Worship like Wise Men (January 3, 2021)
Worship like Wise Men
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Want to up your worship game in the new year? Want to overcome obstacles that seem to always come up and prevent you from sitting at your Savior’s feet? Want to learn how to give generously without anxiety over the gifts that you are giving? Want to leave here renewed, refreshed so that you also can live lovingly? Well, today we are going to take a look at the Magi and learn from them so that you too can Worship like Wise Men! But rather than looking for a list of steps that these Magi followed, I want you to figure out what their purpose was. What drove them forward and motivated them to worship the way they did – to overcome obstacles, give generously, and live lovingly? Figure that out, and you too can worship like Wise Men.
The first obstacle to be overcome was distance. These Magi likely came from Babylon and traveled hundreds of miles to get to Bethlehem. It likely would have been a journey of many weeks if not a number of months. And for what? They knew very little about their destination. Only that they were seeking “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt 2:2). And it’s not even that they sought to gain something from him, or create some kind of an alliance like many quest takers are seeking. Why did they go? “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). And even though distance was the first obstacle to overcome, we don’t hear anything about their perilous journey. The point isn’t how they got there, or what kind of obstacles they needed to overcome. Only that they got there. And that’s how Matthew starts this chapter; in a very matter of fact kind of way. “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?’” (Mt 2:1-2).
Although distance is often the first obstacle we think of, it was not the first. Nor was it even the most difficult to overcome. Darkness was. No, not the darkness of night. Spiritual darkness. First of all, how on earth did the Magi even know to connect this strange new star with a king born hundreds of miles away? Well, God was working behind the scenes. Most likely this is all thanks to Daniel who lived long ago – a captive of Babylon – and yet rose to high ranks. He did so not by concealing his faith, but by faithfully living his faith and trusting God. In fact, Daniel was probably a high ranking Magi long ago who taught those under him about his God and all the prophecies of the Messiah. And this light of the gospel glowed faintly in a distant land until the star appeared! And these Magi, who were not in darkness, connected it to Balaam’s prophecy from way back in the time of Moses, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Nu 24:17).
As amazing as it is that God kept a flicker of the Gospel alive in a far off land, the Magi were probably even more astonished of how Jerusalem in Judea seemed to be in the dark about their new king. They came expecting a city all a buzz, but what they found was a city in the dark. The people of Israel weren’t watching and waiting, focusing on the coming Messiah, and so they missed him. But Herod knew that the men who studied the Old Testament would be able to find a glimmer of light to the question of “where?” “’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). So, they knew the answer as to where. Unfortunately, they skipped over a phrase in Scripture and so were still in the dark as to who. If they had read the whole verse, they would have known that “his origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic 5:2). And if they had made the connection between this newborn child and his eternal origins, they would have seen him for who he really was, God in the flesh – their Savior from sin. But since they didn’t honor the Word, they were still in the dark.
Darkness can cloud our hearts and minds if we are not continually in the Word as well – reading all of Scripture – not cutting out parts we don’t like. Unfortunately, we look in many other places for answers, because we forget about or don’t like the answers right here in God’s Word. Answers for how to get over grief. Answers for how to deal with temptations and addictions. Answers to relieve guilt. Is there any greater relief from guilt than finding the Savior born for you? Is there any greater power over addictions and temptation than is found in the Shepherd who guides and cares for you? Is there any greater comfort than being cared for by the one who is the beginning and the end? We lose our focus on our Savior and plunge ourselves into darkness – wandering aimlessly, distant from our Savior. Yet, just as the stars seem to shine brightest against the black sky of the new moon, so it seems that the light of God’s Word shines brightest in our lives when things appear darkest.
So, refocus on your Savior, and Worship like the Wise Men who had their goal clearly in focus. They didn’t let the darkness of those around them dissuade them. They didn’t let distance become a factor. Nor did the distraction of Herod’s evil intensions prevent them from completing their journey. They had their eyes focused on the Savior, not the obstacles. They overcame obstacles because their Savior was their focus. Guiding them, leading them, and strengthening them.
They finally arrived and did what they traveled so far and long to do. Not get anything from him. Rather, “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, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt 2:11). The specifics of their gifts don’t really matter all that much – how much they are worth or what they are used for. What matters is that they knew who this Savior was, what he came to do, and they generously gave from whatever they had out of thanks and praise to their newborn king.
But there were other gifts given that day as well. Make no mistake about it, the gold the Magi gave was not as precious as the faith that presented it. The incense, valuable as it was, did not compare to the value of their prayers which ascended as incense. And the myrrh, often used to embalm bodies, may have been used years later to embalm Jesus. By his death, we live!
What a sight that must have been to see these adult men, truly wise men, bow down and worship this Child! Standing was out of the question. On knees in reverence reserved for high-ranking persons or divine beings. And what might they have said?! We recently heard the worship and praise of Simeon and Anna. Perhaps their praise would have been marveling at the prophecies fulfilled: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Nu 24:17). “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Is 60:3).
Perhaps the lack of generosity in our own worship and thanks comes from a lack of understanding of who we are and what we need. We might see an hour or two spent with our Savior as an hour or two that could have been used resting up, preparing a special meal, or earning some extra income. Yes, we need rest, food, and a livelihood. But we often forget about our greatest need. Remember, there is more than meets the eye when Christians gather together for worship. Jesus himself is present in a way he isn’t with us otherwise (Mt 18:20), and the angels are present in a way they aren’t with us otherwise (1 Cor 11:10). Our wellbeing isn’t just a physical affair; we’re not just a collection of atoms and chemicals. It’s also a spiritual affair. We are body AND soul. Soul-health is just as important – more important – to overall health as body-health is. And let me tell you, just as a pandemic threatens the bodily health of many many people, sin is a pandemic that has already infected every one of us. And if we do not regularly seek the healing Word of Jesus, our worship and service will become hollow and empty, if it even exists at all.
When we recognize the darkness of our sin, the light found in Christ will bring us the joy experienced by the Magi and do away with yawns of indifference in our own worship. For us too, the Lord may sometimes increase our eagerness to find our Savior by “removing the star,” so to speak. He may create a need to bring us back to him. Then, he lovingly fills the need he himself created, and our hearts swell with joy, our hands eager to generously give, because all our needs are met in him.
So refocus on your Savior and Worship like Wise Men. Your Savior will swell your heart to rejoice at the revealing of salvation to all nations. Your Savior will use your lips to speak his praise and proclaim the goodness of his love to those still in the dark. Your Savior will generously provide for all your needs so that you can generously give from your possessions, your abilities, and your wealth.
The final thing we see in this section, is how the Wise Men worshiped by living lovingly. It was God who lovingly protected them, and more importantly his Son, so that Jesus might carry out the mission for which he came. “Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Mt 2:12). This may have added many more miles to their long and difficult journey. Yet the Magi didn’t consider this command a burden, because their hearts were so in tune with the God of truth. When you see your life as a way to worship and honor your Savior, the extra mile you go for a friend, the shirt off your back for someone in need will never seem a burden. Just another way to worship God.
Herod tried to fool the Magi, but he couldn’t fool God. And those who live according to God’s Word – who are in tune with his will – will never be caught a fool. This child truly was the King of the Jews – and of those who are included in Israel by faith! Jesus’ childhood, his baptism, the miracles of his early ministry all show him to be true God in the flesh, the fulfillment of the prophecies, and the giver of life!
If only we could always see all of God’s commands in the light of his love, and gladly obey them – even if for no other reason than to honor Jesus. Yet his commands are more than that. His commands are for your life – and not just eternal life in heaven, either. Obeying God’s commands is good for you even here on earth. Afterall, why would your loving Father command something that was not good for you.
So we focus on Christ for a new way to live. Anyone who has been led to the Christ and whom God has made wise to see him as their only Redeemer will find himself on new roads in life. Don’t be distracted by the details about the star, the Magi, Herod, or the treasures. While these things are all integral parts of the account, notice the ultimate goal of the Magi and the focus of their quest. It was Jesus. With a focus on Jesus, obstacles were overcome. With a focus on Jesus, they generously gave what they had planned ahead of time to give. With a focus on Jesus their lives were fulfilled, and they could live a life driven by his love.
So, want to Worship like Wise Men? Just focus your life on Jesus!