We're going to look at a song and a passage. The passage is from Matthew. The song was written by Henry Hopkins, Jr.
First, the song.
This is a song that should never be sung during Advent. It's about an event that took place well after Jesus was born. When we get to Matthew 2, we'll see how it's safe to assume that this event happened when Jesus was between one and two. Probably.
Let's start with Epiphany. Epiphany is the last of the twelve days of Christmas, marking in the liturgical calendar when the Wise Men visited Jesus. Specifically, it celebrates the gift of Jesus for Gentiles, as represented by the Magi.
Typically, in the 1800s, Epiphany marked the day when the Christmas tree
was taken down. On that day, January 6, children received gifts and treats that had been hanging on the tree.
In 1857, Henry Hopkins, Jr. was an ordained Episcopalian priest who also held a law degree as well as writing for a newspaper. He never married and had no children. But he had many nieces and nephews. That year, he wanted to give them a gift that would both entertain and educate. So he wrote We Three Kings.
As we'll see, the song is a work of imagination inspired by God's Word. It is rich in theology.
The second verse contains the affirmation, "King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign." In other words, this king has been born to rule for eternity.
The third verse deals with the three gifts and what they symbolize:
Gold = The crown that the king would forever wear.
Frankincense = Aromatic used in worship.
Myrrh = Burial spice used to mask the smell of death that eventually blooms. As Mark 15:23 reports, it was also a medicinal spice.
The last verse speaks of the assurance we get from why Jesus was born:
Glorious now behold him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia! Alleluia! sounds thro' the earth and skies.
Here is the affirmation that Jesus was born to die for our sins. And his resurrection was God's seal of assurance that his death saves all those who believe in him. In song, Hopkins tells the amazing story of our Savior's birth, life, death, and resurrection. Amen?
As things happen, We Three Kings grew in popularity, so much so that by the turn of the century, churches decided to include carols in hymnals. And now you know the story behind the music.
Let's now move on to Matthew 2:1-12.
There are three truths that Matthew wants us to see in this story about
Christ and worship.
Verses one and two begin with:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “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.”
We know what they didn't know. It's about a child destined to be King of the Jews. Now, in and of itself, if you're only talking about an earthly understanding of kingship, that would be an amazing thing. Right now there are probably three or four children under the age of 18 who are going to be President of the United States someday. But nobody really cares about that in 2020. There's no one searching for those three or four children.
But verse four makes it clear that at least one person was concerned about what the Magi were up to:
And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired
of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem
of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet."
Herod had been named "King of the Jews" nearly 40 years earlier by the Roman government. But never Messiah. Herod had never been mistaken for Messiah. Messiah meant something completely different. It would mark the end of earthly kingdoms. The Messiah would usher in the kingdom of God and His eternal reign.
Now, we don't know how the Magi came by their information. They were not Jewish. They most likely did not adhere to a monotheistic system of belief. They were astrologers. They were magicians. They came from Persia, or what is now called Iran. They were probably dream interpreters for royalty. In every sense of the word, they were pagans. They engaged in practices that were most definitely condemned in the Old Testament. Oh, and there were more than two but most likely fewer than ten or twelve of them. The most important thing to remember is they were far from the kinds of people you would expect to find in a Christian birth story.
So, Herod is concerned about these traveling pagans. They were like a Brotherhood of Traveling Pagans.
Unlike people like Anna and Simeon, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the
Baptist, whose stories are told by Luke, Herod was clueless about what God's Word said about much of anything. He was a Jew in name only. That's why he had to call his advisers together to tell him what was going on. Here's what unfolded:
And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Their focus is specifically on Micah 5:2 and 6. Here's what's interesting. While Herod asked a simple question - where - he was given a more detailed answer.
Here's all of verse 2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Do you catch the fullness of it? So this king is not just coming into the world in the womb of his mother Mary. "His coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." Here's how John 1:1 puts it - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This king will be great to the ends of the earth.
Here's the first thing we learn about worship from Matthew 2:
Jesus Christ is to be Worshiped by All People.
Notice who Matthew leaves out of his birth narrative. The Shepherds. His immediate focus is on foreigners…gentiles, not just Jews.
Here's something to keep in mind about Matthew. In Matthew 28:16-20 we
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That completes the bookend began with the Magi. All the nations came to worship Jesus and then Jesus' followers were sent out to bring all the nations to him. As Isaiah 60:3 says, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising."
The second thing we learn about worship from Matthew 2 is:
God Exerts His Sovereign Authority Over the Universe to Make His Son Known and Worshiped.
How did the Magi know where to go? How did they find where God needed them to be? Right…they followed a star.
How did all this happen? We don't know. Do we really have to know the
mechanics of it all? Over the years, many people have tried to astronomically explain the existence of the star. They've considered alignments of planets or comets or supernovas or other kinds of space lights. But no one really knows. All kinds of fanciful speculations, but no one really knows. In the end, it has very little spiritual significance.
I encourage you not to become preoccupied with such trivialities. It's like people who get all caught up in the latest book about someone who died and what they said about heaven. Absolutely unnecessary and irrelevant to our Christian faith. The same goes for trying to figure out the star, or how the Red Sea was parted, or where the manna came from or how Jonah survived in the belly of a whale or how old the earth is. John Piper calls these things a mentality of the marginal. None of these endeavors leads one to cherish the great core themes of the Bible…the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of humankind, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the glory of Christ's return and the final judgment. Exploring things like stars is a sidetrack that is hardly centered on rejoicing.
Here is what is plainly happening with the star. The star is doing something that it cannot do on its own. It is guiding the Magi to worship Jesus. There is only one Person in the Bible who can make stars do what they don't usually do - God Himself. So the point is clear. God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And He is doing it by exerting His power to get it done. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get pagan Magi to Bethlehem so they can worship Jesus.
That was God's design. He did it. And God is doing it still. Wherever it happens…whenever it happens…God is at work bringing people to worship Jesus Christ. And we are part of that miracle. The Magi came and saw. We are called to go-and-tell. It's that beautiful bookend. And it is the beauty of God's sovereign purpose working in our lives and world.
Finally, the third thing we learn from Matthew 2 about worship is:
Worshiping Jesus Means Joyfully Bringing Him Sacrificial Gifts.
Here's what the text tells us they did:
First, they give Jesus all the honor and glory by calling him King of the Jews.
Second, as verse 11 describes it, they fell down and worshiped him.
Third, verse 10 says they rejoiced with great rejoicing. What was their joy about? They were on their way to worship the Messiah. Their worship of Jesus was desirable and overwhelming and compelling. Does joyful describe your worship of Jesus?
Fourth, as part of their worship, they joyfully gave sacrificial gifts to Jesus. Jesus was their treasure.
Here's a joyful encouragement from Charles Spurgeon:
Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting to-morrow, celebrate your Savior's birth; do not be ashamed to be glad; you have a right to be happy.
Our prayer is that God will use the truth of Matthew 2 to awaken in us a deeper desire to know and love and worship and serve Jesus Christ more and more each day.