O Worship the King!

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Matthew 2:1-12 (The Magi)

INTRODUCTION: It is Advent season, and we are following the story of Christ’s birth through the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel. Today we come to the passage of the Magi bringing their gifts to Christ. It is a beautiful but mysterious passage and an important part of the Christmas story as revealed in Scripture. (Read Matthew 2:1-12 and pray)

The story of the Magi raises all sorts of questions. Who are these Magi from the East? What was the star in the sky? How did they know what the star meant? And what was God’s purpose in bringing them to Bethlehem? We won’t be able to answer all these questions this morning, but I trust we will gain a greater appreciation for these Magi and their part in the Christmas story.

One of the main things the Magi teach us is that not everyone responds to Jesus the same way. After reading the genealogy of Christ, and then seeing the birth of Jesus last week, you would think that everyone would come to Jesus to worship him as King. I wish it were so, but it was not true then, and it is not true today. So many people miss out on Christmas, because they miss out on Jesus. As we said earlier in this series, Matthew presents Jesus as Messiah and King. And this passage in Matthew teaches us that true followers worship Jesus as Messiah and King.

I. Seeking the King (1-2)

In the first section the Magi come seeking Jesus as King. Look at verses 1 and 2 with me: “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.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

In verse one we are introduced to the three main characters or sets of characters in the narrative. They are Jesus, Herod and the Magi.

   A. Jesus > was born king of the Jews (Micah 5:2)

First we have Jesus. Last week we learned the how and why of Jesus’ birth. Now we learn the where. How was Jesus born? He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. Why was Jesus born? To save us from our sins. Where was Jesus born? “In Bethlehem in Judea.” Bethlehem is a tiny city six miles south of Jerusalem. It was the city of David and the birthplace of the Messiah. Here in verse one Matthew specifies “Bethlehem in Judea,” because the Scriptures also foretold that the Messiah would come from Judah.

The Magi say that Jesus “has been born king of the Jews.” Herod may be acting king of Israel, but Jesus is the true king of the Jews. Notice Jesus is born already a king. He is not a prince or a king in waiting. He is born a king. Augustus Van Ryn comments: “No earthly potentate is ever born a king. Such are born princes. But He was born a King, for no one ever was King before Him, nor shall be after Him. There will never be a King Jesus the Second.”

The fact that he is born a king goes back to chapter one and the genealogy and the birth story with Joseph. Jesus is a son of David because Joseph was a son of David, and Joseph legally adopted him into the line of kings.

   B. Herod > the acting king of the Jews (Luke 1:5)

Next we have King Herod. This is Herod the Great who ruled from 40 B.C. to 4 B.C. He was called “the Great” because he was a great builder. He built the city of Caesarea; he built the new walls of Jerusalem; he built the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. He may been a great builder, but he was a terrible king. He was paranoid, cruel and murdered members of his own family.

We will learn more about Herod next week, but for now I want you to realize that although he was acting king of the Jews, he should never have been king of the Jews. First of all, he wasn’t even a Jew! He was an Edomite who pushed and manipulated his way into the kingdom. Secondly, he was far more aligned with Roman interests than with Jewish interests. So we are introduced to two kings in these opening verses: Herod who is the acting king of the Jews, and Jesus who was born king of the Jews.

   C. The Magi > pagan Gentiles from the East (Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 60:3; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7, 28:19)

And then into this mix come the Magi. The Magi were magicians or astrologers who studied the stars and interpreted dreams. We find early instances of Magi in the book of Exodus with Moses in Egypt and then again in the book of Daniel. Matthew tells us they were from the East, so they were most likely from Babylon or Persia. We are not told how many they were, but later traditions speak of either twelve or three.

The Magi would have had a negative connotation with the Jewish people. These were not only pagan Gentiles, they were magicians as well. They were the last people you would expect God to invite to the Messiah’s birthday party! But God often does the unexpected.

And what an invitation he sent them! God sent a star in the sky to announce the birth of Jesus. Notice the Magi call it “his star.” It is Jesus’ star. Jesus created all things, and all things belong to him. People often wonder whether the star was a natural or a miraculous phenomenon. Some say a comet, some say a supernova, some say a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. All we know for certain is that something unusual caught their attention, and they connected it with the birth of Christ.

So how did they know the star had to do with Jesus’ birth? Remember that the Jews had been exiled to Babylon, and so their prophecies of Messiah would have been be known in Babylon and Persia. Perhaps the Magi focused on the prophecy of Numbers 24:17 which said: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17) This prophecy was made by another famous Magi himself, the diviner Balaam back in Moses’ day.

But however they knew, the star signaled to them that the Messiah had been born, and so they came to Jerusalem, the political and religious center of Israel. They may not have known it, but they were partially fulfilling Isaiah 60:3 which said of Zion: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:3)

God promises in the book of Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Later on Jesus said, “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Well the Magi came seeking Jesus, and they found him. It’s interesting, Matthew’s gospel ends with the gospel invitation going out to all the nations. (Matthew 28:19) Here it begins with a gospel invitation to the nations to come to Christ.

And notice why they came. They simply said, “We have come to worship him.” Worship is the main theme of this whole passage. It appears in all three sections of the passage. The Magi believed that this child was the Messiah who had been promised long ago, and they came to worship him as Messiah and King.

II. Rejecting the King (3-8)

So in verses 1-2 we have the example of the Magi seeking Jesus. Next in verses 3-8 we have the example of Herod and the religious leaders rejecting Jesus. And here we find three characteristics of people who reject Jesus as Messiah and King.

   A. Disturbed by Jesus instead of drawn to him (Acts 4:2)

First of all, those who reject Jesus as Messiah and King are disturbed by Jesus instead of drawn to him. Look at verse 3: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3) Apparently the Magi didn’t go straight to Herod but started asking around. But word soon got to the king, and Herod was disturbed along with the rest of Jerusalem. This sets up another major theme in the gospel of Matthew: the rejection of Jesus by his own people and his acceptance by the Gentiles.

Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed at the news of Jesus’ birth. And this was not a one time thing for the people of Jerusalem and their religious leaders. We read later on in the book of Acts that “they were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 4:2)

Many people are still disturbed by Jesus today. They don’t want to hear his name. They don’t want to acknowledge him as Lord. Some don’t even want us to mention him at Christmas! Those who reject Jesus as Messiah and King are disturbed by Jesus instead of drawn to him.

   B. Knowledge without coming to Christ (John 5:39-40)

Second, those who reject Jesus as Messiah and King have knowledge without coming to Christ. Look at verse 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.” (Matthew 2:4)

Herod called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, that is, the whole Sanhedrin. He calls them together and asks them where the Christ is to be born. Christ is another word for Messiah. Herod is no dummy. He understands that this one who is born king of the Jews is the Messiah. He knows the Magi are talking about the Christ, and so he asks the religious leaders where the Christ was to be born.

They tell him “in Bethlehem in Judea” and then they quote from Micah 5:2. Look at verses 5-6: “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.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

Bethlehem may be tiny but it is not least important because the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. This Messiah would be a shepherd king who will rule over his people. The shepherd language is drawn from Micah 5:4 and described what kind of a king he would be. This king would be a shepherd who would guide, protect and care for his people – the exact opposite of King Herod.

Herod asks the religious leaders where the Christ was to be born, and they go straight to the Scripture to give him the answer. In other words, their rejection of Jesus was not based on ignorance of the Scriptures. They knew exactly where the Christ was to be born.

It is possible to have knowledge without coming to Christ. Jesus would later tell the religious leaders: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40) You can know all about Jesus and the Bible, but unless you come to him in faith believing, you will never have the benefit of knowing Christ.

Notice the contrasts between the Magi and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. The Magi were Gentiles; the religious leaders were Jews. The Magi traveled a great distance to find the Messiah; the religious leaders were only a short distance away and they didn’t even make the trip! The Magi had no Scriptures to guide them; the religious leaders were diligent students of the Scriptures. The Magi responded with faith and worship; the religious leaders responded with indifference and unbelief. It is possible to have knowledge of Christ without coming to Christ.

   C. Hypocrisy or deceit (Matthew 7:21-23)

And then a third characteristic of those who reject Jesus as Messiah and King are those who practice hypocrisy or deceit. Look at verses 7-8: 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.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Herod wanted to know the exact time the star had appeared because he was trying to determine the age of his competitor. How old was this new king? Was he a few months old? A few years old? What if the star appeared twenty years ago?

Then he told the Magi to make a careful search. Herod is not happy about this child and he wants him found. He tells the Magi to report back to him so that he too can go and worship him. This is nothing but hypocrisy and deceit. Herod has no interest in worshiping the child. The Magi have worship in their hearts, but Herod has murder in his heart.

Jesus warned about those who would pretend to follow him but not really worship him as king. He taught, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus’ point is clear. Not all who call themselves Christians belong to Christ. Not all who go to church come to Christ. Not all who address Jesus as Lord worship Christ.

Neither Herod nor any of the people in Jerusalem bothered to walk the six miles to Bethlehem to find Jesus. They were disturbed by Jesus instead of drawn to him. They had knowledge without coming to Christ. Herod practiced hypocrisy and deceit. These are all examples of people who reject Jesus as Messiah and King.

III. Worship the King (9-12)

We have looked at the Magi who came seeking Jesus. We have looked at Herod and the religious leaders who rejected Jesus. Finally, let us look at the example of the Magi as they come and worship Jesus. And in looking at their example we find three characteristics of those who worship Jesus as Messiah and King.

   A. Rejoicing in Christ (1 Peter 1:8-9)

First of all when you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you will rejoice in Christ. Look at verses 9-10: “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.” (Matthew 2:9-10)

By God’s sovereign power the star continued to point the way until it stopped over the place where the child was. Matthew uses the word “child” here instead of “baby.” It shows that some time has past, and Jesus is no longer a baby in the manger.

I interpret the phrase “when they saw the star” as “When they saw the star stop over the place where the child was” they were overjoyed. In other words, after many months of preparation and travel, they had arrived at their destination.

The phrase “they were overjoyed” is actually a combination of four words in the Greek which could be translated, “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” So they rejoiced with joy! And not just with joy but with great joy. And not just with great joy but with exceeding great joy! Matthew uses an abundance of terms to describe their overwhelming joy at finding Christ.

Those who worship Jesus as Messiah and King rejoice in him. The book of 1 Peter describes that joy when it says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) True worship of Christ always results in rejoicing in Christ.

   B. Giving your all for Christ (Matthew 13:44-46)

Second when you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you give your all for Christ. Look at verse 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.” (Matthew 2:11)

Notice they find Jesus and Mary at a house, another indication that we are no longer at the manger scene. Notice Jesus is mentioned before Mary. The focus is all on the child. The Magi were looking for the child. Herod is looking for the child. The star stops over the place where the child was. The focus is on Jesus as it should be.

On coming to the house the Magi bow down and worship Christ. This is the appropriate response when you come before Jesus, to bow down and worship. They open their treasures, the word can actually mean treasure chests, and they present Jesus with the most expensive and lavish of gifts, exactly the type of gifts appropriate for a king. They give him their all. They give him their best.

Many interpreters have found symbolic meaning in the gifts presented to Christ. Gold is a symbol of royalty. Incense is a symbol of deity. And myrrh is a symbol of suffering and death. The Christmas carol “We Three Kings” wonderfully sums all three up when it describes Jesus as “King and God and Sacrifice.”

When you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you give your all for Christ. Jesus spoke about this in his parables of the treasure and the pearl. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Worship means that something is worth it! When you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you give your all for Christ.

   C. Following Christ (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6)

And then finally when you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you commit yourself to following Christ. Look at verse 12: “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:12) God warned them, and they obeyed. They returned to their home by another way.

When you worship Christ, you will also find yourself going another way. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) When you come to Christ to worship him as Messiah and King, you will find yourself switching roads. You can’t walk in the old ways anymore. You are a new creation in Christ.

And what is the way God calls you to follow? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the way to the Father, and so you must follow him. When you worship Jesus as Messiah and King, you commit yourself to following Christ.

CONCLUSION: Jesus is Messiah and King, and true followers will worship him as such. The Magi were pagan Gentiles, but they came seeking Jesus to worship him. Herod and the religious leaders rejected him, showing they were not true followers. Jesus is the only way to the Father, and worshiping God includes rejoicing in Christ, giving him your all, and following Jesus wherever he leads you.

You might object, “But I don’t have any fancy gifts to give like the Magi. I don’t have gifts worthy of a king.” I would point you to the last stanza of Christina Rossetti’s beautiful poem, “A Christmas Carol” where she writes:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give him: give him my heart.

Of course, the greatest gift at Christmas is not what we give to Jesus but what God gave to us – the gift of his own Son wrapped in the flesh of a baby. Our own gifts pale before God’s gift. In fact it is only because of God’s gift to us that we can offer our gifts to him. Jesus is the real gift of Christmas, and that is why we worship him.

When you seek Christ, you will find him. When you find him, you will worship him. And when you worship him, your life will be changed forever.

The Magi traveled all the way to Bethlehem for one reason and for one reason only, to worship Christ, the newborn King. That is what Christmas is all about, and if we miss this we miss everything. True followers worship Jesus as Messiah and King. Will you worship him today?

© Ray Fowler

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