2008-12-28 (am) Matthew 2.1-12 We Have Come to Worship the King
Why do we come to church? Why do we keep coming to church?
We come to worship the King of Kings. We keep coming to church because we want to know our king better and better. There is no limit to acquiring knowledge about God.
Just the other day, the National Post Online Newspaper posted an article entitled, “A Faith Few Can Fathom.” I’ve copied it to my blog, so you can read the article there, if you are interested.
Now, when I first read the headline, I was quite sceptical. I thought, oh, great, another article bashing Christianity. Actually, there’s a bit of a double meaning in the title. Christianity requires faith. And because Christianity has some pretty amazing claims (like the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, that Jesus is the only way of salvation), few can grasp or fathom it.
But for people like us, who come to church every week, who are fed by God’s Word, we can fathom it, we can understand it. The Holy Spirit guides us and moves us to dive deeper and deeper into God’s Word.
We can see the Holy Spirit at work in the wise men who came to worship Christ.
From outward appearances, at first it didn’t look like they were going to succeed. They expected to find a king, surrounded by subjects, people full of joy and happiness.
But Jesus chose to hide his true dignity and honour, all his glory and majesty, in being born in the most humble way possible. We would expect the opposite from God, wouldn’t we? But John says, He came into the world, but the world did not know Him, He came to his own people, but His own people did not receive Him.
Let us compare and contrast Christ to the ruler of Israel at the time of His birth. Herod the Great came to power through Roman appointment. He was cruel and used any means necessary to get his position and keep it. He lied, cheated, and killed to keep his position. He killed anyone who he considered a threat to his throne. He even killed several of his own children because, being a paranoid, power hungry man, he thought they would try to take the kingdom from him.
Such was Herod, frightened even of a baby king. But what a contrast. In Herod you have someone clinging to a power that isn’t really his. Then you have Jesus, who has all power in heaven and earth, who willingly set it aside, knowing that such power and authority will be restored to him after a time.
Herod surrounded himself with people who would worship him. Jesus needed no such fawning and fretting. He chose the unremarkable to witness His majesty, some shepherds and the people they told, a young mother and an adoptive father.
Then, nearly two years later, some wise men come from the east.
Who were they? They were Gentiles. Shocking, isn’t it? Very few Jews looked for the messiah, but these Gentiles travelled a great distance in order to worship Him. They were scholars from the east. They were learned men, who by studying the heavens, looked for the birth of one who would be king of the Jews. They were diligent in searching for the knowledge of Christ, and once they saw the light, the star light, they embarked on a journey to worship and see the light of Christ for themselves.
Does the idea of following a star surprise you? Does it seem strange that God would use such a means to bring people to Him? Psalm 8 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. Therefore, the heavens announced the coming of the true light. Also, the scriptures constantly show that God is far greater than anything the other people, the other nations worship. He is greater because they’re worshipping the creation rather than the creator!
For example, each of the ten plagues that God inflicted on Egypt, made mockery of the gods they worshipped. In the book of Jonah, the sailors worshipped the sea god, but Jonah worshipped the one who made the sea. Likewise, the wise men most likely worshipped the heavens, but the heavens are revealed to be a mere creature. They were worshipping the wrong thing, they needed to worship the one who created the heavens, the one by whom the heavens were created.
Also, the star light isn’t the first light used to guide people. At night, the Pillar of Fire led the Israelites while they were in the wilderness. Now, centuries later, a similar but different light leads some Gentiles to the true light. And the star light led them to the true light.
And so, seeing the light in the heavens, they head out immediately. Surprisingly, they do not wait for news to come to them, but such is their desire to seek Christ, they set out right away. When the Holy Spirit has illuminated us, we will seek out Christ, no matter what the cost might be. Our desire is to know Him more and more, and no matter the obstacles we might face along the way, our hearts remain set on Him, doing everything we can to know Him better.
The wise men follow the start to Jerusalem where they ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” In this sentence alone, we see their faith! Notice that they didn’t ask, “Was the king of the Jews born?” They don’t ask to make sure they got their information right. They don’t need to, for they don’t doubt the sign in the heavens, they’re quite sure they know what it means, so they simply come out and ask it.
Now, they probably expected to get a quick answer, and someone would lead them to the proper place. Instead, no one knows what they’re talking about. Herod knows nothing. There are no ongoing celebrations happening, everyone in Jerusalem is ignorant. It’s amazing that several wise men from the east know about the birth of Christ, but the rulers and leaders in Jerusalem are ignorant of what has happened 7 miles away! Astounding!
These men came in order to worship the Christ. Haven’t we also seen the light of Christ? Then let us seek to know him more, worship and adore him more and more through the study of His Word, and through the preaching of His Word. Worshipping Christ has Christ as its object. If we’re ignorant of Christ, then we’re not really worshipping him.
Herod did not like these guys arrival one bit. First of all, they make no homage to him, they treat him as you and I would treat a gas station attendant when asking for directions. Herod, being the paranoid ruler he is, feels very threatened by their inquiry.
Being an Edomite and someone who has lived in Israel for a long time, he must of known about the prophesies concerning Christ’s coming. But he was like most people who are too focussed on this world, he wanted to cling on to the treasures he had here. The same is true for the other leaders, those who were not looking forward to the coming of the messiah. They didn’t want Jesus either. They liked their situation in life. They were comfortable and felt in control.
Oftentimes, the slavery of sin seems preferable to people than the freedom in Christ. We prefer the half life we know, to the treasures we cannot imagine. I’ve quoted CS. Lewis in this way before, but it is like a boy who is content making mud pies in the slums because he cannot imagine what a holiday at the ocean could possibly be like.
Let me try to make the analogy a bit more local. It is like a man who takes his vacation in winter and holes himself in his house, trying to keep warm with a few candles, because he cannot imagine what a holiday in the warmth of say, the Dominican Republic, would be like. He’s never seen pictures of the incredible beaches, the warm, clear water. And because he has no idea of what that might be like, he has no desire to go there.
Unless Christ warms your heart, you cannot imagine what it is like to get out of the frigid cold of death. God’s Word is like a photo album, showing true life, true joy, true happiness, which we find only in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Pressed by the wise men Herod seeks counsel with the chief priests and the teachers of the law to find out what the scriptures prophesied concerning the birth of Christ. It doesn’t take them long to come up with a unanimous answer. The messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
The name Bethlehem, literally means house of bread. Do you think God did that on purpose? The true manna from heaven, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, the house of bread! But, King David once longed to drink water from Bethlehem’s well. So not only is Bethlehem the birthplace of the true manna from heaven, it is also the birthplace of the well of living water! To all who come to Christ, he gives true manna from heaven.
But the one who would come out of Bethlehem is also a ruler, a king, a governor. But in order to be ruled by Christ, we must make ourselves His subjects.
Herod was not willing to be subject to Christ. Instead, he felt threatened by him. Under false pretences, he told the wise men to report back to him. The motivation was not to worship, but to kill. Even though Herod was near the end of his life, even though Christ was but a child, nevertheless Herod wanted Jesus eliminated. So, rather than welcoming Christ, he fought against him. There is nothing more useless, nor more dangerous than trying to fight God. What happened to Herod is that his passion for rule, took over his reason and conscience. Don’t we see similar reactions in other people who have rejected Christ?
Now, the wise men leave Herod, and continue their journey to Jesus. They notice, upon leaving the palace that the star has appeared again, and they are overjoyed. They are not on a fools errand, as some of the people in Jerusalem might have suggested. Indeed the probably had a lot of people make fun of them along the way. But now, they’re the ones sharing a laugh about the ignorant fools in Jerusalem!
It is amazing that not a single person in Herod’s court went with them. Even though the chief priests and the teachers of the law told the prophecies to the wise men, not one of them was interested in the truth enough to find out if they really were fulfilled!
This is very disturbing. All the chief priests and the teachers of the law were deluded. Either they really didn’t think that the messiah was really coming, or they refused to accept reality. As a pastor, I take this as a very serious warning. I must therefore work hard to keep my eyes on Christ, and not on some other goal.
To the shame of the Israelites, these foreigners recognised the coming of the Christ, and they went out of their way, they sought Him until they found Him, to worship Him. Let us also be as single minded in pursuing Christ, so that we might worship Him.
God directed the wise men throughout their journey. He gave the star that led them to Jerusalem. Then he gave instructions through the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Then the star reappeared so that they could find Jesus in Bethlehem. God used both supernatural and natural means to direct people. Some people have amazing encounters with God. Other people have normal encounters with God. Those who are close to God will have all kinds of people around them who also are close to God. They will have God’s Word, which speaks more clearly and powerfully than any star. Don’t hunger for special signs! Turn to the plain truth in God’s Word! Everything we need to know is revealed there!
When the wise men finally saw Jesus the first thing they did was worship Him with their bodies, they physically bowed down, then they gave their gifts. Without the former, the second is meaningless. When Abel made his sacrifices, he worshipped God in his heart first. When Cain made his sacrifices, his heart wasn’t in it. The actions of the wise men show that their hearts were indeed in it.
When we come to church, when we physically present ourselves to God in His sanctuary, with fellow believers, we demonstrate our hearts are invested in Christ, we also demonstrate our worship through the giving of our gifts.
Some have given opinion about the nature of the gifts given: gold as fit for a king, frankincense as to honour God through the smoke of incense and myrrh used for embalming bodies, pointing forward to Christ’s death as an atonement for sin. But there’s no real explanation given in our text.
Shall we look at these wise men as examples of godly servants? Dare we compare ourselves to their standard? Do we seek after Christ while He may be found? Do we relentlessly pursue Him? Do we offer first our lives in worship, as wholeheartedly as we possibly can, so that He may be honoured with our lives? Do we also honour and worship him with what we have? Do we have too close a hold upon our earthly treasures?
Consider your life. How are you doing? How are we doing as a church? Are there areas in which we can improve? If so, and I know that there are many areas of improvement in my own life, let us exercise discipline to get ourselves into spiritual shape! Amen.