If you have not read the intro, I suggest doing so before continuing on.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (ESV)
It is natural to read this Psalm eschatologically. Christ will rule and will reign and will have the nations as his heritage and the earth as his possession. What would it look like to read this Psalm in terms of what Jesus has already accomplished?
The rulers and the kings plot against God and his Christ. They rage, plot, set themselves against, take counsel together. All of this is against God and against his Messiah. But the first verse tips us off. It is in vain. Why is this? I suppose the easy answer would be to say that God is in control or God has a plan through it all or God will end up using their evil schemes in order to accomplish his good plans. There’s something right about all of this. I think there’s also something wrong.
What is their plan? To burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us. To see the Messiah is to see God for the Messiah is the embodiment of God. There is no right understanding of God apart from Jesus and no right understanding of Jesus apart from God. To see Jesus is to see God and to see God is to see Jesus. How should we understand God/Jesus then?
Their goal is to rebel against God and the Messiah’s way. Their plans are from of old: starting in a beautiful garden, running through a jealous brother, a rebellious world, a chosen nation, a holy priesthood, a people called out of darkness into light so that they would declare his praises. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12, ESV)
It’s a perverted sense of freedom. Claiming to be unshackled, unmoored from the benevolent Creating and Redeeming God they have become slaves. Wishing to be alive they have come to serve death. Wishing to be rulers they have become servants. For it is only in serving that we are free. His yoke is easy and his burden is light and all who take it upon themselves will find rest. Not rest in the sense of doing nothing, but rest in the sense of being right where you are supposed to be. To be at home with God, other humans, ourselves, and creation (those alienated others) for the first time. To find that service here, or, let us use the terminology prevalent in the New Testament, to find that being a slave to God in Christ means that we are finally free.
God laughs and holds them in derision. The point is that God is confounding them. Their triumph is really their downfall. This goes back to what’s wrong with seeing this as simply God being in control or using this. It’s not that God is in control and will use even this evil for good: it’s that precisely in their rebelling God is triumphing. There is no lag between the two: the events are one and the same.
For God speaks in his wrath and terrifies them with his fury. Why? What does he say? “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Do not miss the point: the height of their rebellion and the triumph of God is precisely God’s King being set on Zion, God’s holy hill. The triumph of God and thus the King is the crucifixion of Jesus.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, ESV) Lifted up in crucifixion and lifted up in glory. What Mark whispers John shouts: Jesus’ glory is seen in His crucifixion.
And this is exactly where the kings and the rulers think they have triumphed. This is where God laughs because their destruction is His restoration. Their damnation is His salvation. Their condemnation is His reconciliation. “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Cor. 2:8, ESV) “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:15, ESV)
Because Jesus is the Father’s Chosen One, wholly beloved, the firstborn of the new creation, and the one who inherits the nations. The language is not unintentional: the nations become His heritage and the ends of the earth His possession. This Crucified Man is the Incarnate God. He comes to do what Adam and Eve were called to do (Gen. 1:27-28), what they failed to do, what Israel failed to do. He comes to be the last Adam, the wholly faithful one, righteous unto death and crushing the head of the serpent.
He breaks their power through being slain. He overthrows them by dying on a cross. He makes them a public spectacle by enduring public shame. With the offer of kingdoms before Him through taking up the sword, He takes up the cross and does not resist the evildoer. He breaks them because He is willing to have His body broken for us. He dashes them into pieces because His obedience is complete, faithful to death with a crucified but whole body so that He might redeem the whole creation.
So kiss the Son. Take refuge in Him. Only in Him are we made whole. Only in following Him in bearing our cross are we united. The way of Jesus Christ is one way: the way of self-sacrificial love that renounces all temptations to power and prestige in humble adoration of the Crucified One.