Monday, May 7, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: Two Kingdoms

Preached on Sunday, May 6, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 2:1-12; Matthew 5:1-12

There are plenty of people who will tell us that we live in a nation in crisis. During the presidential campaign of 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a third party candidate, spoke of the issues facing our nation at that time, and he said, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

The truth is that our entire world is in crisis. More than that, this world has been in crisis all my life; and I have to admit I get tired of people trying to tell me that we are facing something new and unprecedented.

This world, in all of its splendor, is an ancient battlefield. This world, full of people made in the image of God, is an endless war. This war has been going on since the first humans rebelled against God.

The primary war of this world is a war of rebellion. This war explains all other wars. This war of rebellion is at the heart of the never-ending crisis.

Psalm number two is about this war. Jesus sang this war-song all his life. So did his family, and friends, and neighbors. They sang about what it is like to be caught in the middle of a world at a war. When Jesus sang this song, he knew that he had a role to play at the very center of it all. He knew that he must be the answer to the problem of this war.

It is the war of two kingdoms; two forces in the world. They are far from equal in power, but they often create an equal fear.

What are the two kingdoms? The first kingdom in the psalm is the world. There is a kingdom or power made of everyone on earth: nations, peoples, kings, rulers. This includes presidents, and dictators. It includes bankers and investment companies. It includes bureaucracies. It includes industries and corporate executives. It includes the people who make television shows, and movies, and computer games, and social networks. It includes all the peoples of the all the nations: all races, and cultures, and creeds. It includes all communities; the biggest cities and the smallest towns. It includes churches. It includes families. It includes you and me. We are the first kingdom.

When the prophets spoke for God against the powers of this world they also spoke against their own leaders and people. We have to remember this.

God’s people, or the people who think of themselves as God’s people, can be afraid of the whole world because they think the whole world is against them, and they are right. The more focused we are on the other kingdom (God’s kingdom) the more the whole world is against us. But, in this world, we, as God’s people, are often our own worst enemy. We can even be God’s enemy. This fact is as scary as anything we may read in the Bible.

What is this war, this crisis, all about? The world says, “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.” The kingdom of the world is passionate about freedom from the chains of God and the chains of the Son. What are those chains? How does God tie up human life and take away human freedom and opportunities?

God’s “laws” do it. God’s laws are God’s ways for us, and they also are God’s own ways of dealing with us. They are the ways that come from the depth of his heart and define who God is.

One set of God’s laws can be seen in the Ten Commandments. We can sample these.

One of God’s horrible chains is the chain of thankfulness. The commandments begin with a reminder of who God is. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) The people of Israel had been slaves for more than four hundred years in Egypt, and God had set them free.

We are all slaves in our own way who have been set free by God for a life with him. Without this freedom, we are part of a rebellion against the life that comes from God. Our rebellion comes from the human nature we have inherited from Adam and Eve; the first humans and the first rebels. We want to be independent from God who gives us life and puts us in his world.

We want to be in charge of ourselves and in charge of the people who affect our lives. We would rather hurt them than let them get in the way of our wants and desires. We sometimes resist this, but we do not win. The world’s war of rebellion goes on inside us, and we lose our own war with ourselves.

God’s faithful love leads him to use his power to fight the war within us, and give us a new life. To Israel, he gave freedom from slavery by making a path through the Red Sea.

In Jesus God offers all people the gift of freedom from the slavery that chains them to themselves and to this warring world, by making a path through sin and death by means of the cross and the resurrection. God came down in Jesus to carry the sins of the world on the cross. His death, as the sin-bearer, offers us freedom from our sins.

When we trust in what Jesus has done for us we die, with Jesus, to our sins. Through the death of Jesus we leave the power of sin behind us, just as Christ left the grave wrappings behind him, in the empty tomb.

The power of the new life of God is thankfulness. This is the law, and it is the gospel. It is God’s chain on us, but it is more like the chain on a winch that lifts us out of a well-shaft of darkness in which we cannot live. We could never live without it.

There is a commandment that says, “You shall not covet.” (Exodus 20:17) This law is like saying, “You shall learn a life of contentment.” What a horrible chain to bear!

If the world wants anything it is the gift of freedom from contentment. Everyone wants the freedom to have what other people have, and to be unhappy because other people have what we don’t have.

We are sometimes crazy enough to think that the freedom to hate other people’s happiness is the key to a happy life. God, to us, is like the parent of a crying child. The child wants to cry, and all the parent’s attempts to make them smile only make them more miserable. What can a parent do, in the face of this determined unhappiness? The only sane way to respond is to laugh; just as God laughs at the world that is gathered against him.

Sometimes, when we laugh at other people, we rob them of their value as people created in the image of God. But there is another way to laugh at others. There is a way to laugh at other people when they are so set on ruining the image of God within them. We only laugh at what they need to lose.

The laughter of God does us nothing but good; but what about the anger of God? We worry about the anger of God in this psalm; but the truth is that God is only angry at anger. The world is angry toward a God who will not allow himself to be rejected; a God who won’t go away when his presence is inconvenient. God, upon whom all life depends, is right to be angry at such a misguided anger.

One of the reasons for God’s laughter, in this song, is that God knows that the world which gathers for battle against him cannot win. God laughs because he knows he is in charge. The song that Jesus sang empowered him with the laughter of a God who is in charge.

I think Jesus was hiding his laughter when he gave us what we call the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Jesus knew that no normal human being would find it easy to be poor in spirit. No normal human being would think that this poverty was what he had always wanted.

When we are poor in spirit, it means being so full of love for God, and so full of love for others, that we stop being full of our selves. But we want to be full of ourselves. There is a saying, “If you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else will.”

Blessed means being happy; and so Jesus is saying that we become happy when we become small to ourselves compared with everything else. When Jesus talked about happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, one of his examples was to point us to the big things. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6:25-34) We can be happy with a bird in a cage, or a lily in a pot, but the real happiness comes from a whole field in blossom and a sky full of birds. Being a small person at the foot of a big mountain is the source of a big happiness.

Jesus had to be hiding his laughter when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He thought with hidden laughter about the song where the world says, “Let us break their chains,” because he knew that the happiness of being poor in spirit would completely confuse those who wanted the power of being in charge; even when it meant being unhappy.

Song number two in Jesus’ songbook is scary because it sings about the anger of God. I hate anger, and I hate myself when I see my own anger. I know there is such a thing as righteous anger, but I don’t know how to be righteous when I am angry. James says, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Human anger often fails to do what God tells us is right.

But I know there are issues deserving our anger. Evil, and injustice, and falsehood deserve anger, and they teach us the meaning of good anger. The anger of God can be trusted to be good anger.

Everything that God is, God is all the time. God is always angry at evil and injustice and falsehood, even when he sees it in you and me. This is good. But it is also good that God is always much more than angry.

When we get angry we forget to be just, we forget to be wise, we forget to love. When God is angry, none of the good things in him are forgotten. He does not stop being just, and wise, and loving. His anger is as safe as it is good and faithful.

Song number two, in the songbook of Jesus, tells us something we have trouble remembering when we think about the anger of God. When God is angry, how does he show his anger? He shows his anger by showing us his Son. God shows his anger by giving us Jesus and saying, “You need to kiss Jesus. You need to kiss the Son.” (Psalm 2:12)

How did God and his Son deal with the rebellion of the world? How did they deal with the war and the unending crisis?

Their answer was to get more deeply involved than ever in the world that gathered against them. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1-2) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14)

The Son came down from heaven to earth to be our king, but his idea of kingship was to come as one plain, simple human being. He became a baby in the feed trough of a stable in Bethlehem. He became a carpenter, working in Joseph’s shop, or on the rafters of a neighbor’s house, or under the axle of a neighbor’s wagon.

The angel told his mother Mary this about the baby she would bear: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and be called Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32) The humanity of Jesus, the humanness of God, the true God becoming truly human, is wrapped up in his greatness. It is part of his plan; part of what makes us call him the Son of God, the Son of the Most High.

When Jesus grew up he identified with our need to be cleansed from sin. He identified with his people when they were going to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River for a new heart and mind. When he was baptized along with them a voice from heaven echoed the war-song that he had grown up singing, “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

When Jesus took his disciples up on a mountaintop, where they could be with him while he prayed, his appearance changed while they watched. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-8) The voice of the Father echoed the war-song that Jesus had grown up singing.

After Jesus was crucified, and rose from the dead, the disciples started talking to people about Jesus and this is what Paul said, “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.” (Acts 13:32-33) The message of the gospel echoed the war-song of Jesus, where the Son brings an ancient war to an end.

Everything Jesus did was part of who he is. It was all a part of his being the Son of the Father, and the solution for the war. Everything in his heart was an answer to the crisis of our world and the rebellion that has gone on since the creation went astray.

Our solution to the war of the two kingdoms is to kiss the Son. The song teaches to receive God by receiving his Son. It teaches us to surrender our lives, to give ourselves up to God, by giving ourselves up to the Son.

A kiss did that. A kiss was a covenant. It was a promise. It brought the kisser and the one being kissed together. It made peace. It was the gesture that said, “You are my Lord; I take refuge in you.” (Psalm 2:12)

Song number two in the songbook of Jesus tells us to not be afraid of the latest version of an ancient war. The song tells us that Jesus is the one who teaches us to be angry without forgetting to be just, and wise, and loving. The weapon of the good news is the redemptive love of God in Christ. Jesus is how God fights. Jesus is how God has won us.

We come to Jesus who teaches us that good and happy fight, and we leave the selfish anger of the world. Then we take our place in the kingdom that knows how to laugh because we know that God is in charge.


  1. How refreshing to hear someone talk about sin and anger. How refreshing too to be cleansed from sin and therefore from His anger. One day we will please Him all the time.

  2. good morning, pastor Dennis,

    thanks so much for sharing yet another inspirational post/thoughts!
    most definitely something i needed to read today.

    your words are like rain in the desert.

    i agree with chrisj. one day we will please Him all the time.

    thank you so much!

  3. Reminds me of:

    This is my Father's world.
    O let me ne'er forget
    that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.

    Great message.