Antagonistic Psalms

There are many places to go in the Bible if you’re interested in evangelism but you see evangelism most clearly in action in the book of Acts. Peter and Paul and many others in the church were incredible evangelists who loved God and who loved those to whom they witnessed. They boldly held forth the offer of salvation to all who would believe.

In Acts 4 Peter courageously stands up to the authorities who tell him to stop proclaiming Jesus. Peter’s response is classic: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

After being released Peter and John returned to the rest of the disciples and together they immediately went before God in prayer. Their prayer is instructive. They praise God for his sovereignty in creation and in redemption and they ask him to give them boldness and to show his power. In the middle of the prayer are the words from Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.” The disciples were well versed in the psalms. This was their worship book. The psalms were foundational and motivational for their evangelism.

Since I’m preparing to preach on Acts 4 this Sunday I decided to take a cue from the disciples and dive into the psalms, asking God to allow the psalms to shape my prayer – specifically as I, with the disciples, prayed for courage in evangelism.

But as I read through the psalms a thought dawned on me: Why did the psalms inform the disciples’ evangelism? Many, many, MANY of the psalms, and especially psalm 2, speak of God’s enemies. These are rather antagonistic psalms. Psalm 2 basically states “Get on God’s side… or else!” Wouldn’t the idea that God has enemies (and that, by extension, God’s people have enemies) squash evangelism? Wouldn’t being informed by these “antagonistic psalms” lead to an inward focused church, more concerned with holding to its own tribe than risking its neck by declaring Jesus as the Messiah and the only way of salvation?

For the early church, the answer is obviously no. Why?

The first answer is that when the disciples spoke of God’s enemies, they spoke of God’s enemies. In their prayer they didn’t say “everyone is against us” but “everyone is against your holy servant Jesus.” This seems to make the sting of opposition less personal and, in the case of the disciples anyway, more theologically accurate. They were being opposed because they were accurately representing Christ and their opponents were opposed to Christ. The enemies of God are by extension the enemies of God’s people in the sense that they oppose what God’s people are doing, but the relationship is not direct.

The second answer is that confessing that God has enemies does not preclude God’s people from loving those enemies or from seeking their good or praying for their salvation. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, not because they are not our enemies, but because God also sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Jesus himself died for us while we were his enemies. The fact that all of us, because of our sin, were once God’s opponents precludes us from an us-vs-them mentality even with a recognition that God does indeed still have enemies and that God’s people, in representing the gospel, have enemies as well.

In fact, this recognition can be a motivating force for evangelism, and that on multiple levels. First it’s a motivation for evangelism because we know it’s exceedingly dangerous to be God’s enemy. The warning against God’s wrath in Psalm 2:12 is severe (“your way will lead to destruction”) but the hope of salvation is just as sweet (“blessed are all who take refuge in him”). One of the roles of an evangelist is to warn, and in a way motivated and informed by love. The second motivation comes from the recognition that God is sovereign and that, as powerful as God’s enemies might be, all their plotting is ultimately in vain (Acts 4:25) and even the worst they could do, putting to death God’s son, actually played right into God’s hands (Acts 4:28) in his work of redemption. Acknowledging that God has enemies can be scary, but not when we realize that in terms of power, there is simply no comparison, and this realization is exactly what led to Peter and John’s courage in evangelism.