The Wise Men Worship
December 30, 2007
If I asked you if people liked change, you would all probably just instinctively say, “No.” And yet New Year’s Day is a day to change, a day to start anew some aspirations that will hopefully lead to something better. Everybody seems to want to make a change on this day that would impact the rest of the year, even the rest of their lives. Whether it is dieting, exercise, Bible study or breaking a habit, even though we say don’t like change, we want a change. Isn’t that funny? Speaking of funny…
I like kid’s books, the short stories told to teach a lesson. One of my favorite kid’s books is The Principal’s New Clothes. This is a short story about a principal who is very prideful. His pride leads him to buy into a con that leaves him in a very embarrassing situation. The moral of the story is that pride deceives and leads to deception and that the truth expressed in humility is so much better. It is a story told to influence change in the ones who are wise enough to really listen.
I. I want to tell us a short story today and I hope we will hear the message of the story. Let me first begin telling you a little about some of the key elements and characters of the story.
A. There are two locations in this story.
1. The first is Bethlehem. Bethlehem is where Ruth met Boaz, where David was raised and shepherded his father’s sheep. It was from the well at Bethlehem that three of David’s might men broke through the Philistines and drew him some water. But above all, Bethlehem is where the prophet Micah (5:2) had said the Messiah would be born. Bethlehem was the place of the Savior’s birth.
2. Then there is Jerusalem, the holy city. This is the city where the temple of God was located, where the experts in the scriptures studied and waited for the Messiah. All their lives, men in Jerusalem had trained, studied and performed the rites and rituals that all pointed to the Messiah. Jerusalem was the city where those lived, who should have known or at least seen the hand of the Lord at work.
B. The people of the story:
1. The primary character of our story is Jesus. He was just a baby at the time of our story, but make no mistake about it, He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords, even as an infant.
2. The king over the Jews was King Herod, known as Herod the Great, the first of several Herods mentioned in the New Testament. Julius Caesar appointed his father, Antipater, to be governor of Judea under the Roman occupation. Antipater then managed to have his son Herod appointed prefect of Galilee. Later he was declared to be the king of the Jews by Rome’s leadership. Herod was not a Jew but had married a Jew in order to be more acceptable to the Jews he ruled. He was a clever and capable warrior, orator, and diplomat. But Herod was also cruel and merciless. He was incredibly jealous, suspicious, and afraid for his position and power. Fearing his potential threat, he had the high priest Aristobulus, who was his wife’s brother, drowned-after which he provided a magnificent funeral where he pretended to weep. He then had his wife, Mariamne, killed, and then her mother and two of his own sons. Five days before his death (about a year after Jesus was born) he had a third son executed. One of the greatest evidences of his bloodthirstiness and insane cruelty was having the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem arrested and imprisoned shortly before his death. Because he knew no one would mourn his own death, he gave orders for those prisoners to be executed the moment he died-in order to guarantee that there would be mourning in Jerusalem.  None of those acts of cruelty will match what our story contains.
3. The Jews in Jerusalem, specifically the chief priests and scribes, those scriptural experts who lived in Jerusalem. These are the people who should have known, should have rejoiced, should have sought out the Messiah. Predictably, these are the grandparents and parents of those in Jerusalem who would one day reject the Messiah and cry out to crucify him. And yet they should have known.
4. The Magi or wise men, men from the east who had come to Jerusalem. About these men, we don’t know how many came, we don’t know how they made the trip, or specifically from where they came. We do know that they made a lengthy journey from the east in search of the rightful King of the Jews. Historically the Bible does give us some possible insight into these wise men. These wise men probably have direct roots to the wise men who were in Babylon during the days of Daniel. It would make sense that because of Daniel’s prominent place among the magi that this is how these men could have known about a coming king of the Jews. Whatever the connection, it was to these men, who were watching the skies, that God also revealed that one would be born who would be king of the Jews, a king worthy of worship. Clearly the Magi understood that this king would be more than just an earthly king. The story tells us that what they said in Jerusalem troubled all of Jerusalem and as a result King Herod called the chief priests and scribes to find out about the Christ, the Messiah. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
5. Mary, the mother of Jesus is also mentioned in our story and Joseph would have been there too. And then there is the star. That star. What was that all about? More on that in a minute. First, let me just read you the story.
II. The Story
A. Matthew 2:1-12, Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
B. We will look at the rest of the story next week. Some of the other details
1. These wise men and their entourage came into Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life, the holy city, looking for the newborn king. They began inquiring in the city, asking anyone and everyone where the new king was. Can you imagine their surprise when no one in the holy city of Jerusalem knew anything about the king? Then Herod got wind that a threat to his throne may have been born among the Jews. He calls together all the experts. Everyone knows what is going on. The experts in Scripture know about Bethlehem and the prophecies of the Messiah. They now know about these travelers from the east. But no one from Jerusalem goes to find out anything. Only the wise men go to seek out the king. The Jews had all the knowledge but none of the wisdom. They just were not listening.
2. The Magi go to find Jesus. They follow a star to a place in Bethlehem where they find Jesus. From the things that the Magi told King Herod we know some important facts about this very special star. And when we look back in history we find some very interesting things happening in the sky. In September of 3 BC, the beginning of the Jewish calendar, the magi who were watching the sky began to see something very amazing. Jupiter which is known as the King Planet appeared in the eastern sky and it looked like a big bright star. This starry looking planet moved so close to another star that they appeared to be touching. This other star was named by the Babylonians and the Romans and was given the name “King.” So these two Kingly stars touched in the sky. Then Jupiter went on its ways. Then because of the rotation of the earth it appeared to come back to the King star. Then it happened again. Three times Jupiter and the King star made this brilliant connection. This would certainly have caught the attention of the Magi. But there is more that they noticed. Do you know to what tribe the Messiah was to be born? The tribe of Judah. Does anyone know the symbol of the tribe of Judah? The lion. That kingly statement that Jupiter and the King star was making was all done in the constellation Leo, The Lion. The King Planet and the King Star coming together three times all within the constellation of the lion. A new king for the tribe of Judah. There is more. At the same time all this was happening, just to the east of Leo was the constellation, Virgo, The Virgin rose in the sky with the new moon symbolically birthed at her feet. If this represented the time of Jesus’ conception what was happening in the sky nine months later? In June Jupiter continued the spectacle. By the following June the planet Jupiter had traveled through the star field toward another spectacular rendezvous, this time with Venus, The Mother Planet. The planets aligned so closely that they appeared to be one giant and brilliantly bright star. That evening our Magi would have seen the most amazing sight of their careers. No one alive had ever seen anything like this. So the Magi packed up and made their trek to Jerusalem. It was there that they discovered that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The light of this most amazing star in the sky pointed the way to the Messiah and a group of Magi who had been watching the sky ended up worshipping the King of kings and Lord of lords.
3. And worship him they did. They gave him gold. An appropriate gift for a king. They also gave him frankincense. Frankincense was a costly, beautiful-smelling incense that was used only for the most special of occasions. They also gave him Myrrh, another valuable perfume.
4. They had found the Messiah, the King of kings, the Savior of the world and they worshipped him.
III. I want to focus in on their worship. It is here that I think we can see something really special and hopefully life changing.
A. These wise men were characterized by seeking. It was in their seeking that they saw something. They saw something of God in creation in the star, then in Scripture through the prophecy, then they saw God in the person of Jesus Christ. They found the Savior.
B. And when they found Jesus, they fell down before him and they worshipped him. They humbled themselves and they fell down before this baby, they now called king and worshipped as God. There are two components of their worship that are essential to understand.
1. They gave gifts. They gave sacrifices. Just like King David when he said that he would not offer to the Lord something that cost him nothing, the wise men knew that worship involved giving something of yourself to the Lord. They gave as an expression of their worship.
2. They also obeyed. They didn’t just give lip service. They didn’t just give their gifts and then do whatever they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. They obeyed. When God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, they didn’t. They obeyed. They gave allegiance to the one true King. They followed the Lord after the moment of bowing down in reverence. That act of obedience sealed their act of worship. If they had not obeyed the Lord then their gifts and reverence would have meant little to nothing. Their worship was authenticated by their obedience.
C. And finally they had great joy. The Scripture says that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. There is no stronger way to say that they had joy. They were full of the greatest joy. Worship brings joy. Worship of the King of kings brings joy, unspeakable joy and hope and life. Worship and joy are inseparable partners. And the Magi discovered it in Jesus Christ.
IV. I hope that this little story might help us in our worship.
1. Both the Old and New Testaments help us to define worship. The words used for “worship” mean to bow down, to prostrate oneself out of respect, to serve, to show reverence for. Worship is to be directed toward God and is a matter of the heart and an expression of one’s reverence, gratitude and amazement with God.
2. Worship is not a song or any single action in life. Worship, true worship, is our life’s expression of reverence to and faith in God. Each individual action in our life is determined to be worship by the faith through which it was done. The songs that we sing, the activities of our day, all that we do only becomes worship when those things are the expression of our faith in the living God. A song is worship when that song is sung in faith because of the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. The heart’s attachment to God and our life’s devotion to the truth through faith determine whether or not we worship when we sing, work, play or even listen to sermons. Worship happens when our hearts and minds engage in reverence, adoration, praise, and honor to our God through faith in Jesus Christ. Worship occurs when we mentally, emotionally and spiritually connect with the Lord, loving Him with our lives through song, actions, thoughts and intentions, everything we think and do.
3. On Sunday morning we all look the part. We come dressed nice, wearing smiles, nodding and shaking hands, working the crowds. To the casual Sunday morning observer we all look like we have it together, like we are spiritual and religious. The only way that activities on Sunday morning are worship is if what we do on Sunday morning is the expression of our heart’s reverence for God. If what we do does not reflect our heart’s authentic expression of reverence and faith, it is not worship. It is hypocrisy, self-indulgence, lawlessness and greed. If you want to make sure that you worship today then give. Give your life. Give yourself. Give a gift of your possessions. Give to the Lord. Give him your heart. Prayerfully give your life, make a sacrifice in giving to the Lord. That will be worship. That will not be fake. Then obey him. Follow Him this week in your life. Spend time with the Lord, read your Bible, pray and give and serve others. Tell others about the Lord. How you follow Him authenticates or completes the gifts of our worship today. Give and faithfully obey. We have opportunities every week to worship the Lord in this place, to give ourselves, our money, our lives and then to complete that worship by following our King.
4. Worship does not happen on our terms. We do not define worship. My feelings about my experience in church do not define worship. God defines worship and in this passage we see an example of true worship. We would be wise to see and hear.
5. God did not send Jesus Christ to be the foundation of a man-centered religion. God sent His Son so we could truly worship. And please do not forget that worship and joy are inseparable partners.
B. So, how will we respond to Jesus?
1. Like Herod? Will we respond with a sense of our own autonomy threatened? Will we dispel Christ’s authority and seek to live our lives as if we were in charge. That won’t get you very far. That kind of life and emptiness are inseparable partners.
2. Will we respond like the Chief Priests and Scribes? If there is any description that we must hear, this is it. They thought they knew it all. They had heard all the stories before. The routine was lifeless and they missed the Lord. They had plenty of routine but they did not know God. They went to church enough, they just left God out. How sad it is for people who should know how to worship to never really worship at all.
3. Or will we respond like the Magi. Seeking after God, humbling themselves, giving themselves and obeying the Lord. They were true worshippers. Isn’t that just like the Lord? These Magi had no business being the ones who found the Lord. They were from the east, they didn’t even totally understand. But that is the story of the gospel. Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came for tax collectors, prostitutes, rejects, sinners. Jesus came to save whoever would trust in Him. Jesus’ salvation is a salvation of grace, not works. A salvation through faith not pedigree. Jesus has come. He is the Savior of the world. God has revealed the truth, through creation, through the Scripture and finally and completely in the person of Jesus Christ. The question is will you truly worship Him?
V. Bethlehem was not the end for the Magi. It was the beginning for them. May today mark a fresh beginning, a change, in our worship, our passionate pursuit of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Worship and joy are inseparable. So should be Jesus Christ and those who claim to follow Him. Will you worship Him?
MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (25). Chicago: Moody Press.