Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sermon: Matthew 2: 1-12 Wise Worship

Most years, coming up to Christmas, the newspapers sneak in a story about the science of Santa. They figure out the figures of one jolly red man and his sleigh travelling around the world in one night, delivering presents to every home. The Telegraph estimates that he would have to travel 212 million miles, at a speed of 6 million mph. But this morning I want to think about another epic gift-giving journey of Christmas.

Because that’s what we immediately think of when we think about the wise men from our Bible reading. These mysterious wise men from the east travelled a huge distance to arrive in Jerusalem. If you imagine them stopped at a border control or an immigration checkpoint and asked ‘What is the purpose of your visit?’ then our first answer is probably to give some gifts.

That’s what I thought too - them bringing the gold, Frankenstein and a mirror; sorry, the gold, frankincense and myrrh. It seems so obvious, because it’s probably the first thing you think of when you think of the wise men. And yet, the giving of gifts wasn’t their primary purpose; it wasn’t what they set out to do.

Sometimes we can read the Bible and think we know what it says. It’s only when we take a closer look that we see what it actually says.

So why did the wise men set out on that long journey? Why did they not just stay at home with a tin of Quality Street and watch the repeats on the telly? Verse 2 tells us in their own words: ‘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.’

They’re asking for ‘he who has been born king of the Jews.’ They know there has been a royal birth, a new king born. They saw his star as they watched the heavens by night. These stargazers saw his star rise, and climbed on their camels to come... to come and give him gifts? No - we have come to worship him.

The primary purpose of the wise men was to worship. They didn’t come to Jesus to be nosy. They didn’t travel to catch up on the gossip. They weren’t interested in anyone or anything else - they came to worship him. Summoned by a star, they went to worship.

Now think of where they were, and what they had just said. Perhaps you can remember the reaction when Prince George was born, the boy who would one day be king. The news channels went into overdrive; press photographers camped outside the hospital to get the best picture. Most people were very excited.

You’d think that the people of Jerusalem, that the Jews would be excited by the news that these outsiders had come to worship their new king. But that wasn’t what they experienced. Herod the king was troubled (3), and all Jerusalem with him. Rather than being good news, they treated this announcement as bad news. In fact, Herod didn’t even seem to be aware of it until the wise men arrived.

So he calls in the chief priests and asks them where the Christ was to be born. They know the answer straight away. They know the scriptures say Bethlehem. But they aren’t interested in going along with the wise men. The king of the Jews, the ruler to shepherd Israel has been born, but they’re too busy, washing their hair, or straightening the books on the shelves or playing tiddliwinks to go and see the Christ for themselves.

The religious people know the scriptures, but they don’t want to obey them. They know the answer, but they don’t want to apply it to themselves. And there’s a danger that we could do the same. In our preaching and in our Bible reading are we gathering information, or undergoing transformation? Perhaps you’ll take up the challenge to read through the Bible this year. Don’t just become a Bible mastermind, storing up knowledge - pray that your reading will move you to worship.

King Herod seems to be different. Having heard where the Christ was to be born, he sends the wise men off to find the child, and then to come back and let him know, ‘that I too may come and worship him.’ His lips express a desire to worship, but his heart holds a desire to destroy Jesus.

You see, Jesus was a rival to Herod’s power and position. When the wise men ask ‘where is he who has been born king of the Jews’ you can hear Herod saying that there’s only one king of the Jews, and there are no vacancies to be filled. If Jesus is indeed the king of the Jews, then Herod is out of a job.

But that’s the same for every one of us. The wise men recognise that the true king has been born - which means that everyone else is out of a job. We all like to set ourselves as king or queen of our life. We want to rule our own lives, make our own decisions, and do what pleases us. To do so, we’ve de-throned God from his rightful place. That’s at the heart of sin - to say no to God, to deny God his place as king.

The wise men recognise that the Christ has been born. The true king. The one who has every right to rule. The one to whom everyone else should bow. Herod is threatened. Herod is troubled. And Herod plots to kill Jesus. He doesn’t say that, of course. It’s like the Vicar of Dibley episode where they put on the nativity play and Herod tries to make out that the soldiers misheard his instruction to kiss the babies, not kill them.

Perhaps our declarations of worship are only from the lips out. Could it be that our words don’t match our hearts? That we claim to want to worship, but actually we’re still rebelling against King Jesus? May God in his grace show us and have mercy on us.

The religious knew, but didn’t care. Herod knew, but continued to plot against the rightful king. It’s only the wise men who show us what it is to worship the king. They set out from Jerusalem, rejoicing exceedingly with great joy as it led them to Bethlehem, to the house where Jesus was staying.

Look at what they do when they enter the house (11): ‘They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.’

They don’t open their treasures straight away. They fell down and worshipped him. The place of worship is bowing before the rightful king. Before giving him anything, they give themselves. To be in his presence is greater than the presents they gave. When was the last time you bowed before Jesus? When did you surrender all to him?

This morning as we come to the table, we remember this king who gave his life for rebels like you and me. He died the death we deserve to bring us pardon. Perhaps you’ve never truly worshipped. Come today, and as you kneel, bow before your king. Surrender to him, because he is worthy of your worship, your praise, and your adoration.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 3rd January 2016. Telegraph article referenced is here (accessed 02/01/16)

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