Come, Adore on Bended Knee
Come, Adore on Bended Knee
Brad Mills / General
Advent: Now But Not Yet / Matthew 2:1–12
I have a friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter or any other Christian holiday because their origins are tied to pagan holidays. Maybe you know people like that. They begin with a well-intentioned desire to remain faithful to the truth. Once they discover the link between Christmas and the Roman festival of Saturnalia, they decide that they cannot engage in a pagan practice. It is true that the Romans celebrated Saturnalia for a week beginning on December 17th. However, the Christian celebration of Christmas is not a form of engaging in a pagan holiday, but an antidote to the idolatry.
There is good reason to recover the true meaning of Christmas in our generation as well. We must guard against the cultural and commercial corruptions that distract us from worshiping Christ. Refusing to celebrate Christmas and Easter does not make you more likely to meditate upon Christ’s birth and resurrection more frequently. In an attempt to remain faithful to Christ, refraining from participation in these Christian holidays may only hinder a proper humility and sacrificial love for him.
I have no hesitation in commending a hearty celebration of Christ’s birth this month. Two weeks ago we considered how the hopes and fears of all the yearswere represented by Christ’s genealogy. His ancestors waited with eager expectations for the day of his arrival. But, even his miraculous conception began with the devastation of Joseph who feared that Mary had been unfaithful. The visiting angel restored Joseph’s hope and he confidently obeyed the command to take Mary as his wife and to name the child “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).
This morning we transition to the theme of worshiping Jesus. Matthew sets up a contrast between true and false worship, and between corrupt leadership and humble service.
Read Matt. 2:1-12.
› The passage opens with “wise men from the east”…
Seeking to Worship Jesus (1-2)
After the birth of Jesus, wise men from the east traveled to Jerusalem in order to worship the child (1). They asked people where Jesus was born mentioning the star they saw in the sky and their intention to worship him (2). We are not told how long they had been traveling, but contextual evidence points to this happening at least one year after Jesus was born. They did not find him until nearly two years later (16). This destroys the scene depicted in the typical Christmas nativity set. These “wise men” were not present on the night of Jesus’ birth. The wise men ultimately find Mary and Jesus in a house, not a stable (11).
On the night Jesus was born these wise men saw a star. This may be an allusion to the messianic star referred to in Num 24:17, but it is unclear if the wise men understood this. Some have tried to explain the movement of the star as a natural phenomenon (i.e., Halley’s Comet, supernova), but it seems to have been supernatural (9).
We know very little about these wise men (magoi). The magoi were religious scholars who adopted a variety of practices (e.g., dreams, magic, astrology). There is no indication that they were kings, but many have assumed this based upon Ps 72:10-11, 15 which speaks of the Messiah receiving gifts from Gentile kings. The gifts they offered Jesus were expensive gifts fit for a king. We might safely assume these men were wealthy. Since they brought three types of gifts, many have assumed that there were three magoi. But that is only speculation. We do not even know where they came from. They could have been from Asia or Persia, but it seems more likely that they were from the distant region of ancient Babylon (Mesopotamia).
The Greek OT uses the term “magoi” in one book, Daniel. It is a reference to the religious practitioners of Babylonian magic. In Dan 2, Nebuchadnezzar sought the help of the magoi in interpreting his dream. Jewish influence in Babylon was strong enough through Daniel and his friends, that these magoi likely had some knowledge of the OT prophecies. Combining that with their practice of astrology stoked their interest in finding and worshiping the Messiah.
Although Matthew certainly knew of the OT condemnations of astrology (Isa 47:13) and pagan religion, he portrays the wise men in shockingly positive terms. While the vast majority of wise men would have fallen under condemnation, these select few were shown God’s wondrous grace. Just as we are surprised to find certain names in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17), we are amazed by the grace God shows to these unlikely characters. Through their own superstitious practice, God draws them to worship Jesus.
All the recipients of gospel grace are unusual in that way. It is far more common for people to know what the Bible says and do nothing about. Jesus traveled from heaven to earth in order to save his people from their sins, and too many people find it difficult to travel across town to worship him. Maybe they have had their interest in God piqued through various experiences, but they are short-lived. The pressures of life snuff out the initial sparks. Instead of igniting a fire for the Lord, the result is nothing more than a puff of smoke.
But, those who have had their desires transformed by the grace of God long to worship him in Spirit and in truth. Their interest in God’s Word informs their pursuit of Christ. When the circumstances of their lives become challenging, they crave the stability that comes from Christ all the more. True worship is a mark of faith.
The determination of the wise men to worship Jesus underscores our privilege and responsibility to do the same.
We have a tremendous privilege to worship Jesus every Sunday. We do not have to travel to a sacred site in a distant land in order to achieve a holier experience. The pilgrimage for most of us requires no more than a few hours each week. Worship is also a responsibility that we have as creatures created in the image of God. We should not take that responsibility lightly. We should prepare our hearts ahead of time and look forward to Sunday mornings with anticipationof meeting in a special way with our Lord and Savior.
› As the wise men were genuinely seeking to worship Jesus, Herod begins…
Scheming to Eliminate Jesus (3-8)
When word got around that these men were asking about the birth of “the king of the Jews,” Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem became troubled (3). This was a time fraught with religious unrest. Jewish revolts had occurred before which resulted in death. By this time Herod was nearing the end of his life. His illness had only increased his paranoia of political opposition. He was so unstable that he killed his favorite wife and at least two of his sons. The inhabitants of Jerusalem became troubled by the visitors’ questions because they knew it would send Herod into panic and further rage.
Herod gathered the chief priests and scribes in order to find out where the Messiah was prophesied to be born (4). He figured he could utilize the wise men in order to squelch this potential uprising before it began. The Jewish religious leaders inform Herod that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem based upon the prophecy of Micah 5:2.
With knowledge of the location to offer, Herod secretly summons the wise men in order to learn when they saw the star (7). Apparently, they informed him when the star appeared in the sky since he later calculates the timing around two years earlier (16). Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem with the instruction to report back to him with their location so that he might join in worshiping the child (8).
It is interesting that these religious scholars appear to have no desire to see this child. Certainly they had heard about the visitors’ questions, and here they confirm the most likely location, but they make no apparent effort to lead (or even follow) them there. Employees at Wal-Mart do a better job of leading the lost than these religious scholars.
This is the contrast Matthew wants us to see. Gentile wise men made great sacrifices to travel a long distance in order to worship a king they knew little about. But, those with the greatest knowledge of the Old Testament, were unwilling to travel beyond their backyard in order to learn if this child was indeed the Messiah.
That is the context in which Jesus first appeared. He came to a people who had no faithful shepherds. Satan is always scheming to hinder worship and it is often through his attack upon the leadership of the church that he achieves his greatest victories.
The Church is under constant spiritual attack. Compromise and apathy regularly infect her leaders. We must be vigilant in upholding them in prayer.
We must also evaluate our own hearts. It is impossible to know what exactly caused these chief priests and scribes to become so indifferent about the Messiah’s coming. But whatever the cause, the results were condemning. Maybe they were focused on building their own reputation. Are we distracted from worship because we are too busy with our own ambitions for gain? Maybe they thought they had figured everything out already and this timeframe did not fit their calculations. Does our knowledge serve to puff us up rather than lead us to worship Christ in humility? Or, maybe they had a lot of really good things that kept them from the best thing. Maybe, like Martha, they were distracted with much serving. Is your calendar filled with so many things that it is beginning to crowd out the best things, namely worship?
› The apathetic context of Jerusalem did not prevent these wise men from finding and…
Offering Worship to Jesus (9-12)
The wise men listened to Herod and then as they departed they began to follow the star until it rested over the house where the family was staying (9). Upon seeing the star again they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (10). They were invited into the home and when they saw Mary with Jesus “they fell down and worshiped him.” Then they gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (11). They would have gone back to Herod in order to inform him about Jesus’ whereabouts, but they were warned in a dream not to do so (12). So they returned home by a different route.
CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 2
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were costly gifts. The latter two are aromatic resins. Frankincense was used in making incense and perfume (see Ex 30:34–35). Myrrh was used as an ingredient in anointing oil (30:23–25), as a perfume (Ps 45:8), and in burial preparations (Jn 19:39).
Much ink has been spilled over the meaning of these gifts. Did they have any symbolic significance? If they did, it is difficult to imagine the wise men understood all the implications that many commentators draw out. God was fulfilling his promises regardless of the knowledge of the participants (Isa 60:6; Ps 72:10-11, 15). This Child-King was worthy to receive the wealth of the nations.
The wise men brought gifts fit for a king because God ordained for such to happen. It is possible that the family used these gifts to abruptly escape to Egypt until Herod’s death (2:13-15, 19).
Whatever the result, Matthew emphasizes two aspects of their worship of Jesus. First, he focuses upon their posture. They fell down before the child.
Ferguson: Bertel Thorvaldsen sought to depict this in his marble statue of the Christ figure in the Lutheran Cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark. The figure’s arms are extended in a gesture of welcome to all. But the statue has an unusual feature. In order to look directly into its face it is necessary to kneel. It is not possible to get a clear view of it from any other position. The point is, surely, well taken. As Charles Lamb, the eighteenth-century English essayist, once noted: If William Shakespeare were to come into a room, men would stand up out of respect for his accomplishments. But if Jesus Christ were to come into the room, the only appropriate response would be to kneel.
We must kneel before Christ is we desire to truly see him. True worship begins from a posture of humility.
And, secondly, Matthew focuses upon the gifts of the wise men. They came with appropriate gifts that revealed their desire to honor him as king. Our worship should be accompanied by its own sacrificial gifts (time, talents, treasure). We do not worship in order to earn God’s favor, but because we have been shown grace we are willing to offer Christ everything we have.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 1:14 PM December 16, 2019.