens with the kings of the earth in open rebellion against God and ends with the Lord issuing an ultimatum and an invitation.
This is what God thinks of America.
Psalm 2 tells us what God thinks of the nations. This is what God thinks of America.
In the face of world-wide rebellion against the Lord, God declares his intention to someday enthrone Christ as ruler over the nations of the world. In light of that, the only proper response to his coming reign is humble submission to him right now.
If you look at the psalm, it falls very naturally into four stanzas, and in each one a different voice is speaking.
Stanza # 1: Voice of the Nations
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters" (vv. 1-3).
The first word sets the tone. “Why?” As if God is saying, “How dare they?" This is “little man” speaking. He’s huffing and puffing and strutting around. “Look at me. I’ve got guns. I’ve got rockets. I’m strong. I can do harm. Better pay attention to me.” The word “plot” is the same word used for “meditate” in Psalm 1:2. It means “to talk to oneself.” The leaders of the world have decided they don’t want God to rule over them so they talk to each other, dreaming up plots and schemes to rid themselves of the Almighty.
The question “why” is writ in large letters across our world today.
Why so much hatred?
Why do much divorce?
Why so much war?
Why does crime increase?
Why do men speak evil of one another?
Why so much poverty in an age of prosperity?
Why are hearts filled with fear?
Why do so many people turn to alcohol and drugs?
Why do we think sex will make us happy?
Why do we reject the Ten Commandments?
Why do we cheat and lie?
Why is there so much pain in the world?
Psalm 2 traces the answer back to the rebellion inside every human heart. We fight against each other because there is no peace within. Man apart from God is always at war with God. This explains the connection between high-priced crooks on Wall Street and prostitutes who ply their trade in the inner city. It joins the debutante and the pickpocket. It unites the revolutionary and the university professor. One link joins them all-they will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ.
Note the progression of evil:
This is the ultimate conspiracy theory! What starts as loose talk leads to diabolical plots leads to open defiance that results in outright rebellion “against the Lord and his Anointed One."
Man apart from God is always at war with God.
It all comes back to Jesus sooner or later. They hate him!
Acts 4: 25-28 sees this fulfilled at Calvary when Caiaphas, Pilate, and their henchmen conspired to kill the Son of God. That’s how we should understand the death of Christ from the world’s point of view. It was the ultimate act of rebellion. The world tried to overthrow God by killing his Son.
Don’t ever be surprised by the hostility of rich and powerful people to the Lord and his people. If they hate Jesus, they will hate those who follow Jesus. The more you openly identify with Jesus Christ, the more you will face the opposition of the world. It was so in the beginning, and it is the same today.
If they hate Jesus, they will hate those who follow Jesus.
The world wants to throw off the “chains." What are those chains? Marriage is one of them. In our day marriage has been redefined so that gay marriage has become a virtual legal reality in America. We don’t like the “chain” of one man-one woman so we promote promiscuity, we laugh at infidelity, we welcome degrading pornography into our home computers, we mock those who uphold traditional values, and we enshrine the rebels who sleep around and call it freedom. And if we have an inconvenient pregnancy on our hands, we can legally put that baby to death through abortion.
The world wants to throw off the “chains." What are those chains? Marriage is one of them.
Men do not want God telling them to do. They would strip him of his crown, his throne, his scepter, his book, his people, and his name. Away with God! The only “God” they want is a mere figurehead deity who looks the other way while they do whatever they please.
We want to do what we want when we want where we want with whom we want. And we don’t want anyone telling us it’s wrong. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, the human race has been sliding downhill, over the cliff, and into the pit of self-destruction. If anything, our generation has greased the skids so nothing will hold us back on our headlong descent into madness.
How does God feel about this state of affairs? Is he surprised?
Stanza # 2: Voice of the Father
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" (vv. 4-6).
God the Father now responds to the spreading rebellion on the earth. What does he say about the runaway world? He’s not surprised at all. It’s not as if God is pacing the throne room of heaven saying, “I’m worried about what’s going on in Libya. What if this revolution spreads to Saudi Arabia? What will happen then?" In contrast to the chaos on earth, there is perfect peace in heaven. The Lord laughs, as if he is saying, “Little man, who do you think you are?”
Men do not want God telling them to do.
First, he laughs at them (4).
Second, he threatens them (5).
Third, he warns them (6).
God is “enthroned,” not embattled. He “laughs” in derision at their puny efforts. It’s like a father laughing when his 3-year-old son says, “Let’s wrestle, Dad. I can beat you.” It’s a joke. Can a flea defeat an elephant? Can man shoot a rocket and destroy the throne of God?
What does he say about the runaway world? He’s not surprised at all.
Verse 6 tells us that God’s response to human chaos is Jesus. He has installed Christ as King. There is a sense of divine irony at work. “You killed my Son, but the day will come when my Son reigns over the earth in the very city where you put him to death.” God is not pleading with men, “Please make my Son king.” He is the King of Kings already! Psalm 2 does not present Christ as an “option” men may choose. He is not an “option” on a long menu of religious choices any more than gravity is an “option” we may disregard if we like. If you think gravity is an “option,” climb to top of the Empire State Building, jump off, and see what happens! The result will not be a positive experience. Those who treat Jesus as an “option” will one day discover that ignoring him leads to eternal destruction.
When we are troubled by the events around us, we should ask ourselves, “Do I still believe in God?” Do we have a God so big that he transcends the shattering affairs of this world? Do we have a God who doesn’t have to watch Fox News to find out what’s going on in the Middle East?
Jesus is not an “option"!
Since God’s answer to all the problems of the world is Jesus, that ought to be our answer as well.
Stanza # 3: Voice of the Son
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery" (vv 7-9).
Now the Son speaks to the chaotic situation engulfing the nations. He proclaims God’s decree that he is the Son of God. When did this decree take place? It happened when God raised Jesus from the dead. It’s not that Jesus became the Son of God at the resurrection. He was and is and always will be the Son of God. But as sunlight streamed into the empty tomb, God unfurled a banner from heaven with the words, “This is my Son. Pay attention to him.” This answers the great question, “Which religion should we follow?” Follow the one whose founder rose from the dead.
First, there is God’s declaration (7). Then there is God’s intention (8). He intends to give Christ the nations as his possession. Finally there is God’s promise to his Son (9). Jesus will one day rule over the nations of the earth. Here we have a promise that ignites the worldwide Christian movement. God wants his Son recognized in every nation!
In Libya amid the flames of the dying Gaddafi regime.
In Saudi Arabia with its billions in oil reserves.
In China where the authorities cannot stop the spread of Christianity.
In France where the churches are beautiful and mostly empty.
In North Korea where the church exists behind closed doors.
In India with its clash of cultures and languages.
God wants his Son recognized. And one day he will be!
God wants his Son recognized.
Isaac Watts wrote about this in a famous hymn not often sung today:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
After that first verse Watts writes about the “islands with their kings,” then Europe and Persia and India. He envisions a day when even the “barbarous nations” will praise his name. They will come from every tongue on earth and infants will join the rising chorus. In the day of Christ’s coming reign, there will be justice for the poor because “pride and rage prevail no more.” The hymn ends with these stirring words:
The saints shall flourish in His days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from His throne
Shall flow to nations yet unknown.
The writer of Psalm 2 would no doubt agree with the vision of Christ ruling over the whole earth, his peace extending to “nations yet unknown.” But note the solemn tone the Son takes in verse 9. Because Christ has the power to rule, he will not hesitate to exercise that power upon any who rebel against him. He will break them to pieces like pottery.
He is not an indifferent king.
If you reject him, he will crush you.
This may not fit into our modern version of the “politically correct Jesus,” but it’s a true part of the biblical portrait of our Lord. Those who will not willingly bow to him will find themselves broken in pieces.
Jesus is not an indifferent king.
Although it doesn’t always appear that way, even the rebellious nations are under God’s control. As I write these words, Libya has descended into chaos. No one yet knows what the fall of Mubarek means for Egypt. The so-called “Jasmine Revolution” has spread from Tunisia across the Arab world. In these days of ferment as the nations stir themselves and people call for action, do not think that God is alarmed. He is not. The Lord has the situation fully under his control.
One day every nation will bow before King Jesus. Today that seems impossible as we consider the world scene. But what we see today is not the last word from heaven. If we believe this, it ought to engender great confidence and form solid ground for believing prayer.
In light of all that, what does God want from the people of the world? Psalm 2 ends with a gracious invitation and a solemn warning.
What we see today is not the last word from heaven.
Stanza # 4: Voice of the Spirit
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 (vv. 10-12).
There is a warning from the Lord (10), an ultimatum from the Lord (11), and an invitation from the Lord (12). Although scholars hotly debate the meaning of some of the Hebrew words, the general sense is clear. God wants complete and unconditional surrender from the rebels who rage against him.
Note that his first word to the rebellious world is “be wise.” Twenty years ago I met Sergei Nikolaev, pastor of the Temple of the Gospel in St. Petersburg, Russia. He told me that he had translated for Billy Graham during one of his missions to Moscow. Somehow the question came up: Why is Billy Graham so effective? Pastor Nikolaev said that in his opinion Billy Graham’s sermons are not profound. In fact, they are usually incredibly simple, so simple that learned scholars dismiss him because he doesn’t use high-sounding language or speak with theological subtlety.
Pastor Nikolaev said, “It is the way he presents his message.” What do you mean? “When you listen to Billy Graham, he preaches in such a way that you can only come to one conclusion: If I am a normal person, I must say Yes to Jesus Christ. If I am a thinking individual, then I must accept Christ.” Therefore, Pastor Nikolaev said, the hearer is forced to ask himself this question: “Am I normal or am I crazy? If I am normal, I must accept Christ. If I truly understand what he has done for me, the only reasonable choice is to bow my knee and open my heart to him. So Dr. Graham is constantly bringing people to ask the question-Am I smart or am I stupid? Am I wise or am I foolish?” He told me that he knew of a man in Russia, a very intellectual man, who heard Billy Graham preach and went home thinking about the message. Later while he was taking a shower, he suddenly thought to himself, “Am I smart or am I stupid? If I’m smart, I will trust Jesus Christ.” And he did.
That’s always the wise thing to do. When I told this story some years ago, I asked the congregation, “Do you want to accept the free gift of eternal life?” I evidently repeated that several times because I found out later that our youngest son leaned over to my wife and said, “I’ll take a gift. You’d be stupid not to take a gift.” He’s right, and that’s precisely Billy Graham’s point.
Wise men come to Jesus. Do it now while you have a chance.
That’s also the point of Psalm 2. Wise men come to Jesus. Do it now while you have a chance. Here is a word to the world’s rulers:
Be wise, Mubarek.
Be wise, Gaddafi.
Be wise, Sarkozy.
Be wise, Kim.
Be wise, Netanyahu.
Be wise, leaders of the earth. Be wise, and come to Jesus. Bow the knee to him before it is too late.
Do you ever wonder why God puts up with flagrant sinners? It’s not because he’s soft on sin. Not at all! God’s wrath can “flare up” at any moment. God’s patience must never be confused with passivity.
He is “slow to anger” but when he gets angry, watch out!
For those who don’t believe Psalm 2 and who don’t bow the knee to Jesus, God has a message for them. They will be “destroyed."
God’s patience must never be confused with passivity.
1. Sudden destruction
2. Total destruction
3. Destruction without remedy
God’s final word is an offer of grace. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12). Or as Eugene Peterson (MSG) puts it, “But if you make a run for God-you won’t regret it!”
I like that–make a run for God.
Many times over the years I’ve summarized the gospel invitation this way:
Run to the cross!
Run, run, run to the cross!
Lay hold of the Savior who died for you.
Lay hold of Jesus and never let go.
May God help you to come.
May God give you a desire to come.
May God give you feet to run to Jesus.
You won’t regret it–today or tomorrow. And 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you came to Jesus.
Trading Spears for Bombs
As I scanned the headlines this morning, I realized once again that the nations are still raging today. Nothing has changed in 3000 years except that man has discovered how to kill millions of people with the push of a button. We have traded spears for bombs. Are we really any better off? Are we any safer now that we can wipe ourselves out? One thing is clear about the current trouble in the Middle East: no one knows what will happen next. Revolutions are always unpredictable. The kings of the earth still gather together to stir up trouble, but even the greatest among them cannot control the future. They can start a war, but they cannot guarantee how it will end.
Revolutions are always unpredictable.
Psalm 2 describes the world as it is and as it someday will be:
1. We live in a world where Jesus is rejected.
2. We live in a world where the majority want nothing to do with him.
3. We live in a world where “little man” still rages against the Son of God.
But we have the privilege of bowing before him. I want to be on his side. I want to bow before him. Psalm 2 calls the church back to its ultimate mission:
1. Personal submission to Jesus as Lord.
2. Proclamation of the Gospel to every nation.
3. Growing confidence in God in the midst of increasing chaos on earth.
Let’s lift up Jesus as the only hope of the world. And let’s invite the rebels on the other side to put down their weapons and join us in the great celebration of God’s Son, the Anointed One, Our coming King–Jesus Christ!
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