Last week we studied WHY WE THANK GOD FOR CHRISTMAS
from Luke 2:8-13. We looked at the message from the Angels to shepherds watching their sheep. From their message we made there points about thanking God for Christmas: Christmas is Celebration, Christian is Salvation and Christmas is Reconciliation. I am certain all of you worked on all the needed reconciliation this week! The point was the message to the shepherds gave us all reasons to thank God for Christmas.
This week I want to look at another group of people involved in the Christmas story. The Wise men or Magi as your version might call them. The main statement that they make when they arrive in the Holy Land is…
WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM (Matthew 2:1-12)
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod
There are at least five truths that Matthew wants us to see in this story about Christ and worship.
- Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and should be honored as such.
- Jesus is to be worshiped not just by Jews, but by all the nations of the world, as represented by the wise men from the east.
- God wields the universe to make his Son known and worshiped. This is his great goal in all things – that his Son be known and worshiped.
- Jesus is troubling to people who do not want to worship him and brings out opposition for those who do.
- Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority and dignity to Christ with sacrificial gifts.
- Five Truths about Worshiping Jesus
- Jesus is to be Worshiped by Everyone not just by Jews,
Notice that Matthew does not tell us about the shepherds coming to visit Jesus in the stable. His focus is immediately on foreigners coming from the east to worship Jesus. Verse 1-2:
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews?’”
- All the Nations of the World, as Represented by the Wise Men from the East.
So Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus at the beginning and ending of his Gospel as a universal Messiah for the nations, not just for Jews. Here the first worshipers are court magicians or astrologers or wise men not from Israel but from the East – perhaps from Babylon. They were gentiles. Unclean. And at the end of Matthew the last words of Jesus are,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
This not only opened the door for us gentiles to rejoice in the Messiah, it added proof that he was the Messiah. Because one of the repeated prophecies was that the nations and kings would, in fact, come to him as the ruler of the world.
For example, Isaiah 60:3,
“All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.”
b. At the end of Matthew the last words of Jesus are,
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations” Matthew 28:19
So Matthew adds proof to the messiahship of Jesus and shows that he is messiah – a King, and Promise-Fulfiller – for all the nations, not just Israel. For us, not just Jews.
2. Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and Should be Honored as Such.
Verse 2 announces clearly whom this story is really about: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”
a. It’s about a newborn child destined to be King of the Jews and Messiah.
Now, in itself that would not be a very great thing. Somewhere alive in America today there are probably three or four children or young people under the age of 18 who are going to be President of the United States some day. But nobody really cares about this, or sets out to find them or honor them.
But verse 4 makes clear what the magi really mean by “King of the Jews.” It says,
“He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” (4)
Herod had been called “king of the Jews” by the Senate in Rome for almost 40 years. But no one called him Messiah. Messiah means the long-awaited God-anointed Ruler, who would overcome all other rule, and bring in the end of history, and establish the kingdom of God and never die or lose his reign.
We don’t know how the wise men got their information that there was such a king coming. But it is clear that Herod got the message: these fellows are not searching for a mere, ordinary, human successor to me. They are searching for the final King, to end all kings.
And, of course, unlike Anna and Simeon in Luke 2, that is the last thing Herod was looking for. He didn’t even know the simple Scriptures about where the Messiah was to be born.
So he asks the scribes, and the one text that they focus on is Micah 5:2,
”But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”
The purpose for which the scribes quoted the text was to answer Herod’s question: Where? And the answer is Bethlehem.
So this king is not just coming into being in the womb of his mother Mary. “His origins are in the distant past…or from the days of eternity.” Or, as John’s Gospel says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
And this king would not be limited in his realm to Israel. “He will be great to the ends of the earth.”
That’s the second truth and this is why worship is on their mind! And it leads us to the third truth in this text about the Messiah.
3. God Maneuvers the Universe to Make his Son Known and Worshiped.
a. This is His Great Goal in all Things – that His Son be Known and Worshiped.
b. Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem? It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”? The answer is: We do not know.
There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.
I risk a generalization to warn you: people who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split (in the new Gods and Kings movie about Exodus the Red Sea is parted by a Tsunami) and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal.
But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him. There is only one Person in Biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars – God himself. So the lesson is plain:
c. God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him.
And he is doing it by exerting global – probably even universal – influence and power to get it done.
Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Luke also shows Angels being sent to call the Shepherds to Jesus. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.
This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations – all the nations (Matthew 24:14) – worship his Son. This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home.
4. Jesus is Troubling to People Who do not Want to Worship Him
a. Two Kinds of Troubled People (4)
This is probably not a main point in the mind of Matthew, but it is inescapable as the story goes on. In this story there are…
Two kinds of people who do not want to worship Jesus, the Messiah.
The first kind is the people who simply do nothing about Jesus. He is a nonentity in their lives.
This group is represented by the chief priests and scribes.
Verse 4: “He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked”
Well, they told him, and that was that: back to business as usual. The sheer silence and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening. And notice, verse 3 says,
“King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem”
In other words, the rumor was going around that someone thought the Messiah was born. The inactivity on the part of chief priests is staggering – why not go with the Magi? They are not interested. They do not want to worship the true God. Its just a short walk. 5 miles at most…yet they simply do nothing about Jesus!
The second kind of people are Deeply threatened by him. That is Herod in this story. He is really afraid. So much so that he schemes and lies and then commits mass murder just to get rid of Jesus.
So today these two kinds of opposition will come against Christ and his worshipers.
b. Christ Followers Receive this Indifference and Hostility.
Are you in one of those groups? Let this Christmas be the time when you reconsider the Messiah and ponder what it is to worship him.
So let me close with that, the fifth truth in this story. What is worship in this text? Why do the Magi teach us about worship? How can we apply it to our worship?
5.Worshiping Jesus Means Joyfully Ascribing Authority and Dignity to Christ with Sacrificial Gifts.
There are four pieces to that definition of worship, and all four are grounded in this text.
Four actions from the Magi in Worship of Jesus:
First, Magi Ascribe Authority to Christ, calling him “King of the Jews” (2)
in verse 2: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”
? We worship Jesus as our King
Second, Magi Joyfully Rejoice in their Seeking Jesus (10)
“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!”
? We raise our Voice in Joy
Third, Magi Attribute Dignity to Him by Bowing Down before Him (11)
“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
Bowing down, or Falling to the ground in other translations, is what you do to say to someone else: you are high and I am low. You have great dignity and I am lowly by comparison.
? We bow before Him in humility and honor
Fourth, the Magi Give Sacrificially with their Gifts (11)
“Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
? We give Sacrificially to Him
Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority and dignity to Christ with sacrificial gifts.
The gifts of the Magi are intensifiers of desire for Christ himself in much the same way that fasting is. When you give a gift to Christ like this, it’s a way of saying, “The joy that I pursue (verse 10!) is not the hope of getting rich with things from you.
I have not come to you for your things, but for yourself. And this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things, in the hope of enjoying you more, not things. By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, ‘You are my treasure, not these things.'” I think that’s what it means to worship God with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
And so may God take the truth of this text and waken in us a desire for Christ himself. May we say from the heart,
“Lord Jesus you are the Messiah, the King of Israel. All nations will come and bow down before you. God maneuvers the world to see that you are worshiped. Therefore, whatever opposition I may find, I joyfully ascribe authority and dignity to you, and bring my gifts to say that you alone can satisfy my heart, not these.”