Learning True Worship From the Magi
Most of the preaching on the visitation of the wise men that I have heard of, and perhaps you too, centers on knocking down myths surrounding the identity of the magi. How many wise men were there, three or more? Were they kings, priests or just intelligent astrologers? And in the process, they tend to replace the myths with more speculations. These people are preoccupied with trivialities and as a result altogether neglect the main point of the account. Matthew 2:1-13 shows us the way by which we ought to worship king Jesus. Matthew did not find it necessary to tell us where exactly they came from, or how many were there, or how they come to know about the new-born king. Answers to these questions most of the time are speculative and tentative, with no spiritual relevance.
So not to miss the weighty matters, our aim is to learn from the magi what true worship is, and learn from Herod and the rest of Jerusalem what it is not.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The Characters of the Story(vv. 1-5)
Matthew mentioned at least three characters or groups in this account; the magi, Herod, and the rest of Jerusalem, which includes the priests and scribes. Matthew’s aim was to show how each responded to a revelation about the coming king who is Jesus.
First, let’s look at the magi. Verses 1-2 tell us that after Jesus was born, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, with the purpose of looking for the King of the Jews that they might worship Him. We are not told about how they come to have knowledge about the coming messiah. All that we know is that a star was their guide. The point is they received a revelation from God about the King of the Jews, and they responded by searching for him to worship him. Note that they come all the way from the east. And when they say that they were looking for the king of the Jews, verse 4 makes it clear that they were looking for a messianic king, not just some human king. It says, “Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” Herod got what they meant that’s why he inquired the chief priests and scribes. They were looking for someone who will usher in an eternal kingdom that renders every monarch on earth subject to it.
We come now to the second character in the story, Herod. Verse 3 tells us that he was troubled. His response from hearing a revelation about a coming messiah is not excitement. He saw this king as a threat not only to his delegated rule over Israel, but also a threat to the Roman rule. As a governor he was tasked to support peace in one of Rome’s most strategic territories. Riots and revolutions were the last things he would have wanted. The point is Jesus is trouble to all who wouldn’t bow before him. He’s a threat to our own “sovereignty”.
Now the third character in the story is the group called “all Jerusalem with him”. Most of the people were troubled too. And I think this group includes the chief priests and scribes of the people mentioned in verse 4. Clearly they have more revelation than the magi could ever have. They knew the OT Scriptures in and out. They were experts on the law and the prophets. Yet, they were not searching for him in order to worship him as messiah. Verses 5-6 says that they knew about the prophecy and where the messiah would be coming from. But their response to this revelation is that they were troubled and implied from the text is that they became an accessory to Herod’s plan to murder the child. This is exactly the same response this group will have even after 30 years.
Pretense of Troubled Worship(vv. 7-9)
So Herod and the rest of Jerusalem were troubled. They, specially Herod, pretended to want to give homage so that they could kill him. Instead of joining the magi to really worship Jesus, Herod only sent them to confirm where the child was and pretended to want to worship him for some sinister reasons. By implication we can say then that all worship that is not welling up from joy is a pretentious worship. It is always sinister and conniving. Like Herod, many of us today consider Jesus as a competition to our valued treasure, namely self rule. Therefore many of us won’t be able to worship God truly. Yes we do acts related to worship, but if it’s void of desire for God and joy in Him, we’re pretending to worship the giver but in reality we worship the gifts. We use Jesus as a stepping stone for something else other than Jesus himself.
What True Worship is Like? (vv. 9-12)
In contrast, the people with the least revelation came to truly worship Jesus. We can see here in verses 9-12 what true worship is like.
- First, they come and search for him(vv. 1-2 and vv. 9)
- Second, when they came to the place, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy(vv. 10).That’s the Greek language way of saying how excited they were to behold Jesus and worship him.
- Third, upon seeing the child they worship him by falling down on their faces(vv. 11).Their exceedingly abundant great joy erupts in worship. Or as John Piper says it, “worship completes the joy”. It is the climax.
- Fourth, to show the worth of the King, they presented him gifts fitting for him(vv. 11). Not because Jesus needed it, but because they value Him more than their treasures.
- Fifth, they obeyed the Father of the King.(vv. 12).
So what would your response be to Christ’s first advent and more importantly how would you respond to his second advent? Are you looking forward to it with great joy or are you troubled by his coming?