Wise Worship

Bible Book: Matthew  2
Subject: Christmas; Birth of Christ; Magi; Worship

What motivates you? This humorous story tells us of one kind of motivation. “An Alabama tale about the late Bear Bryant tells of his coaching his team to a one-point lead. With two minutes to play he called on his slow-but-steady, fourth-string quarterback. Bryant instructed him to run the ball up the middle and then punt. The new quarterback stunned the opposition with repeated first-down runs. Deep in his opponent’s territory temptation overcame instruction. He had never had an opportunity to throw a touchdown pass. Disregarding his coach, he threw the ball. The opposing safety intercepted and broke into the clear. The sluggish quarterback struggled to his feet. He started chasing the fastest man on the field and tackled the safety before the goal line. The gun sounded. The game had ended.

“Opposing coaches met at mid-field. Bryant’s competition shook his head in disbelief. ‘How could a fourth-string quarterback catch my swiftest safety?’ he quizzed. ‘That’s easy,’ Bryant responded. ‘Your man was running for a touchdown. My man was running for his life.’”

What motivates? Fear motivates some Christians. Guilt guides others. The whim of the moment motivates some of you. You serve the Lord when you feel like it. How sad it is…that when we leave this earth…for many of us there will be no legacy of commitment to the Lord.

It is my contention that true worship ought to be the motivating factor of our lives.

We ought to so worship, love, and adore the Lord so that obedience comes as a natural consequence, not as a forced follow-up activity.

What is worship? It is a service such as this?

Though the Greek word translated worship is used nearly sixty times in the New Testament, no prescribed order of service states how many hymns should be sung or what kind of sermon should be preached.

Nevertheless, we can glean some important truths concerning our worship if we Study what I believe is one of the greatest worship services in the Bible–that recorded in Matthew 2:1-12 .

Here we find the story of the wise men. Were there three? Were they kings? The Bible doesn’t say. Their identity is hard to discern with precision.

In centuries prior to New Testament times, the term “magi” loosely covered a wide variety of men interested in dreams, astrology, magic, books thought to contain mysterious references to the future, and the like. Some Magi honestly inquired after truth; Many were rogues and charlatans. Apparently these men came to Bethlehem spurred on by astrological calculations. But they had probably built  up their expectation of a kingly figure by working through assorted Jewish books. The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (died c. 225). It probably developed under   the influence of Old Testament passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah.

The theory that there were three “wise men” is probably a deduction from the three gifts (2:11). By the end of the sixth century, the wise men were named: Melkon (Melchior), Balthasar, and Gasper.

Matthew gives no names. His magoi came to Jerusalem, arriving, apparently from the east–possibly from Babylon, where a sizable Jewish settlement wielded considerable influence, but possibly from Persia or from the Arabian desert. The more distant Babylon may be supported by the travel time apparently required.

Nonetheless, they came to worship. They possessed attitudes needed by us all. What a wonderful gift from God if we could leave this place with new attitudes toward worship. What a beautiful Christmas gift to God if we worshipped Him truly.

I.They Came Desiring Genuine Worship.

Worship is really the act of paying homage or tribute to someone (or something). These Magi obviously understood the momentous occasion before them, for they traveled several hundred miles to be there and worship Christ, the Lord.

Matthew contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod’s court–all of whom had the Scriptures to inform them. Formal knowledge of the Scriptures, Matthew implies, does not in itself lead to knowing who Jesus is. Just as God sovereignly worked through Caesar’s decree that a census be taken (Luke2:1) to ensure Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy, so God sovereignly used the Magi’s calculations to bring about the situation this story describes.

These trained astrologers with the insatiable curiosity characteristic of scientists had seen a remarkable astrological phenomenon (comet, etc.), the exact nature of which is not disclosed and, they set out to test the truth of their conjecture that something magnificent had occurred.

The question the Magi asked does not tell how their astrology led them to seek a “king of the Jews” and what made them think this particular star was “his.” The Magi may have linked the star to “the king of the Jews” through studying the Old Testament and other Jewish writings–a possibility made plausible by the presence of the large Jewish community in Babylon.

We must not think that the Magi’s question meant, “Where is the one born to become king of the Jews?” but, “Where is the one born king of the Jews?” His kingly status was not conferred on him later on. It was his from birth. Jesus’ participation in the Davidic dynasty has already been established by the genealogy. The same title the Magi gave him found its place over the cross (Matthew 27:37).

These Magi, as do all human beings, had a need to worship something. But they were desirous of genuine worship. When they got to the house where the family lived, they went in and bowed before the Christ child. Genuine worship to them meant sacrifice and humility. Here were learned men, no doubt well respected in their community, bowing before a baby. What better commentary could there be on what genuine worship encompasses?

We have a need to worship, too. Make no mistake about it, people today worship something. It might be a new house, a boat, a car, their families, or just themselves. But for us, worship of the Lord God must be primary.

We need to realign our thinking as to what worship really is–acknowledging the lordship of Christ in our lives. Joy, happiness, and peace are fringe benefits of that meeting with God, and service for Him is the outcome of it.

II.They Came Prepared For Worship.

The Wise Men came prepared to worship the Messiah. We find evidence in v. 11 that they came bearing gifts from their homeland. They had prepared to worship Him. Much has been said throughout the centuries regarding the symbolism of these gifts.

Bringing gifts was particularly important in the ancient East when approaching a superior. Frankincense is a glittering, odorous gum obtained by making incisions in the bark of several trees; myrrh exudes from a tree found in Arabia and few other places as was a much-valued spice and perfume used in embalming. Commentators, ancient and modern have found symbolic value in the three gifts–gold suggesting royalty, incense divinity, and myrrh the Passion and burial. This interpretation demands too much insight from the Magi. The three gifts were simply expensive and may have helped finance the trip to Egypt.

The point is that the gifts came from hearts desirous and ready to worship.

Not only were they prepared physically, but also spiritually. No doubt they had studied the Hebrew Scriptures and knew that the star represented the birth of the King of the Jews. It had been prophesied in Isaiah 9:7 (royal blood), Micah 5:2 (His birthplace), and Isaiah 7:14 (His name). I am certain that each day as they journeyed toward Bethlehem, they became increasingly excited about the coming worship service.

Do we prepare so for worship? Do we approach worship with such excitement and expectation?

III.They Manifest A Singleness Of Purpose.

When passing through Jerusalem, the Magi did not say they were vacationing and had decided to drop by Jesus’ house while they were in the area. No, they declared emphatically the driving force that compelled them to come: “We have come to worship Him.”

We ought to come to worship with one purpose–not to be entertained or to swap stories or even to see our friends–but we ought to come with the single purpose of meeting Almighty God and allowing Him to change our lives! Let us not be guilty of making that trek for any other purpose.

The story is told that a visiting minister was substituting for the famed pastor Henry Ward Beecher. A large audience had assembled to hear the popular pastor. At the appointed hour, the visiting minister entered the pulpit. Learning that Beecher was not to preach, several began to move toward the doors. The visiting minister stood and called out, “All who have come here today to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church! All who have come to worship God, keep your seats!” No one then left.

We need to approach worship with a singleness of purpose. This calls for a new way of thinking about worship. Not only must the heart be desirous of true worship, but our minds also need direction to truly worship with singleness of purpose. Colossians captures this thought…“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Wise worship? It depends a great deal on our attitudes as we approach those high and holy hours in which we meet the Lord Jesus face to face. When we adjust our attitudes and come to see worship in the same way these Magi did, then we will see God do great things in us, around us, and through   us!

The question, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” began the unfolding drama of a double search. Early in the pages of the Old Testament we find God coming down into the Garden of Eden, searching for Adam and Eve, saying, “Where art thou?”

They chose to break the perfect fellowship with God through their disobedience. God began by searching for man.

When Jesus Christ came into the world, we see the other act in the drama of the double search. Man constantly tries to find God in many futile ways. However, the search continues until man finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ.