Summary: The wise men encountered three obstacles as they sought to worship Christ - distance, unbelief, and lowliness. So do we.
MATTHEW 2:1-12: WISE MEN AND OVERCOME WORSHIP OBSTACLES (Distance, unbelief, lowliness)
“Let’s worship God.” “Welcome to worship.” “Come and worship Christ on Christmas.” We use the word “worship” a great deal around here. What does it mean to “worship” God? What pictures fly into your mind as you think of “worship”? It is true, we believe that the believer’s whole life is an act of worship. But today, we are talking about the public worship service. The 9:30 AM moment. What are the ingredients to worship?
Well, we have our padded chairs, our music and singing, our praying, our standing and sitting. We have a sermon. Twice a month we have communion. Sometimes a baptism. That’s worship, right? There is one thing, though, that is a part of coming to worship – something you experience probably every time you come to worship. Do you know what that is?
The “wise men,” as we call them, experienced that other part. Their goal was to worship the Christ, just as it is your goal when you come here on Sunday morning. They brought their offerings, just as you bring your offerings. They bowed their head, just as you bow your head. But there was something else they experienced that you experience too – the forgotten part of coming to worship – do you know what that is?
It will become clear as we see study their story. They are called the “magi” in our text for today – highly educated men, students of the stars. They lived somewhere east of Israel, perhaps from Persia or Arabia. Somehow, they knew that a Messiah, the Christ, would eventually be born in Bethlehem. And then one day, God caused a special star to appear to them. And as those wise men studied that star, God revealed to them that this was a sign that the Christ had been born.
These men were thrilled! They decided to travel to Israel to see the Christ with their own eyes. Traditionally, we always think of three wise men, but in reality, we don’t know if there were three or thirty. They packed up their camels, their servants, and the whole entourage headed west, to the land of the Messiah, because they wanted to worship the Christ.
Part of their worship was overcoming the obstacle of distance. They didn’t live right next store to Bethlehem. This was going to be a big trip. Probably expensive, time consuming. They would have to put forth a lot of effort – distance was an obstacle. But for the Magi, it was worth it.
Distance is a worship obstacle that many people today don’t overcome. I laugh to myself when I think of the experience our outreach team had the week before Christmas. We had four college students drop off 5000 flyers in the city of LaPorte. On the south side of LaPorte, on 21st or 22nd street, one of the residents there said to our outreach team, “”Where is your church?” The college student told her that we are located on the north side of LaPorte, to which the LaPortean said, “Why would I want to go way up there? That’s too far – too far away!” In a small town like LaPorte, that’s really a ridiculous thing to say. And when you think of the distance the wise men traveled to worship the Christ, you realize that true Christians will overcome distance to worship their Savior.
As the wise men traveled, they encountered another obstacle – unbelief. They arrived in Jerusalem, and no one seemed to know or care that the Messiah was born. I’m sure the wise men looked at each other and said, “I can’t believe no one knows or cares about the Christ!” They visited the king, Herod. He didn’t have a clue. In fact, he was disturbed by the news, and all Jerusalem with him. The Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law were there. They knew what the Bible said about the Messiah – that he would be born in Bethlehem, but you could see that they didn’t believe. There was no faith in Jerusalem, no joy that Christ was born. No one believed. No one cared. You would think that the wise men would have been discouraged by all this unbelief, but that weren’t. They headed to Bethelehem.
And as they sought to worship Christ, they encountered yet another obstacle – lowliness. Bethlehem was a lowly place – a little cow town just outside of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph were lowly people – common peasants. I’m sure it was obvious to the wise men that Mary and Joseph weren’t the king and queen of Israel. And Jesus – just a lowly baby, nothing special to look at.
Do you see the obstacles the wise men had to overcome to worship the Christ? Distance, unbelief, lowliness - all those things could have discouraged the magi, caused them to turn back. But for them, Christ was worth it. We are told, “when they saw the star (stop over the place where the child was), they were overjoyed.” They rushed to the house, and bowed down and worshiped the Christ. They presented him with their gifts. They pushed those obstacles aside and worshiped their Savior.