Rejoice with Trembling
by John Piper
“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.” (Ps. 2:11–12)
Serve the Lord with fear…
This command does not cancel out Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Serving the Lord with fear and serving the Lord with gladness do not contradict each other. The next phrase from this selection will make that plain (“rejoice with trembling”). There is real fear and real joy. The reason there is real fear is that there is real danger. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Yes, the elect are safe in Christ. But examine yourself, Paul says, “to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Confidence in Christ is not careless. Our security is rooted in God’s daily keeping, not our past decisions. “[He] is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory” (Jude 1:24). Part of how He keeps us is by awakening the vigilance to rest daily in Christ and not in ourselves.
…and rejoice with trembling.
Fear does not rob us of our joy for two reasons. One is that it drives us to Christ, where there is safety. The other is that even when we get there the part of fear that Christ relieves is the hope-destroying part. But He leaves another part — the part we want to feel forever. There is an awe or trembling in the presence of grandeur that we want to feel as long as we are sure it will not destroy us. This trembling does not compete with joy; it is part of joy. People go to terrifying movies because they know the monster cannot get into the theater. They want to be scared as long as they are safe. For some reason it feels good. This is an echo of the truth that they were made for God. There is something profoundly satisfying about being “frightened” when we cannot be hurt. It is the best when the trembling comes from the grandeur of holiness.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way…
God is jealous for His Son. “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). His anger is kindled when the affection designed for Him is given to another. Of course, there is a Judas kiss, but that is not what He has in mind here. The kiss here is the kiss of adoration and submission — perhaps a kiss on the feet as we bow before Him. There is no playing games with God. If we love each other more, we will perish. He will be our highest treasure, or He will be our enemy. The safest place in the universe is at the feet of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we choose to turn from Him for another treasure, His wrath will be against us.
…for his wrath is quickly kindled.
The word quickly may not be the best here. The word can mean quickly in the sense of suddenly. Repeatedly in the Bible, God is said to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Not “quick to anger” but “slow to anger.” Therefore, I am inclined to think Psalm 2:12 means “His wrath can break out suddenly.” In other words, don’t trifle with Him in His patience, because suddenly it may run out and you will be overtaken in wrath. If you go on kissing His creation and not His Son (Rom. 1:25), suddenly you will find the fangs of a serpent in your lip. Don’t presume upon the patience of God (Rom. 2:4).
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
The only safe place from the wrath of God is in God. Everywhere outside of His care is dangerous. He is the only hiding place from His own wrath. If you see Him as frightening and try to run away and hide, you will not find a place to hide. There is none. Outside of God’s care there is only wrath. But there is a refuge from the wrath of God, namely, God. The safest place from the wrath of God — the only safe place — is God. Come to God. Take refuge in God. Hide in the shadow of His wings. This is where we live and serve with joyful trembling. It is terrible and it is wonderful. It is like the eye of a hurricane — terror all around, and totally beautiful and calm. Here there is sweet fellowship. Here is quiet, loving communion. Here we speak to Him as to a friend. Here He ministers to our deepest needs. He wants you to come.