The King’s WorshippersErwin W. Lutzer | December 25, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
Traveling a thousand miles to Bethlehem, the Magi came to worship the King. Their hearts were filled with honest curiosity. But others did not react well at the news of Christ’s existence. The scribes were indifferent. Herod was deceptive and violent, exterminating the male infants in Bethlehem.
Yet the Magi came, overcoming distance, race, religion, pride and selfishness. They came and worshiped. Will we honestly seek the King as they did?
Of course we all know the song, Come, Let Us Adore Him. Come to Bethlehem and adore Christ.
It’s interesting that in the passage of Scripture that was read, you remember Simeon said those interesting words. He said, “This child was set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel” and that the thoughts of many will be exposed.
Whenever people are in contact with Jesus Christ the true condition of their heart is exposed. Some of you who are here today, the condition of your heart will be exposed as we are in contact with Jesus and as we talk about him, read about him and sing about him. It is a barometer check on where your heart is.
Matthew 2, the passage that I hope that you take time to turn to, is a very familiar passage. We have here a beautiful illustration of three different ways in which Jesus Christ was responded to. The condition of the hearts of those who are listed here in this chapter and whose stories are told, are revealed in answer to Simeon’s prayer and his prediction. I’m going to take the time to read a few verses and then we’ll think about how Jesus reveals the true heart of humanity.
Matthew 2 – “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, the old wise men came from the east to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose (Some translations add in the east. Of course the sun rises in the east.) 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 the scribes and the people he inquired of them where Christ was to be born. They told him in Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet, ‘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 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.’ And after listening to the King they went on their way, and behold the star they had seen, when it rose went before them until it come to rest over the place where the child was.” Let’s read just that far.
Notice this. In the presence of Jesus, Herod revealed the fact that he had a very hard heart. Herod the Great is known for being the Great because he was a great builder. He built, for example, the temple that was in existence during the time of Christ, a beautiful structure, which unfortunately, because of the providence of God and the judgment of God, was totally destroyed. He built huge fortresses in Caesarea. He built what has been known as Masada. When you are in Israel you always hear about the Herodian period, and Herodian stones. He was a great builder. But he was also a murderer. He murdered at least one wife. I think that I read that he actually murdered two wives, and several of his sons. And a baby is born in Bethlehem that he hears about and suddenly he is totally intimidated. And what bothered him about this baby is the fact that there was a delegation that came from the east (Persia almost certainly). This caravan, if you please, came all the way from the east to see this baby, and Herod didn’t think there was room for two kings. He was, after all, King of the Jews, and so he couldn’t tolerate a rival.
You see, what he was thinking in his mind was this. Why are these people coming to see this baby? Why don’t they come and see me? I’m the great king. What if others come looking for this baby and they bypass me? And because of his paranoia and because of his jealousy he simply could not take it. So he does two things.
First of all, he lied to the wise men. He said, “Go find the baby and after you have found him, come to me and tell me where he is so that I can worship him as well.” Of course, he was lying. He had no interest at all in worshipping Jesus. He had a great interest in trying to kill him. But then he does more than that. When the wise men don’t return back to Jerusalem (and he knows that he has been tricked) in response to a revelation that God gave them to depart a different way, when he finds that out he becomes a gross murderer, and he asks that all the infant boys in the environs of Bethlehem be killed. There are various estimates as to how many were killed – perhaps 20 or 25 – maybe less or maybe more – nobody really knows. But isn’t that terrible?
But it does also give us insight into a timeline here. You see, the wise men inquired when the star appeared, and apparently it appeared perhaps a year before that time or more, and so he feels that if he kills all of the infant boys two years of age and under surely in this net that he casts he will catch Jesus and have him killed. What a terrible thing. Now the ironic fact is that he dies two years later, and what he didn’t realize was that his ability to be king was totally dependent upon that baby. Herod’s own power and authority was derived from Jesus, the King of Kings who was born there in Bethlehem, but he didn’t acknowledge that. He had a very jealous heart. He could not stand competition. He wanted to destroy anyone who would deflect attention from him, and he wasn’t in control but he thought he was. And he grasped for control. What a terrible control it was, but in the end he wasn’t in charge. God was.
I love to tell the story of the stroller that I saw in Marshall Field’s one time during the Christmas season. A little boy was in a stroller, and the stroller was like a little car so it had a steering wheel on it. And the boy was crying profusely. He was angry with his mother about something, and he was taking that steering wheel and he was just cranking it to the right. But all the while he was going the opposite direction because his steering wheel wasn’t connected to anything that mattered. It was his mother who determined where he was going. You know, that’s the way we are. We grasp for power. We grasp for significance. We are angry when somebody outshines us. We hate competition. We are filled with jealousy and we think that we are in control but at the end of the day, we discover that God is in control, and you know the Scripture says very clearly, “Why should you glory in that which you have received from God? Who makes you to differ from another? What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it why do you glory as if you received it not?”
I hope that you and I always rejoice in the success of people who are more successful than we are. Jealousy and competition must be nailed to the cross so that we are set free. Herod had a very hard heart, and it showed.
Now when you get to the Scribes it’s very interesting. You have an indifferent heart, and we could say that this is an indifferent academic heart because notice that they knew exactly where Jesus was to be born. They understood the Scripture in Micah. They understood it in context. They knew where to go for it and low and behold, in the midst of it they do this, but the more they know the less they care. They are like people who have heard it all, who have been involved with it all. They know the words and they sing the songs but they never investigate for themselves. They never receive Christ personally. Their relationship is not personal. It is academic. It is a knowledge that is filled with pride, but the knowledge is not transforming them. They grasp the spirit of Christmas but they don’t grasp the Christ of Christmas, and so they miss it all, and that is known as nominal Christianity and cultural Christianity, a Christianity that makes people immune from getting the real thing. They think they have it because they may attend church or know what Christmas is all about, but their hearts have never been transformed. Basically indifference! You hear about Jesus. You even love Jesus. You admire Jesus, but he’s like a book on a shelf, and when the Christmas season is over you take the book and you put it back on the shelf and you’ll pull it out again next year and have sentimental thoughts about the baby Jesus. The Scribes had an indifferent heart.
But of course in contrast we see that the Magi had a seeking heart. Recently we were with some friends who said that their teenager is going into atheism. Well, you and I know that that’s often part of teenage rebellion, young people wanting to assert themselves in contrast to their parents’ faith. And so what you have frequently is the fact that children will say this. The main thing that you need to emphasize to such children is to remain a seeker. Keep investigating because there does come a time in a child’s life when he has to get the faith of his parents, and it has to be his own faith. It can’t be simply a hand-me-down, so all doubt isn’t bad. It’s bad when it is dishonest doubt. It is good when it is honest doubt. These magi – these wise men – were wise seekers, and they were not filled with dishonesty. They were honest seekers of truth. I hope that that’s true about you. I hope that that is true about me.
Now, of course, you know we sing a song about them – We Three Kings of Orient Are. We have no idea whether or not they are kings. We have no idea whether or not there are three. I tend to think it was a whole caravan. I can’t imagine that Herod would be shook and all Jerusalem with him because three guys showed up on camels. I just can’t imagine that. But the interesting thing is that the star did not take them to Bethlehem. The star took them to Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem they discovered where Christ was to be born and then the star appeared and took them the rest of the way to Bethlehem, but God does not bypass his word.
Now frequently I am asked this question. In Muslim countries many people are having dreams about Jesus and coming to faith in Christ as a result of those dreams. As a matter of fact, a book has been written about it, which I don’t have but will read sometime if I ever get my hands on a copy, but nonetheless the question I receive quite often is, “Could that be the case?” In the instances that I know about, these dreams do not lead them to personal faith in Christ. These dreams lead them to God’s word or to other people who can explain the Gospel to them. The dreams prepare them for the Gospel, rather than being the Gospel itself.
Many years ago I interviewed a young man who was born in Jerusalem actually. He woke up and he was pinned against his bed. He had this vision of Jesus that was so powerful, it was as if he couldn’t get out of bed, and he cried up and he said, “Jesus, I know that this is you. I promise that if you let me out of bed I’ll find out about you.” Well, you can almost predict the rest of the story. He went about and a couple of days later somebody gave him a New Testament which he began to devour and to read and he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God does not bypass his word, no matter what means he may use to help people to get to the message that actually saves.
Well, here are the wise men. What I’d like to do is to give you some barriers that they overcame to get to Jesus. I know that there are many questions about them. There are many questions about the star. Was it a super nova, was it an alignment of planets, was it a very special star, or was it a miracle? I’m sure that it was. Whatever it was, God is wiling to go to great lengths for people who are honest seekers. Dishonest seekers – people who don’t want to know the truths, who are looking for reasons to not believe – God generally does not give them those kinds of special privileges. But if you are a seeker here today and you genuinely are seeking for the truth, God is willing to meet you at the point of your need.
So here they are. What are the barriers that they overcame? First of all distance! If they came from Persia, we’re talking about a thousand miles. And it is sometimes said that the journey took a year. It may not have taken that long. It took a good length of time, and that’s why, by the way, Jesus was in the house when they arrived. The wise men did not come to the manger as some Christmas cards would have us believe. The wise men came to the house because Jesus was perhaps almost two years old at the time. Mary and Joseph went back to Nazareth, and then for reasons that we don’t know about they came back to Bethlehem and that’s where Jesus actually was. I think it probably took weeks for them to prepare just to come. I mean if you are thinking about going across the desert in a caravan, you’re thinking about water. You’re thinking about food. Let’s suppose they did ten miles a day, which I think would be a lot in the desert. We’re talking about at least a hundred days. We don’t know how many months it took for them to get there, and so they went to great lengths to go on this journey, most assuredly. And they were willing to do that.
Now there are some people who say, “Well, if I’m going to find the truth, I want the truth to come to me. I’m simply going to sit here and I hope that somehow by osmosis or by other ways the truth is going to come.” I say to you today, “Investigate the truth,” and by the way, you have never investigated Christianity unless you’ve thoughtfully read the New Testament. And you’ve never investigated Christ unless, of course, you begin to open your mind to the possibility that he is who he is. Come with your doubts but come to Christ. Read about him. That’s why I always give atheists the 21-day test, or the 21-day experiment I call it. They always say, “Well, what do you want me to do for 21 days?” Take out ten minutes a day, read the Gospel of John one chapter every day for 21 days. What you don’t understand don’t get too hung up on, but try to answer this question. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus what did John believe about Jesus, and what did Jesus believe about himself? What you need to do is to overcome that barrier and become a truth seeker, even if it costs you. Like one man said when he read the New Testament, all of his arguments were like puffs of smoke in the presence of Christ.
These men, God bless them (and perhaps there were women among them, though we don’t know), were perhaps astrologers. Some people think they were astronomers, perhaps involved to some extent in occultism that took place in Persia. We wish we knew more but we don’t, but they were willing to come a long way to find the truth.
The first barrier they overcame was distance. The second one, and we’ll put this together, is both race and religion. Think about this. You have Persians who are bowing before a Jewish king. Imagine that. And you know that in Persia they had their own religion. It was, of course, filled with a lot of occultism, but Persia had a religion, and they could have said, “I was born in this religion and I’m going to die in this religion,” just like some people today say, “I was born a Protestant, I was born a Catholic, I was born a Hindu, I was born a Muslim, and I’m going to die in that religion.” Or “I was born in some other kind of faith – maybe the Bahai faith.”
I say to you today that we must be willing to adjust our view of truth if the truth leads us down a different path, and I commend these magi – these wise men. I commend them because they were willing to say no to their religion and they were willing to bow before this Jewish king because they said, “Even in the religion in which we were born, if it is wrong, we are going to leave it in the interest of truth, and worship someone who is actually qualified to be worshipped.”
So they overcame the barrier of distance, of race and religion, and of pride. Oh I hope that when we get to heaven someday that God will show us the video. I think we are going to watch videos in heaven – not the ones that you get at Blockbuster, if Blockbuster still exists, but other kinds of videos. I think that we are going to see this because I can imagine all of these men adjusting their turbans, getting themselves all prim and proper. They’ve come a long distance for this moment, and notice what it says. We have to read it.
“After listening to the king (verse 9) they went on their way and behold the star they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest on 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 worshipped him.” Imagine! They were worshipping a toddler. They were worshipping a child who undoubtedly was younger than two, and God had so impressed upon them the fact that this child was the redeemer that they were willing to fall down and worship him, believing indeed, as they must have, that he was God on earth – God, a very God – as the creeds will later say. “And putting aside all their pride (all that they had) they fell down and they worshipped him. They kissed toward him,” which is what the word worship really means. They fell down and they did it.
And I think that they are good examples. They will not be among those folks who come to your door every so often in twos and tell you that you shouldn’t worship Jesus because he’s not God. These wise men understood that they were in the presence of deity and they worshipped Jesus. I say, “Good for them,” and I want to take my place next to them and worship him too, and I hope that’s true of all of us who are listening to this message.
They also overcame selfishness. You know they brought gifts with them – gold, which represents kingship; frankincense, which is used by priests; and myrrh, used in sacrifice, sometimes also to embalm a body, and some people think it may be reminiscent or in anticipation of the death of Jesus Christ. And so here they are. They give Mary and Joseph these gifts for their son. Undoubtedly the parents were able to use this to help finance them as they went into Egypt. They were able to buy food along the way, and so forth, because of the gifts that the wise men had given them.
I look at this text and it is truly interesting to see how the human heart is revealed. When Jesus is born the Bible says that Herod was troubled, and when Herod sneezed all of Jerusalem got a cold. It says that he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. He had a hard heart. I look at the scribes and Pharisees. It is five kilometers between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. How long would it take you to go there and to see what the wise men were seeing? It would not take long at all. You could do the trip back and forth easily in a day but they won’t. Indifferent heart! They know about it but they don’t believe.
And then I see these seeking hearts, taking the truth wherever it led them and they ended up, of course, worshiping the Christ Child, and someday undoubtedly we shall see these wise men in heaven.
Buy in contrast to Herod where it says he was troubled and all Jerusalem, it says they went on their way (I’m in verse 9) and the star they had seen when it rose went before them. “When they saw the star (verse 10) thy rejoiced exceedingly.” And on this Christmas day if we know Christ as Savior, if we worship him with focused determination and joy, the joy of God will be ours. “For unto you this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” In that we all rejoice. And let me add that to this day wise men still seek him. Oh come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. (applause) Come ye to Bethlehem.
Let me ask you. Have you trusted this Christ? Have you come to know him personally? Hard heart, indifferent heart, seeking heart? If you seek him you shall find him if you search for the truth with all your heart. The wise men are proof of that. Even now right where you are sitting you can believe on Jesus, or maybe you are watching by way of the Internet streaming, as we go all over the world every Sunday from the Moody Church. If God has talked to you, if this is your moment, you believe on the Savior and let all of us worship him, the Redeemer.
I love him. Do you love him? Do you love Jesus? I hope you do. It is proof of being born again. If you love him you will worship him.
Father, take these words we pray and apply them as needed. In the lives of those who already love you may we love you and worship you even more. In the lives of those who have never trusted Christ, show them their need. Show them the beauty of believing on a Savior whom they not only can worship, but a Savior who takes away our sins. We thank you that Jesus is the answer to our deepest most abiding problem - sin. Therefore, we rejoice in him today. “For unto you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” In his name we pray. Amen.