Third Sunday of Advent – The Joy of our worship! – Matthew 2:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 15, 2013 AM
Though not everyone agrees on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came some time after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (oikia, Matthew 2:11) but it can also mean place or residence, and could have been used generically by Matthew to describe where Mary and Joseph were simply staying for the moment. However, we also discover that Jesus was called a little child (paidion, Matthew 2:9, 11) rather than a newborn infant (brephos, Luke 2:12). Whether this is true or not is not the focus of the verses, but rather what was the focus of the Magi’s worship. In fact, we discover what the joy of our worship is to be as we study the story of the Magi.
When my wife and I first began to date, I would drive hundreds of miles, often times during very bad weather just to see her. I wrote her letters where I had painstakingly taken hours to draw cartoon characters just to make her smile. At the time, just as it is now, I was and am willing to sacrifice anything for her happiness and contentment. Why would I do such things? Because I love her. She is the joy of my life. And isn’t that the way believers should respond to the Joy of their worship as well? Shouldn’t Jesus be the Joy of our worship? Why do you worship? What or who is the focus of your worship? Let’s discover just how and what the Joy of our worship should be…
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, there is a famous song called, “Climb Every Mountain.” The first two stanzas relate, “Climb every mountain, Search high and low; Follow every byway, Every path you know. Climb every mountain, Ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream.” Here in the first two verses of the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel we discover that the Magi were willing to do just that. In fact, what they did in order to reach the joy of their worship was amazing. It teaches us that the Joy of our worship…
I. Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! (Vv. 1-2)
1. The exact identity of the Magi is impossible to establish, though several ideas have been floated over the years. Everything from a secret society, magicians, wizards, or truth seekers. They have been given traditional names of Gaspar, Melchior and; Balthazar; and identified as representatives of the three groups of peoples that descended from Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This notion is from about the 7th century. More likely they were Gentiles of high position from a country, perhaps Persia, northeast of Babylon. Maybe they were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This may simply have been revealed in the sky, as indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East. Those who wanted to learn more about the world around them often read the manuscripts of religions, histories, or literature of other nations. Some think the Magi’s comments reflect a knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Whatever the source, they came” After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod.” And we discover the main reason is stated in their question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” These men had to travel a long distance (between 550 to 600 miles), mostly walking or perhaps riding, and endure the hardships of thieves and robbers, weather and dirt, and weeks if not months of travel. They left the safety of hearth and home in search of a child and for the mere chance “to worship him”! The Joy of our worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle!
EXAMPLE: There are many in our day and age who say they search for truth, but few recognize it when they see or hear it. Some give their lives away in servitude serving others, like Mother Teresa who constantly agonized over whether she truly had done enough “good things’ for Jesus to love her and be saved! There are those who enter into a lifelong journey of bellybutton introspection, like the Dali Llama, who think by focusing on themselves and emptying themselves of all worldly desires they will find a sense of wholeness. Then there are those who want you to think that any thought given to faith is a fool’s folly, because happiness is only found in the moment. Yet, it the midst of all of this we find Wisemen journeying from the East, following a heavenly star, hoping to kneel before a young boy on the chance that he might be the King of the Jews, the Messiah. That’s what the Joy of worship does, it inspires us to overcome any obstacle in order to worship Him!
There are those who say they have found the object of their worship, but when one takes a closer look all you see is them! We can mouth Christian platitudes, wave our hands in the air, sing all the choruses we know, and even quote Scripture verbatim, but not know why we are to worship because we truly do not know Him whom we are to worship! The Joy of our worship…
II. Is more than counterfeit comprehension! (Vv. 4-8)
1. King Herod knew what he worshiped and this is why, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” It was said that it was better to be a pig in Herod’s household than to be one of his children! Herod in his paranoia had several of his sons, a daughter, and several wives murdered. Herod was not the rightful king from the line of David. In fact he was not even a descendant of Jacob, but was descended from Esau and was an Edomite. This is why the Jews hated their king! Herod however was crafty and in fact did a lot to build up his nation militarily, financially, and physically. “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.” Herod in his paranoia wanted to know who this threat to his throne was. They give him the answer gleaned from Micah, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Both Herod and his advisors had a counterfeit response and reason for their belief. The people’s chief priests and teachers of the law wanted to show off their knowledge to their King and Herod wanted to thwart any opposition to his reign! What he learned was soon related to the Magi, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.” He was already planning his infanticidal response whereby “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16 NIV) So, Herod sends them to Bethlehem and tells them, ” Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” He only wanted to “worship” him at the end of a sword. The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!
EXAMPLE: There is an atheist group who have paid for giant billboards with the message, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” Interestingly, American Atheists President David Silverman, whose heritage is Jewish, says they are trying to focus only on the “fun” parts of Christmas. And sadly, this is what many Christians do as well with their worship. They focus only on the “fun” parts trying vainly to forget that worship of Christ is more than head knowledge or a regular commitment to show up on Sundays. Some view worship as a country club where they pay their dues for the benefits or show, it is more about receiving than giving, rights instead of responsibilities, entitlements instead of sacrifice, and being served instead of serving. They might as well be atheists asking, “Who needs Christ during worship? Nobody!” The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!
Author Greig Beck in his thriller novel “Dark Rising” writes, “Without sacrifice, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no life. God bless them who give their all for us.” He could have been writing about missionaries, but he wasn’t. Instead he was writing about those in the military who sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom. Should this not be said of the believer? In the story of the Magi and this third Sunday of Advent, we discover that the Joy of our worship…
III. Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! (Vv. 9-12)
1. Simple trust is an amazing thing. We discover it in children and are often silenced by it. We discover it here with the Magi and it should cause us to pause, because, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way.” At this time they did not know Herod’s intent, they only wanted to continue their journey. They followed the star they have seen earlier and wonders of wonders, “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was!” Stars, like planets, usually go from east to west because of the earth’s rotation, not north to south! Could it be therefore that “the star” which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God or one of His angelic messengers? Possibly. But ” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” They knew what it meant! It was showing them the way to the One they sought! The same God who had lead the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years, now lead these Wiseman. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” They did not pause to worship or recognize Mary nor Joseph. The mother and father are of little importance to those who follow the Messiah. He alone is the focus of their worship! They immediately went to the object of their search, their worship! “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Some believe the gifts signified the character of Jesus’ life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death. Scripture does not say and therefore it is speculation. However, it speaks volumes on how these men were willing to enthusiastically sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures in order to worship Jesus! “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” The joy of our worship makes us enthusiastically sacrifice all that we have for Him!
EXAMPLE: How about you? What do you sacrifice for the Joy of your worship? A couple of Sundays a month? Do you spend time reading His word? Do you share Him with those walking in darkness? Do you only show up to church for worship and never give any of your time, talent, or treasure to the Joy of your worship in His body the church? Maybe you are more like the four blind men in the Asian myth who come across an elephant for the first time and they try to describe it. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another touches the elephant’s leg and describes it as a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and concludes it is a rope. The fourth blind man, finds the elephant’s side, assumes that it is, after all, a wall. It is not differing religions describing the same thing in radically differing ways. The truth is that spiritually blind folks cannot make sense from that which they are blinded to! The only commonality they had was they were all BLIND! Jesus correctly asked, ” Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39 NIV) Stop being blind, the Joy of your worship should make you enthusiastically sacrifice all that you have for Him!
The Joy of our worship…
Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! Is more than counterfeit comprehension! Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice!
This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.