The whole of Matthew’s gospel presents the majestic and authoritative messiahship of Jesus. The first two chapters are inseparably related to the rest of the gospel. I remind you that this gospel ends with our Risen Lord Jesus Christ declaring that all authority has been given to him. And on the basis of that authority, His disciples are commanded to go and to make disciples now of all nations. So, the one declared “king of the Jews” in our text by the wise men is now Himself proclaiming to have universal authority. He is worthy of the faith, the obedience, the allegiance, indeed the worship of all peoples throughout the world. This is in keeping with the whole “drama of redemption” and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3.
With this in mind, we as believers in Jesus Christ have to shun any other focus of worship other than our glorious God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to be aware of anything that would hinder our relationship with the Lord and invite us into a modern-day idolatrous cult. We know there are various false religions and cults in our world, but looking at our culture in this country, we might come to the conclusion that the cult of self is very prominent. Our culture revolves around the cult of self; me, myself, and I. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are good aspects to individual freedoms and responsibilities. But, the dogma of the absolute self is dangerous. In short, it is possible to live believing that “I am King” of my own life, and this emphasis on self can cause us to reject the Kingship of Jesus, as was the case with King Herod in this very passage of Scripture.
The Christian message is that self, indeed all that we are, should be surrendered to the One True King and Lord. We are to worship Him and Him alone. His will is what counts and our joy ought to be to do what He desires for us. And why is that the case? It is because He is King, and we are not! It is because of His Saviorhood and Sovereignty that our lives are to center around Him, and not ourselves. This understanding of who Jesus really is (emphasized in Matthew 1-2), provided the context for our study of Matthew chapter 2.
I’d like us to learn some personal and practical lessons from both 2:1-12, and then 2:12-23.
The wise men or Magi had gained insight into the coming of the King. We are not told exactly how they connected the appearance of the star with the coming of the King. Coming from the East they may certainly have had contact with Jewish thought, if not the Jewish Scriptures. One thing is clear, they travelled a long way. Based on the information they had received and the insight they had, they persevered in their search. Then, their question when they reached Jerusalem, indicated a determination to complete their mission (2:2). Through the witness of the star they had traveled a long way to worship one born “King of the Jews.” And taking the text as it stands, they ultimately received specific Scriptural guidance to be directed to the right place to worship the right person. The star and the Scripture guided them to the Messiah of Israel. It is inspiring to see their determination to worship this One born King. The sincerity and determination of these wise men is to be viewed especially in contrast to the troubled people in Jerusalem and the insincerity of king Herod. It was Herod himself, with rotten motive, who encouraged them to go and worship in Bethlehem.
As you know king Herod was not in the messianic line, and was not really a fully legitimate king in the sense of being in the line of David. He was immediately threatened and can be seen as one wanting to wipe out any other possible King. The worship of another King was a problem, as it is for many today. The idea of another sovereign is rejected and brings hostility. Herod only wanted to know where this child might be so that he could do away with Him. These were dark days in Israel. The text says that “all Jerusalem with” Herod was troubled. The sad thing is that they already had the Scriptures. They had the prophetic witness. But, having the Scriptures does not mean that one automatically worships the Savior. And we can even be interested in a savior, but not a sovereign.
In contrast, the wise men were not deterred and followed the direction they received. Their worship was a determined worship. And in keeping with their determination was God’s providential leading. God sovereignly directed them through the star and through the Scriptures and even through Herod to the very house where the Christ child was.
We can learn from the determination of the Magi. This desire and search took over their lives. But, this leads us to consider another aspect of their worship.
In verse 10, we are told that when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. They were not yet in the actual presence of the child at that moment, but their joy is emphasized as they sense the nearness of the completion of their search. I think it is instructive to sense this joy with which these magi persevered in their search and their desire to worship. It is a wonderful thing by way of application to come in expectation and joy when we worship the King.
That they rejoiced does not mean that the journey was easy; it doesn't mean that they were problem-free. No, but the search and the desire to worship this One born King captivated their attention and their emotions. What about us? Should not our worship be characterized by a sense of expectation and joy? How much more that should be the case when we acknowledge our King enthroned above!
We need freshness and joy as we anticipate worship. These wise men point to that. We can remember the words of another hymn: “Rejoice the Lord is King…”
But, more specifically let’s be challenged by this last observation about their worship.
Verse 11 is simple and yet comprehensive in its description of the worship of these wise men. There is no hint of hesitation. There seems to be no reluctance in worship. Their worship is appropriate for a King. They worship in the light of the person that they are worshipping. Seeing the child they first of all fall down and worship. They adore Him. What a wonderful act of humility, surrender, and recognition of majesty and sovereignty. I don't want to make too much of that specific posture on the part of the magi, but I think it is instructive for us. We can learn from such worship, even if it was culturally appropriate to worship in this manner. I suppose it is possible to fall down before someone insincerely, but here I believe it is an expression of complete humility and devotion. They were totally given in worship. At the same time, they had obviously come prepared. You sense the spontaneity, but also the readiness to worship this King. The Scripture says that they opened their treasures and presented gifts to Him. They had come prepared.
These were gifts in keeping with their adoration. They were gifts that indicated thought, reverence, thankfulness and sacrifice. They were gifts given in respect and worship. There is every reason to believe that this was determined, joyful and appropriate worship that was heartfelt adoration.
Over the years the meaning of gold and frankincense and myrrh have been discussed, and I would just say that they were gifts prepared and fit for a King, a Divine King. One attempt to capture the unique aspects of these gifts is found in the old Christmas Carol, “We Three Kings.” (I encourage you to read the hymn to read the interpretation of the gifts.)
Whatever the distinctive significance, these gifts were in an expression of their adoration. Worship in the fullest sense of the word should be generous worship, responsive to whom we worship. He is worthy.
There is a lot said these days about worship. Often the focus is on music. I don’t read of any music in this scene of the Magi’s worship. The little drummer boy was not there as far as we know, even though I like the Christmas song. The atmosphere may not have been conducive for what we think of as worship. But, worship took place. The focus was on the One Born to be King of the Jews. This was worship of a King.
We live in a culture preoccupied with self. Our own opinions and preferences tend to guide how we worship publically. But what should dominate our worship is knowing who we are worshipping. He is actually the One who has searched for us and found us. He is our Savior and our Sovereign. He is King, we are not. We need informed worship that makes us determined to worship Him. We need to come with joy because of who He is and what He has done for us. We need to worship humbly, selflessly, and generously – presenting all that we are – to the King. I would encourage us to reflect for a moment on our own personal worship of Jesus, the Christ. Is it a priority? Is it directed by Scripture? Is it Joyful? Is it appropriate? Am I “all in,” given in worship??
I was watching a few minutes of a football game a while back. There was a wonderful play in the game. I don't want to mention the team or the game because I'm not trying to criticize the commentator. There was an incredibly accurate pass from the quarterback and a skillful reception by the wide receiver. The commentator used the word “awe” as he reflected on what just took place. He was in awe.
We need more of that “awe” in our relationship with God, not just restrained “I know it all” worship. We need to move beyond habitual obedience that has become cold, although obedience is certainly better than disobedience. But, we need more “awe”
in our walk with the Lord and in the presence of the Lord. He is majestic. He is glorious. He is the Son, Immanuel, Savior, Ruler, Shepherd, King.
One of the reasons why Christmas can be special, even though commercialized, is that there can be a sense of wonder and praise in the mystery of Christmas. I know that the word “mystery” can be used wrongly, but what I mean by “mystery” is that the incarnation of our Savior is beyond our full understanding. God becoming flesh is beyond us. Theologians have worked out the best way to describe this reality but ultimately we're in the realm of majesty and mystery. The Creator becoming man, part of his creation, without losing His deity, the sovereign entering the world of suffering, the all-wise and mighty One becoming a helpless baby through a virgin birth in a small town in poverty. What a beginning to the gospel!!! What majesty and mystery!! Let's be in awe, a “fall down on our faces type of awe,” a captivated awe, a sacrificial awe this Christmas. The very mercies of God in our gospel (and indeed in the birth of Jesus Christ) call us to present ourselves, our bodies as a living sacrifice, totally given to the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Romans 12:1).
I think the wise men “got it right” and they model appropriate worship in this passage of Scripture. In addition, the worship offered is from people that you would not expect to show up on this occasion. At the same time, the ones who should have known better we're troubled and already seeking a way to get rid of this Newborn King. Let’s learn from the wise men.
There is one more consideration for us today. We need to learn from the warnings in the text as well.
As I mentioned earlier the first two chapters of Matthew's gospel are directly related to the rest of this gospel. The violent response to Jesus’ coming points clearly and definitely to what is ahead for this One born King. The questioning of Jesus’s identity, authority, and ministry will continue. We will see the rise of opposition to him and ultimately His humiliation, rejection, and crucifixion. Indeed, this would be the response of the majority of his own people as John's gospel tells us. Some did receive Him, and out of those he chose 12 to be His disciples. Their ministry in Matthew 10 was to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. But then in Matthew 28 their ministry was to go under their Risen Lord’s authority to all the nations. We are here today, whether Jew or Gentile as beneficiaries of that mission. But, what can we learn from these warnings in Matthew 2?
The Wise Men brought great news. The gospel of a born King was shared by the Magi in the form of a question. The Scriptures verified His birthplace. His birth in Bethlehem was revealed. But that gospel did not bring worship, it brought fear, and a hostile rejection. Even the wise men had to be warned in a dream to go another way.
God’s direction in their lives did not stop when they worshipped the Christ – Child. No, it was important that they followed the warning they received “in a dream” in order to avoid playing into the plot and plan of Herod. So, God had to provide this warning so they would avoid serving the hostile intentions of Herod.
We should not be surprised by the rejection and even the violent response to our King and the gospel in our day. What started in Bethlehem has continued. Yes, the Savior is still on the march fulfilling His ministry now through His people. But, the opposition has remained the same. If you are in touch with “Open Doors” or the “Voice of the Martyrs” or other sources of information, you know that direct persecution is a reality today. Many examples can be given. And in our own country, when the worship of Christ alone is proclaimed instead of the worship of self, there can be friction, rejection, and sometimes hostile response. Don’t be surprised. Learn from the warnings that the Scripture gives us.
It is not just the “Grinch” that tries to steal Christmas. Herod the Great was the first of many. A massacre of children by King Herod is as much a part of the Christmas story as the return of the wise men (in another way).
These warnings reveal the Lord God’s protection of His Messiah, His worshippers, and ultimately the gospel itself. God sovereignly protected this Jesus who came to save His people from their sins. He was not to die as a child. He was not to be defeated by Herod or by the devil. He came to destroy the works of the devil and that happened through the cross and the resurrection. This Jesus was born to live a private life and then to step into his Messianic ministry. He became the great teacher of righteousness. He became the miracle worker. He became the Rabbi with His disciples. He had to live a perfect life, fulfill the Law, and end up in Jerusalem. Ultimately, He went to the cross. He was to die a specific appointed and atoning death, to accomplish a specific eternal purpose, in a particular place, at a chosen time - to fulfill the specific will of his heavenly Father.
My point is that nothing was going to get in the way of God’s will being accomplished. The warning to the Wise men, and the warnings and direction to Joseph (2:13, 22) were necessary to protect this child and God’s Son. As sad as the death of infant boys in Bethlehem was, it did not hinder God’s plan or gospel. As we have mentioned already, this revealed for us the hatred and hostility towards what God was and is doing. In our day, despite the apparent setbacks and rejection of the gospel in our day, the gospel is going forth and God is fulfilling His plan.
From Bethlehem to Egypt, back to Israel, to Galilee, and to Nazareth; God had His plan and protective purpose covering His Son and our Savior. This protection would continue and thirty years or so later, as Jesus came up from the waters of baptism, His heavenly Father would say, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:17).
(See a later example of the gospel spreading despite persecution with another Herod, Herod Agrippa 1, Grandson of Herod the Great; Acts 12:19--24**)
As we approach these days of Christmas, let's be reminded of the majestic messiahship of Jesus our Lord. He is worthy of our worship. He is the one born king of the Jews; He is indeed Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, God with us, the Nazarene rejected but triumphant. He is the Christ and our Lord as Peter declared on the day of Pentecost. He's worthy of our worship: a worship marked by informed determination, joyful anticipation, and focused adoration.
In a section of his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul calls his readers to a life of humility and serving others, the exact opposite of worshipping self. He reminds us of the mindset of Jesus our savior:
Read Philippians 2:6-11
We need to “bow the knee” to Jesus Christ, and declare that He is Lord. All will bow one day, but we have the honor of bowing now and declaring Him Lord. We can follow the example of the wise men. Yes, Jesus came humbly to be born in obscurity. Yes, He came to be a servant, obedient to His father all the way to a cross. Therefore, God has exalted Him. We can do no less. The wise men are our example.
In this busy and bustling season with special events, and lots of things to do, let’s take time not just to attend events, but to worship. Bend the knee. Humble ourselves. Give Him our lives as well as our gifts. Worship Him publically, but especially take time to worship privately, worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Enthrone Him in your hearts afresh, and if you have never enthroned Him, I encourage you to do so today, even now.