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They Came, They Saw, They Worship, They Went

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They Came...They Returned

Matthew 2:1-12

The Epiphany

(Preached at FUMC on 1/6/08 by Dr. Steve Angus)

We are intrigued and somewhat mystified by the appearance of the Magi.  “Wise Men” or “Kings” we sometimes call them.  We often ask, “Who were they really?”  “Where did they come from?”  “Were there actually three of them and if so, what were their names?”  The term Magi seems so-- impersonal.

When we get down to it, these questions are not significant to our understanding of the Christian faith.  What is important for us about the Wise Men is their response to Jesus.  As we reflect on the Magi, we discover how we should respond to God in our own life.

Notice that the Wise Mean simply “came.”  It is a small word yet Matthew emphasizes it repeatedly.  Note the text:

                      verse 1:  Wise Mean from the east came to Jerusalem

                      verse 2:  We have come to pay him homage

                      verse 6:  from you will come a ruler

Contained within this small phrase, “they came,” we see an expression of obedience and surrender.

In our Christmas pageants we watch the children dressed as Magi come down the aisle with such ease and grace.  The only difficulty confronting these young travelers is whether or not they will be able to keep their crowns on their heads.  It is tough for us to imagine the journey of the Magi being in any way, inconvenient.

We can travel so easy today.  We can be in Nashville in less than two hours.

Not far from here is a beautiful landmark called Stone Door. 

When ever I look across those hills and deep gorges, I am amazed at how difficult it must have been for Daniel Boone and other frontiersmen to come to this new land.  They left their families behind.  If wagons or animals were used they had to be lifted by rope up the side of the mountain.  Following the call west could be deadly.

These Wise Men left much behind as well.  There was great hardship in travel and once they finally arrived they got the runaround from King Herod. Yet they persevered and “they came.”

This is the type of obedience God longs for us to have.  One that can face hardships, overlook the trials, work around the difficult Herod’s in our life and keep coming to Jesus.

Once they arrived, we discover that their journey was not complete.  They came and they saw.  Again Matthew goes to great length to emphasize this.  Look at the text.

                      verse 2:  we saw (observed) his star

                      verse 9:  the star they had seen

                      verse 10:when we saw that the star

                      verse 11:they saw the child

As they looked about themselves, they saw more than a star or a cave or a teenage mother.  As their eyes fell upon the small child, they saw Jesus for who he really was.  What they saw in Jesus is demonstrated by the gifts they offered to him.

What were the gifts?  First there was gold.  God is a gift meant for a king.  The Magi recognized Jesus as a king who would reign not by force but by love.  Jesus is the king of all creation.

The second gift was frankincense.  Frankincense is a gift fit for a priest.  It was used in the temple worship and gave off a sweet smell.  The function of a priest is to open the way to God.  It is interesting that the Latin word for priest is pontifex, which means a bridge builder.  The priest is the one who builds a bridge between humanity and God.  This is how the magi saw Jesus.  He opened the way to God.  He made it possible for humanity to enter into the presence of God.

The third gift laid at the foot of the manger was myrrh.  This seems to be an odd gift to give to a king.  You see, myrrh was a substance used to embalm the bodies of the dead.  The Wise Men recognized Jesus as a King who would make it possible for the world to come into the presence of God by his death.  Jesus was king, priest, redeemer; three in one.

Hohman Hunt has a famous painting of Jesus.  It shows Jesus at the door of the carpenter shop in Nazareth.  Jesus is still a boy and has come to the door to stretch his limbs which had grown cramped over the workbench.  He stands there is the doorway with arms outstretched and behind him, on the way, the setting sun throws his shadow.  It is the shadow of a cross.

Gold for a king.  Frankincense for a priest.  Myrrh for one who was to dies.  The Wise Men came and they saw.  What do we see when we look upon Jesus?

“They came,” “they saw,” then “they worshipped.”  The text reads, “they knelt down and paid him homage.”

One year our Christmas gift to the family was a trip to Disney World.  The children were so excited and could hardly wait to get there.  Then as we stood looking at Cinderella’s Palace, one of the children (Mary) said, “Thank you , thank you, thank you!  I can’t believe I am actually here looking at Cinderella’s Castle!”  This is how the Wise Men must have felt.  They were so overcome with joy that they just had to express their gratitude is some way and the only way they knew how to do it was to brow down and worship.

Notice the form the worship of the Wise Men took.  The text says, “they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then opening their treasures”.  Did you catch that word?  Treasures.  In worshipping the new king they game him their best.  They didn’t just offer gifts, they opened their treasures. 

The use of the word treasure is significant.  In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Then he goes on to say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our treasure is that which means most to us.  When the Wise Men opened their treasure it was their way of saying, “Jesus, you are the most important thing in the world to me.”  Have we committed our heart, our treasure to Jesus?  They came--They Saw--They worshipped!

But then it was time to go home.  We read, “They returned to their country by another route.”  We cannot stay in church all the time.  We cannot remain in our prayer closet 24 hours a day or read the Bible in a sales meeting.  We too must return to our country.  The question is, will it be by another route?  Has our encounter with Jesus changed our life in any way?  If we truly come and see and worship as the Wise men did, we will return to our world with a new joy and excitement about life.  We to will have a story to tell.

One day a man picked up the morning newspaper and to his horror read his own obituary!  Like most of us, he wanted to see what people would say about him after he died.  He read past the bold caption which read, “Dynamite King Dies,” to the text itself.  He read along until he was taken aback by the description of himself as a “merchant of death.”

He was the inventor of dynamite and had amassed a great fortune from the manufacture of weapons of destruction but he could not get that description, “merchant of death” out of his mind.  Was that really the way he wanted to be remembered?

It was at that moment that a healing power greater than the destructive forces of dynamite came over him.  It was his Epiphany, his hour of conversion.  From that point on, he devoted his energy and money to works of peace and human betterment.  Today, he is best remembered, not as a “merchant of death” but as the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel.

Have you allowed Jesus to change your life?  As you return to your regular activities of life, will people see a change?  Will they know that you have come to the manger of Bethlehem and they you have seen the king and worshipped him?

   

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