December 18, 2016
Let me ask two questions? Where is your life heading and what kind of person are you becoming? I realize that for many these questions just sort of take care of themselves in the daily living out of our lives.
From time to time we may try to make changes in our lives. We might go on a diet or start a workout program. We might go back to school or look for a new job. We might get married or have children. All of these things bring change to our lives. But where is your life actually headed. And what type of person are you becoming in your character, conduct and conversation.
But here is an important third question? Does the direction in your life have any ultimate consequence? Does the person you are becoming have any ultimate significance? That is a spiritual kind of question. In other words what bearing does the direction of your life have in relationship to God? As we consider the story of the wise men I want to say that the birth of Jesus Christ offers a new direction for our lives.
I. JESUS CHRIST COMPELS OUR WORSHIP. Mt.2:1-11
The wise men were well versed in astronomy, astrology, dream interpretation and other secret arts. Most think they were from Babylon. When they saw the appearance of a unique star in the sky, they consulted and concluded that it signified the birth of one who was born King of the Jews. In the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Ben Witherington III writes, “It was also widely believed during this era that stars heralded the birth of human beings destined for greatness, and in fact both Suetonius and Tacitus [who were Roman historians] tell us that at the turn of the era there was an expectation of a world-ruler who would come from Judea.” It is also possible that the Wise men had access to the Jewish Scriptures, providing them with additional prophetic information. Perhaps they concluded that this king was of the line of David. At any rate they decided to take a trip to Jerusalem in order to worship this king.
This is pretty amazing. Here are Gentile astrologers coming to pay homage to a baby they believed to be the King of the Jews. They were compelled by the anticipated greatness of this baby. And notice that in their coming to worship, they brought expensive gifts. Notice also that these wise men did not make the journey to get something for themselves. I’m not saying that they did not benefit in any way, but clearly their intention was not selfish. They worshiped Jesus because of who he is.
What compels our worship? This is a significant question because in this passage we find another statement of intent to worship Jesus. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem they began asking around about where they could find the one who was born king of the Jews as if everyone should know. Eventually King Herod heard about this and he was alarmed. Herod was known to deal ruthlessly with any perceived threat to his throne. So he called the Jewish religious leaders and asked about where the Christ, the Messiah was to be born. They knew the answer from the prophet, Micah. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then secretly called the wise men to himself and asked them about when the star had appeared. In v.8 it says he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Yes, Herod said that he also wanted to worship Jesus.
Not everyone who intends to or claims to worship Jesus really worships him. We know that Herod thought it was in his best interest to get rid of Jesus. He intended to kill Jesus. At the heart of Herod’s thinking was self-interest, selfish ambition, and self-protection. Herod intended to do whatever it took to protect and promote his kingdom.
And that really is the struggle when it comes to worship. When we live to promote our own kingdom we will have a difficult time worshiping God and his Son, Jesus. Perhaps you have known a business man or woman who is a faithful member of a church because not only is it of spiritual benefit, but it is also good for business. And of course we are all aware of how politicians court the religious vote by showing up in church and claiming to be Christian, even born again. Worshiping Jesus is good for one’s political career! And then some profess to worship God and Jesus because they made a promise to go to church or because it is expected of them and it gives them a certain standing in their community, or because they get a good feeling when they are in church. They may even be regular contributors, giving gifts to Jesus and his church.
I would not presume to judge anyone on this, but when a person worships Jesus for any of those reasons, it is not God or Jesus they are worshipping. In fact they are worshipping themselves. They are doing whatever it takes to promote their own well-being and self-interest. When we put our career, our family, our health, our pleasure, our wealth, our possessions, our associations first we are not able to worship Jesus. In fact we make Jesus a decided second in our life. Our religion is like that of Israel of old. Israel performed all the sacred duties and rituals but their heart was not in it. They were seeking to be in control of their lives and God. They were managing their religion thinking that all was well. But all was not well. One might think that the ears of the chief priests and scribes would have perked up when they heard about a king of the Jews that was born, but there was little interest.
The wise men, on the other hand, showed great interest. Not only did they undertake an inconvenient journey to Jerusalem, when the star appeared again, v.10 says they rejoiced exceedingly. In v.11 it says that when they saw the child with Mary, they fell down and worshiped him. They worshiped him because of who he is. He is Christ the Lord.
When a person comes to understand and embrace the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he is the Savior from sin and brokenness, that he is the Lord of heaven and earth, that person will be compelled to worship him with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Why are you here this morning? Are you here because it is the Christmas season? Are you here because it’s been awhile since you’ve been in church? Are you here because you have to be? Are you here because you feel guilty about something you’ve done? Or are you here because you are compelled to worship Christ the Lord?
II. JESUS CHRIST COMPELS OUR OBEDIENCE. Mt.2:12
Having accomplished what they came to do, the wise men prepared to go home. As far as we know they intended to return to Herod and let him know where the new king could be found. Of course that would not have been in the best interest of Jesus. So God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
According to the angel in Mt.1:21, Jesus came into this world to save his people from their sins. Jesus did not come out of his own best interest. He came with our best interest in mind. All of us are separated from God because of our unwillingness to give God our wholehearted worship. We have put other gods before God. That reality is seen in our willful disobedience to his good commands. Disobedience is sin. To be separated from God is to be separated from life. God is the giver of life. So to be separated from God is to be headed for eternal death. But through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we can receive his eternal kind of life today. Jesus died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sins. He died for our sins so that through him we can have our sins forgiven and receive his eternal, resurrection life right now.
But how do we enter into the new life that Jesus has made possible? Well, hearing the good news of life in Christ, we go in a new direction. We turn away or repent of our sins and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus to be saved. In other words we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord, becoming a follower, a disciple of Jesus. We do this by putting our confidence, our faith in Jesus, believing that what he says he will do.
Then we begin to live out the life that he gives to us, which is eternal life in the kingdom of God. If we want to know what it looks like to live out the life given to us by Jesus, we need to consider how Jesus lived his life. Reading the Gospels will help us here. In the Gospels we learn about Jesus. Not only that, but the rest of the New Testament will help to clarify what life under the lordship of Christ looks like. In other words we seek to obey the good commands of Jesus in the way we live. All of his commands are for our best interest. Learning to live like Jesus would live if he were you, is the best possible life one could ever seek to live. Now, entering into life with Christ and through Christ is exactly that. It is entering into a new way of living. And when you enter into a new way of living it will involve changes in your character, conduct and conversation. The wise men were told by God to not return to Herod. They obeyed. Well, can you think of any specific commands given to us by Jesus? If you were to take some time to sit down and write out the various commands of Jesus, would you be able to make a list? Of course if you said, “love one another,” that would be a little too easy. Do you know what Jesus has commanded? Do you trust God and Jesus enough to seek to obey them? Jesus has given us his good commands because he has our best interest at heart.
Now let me flip this idea around. When we seek to live in obedience to Jesus we have his best interest at heart. Jesus said that his followers are the light of the world. The way we live in our character, conduct, and conversation reveals to all that we are followers of Jesus or not. Are you growing in your ability to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Don’t just assume that you are. Evaluate your life. Are you learning to respond in a gracious way when you are irritated? Does your language show that Christ is Lord of your life? And when you mess up in these areas, do you acknowledge the sin and apologize? Do you seek to make things right?
You see, we must not presume upon the grace of God if we are not intentional about living in the way of Jesus. It will require intentionality because this world will not help us.
If we submit ourselves to Christ as Lord it means that we acknowledge Christ as our King. He is a wonderful King to serve because he has given his life in our behalf. When we give our lives in his behalf our life can only get better and better because the more like Christ we become the deeper our love for God and joy in God will be. I am not talking about perfection here. I am talking about intention and effort as we rely upon the strength given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The wise men were guided in the right direction by the star given by God. The wise men were guided in the right direction by the warning given to them by God in a dream. They took the guidance they were given and went in a new direction. Maybe you have been using the wrong road map for your life. Instead of relying on yourself or the way of the world, you need to look to Jesus. The birth of Jesus Christ offers a new direction for your life. It is the road to life. Amen