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The Chronicles of Christmas: The Chronicle of Worship

The Chronicles of Christmas - 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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True worship does not originate with plans and programs, but starts in a heart that has experienced the saving grace of God. Worship is essentially our response to God's grace.

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Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: True worship does not originate with plans and programs, but starts in a heart that has experienced the saving grace of God. Worship is essentially our response to God's grace.
The context of the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Matthew magnifies the importance of worship. It's what the Magi have come to do and what Herod feigns to do. The text reminds us that worship can be sincere and genuine, or it can be trivial and false. As a minister, one of my great concerns is the temptation that we will let our worship become consumer driven instead of biblically driven.
Sadly, for many Americans, "worship" has become just another commodity for which people shop around seeking the best bargain for their buck. If worship is not sensational then it is not worthy of our time. If the music is not upbeat, and uplifting, if the solo is not of recording artist quality, if the welcome is not warm, if the lighting is not ‘cool’, if the videos are not entertaining, if the sermon is not all about my ‘felt-needs’, then we continue shopping around. And if we can’t find it in our local community, well certainly we can find it on TV, and Andy Stanley can become my media pastor.
For many in our culture, the bottom line question about worship is "How did it make me feel?" as if worship was somehow all about us.
We have witnessed a phenomenon in our society that is utterly amazing. In our quest for "feel good religion" many professing Christians have come to worship praise and praise worship, but they’ve not yet learned to praise and worship God in Christ Jesus. The songs, the dance, the banners, the hymns, the specials, and even the preaching have been accepted as worship instead of being considered a means of expressing worship and bringing us into the presence of God. In other words, for many Christians the worship experience has become an idol.
True worship starts in a heart that has experienced the saving grace of God. It is our heartfelt response to a God who emptied Himself of divine glory and became a man who took upon Himself the sins of the world. ILLUS. in his book, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, William Temple wrote this about worship, “ … Worship is the submission of all our nature to God ... It is the quickening of our conscience by his Holiness; the nourishment of our mind with his truth; the purifying of our imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of our will to his purpose — all this gathered up in adoration.”
The response of the wise men to the presence of our Lord gives us a clue as to what real worship is all about.

I. AUTHENTIC WORSHIP SEEKS CHRIST’S PRESENCE

1. the wise men's identity is uncertain
a. tradition has left us with the ideas that they were kings and that there were three
b. the expression wise men is derived from the Greek word magoi (the plural of magi), and bears some relationship to our English word magician
c. the phrase from the east indicates their place of origin
d. the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that these men were probably from ancient Persia and were experts in astronomy and the physical sciences
e. this is all we fundamentally know about these visitors
2. why do the Scriptures protect their anonymity?
a. because the focus is on the Son of Man, not the wise men

A. IN SEEKING CHRIST’S PRESENCE OUR WORSHIP MUST FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY ON HIM

1. now that seems like a silly statement
a. of course our worship focuses on God, doesn't it?
b. not necessarily — think about the magi for a moment
2. one night during their observations of the heavens, they notice a conjunction of stars and planets that they have never seen
a. it's different than all the rest for it's luminosity is brighter and seem to moves
1) like so many pagans of their day, they could have chosen to worship this star and assumed it was a new god passing through the heavens as did Mars, and Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter
3. but they don't worship the star — they perceive it as an omen that heralds a momentous occasion
a. they begin to pour over the known literature of their day seeking a clue as to the star's meaning
b. they find their answer in the Hebrew Scriptures
“ “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. ... .” (Numbers 24:17, NIV84)
4. notice that upon their arrival in Herod's capitol that their focus is not on the star, but on the one whom the star has revealed to them
a. their question is "Where is he who is born King of the Jews... for we have come to worship him!"
b. in an era of history when worship of the stars was common, these men have focused their attention on the one who made the stars and to worship him

B. IN SEEKING CHRIST’S PRESENCE OUR WORSHIP BRAVES ALL OBSTACLES TO BE IN HIS PRESENCE

1. the wise men's journey meandered across rocky slopes and parched desert
a. their journey covered a distance of over 1,000 miles
b. their arrival in Jerusalem causes no slight stir
“When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3, CSB)
2. their determination to worship the King of the Jews makes our efforts at worship seem small by comparison
a. the Magi Have Come a Thousand Miles to Find and Worship the New King of the Jews
1) many church members today won't even travel across town to worship if they don't feel up to it
2) and if the weather is bad, forget it, that's the most convenient excuse not to come—although they would not dare think about missing work on the same pretense
b. the Magi Have Traveled Months to Find and Worship the New King of the Jews
1) many church members today whine about the length of the worship of the church service they driven twenty minutes to get to
c. the Magi Have Braved Harsh Conditions and Difficult Circumstances to Find and Worship the New King of the Jews
1) many church members today grouse that the church it too hot or too cold
2) or the music is too loud, or not their preferred style
ILLUS. Sometimes were like the little boy who was invited by his friend to go to church one Sunday. The boy who was invited declined his friend's offer. "/ don't want to go to your church," he said. "It's too violent."
"What do you mean it's too violent?" asked the boy who had invited his friend.
"Well, "the friend replied, "the other night when I was over here for dinner, I heard you dad talking about the church. He said that the choir had murdered the anthem, the soloist had butchered her number and that the preacher was stepping on everyone's toes!"
3. the wise men teach us that worship is not dependent upon the outward trappings of worship, but upon our heart's desire to be in the presence of the King
a. the Psalmist wrote: "seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4)\

II. AUTHENTIC WORSHIP BOWS BEFORE THE KING

1. the wise men stand in marked contrast to the religious and political elite of Jerusalem
a. the priests and scribes knew where the Messiah would be born, yet none of them joined the wise men in their journey to Bethlehem
2. pride and apathy had a strong grip of Jerusalem’s religious leaders and choked out their spiritual life
a. the priests and scribes could talk about their love for God and His law, but they would not venture the six miles to Bethlehem to verify that love
3. the wise men, however, put their faith to work and discovered the Savior

A. TRUE WORSHIP EMPTIES OURSELVES OF SELF AS WE HUMBLY COME BEFORE THE LORD

1. the first response of the wise men was to fall down before the Christ child
a. they humbly knelt in Jesus' presence
b. they may even have lain prostrate before Him, stretching themselves out in an act of submission before the King of kings and Lord of lords
2. the whole scene of the wise men before our Lord is painted with spiritual significance
a. worship is the act of ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that energizes and engages your whole person
b. worship is something that engages every aspect of your personality—mind, will, and emotions ... consider the words of the 95th Psalm
“Come, let us shout joyfully to the LORD, shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us enter his presence with thanksgiving; let us shout triumphantly to him in song. 3 For the LORD is a great God, a great King above all gods. 4 The depths of the earth are in his hand, and the mountain peaks are his. 5 The sea is his; he made it. His hands formed the dry land. 6 Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep under his care. Today, if you hear his voice: 8 Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:1–8, CSB)
1) vs. 1-2 call out to our emotion ... shout joyfully ... shout triumphantly ... shout triumphantly to him in song
2) vs. 6 calls out to our will ... let us worship ... bow down ... kneel before the Lord our Maker
3) vs. 8 calls out to our mind ... do not harden
c. if you attend a worship service, and leave without ever experiencing in your inner being a ravishing sense of beauty and joy it's not worship
1) worship means giving ultimate value to God—not seeking an emotional euphoria for it’s own sake
2) the euphoria of the Magi’s worship comes from submission to and worship of the King, not from the soloist silhouetted by colored lights and immersed in artificial fog
d. the Psalmist tells us that "the Lord inhabits the praises of his people"
1) is it possible that the reason God seems so distant in worship at times is because we've not given Him any reason for being here?
ILLUS. A man once went to his doctor and said, "Doc, is there anything that you can do for my snoring?"
The doctor asked, "Why, does it disturb your wife?"
"Naw,” the man said, "It doesn't disturb her; just embarrasses her. It's the rest of the congregation it disturbs."
2) could lack of real joy in worship be the reason why some churches work so hard at entertaining people in church?
ILLUS. Years ago, when I first felt called to the ministry, my Pastor—Martin Brocket—once gave me some advise about preaching, "If ya ain't got anything to say, at least give 'em a good show!" I'll never forget that admonition, because I've always worked hard at ignoring it. I never, ever want worship to be merely a show.
3) here’s one of the real issues in Evangelical worship today ... if we enjoy the show we assume we've worshiped God
ILLUS. The trivialness of some believer's attitude toward worship is illustrated by the little boy saying his nighttime prayers. As he kneels by his bed he prayed, "Dear God, we had a good time in church today, but I wish you had been there."
3. something is obviously missing if service after service you are no longer moved to adore the One who paid a debt He did not owe, to free you from a debt you could not pay
a. if God arranged for a star in the heavens to point to His Son ...
b. if God sent His angels to announce the news to lowly shepherds ...
c. if God stirred wise men hundreds of miles away to come to a manger to celebrate and worship ...
d. how can we keep from bursting out in adoration, and praise, and worship?
4. how can we NOT bow before the Savior in humble adoration?
a. we can erect nativity scenes on our lawns ...
b. we can adorn the church with decorations ...
c. we can participate in all the elements of the worship service ...
d. but if our hearts are cold and dry and void of sheer joy, we need to fall down beside the wise men and learn anew the thrill of bowing before the Savior

III. AUTHENTIC WORSHIP GIVES OUR TREASURES

1. there will always be those who see Christmas as little more than a tradition or a holiday
a. but to the redeemed of the Lord it marks the commemoration of the most historic, world-changing, life-changing birth civilization has ever known
2. the wise men gave Christ their worship—which is what God treasures most—but they also gave him those things which they treasured most
a. their gifts were given as evidence of their adoration
b. their gifts were not mere tokens of courtesy
c. they were valuable, expensive treasures

A. OUR TREASURES MUST BE OFFERED FREELY

1. the Magi's gifts were not offered from compulsion but from the extravagance of devotion
2. the wise men show us that those who love Jesus whole-heartedly demonstrate it by offering their treasures
3. God is worthy of our most valuable possessions, but He desires one gift supremely: the gift of ourselves in worship
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1, ESV)
4. worship is an act of adoration
a. it is the saint responding to the grace of God experienced through Christ
1) our worship be-like the wise men's—sincere and genuine
2) or it can be like Herod's—trivial and false

IV. SOME OTHER IMPORTANT LESSONS

1. the primary, all-important lesson of the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem is about the importance of worship
a. the Wise Men teach us that real worship is all about seeking Jesus
b. the Wise men teach us that real worship is all about submission to the Lordship of the Christ
c. the Wise men teach us that real worship is all about offering Jesus our most precious treasure—the gift of ourselves in adoration and praise
2. but there are some other important lesson the Magi teach us that I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention them

A. THE GOSPEL IS FOR ALL NATIONS

1. each of the four gospels, while they tell the same story, has an intended audience
a. Matthew’s intended audience is the Jews, and his purpose is to show the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah and King
2. but, interestingly enough, Matthew’s gospel tells us that the first people who come to worship Jesus are pagan wise men
a. that’s no accident
b. Matthew’s last words in his Gospel are the Great Commission: “Go into all world—all the Gentile nations—and preach the gospel ... “
c. the Psalmist predicted this 1,000 years before the event
”Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)
3. the core of the gospel message is that Jesus has come for the nations
a. Jesus was not merely a Jewish Messiah, or a Western European white man’s Savior, but the Redeemer of men from every nation, every tribe, and every tongue
b. the Church’s task of missions and evangelism is not complete until people from every nation, tribe, and tongue have heard the Gospel and come to worship him
4. Matthew begins his Gospel by tell Israel “come and see;” and ends it by saying to believers “go and tell”

B. GOD COMMANDEERS THE UNIVERSE TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSES

1. God was providentially at work in the grand geopolitical realm of Rome, the village life of an out-of-the-way backwater called Nazareth, the observatory of Babylonian astronomers/astrologers, and also in the grand vista of our solar system
a. God raised up the empire of Rome to rule the Mediterranean world, and placed in the heart of Emperor Augustus that he should degree a census just so that God could move Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where prophecy said Jesus would be born
b. God decreed that heavenly bodies were to be exactly at the right place at the exactly the right time to be seen by Babylonian astronomers, that convinced them that a remarkable birth had take place in Israel
c. God, hundreds of years before that, allowed Israel to be taken captive into Babylon so that Persian historians and astronomers might become familiar with Jewish Scriptures telling of a star that would appear signaling the birth of God’s Anointed One
d. God used the thoroughly paranoid King Herod to threaten the life of the baby Jesus that caused Joseph to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt—again so that prophecy might be fulfilled
1) what’s the point?
2. nothing associated with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus happened by accident
a. the same God who sovereignly arranged all of the stars in the sky, and the affairs of the world to accomplish His will, is the same God who sovereignly arranges every detail of your life

C. THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD IS TURNED ON ITS HEAD IN JESUS

1. have you ever stopped to consider that from a rational, philosophical, scientific, and even a religious point of view, how thoroughly nonsensical the story of Jesus’ redeeming life is?
a. think for a moment of the major points of the story
Jesus is the second Person of the Godhead who is incarnated in this world through a virgin who is told by an angel this will happen
this child will be 100% completely human and 100% completely God
because he is human, he can be tempted, because he is God he is incapable of sin
the first thirty years of his life is lived inconspicuously as a carpenter in a backwater village so innocuous that it’s never mentioned in the Old Testament or any other Jewish writing of the day
Jesus begins his ministry at age thirty, rises to super-star status within twenty-four months, because of his miracles and teachings, but when he lays out the cost of following him the masses begin to turn away, and by the time he dies eighteen months later he has only 120 followers
he dies at the age of thirty-three crucified by the Romans as in insurrectionist at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities who believe he’s a fake Messiah and a blasphemer, but who then ‘shows them’ by raising from the dead three days later
he teaches his disciple about the kingdom for forty days and then ascends bodily into heaven
and to believe upon him, and follow him, and serve him brings the remission of sin, and eternal life!
2. do you understand how that story sounds to the typical resident of planet Earth?
a. it sounds like insanity at the worse, and foolishness at the least
b. and yet we believe it’s true
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–21, NIV84)
In July 1926 Dr James Allan Francis was preaching to the Baptist Young People’s Union at a Los Angeles Convention. In that sermon he shared his most famous illustration that we know as That One Solitary Life. He ends it with these words, “All the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.” To the much of the world, the Gospel is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It brings us into a relationship with the Christ to whom we own all our adoration; all our praise; all of our worship.
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