Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him!
A sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany A – January 2, 2011
"We Three Kings of Orient Are…" Already in the first line of this popular Christmas carol there are some pretty big assumptions made. How many wise men were there? Three, right? We don't know the Bible doesn't say. There were at least two since it's plural. But there could have been 10 or 30 or more! They were kings though, weren't they? Not likely. Magi were scholars and astrologers. Well, at least we know where they're from—the Orient. Well, no. We don't know that. All the text says is "from the east." It never tells us how far east. Most believe the Magi were Persians, not Orientals.
So much for "We Three Kings of Orient Are"! But "We Unidentified Number of Some Sort of Scholar from Somewhere East of Israel" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. (And it's much harder to sing.) In spite of the erroneous legends that surround them, and in spite of how little we know about them, these Magi from the east give us an excellent example to follow.
As we examine the only account we have of them in Matthew this morning, we're encouraged to (figuratively) follow in their footsteps. So, come! We too will adore the Christ! Not with Herod's madness, but with the Magi's gladness. Listen now to the account of the Magi from the east and their visit to the Christ child. We read Matthew 2:1-12…
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 "'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.'" 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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." 9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
I. Not With Herod's Madness
As the Magi from the east followed the star they arrived at Jerusalem. And why not? Where else would you expect the King of the Jews to be? Right there in the capital city, right? Perhaps in a royal palace laying in a crib of pure gold. They might expect thousands to be gathered there to worship this baby King! But what they found in Jerusalem was quite different…
When King Herod heard [the report of a King of the Jews besides him] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Doesn't that verse make you wonder? I mean, why do they act so surprised? Didn't the shepherds already tell everyone around what they had heard and seen? Wasn't this report of the Christ child already widely circulated by now? After all, the Magi weren't visiting Jesus in the stable like the movie and the Christmas cards show it, but in a house. On coming to the house, they saw the child… This visit must have been days if not months or even up to two years after Jesus was born. Surely that was enough time to hear news about the Child and his angelic baby shower! But maybe they missed the memo.
But when he looked into it, Herod found what he needed to know. Where was this Child? He …called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law [and] asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written…"
And Herod's reaction? Herod called the Magi… 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."
Sounds good, right? He wants to worship the Messiah! His Savior from sin! …If only that were true. Herod's true intent is revealed later in Matthew 2. Herod was really searching for the child to kill him. "He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (2:16) He couldn't stand any opposition to his throne. And so he tried to kill the Christ just as he had already killed one of his wives and three of his sons, who he was convinced were plotting against him.
And it wasn't just Herod, was it? [King Herod] was disturbed, Matthew writes, and all Jerusalem with him. Why were they disturbed? Perhaps out of fear of Herod's reaction to hearing of another King of the Jews. But maybe it was more. After all, they didn't travel the 7 miles to Bethlehem to see the Christ themselves. Why not? Maybe they had a different idea of what the Messiah was about. Maybe they were looking for a different kind of Savior—one not born in a barn, but in a palace.
But why? Why did Herod and Jerusalem act the way they did? Well, simply put, because they ignored the Word. Herod called for the teachers of the law to search the Scriptures, relying in their divine inspiration even! But he did it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have asked "What king of a King is he?" Instead of "Where is he?" Maybe then he would have found Isaiah 53 to see the Suffering Servant—a King whose kingdom is not of this world, a King who would conquer not Herod or the Romans, but sin, death and hell. Maybe then Herod would have worshiped the Christ child not with madness, but with joy from the heart as the Magi did.
Now, it's easy to pick on Herod and say, "What's wrong with you? How can you miss the biggest thing that's happened in the history of the world? How can you react the way you do?" But before we do, don't we have to admit that we sometimes act like Herod?
Now, I don't think any of you are plotting infanticide of a small town to protect your power and your claim to some throne. But don't we often pretend to adore Jesus with hidden motives? We pretend to adore him on Sunday mornings, but once we get back into the car, the truce is over and the fight we had on the drive in can resume! Game on! We pretend to adore him with a devotion, but forget what we read just as quickly as we set it down. We pretend to adore him often with other motives… Do we ever worship him not for what he's done on the cross, but in the hopes that he'll bless our work, get us that promotion or raise, or take away our illnesses? Do we sometimes worship him when things are going well, but complain and gripe against him when things aren't going so well?
And why do we react the way we do to the most important event in history? Isn't it because we too ignore the Word? Sure we'll search it from time to time to find out how he can secure our comfort and fix our problems in this life and give us our best life now, but then we ignore where he says we'll have to suffer, bear crosses, and endure pain.
And so, for our false worship and our hidden motives we deserve the pain and agony of the cross. We deserve the hell that Christ was born to endure. And yet, we don't get it. Instead we get forgiveness through the Christ child. We get a clean slate and peace with God. We get not just a new year full of hope, but a new life—one that will last into eternity! And the more we hear his Word, the more we'll appreciate what he's done and will respond in thanks to God adoring him with the gladness of the Magi…
II. But With the Magi's Gladness
And just look at how these Magi adored him! Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house [in Bethlehem], 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Though we know so little about them, what wonderful examples they set for us! They adored him in truth from the bottom of their hearts! And this faith of theirs is evidenced first by their journey. Now I don't know for sure where they were from, but if they were from Babylon they traveled 720 miles. If they were from Persia, that's 1,050 miles away! We don't know they rode camels, but even if they were in chariots, can you imagine traveling from Kenai to Deadhorse without an airplane or car? Just leave everything behind for as long it would take to make the trip and back! This was no easy task! (Made no easier by the heavy bars of gold they carried!)
Their faith is also evidenced by the way they act: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed… they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. The sight of the star alone filled them with joy, so they were bubbling up with excitement! And when they found him, it didn't bother these full grown men that they were lying with their faces on the ground before a toddler who could barely walk or talk. Without shame they bowed down and worshiped him offering their praise to the child who would be their Savior!
And finally, their faith is evidenced by the gifts they brought. I think we assume there were three men because of the three gifts. Maybe they all gave all three. We don't know. But we do know that these gifts weren't cheap. They didn't just pick these gifts up along the way, but planned to give him gifts fit for a king! They didn't just open their wallets at the last minute saying, "Oh, yeah! Maybe we should give an offering," as an afterthought. This was why they came—driven by faith they came to bring their gifts to him in thanks!
But why did they respond the way they did? Why did they respond so differently than Herod did? Because they did listen to the Word. If they were from Babylon or Persia, maybe they were instructed by Daniel and the other exiles who took the Old Testament prophecies with them.
Maybe they read the prophecy in Numbers 24(:17 & 19) which read, 17 "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… 19 A ruler will come out of Jacob…" Maybe they read Isaiah 60 (which we just read earlier in the service) that said nations would come to the light of the Savior with camels bringing their gifts of gold and incense to him. We don't know for sure how, but somehow they knew this was "his star" and they couldn't help but respond in thanks.
And is it any different for us? When we realize that we do deserve hell for our false worship of Christ, for complaining about driving 30 miles in to church, for reluctantly offering a few dollars to our Savior instead of giving with hearts full of joy… and when we realize that we don't get the hell we deserve, but instead, by the work of that toddler in Bethlehem who would grow up to die on the cross, we get full and free forgiveness, peace with God, and the certainty that heaven itself is ours… when we realize what wonderful things he's done for us, we can't help but respond in thanks either!
We too thank him by our journey, gladly traveling in to church, no matter how long of a drive you have to make, to hear his Word of forgiveness! We gladly sacrifice our time spent on a hobby to make a trip for him to take care of his church or a hurting brother or sister! We gladly drop what we're doing to spend time with him in his Word recognizing that there's no journey in life more important than this one.
We too thank him by our actions, eagerly worshiping and praising Christ here together. We're glad to worship him in our own homes and to bow down to him in prayer. We long to worship him in lives of service, serving others as if they were Christ himself. After all, Jesus tells us that on Judgment Day he'll say, "…you gave me something to eat …you gave me something to drink …you invited me in …you clothed me …you looked after me …you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
We too thank him by our gifts—given to church, given to one another, given to those in need. When we ponder what cost Christ paid to free us from our sins, from death, and from hell, we long to give our costly, precious, and planned gifts to him. We give joyfully from the heart, compelled by gratitude to our Savior. As it's been said, "You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving."
Continue to listen to his Word, dear friends. For listening to his Word and to the good news of his grace found there makes all the difference. It makes the difference between pretending to adore him with Herod's madness and truly adoring him from the heart with the Magi's Gladness. As with gladness men of old… oh, come, let us adore him! Amen.