One of John Bunyan’s books was entitled “The Holy War.” I have chosen to reverse that title for our message this morning. I want to comment on what happened to Deacon Stephen by taking a brief look at this Second Psalm.
Most of the people of the world, even religious people, wonder why we bother studying the Bible. For most of them the Bible is as relevant as a screen-door on the International Space Station. But both Acts and Psalms are as much 21st century as are cell phones. And I’m not talking about last year’s cell phones with speed dial and call-forwarding, I’m talking about today’s cell phones with satellite internet access and a HD video digital camera. Because both Acts and Psalms are God’s message for people in every place and every age. The pictures that we find in both these chapters are high quality “selfies.”
Stephen defended himself against the charges of the Jews by retelling the history of Israel. If we didn’t know better we’d be apt to think that this would be well-received by those priests and rabbis. After all it was their nation. They were as proud of their history as most Americans are of theirs. And the people to whom Stephen was preaching were among the most religious in all the world. Self-righteous people don’t mind historical, non-personal sermons – so things began just fine. But then Stephen got personal – very, very personal. He reminded those learned men that their history was actually one of rebellion against God and rejection of the revelation of God. His audience exploded, and the end result was the murder / martyrdom of this humble servant of God.
Now let me take you back just a couple of chapters to Acts 4. Peter and John had also been arrested, but for healing a crippled man – and for telling a large crowd of people that it was by the power and the authoritative Lordship of Jesus Christ. When the two apostles were later ordered to explain what they had done, Peter repeated what he had told the crowd the day before. Please remember that he was talking to the same basic group of people to whom Stephen was addressing in Acts 7. Things hadn’t gotten bad yet, so Peter and John were only threatened and released. Acts 4:23-28 – “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Notice that the church in prayer that day referred back to Psalm 2 and applied it to their situation. We have Biblical authority to look at Psalm 2 and not only compare it to the unholy war of the Book of Acts, but to the on-going spiritual struggles of the 21st century.
Consider the two OPPOSING ARMIES.
Psalm 2 asks, “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.”
On the one side there is Jehovah and His Anointed. As you know, the word “LORD,” when spelled in all capital letters, as it is here, is “Yahweh“ or “Jehovah.” And the Hebrew word translated “his anointed,” is “ma-shi-yach” (maw-shee’-akh ) or “Messiah.” In this particular case “Messiah” is a title of the Son of God. On one side in this spiritual battle are God the Father and God the Son – the Lord Jesus Christ.
And on the other side is an army of sinful human beings. David first refers to the “heathen” – a word almost always referring to non-Hebrew idolaters. But right on the heals of “heathen” he refers to “the people.” This word gives the Bible teacher some expository options: It could be talking about Israel, because the Bible quite often calls them “the people.” Or this could be just a poetic reiteration of the heathen. Or it could be talking about common people in contrast to their rulers. But going on, we continue to read of the kings of the earth and the rulers of the people. Whoever was praying in Acts 4, he was directed by the Holy Spirit to interpret this for us. “The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together.”
It is a fact that the world is filled with an abundance of religion. There are occasions when that religion is more open than at other times. For example, everyone seems to be religious when one of their particular group dies. But in reality everyone is religious to some degree all of the time, in their own individual way. What is not quite so obvious is that the vast majority of human religion is at enmity against God. Again I point to Israel, two-thousand years ago, or we could look at Roman Catholicism or Islam or….. Those Jews had religious rites and ceremonies occupying every step of their lives. They may not have had churches at every intersection, but they had religious laws and precepts covering every corner, even to the point of having them written on their gates and door-posts. But along came a new prophet of God, Stephen the deacon, telling them the truth. And they covered their ears, gnashed on him with their teeth and stoned him to death – Just as they had done with dozens and dozens of his predecessors.
There is a spiritual war raging around us, between the Lord and His fallen creation. And we are included in the fight – whether we are believing Christians or unbelievers. If we aren’t kings, then some of us are rulers. Many of us are rulers in the sense of parents, teaching our children truths and lies about Jehovah. Some of us are business rulers, employing others. And if we aren’t kings or rulers then we are common people imaging vain things against the Lord. If we aren’t of Israel then we are heathen. We are in the midst of this fight; we are members in one army or the other. You are a soldier, and in some cases a casualty in this conflict. Some of you are Sauls and some of you are Stephens. Some of you are saints and some of you are Sanhedrin .
What do you suppose precipitated this strife?
Well, let me ask you: What are the leading characteristics of the Jehovah and his Anointed? First and foremost, God is absolutely holy, and the Lord Jesus is absolutely impeccable and sinless. Second, both the Father and the Son can be characterized by pure and perfect love. As a result, even though the heathen rage, they are constantly blessed and fed by the hand of God. Even though a man often denies the existence of God and rejects His name, the Lord puts food in his mouth and breath in his lungs. We could pull out any old Baptist theology book and find chapters on the attributes of God. We could read down through all those attributes, and we wouldn’t find any that were remotely evil. That God is all-knowing, or that he is omnipresent aren’t inherently antagonistic towards us. That God is eternal or that He is omnipotent aren’t things for any man to be angry. I can see only one thing which might irk mankind – God’s sovereignty. The Bible declares and proves that Jehovah is God and man is not. And there are a great many reasons why God claims this authority over us. I think we’ve gone over this fact sufficiently over the last three months we don’t need to do it again..
The reason that the Jewish Sanhedrin hated Christ in Stephen’s day – The reason there has always been war between the Lord, the heathen and the nation of Israel – Is not due to wickedness in any part of the Lord. The problem is that man has somehow decided that HE deserves to be God. There is a voice in every human heart that whispers a desire to usurp God of his divine authority. The kings, rulers, heathen and people unanimously cry out: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” “We will not have this anointed one to rule over us. Crucify him, crucify him.”
This rebellion against the authority of God, entered humanity with our first parents. Sure, Satan encouraged them, but the responsibility is entirely ours – beginning with Adam. The Lord had told him, “Adam, in day that you eat this off-limits fruit, you will become a casualty of war.” “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” When Adam rebelled against this command, his spirit died, but his body carried on in a sinful and rebellious state for a great many more years.
Eventually the Lord sovereignly chose the nation of Israel, He redeemed them and delivered them from Egypt. Then at the foot of Sinai, He gave them His law – a revelation of God’s own heart. At first Israel shouted praise to the Lord and agreed to follow every precept. But in a matter of days, they joined the heathen in screaming, “Let us break their asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” And that was, generally speaking, what Stephen was telling the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. That has been the theme of the prophets of God from the days of Samuel through to Malachi. This is why John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus preached repentance, and it was also why they were killed. Repentance was Peter’s theme in Acts 2 and Acts 4. And if Stephen had the opportunity to conclude his sermon he would have preached the same thing. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
Psalm 2 gives us a few of the details of man’s sinful rebellion against God. It comes from all nations, all ranks of people, and we can see that it also comes from all generations. It is often deliberate and planned. It is obstinate and persistent even in the face of warnings against it. And it is often comes in an united front and effort.
Every religion which refuses to bow before the revealed Word of God is a part of this rebellion. Every individual who knows to do right and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin and rebellion – James 4:17. The confusing multiplicity of Bible versions is a part of this war. Every strip-joint, gin-joint and joint of weed points to a victim or a battle. Every skipped church service, every church drop-out, every Bible sermon unheard is part of the problem. There is a battle raging around us; there is a battle raging within us. Peter and the Baptist were right: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” This unholy war has been raging now for over 6,000 years, but it will not go on forever.
This Psalm speaks of a VICTORY.
Psalm 2:4 – “He that sitteth 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.”
I don’t recall any of the preachers in Acts using Psalm 2 as their sermon text, but they could have. On the greatest Pentecost in history Peter declared: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Part of Psalm 2 concerns the times of restitution to which Peter refers in Acts 3. And in Acts 5 Peter declared: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
David, the penman of Psalm 2, said that the Lord has decreed to establish His King upon the throne of Zion. Some might say that David was speaking about himself, but that was not the case. Because his words, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” prove this to be speaking of Christ. It is the decree of God that Christ Jesus will destroy the wicked of the earth and sit in glory on the throne of David. And that means that all this rebellion against God is futile. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.” “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.”
Matthew 12 describes another battle in this great war. “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.”
I Corinthians 15 is the great chapter on the gospel and the resurrection “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Verse 20 says, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
Revelation 17 describes one of the last great battles in this war. The kings of the earth in that day will include the Antichrist himself. Verse 14 says, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”
There is no doubt about the outcome of this war of rebellion against the Lord and His Anointed – His Son. The lamb of God will be a lion and shall put down all opposition. 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.” We know where this war will end, and we know Who will be the winner.
And that makes the SUGGESTIONS and EXHORTATIONS very easy.
“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.”
This is where Stephen was trying to go before the rulers of Israel clapped their hands over their ears. This was the message of Peter, the Lord Jesus and John the Baptist. “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Is anyone listening? It is not only futile – but fatal to rebel against the King of Kings. The wages of this sin is eternal death. The end of this rebellion is to be “cast into the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”
But not only do we have the warning, we have an exhortation: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” “To kiss” in this sense, is to bow before the Son of God – the King. It is to acknowledge Him to be truly sovereign. It is to pledge allegiance to His flag. To kiss the Son is to repent toward God before Him. It is to acknowledge that we are rebels, but that we wish to be subjects. It is to subject ourselves with every corner of our lives to His benevolent sovereignty. “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” The allegiance that God is seeking from us is not something coerced. The Lord wants our love and a simple child-like faith in Him. He wants the rebel to trust His mercy and to love His grace. “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains.”
Are you living at the foot of the cross or are you slinging curses at the crucified Saviour?