Happy Advent! Advent is a time that helps us prepare for the joy of Christmas. It is a focused time where we give attention to the Scriptures that involve the promised Messiah and that detail the events of His birth. The word “Advent” is derived from a Latin word that means “Coming.” During Advent we think about how the Jews waited for the coming Messiah, and on this side of His birth, death, and resurrection, we can look forward to Jesus’ coming again. I guess you could say in one way or another, God’s people have always been in a season of waiting and expectation. Be on the lookout during this Advent season for God to burst onto the scene of your life with some good news, some great joy, a miracle or two.
This past Wednesday, we prayed for Iris Aronson who was to have a biopsy the next day. Thursday morning, I went to see one of our other church members in ICU at Memorial Hospital, and as I turned the corner to turn into the hospital, there was Iris Aronson who was getting ready to walk across the street from her workplace to go to an ultrasound and biopsy. I honked and she waved, and we were both just so grateful that God orchestrated that special moment for us to see each other as she was on her way to her appointment.
One thing Iris and I had discussed the night before was the cost of the medical tests and how insurance only pays part. The doctor didn’t think there was anything truly wrong, but because of a history of cancer, they needed to be sure. So, here Iris was, going through expensive testing for what was probably nothing.
Well, shortly after seeing her on the corner I got a text from her. The doctor did an ultrasound and said, “I’m not going to do the biopsy. There is no need.” What a blessing for her—emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially. We both were overcome with rejoicing. You see, when you have given your troubles to God and you experience Him in the midst of trouble, you always have a reason to rejoice and worship. Christmas reminds us that we always have a wonderful reason to worship God. That’s what I want to talk to you about this morning. As we take a look at the intentions, words, and actions of the Wise Men, let’s ask ourselves what we can learn about the kind of worship that Christ deserves from us.
Matthew 2:1-12 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Worship involves preparation.
The Wise Men said in verse 2, “We have come to worship Jesus.” Worship wasn’t an afterthought. It was something they had planned to do. It’s why they had come to Bethlehem. When they left home, wherever home was, and they set out on their long trip to get to where the star would indicate, before they left their country, before they made the trip, they made a plan to worship Jesus once they found Him. They not only intended to worship with their hearts and mouths, but their worship would include a presentation of some valuables, some treasures that they would bring with them. It may be nothing for me or you to take extra things with us on a trip as we would just toss them in the trunk of our car and not think another thing about them, but these individuals carried these items with them as they either rode some animal or walked many, many miles to find Jesus.
There was something about the Christ-child that made it worth the trip the Wise Men made and in addition, called for the presentation of treasures. I don’t know if they had containers of gold, frankincense and myrrh just sitting around on their fireplace mantle or what it required of them to get the gifts ready, but this I do know, they weren’t showing up to worship Jesus empty-handed. They made preparations to worship the Lord.
Can I ask you, “Do you just come to church or do you come to worship?” Is there a mere curiosity about the things or God or do you come prepared to offer God your worship because you know that He is God? The Wise Men were set on meeting Jesus, and they were also set on worshiping Him.
How can we come prepared to worship the Lord each week in this place? We can be in prayer that God will enable us to encounter Him in an up-close and personal way for sure. The Wise Men weren’t going to be satisfied with standing outside of the place where Jesus was. They weren’t going to be OK with simply hearing from those on the inside of the house that Jesus was indeed there. No, they said they were going to see Jesus. They had made up their minds that they were going to see Him for themselves.
I want to encourage you to purpose in your mind that when you come to worship the Lord, that it will be a personal experience. Pray to see the Lord and encounter Him and to hear from Him. Ask God to give you spiritual eyes to see Him for yourself.
Come prepared with your Bible, whether a hard copy or one you have downloaded on your phone. Come prepared with a gift to give to Him. I do believe God is worthy of our financial gifts and that Scripture supports that we should honor God with our treasure, but He is also worthy of your song, your prayers, your adoration, your words of praise, your heart. Come ready to meet with Him.
Worship advances Christ’s reputation.
The Wise Men had come from another country to worship Jesus. Matthew wants us to know that the first people to worship Jesus weren’t Jews. They were Gentiles. Jesus’ entry into the world would now be spread beyond the Jewish community and beyond the nation of Israel. This idea of Jesus being the God for all of the nations was important to Matthew. He started his writing by allowing us to see that Jesus was for all people, and he ended in chapter 28 by recording Jesus’ words about making disciples of all nations.
One prophecy that had been spoken about the coming Messiah was that nations and kings would come to Him. Look at this Messianic prophesy from Isaiah 60:3 “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” The very fact that these Wise Men traveled from another nation to see Jesus gives added proof that He was the Messiah. He was not just the King of the Jews. He was and is the King for the Nations! Word would spread to eastern countries through the Wise Men as they returned home that the promised Messiah had been born.
We also see that Jesus’ birth was being made known quickly to people in authority. Before the Wise Men even got to see Him they were telling Herod about His birth. Herod then called all of the chief priests and teachers of the law together to discuss the situation. Word was getting around quickly.
I don’t know exactly how the Wise Men got their information about the Messiah-King’s birth. It is likely that it had to do with prophecies that were shared during the time of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon. But at any rate, when the Wise Men started asking questions, Herod immediately had questions of his own. He wasn’t just interested in Jesus’ kingship, but he was interested in Jesus’ Messiah-ship. In verse 3 where Herod asks the chief priests and teachers of the law about Jesus’ birth, he used the word in verse 3 that the NIV Bible interprets as Christ, but it is the word for Messiah. The Wise Men only asked where the King of the Jews had been born. Herod, putting 2 and 2 together, thinking that if these men had traveled from a distant country to see the King of the Jews, perhaps this infant-king was more than merely an earthly king. He got some leaders together to ask about what the Scriptures said regarding the coming Messiah.
At this point, Herod had been called the “King of the Jews” for almost 40 years, but no one had ever called him, “Messiah.” The word “Messiah” had an even more powerful connotation than King. It meant “long-awaited one.” It meant “God-anointed ruler.” It meant someone was coming to change history and to establish the Kingdom of God. It meant someone would come whose reign would never end. Jesus’ reputation was quite big and was growing even while He was still quite small.
That is the nature of worship. It prompts questions about Jesus. It calls people to investigate Him. Worship brings revelation about who Jesus is. It increases people’s understanding of why He is worthy to be adored. John 12:32 isn’t a Scripture about worship. It is a Scripture about the cross, but Jesus’ words have an application for worship. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Notice the emphasis on the word, “all.” All people can be drawn to Jesus as we lift Him up.
When we worship the Lord, people can see Him for who He is. Some, like Herod, will be repelled, but many, many others will be drawn. How many of you, by a show of hands, were drawn to Christ and accepted Christ in the context of a worship service? Worship is powerful, right? It has an attractional power that enables people to see Jesus.
Worship includes demonstration.
When the Wise Men reached Jesus, they bowed down and offered their gifts to Jesus. When you look at the primary Hebrew word for worship it literally means “to bow down.” There was more than respect being demonstrated when the Wise Men bowed. It was worship. Even the original Greek word that is used in the NT has a similar understanding that bowing = worship.
It was common in the ancient world to bow as a sign of submission or to bow as a sign of respect in the presence of a powerful leader. There are biblical examples of that as well (Gen. 41:42-43 and II Sam. 14:22). It is what they “knew” to do, so it makes sense that it would also be protocol to bow in worship. Bowing would show honor and respect, but bowing demonstrated more than that.
When you bow before someone what can’t you do? (I will be on my knees here.) You can’t defend yourself, right? Not with your face to the ground, you can’t. You can’t ward off an attacker. When you bow before someone, you are literally saying, “My life is in YOUR hands. I am under YOUR protection. I depend upon YOUR power to keep me safe.”
I’m not suggesting we get rid of our sanctuary chairs and all go to worship on our knees, but I am telling you that our worship needs to demonstrate that we are willingly placing our lives in God’s hands because we trust His power and protection to guard and preserve our lives.
The Bible tells us in Philippians 2 that one day, every person will bow before Jesus and hail Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Because we already claim and confess Him as Lord, our worship should demonstrate that reality. Bowing isn’t always physical. It may involve the bowing of our hearts. It could be as simple as the bowing of our heads. But there is no true worship without the kind of posture that exalts Jesus as Supreme, Ultimate and worthy of the worship of every man, woman, boy, and girl. When our worship involves a sincere demonstration we are acknowledging that God alone sits on the throne.
This act of bowing is the demonstration that is going on in Heaven as angels are bowing before the throne of God 24/7. Psalm 95:6-7 6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. When we worship the Lord, we are acknowledging the relationship we have with Him.
Worship provides direction.
Verse 12 of Matthew 2 tells us that the Wise Men were warned in a dream to go home by another route. I don’t know at what point one of the Wise Men had a dream or if they all had a dream, but if you follow the story chronologically, it would seem that they were warned after they worshiped. Worship connects us with God in a way that enables us to receive direction for our lives. Worship is something we do on a soul level. When we connect with God soul-to-soul, when we engage in the behavior of Heaven, we are given clarity to hear from God.
We all need the perspective of Heaven for our lives, and one way we receive it is by emptying ourselves in worship and taking in fresh revelation from God. There was actually a time when the Kings of Israel, Judea and Edom were teaming up to go to war against the nation of Moab and they were in a desert for seven days without water. They started to get worried that they wouldn’t live to fight, but a servant of God named Jehoshaphat decided to ask the prophet Elisha to help them connect with God. Notice how Elisha goes about connecting with God over this dilemma:
2 Kings 3:14-20 14 Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you. 15 But now bring me a harpist.” While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha 16 and he said, “This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. 17 For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. 18 This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD; he will also hand Moab over to you. 19 You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones.” 20 The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was–water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water.
Isn’t that interesting? Before Elisha expected God to speak, he offered worship to Him. Worship releases God to move, to speak, to act. The vision Isaiah had in chapter 6 was a vision of heavenly worship. From that worship encounter, he was sent by God to speak for Him. Zechariah was in the midst of his worship duties as a priest when he was visited by an angel who told him that he and his wife were going to have John the Baptist, the cousin and forerunner of Jesus. John was given the visions he wrote in the book of Revelation in the context of worship.
Acts 16:14 talks about a woman named Lydia. She was specifically called a worshiper of God. Paul didn’t just say she was a convert or a believer, but that she was a worshiper, and we read there in Acts 16:14 that the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. She, a worshiper, was being impacted by God, her heart was being given the capacity to respond to God through Paul, as she worshiped. To those of you who are here this morning, who have not yet made a profession of faith, I encourage you to take a step of faith and worship with us. As you do, I believe God will bring understanding to you and give you the capacity to respond to Him. Maybe you believe some or want to believe it all, but you don’t yet have the capacity to receive God in the way He wants you to take Him in. Start to worship Him by faith.
As you worship, ask God to give you direction for your life. Ask Him to warn you of dangers and prepare you for whatever challenge is ahead. Ask Him to speak to you about people you need to be in contact with and ask Him to give you clarity on decisions you need to make. I find that God speaks to me often as we worship to tell me to trust Him or to receive His peace or to cast my cares on Him and get rid of the things that are stressing me out.
God spoke to me last week during worship and told me we needed to sing part of “Glorious Day” again. There was a release someone needed or an experience someone needed that would come as we stayed in that moment. This past Wednesday, God spoke to me during the worship service as Susan Paxton stood to testify that God had delivered her from anxiety. God told me that Susan’s testimony was for someone specific and I said so. Well, that person came to me after the service to tell me how she had been plagued with anxiety, and we had an opportunity to pray together for God’s deliverance in her life.
Yes, God is very present and active when we are worshiping Him. It isn’t just that we do something, and He sits back and listens and says, “Isn’t that wonderful? They are singing about Me. How awesome it is that they are clapping for Me. How beautiful it is that they are praying to Me.” No. He comes down when we worship. He manifests His presence when we worship. He heals when we worship. He calls to us when we worship. He gives us revelation and information when we worship. He teaches us about who He is when we worship. He comforts our hearts when we worship. He gives us boldness when we worship. Worship is not a one-sided experience. It is an exchange not only of our devotion to God, but His devotion to us as well.
This Advent let’s come ready to worship. Let’s prepare ourselves to give of our best to the Lord. Let’s come with a desire to advance Jesus’ reputation, to spread the Good News about the Messiah’s birth to all people. Let’s not hold back in any way, but let’s demonstrate what is in our hearts as we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, according to the way the Spirit is working in us, and let’s expect Him to give us wisdom and direction for our lives so that we can further share with others what He has done for us. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!