December 21, 1997
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Fourth Sunday of Advent
WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM
John Piper, Pastor
(Matthew 2:1-12) Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the
days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where
is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and
have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes
of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They
said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written
by the prophet: 6 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST
AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL
SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL."' 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and
determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to
Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you
have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."
9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had
seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place
where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with
great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother;
and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures,
they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having
been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their
own country by another way.
There are at least five truths that Matthew wants us to see in this story about
Christ and worship
1) Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and should be honored as such.
2) Jesus is to be worshiped not just by Jews, but by all the nations of the
world, as represented by the wise men from the east.
3) God wields the universe to make his Son known and worshiped. This is his
great goal in all things - that his Son be known and worshiped.
4) Jesus is troubling to people who do not want to worship him and brings out
opposition for those who do.
5) Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority and dignity to Christ
with sacrificial gifts.
1. Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and Should be Honored
Verse 2 announces clearly whom this story is really about: "Where is He
who has been born King of the Jews?" It's about a newborn child destined
to be King of the Jews. Now, in itself that would not be a very great thing.
Somewhere alive in America today there are probably three or four children or
young people under the age of 18 who are going to be President of the United
States some day. But nobody really cares about this, or sets out to find them
or honor them.
But verse 4 makes clear what the magi really mean by "King of the Jews."
It says, "Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people,
[Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born."
Herod had been called "king of the Jews" by the Senate in Rome for
almost 40 years. But no one called him Messiah. Messiah means the long-awaited
God-anointed Ruler, who would overcome all other rule, and bring in the end
of history, and establish the kingdom of God and never die or lose his reign.
We don't know how the wise men got their information that there was such a
king coming. But it is clear that Herod got the message: these fellows are not
searching for a mere, ordinary, human successor to me. They are searching for
the final King, to end all kings. And, of course, unlike Anna and Simeon in
Luke 2, that is the last thing Herod was looking for. He didn't even know the
simple Scriptures about where the Messiah was to be born.
So he asks the scribes, and the one text that they focus on is Micah 5:2,6
"And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders
of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd my people
Israel." Now that doesn't sound very extraordinary either. The reason is
that the only purpose for which the scribes quoted the text was to answer Herod's
And the answer is Bethlehem.
But what if Herod had asked them, "Who?"
They might have read on in Micah 5:
"(2) His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. . .
(4) And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in
the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at
that time He will be great to the ends of the earth." So this king is not
just coming into being in the womb of his mother Mary. "His goings forth
are from long ago, from the days of eternity."
Or, as John's Gospel says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). And this king would not
be limited in his realm to Israel. "He will be great to the ends of the
That's the first truth and this is why worship is on their mind! And it leads
us to the second truth in this text about the Messiah.
2. Jesus is to be Worshiped not just by Jews, but by all the Nations
of the World, as Represented by the Wise Men from the East.
Notice that Matthew does not tell us about the shepherds coming to visit Jesus
in the stable. His focus is immediately on foreigners coming from the east to
worship Jesus. Verse 1: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea
in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?'"
So Matthew's Gospel portrays Jesus at the beginning and ending of his Gospel
as a universal Messiah for the nations, not just for Jews. Here the first worshipers
are court magicians or astrologers or wise men not from Israel but from the
East - perhaps from Babylon. They were gentiles. Unclean. And at the end of
Matthew the last words of Jesus are, "All authority has been given to Me
in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations."
This not only opened the door for us gentiles to rejoice in the Messiah, it
added proof that he was the Messiah. Because one of the repeated prophecies
was that the nations and kings would, in fact, come to him as the ruler of the
world. For example, Isaiah 60:3, "Nations will come to your light, and
kings to the brightness of your rising."
So Matthew adds proof to the messiahship of Jesus and shows that he is
messiah - a King, and Promise-Fulfiller - for all the nations, not just Israel.
For us, not just Jews.
3. God Wields the Universe to Make his Son Known and Worshiped. This
is His Great Goal in all Things - that His Son be Known and Worshiped.
Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things
happened. How did this "star" get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?
It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw
a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem.
And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem
to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand "over the
place where the Child was"? The answer is: We do not know.
There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets
or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don't know.
And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories
that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.
I risk a generalization to warn you: people who are exercised and preoccupied
with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the
manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are
generally people who have what I call a “mentality for the marginal”.
You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the
the holiness of God,
the ugliness of sin,
the helplessness of man,
the death of Christ,
justification by faith alone,
the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
the glory of Christ's return and the final judgment.
They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or new
tape or book. There is little centered rejoicing.
But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something
that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship
him. There is only one Person in Biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality
in the stars - God himself.
So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him.
And he is doing it by exerting global - probably even universal - influence
and power to get it done. Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire
so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfil
prophecy with her delivery.
Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem
so that they can worship him.
This is God's design.
He did it then.
He is still doing it now.
His aim is that the nations - all the nations (Matthew 24:14) - worship his
This is God's will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood
and in your home. As John 4:23 says, "Such the Father seeks to worship
At the beginning of Matthew we still have a "come-see" pattern.
But at the end the pattern is "go-tell".
The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell. But what is not different is that
the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The
magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations, the reason the
4. Jesus is Troubling to People Who do not Want to Worship Him and
He Brings out Opposition for those Who do.
This is probably not a main point in the mind of Matthew, but it is inescapable
as the story goes on. In this story there are two kinds of people who do not
want to worship Jesus, the Messiah. The first kind is the people who simply
do nothing about Jesus. He is a nonentity in their lives. This group is represented
by the chief priests and scribes. Verse 4: "Gathering together all the
chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the
Messiah was to be born." Well, they told him, and that was that: back to
business as usual. The sheer silence and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming
in view of the magnitude of what was happening. And notice, verse 3 says, "When
Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
In other words, the rumor was going around that someone thought the Messiah
was born. The inactivity on the part of chief priests is staggering - why not
go with the Magi? They are not interested. They do not want to worship the true
The second kind of people who do not want to worship Jesus is the kind who
is deeply threatened by him. That is Herod in this story. He is really afraid.
So much so that he schemes and lies and then commits mass murder just to get
rid of Jesus.
So today these two kinds of opposition will come against Christ and his worshipers.
Indifference and hostility. Are you in one of those groups? Let this Christmas
be the time when you reconsider the Messiah and ponder what it is to worship
So let me close with that, the fifth truth in this story. What is worship in
5.Worshiping Jesus Means Joyfully Ascribing Authority and Dignity to
Christ with Sacrificial Gifts.
There are four pieces to that definition of worship, and all four are grounded
in this text.
First, I see the magi ascribing authority to Christ by calling him "King
of the Jews" in verse 2: "Where is He who has been born King of the
Second, I see the magi ascribing dignity to him by falling down before him
in verse 11: "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary
His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him." Falling to
the ground is what you do to say to someone else: you are high and I am low.
You have great dignity and I am lowly by comparison.
Third, I see the joy in these ascriptions of authority and dignity in verse
10: "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."
Now this is a quadruple way of saying they rejoiced. It would have been much
to say they rejoiced. More to say they rejoiced with joy. More to say they rejoiced
with great joy. And even more to say they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
And what was all this joy about? - they were on their way to the Messiah. They
were almost there. I cannot avoid the impression then that true worship is not
just ascribing authority and dignity to Christ; it is doing this joyfully. It
is doing it because you have come to see something about Christ that is so desirable
that being near him to ascribe authority and dignity to him personally is overwhelmingly
And the fourth part of the definition of worship here is that we do our ascribing
with sacrificial gifts. Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority
and dignity to Christ with sacrificial gifts.
Now we have learned in this series on worship that God is not served by human
hands as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25). So the gifts of the magi are
not given by way of assistance or need-meeting. It would dishonor a monarch
if foreign visitors came with royal care-packages. Nor are these gifts meant
to be bribes. Deuteronomy 10:17 says that God takes no bribe. Well, what then
do they mean? How are they worship?
The gifts are intensifiers of desire for Christ himself in much the same way
that fasting is. When you give a gift to Christ like this, it's a way of saying,
"The joy that I pursue (verse 10!) is not the hope of getting rich with
things from you. I have not come to you for your things, but for yourself. And
this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things, in the hope
of enjoying you more, not things. By giving to you what you do not need, and
what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, 'You
are my treasure, not these things.'" I think that's what it means to worship
God with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
And so may God take the truth of this text and waken in us a desire for Christ
May we say from the heart, "Lord Jesus you are the Messiah, the King of
Israel. All nations will come and bow down before you. God wields the world
to see that you are worshiped.
Therefore, whatever opposition I may find, I joyfully ascribe authority and
dignity to you, and bring my gifts to say that you alone can satisfy my heart,
Copyright 1997 John Piper
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