Epiphany Sunday

January 6, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Copy the Worship of the Wise Men!

 

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.”  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.”  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.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear fellow worshipers of the Christ-Child,

 

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in Minnesota I have loved gazing into the night sky.  The reason for this love is undoubtedly due to the fact that when I was in grade school my parents bought their first cabin up in northern Minnesota.  The cabin was on a lake nestled deep in the woods of the Chippewa Indian Reservation so there were hardly any lights around at night.  To this day I can vividly remember gazing up into the night sky and being completely awed by the thousands upon thousands of twinkling stars.  Never in my life have I seen more stars than I used to see at my parents’ cabin.  And just about every time I admired that beautiful Minnesota sky three things would occupy my thoughts.  First of all, I would look up into that awesome twinkling wonder and think about our awesome and all-powerful God— the God who created all those stars and put each and every one of them in place, the God who knows each of those stars by name (See Psalm 147:1).  Secondly, I would think about God’s promise to Abraham when He told Abraham, “Look at the heavens and count the stars— if indeed you can count them.  So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).  You know, I actually tried to do that once.  I tried to count the stars just to see how many I could see.  Needless to say, I didn’t get very far!  The third thing that would go through my mind is the incident recorded here in our text for today.  I imagined what it would have been like if I had been one of the Wise Men who saw a special unique star suddenly appear in the sky!  Would I have done what the Wise Men did here in our text?  Would I have packed up my camel, slipped on my sandals and started heading toward that star with some of my buddies by my side?  I don’t know the answer to that question!  But one thing I do know— you and I can learn a great deal from these Wise Men here in our text for today!  No, we may not learn much about astronomy.  No, we may not learn much about traveling long distances in one of the most hostile environments in the world.  But we can learn a great deal about worship— yes, worship!  That is why I would like us to look at these words of our text for today under the theme:  Copy the Worship of the Wise Men!  It is a worship which overcomes obstacles!  It is a worship which gives generously from the heart!

 

Since our text for this morning is so familiar to all of us I would like to direct your attention to those verses which specifically tie in with our theme:  Copy the Worship of the Wise Men!  To begin with I’d like you to look at the first two verses of our text.  We read, “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.’”  Scripture does not tell us where the Wise Men were from, but there are two very sound theories.  Many people— including myself— believe that the Wise Men came from the ancient country of Babylon.  Why?  Three reasons.  First, the ancient Babylonians were tremendous astronomers— even by today’s standards.  Secondly, because God’s people were held as captives in Babylon for 70 years they had a great deal of interaction with the Babylonians.  And thirdly, because during that 70 year captivity some of the Jews— including men such as Daniel— openly and powerfully witnessed to their faith in the Lord, the God of Israel.  In fact, Scripture tells us that Daniel was put in charge of all the wise men of Babylon (See Daniel 2:48).  Daniel could have very easily taught these Babylonian astronomers all about the Lord and the Lord’s holy Word— including the prophecies concerning the Lord’s Promised Messiah!  One of those prophecies even alluded to this star we read about here in our text.  In Numbers 24:17 we read, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”  The second theory is that these Magi came from the ancient county of Sheba which is located in the modern day country of Yemen.  The reason for this theory was brought out in our Old Testament reading for today where we are told, “And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD” (Isaiah 60:6).

 

To be honest with you I don’t think that the origin of the Wise Men is really all that important.  But the purpose and the example of the Wise Mean— now that is important!  The Wise Men themselves tell us the purpose behind their journey when they say in our text, “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  Somehow these Wise Men knew that the appearance of this special star signaled the birth of the Messiah, this world’s only Savior from sin.  And so as soon as they saw this star appear in the sky their goal instantly centered on going to the land of Israel so that they might worship the “One who had been born King of the Jews”!  But have you ever stopped to consider the tremendous obstacles which these Wise Men had to overcome so that they might worship the Christ-Child?

 

I invite you to take out the map which I included in your bulletin this morning.  This is a map of the Middle East in ancient times.  Find Jerusalem on your map.  Now look east of Jerusalem and you’ll find the ancient city of Babylon.  It’s in modern day Iraq.  If the Wise Men came from Babylon they had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles up and around the Arabian Desert just to get to Jerusalem.  If on the other hand, the Wise Men came from Sheba or modern day Yemen (which is unfortunately off the southern end of this map) they had a good 1,500 miles to travel to worship the Christ-Child!  But they did it!  The Wise men willingly traveled those long, hard, difficult miles so that they might have an opportunity to worship their Lord!  Yes, these men were wise not only because they were trained in worldly wisdom, but far more importantly they had the God-given wisdom of knowing how important it was for them to worship the Christ-Child— no matter what obstacles stood in their way!

 

That, my friends, is an example which we can all take to heart.  I don’t think a single week goes by when you and I don’t encounter “obstacles” to our worship life.  Distance, time restraints, work responsibilities, weariness, hobbies, health, lack of motivation— each and every one of these (and perhaps many more) can become hurdles or obstacles which may indeed try to hinder us from attending our worship services here at church.  Now I know that we need to be realistic enough to understand that sometimes distance or health or age or even work responsibilities may indeed keep someone from attending church on a weekly basis.  I also know that many of you are not only actively involved in church, but you are also actively involved in other things as well.  So there may be times when you may need to take a weekend off here and there just to get away from it all.  But by in large we all need to be very careful that we never let our worship life become “secondary” or God-forbid, “optional.”  We need to copy the worship example of the Wise Men and regularly worship our Savior no matter what obstacles may be placed in our way!

 

Everything we have talked about so far has had to do with the attitude behind the worship example of the Wise Men.  And there is good reason for emphasizing this!  If our attitude toward worship is not God-pleasing then there is very little chance that our mere physical presence in a worship service will do our soul much good.  But there is another aspect of the worship example of these Wise Men which I think we would all do well to both remember and copy.  Look at verse eleven of our text, “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.”  When these Wise Men first laid eyes on Jesus they did not see just another Child!  With the eyes of faith the Wise Men saw their King and their God!  Standing was now completely out of the question!  On their knees and with their faces bowed to the ground in reverence which is reserved for dignitaries and divine beings, the Wise Men did what they had traveled so many many miles to do!  They worshiped the Christ-Child as their personal Savior from sin!

 

But notice very closely, my friends, that the treasure-filled hearts of the Wise Men were equally matched by treasure-filled hands!  Here in our text the Wise Men show us three aspects of Christian giving at its very best.  First of all, the Wise Men gave of their “treasures”— not their “leftovers.”  Second we see that the Wise Men gave very valuable gifts which were also very precious to them.  And finally, the Wise Men gave freely and so intently that neither distance nor difficulty could stop them from giving.  The Wise Men wanted to bring their offerings to their King and so in love and in thankfulness and in cheerfulness that is exactly what they did!

 

The application of this verse of our text to our own worship lives is rather obvious.  By the grace and power of God alone we too have been given the faith which enables us to look at the Christ-Child and see our Savior and our King.  By the grace and power of God alone we too have been given the “unsearchable riches of Christ” as we heard in our Epistle lesson for this morning (Ephesians 3:8).  What you and I need to examine then, my friends, is not only what gifts we bring to the Christ-Child on Sunday mornings, but also our motivation for bringing these gifts!  If our Sunday morning offerings are seen as “dues” or as an “obligation” or as “payments to the church” then our offerings don’t have anything at all in common with the gifts of the Wise Men.  But if our offerings are given freely and cheerfully and out of a heart that is filled with love for Jesus then our offerings— no matter what they might be— our offerings are received and accepted by the Lord for what they truly are— gifts of love!

 

Now I fully realized that there is so much more “meat” for us to chew on here in these verses of our text— and I truly wish we had the time to cover it all, but we don’t.  Therefore, I ask that sometime today you sit down with your Bible and mediate upon these words of our text.  Let these inspired words of your God speak directly to your heart and to your life!  And as you are meditating on these words I pray that you would give even more time and even more consideration to the worship example of the Wise Men.  Consider the obstacles which they willingly overcame so that they could worship the Christ-Child.  Then look at the obstacles which you may face in your own worship life and find a way to follow the example of the Wise Men!  Once you have done that then examine the motivation behind the offerings which the Wise Men brought to Jesus and compare it to the motivation which you have as you bring your offerings to the Lord.  Then strive to make whatever adjustments are necessary so that you might follow the example of the Wise Men in this aspect of your worship life as well.  But above all, ask the Lord Himself to help you journey through this world with your heart and your life so clearly focused on your Savior that every day— and especially on Sundays— you will be able to joyfully say along with the Wise Men, “We have come to worship Him” (Pointing to the cross).  To this end may the Lord richly bless our worship lives.

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen