Wise Worship (January 7, 2018)
If Jesus was who he said he was, then why didn’t he make it abundantly clear? Why didn’t he clearly reveal himself as true God in the flesh? Have you heard that question before? Have you perhaps thought it yourself at times? We may wonder why the only invited guests to his birth were a few simple shepherds. We may wonder why God would call a few Magi from a distant land rather than trumpeting the announcement of the Savior’s birth from the walls of Jerusalem. We may wonder why Jesus spent most of his life and ministry as a humble prophet preaching the Word rather than constantly displaying his power as God.
Yesterday was January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. It is the day we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus. Epiphany means “revealing.” It’s during this time of the church year that for a few Sundays we will look at the glorious and powerful ways in which Jesus made it abundantly clear that he is indeed Immanuel – God with us. Today, we follow some truly wise men who picked up on what God was revealing to them by a star and by his Word. We follow them hundreds of miles, perhaps even thousands, to a little town and a little infant named Jesus. And being moved by the Holy Spirit in much the same way that the Magi were, we offer here our wise worship. Wise worship which overcomes obstacles and lives lovingly.
This is actually probably one of the more talked about accounts of the Bible. There is so much in it that captivates our wonder – so many things that we seek to have revealed. What was this star? How did it come about? Was it a special constellation caused by a specific alignment of planets and stars? Was it a meteor that slowly passed by the Earth, pointing the wise men in the right direction. We could speculate all day, but we don’t really know for sure. However, we can be fairly confident that these Magi certainly knew the difference between a constellation, a meteor, and a star.
Another question is where did they come from? It’s quite likely that they came from Babylon. This could then explain how they knew that the star was revealing the arrival of the promised Messiah. Many years ago the Babylonians captured Israel and dispersed its people throughout the Empire. One such person was Daniel, who was in fact placed in charge of all of Babylon’s wise men (Dan 2:48). Perhaps through Daniel’s witness passed down over the centuries, or through the testimony of other believing Jews, the Holy Spirit had led these magi to see this star as the fulfillment of Balaam’s Messianic prophecy in Numbers 24(:17): “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Another, and far older opinion, is that these Magi came from present-day Yemen, South of Saudi Arabia. It would be the ancient nation of “Sheba.” This would then tie in interestingly with Isaiah 6(:6) which states that “All from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”
These, and many other questions regarding this account are interesting to speculate about. But what does the Bible say? What details does it give? “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 when it rose and have come to worship him.’” (Mt 2:1-2). Do you see that the focus is not on the star, not on where they came from, how they got there, or why they chose the gifts they did? The account focuses on what drove them to overcome all obstacles – “Where is the one born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him.” Their eagerness to worship their Savior rendered distance and time insignificant for them. They may have had to journey over 500 miles or it could have been 3 times that. They may have spent months on the road. It even seems as if the star stopped leading them for a time as they inquired about this new king in Jerusalem. But none of this stopped them. They came to worship. They came to see their King.
These Magi still present a shining example of sincere devotion for modern Christians who sometimes must overcome obstacles of travel and time to worship their Savior and King. What obstacles do you have to overcome to see your Savior revealed in God’s Word Sunday after Sunday? For some of you it is distance – although those 40 or so miles by car pale in comparison to the 500+ miles by foot or by camel. For some of you it’s time – whether that be waking up earlier on the weekend, taking precious time out of your busy schedule, or struggling to get kids ready to go in the little time that you have before leaving the house. These are all huge obstacles that could prevent you from making the journey to see your Savior. These are all obstacles that Satan can blow out of proportion every Sunday as he hopes to prevent you from having your Savior revealed to you in God’s Word. I often think to myself if Sunday morning doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly that there must be something good that Satan doesn’t want me to hear this week. That builds my motivation even more to overcome all obstacles just to see and hear my Savior in his Word.
Really, most of this overcoming obstacles all boils down to will, or motivation. Am I motivated enough by my Savior to overcome whatever obstacle arises so that I can worship him? Am I driven so much by the love of God displayed in my Savior that distance, time, or whatever other obstacles I may face become insignificant when compared to having my Savior revealed once again? You are all here today. With God’s help you all overcame the obstacles that could have prevented you from being here. Today you have wisely gathered together to offer your worship and praise! Thanks be to God!
At times, however, our motivation needs to be refreshed. At times we need to see once again, as if for the first time, what that salvation means. That’s part of the reason why we have a cycle of readings that repeats every year the life and work of Jesus. For the Magi, God taught that lesson in a little different manner. It seems the star disappeared once they were close enough to Israel, forcing them to seek out help in the capital city of Jerusalem. Surely the people there would know where the king of the Jews was born! Yet to their surprise, it seems that their question caught King Herod off guard. It seems that God had not revealed the news of the Savior to them. It seems that they were still in the dark.
I say it seems that way, because God certainly had not left Israel in the dark. For a long time he had made the Messiah known in the Scriptures. When asked, the chief priests and teachers of the law knew exactly where to look in the Scriptures – or, more likely, they knew the answer by memory – “’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 shepherd my people Israel.”’” (Mt 2:5-6). Help came from the Word of God. God could have led the Magi directly to Jesus in Bethlehem. But after the Magi had come so close to their goal, the star disappeared, forcing them into God’s Word. Even the Jewish leaders would not have known the answer to the Magi’s question without the Scriptures. In this way the Holy Spirit underscores the importance of God’s Word.
Just as it was in the past, still to this day God wants us to “search the Scriptures” (Jn 5:39), not look for special signs and revelations. It’s in his Word where your Savior is revealed and made known, just he has been for centuries. And so when people ask you, or if perhaps you yourself have wondered, “Why hasn’t God made it absolutely clear?” He HAS! He has in his Word. And even when we might like to think that it would be better if he gave us signs and wonders, how often has he done just that and we are still scratching our heads looking for absolute clarity. It’s all spelled out in the Word! Your Savior is made known in the Scripture. And for the next few weeks we will see that his divinity too is revealed in the Scriptures. For us too, like he did for the Magi, the Lord may sometimes increase our eagerness to seek our Savior and his answers by “removing the star,” so to speak. Then he lovingly fills the need that he himself created.
Many English translations lose the excitement of the Greek words as they describe what happens next. “Look! Behold! The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (Mt 2:9). When the Magi finally arrive at the place where Jesus was, they demonstrate the wisdom that the Holy Spirit had revealed to them by their loving acts of worship. Standing was out of the question. They were immediately on their knees, bowing with reverence reserved for high-ranking persons or divine beings. What a sight that must have been to see these powerful and important men, truly wise men, bowing down and worshiping this Child. They also presented him with the gifts that they were determined to give their Savior. What power the Holy Spirit has to convince human hearts that this child, born of Mary, is not merely a human being, but Immanuel, God with us! This is Epiphany. This is the way God reveals the Savior – by the Holy Spirit working through the Word to convince hearts that this is your God and Savior.
Today, the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart to overcome all obstacles and see your Savior so clearly revealed in the Word. He has also moved you to live lovingly as you offer your songs of praise, prayers of thanksgiving, and offerings of gratitude. I see gathered before me, truly wise men, women, young adults, and children because the Holy Spirit has revealed to you that this is no mere child. This is Immanuel!