Adoration and Worship
When I mention Mona Lisa, The Scream, Impression Sunrise, what comes to mind? If you thought, “They’re all famous paintings,” you’re correct. They actually have a couple of other things in common. The first is that they’re all considered to be tremendously valuable—you might even call them treasures of art. The second thing is that the originals were all at some point stolen.
Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. In 1911, a museum worker walked out the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under a smock. He later expressed that he thought the masterpiece belonged in Italy instead of France. Two years later, the thief was caught trying to sell the painting. The Scream by Edvard Munch was painted in the early 1900s. In 2004, The Scream was ripped off a museum wall by armed robbers. Fortunately, it was recovered and restored. Impression Sunrise was painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. In 1985, armed robbers stormed the Marmottan Museum in Paris and took the painting. It was recovered by French police five years later.
When you think of the enormity of God, the complexity of His creation, and the majesty of His glory, this effort for our salvation is beyond comprehension. Why would God go to such lengths to restore us to Himself?
The answer, of course, is found in His nature. It’s found in the one-word God uses to describe Himself in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”
So, with Christmas nearly upon us, I wanted to help us preserve and protect the real treasure and meaning of the holiday by looking at the account of the Magi. In the short account in Matthew 2 centered on the Magi’s worship of Jesus, we see three very different responses to this wonderful event. King Herod, the teachers of the law, and the Magi all take a different approach to the events of Jesus’s birth.
The meaning and the power of the event are lost and stolen for Herod and the Pharisees. But the Magi’s approach of worship is the proper response to what God did that night. When we consider that night was the culmination of hundreds and even thousands of years of prophecy, when we consider that God went to these great lengths for you, when we remember that Jesus did indeed save us from our sins, what else can we do? If we follow the Magi’s example, we’ll find that the power, wonder, and meaning of the holiday will not be wasted on us or stolen from us!
If you’ve heard the account of the Magi—or the wise men—many times, the image in your mind may not line up with the Bible. Before we begin looking at these different responses, let’s get the actual picture that the Bible paints. The Bible says in Matthew 2:1–12 as we take a look at all three of these reactions to the amazing events of Christmas:
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.”
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 Messiah 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 shepherd 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 search carefully 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 when it rose 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, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Despite what many of us sing every year, you’ll notice that the Magi weren’t kings and that the Bible doesn’t say how many of them there were. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary tells us that, “In later centuries down to New Testaments 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.”
So instead of kings, more likely they were scholars and astrologers who had some working knowledge of and belief in the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps they were connected with Hebrews who were deported to or lived in the east. The tradition that there were three of them probably comes from the fact that there were three gifts given to Jesus, but it’s possible that each gift came from a number of Magi.
We don’t know where they came from—except that it was to the east. Perhaps it was as far away as Babylon. We don’t know what the star was. Some suggest it could have been a sign in the heavens like the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that took place around 7 BC. Some think it was a comet or a supernova. Others believe it was a purely supernatural event—like the pillar of fire or cloud that led the Israelites through the desert during the Exodus.
A little later we’ll dive a little deeper into the Magi’s response. But before we do, let’s consider another response we see in Matthew 2:4–5. After encountering the Magi, Herod called the chief priests and the teachers of the law together and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
They shared the answer by quoting the prophet Micah, who pointed to Bethlehem about seven hundred years before Jesus was born there. But we never hear another thing about them again.
This is really interesting. The teachers of the law and the priests have just heard that the Messiah has been born, so they look at the Scriptures. In response, the ones who have dedicated their lives to God and the Scriptures, the ones who make their living from teaching about God’s law and His prophecies about the Messiah do nothing. They don’t investigate; they don’t search Him out. They just say, “He’s probably over that way somewhere.”
Imagine that you’re the president of the Justin Bieber fan club in our city. I know for some that may be too painful to consider, but try. Imagine that Justin sent you an email that he’s going to do a free concert at our church, and he wants to know where to stay. As his biggest fan in the world, you respond with an email telling him to try the Holiday Inn. Then you get back to work, get back to your business as usual, and forget it. We all know that if the real president received that email, she would be there. She would have hundreds of screaming friends with her. There is going to by crying, shaking, and fainting. There won’t be any ignoring. There will be no business as usual.
The priests and teachers of the law are waiting and teaching about the Messiah. When news comes that He’s arrived, they give Herod the biblical answer: “Head on over to Bethlehem.” But they don’t do anything else about it. From what I can gather about the Pharisees, I think they were mostly excited about the fact that they were able to search, study, and give the correct answer. But it seems like they didn’t really care about the Messiah Himself—the One they knew so much about. They were more interested in what they knew about the Messiah than about the opportunity they had to come to know, receive, and worship the Messiah.
Just from our message today, you now probably know more about the Magi than 80 percent of the population, but don’t let your knowledge and familiarity with the events of Christmas steal away the wonder of it! It’s important to learn about God. It’s essential to study His Word and His commands. But don’t make the mistake the teachers and priests made where they put knowing about God above knowing God. Jesus didn’t say, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know about me.” He said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). God reveals Himself through His Word, but the whole point is to draw close to Him in order to know Him more and to become more like Him in His love.
As the Bible says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). God showed up on Christmas so we can know Him and have a relationship with Him. Don’t let your familiarity with the story or your focus on new knowledge steal the treasure of Christmas from your heart.
Let’s look at another response to the first Christmas. In Matthew 2:3, we learn that when King Herod heard that the Magi had come to worship the One who had been born King of the Jews, he was disturbed. Herod was paranoid and power hungry. History tells us that he killed his own two sons because he was jealous and threatened by their power. True to form, Herod pretended that he wanted to worship Jesus, but we see later in the chapter that his plan was to try to kill the Messiah.
While few of us would actively fight against the Messiah, there is a little Herod in most of us that we need to guard against. It’s the part of us that takes from the glory of Jesus in this season by putting our traditions above our worship. It’s the part of us that elevates our expectations above the needs of others. Whenever we demand that things go our way in the holiday above what God might be doing or what others need, we make a similar mistake to the one King Herod made on the first Christmas.
I love Christmas traditions, but we all need to allow God to adjust our plans however He’d like. Many followers of Jesus start their celebration on Christmas Day by serving others through visiting a nursing home or serving breakfast at a shelter.
There’s no requirement to do this, and please don’t feel guilty if this isn’t part of your plan. I do want to encourage you, however, to allow God to interrupt your plans if He so desires. Part of worship is allowing God to have His way even when it collides with our preferences or expectations. Herod was so concerned with keeping control that he not only missed the greatest blessing in history, but he fought directly against it.
As we consider our preparation and response to the wonder of Christmas, let’s consider the example of the Magi. When they saw the child with his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We know nothing else about the Magi. But we do know that in light of what God had done, their response is the only one that makes sense.
If you want to guard the meaning and wonder of Christmas, I suggest that you start with worship. There is nothing that centers our hearts and minds on what really matters like worship. We don’t worship God because He’s in need of it. We worship God because we are in need of it. Giving Him the praise He’s due reminds us of who He really is. Our worship fuels and feeds our gratitude. Our worship brings us back to the grandeur, the grace, and the greatness of God. When we worship, we experience a deeper connection with God and fall deeper in love with Him.
We can plainly see that the teachers of the law should have known better. They knew about God, but they didn’t seek to know Him personally. We can easily tell that Herod chose the wrong thing. How ironic that as Herod tried to prop up his greatness, he chose the lesser thing. His own power could never match the power of God. His own place and position could never compare with the presence of God. The Magi show us the way to make the most of Christmas—through worship!
There are hundreds of passages in the Bible that have the word worship in them. The common theme that runs through the majority of them is the idea of giving preference to God and laying what we have and who we are before Him. There are a number of ways to do that. Here are a few that come directly out of the Bible. In the Bible, people worship by bowing, lying face down, lifting hands, clapping, serving, making sacrifices, trembling, singing joyfully, thanking, giving, kneeling, shouting, singing in gladness, confessing, exalting, dancing, and responding in Spirit and in truth.
The Magi worshipped through their gifts and offerings. The shepherds worshipped through proclaiming the good news.
The angels worshipped through song. Mary worshipped by pondering all the amazing events in her heart. If we do anything this Christmas, let’s remember what God has done and give God His due. He is worthy of worship. Like the Magi, you can choose whatever form of worship best fits the occasion. The Magi had precious metal and spices—they gave God what they had. What do you have to give to Jesus this Christmas? The beauty of worship is that it can be done in so many ways: through song, through prayer, through gathering and fellowship, through celebration, even through service or your job.
If you have kids whose eyes fill up with delight on Christmas morning, I hope you see that as an opportunity to thank God and quietly worship Him for giving you family. As you share meals, I hope you begin in gratitude for His provision. If you face disappointment or heartache, I hope you find a way to identify with the ultimate reason for Christmas—the cross of Jesus. As you raise a toast or come to church, I pray that your head bows to the Mighty Creator and your heart lifts in joy because of all that He’s done for us!
The Magi worshipped the King. It was not because they were supposed to or because He required it, but because their hearts demanded it of them. They encountered the Word who became flesh, God with us, and they were never the same again.
Father, thank You that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Please reveal the areas in our lives that reflect the heart of Herod. Please protect us from a familiarity with You and Your Word that circumvents our hearts. Give us hearts like the Magi, who sought You and worshipped You when they found You. Be present in our Christmas and be glorified in our lives. In Jesus’s name, amen.
‒ Pastor Pam