There is a real danger that we can become so familiar with the various characters surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ that we fail to be challenged by them any longer. There are few statements that ought to challenge us more, when we meet together in local assembly capacity, than those of the wise men from the east, ‘We … are come to worship him’, Matt. 2. 2. Worship ought to underpin our words and actions; however, it is often only a word that is upon our lips and genuine worship is absent from our gatherings.
The exercise of the wise men presents us, both individually and collectively, with some challenging questions as to the nature of our worship. True worship often comes from the most unlikely of sources; in this case, Gentiles from the East. It is worthy of note that the first teaching concerning worship in the New Testament was directed by the Saviour to a Samaritan woman! Genuine worship, when we meet together, does not necessarily come from those who are most prominent. The silent worship of women and the sincere, if hesitant, prayer of a young believer are heard in heaven and they make a significant contribution to collective worship.
It is interesting to observe in the scriptures that worship involves a journey, not simply in terms of measurable distance, but spiritually. The first mention of the word ‘worship’ is linked to the three-day journey that Abram undertook from Canaan to the land of Moriah; indeed, on reaching the location, he climbed a mountain before he worshipped, ‘I and the lad will go yonder and worship’, Gen. 22. 5. The second mention of the word appears in the account of the journey of Abram’s servant from Canaan to Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac. On receiving the approval of Laban and Bethuel that he could take Rebekah back with him to become Isaac’s bride, it is recorded that, ‘he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth’, 24. 52.
In all likelihood, the wise men travelled from Persia, or Babylon, to visit the Lord Jesus, a journey that took Ezra four months in Old Testament days. Each of these journeys was arduous and must have made great physical demands upon the travellers; however, they carried with them a deep spiritual burden that outweighed the physical demands. The spiritual, not the physical, journey was the motivation for the participants and thus they were rewarded. The outcome was sincere worship to God, who had led them all the way. The psalmist encourages us to make a similar journey, ‘Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him’, Ps. 45. 11. Abram, Isaac, Abram’s servant and the wise men left their homes behind in order to worship; indeed, it has often been observed that the nearer they got to the place of worship, the farther they were from home! How far from the cares of home are we when we meet for worship?
Sadly, we often need to be reminded that worship should be about a person, not people, nor a place. It is easy for us to be distracted by lesser things and driven by unworthy motives. Such a charge could not be levelled against the wise men. As they approached the end of their journey, they asked, ‘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’, Matt. 2. 2. On arrival, Matthew records of them, ‘And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him’, v. 11. Above anything and everyone else, it was ‘the young child’ who captured their attention and it was Him alone, not His mother, whom they worshipped. Luke tells us that the disciples, following the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, ‘worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’, Luke 24. 52. Does the Lord Jesus occupy the first place in our hearts when we come to worship?
The journey of the wise men was not aimless. They knew where they were heading, ‘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’, Matt. 2. 9. It was here that they worshipped and offered their gifts, i.e., where the Lord was in the midst. God gave them specific guidance by means of the special star that He had placed in the sky to lead them. Do we have a desire to gather together for worship in the place where God has chosen to set His name and where the Lord Jesus is in the midst? He has not left us without guidance in His word as to where and how we should meet. In Old Testament days, it was one thing (the temple) in one place (Jerusalem), John 4. 20; however, it is now one thing (the local church/assembly, gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus) in many places. Do we appreciate, when we gather, that the Lord is present in the midst?
It is possible to come together as local believers out of habit or custom. We can lose the freshness of the early days of our Christian experience. The wise men travelled with expectancy to meet the Lord Jesus. They spoke enthusiastically about what they had seen and enjoyed, ‘We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him’, Matt. 2. 2. It was real to their experience and they could not rest until they worshipped the One to whom the star pointed. Do we share Charles Wesley’s experience?
‘My heart is full of Christ, and longs
Its glorious matter to declare;
Of Him I make my loftier songs,
And cannot from His praise forbear’.
Firstly, the wise men worshipped with overflowing joy, ‘they rejoiced with exceeding great joy’, v. 10. In order to avoid the misguided excesses of other Christian groups in this direction, we can be guilty of robbing our worship of rightful joy. As a result, it can sound dull and repetitive. Secondly, they approached the Lord with deep reverence. Joyful worship must not, of course, lead to a lack of reverence. The wise men approached with reverential fear; they ‘fell down, and worshipped him’, v. 11. Although there is no set position for worship laid down in the New Testament, our bodily posture ought always to reflect the majesty of the One we are approaching. Casual language and appearance must be avoided. Thirdly, they came with their treasures, ‘and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh’, v. 11.
Their preparation, timing, actions and gifts were entirely fitting for the occasion. Their hearts were prepared for worship before they set out on their journey. Their timing was impeccable, which reflected the fact that they were led by God. They not only brought personal treasures, but they also opened and presented them. Not to have done so would have led to disappointment and a sense of failure at allowing the opportunity to worship pass them by. No one else in the house mattered to them or distracted them from their prime desire to worship the Lord. Their gifts revealed their deep appreciation of Him. Gold spoke of His deity, frankincense pointed to the fragrance of His holy life and myrrh proclaimed His suffering and death. We would do well to examine whether our worship reflects these same aspects of the Lord’s person and work. We should always come to the various meetings in the local assembly prepared to share, at the appropriate moment, the treasures that we have gleaned about the Lord Jesus.
It is of interest to note that Babylon’s merchandise in a future day will include, ‘gold … odours … and frankincense’, Rev. 18. 12, 13; however, it will come to nothing and its merchants will mourn the loss of them. Isaiah predicted the day when Gentiles will come to the Messiah with their gifts of gold, and incense; indeed, they will praise the Lord, Isa. 60. 6; however, there will be an absence of myrrh, since His sufferings will be a thing of the past when He reigns.
As far as the wise men were concerned, their one desire was to be obedient to the word of God, ‘And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way’, Matt. 2. 12. True worship will always ‘take you home another way’, spiritually speaking, from the way you came. The journey will not always be easy. For the wise men, it meant crossing the inhospitable and mountainous territory east of Bethlehem.
Once the wise men had made it known that they had come to worship Christ, Matthew records that Herod was ‘troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’, v. 3. Are those who live around where we gather aware that there is a worshipping community in their midst?