Summary: 3 lessons we can learn from the journey of the magi.

Matthew 1:1-12

A King to be Worshipped

Woodlawn Baptist Church

December 21, 2003


One of the things I love about Christmas is that it is traditionally a time of celebration. For some reason, at Christmas time, people suddenly start thinking about family and friends and love and peace, about giving and sharing and helping those in need. I’m not really sure why we wait until December to begin being this way, but that’s the way it is. When you go to the stores and restaurants, it seems that people in general are friendlier and more cheerful. When I think of all of it I can’t help but wish that people were like that all year round. However, we have to deal with things the way they are, not the way they ought to be. I for one am glad there is much celebration in the world this month – and of all people, we ought to be celebrating the most! After all, we know the real reason for the celebrating! I am reminded of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. She and Jesus were talking when the woman said to Him,

“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Jesus replied to the woman by pointing out that her worship was all wrong. He said,

“Woman…you don’t know what you worship. We do know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.”

Listen, there are people all around us this Christmas season celebrating – and like that woman they talk about the meaning of Christmas and think they know what it’s all about, but I think we find ourselves in Jesus’ position – “Woman…you don’t know what you worship.” They really don’t have a clue what Christmas is all about – but there is coming a day when they will find out. The Father wants them to. I’ll add this too: if we really love people the way we ought to, then we’ll not condemn them for their wrong ideas about Christmas – we’ll try to reach them in love with the message of the birth of the Savior!

The passage we’re going to read this morning is a passage of celebration – a passage of worship. We’re going to follow the journey of the wise men as they seek this newborn King of the Jews. As we follow them, there are some lessons I think we can learn from their experience, and the end result should be the same as theirs. Let’s read Matthew 1:1-12 now.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”

God Will Lead Those Who Are Truly Seeking Christ.

Verse 1 of our text says that there were wise men who had traveled from the east. The word from which we get wise men is actually the word magi, from which we get the word magician. Most people assume there were three of them, an idea that probably came from the fact that there are only three gifts mentioned, but the fact is that we don’t know how many of these wise men there actually were. There could have been two, a dozen, or several dozen.

These magi had come from the east, from the area in or around Babylon – which is present day Iraq. While we don’t really know where they got their information, I think it is safe to speculate that they had the writings of Daniel as a guide. Remember that Daniel had been in Babylonian captivity most of his life, first as a servant of the king, but as the Lord blessed and prospered him, he became one of the wise men of Babylon – one of the magi. As Daniel wrote and studied, he left important information that would later, several hundred years later, guide these magi to the King of the Jews! In fact, Daniel’s prophecies practically told them when the Messiah would be born – it just didn’t tell them where.

Regardless of how the magi got their information, the point is that they were searching for the Messiah. In fact, I want you to see something very interesting in Matthew 2:2. When the magi got to Jerusalem, they started asking around about Him. They asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” These are the first recorded words spoken by a person in the entire New Testament. In Matthew 1, you only have the words of the angel. The first words spoken by a human being in the New Testament form the question, “Where is the Messiah?” Do you know what the first question is in the Old Testament? It is found in Genesis 3, when God asked the question, “Adam, where are you?”

Isn’t that amazing? The entire Old Testament seems to ask that question of man, “Where are you?” Then when you get to the New Testament the answer is found in the Messiah – and we find wise men searching for Him! Listen, wise men are still searching for Christ. They are not the magi of Babylon, but men and women of wisdom will look at their lives and the world around them and will search for answers. Fools are the ones not looking – they think they know all the answers. People who are wise realize they don’t know much of anything.

Do you believe that people are still searching for Christ? On Thursday a man called the church and asked me if he could ask me a historical question. He was trying to find out if there were any historical documents from the time of Christ, the years that He walked the earth that spoke about Him. The writers of the Bible wrote several years after the fact, so he was looking for anything that was current with the life of Christ, like an old newspaper or something. He is not the first to go searching for validation of Christ. You see, some people try to reason everything out and think that if they could just find that one extra piece of evidence they would put their faith in Christ. I hope the man finds what he is looking for, and I’ll say this – his searching impressed me – not because he was after something that few are looking for, but because he is searching for answers – looking for the Messiah, and like those wise men, he really doesn’t know what he’s looking for – he’s just on a journey, and if he’s diligent and honest in his searching, it will eventually take him to the Christ that was born King of the Jews.

Listen, if you are wise, then you’ll give your life to that search. Sometimes it seems that the people who are closest to the Savior have the most difficult time finding Him. When those wise men got to Jerusalem, they knew there was a King born among them, and they were from Iraq! These Jews had been given more prophecy than anyone in the world, they were living right on top of Bethlehem, but they didn’t have a clue! They hadn’t been looking at all – in fact, when the magi showed up and started asking questions, the locals became very disturbed. Herod gathered together the chief priests and the scribes and demanded some information. They were living right in the middle of what God was doing and missed it all!

Do you know who I have found searches the least for Christ? His own people. The greatest thing you can give your life to is the pursuit of God: knowing and experiencing Him through the person of Jesus Christ! “God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him!” The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that God will reveal Himself to those who casually look - Where are your journeys taking you today? Are you seeking Christ? Does He have your attention? Do you give your time in search of Him and His truths? Wise men, wise women will give their lives seeking Him – and here’s the beauty of it – if you will be diligent in your seeking – God will lead you right where you need to go.

God Wants His Messiah To Receive Worship Fit For A King

Look at verse 11 with me again.

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”

If there is one thing that is clear in the writings of the New Testament, it is God’s desire that His Son Christ receive our worship. In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of all heaven. The angels worship Him. The 24 elders worship Him. The saints worship Him, and one day you and I will worship Him with all our being. The Bible says that He is worthy to receive our worship, and that even those who refuse to come to Him in this life will bow to Him in the judgment. God wants our worship! But listen, worship that has to be demanded or scheduled is no worship at all. You see, real worship flows from a heart that has been filled with a sense of joy and wonder in the presence of Christ.

Those wise men set out on that journey with little idea of what they would find, but when they got there to fell to their knees in worship! They bowed in humble adoration – not to a powerful ruler or world dictator, but to a helpless little child – they didn’t need an explanation of what lie before them. They didn’t have to wait and see what He would do for them. There were no questions, no demands, nothing! They fell and worshipped! I wonder how God wishes we would do the same! I told you last week that you ought to be filled with such a sense of awe and wonder at the handiwork of God in the incarnation that you are captivated by it – God’s Christ-child ought to take your breath away!

Why is it that we have such a difficult time worshipping? I really think it gets back to our searching. We live so much of our lives just going through the motions, and like the chief priests and scribes of Jesus’ day, we get so caught up with everything else that we fail to recognize that God is at work in our world right under our noses!

The gifts of the magi were a reflection of their worship. One writer has said that these gifts were not accidental: “Gold is the gift fit for a king. Frankincense was in constant use by the priests in the temple. Myrrh was used to embalm the dead. In those three gifts we see who Jesus is, what He came to do, and what it would cost Him.” (1) You can learn something about worship from each of these three gifts. (2)

Gold – Give Him your first and your best

Gold has always been one of the most valuable commodities on the earth. Kings received gold as tribute. When you make Jesus the Lord of your life, it means He is your King. This involves much more than financial giving – it brings into view every part of your life. God doesn’t want your leftovers – He wants the first and the best. He doesn’t want the time you have left over at the end of the day or week, you know, that time when you are too tired to do anything, He wants the first and best part of your time. In fact, God wants all your time. He doesn’t want what money you have left over at the end of the week; He wants the first part – the tithe. Listen, we’re talking about worship here, and worship is you recognizing the worth of Jesus Christ with your life, your substance, or any part of you that you can think of. If you’re not giving God your very best, then you really can’t call it worship.

Frankincense – Give Him your joyous worship through a life of prayer

Frankincense was an incense used by the priests in worship. The Lord had commanded them to use it and burn it in their acts of worship. It was a symbol of prayer. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be set before thee as incense.” Revelation 5:8 speaks of odors, or incense, “which are the prayers of the saints.”

“Amid all the things of sound and sense that rise Heavenward, nothing is more acceptable to the living God than the voice and breath of sincere prayer. It has in it the music of praise and the fragrance of open and confessed dependence. Praise glorifies God and dependence appeals to Him.” (3)

Myrrh – Give Him your life and loyalty

Myrrh was an ointment used on dead bodies to retard decay. This gift reveals that the Lord was already at work showing the world that this newborn child was destined to a unique and significant death. Last week Jill sang the song, “Mary Did You Know,” but I don’t think there’s any way that Mary could have known her child was born to die for the sins of mankind.

I think that the myrrh ought to remind you and me of the great sacrifice this child Jesus would make to pay for our sins. In that act of love He offered to us the greatest gift known to man – and the least we can do is offer our lives back to Him in return. The myrrh represents our need to offer Him our lives because He was willing to die for us. When you die to self and loose your life in following Him, you demonstrate that Jesus is the King of your life.

In all of these gifts, these reflections of hearts of worship, what you see are people who have given their lives, their entire being to the One who is worthy of your praise. Remember, worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the glory of His worth, and the way you demonstrate a heart of worship will be reflected by the measure of what you’re willing to give to him in terms of your life.

God Insists That His Will Prevail Over Personal Gain

In verse 12 we find the Lord warning the magi not to go and tell Herod about Christ. Remember that he told them to come and notify him when they found the King. It is apparent that they would have told him had God not intervened, but He did. He expressed His will to them and told them to go home a different way. Now I want to suggest to you that had these men acted selfishly they could have been the stars of the show. Just think, they couldn’t have been the number one man, Herod already held that position, but how many men would have loved to have been in the number two position? How many people would like to have been the one running to the king with inside information? I think a lot. Just look at what happens when people get around so-called important people. They like to rub shoulders and make sure they get some of the spotlight, but when a person is walking with Christ none of that will matter.

Just look at the passage again…what were the names of any of our wise men? We don’t know – and it doesn’t matter! You see, that’s just the point when it comes to giving your life to Christ. Whether you ever get seen or not, whether anyone ever knows who you are or what you did is irrelevant, because its not about you – its about Jesus! When those men walked out of Bethlehem, they left different than they had arrived, and they walked away into obscurity never to be seen or heard again.

May I suggest to you that when you encounter Christ – you will walk differently than you did before? And I’ll go just a step farther…you won’t care. You won’t care what you have to give up; you won’t care how far out of the way you have to go; how much trouble it is, what it costs you; or where it takes you, because when you encounter the Christ of the Bible, really, genuinely encounter Him, you’ll realize that your will doesn’t matter – its all about His will.


Let me ask you something here: Where are you in your journey? Are you following the light of God in your search for the Messiah? Are you wishing and searching for something like the magi? You may call it searching for ultimate truth, or searching for purpose and meaning in life, or searching for happiness or peace, or maybe this morning all you know is that there has been an emptiness stirring in your heart and you don’t know what it is searching for. Whatever it is, I want to assure you that if you will diligently seek Him, God will lead you to Jesus every time.

I want to plead with you again to come to Christ in humble adoration, bowing yourself in His presence, giving Him everything you have in worship, worship due to the One who was born to live a sinless life that He might die to set you free. Won’t you worship Him this morning? Perhaps the greatest act of worship you can offer today is to simply follow through on the things that God has been dealing with in your life. If you are like the people of Jesus’ day, they were so caught up with everything that was going on that they didn’t even know there was a Messiah among them, you may need to open your ears and eyes and take a fresh look at what God has done for you.

Whatever your need, whatever you’re searching for, you’ll find it today in Jesus – won’t you come?

Works Cited:

1. Dykes, David.

2. Subpoints adapted from same sermon.

3. Haldeman, I.M. The Tabernacle Priesthood and Offerings (Fleming H. Revell Company: Westwood, NJ) 1925