What better way to begin 2023 then by asking a question, the most important question of your life – “who do you worship?” There are really only two answers – either you worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – the Creator God of Universe who sent His Son to die for our sins – or you worship yourself. There are no other options. Every other so-called god, idol, religion, or worldly pursuit is simply a manifestation of your desire to please yourself.
Thus, the greatest need in this new year is not political stability, economic security, or even family harmony, as encouraging as those things would be. No, our greatest need is to stop worshipping ourselves and, instead, worship the King of Kings whose birth we have just finished celebrating.
The key idea of this post then is that Jesus is the King of Kings whose worship is the wisest use of our lives and must be our consuming focus in this new year, and for all eternity. In fact, to understand life is to worship Jesus
To briefly explore this essential theme of worship, I will use the outline of the message I had the privilege of preaching on Christmas morning – to my joyful, yet slightly distracted congregation! We will fly over the text of Matthew 1:1-12, and the story of the Magi, to see that worship takes commitment, worship takes perseverance, worship brings opposition, worship inspires passion, and worship requires sacrifice.
A. Worship Takes Commitment
The Magi made a journey, most likely over 900 miles, to pursue their commitment to worship at the feet of Jesus. These wise men were not kings (although from Orient, they were), but more likely were astronomers (okay, astrologers, but they did study the heavenly bodies) and intellectuals from Persia or Babylon. There were almost certainly more than three of them, probably a large company, most likely with many soldiers to offer protection for the valuable treasures they carried. Also, they arrived after Jesus was born – in the days of Herod the King, so you will need to remove them from your manger scene. Finally, the fact that they showed up in Jerusalem and not Bethlehem indicates that the “star” did not lead them during the journey.
Despite all these myth-busting realities, what an amazing event it must have been for these foreigners to arrive in a search of the King of the Jews – in the very city where the current (but completely phony) King of the Jews had his palace.
Of all people, these wise men seemingly had the least reason to be committed to worshipping Jesus. They were not part of God’s chosen ethnic people, did not live in Israel, and did not have access to the OT Scriptures (as evidenced by their confusion as to where the King would be born). Yet, as J.C. Ryle states in his commentary on Matthew:
These verses show us that there may be true servants of God in places where we should not expect to find them. The Lord Jesus has many “hidden ones,” like these wise men. Their story on earth may be as little known as that of Melchizedek, Jethro and Job. But their names are in the book of life, and they will be found with Christ on the day of his appearing. It is well to remember this. We must not look round the earth and say hastily, “All is barren.” The grace of God is not tied to places and families. The Holy Spirit can lead souls to Christ without the help of any outward means. Men may be born in dark places of the earth, like these wise men, and yet like them be made “wise for salvation.
What kind of commitment to worship will you carry out this year? We don’t have to travel to a temple or a city to worship. Will we take advantage of our open access to the throne room of our King? Even our corporate worship doesn’t require us to travel very far – certainly not from “the east” (although my precious congregation members from Sevierville, La Follette, etc. might feel like they have come from “afar”). Will we commit to worship individually and corporately this year?
B. Worship Takes Perseverance
When the magi arrived in Jerusalem, they were most likely puzzled not to find the city in an uproar over their new king! However, they did not give up, but began a search of the city, asking for information concerning this new King of the Jews. There was no doubt in their minds that a king had been born – after all, “they had seen His star in the east,” but nobody seemed to know what they were talking about.
More important than their desire to find this new King, however, was their stated reason for traveling nearly 1000 dangerous and wearying miles – “We have come to worship Him.” The magi were adamant about their purpose. They were worshippers, desperately seeking the object of their worship! What is striking is the detail that Matthew leaves out in order to emphasize this one phrase. We know nothing about the magi’s appearance, numbers, background, or specific personalities – but we do know that they were intent on worship. And not just the worship of an earthly king. The text makes clear that they were seeking the Messiah, the true God-King. In fact, there is no object or person in this universe that is worthy of the word “worship”. We use it metaphorically for earthly trivialities, but only God should be, and must be, worshipped. Humility, thankfulness, obedience, can all be exercised toward another human being, but not worship!
The only thing of true importance about the Magi is that they desired to worship Jesus. This is the only thing of true importance in the world. Do we want to be known for other things (our skills, power, achievements) – or do we want to be known for the fact that we worshipped Jesus? And will we persevere in the pursuit of this worship – even as the Magi did? Or will we be easily distracted by the trial and temptations that 2023 will surely bring. Again Ryle is instructive:
It would be well for all professing Christians if they were more ready to follow the example of these good men. Where is our self-denial? What pains do we take about means of grace? What diligence do we show about following Christ? What does our religion cost us? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. The truly “wise,” it may be feared, are very few.
C. Worship Brings Opposition
Instead of joy and worship, the magi’s question brought confusion and fear. The text tells us that Herod was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod feared the rise of a new king and the people most likely feared the response of Herod.
What is fascinating here is that Herod clearly saw the quest of the Magi as a search for the Messiah, not some purely political usurper to the throne. In response to the news he heard of the Magi’s question about a king (he has not yet talked to the Magi themselves), he gathered his own “wise men” (chief priests and scribes) and asked them where the “Messiah” was to be born. He knew enough about Judiasm to know a Messiah was predicted, but not enough to know the clear prediction of His birthplace.
Equally fascinating is the complete indifference of the Israelite “magi” who immediately knew the answer to the question (“in Bethlehem of Judea” – of course!), but indicate zero desire to go and worship Him. We know from the rest of the Biblical narrative that this initial indifference soon gave way to open hostility, opposition, and eventually murder. Indifference towards God will always turn into hatred if it does not turn into true belief. Ryle insightfully notes:
How often the very people who live nearest to the means of grace are those who neglect them most! There is only too much truth in the old proverb, “The nearer the church the farther from God.” Familiarity with sacred things has an awful tendency to make men despise them. There are many who, from residence and convenience, ought to be first and foremost in the worship of God, and yet are always last. There are many who might well be expected to be last, who are always first.
Certainly, both Herod and the chief priests and scribes were far more interested in keeping their power than saving their souls. Herod is already planning to kill this perceived usurper as he questions the Magi about the exact time of the star’s appearance and feigns piety by asking them to return with news of the new king’s whereabouts. But what about us? Are we troubled when we hear that Jesus is the King!? Are we willing to face the opposition that will certainly come when we pursue the worship of Jesus? True worship of God will always bring opposition from those who do not understand Him and from those who hate him as a threat to their rule of their own life.
D. Worship Inspires Passion
This was no indifferent, intellectual pursuit for the magi. After leaving for Bethlehem the “star” reappeared and led them to the child’s house, they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”. Their passion had been ignited and their desire was about to be fulfilled. The text piles superlative upon superlative in order to communicate the overwhelming joy experienced by the magi in the success of their expedition. No passionless side quest from some boring video game was this. They understood that they were near the end of their quest and this caused them great joy – the privilege of worshipping the King of kings. They were being Divinely guided to their much longed for desire!
The question comes to us in this new year. How passionate are we about Jesus – the object of our supreme affection? One whom we do not travel to visit in a house made with hands, but who dwells with us, meets with us, empowers us, and rises like the morning star in our hearts.
E. Worship Requires Sacrifice
The magi had traveled far to come to Bethlehem and brought gifts of great earthly value. Yet the expenditure of energy and resources paled in comparison to the surrender of their intellect, will, and affections. The text culminates with the magi’s entrance into the house to find the Child with Mary and they fall to the ground and worship Him. This is the response of true faith, not earthly obeisance. Ryle agrees:
These wise men believed in Christ when they had never seen him; but that was not all. They believed in him when the scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving; but that again was not all. They believed in him when they saw him as a little infant on Mary’s knees, and worshiped him as a King. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They saw no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any of us. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Saviour of the world! “They bowed down and worshiped him”
Faith is the greatest sacrifice of all. Far from being mere mental assent to the reality of Christ’s person and work, faith is to set aside the all-consuming worship of ourselves, repent of our sin and worship the true King with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. No man truly worships Jesus unless he “denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows” (Luke 9:23).
This is completely stunning of course. The shepherds did not worship, Herod did not worship, and the chief priests and scribes did not worship. Total foreigners, Gentiles from a strange land and culture, are first to bend the knee. and Jews are the first to try to destroy Him.
Dignitaries from a foreign land come to worship Him, while the monarch of His own land tries to kill Him. This humble worship marks these magi as the shrewdest of men for it is the wisest action in the world to fall on our knees in worship of the King of Kings. In fact, they were not truly wise men until they prostrated themselves before the King of Kings. Their humility demonstrated the depth of their wisdom – a wisdom that can come only from God.
Certainly, before returning to their land (by a different route as commanded by the Sovereign God who thwarts the plans of foolish kings), the Magi provided costly gifts to their newfound King. However, the gifts only serve to put an accent on the presentation of their bodies as living sacrifices to their Monarch.
So the question confronts us in this new year. Are we willing to stop worshipping ourselves? To lay down our pride and ego, our security and treasure, our dreams and plans – in order to join the Magi of long ago in worship of Jesus the Messiah? It is the wisest decision you could ever make.
Ro 12:1-2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.