An Invitation to Adoration (Matthew 2:1-11)(O Come All Ye Faithful)
Passage: Matthew 2:1–2:11
An Invitation to Adoration
December 20th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. Who are the “Faithful”?
We just sang the words, but who is that song addressing?
“O come, all ye faithful…” It doesn’t say, “Come, all ye sinners”. It doesn’t say, “Come, all ye needy”. It doesn’t say “Come, all ye powerful, and respected, and beautiful, and righteous.” It says “Come, all ye faithful”.
Who are these “faithful” the song writer is addressing, that he is beckoning?
As we have been doing in weeks past, this morning I want us to look more carefully at this Christmas carol. I want us to go ‘behind the music’ and see how God’s word has inspired and can help us better understand, and more fully sing, this beautiful song.
II. Behind the Music: “O Come All Ye Faithful”
So what do we know about this song, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”? Well of all the carols, this one might have the most misattributions in regard to its writer.
For many years the Latin version of the song was believed to be the work of some unknown cleric from the Middle Ages. Some legends attributed it to St. Bonaventure. Then, sometime around 1860, a London organist claimed that a man named John Redding had composed the melody. Redding eventually did take credit for the tune, even though he was not the true composer. It has also been known as the “Portuguese Hymn”, which has led some to believe that an unknown writer from Portugal was behind the song.
All of this confusion is baffling because the true songwriter, John Francis Wade, published the song twice, once in 1751, and then with complete lyrics in 1761.
Wade was an English priest who fled with other Catholics to France in 1745. As a trained calligrapher and skilled musician, Wade not only copied large amounts of historic church music, but also wrote new hymns.
In spite of this confusion about the writer, the song gained popularity in this country in the late 1800’s and was a big part of the caroling movement that swept the country around the turn of the last century.
By the 1940’s, when Bing Crosby recorded it, the song had already been a radio favorite and chart topper for many years.
Now the song itself was originally written with six stanzas and a repeated refrain. We typically do three, sometimes four of the original stanzas.
If you look at the progression of the song, you can see that it generally follows the order of the Christmas story as told in Luke’s Gospel, but it also includes important ideas from John’s Gospel. Stanzas 2 and 6 connect us back to what we saw last week, to John 1 and the truth that Jesus was the “Word made flesh”, who was with God and was God from the very beginning.
Stanzas 3, 4, and 5 all following the story from Luke, including references to the angels, shepherds, and the baby laid in a manger.
But as I thought about the opening stanza, and the refrain that is woven throughout the song, another part of the Christmas story came to mind. Turn with me to Matthew 2.
III. The Passage: “Behold, Wise Men from the East” (2:1-11)
This morning I’d like to answer our initial question about the identity of the “faithful” addressed in this song by looking at the “wise men” whose story is told here at the beginning of Matthew 2. Let’s see what their story can teach is about the “faithful” who are being called to Bethlehem.
Let me begin by simply reading through the first eleven verses:
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, 2 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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘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.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And 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.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 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.
These wise men are doing the very thing we just sang about, aren’t they? They have come to behold the “king”; they have come with great joy; they have come to adore Him! Let’s go back over the story and draw out some truths about the “faithful” who come to Bethlehem.
A. The “Faithful” Once Lived in Darkness
Look again at verse 1: 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…
The first thing we learn is that the “faithful” once lived in darkness. This is true of the Magi.
Now when I say they were living in darkness, I don’t mean they couldn’t afford candles or lamps. I mean they were living in spiritual darkness. How do we know that?
Well, the term magi itself tells us that. Even though these guys are sometimes called wise men or kings, neither is a correct translation of the word that Matthew has chosen to use here. In Greek, he calls them magoi, or as we render it, “magi”.
Who or what are magi. Well the magi were originally a priestly group that flourished in the Persian Empire, some 500 years before the time of Christ. By the time of Christ, the term magi was used to anyone who possessed some kind of secret knowledge or unnatural powers. In Acts 13, the same word is translated sorcerer.
But here, these magi seem less like sorcerers and more like ancient astrologers, for we’re told that they knew the night sky well enough to know when a new star appeared.
These magi were probably followers of some form of a religious system that still exists today among about 140,000 members in Iran and India. It is called Zoroastrianism.
So when I say that these magi were living in darkness, I’m simply pointing out that as magi, these men believed in a whole host of ideas that ran contrary to what God had revealed about himself to the Israelites.
As magi, they were not devoted to the true God; they were devoted to some form of false knowledge and false power that characterized all magi.
Can you identify with this? Was there a time in your life, or maybe that time is now, where your trust was in what you knew and what you could do, rather than trusting in God, in His power and what He has revealed?
You don’t have to be one of the magi to live in spiritual darkness. God’s word tells us that all of us are born in this darkness. We are born looking to anything and everything but the true God. Even many today still look to the stars in the sky for guidance.
But thankfully, the story of these magi is different.
B. The “Faithful” are Called and Drawn by God.
Look back at the first two verses of this chapter: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [magi] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 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.”
Something happened with these men; something that they did not initiate. They saw a star, a new star that rose in the western sky and brought them to Jerusalem.
The second thing these Magi can teach about the “faithful” is that they were called and drawn by God.
In the midst of their spiritual darkness God brought them the light of a star. They could have remained hundreds of or possibly over a thousand miles away and had no knowledge that Christ was born, were it not for the fact that God, in His mercy, chose to reveal this to them.
What’s more, the fact that these men were able to connect this star with the Jewish messiah reveals that either God directly revealed this to them, or that He brought people into their lives, maybe Jews who were still living in Persia or Babylonia, Jews who made them aware of the people’s hope in God’s promises for a coming Messiah.
And on top of this, the passage gives us the sense that these men were not just called in a sense by this star, but that God, somehow, led them by this star as well.
The Magi’s quest, their journey, was a direct result of God’s gracious intervention in their lives.
What drives this home even more is that God chose to use a star to get their attention. What better way to draw them than to use something relevant to them to reveal Himself.
They were gripped by grace, even when they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking to be led by the stars and God mercifully came to lead them to true life.
Can you identify with these magi? Has God graciously intervened in your life? Yeah, He might have used people or situations to do this, but if you are a follower of Christ, if you have a relationship with God through Jesus, then you need to recognize that all of it is of God.
Just like the magi, we cannot claim any responsibility for our life in Christ. We weren’t looking in the right direction. God reached into our darkness with His light. Using Peter’s language from his second letter, God has caused the morning star to shine in our hearts, because of His mercy.
C. The “Faithful” Are Committed to The Quest.
If we think again about the Magi’s journey, we realize the third thing the Magi can teach us about the “faithful” is that they were committed to their quest.
We don’t know exactly where these men started from, but coming from the East, the best guesses are either Persia or Babylonia. Either way, by camel or horseback this journey would have taken many months of travel, maybe even, with time for preparation, a year.
Add to this the cost involved, the threats from the elements, the threat of robbers on the roads, and maybe, most stressful of all, the uncertainty of where exactly you’re going and if what you will or will not find in the end.
Considering all of this, we see that these magi were committed to their quest to find this newborn king.
Can you identify? If the grace of God, if His mercy has called you out of the darkness, and His light is leading you, are you committed to the quest?
The journey to know Christ is never easy. Never; because it requires going against the flow of this world.
I have no doubt that the magi were tempted to stay in the comfortable, to stay in the familiar. If you’re like me, that’s always the temptation. All of us know that growing spiritually will require us to take some uncomfortable steps. Real growth is always uncomfortable.
But, like the Magi, if we recognize the goal of our journey, we will gladly endure the struggles in order to gain Jesus Christ and the life, joy, and strength that we find in Him.
D. The “Faithful” Are Still Prone to Look Earthward.
But if we look back at our passage in Matthew 2, we detect that, fourthly, even though these men stayed the course, sometimes the “faithful” are still prone to look earthward.
What do I mean? Well if you look back at verses 2 and 9, it seems clear that this star was really leading them. It was not just a distant reference point that gave some general direction.
No, it seems to be, not a star as we would imagine it, but a supernatural manifestation that God was using to direct these men.
But if the star was leading them to Christ, how did these men end up in Jerusalem?
Well we don’t know for certain, but my guess is that when these men got close, they stopped watching the sky and started using their own reasoning to get them to the new king. They might have said, “Where else would the king of the Jews be but in Jerusalem?”
But as they discovered, they were wrong. God’s word to the prophet Micah about 700 years earlier had revealed Bethlehem, about five or six miles south of Jerusalem, as the location from which the Messiah would come.
Can you identify with the Magi in this way? Which of us has not been tempted to only go so far with God and then take over with our own reasoning?
We often look to God for wisdom in relationships, at work, as parents, with finances, but then we fail to look to God for the grace and strength to live out these things; we often fail to trust, not in what God revealed, but that God is in control.
And sometimes, just like with the Magi, God will have us do something that is counter-intuitive; something that, at first, really doesn’t make sense.
This morning, God is encouraging us not to get ahead of him, but to keep our eyes on His light and His leading and His word.
Notice in verse 10, that when they were once again led by God’s light, they were filled with joy. And not just joy, but they rejoiced with exceeding joy. Matthew is doubling up on joy here. It is that good when we are led by God to Christ.
E. The “Faithful” Are Focused on Worshipping Jesus as King.
In fact, the fifth thing we learn from the Magi about those who are “faithful” is found in verse 11:
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.
Notice that Jesus is in a house here. Based on the time the magi give Herod about the appearance of the star, this could be up to two years after Jesus’ birth. We don’t know when exactly the Magi arrived.
But we see very clearly here that the Magi were focused on worshipping, on adoring Jesus as king.
Their goal was not to come with balloons and say, “Hey congratulations!” They weren’t there to say, “OK, it’s just a baby. Wow! I guess the journey was the important thing.” They didn’t travel all that way, all that time, in order to cuddle baby Jesus and say, “What a cutie!”
No. They were there for one reason. They left the comforts of home and endured the journey in order to adore, to worship the new king.
I think we can say that this is the main idea Matthew wants to communicate by including this story in His Gospel. He has just shown in chapter one that Jesus is descended from the kingly line of David, and now he confirms Jesus’ identity with this story about foreigners coming to worship Jesus as king.
And look at how they worship. We are told that they fall down before Him, and then offer Him tribute; they offer to him very valuable gifts, gifts fit for a king.
In this culture there is nothing necessarily surprising about these gifts. These were the kinds of precious items that were normally given as tribute in the ancient near east, all the way back to the time when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon “with camels carrying spices and very much gold and precious stones” (I Kings 10:2)
The sense is here is that these men were not concerned about their treasure, about what they were giving up. They were consumed with Jesus. The “faithful” are focused on worshipping Jesus as King!
Can you identify with this goal? Is your life focused on coming to Christ and kneeling before Him and giving over to Him everything of value for His honor?
In a culture where the Christmas season is too often about my wants and what I can get, we need to see that God is calling us, through the Magi’s example, to make this season, to make our lives all about the worship of Jesus as king.
The true test of whether or not we are doing this is whether or not we are, like the Magi, offering up our treasure for Christ’s honor.
Are we giving what is most precious to us over to Jesus? Our time, our talents, our treasure? Or more fundamental, are we giving Him our hearts?
Can you identify with this quest? The story of the Magi is a kind of summary of what the Christian life is about: the journey, each day, to see Christ with eyes of faith, and worship Him as king by giving over our very lives for His glory.
III. Recipient of Your Worship or Rival to Your Throne
“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, come ye, o come ye, to Bethlehem.” In light of what the Magi have told us about those are ‘faithful’, who are “full of faith”, is that invitation addressed to you?
Were you once in darkness, were you called and drawn by God, are committed to the quest, are you still prone to sometimes look earthward, but are you focused on worshipping Jesus as THE king?
This passage reminds us of another important truth. Just like in this story, there are only two dispositions we can have when it comes to Jesus.
Are we like these Magi, or are we more like Herod? Remember verse 3: When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled…
Of course, Herod’s fear about this news makes perfect sense. He knew what these magi were talking about. Notice he turns their question about the king of the Jews and turns it into his own question about the Christ, the Messiah. He was well aware of the promise of a coming king.
As the one called the king of the Jews, a new Jewish king would threaten Herod’s own throne. You see while Herod was king over the Jewish people, but he was not technically even a Jew. And his only claim to the throne came from Rome, and not lineage or divine decree.
And ancient historians outside the Bible tell us that Herod was quite fanatical, especially in his later years, about threats and coups against his rule. He was a man willing to do anything to protect his throne.
We see that very clearly and tragically in verses 16-18 of this same chapter, where Herod orders the deaths of countless children in an attempt to kill this newborn Messiah.
But even if we did not know about Herod’s slaughter of the innocent children in Bethlehem, the very fact that he and the religious leaders did not and would not go to worship this king reveals the true condition of their heart.
Herod raged against the thought of a real king. Can you identify?
Who is Christ to you? Is he a recipient of your worship or a rival to your throne?
What kind of humility is required to come and lay yourself down in front of a baby? The one thing that Herod and the Magi have in common is that they knew who Christ was; that He was a king who demanded complete allegiance.
There is no halfway with Jesus, is there? Either we come to worship and give ourselves fully to Him, or we reject His right to rule over us. We may reject Him in very subtle ways. We may shape him into a Jesus who makes fewer demands on us, a Jesus who fits into our box. But that is still a form of rejection. If we do not accept Christ in truth, we reject Him in order to accept a lie.
Who or what will be the object of your worship this Christmas season? Who or what will be the source of your joy? After being brutally honest with yourself this morning, no matter where you believe you are, the invitation is still the same…”Come”.
If you cannot honestly say that you are “faithful” or “joyful” or “triumphant”, then come to Bethlehem to find that joy and experience that triumph.
If you want to adore Him this morning, then pray with me as we thank God that, by His amazing grace, He has made us “faithful” to the “king of angels”.
More in Behind the Music: Advent '09
December 13, 2009More than Meets the Eye (John 1:1-4)(Silent Night)
December 6, 2009From the Lips of Angels (Luke 2:1-20)
November 29, 2009Another Desperate Plea (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22, 23)