He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)

Hulk trying to Smash!

As someone who collected comics years ago, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  The decades of characters and stories created in the comics combine with modern special effects to create the ultimate “popcorn” events.  Thor: Ragnarok, released in 2017, was one I really looked forward to since I had read the original Ragnarok story line that culminated in The Mighty Thor issue #353 in March 1985.

(Caution: Mild movie spoilers follow!!!)  The movie’s conclusion is significantly different than the comic version, with a twist that the heroes decide victory lies in not fighting the “Big Bad” of Surtur, a massive fire demon.  However, after realizing this, they must convince the Hulk to follow the plan, resulting in one of the funniest exchanges in any of the MCU movies:

Thor: Hulk, no! Just for once in your life, don’t smash!
Hulk (in sullen voice): But big monster!

You can watch the 1 1/2 minute scene here:

Hulk logic is simple.  Big monster is here.  Hulk must smash big monster.  That’s the plan.

In Part 1, Jesus was pictured in Psalm 2:4 as being enthroned in heaven, laughing in derision at the rulers of the world who sought to break free from His “bonds” and “cords”.  This description of Jesus is a reassuring reminder to us that no worldly kingdom is a threat to Him, and we can trust in His protection.  The post ended with a question of whether we also laugh as Jesus does?  Do we hold our (and His) enemies in derision?

Peter Smash!
Here we began with a Marvel movie scene, because in a way, Thor convincing Hulk that fighting fire with fire wasn’t the answer is like Jesus’ rebuking of Peter for fighting back against the mob that arrested Jesus, and soon delivered Him to be crucified.  In John 18:1-11, Judas leads a “band of soldiers and some officers” to arrest Jesus, and Peter (possibly thinking “Big Monster!”) drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the high priest’s servants, named Malchus.  Jesus says “Peter, no!  For once in your life, don’t smash”, or as more accurately rendered in the ESV: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Matthew’s account (26:52-54) adds: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”

Jesus knows that He can beat any “Big Bad” the world has to offer at any time with an “appeal to my Father”.  In Psalm 2:5-9, right after He laughs, the Psalmist writes:

“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.”

But rescuing His people must come first, and until then final judgment is delayed.  Jesus knew when Psalm 2 was written that He would eventually judge all the nations, but He also knew what sort of death He would die to accomplish salvation for His people.  Jesus does not laugh because His enemies can be taken lightly – He is fully aware of the evil of the world.  His enemies cause real pain and suffering on earth, and He takes each offense personally.  But if He decided to spend all of history laughing in heaven, we would all be without hope.  Fortunately, He lived among us, and suffered terribly as a servant, knowing “that he had come from God and was going back to God”[1]

At the time of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus had told His disciples multiple times, citing Old Testament prophecy, that His plan required being rejected, suffering, and dying, then rising again[2], but when the mob came for Jesus, Peter didn’t make the connection.  He did not understand the plan, but later he would.  We are not alone when we don’t understand God’s will for us.  The twelve disciples were constantly out of step with Jesus.  When asked to do something against our natural impulse we sometimes drop our shoulders, and our voice becomes sullen like Hulk’s.

But we have hope.  Years later, Peter would write about his progress from his early impulsive days in 1 Peter 1:13-15:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

The “passions of Peter’s former ignorance”, may include the time Peter cried “big monster!” and cut off someone’s ear.  None of us are immune from the same Hulk logic when threatened.  But it might also be said that Jesus looked at Peter in derision when he did this[3].  But for the grace of God, there go I.

Peter writes of the implications of understanding Christ’s mission on the cross, that Christ’s followers are part of the plan, as active participants in the mission.  He calls the church to be holy, set apart for God’s purposes, to pursue the mission of the church, most succinctly spelled out at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (28:19-20).  In this kingdom, the two most important commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[4]

To answer to the question at the end of Part 1, the prescriptive truth that is like Proverbs 14:21[5] is love.  Love defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave.  A love more thoroughly defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as patient and kind, and not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude[6].  Or, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”  Paul adds in Rom 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Jesus laughing in heaven is only a comfort to us if He is our King, and if He is our King, we seek to follow the laws of His kingdom.  The laughter of Jesus is not a model for us, but is a source of comfort and strength if we are His.  In contrast, the nations, kings and rulers of this world refuse the “bonds” and “cords” of the Lord, which are these laws of love.  They make up their own system of “righteousness” by laws, and therefore “the Lord holds them in derision.”  Their earthly rules and systems cannot measure up to His righteousness and are at best narratives and at worst tyrannies.

Love When Bad Things Happen
Jesus’ laughing is precisely what enables us not to hold people in derision, and to not mock and laugh at them.  It is a key to achieving the “Us for Them” ethic described in an earlier post.  Jesus laughing tells us that there is no monster scary enough to make His plan to love the wrong answer.  Whatever your circumstance, “Love God”, “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies” apply to it.

To illustrate this, consider Jesus’ prophetic speech in Mark 13:5-23 from the framework of descriptive vs. prescriptive truth.  I paraphrase and categorize some of the points below:

DescriptivePrescriptive
Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’See that no one leads you astray
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and nation will rise against nationDo not be alarmed
Earthquakes and famines in various locationsBe on your guard
You will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sakeBear witness before them and do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say
Brother will deliver brother over to death and you will be hated by allEndure
False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wondersBe on guard

To Jesus, none of the things in the descriptive column are new information.  All were included in the plan.  The actions He recommends are not new information either.  The “Prescriptive” column means keep doing what you were doing before these bad things happened – Love God, love your neighbor.  Even if your neighbor is “bad”.

False christs and prophets will cry “But big monster!” and offer to save us.  But the true Christ calmly says “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand”. (Mark 13:23). The false prophet takes the descriptive of evil in the world and creates their own false prescriptive.  They recommend an incomplete and inaccurate narrative as an ultimate solution.  Their own Babel which God must “come down” from heaven to even see (Genesis 11:5).  The true Christ comes down from heaven and demonstrates how to create a true ladder all the way back to heaven, offering forgiveness to all, even those who refuse to accept it or practice love.  He will be thoroughly and eternally glorified by manifesting His kingdom as the only eternal kingdom, ruled by love.

God doesn’t turn our Muerte into Morty by having us laugh at him and beat him up with a stroller (although that might be fun).  He doesn’t tell us to Smash!  Every time we try to follow the plans of the world to fight the battles of God’s kingdom, we are testifying that the world’s kingdoms are greater than His.  Our rage will be futile and our plotting will be in vain.

Witness to the Cross
Note that the presence of false prophets, national rivalry, and natural disaster provide an opportune backdrop for proclaiming the superior kingdom of God in Christ, where none of these things will occur!  We testify to the imagined utopias of the world – which are all at best narratives and at worst tyrannies – that the real utopia is one where people love so much that they are willing to die for specific others, not one where the “Pax Romana” is illusory and pointing that out is a crime.    Jesus even died for the tax collector Zacchaeus, described by his Jewish peers as a traitor and cheat, a representative of a secular enemy power.  Everyone He died for was once His enemy, and His sacrifice enables a paradigm shift from “Us vs Them” to “Us for Them”.

In our ability to do this, we all lie somewhere between the impulsive Hulk, the Peter of Matthew 26, the Peter of his New Testament letters, and Jesus’ obedience on the cross.  We each are a narrative of our own “intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.”  We all cry “But big monster!” at different things, at different times, and for different reasons, but Jesus guarantees our destination is holiness when we follow Him.  Jesus cares about His people more than he cares about all the kingdoms of the world, and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.

But His blessing is not granted under all types of persecution.  Persecution is not evidence of righteousness, but a result of it.  Christians are not blessed when persecuted for unrighteousness, which sadly they often are.  They are blessed when persecution comes from testifying to, and striving to live, a righteousness that is unachievable by any earthly kingdom.  Jesus did this on the cross, and we do it by bearing the cross He assigns us.  When we do this, His kingdom comes, because his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.[7]  Logically, earthly kingdoms do not like this.

Therefore, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Don’t accept the cross anyone other than Christ assigns to you – it may crush you.  The specific work God assigns for you is enough and comes with His power.  Our cross will not kill our soul; it will enable us to truly live.

For the last enemy to be defeated is Muerte.  Which means death[8].

Next post: a “minor’ prophet finds peace

Post Script
To close out the discussion of Psalm 2, the last verses (10-12) describe the Psalmist pleading with the kings and rulers:

“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.”

Finally, as Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we should pray for our rulers to God, who is sovereign over the nations: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”


[1] See John 13:3, and a previous post about this idea.
[2] Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22 and elsewhere
[3] As in Matthew 16:23, where Jesus refers to Peter as Satan for saying suffering was not necessary for our Lord.
[4] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[5] “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”
[6] 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
[7] Adapted from Matthew 6:10
[8] 1 Corinthians 15:26

Don’t Kick Against the Goads

The Apostle Paul, author of much of the New Testament, was first called Saul and was a very different person before meeting Christ.  As Saul, he saw no contradiction between persecuting his religious enemies (the new Christian church) and being righteous under the law.  He also may also have seen Christianity as a political threat, a new religion that would upset the balance of power between the Jews of the first century and the occupying Romans by demanding loyalty to a higher power above Rome.  From this perspective, he may have thought his religion required persecution of those who disagreed.

Luke, author of Acts, describes Saul’s pre-Christian life like this:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” – Acts 9:1-2

Paul himself does not deny this past, writing to the church in Galatia:

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” – Galatians 1:13

But when confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus as referred to in Acts 9 above, the Lord asked him to his face: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14).  This is a strange expression for us, but to “kick against the goads” meant that by fighting against God’s will (including His grace for His people in any nation or tribe), Saul was only hurting himself.  Goads were sticks that were pointed on one end and used to prod oxen to move where a farmer wanted them to go.  A stubborn ox who decided to resist would “kick against the goads,” only leading to more pain.  Persecuting the absolute Lord of the universe is not a good idea.

Saul learned his lesson and after that confrontation, changed his name to Paul, a man transformed in how he treated those he might consider enemies.  He went from “breathing threats and murder” against Christians, to wishing for the salvation of the Jews, and anyone who would listen:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved.” – Romans 10:1

In Christ, His hate for the “other” became compassion.  Saul wanted to put his enemies to death; Paul wanted to put his own sin to death.  He never shied away from his brutal past, but he also began nearly all of his letters to the early churches with a greeting like this one at the beginning of Galatians:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” – Galatians 1:3

Dear fellow travelers, as I mentioned in an earlier post about why I use that particular greeting, “Let’s strive to bring grace and peace to every encounter we have as we travel through this world.”  Even with those we might consider enemies.

Sola Gratia

He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 1)

Sometimes you watch a movie and years later only remember one or two things about it, and the rest is just “meh”.  In Undercover Blues, released in 1993, Stanley Tucci’s character Muerte, a mugger, is the best part of the movie.  He growls lines like: “My name is Muerte…it means death!  Remember my name!” before or after attacking his victims, with Mariachi guitar accompaniment.  It’s a bit silly, but Muerte isn’t to be trifled with – he brutally takes out multiple guys in the movie.

Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner play a married couple of ex-spies (their last name is Blue) on maternity leave in New Orleans who are harassed by muggers, including Muerte, along the way.  Unfortunately for Muerte, Jeff Blue is an experienced and confident fighter who isn’t intimidated by Muerte’s speech, and just says: “Well I’m pleased to meet you Morty.  My name is Jeff”

Then Jeff Blue beats up Morty and his crew with a stroller!  Evil Muerte had met his match.  Watch the one-minute video below – I’ll be referring back to it later.

A Conspiracy of Muertes
While Muerte picks up his lost tooth, here are key verses for this post, from Psalm 2:1-3:

“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”

The Psalm refers to the rebellion of nations, peoples, kings, and rulers against the “bonds” and “cords” of “the Lord” and “his Anointed”, or God the Father and God the Son.  Nations are rivals, not just with each other, but also with the kingdom of God.

The ultimate example of this rebellion is referenced when the first two verses from above are quoted in Acts 4:25-26, followed by: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  The crucifixion of Jesus was the result of a massive conspiracy, including possibly six separate trials by both Jewish and Roman authorities, resulting in the death of Jesus, who was not guilty of what He was charged with, but also is the only human to never participate in insurrection against His Father.  The Jews hated Him because He was not the political messiah that would lead an insurrection against Rome.  The Romans, led by Pilate, answered the call to crucify Him, to avoid a Jewish riot that would result in their punishment or removal by higher Roman authorities.  Jesus was a threat to their authority and had to go.

So, they literally succeeded in killing God.  Brutally.  But then Psalm 2:4 tells us:

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.”

A Surprising Victory
Surprising even His followers, on the third day, He was resurrected from the dead, and after a few weeks, was raised “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  (Ephesians 1:21).  This Jesus is the one laughing in heaven, and He can laugh because in a way He is like Jeff Blue in the scene from Undercover Blues.  At the 27 second mark of the video, after Muerte draws his switchblade, Jeff smiles and says “This is a really bad idea Morty.”  Muerte rages and plots in vain, however is no threat to Jeff.  Likewise, Jesus knows all nations are no threat to Him and His kingdom.

In “More Than Truth”, I wrote about how some truth “describes the world as it is”, such as Proverbs 14:20: “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”  Jesus knows all of the descriptive truth about the problems of the world, including subjects of earlier posts:

  • That since the Fall in Genesis 3, “mankind became inclined to make things that glorify themselves, rather than God,” from the tower of Babel to kingdoms such as Edom
  • That “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” – Pr. 14:12 and 16:25
  • That every “Pax Romana” is just a narrative designed to make the state appear to be more than it is
  • That mankind is incredibly creative in attempting to thwart God’s purpose in creating His kingdom, populated by His family
  • That even the “religion” of the Old Testament Bible could not produce righteousness

However, all rulers and nations opposed to God are doomed to fail, because even killing God was not good enough to keep Him down.  Jesus laughs because He knows His plan will work.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told Peter that “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In Acts 4 above, Peter and John quote Psalm 2 after they were released by the religious rulers of Jerusalem, and they testify that Jesus’ enemies only do “whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  Peter and John were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and knew that all the powers of the world could not keep Him down.  His plan would not fail.  They did not quote verse 4, but they knew that Jesus was exalted and laughing at the opposition to them.  They rejoiced that the same God who had resurrected Jesus had freed them from prison!

Therefore, take comfort that Jesus, knowing all the evil and rebellion of the world that we may feel threatened by or anxious about, laughs.  All who challenge God are Morty, not Muerte, even if they once “succeeded” in killing Him.

I read Psalm 2 if I am feeling stressed by the political state of the world, about the political state of my country, or about the 24/7 barrage of bad news online and on TV.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs” reminds me that Jesus is laughing at the cause of my stress – He is not threatened and He is in charge.  In some ways we are like the baby in the movie scene.  We would be helpless against Muerte, but Jeff Blue does not let anything happen to his child.  At the 34 second mark of the video, Jeff even checks in on the baby, who slept through the whole thing.  In our case, we are tethered to our forerunner[1], Jesus, our King laughing in heaven, who says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” – John 10:28-29.

I’ll end this post here on a note of confidence, but there remains a trickier and important question…

Do we also laugh?  Is the laughter of Jesus descriptive, or prescriptive?  What is the truth that is like Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”?

What defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave? More in Part 2, coming soon.

[1] See “The Sure Eternal Path” for more on this metaphor from Hebrews 6:20.

[Originally posted October 2021]

God Cares About Your Pots and Pans

The book of Zechariah, one of the “minor prophets”, contains many puzzling visions and predictions of the then-coming (and now coming-again) Messiah, Jesus.  Zechariah prophesied after the Babylonian exile and God’s purpose through him was to give hope to His people in the form of a glorious future under a perfect King.  The book ends with these verses:

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar.  And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” – Zechariah 14:20-21

While this seems a very strange ending for a book about Jesus, Zechariah’s words give us an amazing expectation of what Paradise will be like.  The phrase “Holy to the LORD” references Exodus 28:36-38, where the words were inscribed on the high priest’s turban.  The idea is that only very rarely are items recognized as set aside for only Godly use.  However, Zechariah is telling us that this was only the beginning.  When the King comes again in glory, He will establish a kingdom where even the most mundane household items will put to perfect use.  There is nothing He does not care about.

And this concept is not just about bells and pots.  While the Old Testament high priest was a sign of the way back to God, eventually the way encompasses every aspect of us.  Zechariah promises us that every bit of our lives, even those we may give no thought to – our proverbial bells and pots – are to be perfected in glory.  By caring about even these common items, God is telling us He leaves nothing undone.  Nothing will be left in us that is set apart for other “gods.”

In Paradise we will be perfected, fully set apart for His glory, and His work in us has already begun.  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Only God Gets the Glory for Gomer’s Goods

Photo by David Köhler on Unsplash

In the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, God told him to marry a prostitute named Gomer to teach a lesson about idolatry, but also God’s steadfast love and mercy.  Gomer was not only a prostitute physically, but also spiritually, worshipping other gods, which isn’t limited to literal, physical idols.  Hosea 2:8-9 explains that idolatry includes giving credit to other gods (or no gods) for things that the LORD had actually provided.  God said through Hosea:

And [Gomer] did not know
            that it was I who gave her
            the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
            which they used for Baal.
Therefore I will take back
            my grain in its time,
            and my wine in its season,
and I will take away my wool and my flax,
            which were to cover her nakedness.”

In other words, if Gomer doesn’t recognize the true source of her blessings, God is fully justified in taking them away.  Fortunately, He is a God of love and mercy, who provides for our nakedness – both physical and spiritual, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:21, which says: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”  Adam and Eve had fallen and became ashamed of their condition, expecting God to judge them, but instead He covered them physically, but also set in place a plan to redeem His people by the blood of Jesus.

In Gomers case, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’  So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.”  (Hosea 3:1-2)

Fifteen shekels was not a lot of money, meaning other people didn’t value Gomer much, but God and Hosea were faithful and loved her.  The real price of God’s people – His own Son – was much steeper, but He decided we’re worth it even though we are unfaithful.  It is His faithfulness that really matters.

Therefore, today be thankful!  For the One who gives us “the grain, the wine, and the oil” and the “silver and gold” is the same One who died for us to make us His own people.

Soli Deo Gloria