3rd Sunday of Advent – The Joy of our worship – Matthew 2:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 16, 2018
Though not everyone agrees on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came sometime after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (oikia) or residence. Matthew could have simply been describing where Mary and Joseph were staying. Jesus was also called a child (paidion) rather than infant. The focus is the Magi’s joyous worship.
When Denise 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 painstakingly drew cartoon characters just to make her smile. I was and am willing to sacrifice anything for her happiness and contentment. Why would I do this? I did it 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? Let’s discover just what the joy of our worship should be…
In the musical The Sound of Music the song “Climb Every Mountain” states that we should “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 Matthew’s gospel we discover the Magi were willing to do just that. They teach us that the Joy of our worship…
I. Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! (Vv. 1-2)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “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.”
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 simple wealthy 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. None of this is true. This notion is from about the 7th century. More likely they were pagan Gentiles of high position from a country, probably 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 differing religions, histories, or literature of other nations. Some think the Magi’s comments reflect 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 endured 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 their worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle!
EXAMPLE: There are many who search for truth, but some never recognize it. Some give their lives serving others, like Mother Teresa who constantly agonized over whether she truly had done enough “good things” for Jesus to love her! There are those who live a lifelong journey of bellybutton introspection focusing on self and emptying themselves of all worldly desires to find a sense of wholeness. Some think happiness is only found in the moment. Here we find traveling Wisemen following a heavenly star hoping to kneel before a child on the chance that he might be the One they sought. That’s what the Joy of worship does; it inspires us to overcome any obstacle in order to worship Jesus!
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 Jesus whom we are to worship! The Joy of our worship…
II. Is more than counterfeit comprehension! (Vv. 3-8)
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘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.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “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.”
1. King Herod knew what he worshipped and this is why, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was shaken to his core. 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 two of his sons and a wife 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 (Messiah) 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 (that) 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 has 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 folks, including Christians, do as well. They focus only on the “fun” parts forgetting that worship of Christ is more than head knowledge or showing up once a year. Some view worship as a country club experience where they pay their dues for the benefits or grand 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 wasn’t writing about missionaries, 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)
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
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 wonder 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 seek the Messiah. They immediately went to the object of their search! “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 Jesus? Maybe you are more like the four blind men in the Asian myth who come across an elephant for the first time. One grasps the trunk and thinks it’s a snake; another, touches the elephant’s leg and says it’s a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and concludes it’s a rope. The fourth blind man finds the elephant’s side and assumes it’s a wall. It is not as some think 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 blind to! Jesus correctly asked, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39 NIV) and of course the answer is “yes”! Stop being blind, the Joy of your worship should make you enthusiastically sacrifice all that you have for Jesus!
The Joy of our worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle; it is more than counterfeit comprehension and it makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! Just like the Wisemen.
This article is copyrighted © 2018 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.