The Visit of the Magi
January 7, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil
When Danish sculptor Albert Thorvaldsen completed his famous statue of Christ with arms outstretched and head slightly bowed, a friend looked up at the figure and remarked that he had trouble seeing the face from where he stood. Thorvaldsen replied, “If you want to see the face of Christ, you must get down on your knees.” There is a lot of truth in that statement.
My scripture text today is one of worship; it is the story of how Wise Men worshipped the baby Jesus. My text is Matthew 2:1-12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Magi knew a child had been born, but didn’t know exactly where. They knew this child was a king, but didn’t know his name. They could have assumed that this newborn king was the son of Herod the Great and the birth was common knowledge, but that was not the case.
One of the paradoxes of this event is that the Magi traveled hundreds of miles to worship and honor the Christ child, but the priests and the teachers of the law who were only 6 miles away did not make any effort.
Herein is this spiritual lesson: there comes a point in all of our lives, where we have to make an effort to know God. We can’t rely on the faith of others; it is something that we have to do for ourselves. As individuals, we have to take the initiative in our salvation experience: to confess our sins, to believe, to seek the Lord.
Perhaps you have heard this expression: “God does not have any grandchildren, but children.”
Matthew 2:11 tells us: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I want you to notice, when the magi arrived, it was a house and not the stable. They noticed that the boy was not dressed like a king. His home did not resemble a royal palace. If anything, Jesus appeared to be born into poverty.
But to the Magi, God had confirmed in their hearts that this child was indeed the Jewish Messiah, the savior of the world, and so they presented gifts and worshipped.
When we worship, we do it because it helps us see who God is in the midst of our lives.
When we worship, it helps us to feel what is in our hearts.
When we worship, it renews our spiritual lives just as sleep renews our bodies.
It is not enough just to believe that Jesus is the Messiah or Son of God. We need to worship because it is vital to our spiritual survival.
A couple of years ago, I went on a New Year’s Eve spiritual retreat at the Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham Mass. After an evening church service, a fellow pastor asked if I would go down to the ocean which was on a few minutes away.
Now this was the last thing I wanted to do. It was dark and cold; all I wanted to do was be inside where it was warm and read a book. However I reluctantly said yes. When we got out of the car, the wind from the ocean was bone chilling cold. My pastor friend broke out in a big smile and, with arms lifted up, began to praise and worship God.
I just kind of stood and watched. My pastor friend, who had some health concerns and some pressing church issues, could have been weighed down in spirit, but wasn’t. What I saw instead was a child of God who delighted to be in the Lord’s presence.
We often associate worship with things that we do, such as prayer, music, and scripture. But let me suggest something else. Trues worship is when a person comes into the presence, where there is a personal relationship.
Here are some additional quotes about how we are to worship.
- Pastor Lamar Borshman: “When I worship, I would rather my heart be without words than my words be without heart.”
- Pastor Jack Hayford: “Worship changes the worshipper into the image of the One worshipped.”
- Jesus explained worship to the Samaritan woman in John 4:24. “God is spirit. They that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
- Psalm 95:6-7 gives us the right attitude. “Come, let us bow down in worship. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is God and we are the sheep of his pasture, the flock under his care.”
What the Magi did so long ago was worship. Part of the worship was their offering of gold which pointed to Jesus’ majesty, for he is a king. Frankincense, a symbol of prayer pointed to Jesus’ deity, for he is God. Myrrh, a burial spice, pointed to Jesus’ humanity, for he was a man. That is a picture of the Christ we worship, for his God, king and man.
When we worship, in a sense, we follow the pattern of the Magi. Like the Magi, we have to experience the Lord for ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us. As it took effort for the Magi to find the Christ child and worship, it takes some effort to drive here in the cold and snow to worship on Sunday morning. As the Magi presented their gifts, we do the same in our offerings.
We are now into day seven of the New Year, and many have made resolutions. Some common resolutions are to lose weight, eat right, quit smoking, enjoy life, get out of debt, exercise, join a gym, save money and go to church more.
Let me suggest a resolution that has not been mentioned; it is a spiritual one: That as people of the Lord, to make the attempt to truly worship. Not just check the block and come to church, but come into Christ’s presence and have it mean something like the Magi did. To not go through the motions, but, but experience the Lord in our heart.