Worship at the Manger

I will confess to you all now—I did not begin my annual Bible reading until this month!

I know, I know, shame and guilt be upon me (totally kidding!). But I do believe there is something holy about making a practice of discovering God’s Word all over again, year after year. I cannot fully explain that thought but I will leave it to my dead friend John Calvin to say (in the context of Communion, but it seemed suitable here), “I would rather experience it than understand it.”

I recently read Matthew 2 and the worship of the Three Wise Men really struck me in a new way. When they see Jesus’ star in the night sky, they load up the camels and journey to Bethlehem for one purpose: “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.”

Unfortunately, King Herod caught word of this and stirred an uproar in Jerusalem lest a king be crowned. He finds the Wise Men and commissions them to locate the star so that he too may “worship” Jesus. When the Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem and finally see the star hovering over the place where Jesus is, “…they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

For me, this is a portrait of what it means to truly know who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Simply take note of the order of their actions when they see Jesus in Mary’s arms:

1. Rejoice for Jesus
2. Worship Jesus
3. Give gifts to Jesus

That is a HUGE implication for us, and mind-blowingly significant! What does that mean? It means that they were deeply aware of what the Angel of the Lord revealed to Joseph, and had come to Bethlehem to receive that very promise:

“…for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20).

True worship, as demonstrated by the Wise Men and later explained by John Piper, is much more about receiving from God than it is giving to God. The Magi’s sole reason for going to Jesus was to joyfully receive through worship the promise of his kingship and the forgiveness of sins through his eventual death. They realized that in and of themselves they had nothing to offer this sin-forgiving Jesus, so they responded in a way that was most appropriate: humble worship.

Then after their worship (receiving) of Jesus, “opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

This tells us that it is important to offer the Lord what he so graciously gives us. He wants us to give him praise through our offerings, tithes, donations, time, and service. This is a really great thing to do! But this isn’t to be our initial response to Jesus. If we respond to Jesus, first and foremost, by offering him our time and money, then we aren’t responding at all. If someone offers you a free vacation to Hawaii but you deny the trip and offer them fifty dollars, not only have you disgraced the giver but you make yourself look really stupid. We’ve all done this and we still tend to think that fifty dollars means something.

With that said, I think it makes the Christian life just a little bit simpler when it comes to worship. It’s not what we have in our hands that pleases God, but the Savior he puts in our place. That’s the Christian life.

*All scripture quotations were taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) © 2011.

Shelton Brown
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