Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Trinity Church of Tri-Cities
November 9, 2008
THE LONG WAR AGAINST GOD
Scripture: Psalm 2
Text: Psalm 2:1-3
In 1963 the Rt. Rev. John A.T. Robinson, Anglican Bishop of Woolrich, England, wrote a book called, “Honest to God,” and in it called for an outlawing of the word God “for at least a generation.” He went on to say that in the space age “men can no longer credit the existence of God as a supernatural person.”
That theology in the 60’s was called the “death-of-God theology,” and in some degree followed that German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. You perhaps recall the joke that went around in those days. On the walls of a New York subway someone scrawled the words, “God is dead.” Signed, Nietzsche. The next day another sentence was added, “Nietzsche is dead.” Signed God. The recent elections may give some reason to think that the animosity against the church and true religion will ramp up. And we need to see that ultimately all opposition against morality and against the church is conflict with the Almighty.
In Psalm 2 the Holy Spirit shares several perspectives on this for your peace of mind, for He is the great Comforter. He has arranged this Psalm in four parts, and today and in the weeks to come, I want to open up to you the view outlined in those four parts.
Part one is verses 1-3, and those verses are the heavenly analysis of what is happening here on earth. This is the anatomy of a revolution, a revolt against Jehovah and against His Anointed, His chosen one and ones.
Part two, verses 4-6, take us to heaven to see and hear how the Almighty responds to all this commotion. We will see that He responds in four ways: first, He responds emotionally, for He laughs at them. Second, He responds vocally, He speaks to them. Third, He answers in action, “He will distress them in His sore displeasure.” The RSV says, “terrify them.” Fourth, He enters the scene, setting His King on His holy hill of Zion.
Part three, verses 7-9, take us back to earth, where the King whom the Almighty placed on Mount Zion makes His terrifying decree, the revelation of the promised cosmic conquest of the Son of the almighty.
Part four, verses 10-12, continue on earth, this time with the church proclaiming the great gospel of the Kingdom of Christ, and urging men everywhere to come to terms with this King.
Today I want to preach the first three verses under the theme: The Long War Against God. Why do the heathen rage and the peoples plot 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 bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.”
Let’s work backwards a minute and first ask the question, what does the Holy Spirit mean by “break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us?” There are several ways we can see this. First, if we look at the word “bonds” we see it can be closely related to “covenant,” or relationship. Man finds himself in relation to God his Creator, and God his judge and lawgiver. Instead of owning his allegiance, his loyalty and obedience to the one true God, he makes idols for himself, idols that are images of himself, for man will finally be his own God. And to do that he must satisfy himself that he has broken the bonds of the creature/Creator relationship.
Man finds himself in relation to other, bound to others, because God made him in covenant with others. He will murder his brother, for he refuses to see that he is his brother’s keeper, for God has created him in relation to others. He continues to break the laws of God, to cast away the cords that restrain his nature. So the heathen rage, venting their rage against God by the violence described in the pre-flood world, a violence, a violating of the image of God, man.
Two things then become clear: The nations rage and plot, the kings and rulers sit around in their throne rooms and by their campfires making elaborate plans to cut off their relation to the Almighty, and to take the cords of the law of God and scatter the broken pieces to the four winds. Through idolatry and violence then, they take the ten words of the covenant, smash them and spit on them. God’s four commands in the first table outline what should be their relation to Him, and the six commands in the second table, how they should treat the image of God, their neighbor. But they continually devise more ways to shatter these bonds and cords. Any conspiracy against the laws of God is a conspiracy against God Himself. Any violation of the image of God in man is a violation of God Himself.
One final and very important fact we should not in these verses, is that this revolution of peoples and kings is, as I just said, against God, but not only against God, but against His anointed. Verse two says that this revolt is against “the Lord and against His anointed.” The Lord’s anointed. From our knowledge of David, who probably wrote this Psalm, we understand that this word “anointed” refers to the king God appointed to represent Himself in rule and leadership.
The word “anointed” in our English use of the original Hebrew word is “Messiah.” So we may read verse 2 like this, “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Messiah.” That immediately takes us to Jesus, doesn’t it? For He is the true Messiah, the anointed of God. Jesus, who is called the Christ. For Christ is the way we pronounce the Greek word for Anointed. “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ.”
Let’s go one step farther, and say that this word “anointed” refers to Christ, but in Christ, refers to all of God’s people. Those, who war against the people of God war against God Himself. For God has taken His people into covenant with Himself in Jesus Christ, and since God and His people then are one, those who revile the Israel of God have to contend, are contending with God Himself. We will see that shortly.
I want to divide the next things I say into two time areas, pre-ascension and post-ascension, that is, some examples of those who raged and plotted against the Lord and His anointed before the ascension of Jesus Christ to the great throne of David, and some of those who raged and plotted against Him after His ascension.
If we think of David as the human author of this Psalm there was certainly enough in his experience to cause him to write these words. From his earliest years, of course, he was the anointed of God. The record will show that everyone knew that God had appointed David as king, even when Saul still held the throne. Yet for so much of his life, both before he was crowned by Israel, and after, David had to contend with those who fought against him. Saul was his deadly adversary so many years. When he came into the kingship, the old enemies of Israel, the Philistines, gathered twice to fight against David. The Moabites and the Edomites fought against him. The Syrians and the Ammoni
tes conspired against him.
The contest that brought everything into sharp focus though, came early in David’s life, and that was his battle with Goliath. On a bright spring morning three thousand years ago, the sun was rising over the Valley of Elah in southern Judea. The armies of the Philistines stood rank on the western hills overlooking the valley, and the troops of Israel on the eastern hills. Into the camp of Israel came a young man looking for his brothers. And while he was walking about, down into the valley there strode this tremendous giant, bawling out defiance to the armies of Israel. The young man said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy armies of the living God. Let me fight with him.”
So as David approached Goliath, David said, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied.” Notice here, carefully, for David recognized that God identified Himself with a people, even though this people were a cowardly assembly. Israel was the chosen and anointed people of God, and those who defied Israel defied the God of Israel.
David remembered history, the history of God’s identification with Israel. God had identified Himself with this nation 500 years earlier when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God came to Pharaoh and said, “Israel is my son, my first-born. Let my son go that he may serve me.” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should listen to Him. I do not know Him.” “Oh,” said the Lord, “you will know me alright. Now, if you do not listen to me, I will destroy you and your country with great plagues.”
So, by the hand of His anointed, by the hand of Moses, God ten times commanded Pharaoh to let his people go. Ten times he brought great punishments, and yet ten times Pharaoh battled against God, refusing to submit, refusing to allow God’s word to bind him, and insanely battering himself against the Lord and against His anointed.
Fast forward 800 years. Remember Sennacherib the Assyrian king. Assyria had destroyed the ten tribes of Israel, carried all their people into captivity, and now Sennacherib led the Assyria armies against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. God-fearing Hezekiah was king. Sennacherib sent his general Rabshakeh and laid siege to Jerusalem with a great army. The general called out to the men on the wall saying, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria?”
So Hezekiah sent to Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Pray for us. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, who his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God.” The war against Israel was a war against the living God.
Forward 150 years, Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, is described by Isaiah: “You said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” This is the man who boasted in his god Marduk, who by his power had destroyed the kingdom of the God of Israel in Judah and Jerusalem, burning the temple of the Lord with fire, and cutting off the manhood of the sons of David, the anointed of God.
“The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed. . .”
Another empire that clashed with God’s people – the Persian, and you will remember this from the book of Esther. “Let a decree be written that they [that is the Jews] may be destroyed,” said Haman. In his envy and fury against Mordecai and against all the Jews, he gave orders to annihilate the entire nation of Israel throughout the entire empire of Persia and to hang Mordecai on gallows 75 feet tall he had made in his own back yard.
You have probably noticed that I have not told how each of these stories ended; that will come next week. Now my purpose is to show the continual war against the Most High, and that this war against God was always a war against His anointed person and His anointed people.
The long war against God came to a climax in the trial and death of Jesus Christ, for after the resurrection and ascension, the apostles prayed in this fashion, “So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, “who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.’ “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:24-28 NKJV)
After the apostles were again arrested, and the rulers were plotting against them, Gamaliel arose and cautioned them, that they could be fighting against God here. And of course, so they were. Again, those who fight against the people of God are fighting against Christ, the anointed one, and against Almighty God Himself.
The same is true about Saul of Tarsus, who in his misplaced zeal, was found to be fighting against Jesus Christ Himself, as it was blindingly shown to him on the road to Damascus. And as the book of Acts continues, it becomes all too clear that Satan used the Jews throughout the Roman empire to obstruct, to oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as the Jews incited Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to crucify Jesus Christ, so as the apostles preached the gospel in all the cities of the Roman empire, the Jews incited the Romans to view this kingdom of Jesus Christ as a threat to their imperial majesty.
The Romans arrested Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, a direct pupil of the Apostle John, in his 86th year and brought him before the Roman magistrate. He had refused to give worship to Caesar. The magistrate was a kind man really, and as he saw this gentle church father in danger of his life, he pleaded with him. “Just say, ‘Caesar is Lord’. You don’t have to mean it, just say the words. Then you can worship Christ all you want.” Polycarp refused and they burned him alive. There must be no threat to the supremacy of the state; the state is god.
You need to understand that ever since Octavian became emperor just before the birth of Christ, all emperors took to themselves the title “augustus”, and that meant revered. So the cult of emperor worship began, and throughout the empire all religions were tolerated, provided that everyone, no matter what his religious belief, would show homage to Augustus Caesar every year, offering a sacrifice and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians would not do that or say that, for Jesus Christ was their only sacrifice and their only Lord.
As Chris Schlect informed us at the History Conference, the Roman Empire’s last, largest, and bloodiest persecution of Christians, of the church, of the body of Jesus Christ Himself, took place under the emperor Diocletian. From 303 to 311 Diocletian fueled the rage against the Lord and against His
anointed, against His Christ, against Christians. It all started in 302 in Antioch where Diocletian ordered the Deacon Romanus of Caesarea to have his tongue removed for interrupting the official emperor sacrifices. On the saints’ calendar in my study Romanus is listed as martyred on November 18, AD304.
The Roman empire was starting to fall apart and Diocletian needed to take remedial measures. He argued that forbidding Christians from the bureaucracy and the military would appease the gods. His son-in-law Galarius pressed for the extermination of the Christians. They applied for advice from the oracle of Apollo, and the answer of the oracle was that, quote, “the just on earth hindered Apollo’s ability to provide advice.” Members of Diocletian’s court said that the “just on earth” could only refer to Christians, and that began the universal persecution of the church.
In Spain, two monumental pillars were raised, on which were written: “Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti, for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and the west, and for having extinguished the name of Christians, who brought the Republic to ruin.” And on the second monument: “Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti, for having adopted Galerius in the east, for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ, for having extended the worship of the gods.”
“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot 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 bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.’” (Ps.2:1-3 NKJV)
Let me explain one last attempt of imperial Rome to snuff out the light of the gospel, to extinguish the church, to remove Christ from His throne.
Flavius Claudius Julianus was born in AD331 of Christian parents. His later writings show that he had a detailed knowledge of the Scriptures. In AD 360 he became emperor, and took various measures to restore the lost strength of the Roman state. He established Hellenic paganism as the state religion. He recognized that since the physical persecution of Christians had actually strengthened them, he took actions designed to harass them. He made laws that targeted wealthy and educated Christians to drive them from ruling positions. He restored pagan temples. In 362 he proclaimed an edict to guarantee freedom of religion, having as its purpose to restore paganism at the expense of Christendom.
In an attempt to remove some of the power of the many Christian schools throughout the empire, he decreed that all teachers had to be approved by the emperor. He tried to bring Christian charities under his control, because said he, “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them. . .they attract them. . .” Julian the Apostate, as he is known in history, died in battle in AD 363, and said with his dying breath. . .oh, that’s for the next week.
The long war against the Lord and against His anointed continued. See the rage of Philip II of Spain, declaring in secret correspondence in the 16th century that he would wipe out the Reformed faith from the Low Countries, the Netherlands and Belgium even if it meant that every man, woman, and child would be put to death. And sending the cruel Duke of Alva with his mercenaries, he went a long way toward achieving his goal. In his campaign to exterminate the faith there, Phillip, killed by burning, drowning, hanging and burying alive an estimated 50,000 Christians.
The long war against the Lord and against His Christ. Fast forward to the 18th century and the French revolution. 1792 was counted as year one of the Republic. Some historians list that period as the de-Christianization of France. It involved deportation of clergy and condemnation of many to death, closing, desecration and pillaging of churches. Removal of word “saint” from street names. Destruction of crosses, bells. . .large-scale destruction of religious monuments. Outlawing of public and private worship and religious education.
A law passed on October 21, 1792 made all suspected priests and all persons who harbored them liable to death on sight. There was a celebration of the goddess Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral on November 10, 1793, and since the Lord was so untidy, so unscientific, the French changed the calendar. Henceforth the week was to have ten days, not seven, and the day to have 10 hours, not twelve.
The long war against the Lord and against His Christ. Why is it that these atheistic regimes, the French republic under Maximilien Robespierre, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, shed rivers of blood, killed thousands and millions of their own people. Why? Because in their rage against the Lord and against His Christ, they need to destroy the image of God.
And that brings us to this year of our Lord, 2008, and this public gathering of the Church of Jesus Christ, reaffirming our allegiance to one God and Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. We affirm this over against what seems to be the allegiance of this country.
The message of the majority of the electorate in this country is loud and clear: We will not have this Christ to rule over us. We will continue to insist that our children are taught that there is no such thing as a Creator who made all things, and made all men in His image. We will continue to squash the unborn image of God in any womb we want. We will continue to believe that the salvation of this country will come out of Washington DC, whether a Democrat or Republican is president, and whether the House and Senate is controlled by either party.
Where is the answer to all the problems that vex us; who will save us? 2000 years ago the answer rode through the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people cried out, “Hosanna,” to Jesus Christ. Do you know what the word “hosanna” means? It means, “Save now.” Yet this was the same cry the Romans made to their emperor; the cry Rome ordered them to make. That cry was, “Hail, Caesar.” “Save now, Caesar.” Hail Caesar. And in 1935 that cry again surfaced, this time in Germany with the cry, “Heil Hitler.” Save now!
Under the guise of all the religious talk during the recent political campaigns, the underlying premise is the promise to satisfy the cry to the supremacy of the state, “Hail, save now.” But we are gathered here this morning to declare that the Lord and His Christ have said that salvation comes out of Zion, not out of Washington or our of the UN. We are here to declare that abortion, euthanasia, evolution, and any requirement for supreme allegiance to the state just continues the long war against the Lord and against His Christ.
We are here to declare another King, one Jesus. We are here to declare that every battle in the long war against the Lord and against His Christ has always ended with the Lord’s anointed standing on top of the fallen body of Goliath, holding up his bloody severed head as a trophy of victory.
We are here before this blessed table, waiting for the Lord and His Anointed, Jesus Christ, to again identify us as anointed ones, Christians, declaring that this Christ against whom all the battles are raged and waged, has died and risen, that we
as Christians, partaking of Him have also died and risen.
So the Lord will send you forth from here to declare to the world, to the heathen, to kings and rulers, that in all their plots and counsels, in all their rage and schemes to break their accountability to the Lord, to trample on His laws and commandments, is a war against the Lord and against His Christ.
The Lord will send you forth to bring this great and good message: Kiss the Son, worship Him, honor Him, from whom alone salvation comes. Honor His great and good laws. For we solemnly testify the blessedness, the happiness, of all those who put their trust in Him.